As some of you may know by now, I’m famous. Hall of Famer Eric Froehlich played RG Ponza to an 11-4 finish at GP LA and yours truly got a shout-out in his tournament report on ChannelFireball.com. My primers on this site were crucial to him filling in the holes of his own version of the list. So, now that I’ve reached the apex, I’m retiring and moving to my dream condo in sunny SoCal.
Who am I kidding? Today’s article is all about our lists.
As I’ve constantly obsessed over the strength of this deck and it’s ‘realness’ I’ve sent our list and testing material to many friends, both pros and amateurs. The first pro to pick up the deck was Christian Calcano. I was stoked that such an awesome dude would try the deck (and you can put it on record that the dude is awesome). He played it one evening to get a feel for it. I believe he played about two or three MTGO Leagues before ultimately deciding it wasn’t for him. Calc didn’t like its draws and he was put off most by our Elves matchup which can be blowout city depending on each player’s draws. I was a bit disappointed, but Modern is a wide open field where “deck comfort,” for lack of a better term, is a very real key to success. My other buddy Austin Yost, a lesser-known GP grinder and lover of all things combo or aggressive, picked up RG Ponza and a host of other decks before settling back into what he loves most: attacking with Kird Apes. As a former Zoo-keeper, I understood his decision and was left wondering who would don the fire-beard.
No not this one!
I was playing Modern at my LGS the Thursday before LA/Charlotte weekend, when a friend and fellow traveler Steven Wu told me his friend just beat Efro online…playing Ponza.
“Cool!” I quickly grabbed my phone to see if he was streaming, he was not. He had also not talked about it on social media. Disappointed, I shrugged it off as a pro giving the deck a spin for a few matches on MTGO. I don’t feel like I’m great at Magic, but I know I can expertly bring this particular dragon to battle. I stayed home from both Grand Prix hoping and wondering if there was someone else up to the task.
No copies of Ponza appeared at the top tables of either GP. That was, I guess, to be expected. It’s still a new deck and no one, at least to that point, knew it better than the Blood Besties. Monday, however, Efro tweeted out a pic of his Beta [card]Stone Rain[/card]s. WHAAAAA!!! Excited for his 11-4 finish, I contacted him for more info and waited for his post-mortem on both ChannelFireball and Constructed Resources, his podcast with co-host Marshall Sutcliffe.
1 Misty Rainforest
3 Stomping Ground
1 Verdant Catacombs
2 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
2 Beast Within
4 Blood Moon
4 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Chandra, Pyromaster
1 Lightning Bolt
4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
4 Stone Rain
4 Utopia Sprawl
4 Arbor Elf
2 Birds of Paradise
4 Inferno Titan
2 Obstinate Baloth
1 Stormbreath Dragon
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Ancient Grudge
1 Fracturing Gust
3 Kitchen Finks
1 Natural State
1 Obstinate Baloth
1 Relic of Progenitus
2 Sudden Shock
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
Examining his list, it’s very similar. In Modern, each deck has a “core” and “flex spots.” The core is a generally agreed upon set of cards that each deck plays. Some cores are more defined while others a more flexible. Merfolk’s core, for example, consists of sets of [card]Cursecatcher[/card], [card]Silvergill Adept[/card], [card]Lord of Atlantis[/card], [card]Master of the Pearl Trident[/card], [card]Aether Vial[/card], [card]Spreading Seas[/card]; three or four [card]Merrow Reejerey[/card] and [card]Master of Waves[/card]; and one to two [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]. Due to the linear nature of Fish as a strategy, its flex spots number only about six to eight in the maindeck, but there’s still room. A deck like Jeskai Tempo, for example, is much less linear and more flexible. Flex spots allow decks and strategies to adapt to varying play styles and metagames. Merfolks’ flex options, for example, usually consist of [card]Vapor Snag[/card], [card]Kira, Great Glass-Spinner[/card], [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Tidebinder Mage[/card], among others. Some decks can even pivot into white, blue, or red, for extra options.
So, it was great to discover that our core was solid. (Our list’s numbers appear next to his in parenthesis.)
4(4*) Green fetchlands, 4(4) [card]Wooded Foothills[/card], 9(9) [card]Forest[/card], 1(1) [card]Mountain[/card], 3(3) [card]Stomping Ground[/card]
A mana base fit for a Hall of Famer. Beings that the Heaths were only green, Eric chose to mix up his green fetches for extra equity against [card]Pithing Needle[/card] and [card]Surgical Extraction[/card]. I don’t own those fetchlands in paper, but that’s what I’d also recommend going forward. One change he recommended that I would advise against is changing the [card]Mountain[/card] into another fetchland. While he is correct in his assessment that it’s not relevant most of the time when fetching except in the case where the loss of life is a concern, [card]Ghost Quarter[/card] is still a card in the format. Being able to get a [card]Mountain[/card] when your opponent Quarters a [card]Stomping Ground[/card] is important.
4(4) [card]Utopia Sprawl[/card], 4(4) Arbor Elf, 2(2) [card]Birds of Paradise[/card]
Efro agreed with these numbers. He also agreed that Birds was the worst of the three, but necessary. We’ve found that there are actually matchups where it’s okay to shave one or two Birds, but I’ll leave that for a future update.
4(4) [card]Blood Moon[/card], 4(3) [card]Stone Rain[/card], 2(3) [card]Beast Within[/card], 4(4) [card]Mwonvuli Acid-Moss[/card]
Here’s where we start to differ, but not by much. In fact, we’ve had long internal discussions about whether or not three [card]Beast Within[/card] is correct. A few members of the Blood Besties have switched to two due its drawback and the abundance of aggressive decks. We’re convinced that, if the third Beast is taken out, it should be replaced with a fourth [card]Stone Rain[/card]. That effect is too important to the deck to remove. I’m also happy that Efro plays four Moon. The card is nuts and gives you many free wins.
4(4) [card]Inferno Titan[/card], 2(2) [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card], 1(2) [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], 2(0) [card]Thragtusk[/card], 0(1) [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card], 0(1) [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]
Here’s where the core starts to establish itself, but also allows for flexible differences. If you count Scooze, each deck plays 9-10 threats. As I mentioned in an earlier article, I tried and liked [card]Thragtusk[/card]. I would also play it if I didn’t like Dragon in a given meta and that’s what Efro did. Dragon is a card we often question. In some metas, it’s insane. It can be a valuable blocker against Infect and Affinity. It’s also great against UWx, Soul Sisters, and BW/GW Hatebears, but slow and clunky against other decks. It also has the ability to fly hastily over ground dorks to attack planeswalkers to death and it can quickly end a game in monstrous fashion. That being said, [card]Thragtusk[/card] is a defensible option. Its five-powered front half allows it to tangle and trade with some of the big dudes we struggle against. It’s still good against control, but unlike Dragon, it’s great against tempo and aggro. It should be mentioned that its 3/3 buddy ain’t all that against decks that can kill it and/or block it easily and it can get Snap-Bolt’d and Path’d whereas Dragon is Path-proof.
[card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] is a card that Efro chose not to play, but that I like having alongside [card]Primal Command[/card]. It gives you some equity against the graveyard decks and can be a solid late-game play against aggro. Scooze, once again, can also come down and block early game one against Infect. But Efro chose to jam another [card]Thragtusk[/card], and didn’t end up playing the [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] in the maindeck. Benching Scooze is an easy choice if you’re playing it as a singleton without Command as you can’t reliably draw it. It’s also not great against the tempo decks who will simply kill it. I also speculate that he didn’t expect to play many graveyard-based combo decks. His lack of Thrun in the main is due to the sometimes underwhelming nature of the dude and, as Efro explains it, his lack of difficulty against the [card]Remand[/card] decks. [card]Thragtusk[/card] helps in those matchups as well, but getting anything to stick against these decks can be a frustrating challenge and Thrun is my go-to guy for now. I will probably cut one going forward in favor of a [card]Thragtusk[/card].
4(4) [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], 1(0) [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]
This can be considered the removal suite. Efro chose to play four Bonfire, but he’s still unsure of that number. We’re always unsure of that and then it keeps getting us out of pickles. We all at Blood Besties Corp collectively scratched our head at the one Bolt. We determined a long time ago that cards like this, low-impact one-for-ones, were not what we wanted. They make horrible topdecks when we need insanity. That being said, we are playing a ton of mana dorks as well as possibly redundant LD, so a lone Bolt doesn’t affect the deck too much. It should also be noted that the old Eminent Domain decks played quad Bolts to pick off early dorks or aggressors so his choice has historical precedent. We’re not going that direction, although it could be correct if [card]Goblin Dark-Dwellers[/card] is more your jam.
1(0) [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], 0(1) [card]Primal Command[/card]
At first, I thought this was [card]Chandra, Flamecaller[/card]. Big 6 was a card we experimented with during Eldrazi Winter. Our testing wasn’t that great as we tried her in place of fourth Titan which proved to be very incorrect. This was mostly because she’s horrible on defense against creatures she can’t kill with her minus ability ([card]Reality Smasher[/card] is one of those). She has potential still, but is not needed yet. [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card], however, I considered very early in deckbuilding. She does a little bit of everything that we want. Her ability copies LD effects and Bonfires if the need arises. Her 0 “draws” cards and her minus is a consistent piece of removal and inevitability to help against small annoyances. I ultimately decided against her because she didn’t do anything exceptionally well and her potential to be a horrible topdeck scared me. Talking with Efro, he was impressed by her ability to constantly generate advantage and might add another. In a deck with no draw spells, it makes sense that a planeswalker like her could be useful. Roberto D’Aurelio, Eh Team fan and fellow Blood Bestie, has suggested [card]Outpost Siege[/card] as an option in the sideboard against Jund. I know I will be trying her going forward.
Concerning Efro’s lack of [card]Primal Command[/card], it’s understandable. The card is good, but not great. Many threats in the deck can easily take its place, especially [card]Thragtusk[/card]. It also doesn’t guarantee you’ll have six mana to immediately play the [card]Inferno Titan[/card] you fetched, so we often search up Dragon instead. That being said, it is a spell that lets you know if the door is open against the control decks. If they can’t counter Command, for example, you can get Dragon and it will probably stick. Gaining 7+fetching an [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] is also a regular play I make against Burn, but [card]Thragtusk[/card] is probably good enough there. It could also be the case that [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] adds more to the deck than Command. Future testing will give me a more solid opinion of this flex spot.
As with the maindeck, our sideboards are very similar.
3(3) [card]Kitchen Finks[/card], 2(2) [card]Sudden Shock[/card], 2(3) [card]Ancient Grudge[/card], 1(2) [card]Dismember[/card], 1(2) [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card], 1(0) [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]
These are the cards we have in common. The major differences here are the [card]Dismember[/card] and Thrun/Baloth quantities. As stated before, [card]Thragtusk[/card] helps here as it can handle the creatures [card]Dismember[/card] comes in against and can help in the same matchups as Thrun and Baloth. Thrun and Baloth are weird threats. We only play five total 4/4’s for four mana because they can be solid if played early enough in the midgame, but are not impactful enough in the later mid-to-late game. They act as necessary aggression against combo and control and defense against aggro, but are meh otherwise.
Whether or not I influenced his numbers, we both found that Finks, Shock, and Grudge are great and that a fourth Finks isn’t necessary. I’ll touch on [card]Natural State[/card] later, but, while we play three, one Grudge could be a State. Michael Nielsen, co-designer, often added another Baloth to his sideboard and that’s a great option.
2(0) [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], 0(2) [card]Firespout[/card]
Once again, we found similar problems and similar solutions. I’m convinced that Anger was a choice he made either out of raw inexperience with the deck or because of a lack of graveyard interaction. He notes in his article that he found Abzan CoCo to be an easy matchup and we agree there. A sweeper here is almost not necessary, but my conclusion is that Anger was a choice made because of its raw power against the dredge decks. [card]Firespout[/card] is customizable and give you some cool options, but Anger is a hammer against dredge’s wide boards and we sure do like hammers. It also has implications against [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], creatures with persist, undying, and modular, and opposing Scoozes, but this usually doesn’t matter. Your meta will dictate your choice, but I still like [card]Firespout[/card] much more than Anger.
1(0) [card]Relic of Progenitus[/card]
I hated Relic when I played it. We went back and forth on what to play to interact with the yard and I didn’t want anything that couldn’t attack. I also found that Relic can be awkward and played around. Additionally, we only wanted it against Storm, Dredge, and GrisShoalBrand and even there, Scooze is much better. I would recommend a Scooze in this spot if you want it.
1(0) [card]Natural State[/card], 1(0) [card]Fracturing Gust[/card]
Efro prepared heavily for a field of aggro and Affinity as those were his stated tough matchups. He also admitted afterward that Gust might end up as another State. I like both options honestly. [card]Shatterstorm[/card] is what I’d recommend as Bogles is not a tough enough matchup to merit Gust and because Moon and Sprawl do a lot of work. Other than being a potential topdeck liability, I like State. It gives you more cards against Affinity while also giving you play against Ad Nauseum, Bogles, [card]Scapeshift[/card], Storm, Infect, and others.
One card we play that Efro does not is [card]Crumble to Dust[/card]. As he has a fourth [card]Stone Rain[/card], and as we move towards that change, I could see this not being necessary.
I’m excited that the deck is changing and my next update will focus on cards we can/did/don’t play.
Thanks for reading and send any questions to me on twitter @mattmendoza or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or comment below of course.
Until next week, may all your Bonfires be miraculous!