You can check out Part 1 by clicking here! (new window)
Thank you for joining me on Part 2 of our look at the Melira combo in Modern. We will be covering fundamentals of design, along with serious “give a man a fish” lists of stuff to look at; I guarantee there’s something in here for you.
Understanding Melira’s Place In The Metagame
How to Not Totally Screw Up Building This Deck
Modern is defined by one rule at the moment: nobody can win before the third turn. Let this set in for awhile; R&D has taken a firm stand on the idea that people should have longer Modern games. What this means for us is that fast combo will be anomalous and fleeting, existing for three months and then probably being banned away. This is superb news for Melira players, because the Modern format emphasizes the midgame more than any other format around right now! In Legacy, decks need an answer to the turn-1 Storm kill between the maindeck and sideboard. This results in having to play things like Thoughtseize and Chalice of the Void, which do nothing for a game plan and don’t even work all the time.
Since Modern has a base win time of three turns, we can run better answers and avoid cluttering our sideboard with combo answers. Since we can wait a little for combo stoppers, we can run fewer of them and intend to draw into them. The other side effect of this is that combo stoppers that are built with speed in mind are not great in the deck. Melira cannot put on the pressure early enough to back up Thoughtseize; it has no Tarmogoyfs or Wild Nacatls. Therefore, I do not think it is necessary to run much discard (or any). Begone, Tidehollow Sculler! Combo like Twin can sling a Lightning Bolt at it or just play around it. Single-card discard can be disappointingly inefficient when we can’t press our immediate advantage.
We can’t get too bold about running 1-of answers, though. You must look at every singleton card and ask “will I ever tutor for this?” That’s my main issue with cards like Tidehollow Sculler; if you can get a 2-drop, would you want Sculler against someone? Against Twin, maybe – but Gaddock Teeg is a stalwart man himself and a better tutor target. Against other decks, you’ll just be temporarily snagging a card while stepping the Sculler into a Kitchen Finks. I even have issues with Eternal Witness, since the only time I want to see her is really when I am Chording for her to get a Birthing Pod back onto the battlefield. At other times, I would rather have something that applies more pressure. The cards in our graveyard are, frequently, lands and sacrificed creatures. Not exactly a fertile recursion ground.
A good Melira deck should, then, be able to consistently pull off the combo by tutoring it up or naturally drawing it. It should also not be so anemic that it cannot beat down against a deck when its main methods of killing are removed. If you can remove the Meliras or Birthing Pods from the deck and still stand a decent shot at winning, your deck is probably built correctly.
The Superiority of G/B/W
Melira can be built with any splash colors that you’d like. The two core cards, Melira and Finks, are both green and you can use a colorless combination card like Blasting Station to make it hum without black’s Viscera Seer. I believe that G/B/W is the best color combination at the moment, and that’s because it offers the best silver bullet creatures.
My list is, at its core, mostly green; it only branches out for small splashes. If we want to get the most power out of Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling, we should run plausible bullet creatures that are affordable and really hurt opposing decks when they hit. White and Black have the best monsters for that purpose, as you will see in my compendium of creatures, below. The manabase is very easy to work with, and blue and red don’t do enough on their own. Sure, you have Highland Thrinax if you go red and you have the incredible Phantasmal Image if you go blue, but the taxing on the mana base adds up. This isn’t the deck to go five colors.
If you don’t want to run Chord because it’s clunky, there are a few other ideas that can work fine. These are untested, but they provide a good path for further research.
Time of Need is a surprisingly versatile tutor in Modern. In a G/W deck, it can get Kataki, War’sWage, Melira, Gaddock Teeg, Linvala, Keeper of Silence and more. It can grab Mangara of Corondor if you need to blow something up, for example. You can go get Yosei, the Morning Star to freeze the board and set up incredible lockdowns. A deck with Time of Need has a leaner curve; it is limited in its tutor targets, but it costs much less to get an effective impediment on the board.
We also have access to Fauna Shaman + Squee, Goblin Nabob. This is an ersatz Survival strategy and, undisrupted, can take over a game in short order. The first Shaman activation gets Squee, if we have time. After that, every activation means a free dude. We can get Skinthinner, Acidic Slime and our plain ol’ combo parts. I don’t know if we can bank on a 2/2, and my early testing showed me that sometimes you want to pay GGG1 for Viscera Seer and just be done with it. That said, this is a great midrange strategy and one that a lot of people have overlooked. It’s not worth it to run one Fauna Shaman, but four present a real threat.
I have also been thinking about Dimir House Guard as a combo engine. You could conceivably run four and change the deck up a little bit. DHG gets Pod, Bramblecrush, Creeping Corrosion, Wrath of God (if you want it), Persecute, Nekrataal, Linvala and more. It seems seriously weird to just run House Guard for its transmutative properties, but it does enable a turn-3 Pod more easily. I’d be inclined to run at least eight one-drops able to make black mana – so Elves of the Deep Shadow might get more attention!
There’s also the largely-untested idea of Allosaurus Riders. The idea is that you get it down for free and then Pod it into something obscene. There’s Akroma, Sundering Titan, Platinum Emperion and more. This is reliant on Birthing Pod and doesn’t immediately win the game, but it does seem really cool. You can also use Weird Harvest to pull enough green creatures together to actually play Riders effectively.
Generally Bad Ideas
The potential to get cute is high in this deck. I have seen people suggesting paying seven mana for a card that is not called Cruel Ultimatum. There’s no need to run Protean Hulk, even if you can eat it and instantly win. You cannot Pod up to that level successfully without a bunch of turns – you usually start on a 3-drop, so we’re looking at four uninterrupted turns of Podding to produce a win. Hitting seven mana naturally, even with Walls and Birds, is unreliable, and we don’t have Fauna Shamans to get that uncastable Hulk out of our hand.
The same theory goes for Body Double. Look, I get it that with Reveillark and Viscera Seer, you can continually recur Reveillark. You know who else does that? Saffi Eriksdotter. The Icelandic Sensation (I’m so close to calling her Bjork) is on-color and will do the same recursion that Body Double does! Simply sacrifice her to protect your Lark, then eat the Lark and bring back Saffi and another monster, like Acidic Slime. Generate infinite mana with Wall of Roots. Use Nekrataal to stop any board problems. This deck can only depend on its draw step to get more cards, so don’t waste your draws on things you can only Pod up. I think Saffi is a fine card to run, since the Reveillark loop is a Real Thing, but there are limits. Hulk and Body Double are definitely Cool Things that don’t belong.
This is a good time to talk about your creature curve, too. When talking Pods, we need to be sure we can hit solid things at each step that we want to hit. The fundamental source of non-combo card advantage comes singly from Podding Finks into a 4-drop, so it’s critical to have good Fours. Nekrataal is superb; it recurs with Reveillark and it’s easy to cast naturally. I also like Linvala, and Redcap is also a great target even if you lack the combo. Beyond that, the best Fives to Pod into are Reveillark by a mile and then Acidic Slime. I only run Slime because I have not determined whether I like it or Necrotic Sliver better for its function. If I Pod away a Reveillark, I don’t even care if I have a Six in the deck! A dead Lark means I can unleash a terrifying array of hurt onto the board immediately. I’ve never been in a position where my Lark dying would not save me, but that same Lark Podding into a Sun Titan or a Yosei would solve things. Remember that Pod chains are slow and they often cost real quantities of life. It’s unrealistic to expect that you’ll cast Sun Titan; much better to maximize your Larks with cards like Saffi, instead. The same goes for Persisters at 2 and 4; your Finks are doing the hard work and at Four, you don’t need Heartmender – you need Redcap into Lark.
The Monster Manual
What follows is a pretty comprehensive list of creatures that I have considered for Birthing Pod in GWB, along with explanations of why they’re good or only situational.
Dimir House Guard – DHG is simply incredible in the deck, since this deck wants a 4-drop sacrifice outlet. At other times, it gets Birthing Pod, which is great. I love seeing this thing in my opening hand. I advise you to cut Ranger of Eos for it, since they fundamentally serve the same function – a 4-drop that you can use to finish up the combo. Sure, Ranger gets Seer, which lets you scry into Redcap territory on your next turn, but infinite life with House Guard is just fine and you can Pod your Finks into that Redcap, too.
Nekrataal – Four mana is a lot to ask for a Terror. In Modern, as I said, even the most threatening decks are threat-light. Knocking someone out with this guy and then sacrificing it for Reveillark is the best. I run it over things like Shriekmaw specifically for its recursion.
Shriekmaw – I like Shrieky, but I’m not going to Pod into it at 5 mana and I’m in a bad place if I have to hardcast this. I advise against running it.
Skinthinner – Skinthinner looks kind of bad – it doesn’t straight kill a guy and it doesn’t come back from Lark. However, it does trade with two guys more reliably than Nekrataal. A 3/3 is more relevant against a field of Nacatls.
Tar Fiend – I really hate six-drops, but man, this thing is what you want to be getting with six mana. Forget those Sun Titans, why would you want Kitchen Finks back when you can Mind Twist someone’s hand and then have a 10/10 left over? This card is essentially “Path or no?” against Zoo. Sure, they can Path it in response, but if they lack it, they’re getting run over by this giant. It takes forever to get going, but if I played a Six, I’d run this. I am comfortable with it on the sideboard, too. With a Melira deck, the opponent is unlikely to be holding back removal spells anyway.
Withered Wretch – Some graveyard disruption is probably necessary, and Wretch is nice for that. There aren’t exactly many other good graveyard-blanking creatures in Modern. Loaming Shaman is a possibility, though it doesn’t begin to fight things like Punishing Fire.
Acidic Slime – Man, five mana is a lot. This is a bad 2-for-1, and I’d love to cut it for something else like Wickerbough Elder. As it is, I run it, but I resent the possibility of having to waste a Pod activation on this. Getting it back with Reveillark is so good, though, that Slime sticks around.
Eternal Witness – I like Witness in general, but it doesn’t have many great targets in this deck. I am close to cutting mine, but it does nice things with Reveillark. It’s another in the category of “I never Pod for this.”
Glissa Sunseeker – If you can survive in the first three turns against Affinity, Glissa can do the rest. I like the idea of grabbing her, but I’d want more early turn stuff like Pridemage, Seal of Primordium and Kataki to survive the early turns.
Mycoloth – The deck has enough little dorks in it that an unanswered Big Mike will end things in a turn. Again, this prompts Zoo to say “Path or lose?” You’ll often have two or three little guys, and making a swarm of 1/1s out of them is just fine.
Obstinate Baloth – I want to like Baloth, but it just seems slow! I’m inclined to run Sylvok Lifestaff over it, since I can score 6 or more life from it. Baloth has never felt like it’s worth Podding for, and if I am staring down a bunch of burn spells I need to get out of, then maybe there’s a better option.
Wall of Roots – I’m committed to Chord at this point, and Wall counts for two mana with Chord. Aside from that, it’s a great blocker with some mana attached. Melira decks have to manage their life totals well against aggressive decks, and Wall of Roots absorbs a lot of life. At 2, it’s good to Pod away; that’s why I prefer it over Sakura-Tribe Elder.
Wickerbough Elder – The Wicker Man is a fine removal spell, and a 4/4 body that comes with it is a fine finisher on its own. Wickerbough cannot be recurred with Reveillark like Pridemage can. It’s worth considering, though.
Archon of Justice – Archon, like Acidic Slime, can wipe out problem permanents. I don’t like that I have to kill it, but its power is a little better than the Slime. I wouldn’t run Archon, but it’s worth remembering.
Aven Mindcensor – I like this Aven a lot. If we are going to run landkilling permanents, then this one is a superb one. Great in the mirror, shuts down fetchlands and tutors, etc. A 2/1 flier is a fine beater; it doesn’t close the clock quickly, but it has been good for applying some pressure. I like one in my 75.
Ethersworn Canonist – Canonist buys you a big pile of time against combo and Elves. It’s easy enough to Chord for, too. It’s folly to devote a lot of space to anti-combo cards, but this has real applications against Elves that, I think, makes it valuable enough to keep around.
Hokori, Dust Drinker – Hokori was a lot better when Post decks were around, but I still like the guy. We have so much creature mana that Hokori doesn’t matter too much to us. Unfortunately, there’s not much that he really shuts down; it slows Twin a bit, but not enough to make it a solid bullet. Again, worth remembering that this card exists.
Kataki, War’s Wage – Affinity is a real deck and a real problem. I love Kataki, but don’t forget to pay for your Vials and Pods. Also know that Kataki doesn’t slow down Affinity if it’s already established. They can still pay for three artifacts if two of those are Ornithopter and Cranial Plating. You’ll lose to those draws, but blow them out against the triple-Memnite, Darksteel Citadel opening.
Linvala, Keeper of Silence – Linvala is critical in your current 60 cards. She’s a gigantic pain in the butt for almost every deck. It stops Pridemage, Lavamancers, mana elves, Knight of the Reliquary and more. It’s your best shot against Twin, too.
Ranger of Eos – As I described in my entry in Dimir House Guard, this creature is really only good for getting Seers. I’d rather just get my sacrifice outlet in my 4-drop, instead of paying extra for it. This just doesn’t do enough for me to run it.
Reveillark – If Melira is the main combo, Lark Advantage is the other combo. It’s not necessary to loop Lark over and over if you have things like Acidic Slime or Nekrataal coming back and forth. A single Lark trigger is just fine, and you can buy it back later with Eternal Witness if you have to. I like Lark a lot, and with the minimal support I have for it, I’m not worried about losing my Redcap to graveyard hate.
Sun Titan – I don’t like Sixes, but this is decent recursion. It’s not as good as…
Yosei, the Morning Star – I don’t like plans that intend to recur this, but Yosei is fine enough to Time Walk someone. I don’t think it’s worth a spot in the 75, but maybe its usefulness will increase.
Fulminator Mage – This was much better when Post was around. Now that it’s gone, I don’t need this if I have Acidic Slime. You can occasionally punish people who keep greedy hands, but are you going to Pod for this ? Chord for it?
Gaddock Teeg – Teeg shuts down a bit of combo, but he also shuts down your Chords and Pods. I don’t like that tradeoff, so I don’t run him maindeck. You can run him against Twin, but unless there’s a Cryptic Command deck around, I wouldn’t spend time on this kithkin.
Harmonic Sliver – What I like about Harmonic Sliver is that you don’t have to sacrifice it to get work done. It’s a convenient stepping-stone into a Four, but I’m more inclined to run Wickerbough Elder, since Podding away a Finks is more profitable.
Necrotic Sliver – This costs about a billion mana to pull off, but it’s one of the few tools we have for killing Planeswalkers. I’m torn between this and Acidic Slime in the maindeck, but I run Slime because of its Lark power.
Orzhov Pontiff – Pontiff kills Elves dead. If you have Elves around, this is the absolute answer.
Qasali Pridemage – At one point, I had two to three of these when Twin and Pyromancer Ascension decks were around. I’m down to one right now, but I might drop to zero maindecked. I’m uninclined to Pod it up, and it’s very hard to Pod into a 2 most of the time.
Saffi Eriksdotter – Saffi is my one concession to Lark loops. She’s fine as a 2/2 bear and devastating with Lark. It’s hard to get her with Pod (we only have seven Ones), but when I draw her organically, I just shift over to Lark maximization plans.
Making Your Mana Work
Your manabase can be forgiving because Melira does not have strenuous color requirements. For this reason, you can skimp down on shocklands if you have enough fetchlands to get the ones that you run. You can usually run at least four basics, and I also highly suggest running a Wooded Bastion and Twilight Mire. The reason is that you can’t always count on Finks to pad your life, and you’ll be blowing a lot of life when you are Podding. Mire and Bastion fix mana very well.
I’m also big on Murmuring Bosk right now, whose existence people seem to have forgotten. It’s a Forest, so you can get it with your fetches. I only run one because I can’t play it untapped, but it’s another great mana fixer. It’s good for those situations where you have a good hand (Wall of Roots and Pod, for example), but no 1-drop.
I also run Aether Vial, which I haven’t seen in other lists. I love Vial a lot in these kind of decks, because you have a lot to do with your mana other than just casting guys. Vial on turn 1 lets me play out things like Kitchen Finks on the same turn that I want to play a Pod. I usually keep them around 3; if I draw a Finks, I can play it easily (and trap Nacatls), and it’s primed to ramp to four. There’s enough griefy pseudo-counterspells like Remand that you can just bypass with Vials.
My Current List
Here’s what I have sleeved right now:
The list is changing around here and there; I am inclined to try cutting Wall of Roots for Noble Hierarch, but that leaves you so soft to random attackers. It does, however, speed the deck up. If you trim up more space for three more lands, you can also cut out Wall of Roots for other interesting Walls, like Overgrown Battlement and Wall of Omens.
As far as sideboarding goes, my best advice is that you can trim things like Slime, Witness and Linvala to free up some space for a few (a FEW) boarded-in cards. I like Seal of Primordium, Deathmark is nice, I like Slay a LOT, and multiples of things like Kataki are not out of the question.
At this point, I turn things over to you guys, and I am happy to answer questions on the deck!