Good players are always able to look back on each match and describe what they did wrong, what they need to improve and then focus on the next match. Everyone else, myself included, say that they do all of those things but it is just not true. So how do we improve, well here are some ways to start.

The first part is identifying during the course of a game, what you did wrong during the match. The only way to do this is to know the matchup before you sit down at the tables. Each deck has a weakness, something that can be exploited. Hoping that your opponent succumbs to mana screw or drawing too many lands is a plan that will never win your matches.

There will always be situations when the deck you play against is completely unfamiliar and a rogue deck. This shouldn’t really cause you to panic as with preparation the deck you will be playing should be equipped to handle it or, if you are really unlucky, you ran in to the player who just broke the format and you should start buying the cards in their deck before they skyrocket in price!

The first phase is identifying how your opponent’s deck wins, with the next being how to defeat it. An example of this is from the recent standard environment. When playing against Pyromancer Ascension, you could never let an Ascension get online. This knowledge is not enough to win you matches though; you also need to know how your deck can accomplish this.

You also need to know how to attack a deck’s weakness and even cripple a deck given the chance. If you were playing against a deck like Pyro or Exarch Twin, hitting them with a Memoricide or one of their key cards with a Surgical Extraction then the game is over and you’ve gotten yourself a free win. The same can be true against a deck like Canadian Thresh, whose only source of green mana is from Tropical Island and saving Wasteland for the Trops while letting them have Volcanic Islands can allow for easier victories.

This knowledge is extremely useful when considering which hands to mulligan and which hands should be kept. This is the first part to knowing about your mistakes, a good starting hand in game one is not the same as a good starting hand for games two or three. The only part of actual game play you can control is your starting hand, after that your draws are random from there and if your deck is well built then you won’t have to worry about your opponent outdraw you.

You might not believe me but generally most people do not make very many game play errors. The cards that are in front of you on your side of the board and your opponent’s side present a very clear picture of the game state and rarely will someone make a play that is a totally blatant misplay. There are exceptions of course such as Jonathan Medina’s Destructive Force or LSV killing his creature thinking it would cause Searing Blaze not to resolve.

The next part on improving is the postgame analysis of your deck and play. Success in Magic, resolves around constant tweaks and improvements to your deck to improve the matchups that you most expect. This is where your sideboard plays a huge role. While there are several players who make mistakes when it comes to sideboarding in incorrect cards, the major issue is from sideboarding out the wrong cards.

My go to example in this case was the matchup of Caw Blade versus Mono Red in standard. Many Caw players would leave in Jace, the Mind Sculptor when the correct play was always to side them out in that matchup.

I mentioned a little ways back that if you deck was properly built then you didn’t have to worry about your deck floundering. When it comes to sideboarding and going in to game two and game three is when you and you alone have control over your deck’s construction. It doesn’t matter if your list is the exact 75 of LSV or Gerry T or Conley Woods, if you don’t know how to make it so that your 60 cards in games two and three and the best options available to you, you will flounder.

Last we arrive at looking forward. Each person is different in their approach and the advice that I give in reference to me, is quite possibly useless for another person but each needs to develop their style.

I don’t think about winning.

Having such thoughts creates pressure and expectations which if not met, will produce negative side effects. The approach I take is simply to find my name when the pairings go up and then find my place. Occasionally I may look at who my friends are paired up with but otherwise it is not really of importance. I sit down, chat with anybody I know who is close and say hi to my opponent and talk with them.

Magic is a community game so there should be a constant conversation ongoing. It will also provide a subtle edge as many players are not use to constantly talking; instead they sit down and focus on the game. If you are constantly talking it is possible to bait them into a mistake or have them pass the turn earlier then they should.

My favorite example of this, is I once had a couple creatures on the board and my opponent had a Gideon Jura in play. We were talking back and forth and he made a motion that could be vaguely interpreted as passing the turn. I asked him if he meant to pass the turn and he said yes you may go. I attacked his Jace for lethal and he pointed to Gideon before realizing he didn’t plus 2 it. That turn the tide.

My point is this, many people believe the only way they can consistently win is by getting into a zone and being extremely focus letting nothing bother them. I would agree with half of it, you need to get in the zone but each person’s zone is different. Mine is more jovial in a good mood and interested in playing Magic. When those emotions are not there and it feels more like a grind than anything, I’ll usually drop from a tournament. It is not worth sitting down at a table and grinding out games I have no interest in grinding out. There have been times when still in contention that I will drop for these reasons. Unlike some people say, winning isn’t everything, it’s not even the only thing and in the end if all you care about is winning, the results you seek, will not be the ones you obtain.

I’ve never really been a fan of limited. I’ve always been a fairly strong limited player and can build pools and achieve results that I am a fan of. There is just something that seems too uneven for me to really like it. In part it is playing against people who do not know how to draft or build pools. I prefer earned wins to free wins but that is neither here or there.

Innistrad seems to be changing that.

I think part of this has to do with the power level of werewolves as well as the strategy bleed from M12 that players have learned by now. Blue/White Flyers and Red/Black Aggro are both strategies from Innistrad and M12. It is also because I have seen some very interesting and synergistic draft decks which seem potentially viable in Standard. I’m still working on a deck based on Robert Anderson’s draft deck that hopefully will be up next week.

I happen to also be a fan of Morbid cards which have proven me wrong. Originally I thought the Mechanics from Scars and Innistrad were sole contained within their block and that outside of Flashback neither crosses over very well. Well I was wrong about Morbid. Every time I’ve played one in limited, it seems to produce a certain swing that seems very powerful in the right deck. Which leads to the point where I’m at a crossroads of pools being badly built with Morbid cards.

It’s time to build a Birthing Pod deck.

Most people cannot build proper Birthing Pod lists, I’m not exactly sure why this is or if they just choose to get too fancy but many of the lists that I’ve seen around the area are built in a very peculiar and ineffective way.

My original article on the Pod dealt with the Bant version, which was originally piloted by Olivier Ruel and is arguably the most successful version. Where did this success come from? Many, myself included, will argue that the deck succeeded because of the pilot being a world class Magic player but that excuse belittles the deck and states that it is not a good deck otherwise. Something some did not realize is the math also contributed to the deck’s success.

Birthing Pod offers an escalation of casting cost on a chain thus the math that would exist would simply be a chain of reducing values similar to 7-6-5-4-3-2-1, which is exactly what Olivier’s deck had. There were seven one drops and 1 seven drop. By using this chain, it implies that you will have a greater supply of creatures that will grow in something bigger and that if you lose one along the way there will still be an equal number of higher casting cost creatures available.

While all of this makes sense, it is actually not used very frequently, in fact many decks are more a mash up of cool creatures that just so happen to have four random Birthing Pods in the deck as well. In fact they seem more like a diversion to lure your opponent into hating on the Pods while you go about doing your thing with creatures. For today’s Morbid Pod list I’ll use the same 7-to-1 chain to build my deck.

7 One Drops

4 Birds of Paradise & 3 Llanowar Elves

The Pod deck’s strength is the possibility of casting on turn two. In order to achieve this we need a maximum amount of mana ramp available to guarantee success, which both of those creatures provide. Short & Sweet.

6 Two Drops

3 Viridian Emissary, 1 Reassembling Skeleton, 1 Skirsdag High Priest and 1 Boneyard Wurm

The Emissaries are for Mana Ramp. The beginning of the curve in Pod decks are essential sacrificial creatures, those that have a single purpose which when finished can be easily dispatched without any problem. It is why the Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image combo works so well, because the Image is disposable but can be brought back later with the Titan for more value. For that reason, I’ve included one copy of the Skeleton as it can be used to start the chain again after being sacrificed.

The other two drops are much less sacrificial fodder and instead and more game breakers or finishers. The Wurm presents a huge body in the late game with so much sacrificed and converts that late game draw of an Elves or Birds into a much larger threat. The Priest represents a more middle to late game threat as along the chain you can get rid of a one drop and have him sitting on the playing field essentially saying deal with me now or die, similar to the role Dragonmaster Outcast played.

5 Three Drops

3 Phyrexian Rager, 1 Viridian Corrupter & 1 Cemetery Reaper

Back during Invasion-Odyssey block was the last time Mono Black Control was truly a top tier deck. One of the key cards in that deck which delivered a body and card advantage was Phyrexian Rager, which is why when it was printed I was sure he was going to be showing up in most of the MBC decks around but that was not the case. In here he is the perfect three drop as it has sacrificial body plus card advantage which is win-win.

The corrupter presents a main board answer to deal with Artifacts while the Reaper presents another late game threat capable of pumping out 3/3 zombies making him superior to Splinterfright and since there is no graveyard recursion in the deck outside of the Reassembling Skeleton there is no need to worry.

Splinterfright might seem alright but the mill factor makes him inferior to Boneyard Wurm as playing recursion is too cute. One needs to remember that Birthing Pod decks are in fact Pod decks and if you start convoluting this fact then the deck beings to fail. It is the same reason for not including Glissa, the Traitor. The deck is trying to be too cute if you do.

4 Four Drops

1 Solemn Simulacrum, 1 Phyrexian Metamorph, 1 Gravedigger & 1 Phyrexian Obliterator

Remember the conversation about sacrificial lamb? Well Solemn is test subject 0 in this area so he has to be around. Metamorph features in the clone slot for this deck as it can be cast for Phyrexian mana if in your hand or can help readjust your curve or be the additional Birthing Pod you require. The Gravedigger represents card advantage as many times playing Bant Pod I would ramp to a Titan only to have it destroyed so this guy represents additional support in the later game without having to introduce a new strategy in the mix.

The big guy. You never really want the Obliterator in hand as outside of mono colored decks he will be difficult to cast but when you can chain into him later in the game he becomes a house that needs to be dealt with.

3 Five Drops

1 Acidic Slime, 1 Hollowhenge Scavenger & Morkrut Banshee

Acidic Slime is needed removal and pretty much a staple in every Pod deck known to man. Obstinate Baloth we will miss you. While having a bigger body and bigger life gain is nice the Scavenger still needs Morbid to gain the five life so being cast from your hand in kind of awkward though doable. The exact same sentiment can be said about the Banshee, it might not have Archon of Justice removal powers but generally it will be able to rid you of the creature you want, also it combines nicely with you running your smaller creature into something big like a Titan and then having the resources to finish it off, whereas the Archon needed an additional activation.

I think it’s rule breaking time. I did state that I would follow the math but the five slot absolutely needs a copy of Kessig Cagebreakers so I’ll bend the rules a little so that the five slot has four instead of three creatures. When is the Cagebreaker insane? Well Pods decks specialize in dumping creatures in the bin and that just makes even more tokens attacking your opponent.

2 Six Drops

Grave Titan, 1 Massacre Wurm & 1 Reaper From The Abyss

Alright I’m doing it again. Adding in another six drop and breaking the curve but I just couldn’t come to cutting that extra slot. Everyone knows Grave Titan is a beast that can end games and is the finisher of choice of the three should you need it. Massacre Wurm is Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite lite. Against Weenie strategies ramping to this can usually kill your opponent. Last is the Reaper who will usually be the weapon of choice against strategies like Solar Flare as you seek to eliminate their biggest threat before ramping to your seven drop.

1 Seven Drop

This was always going to be Sheoldred, Whispering One no questions asked. It presents
reanimation possibilities as well as removal possibilities on your opponent’s side. It’s the card you want.

Now to add in lands and some support and the deck looks something like this:

The twenty-two lands is rather standard and you want more green sources to allow for the greater possibility of a turn two Birthing Pod. After than the Dismember, Go For The Throat and Liliana are more for creature removal though Liliana also allows for the possibility of card advantage by having your opponent discard with you only pitching excess land. Finally Garruk Relentless is present for a source of Tokens but more so for the possibility of being able to activate his ultimate which if you have him fight a Birds can be done the turn after for the win.

For sideboard recommendation I would suggest four Naturalize as Stony Silence is a thing. Otherwise stick to additional support card in the form of creatures in the form of Peace Strider for life gain for Acidic Slime or Sylvok Replica for more removal. Surgical Extraction may also present another option though remember not to get too cute when you are tweaking and brewing.

Shameless plug for this week, I was on the Horde of Notions Podcast Episode # 20 and it was a great time so check out their podcast here. 20 will not be up for another week or so but you can go through older episodes which are always entertaining.

Until next time, thank you for reading and have Fun playing Magic.