RG Ponza Primer

Hello and welcome to the first primer I’ve ever written. Perhaps you’ve heard me babble on The Eh Team about this red and green monstrosity I’m jamming in Modern. I’ve converted a few of you to our little group, The Blood Besties (named partially for my co-designer’s love of German cards; [card]Beast Within[/card] in German is ‘Die Innere Bestie’) and many have reported both fun and success. I’ve been outside of Top 8 by one match at many tournaments big and small (7-2 at GP Detroit’s SSS where 8-1 Top 8’s; Winner at Kansas’s Modern States). Folks have contacted me after hearing about the deck from the podcast, stream or YouTube archives, or my results, asking all sorts of questions. Deservedly so, this deck is not as intuitive as you might think and land destruction has not been a viable strategy for many years. That’s partially what drew me to building such an un-fun deck.

A Little History

The idea of land destruction always appealed to me. While I was not a competitive player during RG Plow Under’s heyday, I always knew it was a viable strategy and I still had Wildfire, [card]Stone Rain[/card], [card]Molten Rain[/card], etc. (For historical accuracy, [card]Plow Under[/card] was in the format when I played Standard, but it was a sideboard card in a deck that didn’t play other LD spells outside of artifact destruction in a format with artifact lands). The closest I’ve come to playing LD came from three decks. The first was Ankh-Tide, a mono-blue control deck that used Mercadian Masque’s plentiful free counter and draw spells. It’s name came from how it killed: [card]Parallax Tide[/card] would remove your opponent’s lands from the game (I will not say exile when referring to this card, get off my lawn) and [card]Ankh of Mishra[/card] would 10 or 20 them when they returned to play. Getting closer to pure LD was the other two decks: UR [card]Magnivore[/card] and Eminent Domain. Both decks were Standard and both planned to deny you lands, resolve Wildfire, and win with a big threat. [card]Magnivore[/card] played [card]Boomerang[/card], [card]Eye of Nowhere[/card], [card]Stone Rain[/card], [card]Mana Leak[/card], and tempo spells to keep the board under control. It would eventually seal the deal with Wildfire and a big [card]Magnivore[/card]. Eminent Domain functioned similarly in a different Standard. It would utilize one of my favorite cards, Annex, aside [card]Dream Leash[/card] and mana rocks to break the symmetry of Wildfire. It eventually closed out the game with big Kamigawa dragons like [card]Keiga, the Tide Star[/card]. Fun!

Unfortunately, those decks existed over ten years ago and LD has slowly become the strategy that WotC doesn’t want to be good (I can blame them, but I can’t). Occasionally, an LD-esque strategy will make an appearance in Modern. Darwin Kastle’s [card]Avalanche Riders[/card], [card]Fulminator Mage[/card], and [card]Beast Within[/card] in [card]Living End[/card], for example, can keep an opponent out of a game by recurring these land-destroying dudes. Blue Moon and Zoo with [card]Blood Moon[/card] are other ways that mana denial can take shape, but they definitely don’t want to play [card]Stone Rain[/card].

Fast-forward to the most recent and last (sadness) Modern Pro Tour. You know, the Eldrazi one. While playing the Magic board game, me and my friends Kyle and Ryan came to the conclusion that basic lands, particularly basic forests, were very strong. Post-PT, everyone would be gunning for nonbasics and Forest could dodge [card]Blood Moon[/card], [card]Fulminator Mage[/card], and the like ([card]Ghost Quarter[/card] being a popular exception). Then, we rediscovered the [card]Utopia Sprawl[/card] and Arbor Elf engine that’s capable of making four mana on turn two and we were off. Ryan and I were the two to pick up the shell and we each went our separate ways.

Ryan chose to go big with [card]Overgrowth[/card] and [card]Garruk Wildspeaker[/card]. When you enchant a Forest with Sprawl and [card]Overgrowth[/card] and have the ability to untap it many times, you have access to absurd amounts of mana. He would use this mana to entwine [card]Tooth and Nail[/card], Toothing Xenagos, God of Revel and [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card] to Nail his opponents with an attack for 30, sometimes as soon as turn three. The deck was powerful, but much like the Modern Green Devotion deck that [card]Genesis Wave[/card]s its way to story-worthy wins, it can be fragile and inconsistent.

Conversely, my mind immediately went to turn-two disruption. Part of the problem with LD is the increasing speed of Magic’s format and its inability to keep up. But, imagine if you will, an [card]Avalanche Riders[/card] on turn two, an [card]Acidic Slime[/card] on turn three, followed by [card]Karn Liberated[/card], World Breaker, or Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger! Basically I wanted to Slime all the time. I quickly realized that [card]Blood Moon[/card] fit well in a deck that didn’t require [card]Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx[/card] or more than two colors to operate.

Eventually, the deck got smaller. No longer did I want to get to ten or even seven mana so [card]Primeval Titan[/card] became [card]Inferno Titan[/card]; this also removed the nonbo of [card]Blood Moon[/card] and [card]Eye of Ugin[/card]. So, the deck became RG Ponza and I went to SCG Regionals.


I went 6-3 at SCG Regionals and finished just outside of prizes. The deck felt good and could turn some heads. As an aside, that’s one of the best parts of playing this deck. In the Face to Face Modern Open in Toronto, I sat across from my round five opponent and played Forest and Arbor Elf. He looked at me and said, “Oh no, I heard about you.” That happens every event and it never gets old.

Despite its raw strength, the deck needed tuning. It could get ahead, but it would run out of gas. It was also fairly bad at turning a game around once it went south. Here’s where I started streaming, and my friend and co-developer Michael Nielsen got a hold of the deck. A deck like this needed more focused synergy and more insane topdecks. Cards like [card]Avalanche Riders[/card] and [card]Goblin Ruinblaster[/card] were, unfortunately, not cheap enough or good enough at four. [card]Garruk Wildspeaker[/card] was the same way, as was [card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card], the ramp wasn’t necessary and they didn’t provide enough aggression to capitalize on our advantage.

There’s a misconception when it comes to LD decks and it causes many of them to be stillborn. Players incorrectly focus on destroying every land and winning the game with a small board advantage. Many times, that won’t work. Modern has cheap, powerful creatures and removal. Those speed bumps and road blocks give them crucial turns during which they can draw out of your LD plan. Your opponent also often has access to sources of mana that aren’t lands. This reality leads to decks where your cards are situationally either great or awful. Enter [card]Blood Moon[/card].

Moon decks play in unique ways. Blue Moon uses it to limit the spells they have to counter or creatures they have to kill. Moon-Zoo decks use its disruption to give them the crucial turns they need to win. It also often stops powerful sweepers. This deck uses it as a super efficient land destruction spell. If we play Moon, effectively destroying three of your four lands, we need only destroy your one relevant basic to control the game. In this way, Moon adds value to late-game [card]Stone Rain[/card]s. Granted, this changes as Moon’s effectiveness changes, but that’s the general strategy. Unlike the aforementioned flawed LD decks, this deck only destroys lands as a means to give our insane topdecks enough time to win the game.

So, Michael added [card]Beast Within[/card], [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card], [card]Batterskull[/card], [card]Mwonvuli Acid-Moss[/card], and, scourge of US National Teams everywhere, [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]. His version was different and scary. Like many control decks, you win the game at a seemingly precarious life total. [card]Beast Within[/card], for example, is sometimes a crucial [card]Stone Rain[/card] that deals you 12. That’s the scary, but fun, reality of a deck like this.

Approximately 500 matches later, this is our most current list and is about 72/75 what I would play in LA or Charlotte:

RG Ponza by The Blood Besties:

9 Forest
1 Mountain
3 Stomping Ground
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
[Spells and Creatures]
3 Beast Within
4 Blood Moon
4 Bonfire of the Damned
4 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
1 Primal Command
3 Stone Rain
4 Utopia Sprawl
4 Arbor Elf
2 Birds of Paradise
4 Inferno Titan
2 Obstinate Baloth
1 Scavenging Ooze
2 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Dismember
2 Sudden Shock
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
3 Kitchen Finks
3 Ancient Grudge
1 Stone Rain
2 Firespout
2 Ricochet Trap

The Dorks:

One crucial piece of information you should always remember when discussing lands and dorks: every non-basic land you play post-Moon does not provide you with green mana. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re not in situations where you’re relying on drawing one of eight or nine basic forests for green mana. [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] helps, as does Acid-Moss, but always remember to manage your mana carefully.

4 [card]Utopia Sprawl[/card], 4 [card]Arbor Elf[/card], 2 [card]Birds of Paradise[/card]

The original version of the deck began with only Elf and Sprawl. At one point I experimented with differing quantities of [card]Simian Spirit Guide[/card]. The problem with SSG is a deck like this is that this deck wants dorks to provide constant mana advantage. Following up your powerful early plays with more of these is the name of this game and giving your opponent the one turn they desperately need can lead to defeat. I also noticed that I mulligan many hands that don’t have dorks and that remains the case. Adding the two [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] to a deck with so many mana sources was a reluctant, but crucial, decision I liked immediately.

There are subtle differences in these dorks you need to know (as I’ll discuss later in the lands section, sequencing is also crucial). As you probably guessed, Sprawl is the best and most resilient ‘dork.’ It’s entirely possible that this deck exists because Sprawl is in the format (if only [card]Wild Growth[/card] was also in Modern). Ninety-percent of the time, it does and should enchant a basic forest. Enchanting a [card]Stomping Ground[/card] with a Sprawl can be a necessary play, but is not desirable because, post-Moon, Ground is no longer a forest and Sprawl falls off. Choosing your color is also important. Most of the time I choose red, but about a third of the time I choose green. Each situation is slightly different, but make your choice based on the lands in your hand, Moon’s effect on that hand, and the mana you’ll need eventually. Also be cognizant of your opponent’s capacity to kill your dorks and mess with your lands. [card]Spreading Seas[/card] is a card to play around, so Sprawling multiple forests is a line you need to take sometimes. The deck is often very green, but, post-board, you may have [card]Ricochet Trap[/card], so RRR may also be necessary. That all being said, the mana in this deck is smooth if you sequence things correctly.

Arbor Elf is important to the deck not only as a way to get to three (or four w/Sprawl) on turn two, but also because it allows degeneracy out of nowhere. For example, you have three lands and an Elf. All of a sudden, you draw Sprawl and now have five. If they don’t have an answer by your next turn, you’ll have six or more. The situation gets exponentially more nutty if you have two Elf’s. Arbor Elf’s limitations, however, are that it doesn’t fix your mana and, in the rare occasions you find yourself with no forests, it’s a lowly 1/1. When sequencing your plays, remember that Elf can provide RR by untapping a [card]Stomping Ground[/card]. Conversely, remember that Ground is not a forest post-Moon, and cannot be untapped.

Birds of Paradise is an important two-of. Its immediate value is a one-mana dork that color fixes. It’s not as explosive or as resilient, but it’s what we’ve got. Later, it serves as a crucial flying blocker (or attacker if you play [card]Batterskull[/card] or [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card]). Post-board, it can offer you greater options if you play cards like [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Engineered Explosives[/card], or [card]Firespout[/card]. Additionally, if you choose to play Wolf Run, Birds is an important zero-power attacker versus [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card].

That all being said, when sequencing, open with Sprawl in situations where you need the most resilient dork and the payoff at three is Moon or a powerful LD chain (Rain>Rain/Moss>Moss/Command, etc). If given the choice between Elf and Sprawl, if I’m in the dark, I also look at my payoff. Playing Elf first is riskier, but if I have another land and get a turn-two Thrun/Baloth/Acid-Moss into a turn-three Titan/Dragon, I’ll go for it. Also remember that Sprawl can be free the turn you play it if you can use one land to enchant the other. Birds is the riskiest, least powerful opener, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do.

The Mana:

4 [card]Wooded Foothills[/card], 4 [card]Windswept Heath[/card], 3 [card]Stomping Ground[/card], 1 Mountain, 9 Forest

When designing the deck, this was a surprisingly complex part of the puzzle. Once again, it all comes down to Moon’s interactions with your own mana base and making that as good as it can possibly be. The most important part of all this is sequencing. The most common situation I find myself in is when I play Forest and Elf on turn one and plan to follow it up with a turn-two Moon. My draw on turn two is a Foothills, to go with the Heath and Ground already in my hand. While the decision is easy: play a red source and slam Moon. If all goes to plan, I’ll have GG and all the RRRRRR I want. If they’re able to kill Elf, however, I lose GG and I could be in quite the pickle. Remember also to use your Heaths and Foothills wisely. Foothills naturally fetches both of your colors painlessly, where Heath does not and can cost you close games versus aggressive decks.

The LD and disruption:

4 [card]Blood Moon[/card]

Moon is by far the most powerful card in our deck. It can also hilariously be the worst. At one point we dropped to three main for fear of drawing multiples or some nonsense. That’s totally not the case. We determined that the risk was worth the reward and that there are games you win on the spot because you played Moon at the right time. Maximizing those ‘right times,’ like turn two, for example, is key. Having multiples to play through counterspells or discard is also important. There’s a reason people want this card banned.

As mentioned previously, Moon makes our other LD cards better. There is an argument that, if players suspect it, it becomes worse. Or that players can fetch around it. While this logic is true, we battle it aggressively and effectively. By consistently playing Moon turn two, you allow your opponent one or two relevant fetches or land drops before the lands they have in hand become mountains. Additionally, we attack relevant lands with our other disruptive spells and can make playing around Moon ineffective. This is why I wanted to play this type of Moon deck; it’s a powerful effect, but it has to be leveraged to be good. Moon is great in most matches and is usually the one LD effect we keep in after boarding out the others. I’ll touch on matchup-specific interactions later, but I can tell you myriad stories of opponents just straight losing to this enchantment. In one game earlier this week, my Esper Control left me with seven mana, no cards in hand, and no creatures in play. He played something and then tapped down to one to play a [card]Monastery Mentor[/card]. I drew Moon, played it and passed the turn. He had five nonbasic mountains, an Island, and a Mentor. He cycled a [card]Think Twice[/card], made a token, did whatever. I drew and played a Thrun, but it could have been any creature. Then I drew an answer for his Island and he scooped.

3/1 [card]Stone Rain[/card]

It’s amazing to me how many players don’t recognize my FBB Japanese [card]Stone Rain[/card]s with their original Alpha art. “Destroy target land.” Three of the most beautiful words in Magic: The Gathering. Rain is important to our strategy in many ways. It’s a play on turn two that can unlock others. Its cost 2R is flexible enough we don’t have to stretch our mana to make it work (unlike [card]Molten Rain[/card]). Post-Moon, it attacks basics. Without Moon, it can destroy a key nonbasic or creature-land in a pinch. It’s also cheap enough to be a relevant play when facing down [card]Mana Leak[/card] or [card]Remand[/card]. That all being said, it’s not the most amazing play we have at three and can be a horrible topdeck where abundant discard or counterspells have made our LD strategy awkward. We did, however, recently add a fourth to the board as it serves an important role to simply keep our opponent’s number of lands in check. This is relevant when an [card]Oblivion Stone[/card] is on the brink of activation, a RG [card]Scapeshift[/card] opponent is hoping to play their [card]Through the Breach[/card], or a Nahiri, the Harbinger deck is struggling to get to four or RRRW.

3 [card]Beast Within[/card]

This is the most difficult card in the deck to play and, often, if you misplay it, you’ll lose. We don’t have card selection, so you have play your cards as best as you can. Internally, we often have long discussions about Beast plays. Generally, it serves as an instant-speed LD spell against control decks, but it can be used to deal with troublesome permanents or creatures like lords or big threats. Often times, just shrinking and/or giving one of your opponent’s creatures summoning sickness can be just the opening you need. [card]Beast Within[/card] also serves as a way to surprise opponents with new threats or answers. Against Burn, I have destroyed my own [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] or [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] to get an extra creature and/or life. Against Fish, for example, you can blow them out in combat by destroying the land they have enchanted with [card]Spreading Seas[/card]. Be mindful of its effect against the tempo decks, however. I’m learning that giving them a creature is often exactly what they need to beat you. There many, many ways to play this card and as many ways to misplay it.

4 [card]Mwonvuli Acid-Moss[/card]

At GP Detroit, seven of my nine opponents day one had to read this gem from [card]Time Spiral[/card]. It’s one of the most important cards in the deck as it applies to both of our deck’s strategies. It also serves as important and painless mana fixing by fetching [card]Stomping Ground[/card] at no extra cost. Like Moon, this card often stays in when most other LD spells do not as it can be a crucial bridge to your late game. Acid-Moss has been compared to [card]Time Walk[/card] for good reason. [card]Reap and Sow[/card] was a card played at six mana in a much faster format. Play four and keep a “Reader” tally.

1 [card]Primal Command[/card]

This is a new, old addition. During Eldrazi Winter, I did not want to play this card. Most of the time, if you tapped out for this, your opponent could just kill you or use Thought-Knot Seer to take whatever you got. The format is a bit less degenerate and it seems like it’s time for Command again. Of course this card isn’t exclusively disruption. Mostly, I foresee that we’re going to Time Ebb a noncreature permanent and tutor. Against the aggressive decks, however, gaining seven life and ensuring we have an [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card] or [card]Inferno Titan[/card] to play the next turn is crucial. With the rise of Nahiri decks, we also speculate that Command will often be ‘Top your Nahiri, fetch a [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] or Titan.’ This puts that deck is an awkward position. Additionally, shuffling a graveyard can be relevant, especially when it’s coupled with tutoring for a [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] to keep control. Against Living End, I’ve top’d a land and shuffled their graveyard in to their library. I’m a bit concerned playing this card again because it turns on [card]Negate[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] whereas a threat would not, but Dragon and Ooze are in potentially awkward positions in this new Modern. And, as mentioned previously, an extra LD spell can be helpful against RG Tron and [card]Scapeshift[/card], so I’m down to try it again.


1 [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]

Scooze is weird in our deck. It’s not exactly a threat. It’s also not exactly disruption. I’ve found in this deck that our cards need to fit a specific profile to be good and this card’s profile changes with each matchup. For example, against decks like Jund, Jeskai, Grixis, Abzan, etc. you want to play Scooze on a later turn when you can exile most or all of their yard while, hopefully, protecting it from their heaps of removal. Against aggro decks, it’s mediocre early, but can be a solid midgame stabilizer. And against combo decks like Dredge, GrisShaolBrand, or Storm, an early Scooze can be game-breaking as it just sits and eats everything relevant. In our latest change we removed the second Scooze from the main in favor of [card]Primal Command[/card]. In metas where graveyard decks are more rampant, this will change.

1/1 [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]

He’s the Last Troll for a reason. He resolves. He regenerates. He can’t be Path’d, Bolt’d, whatever. He’s a solid threat when we need one against control and can act as an Abyss in many of these games. That being said, the tempo decks can switch to fliers, burn, or [card]Cryptic Command[/card] repeatedly to race, so we’ve found that he’s often not the only threat we want. In these situations, however, he often provokes action during combat, opening up our second main phase against control decks. He’s a solid blocker against aggro decks and can often Fog [card]Tarmogoyf[/card]s or other big creatures while our top end takes over. Previously, both Thruns were in the sideboard, but, with the addition of [card]Primal Command[/card], came the subtraction of one Dragon for this Thrun. Michael astutely realized that a five-casting-cost 4/4 with haste is almost always equivalent to a four-casting-cost 4/4. Thrun is still good against Nahiri (although flying over blockers is a definite plus for Dragon) and better against the Naya Zoo and Blitz decks.

2 [card]Obstinate Baloth[/card]

We’ve tried all sorts of cards here. I liked [card]Thragtusk[/card], whereas Michael preferred [card]Batterskull[/card]. I like Thrags because it does its thing immediately and leaves behind a blocker in case of removal, but it costs five mana and its three-butt makes it vulnerable. Similarly, [card]Batterskull[/card] has to get into combat to be good and often suffers from incidental removal and counterspells like [card]Kologhan’s Command[/card], Negate, and Spell Pierce in addition to the five casting cost. I found Baloth to be just right. It’s cheap enough to play on turn two against aggressive decks, good against [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card] and Command, gains just enough life, and its four-butt makes it formidable enough in combat and against removal. As to the Baloth/Thrun split in the main, our game plan is naturally okay to good against control, where it can be mediocre to poor against the aggressive decks. Having an extra bit of early life gain on a relevant body wins us a surprisingly large number of game ones.

2 [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card]

This card constantly surprised us and I tell you we scoured the format for five-casting-cost creatures for this spot. [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] was an early contender for this spot, but it died to both [card]Path to Exile[/card] and [card]Dismember[/card], the premier removal spells during Eldrazi Winter. [card]Kodama of the North Tree[/card] was another option we considered, but its non-flying four-butt seemed like a liability when we needed to switch to offense. Outside of an Affinity flier equipped with [card]Cranial Plating[/card], there are no other creatures that tangle with Ol’ Stormy. It attacks past [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Celestial Colonnade[/card], [card]Lingering Souls[/card], and [card]Serra Ascendant[/card]. It also blocks all those creatures just as well. I’ve literally dead-ended many Soul Sisters players with Dragon. Its monstrous ability is also surprisingly relevant and can hasten your clock. Against UWx decks, Dragon is often enough of a threat to get the job done by itself. Oh yeah, and it laughs at Nahiri. That being said, it’s also bad if the format is aggressive and, once again, a 4/4 for four is the same if they’re not blocking it.

4 [card]Inferno Titan[/card]

Titan is your two-turn clock. It’s also your stabilizer. Early, it can be devastating. On-time, it can still be devastating. Oh, you drew two? Double-devastation! It’s fantastic against the aggro decks, creature-combo decks, Infect and Affinity. It’s also decent against RG Tron and RG [card]Scapeshift[/card], where it can be difficult to kill and fast. All that being said, it can also be surprisingly slow and risky. Against combo, for example, tapping out for Titan can give them the window they need to win the game. It’s also not great if the [card]Arc Lightning[/card] effect is mediocre and they can basically immediately kill it via Path or [card]Terminate[/card]. Titan is the exact type of threat you want game one in a format like Modern. It’s abstractly powerful and can be boarded out if necessary.


4 [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card]

Along with [card]Beast Within[/card] and [card]Inferno Titan[/card], [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card] rounds out our maindeck removal suite. It’s our hammer and can absolutely turn a game around. It’s a weird card that can be difficult to evaluate properly. Most hands that I keep don’t have Bonfire, but that’s not to say that it’s bad. A non-miraculous Bonfire can be good in a lot of situations against, for example, Abzan CoCo, Affinity, Infect, Elves, Merfolk, Soul Sisters, BW Tokens. And it can remain good as the game goes on because it gets bigger. Where it gets awkward is when the various lords of the format make your opponent’s creatures too big too fast and you’re left having to pray for a miracle or Titan. That being said, there are many situations you simply can’t escape without miraculous Bonfire and that’s why we play four. It’s a card we can easily sideboard out if need be and leads to great stories. Why isn’t it [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] or something like that? Well, you’re about to find out.


Like the lands, this deck has peculiar needs and simply can’t play many of the options that immediately come to mind. Philosophically, this deck needs hammers and not scalpels. The cards it draws, because it can’t draw more of them, need to be powerful haymakers that do exactly what we need them to do when we need them to do it. That being said, finding cards for this deck has been fun and challenging.

Additionally, upon playing this deck, we discovered that its strategy is inherently flawed against some decks, specifically combo decks. For example, we play our disruption first, and then our threats. While, this seems like a duh statement, our problem is that the deck can’t play a threat AND disruption in the same turn. Our maindeck threats are too expensive and we either give them too many turns to draw their stuff, or we tap out to try to start winning the game and die. Thus, in boarding, we value lowering our curve and changing how our deck fundamentally operates.

2 [card]Firespout[/card]

We tried and tried to get the removal right for this deck. I used to play [card]Lightning Bolt[/card], but it’s a horrendous topdeck when you need a haymaker. So, moving away from pinpoint removal, we looked at sweepers. To compliment our Bonfires and random pieces of pinpoint removal in the sideboard, we needed sweepers against decks like Elves, 8-Whack, Naya Blitz, Fish, and Affinity who can, to varying degrees, outclass our pinpoint removal, overwhelm the board, or recover quickly from sweeper effects. [card]Firespout[/card] is a recent addition, replacing [card]Engineered Explosives[/card]. In this slot, we’ve tried [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], [card]Pyroclasm[/card], [card]Slagstorm[/card], and others. The problem with symmetrical sweepers is that they can kill our dorks and knock us back a lot of mana. This can be crucial when we need to follow up with a Titan or other relevant play. Nothing playable is like Bonfire, but [card]Engineered Explosives[/card] seemed like the the best of bad options. Upon playing it, it just didn’t do enough for my liking. Elves, for example, can threaten you with its three-casting-cost lords or its one-drops, and you need to kill both. I’ve been in many more game states where Explosives just wasn’t enough. Also, an Explosives for one kills all our dorks including Sprawl. I’m going to miss Explosives for its effect against Bogles and Infect, but we think moving to a different sweeper is correct.

So, why [card]Firespout[/card]? Looking at [card]Anger of the Gods[/card], we didn’t like the RR in its casting cost, nor did we need the exile effect. Thinking about it further, we actively didn’t want it as we’re also playing [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. [card]Slagstorm[/card] is an option I’ve always liked for its modal quality and, when I played, I actually killed a surprising number of opponents with it. It, however, also suffered from RR when, post-board, we want to jam Finks, Thrun, and Baloth on time and en masse. Thus, we landed on [card]Firespout[/card]. It’s just modal enough to be tolerable and less damaging to our own development. I played it before and was able to kill a bunch of Affinity fliers while saving my Arbor Elf. More commonly, I expect it will kill ground creatures while saving my Birds.

2 [card]Sudden Shock[/card]

It used to be three, but we’re trying a 2/1 split with [card]Dismember[/card]. [card]Dismember[/card] is better against bigger creatures, while still being very good against Infect. If you haven’t played [card]Sudden Shock[/card], you should. The utter defeat on your Infect opponent’s face when you kill their dude in response to a pump is priceless. Going back to hammer vs scalpel, this is a one-for-one and could therefore be a bad topdeck, but it’s just powerful enough that I want it. When it kills something, it’s GOING TO DIE, and I like that about it. It also kills [card]Arcbound Ravager[/card]s, [card]Steel Overseer[/card]s, [card]Spike Feeder[/card]s, [card]Viscera Seer[/card]s, [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]s, and others.

1 [card]Dismember[/card]

This card fits a similar profile to [card]Sudden Shock[/card] and comes in during many of the same matches. Generally, if you expect [card]Beast Within[/card] to kill big creatures or [card]Phyrexian Crusader[/card], [card]Dismember[/card] comes in. If you expect a bunch of goblins or burn spells to kill you, don’t. I also like it because it’s a little something extra to board in against Grixis.

1 [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card]

See its maindeck entry above. Generally, Thrun comes in against aggressive decks, GR Tron, and control and combo decks, where you need the extra resiliency, defense, or pressure.

3 [card]Kitchen Finks[/card]

Finks is one of the most important cards in the deck and it surprises people how much it comes in. Finks comes in if you’re: blocking; battling attrition and removal; pressuring a combo player, this includes Tron and [card]Scapeshift[/card]; or trying to overload [card]Remand[/card] and [card]Mana Leak[/card]. So, Finks comes in against Tron, [card]Scapeshift[/card], any aggro or burn deck except Fish and Elves, all the attrition and control decks except straight UW, and all of the combo decks.

3 [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]

These are fairly straight-forward, narrow, and, unfortunately, necessary. They come in against 8-Rack, Lantern Control, Affinity, all variants of Tron, Blue Moon, and any random Thopter-Sword deck you might run across.

2 [card]Ricochet Trap[/card]

We added Trap/[card]Guttural Response[/card] to combat counterspells and tempo spells, but we’re still feeling this out. It could be that the control matchups are solid enough that we don’t need this slot for that purpose. We could also find that we need something else more proactive, like a third Thrun, but even that has its own issues. Our deck can be kind of derpy and the control and tempo hands that beat us go something like [card]Remand[/card] into another Remand/Mana Leak into [card]Cryptic Command[/card], and, when combined with their removal, we’re just too far behind. Conversely, the games we win, we overpower them and exhaust their answers. Or we resolve Moon. There are many matches where I win because I have Trap to protect my haymaker both during or after resolution. Additionally, our worst matchups by far are U Tron and Mono Blue Turns. Here, Trap can redirect key counterspells, Repeals, or even a [card]Time Warp[/card]. Additionally, Trapping an [card]Ancestral Vision[/card] is a play you make, but I’m not convinced it’s all that necessary.

1 [card]Stone Rain[/card]

See the maindeck entry above, but we believe this is necessary against Tron, [card]Scapeshift[/card], and the new Jeskai Nahiri decks. This is also a new change we’re trying and it could be incorrect and a fourth [card]Beast Within[/card] could be what the doctor orders here.

Well that concludes part one of my RG Ponza primer. Tune in tomorrow for part two which will include a full sideboarding guide so you can be prepped for LA or Charlotte!

As always, if you have any questions, feel free to write them in the comments, email me at mattjmendoza@gmail.com, or hit me up on Twitter @mattmendoza.

Thanks for reading!

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8 thoughts on “RG Ponza Primer”

  1. You mention batterskull but it’s nowhere in your 75. Also that decklist is 61 cards.

    • I mention it as an option that people can play. And I fixed the formatting issue. The count at the top was including the “Creatures” heading as a card in the deck 😛

  2. In our match up at Astro, when I was on Taking Turns, it felt like whomever went first, I’d be betting on him getting the W, shy a freak hellish mulligan on your end.

    Are Destructive Revelry and Ancient Grudge too deviated from your strategy that you can’t sideboard a few? I’d feel naked against Affinity, let alone a little ol’ Howling Mine. Or is Arc Trail and Inferno ping enough to hand them?

    Also, Acid Moss is a helluva card. It is pure green Time Walk. And, from a Turns player to you, it was much more devastating than an upkeep Beast Within.

    Good write up. Good games.

  3. Great article. I will build the deck.

    What are your thoughts about Boom // Bust?


    • Thanks!

      I will elaborate further next week, but Boom/Bust is awkward with Arbor Elf. It’s also mostly unnecessary when we can play Stone Rain and don’t want Armageddon. I have tried it though but it didn’t feel right in this deck.

  4. Great article, thanks for the insight! I played basically this deck (-1 command +1 swagtusk) last week and performed pretty well at my lgs (4-2) but in control matchups, specifically UW, Grixis and UR moon (lost to UW), I seemed to fizzle about half the time. I’m wondering what your thoughts are on one of (or two of post-board) Chandra, Pyromaster, Harmonize, Monastery Siege, or Chandra, Flamecaller for a little extra gas in the tank? Have you tried any of them? With all the lifegain etb effects seeing more cards seems relevant burn and zoo matchups as well.


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