Adventures in Qualifying: GP Chicago

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Here’s the situation: It’s been a long day. You are playing in round eight of nine at Grand Prix Chicago.

Format: Modern

Your Deck: Naya Pod

Your Opponent’s Deck: Storm with Pyromancer Ascension and Goblin Electromancer

Your board state:

After drawing for the turn, your only card in hand is Fire-Lit Thicket.

You know that you need to do something otherwise there is a good probability you will lose on your opponent’s next turn. So, what’s the play?

These are the types of situations you find yourself in piloting Modern Naya Pod. The large number of one-of’s regularly create complex decision trees. For this case, since I needed to stop my opponent immediately, I sacrificed the Wall of Roots to the Birthing Pod and searched out Harmonic Sliver to blow up his Pyromancer Ascension. Was that the correct play though? At the time I thought it was, but after the match I realized that I blew it. My opponent needed one extra turn but he beat me easily by comboing out.

Here was the correct line of play:

Pod out Wall of Roots using the mana it produced and two life. Search out Deceiver Exarch and untap the Birthing Pod. Activate the Birthing Pod again sacrificing the Restoration Angel to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Proceed to win the game.

This was not a complex or uncommon board state and I was disappointed that I did not see the play. It was likely I would lose game three with Storm on the play, but I would have at least gotten to play the game.

9 days earlier…

After finalizing arrangements for a place to stay outside of Chicago, I was tormented by the fact that I didn’t know what I was going to play. Modern is a complex format that is always in a state of flux. I think one of the most important parts of playing the format is knowing which deck will be good from event to event. For this event, it was obvious that Jund would be a huge hurdle to overcome. I was not going to this event with a deck that didn’t have a decent match against the most popular deck. This is solid advice for any event but especially one where as much as thirty percent of the metagame could be the deck-to-beat. The problem is that no deck has a significant edge against it.

I spent a lot of time thinking about what deck I could play. Briefly I considered trying to develop my own deck to trump Jund, Infect and Affinity, all three of which I believe are weak against a controlling deck. With a limited amount of time to prepare I decided this plan was not the best idea.

The two main decks I played in Modern last PTQ season were Melira Pod and Splinter Twin so I thought about my experiences with them. I hated the Jund vs. Splinter Twin match so that was not a route I was willing to take. Jund vs. Melira Pod though, was not bad at all. Sometimes they beat you but often you have a ton of time to stabalize and win either by grinding damage or eventually comboing them out. Jund with Deathrite Shamans seemed like it would be a closer match but ultimately still in favor of the combo deck. Melira Pod seemed much less efficient than the newer version using the Kiki-Jiki combos.

Once I decided on Naya Pod for the event, I got to work on my list. Some of the cards are auto-includes but there is actually a lot of wiggle room to play around with the slots. Many of the singletons can be changed for other things so keep that in mind when you are going to play a version of this deck.

This list may look generic, but there are some significant differences between my list and the more common versions. The first main difference is my inclusion of Commune with Nature. Unfortunately, my tech was spoiled a few weeks ago at a European Grand Prix, but the card is still very good, adding consistency to the deck for a low mana cost. I considered playing a third copy but I didn't want to cut anything. Playing the full four Chord of Callings can be a liability due to its mana cost, especially when you don't draw a Wall of Roots. Commune with Nature is very good early on turns one and two when you are trying to set up the combo. Having the option to regrow it later with Eternal Witness is also good.

Another card I included was Meddling Mage. I feel that Modern is weak to this card right now especially in game one of many matches. Storm, Splinter Twin, Eggs, and even decks like U/W Midrange have a tough time playing through a Meddling Mage chanting the correct card. The only match where I don’t like the original hate bear is against Jund but it is so good against the rest of the field that it’s worth including. Even naming something like Cranial Plating against Affinity is great because it forces them to have a removal spell or not be able to kill you quickly. Against every deck, naming their key card gives you time to find or protect your combo.

Murderous Redcap may seem like a normal card choice but it actually went out of style many months ago. Sometimes you just need to cap a guy though right? Seriously though, I think Redcap is great against Jund where it is often trading for two of their creatures. It is a solid metagame choice when you are expecting aggro decks be prevalent. Against many opponents Redcap gets swapped for Glen Elendra Archmage. For this event I believe my choice to be correct.

Wall of Omens was a great idea but even with many aggressive decks being played, it seemed not quite good enough. I like the idea of podding into it since it replaces itself but I think the spot could be better served as something else. [card Chord of Calling]Chording[/card] for it is moot because you'd rather just wait to chord for Eternal Witness and follow it up with another Chord for Restoration Angel to blink Witness. This line of play should be used in many hands with this deck.

Make sure you are aware of the most important line of play with this deck because it comes up so much of the time. Opponents will rarely be able to predict their demise from this sequence of turns. Take a look.

Turn 1 – Land, Birds of Paradise
Turn 2 – Land, Wall of Roots
Turn 3 – Land, Birthing Pod
Turn 4 – *Blindside Win

*Blindside Win:

  1. Pod Wall of Roots using its mana and two life into Deceiver Exarch.
  2. Pod Birds of Paradise with its mana and two life into Phantasmal Image copying Deceiver Exarch.
  3. Pod the Deceiver Exarch copy into Restoration Angel and blink the original.
  4. Pod Restoration Angel into Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

This version of the combo highlights the power of this deck. Many players are still not aware of how easy it is to win with this deck and they will often tap out leaving a window open for you to kill them.

There are many ways to win on turn four but winning on turn three involves some luck. If you have double Wall of Roots and double Birds of Paradise in addition to Birthing Pod and the right number of lands you can win turn three, but I believe that is the only way.

Nine days and many card choice changes later I arrived at GP Chicago. Here’s what happened.

Round 1 – Bye

Round 2 - The first game of my tournament I got to show off the blindside win. My opponent tapped out turn four and was punished with a loss. Game two was a thirty-five minute affair that finally ended with me unable to deal the final couple points of damage to finish the game. I maintained pressure for a long time but eventually I drew too many lands in a row. Drawing all four Birds of Paradise did not help at all this game either. Game three was never finished so I started out my day with a draw. Frustrating.

Record: 1-0-1

Round 3 – The draw bracket scared me because I thought I would be grinding games against blue-white all day. Luckily, that was not the case and I was granted an unprepared GR Tron opponent. He literally said he removed all of his sideboard cards for this matchup. He was not lying either and it was a quick match. He did have some sick natural tron draws and a bunch of Karn Liberated.

Record: 2-0-1

Round 4 – Running it right back, I had another GR Tron player to take down. When your opponent has the right sideboard cards, Combust, the match is a lot closer though. Game one was slow because I had to fight through not one but two Karns, but eventually I won. Game two he blew me out with the Combust but I knew he had Emrakul, the Aeons Torn in hand so I had to go for it. Late in game three I tanked at the end of his turn and finally came up with the play to chord for Deceiver Exarch, tapping his Prismatic Lens so he did not have access to Combust mana. I successfully assembled the combo on my turn. If you have enough time, you should try to combo with Kiki-Jiki and Zealous Conscripts against them because it wins even through Combust.

Record: 3-0-1

Round 5 – My opponent this round was playing Jund but he was almost as defensive as a control deck. This gave me plenty of time to assemble Restoration Angel plus Kiki-Jiki. Because he did not have any pressure, I was able to win through two discard spells and two or three removal spells. The second game played out similarly, like playing against a Jund control deck rather than the hard-to-manage aggro control deck.

When I thought I was going to win the game, instead I lost to an unlikely card. Rakdos Charm. Making 500 Restoration Angels seems terrible when you die immediately. Game three was more of the same accept I was resigned not to lose to a terrible Standard uncommon. Instead of focusing on assembling the combo, my goal was to grind him out with damage. He didn’t realize this in time and found himself in a position with no outs to my Restoration Angel attacking for the win.

Record: 4-0-1

Round 6 – Being on the draw when your opponent plays first turn Celestial Colonnade is not the best place for Naya Pod. Even though this opponent had a much better record than the last one with a similar deck, it was a much easier match for me. It was not too hard though when he had two Mutavaults and a Tectonic Edge to go with his man land. He quickly ran out of answers due to a lack of colored mana.

Game two I was starting to think the game was going long after he countered a bunch of my spells, but luckily when I tried to steal his Tectonic Edge with my Zealous Conscripts he was out of counters and had to sac it in response. Making this play on his turn off of Chord sealed the match because then he was tapped out for my turn when I hardcast Kiki-Jiki to make 500 Zealous Conscripts. Turns out, he didn’t know that was a combo.

Record: 5-0-1

Round 7 – After four straight wins, I was feeling confident wrecking up the draw bracket. This was not my day though and I finally got a terrible paring. I was up against eventual Top 8 player Michael Simon piloting U/R Splinter Twin, but of course I didn’t know it at the time. While we were playing I noted how strong his deck list was as well so I was not surprised to see him do well.

In my opinion, this is the worst match for Naya Pod. They are basically playing the same deck as you except theirs is much better positioned. Moving Linvala, Keeper of Silence to the sideboard really hurt me here. Game one he was on the play, I kept a fine hand in the dark, but losing on turn four highlighted how bad it was against him. Game two should have gone in my favor but instead of winning on turn four, I missed two land drops to fall too far behind.

Record: 5-1-1

Round 8 – Right after getting crushed by my worst matchup, I had to go play the second worst one, Storm. Despite the Pod vs. Storm match being distinctly in their favor, it was a great match. Game one, I kept a strong hand with four lands, Angel, Kiki-Jiki and Wall of Roots. This is an auto-keep against almost anyone. Unfortunately he won the die roll and I never got a fourth turn to kill him. He did play a Gitaxian Probe to rub it in though. Remember the story from the beginning of the article? That’s what happened game two. I missed the kill because I was too focused on disrupting his gameplan. With this deck it is really important to know when to disrupt your opponent and when to go for the kill so be careful.

Record: 5-2-1

Round 9 – Despite having an extremely small window to make day two, I stuck around for the last round. My opponent had to go catch a train so I got the end of the day concession which was nice. We played a quick game one in which I smashed his homebrew Esper Gifts deck, but it seemed to be quite an interesting sixty.

Final Record: 6-2-1 and five spots short of making day two.

Naya Pod is a great deck and I don’t regret my decision to play it. With the exception of the misplay against Storm that cost me the match, I was pleased with my level of play with the deck. I made a number of subtle plays over the course of the event that led to game wins and that is key with this deck. The deck seems apt for PTQ season but some tweaks are necessary. Any comments on the deck list are welcome so share your thoughts!

Until Next Time, remember…

Four mana,

Birds of Paradise,

Wall of Roots,

Birthing Pod,

And eight life to pay,

Is a recipe for infinite damage.

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter
(I'm active on twitter again, so send me a message sometime.)

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