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Pod People: The Monsters I've Swept Under the RUG
Feature Article from Jackie Lee
Jackie Lee
8/7/2012 11:00:00 AM
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Many have been wondering whether Bant or Naya is the correct Pod choice, and like Craig Wescoe, I'm going to tell you the answer is neither.

However, unlike Craig Wescoe, whose savage double-fakeout left some of us crying into our LiveJournals, I actually believe it.

RUG Pod has been my weapon of choice for the past couple weeks. In the format that's had so many players tittering about which Pod or Delver build is best equipped to take advantage of Restoration Angel, I dare to ask: Who cares?

Red and blue bring the most to the Pod table, not white. Why worry about whether you're making extra Golem or Wolf tokens? Personally, I'd rather just win the game immediately. And as it turns out, that's often what happens when you attack with 2-3 Thundermaw Hellkites in a turn.


This deck is fairly flammable, and highly reactive. Special danger: land destruction.


I was so excited to play RUG Pod that I found myself possessed to drive eight hours to play in the Standard Open in Washington, DC this weekend. More specifically, my husband, Mark drove; I just goldfished the deck for as many hours as my laptop had battery life.

The tournament was a brutal 10-rounder; at the end of the day, I'd settled into a 7-2-1 record, finishing 34th in the nearly 700-player tournament. I would've preferred to finish at least two places higher, but alas: numeric daggers are some of the worst daggers.

The deck is explosive, versatile, and lots of fun. I recommend it to anyone looking for a powerful deck that plays like Magic: the Puzzling. In playtesting, I'd often tank for a few minutes before concluding, “Ah, got it.” Then, I'd make a play that either wins the game for me or makes it unwinnable for my opponent.

Here's the list, as I ran it:

RUG Pod by Jackie Lee
Finished 33rd - 64th Place at 2012 StarCity Open Standard - Washington DC - 8/4
Main Deck
Sideboard
1 Acidic Slime
1 AEther Adept
4 Birds of Paradise
3 Borderland Ranger
1 Deadeye Navigator
1 Deceiver Exarch
2 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Inferno Titan
3 Llanowar Elves
4 Phantasmal Image
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Solemn Simulacrum
3 Strangleroot Geist
1 Thragtusk
1 Thundermaw Hellkite
1 Tormentor Exarch
1 Zealous Conscripts
Creatures [30]
4 Birthing Pod
3 Bonfire of the Damned
Spells [7]
4 Copperline Gorge
8 Forest (246)
4 Hinterland Harbor
2 Island (234)
2 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Mountain (242)
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Sulfur Falls
Lands [23]
Deck Total [60]


2 Ancient Grudge
2 Arc Trail
1 Bonfire of the Damned
2 Flashfreeze
1 Frost Titan
2 Garruk Relentless
1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
2 Memory's Journey
1 Phyrexian Ingester
1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Sideboard [15]





Click for full deck stats & notes!


For two weeks, I tested Mark's RUG Pod list, honing it through many iterations to what you see above. I even toyed very seriously with Sam Black's suggestion of playing more than 60 cards, in order to fit more searchable creatures into the deck. Usually, though, these creatures are the most versatile tools, and all you'll ever need. There's not a compelling need to reduce your odds of drawing Birthing Pod.

Originally, we played Wolfir Silverheart as a one-of, but we found it to be so rarely useful that we demoted it to the sideboard. Eventually, we decided to let it run free and unemployed into the forest. Silklash Spider suffered a similar fate. I liked him because he could deal with Inkmoth Nexus and block anything in the format, but in the end, he was just a little too clunky.

I hadn't learned my lesson, though, because later, I gave Stingerfling Spider a shot. This dumpy arachnid doesn't do anything you want, and it only does it at Sorcery speed. When Restoration Angel was flashed in to block, Kessig Wolf Run could usually already force a trade. This left the Spider with nothing to do post-combat except spin cobwebs to sell on Etsy. Sometimes it grew up to be a giant on fire, using an ancient, Phyrexian secret.

In this archived footage of the TCGplayer 5k in Providence at 44:20, you can witness Mark dispatching a small army of Wurmcoil Engines with our spicy sideboard tech.

The current format is an incredibly diverse, high-powered, and fascinating one. It's an ideal format to explore how the same cards work in different decks, because it can have vastly different functionality. The Birthing Pod in this deck is not the same one played in Naya Pod, or even Bant Pod, although that one is closer. The Kessig Wolf Run in this deck is not the same Wolf Run that Ramp plays. Given this, I think a summary of how each card plays in the deck is merited.

Birds of Paradise & Llanowar Elves

These mana dorks are the bread and butter of RUG Pod. Accelerating your land drop by a turn is incredibly important in the blazing fast format that is today's Standard. However, they serve double-duty in this deck, because after they've accelerated you into a valuable high-drop, they can be Podded into a Phantasmal Image for incredible value! At these converted mana costs, you can't afford not to play seven one-drops!

Strangleroot Geist

Many Naya Pod decks are opting to run Elvish Visionary now instead of StrangleHROOT, but this lovable tortured soul is still better in RUG. Without Gavony Township counters to worry about, we just want to chip away at the opponent's life total a little bit before Pod deals the killing blow. In matchups that have us on the back foot, they can buy us time while also tagging in an AEther Adept or Deceiver Exarch to move up the chain.

Phantasmal Image

The other two-drop that never gets boarded out, except against strains of Delver that play many Gut Shots (and even then, not entirely). Whenever your opponent taps out, you can be reasonably sure that you've won the game by Podding out a Hellkite and cheaply copying it. Many of the degenerate things of which this deck is capable hinge around this card. It's especially good against Naya, where you can copy their Angels and they have very few means of targeting.

Borderland Ranger

Turn two Borderland Ranger into a turn three Pod is pretty much the best thing you can do in this deck, which is why we refused to play less than three. (The resulting pun is also acceptable, because I heart this deck!) I'm not one of those people who thinks that Borderland Ranger is the most exciting Grey Ogre ever, but even I must admit it's necessary to fix the mana in a 3-color deck that eventually wants two sources of each color. The great part, though, is that after he's done that important job, he leaves you with a 3-costed body that you can trade in for something you actually want.

AEther Adept

Sometimes, when your opponent has a slow start, you can play a tempo game by bouncing your opponent's mana dorks, then Podding through a chain of land destruction to keep them on the back foot. Alternatively, Adept is one of the cards you can repeatedly copy to devastating effect. I played a game in which Naya's only play was to accelerate into a Wurmcoil Engine, which might have turned out all right if I hadn't bounced it off the table for three turns in a row.

Deceiver Exarch

This card is well-deserving of its slot in the maindeck. It allows you to Pod from Strangleroot Geist to a 4-drop, which can give you some deep options. Unlike some of the singletons in the deck, I'm rarely disappointed to draw it. The ability to flash it in and tap an opponent's permanent is useful in as many ways as you can imagine. Beyond tapping down a creature, it can also force your opponent to make a choice with Kessig Wolf Run before you declare blockers. By flashing it in and tapping a land at end of turn, you can give yourself free reign of your own turn, whether or not your opponent had been holding Mana Leak at the time.

Huntmaster of the Fells

This card is just not as good as it used to be, especially not in this deck. There are situations where you can overpower your opponent's Huntmaster with a Pod, a 3-drop, and APNAP advantage, but in general, you want to be doing something more proactive with your 4-drop. It happens infrequently enough that Daybreak Ranger was definitely not worth it.

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Solemn Simulacrum

With the deck's intensive mana requirements and powerful cards, the sad robot would often be my Pod target on an empty board, or if I'd drawn a high-drop.

Phyrexian Metamorph

Having access to another Clone at 4 is valuable; this one can even copy an opponent's Birthing Pod, in a pinch. However, because you generally don't want to naturally draw it, it's only a one-of.

Tormentor Exarch

Let's face it: watching your opponent have to read your cards is one of the reasons we play Magic.

For a while, this slot was occupied by a Mist Raven, but Tormentor Exarch does something unique and is easier to cast. It can also serve as part of the LD chain by killing an Avacyn's Pilgrim. I actually search this guy out more frequently than Huntmaster of the Fells; it quickly and reliably kills an opposing Huntmaster before it can get out of hand.

Thundermaw Hellkite

Thundermaw Hellkite is great for RUG Pod. Unlike in faster decks, getting to five mana isn't a problem. It's a good lasting threat, and the ability to copy it can end games. It can even play defense against Angel for a turn or two while you build up to that critical mass.

Thragtusk

The value buffalo himself spent some time in the sideboard, but his value as an emergency life-gain switch makes him worthy of the maindeck. Not only is the 5 life important, but sometimes, so is searching out a creature that won't kill you on the next turn with an opponent's Zealous Conscripts.

Acidic Slime

This ooze spent some time in the sideboard, but it's a card you definitely miss. The problem is, it's best when your opponent shows a weakness like missing a land drop, and you don't know when that situation will arise until mid-game. Having him in the maindeck also means that in general, your Birthing Pods will be more valuable than your opponents'.

Zealous Conscripts

Conscripts are similar to Hellkite, except that they can also untap your Pod and tag in an Inferno Titan on occasion. They steal permanents and games.

At the Open this weekend, I played a game in which my mono-black opponent was at 12. He'd just tapped out for a Mimic Vat. When I Podded away my Tormentor Exarch, he imprinted it onto the Vat. So imagine his dismay when I searched out a Zealous Conscripts to target his Solemn Simulacrum, then played Phantasmal Image to take and activate the Mimic Vat. Because of the +2/+0 ability of Tormentor Exarch, the attack was lethal. “Exactsies!” he groaned.

Inferno Titan

Whether it's wiping an opponent's board or just killing a Golem Token, Inferno Titan has a job to do. The fact that you can Pod into a copy on the next turn, then attack with the original, means he can even take down other Titans.

Deadeye Navigator

The last addition to the deck, Deadeye Navigator requires some effort to learn to play. Often, you'll need to copy a 5-drop to set up having two high-end creatures in play. But once he's paired with virtually anything in this deck, you'll feel omnipotent. Even a Thundermaw Hellkite makes a good friend, tapping down fliers inside the attack step.

Kessig Wolf Run

Wolf Run serves a similar purpose in this deck as it does in RG Aggro. It will never do the stupid things of which it's capable in Ramp, but it can target Images (sometimes even your own), force trades, and push through a few more points of damage per turn when you don't want to commit too many creatures to the board.

Birthing Pod

The titular card. I toyed with the idea of boarding these out sometimes, but they're just too important. After Game One, you'll have to sandbag them more often to avoid artifact destruction. However, many times, all you really need is one activation.

Pod plays very differently in RUG than it does in Naya. Naya is just a “good stuff” deck that seeks to put a lot of pressure on the table, then keep swinging until you lose. When they get out a Pod, you can pretty much predict exactly what they're going to do with it. RUG, on the other hand, has many different options, and must choose very carefully to stabilize, then set up a killing blow. This is the main reason I find it more powerful and more fun to play.

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Bonfire of the Damned

As much as I hate acknowledging this card, it's one of the reasons to play red in this format. The board-sweeping ability is especially relevant to this deck, which is often the control. I tried out Noxious Revival in the sideboard for a while, reasoning that you frequently hardcast Bonfire for 1 just to kill mana dorks, so setting it up for a Miracle later could solidify your advantage. However, Noxious Revival usually doesn't help you stabilize, which is usually your primary goal.


Sideboarding:

The only change I might make to the sideboard is to replace Melira with another Arc Trail, but this really depends on what you Foresee from the local meta. It's not awful to spend one slot on a card for which one deck has virtually no answers.

Naya Pod

-1 Huntmaster of the Fells
-3 Strangleroot Geist
-1 Deceiver Exarch

+2 Flashfreeze
+1 Bonfire of the Damned
+2 Ancient Grudge

Flashfreeze counters almost everything you fear, from Zealous Conscripts to Pod to Bonfire. Against them, you want to play very defensively; it's almost always correct to pod through Thragtusk, and if you don't, you may find you've cost yourself the game. The ony way they win is by getting a very aggressive start and overpowering you.

RG Ramp

-2 Huntmaster of the Fells
-1 Thragtusk
-3 Bonfire of the Damned
-1 Tormentor Exarch

+2 Flashfreeze
+1 Phyrexian Ingester
+1 Frost Titan
+1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
+2 Ancient Grudge

Traditional red ramp has been displaced by blue, but against those playing red, I frequently choose to draw. You're not really the beatdown; each of you are setting up your own plans, so being able to react to them and copy their titans can give you an advantage. You're not doing much by going first, except playing creatures into their mass-removal. I think it's better to leisurely set yourself up so that when they play a Titan, you can copy it, then Pod it into an Ingester. The extra card will allow you to make more optimal use of your turns.

Zombies

-1 Zealous Conscripts
-1 Acidic Slime
-1 Thragtusk
-1 Deadeye Navigator
-1 AEther Adept

+1 Bonfire of the Damned
+2 Arc Trail
+2 Garruk Relentless

Zombies is typically just a race to Thragtusk, and the Arc Trails can help get you there. The Garruks are excellent; not only do they snipe Blood Artists without transforming, but when they do transform, they are essentially extra Pods.

Delver with Talrand or Equipment

-1 Deceiver Exarch
-1 Huntmaster of the Fells
-3 Phantasmal Image

+2 Arc Trail
+1 Bonfire of the Damned
+2 Ancient Grudge

Whether Delver is playing Blade Splicers or equipment, the safest bet is to board in the Grudges. It's a bad matchup for Delver in general, but they can still win by suddenly killing you in the air with a Pike. You don't need to play quite as controlling as you would against Naya, as they'll usually be taking damage every turn from a Strangleroot Geist. Regardless, the way they win is with a couple very swingy turns. Geist of Saint Traft is another enabler of this, and is surprisingly better than Splicer against a deck with five Clone effects. Phantasmal Image is still good, but I board up to three out when they're playing a large number of Gut Shots.

Monoblack Trading Post

-2 Llanowar Elves
-1 Tormentor Exarch
-3 Bonfire of the Damned
-1 Inferno Titan
-1 Huntmaster of the Fells

+2 Ancient Grudge
+2 Memory's Journey
+2 Garruk Relentless
+1 Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
+1 Frost Titan

This is mostly here as an example of how to sideboard against a more controlling deck, which can be awkward when our deck's goal is to have creature in play.

Memory's Journey is fantastic against anything which attempts to use its own graveyard. Afterwards, it does double duty by shuffling your threats back in. I played a match against a player with a Séance deck this weekend, and when he attempted to commune with an Armored Skaab, I surprised him by shuffling it and two Faithless Lootings back into his deck. There was pretty much no coming back from that, although the combo deck was surprisingly effective.

—————————

If you give this deck a shot, I hope you find it as much fun as I do! It's quite difficult to play, but I guarantee you'll learn something, and your performance will only improve with experience.

Love and battle,
Jackie Lee——

@JackieL33 on Twitter
www.twitch.tv/jackiel33 – I'll be streaming some M13 drafts this week, so I hope to see you there!



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