Posted in Top Decks on May 16, 2013

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

With the Pro Tour coming up on the American West Coast this weekend, a greater-than-normal number of top players chose to take a detour to Portland, Oregon, for last weekend's Modern Grand Prix. As fans of the game, we got to enjoy the triumphs and heartache of some of the world's greatest players on a pretty big stage... in anticipation for Magic's greatest stage.

Portlandia wasn't the only detour, of course; Modern itself is a detour of sorts from the standard of Standard (and the Pro Tour itself is going to be Return to Ravnica Block Constructed). In this foray back to Modern we got to see Pro Tour Champions and Hall of Famers battling with some of their favorite strategies, although it was Sam Pardee and his Melira-Pod deck that took down the whole event.


Melira-Pod was the big deck of this tournament; it put three players into the Top 8, including Grand Prix Portland winner Sam Pardee.

Melira-Pod is an infinite combo deck but can also play as a value midrange deck. Like other The Rock-esque midrange decks, it plays good creatures like Birds of Paradise and Kitchen Finks, and flexible removal or disruption like Thoughtseize (Dan MacDonald) or Abrupt Decay (Nass and Pardee).

Birds of Paradise
Abrupt Decay

But like a combo deck it plays weird cards—specifically creature cards here—that are not particularly popular in other strategies but work well in the context of a Chord of Calling/Birthing Pod deck designed to assemble a specific sequence of cards.

There are many potential routes to victory for Melira-Pod, but the core incentive is the interaction between Melira, Sylvok Outcast and persist. Melira prevents -1/-1 counters from being put on your creatures, so when a persist creature like Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap comes back from the dead... it does so freshly, rather than with a -1/-1 counter on it.

Melira, Sylvok Outcast
Kitchen Finks

Consider a fairly common sequence of Viscera Seer (one mana) → Melira, Sylvok Outcast (two mana) → Kitchen Finks (three mana).

When all three creatures are on the battlefield, you can sacrifice the Kitchen Finks to Viscera Seer to scry... as many times as you like (the Kitchen Finks will never lose its ability to persist as it never gets any -1/-1 counters). You can gain essentially infinite life because you can do this over and over and over again and/or set up the top of your deck so your four-mana play is Murderous Redcap... and then you can rinse and repeat but instead brain the opponent for 20 instead of "merely" gaining tons and tons and tons of life.

Cards like Cartel Aristocrat or Bloodthrone Vampire give Melira-Pod redundancy at different mana points, which can be useful because this is a Birthing Pod deck. You want to be able to chain up to different mana points to find combo pieces! When using Birthing Pod to chain up, the resilient lone Kitchen Finks can grow up to be a Murderous Redcap (obvious three-four chain, as above); a Linvala, Keeper of Silence (to lock out another deck's creature utility, perhaps preempting its own Melira-Pod combo); or a Ranger of Eos (to get Viscera Seer and another one-drop, which might in turn become Melira, Sylvok Outcast).

Cartel Aristocrat
Bloodthrone Vampire

Different takes on Melira-Pod were run by the victorious Pardee, as well as Dan MacDonald and Matt Nass, in the GP Portland Top 8.

Sam Pardee's Melira-Pod

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Matt Nass's Melira-Pod

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Dan MacDonald's Melira-Pod

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The robots are back!

Arguably the two most impressive players in the Top 8—Pro Tour winner Paul Rietzl and Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz—played Modern Affinity, with Zvi largely tipping the hat to Paul.

Paul Rietzl's Affinity

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Zvi Mowshowitz's Affinity

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Affinity is an aggressive linear deck. It is offensively minded but built to take advantage of both the low mana costs and the synergies and incentives from both Mirrodin and Scars of Mirrodin.

Affinity can come out fast. It has acceleration from Springleaf Drum that becomes buffing with Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating.

Arcbound Ravager
Cranial Plating

Affinity can be overwhelming. It can drop its hand very quickly and send in for tons of damage either in waves (Signal Pest) or with singularly potent attackers Arcbound Ravager/Master of Etherium/Cranial Plating.

Affinity can surprise you. Not only can it brain you for the max consistently with Galvanic Blast, but Inkmoth Nexus wearing Cranial Plating doesn't care what life you are on! It can recover from sweepers due to an eight-pack of man-lands and the one-shot ability of Cranial Plating in concert with a virtual-haste attack.

Galvanic Blast
Inkmoth Nexus

But what Affinity has and does better than everyone else is cheat. Look at Thoughtcast. This is a playable effect in many formats. We pay for a comparable Divination. What about Vault Skirge? What is a 1/1 flying lifelink supposed to cost? I know that Suntail Hawk/Lantern Kami was a performer in various formats at ... without the lifelink.

Affinity is the dine-and-dash cheapskate cheater of Modern aggro decks!


Essentially all Scapeshift decks have the same endgame incentive: use green mana acceleration like Search for Tomorrow and Farseek to generate a critical mass of lands in play. Then use Scapeshift to bring in a bunch of Mountains and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to combo-kill the opponent with one big shot.

Many Scapeshift decks have other incentives, options, and side plans. Some of them can play like midrange decks a la The Rock. Others can overwhelm you like Tinker decks. Still others play almost Draw-Go-esque with their card drawing and permission... although many can transform into midrange lifegain decks.

Grand Prix Portland gave us a treat with two different, but powerful, looks at Scapeshift.

Mattia Rizzi's Scapeshift

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Sakura-Tribe Elder is brilliant in Scapeshift; it is both a speed bump and an accelerator. It takes away one of the opponent's attacks while driving forward the Scapeshift deck's "get a critical number of lands into play" strategy. Rizzi adds Snapcaster Mage to re-buy essentially any of his other spells. It can be more card-draw, another Lightning Bolt or Firespout for defense, a counterspell—even a re-bought Cryptic Command! Heck, it can be another Izzet Charm (i.e., any and all). As Rizzi's is a Scapeshift deck with tons of green acceleration, Snapcaster Mage is quite unburdened in its flexibility here.

Sakura-Tribe Elder

Scapeshift is far from an automatic combo deck.

Rizzi has to be a bit careful with his various Mountains so he can get enough in play during and post-Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle to get value out the Molten Pinnacle. This, of course, has to consider the opponent's life total and position, which lands he has out already, and so on.

One card that can make life much easier is Prismatic Omen.

Prismatic Omen

With Prismatic Omen in play, every land is a Mountain, including Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle itself. You could, for example, Scapeshift any seven lands, getting all three copies of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle (all Mountains) and four other lands and... well, I can't actually count that high, but all of the Valakut, the Molten Pinnacles would count all of the other lands as Mountains and it would probably be a hot mess of damage.

Prismatic Omen also gives you these really interesting/weird/powerful midgames and long games when you just have a bunch of lands and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle in play. How saucy is "play Misty Rainforest/brain you; sacrifice it for basic Island/brain you again?" If Joe Demestrio's opponent countered his Scapeshift or even got them all with a Slaughter Games or some equivalent, he would still have a compelling progressive plan thanks to Prismatic Omen.

Joe Demestrio's Scapeshift

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Demestrio played not only Prismatic Omen as an identifying wrinkle, but Primeval Titan!

Talk about a side plan!

Demestrio could play full-on standard, just getting the lands he wanted and winning with a combination of 6 from the Primeval Titan in the red zone and wave after wave of Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers.

RWU Control

Rounding out the Top 8 was Orie Guo's RWU Control deck:

Orie Guo's RWU Control

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This deck draws on a number of traditions, coming together as a celebration of WU victories from across the ages. Batterskull we have, and it performs... even without the Stoneforge Mystic that made it so fearsome in Standard. Batterskull actually gets the nod here 2:1 over Baneslayer Angel (in the sideboard).

There is exactly one Isochron Scepter; a nod to the Extended adventures past of Nick West and others. Isochron Scepter + Lightning Helix is simply unbeatable for some decks; I can't imagine many want to play against Isochron Scepter + Remand or even Isochron Scepter + Wear & Tear. Grim Lavamancer, perhaps surprisingly, can create similar headaches, given the right opponent.

Isochron Scepter
Lightning Helix

Snapcaster Mage and Vendilion Clique are a flashy pair that nods to formats like Legacy, where they are often seen together (although, again, with the banned/here-absent Stoneforge Mystic). Guo can create much card advantage or break up good draws while leaving mana back reactively.

And Geist of Saint Traft! It didn't suddenly become a "fair" card to play against... not when paired with so many potential-blockers-removing instants. Lightning Bolt, Lightning Helix, Path to Exile, and more can all clear a path for one of the fastest clocks ever in WU.

Geist of Saint Traft
Lightning Bolt

RWU is not a specialist... not like Scapeshift or Affinity... but it can take on any number of comers with a variety of flexible and even proactive answers from Runed Halo to Spellskite to Aven Mindcensor. And even with all that fast action? Celestial Colonnade gives it one of the best long games in the format.

And from the Top 16...

The Top 32 was a murderer's row of Magic all-stars, from Portland's local hero Gabe Carleton-Barnes to multiple-PT Top 8 competitor Denniz Rachid, and a slew of others. Draw-Go progenitor Andrew Cuneo was in the Top 16 with his typical Modern weapon of choice, and Andrew's Bant Control collaborator Sam Black snuck into the 32nd spot. But of all the Top 16/Top 32 decks three stand out for their respective predictable-ness and unpredictable-ness.

Craig Wescoe's WB Tokens

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Craig Wescoe is a deck designer who has become closely associated with the White Weenie archetype. I suppose his WB Tokens deck is technically a collection of small white creatures!

(...if modified for the dangers and combo decks of the larger Modern world.)

Craig's deck is chock full of efficient token-producing effects. Raise the Alarm can produce two creatures for two mana using only one card (and can potentially mug attackers); Gather the Townsfolk can do the same, but more if your life total is pressed. Lingering Souls, of course, is the grand daddy Cadillac of token-producing cards, a cross-format All-Star that has won big events in almost every format up to and including Legacy... every format but its own Block, where it was preemptively banned before it could take down the Block Pro Tour. Not to be outdone at the three-spot is Spectral Procession, the six-drop in disguise.

Raise the Alarm
Lingering Souls

So Craig has all these tools to create card advantage (if you are willing to buy 1/1 tokens as "cards"). He can trigger all kinds of annoying lifegain with Auriok Champion; and Auriok Champion can be a hell heaven of a blocker in the right matchup.

But Craig isn't satisfied with his hellish divine layer after layer of lifegain and raw-material advantage... with Honor of the Pure and Intangible Virtue, the White Weenie specialist's White Weenies can get quite big and burly.

As we said before, Craig's deck isn't just a teeny weenie token maker but is also built to defend itself in the Modern world; Tidehollow Sculler and Thoughtseize can help Wescoe buy time against powerful combo decks or rip the right answer out of a control player's hand.

Tidehollow Sculler

Craig played a variety of disruptive effects in his sideboard, including anti-Scapeshift (Aven Mindcensor), anti-graveyard (Relic of Progenitus), and anti-"combo in general" (Duress)... but the most interesting to my mind is his attack on artifacts (or anti-Affinity) with a mix of Stony Silence and Sundering Growth; Sundering Growth is particularly useful in this deck, of course, as populate was tailor-made for tokens.

Jon Finkel

Jon Finkel's UR Storm

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Rumor had it that Finkel was going to rock the robots a la fellow Pro Tour winners and/or Hall of Famers Rietzl and Mowshowitz... but to the surprise of no one, the greatest in the game went with his favorite Modern strategy—UR Storm.

Finkel's strategy is to tear through his library with card draw and filtering while generating net mana via Desperate Ritual and Pyretic Ritual. He can filter colors with Manamorphose and eventually end it via a lethal Grapeshot or the overwhelming snowball of Pyromancer Ascension.

Desperate Ritual
Pyromancer Ascension

So... here's the thing.

You are sitting across from Jon Finkel; on turn two he summons a little 2/2 Goblin—the only creature in his deck: Goblin Electromancer. Choose your own adventure!

Goblin Electromancer

Do you...

  1. Kill it, or
  2. Play whatever proactive thing you were going to play otherwise?

It's an interesting dilemma, isn't it?

The initial knock on Goblin Electromancer is that it is the only guy in Storm, meaning it is going to make the opposing deck's kill good all the time.

But here's the thing... if your opponent kills it, you basically get a Time Walk. Your opponent killed it instead of doing something proactive on turn two... you can get another land drop or some card draw or both.

But what if your opponent doesn't kill it? What if your opponent makes an Arcbound Ravager or something?


That's even better for you!

All of a sudden your Manamorphoses actually net mana and your Desperate Rituals and Pyretic Rituals become red Dark Rituals. The game is well and truly afoot!

Storm is a tough deck to evaluate in the abstract. What you should know if you are sitting across the table from one is that while its mana might look precarious (Jon only played sixteen lands and mulligans finally caught up to him in his Top 8 win-and-in), this is a strategy that can basically draw the whole deck and throw it at you in the first couple of turns.

It's Jon Finkel's consistent favorite for a reason.

Patrick Sullivan

Patrick Sullivan's Five-Color Zoo

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PSulli joked all weekend that Geist of Saint Traft was "an honorary red card" in his deck. Sullivan is, of course, an Nth-level Red Deck specialist with multiple PTQ wins, a Standard Open win, and a slew of other top finishes—including multiple Legacy Open Top 8s—all behind the little red men.

In Modern, this Five-Color Zoo is what amounts to a Red Deck, apparently!

To be fair, PSulli has not only the Lightning Bolts but Lightning Helixes via white... and the other colors make his two-mana Tribal Flames utterly devastating. Might of Alara joins as a +5/+5 Giant Growth.

Tribal Flames
Might of Alara

The openings to this deck are an aggro player's dream: First-turn Noble Hierarch can give you second-turn Geist of Saint Traft... which can be attacking as a 3/3 even though it is joined by a 4/4 Angel! And that might not even be the best! Deathrite Shaman is quite the first-turn play; when you have played a couple of lands it can switch modes to becoming quite the little Shock-on-a-stick.

Snapcaster Mage rounds out a squad that, again, makes Tribal Flames look good... you know, again and again.

For any of you who think aggro decks are easier to pilot competently than control decks, I challenge you to take a couple of draws with Patrick's. He has black one-drops with two total black-producing lands (which sac land do you break to grab which shockland?)... green one-drops, blue and white instants, blue and white (virtual) two-drops... and a high end terminating at for Elspeth, Knight-Errant and for Thundermaw Hellkite. Meanwhile, he will need and/or just to keep the Deathrite Shaman lights on.

Elspeth, Knight-Errant
Thundermaw Hellkite

In Magic, tapping your mana correctly is hard enough... but Patrick has to find the right mana first! The tools are there, but for such an offensively capable deck, the path might not be as obvious as you first think.

That, my fellow Magic fans, is how you do a detour. Wow! What a collection of great deck ideas!

Up next: The Big Show.

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