A Bunch Of Words, Mostly About Melira Pod

John Penick, known on Magic Online as DoctorPenick, has been getting a flood of messages from people asking about his Modern Melira Pod deck. He responds with an in-depth look at how and why he’s come to his current decklist.

“Who the hell is John Penick, and why should I listen to anything that he has to say?”

Excellent question, dear reader!

(Do you like how I get to put words in your mouth and you can’t do anything about it because I’m the one writing the article without any input from you? I would hate it, but I’m not at all sympathetic. Also, you aren’t in any way dear to me. I probably don’t even know you.) 

I’m like the hipster’s Magic player. It might be cool if for some reason you follow what I’m up to as DoctorPenick  (one of my Magic Online accounts) and share my latest brews with the various ringers and DIs that you associate with, but in reality I’m just some D-list subculture celebrity and no one should really care about what I do.

Why go on reading then? For some reason, I’ve been getting a flood of messages from people asking me about Melira Pod in Modern the past month or two. Don’t misunderstand me, it isn’t unusual for me to receive some questions from friends, acquaintances, or the occasional anonymous stranger inquiring about a deck I’ve been playing every once in a while. That comes with the territory of playing in the very visible online community. What is new is AJ Sacher getting accosted by someone neither of us knows for information about my deck. Maybe this is the backlash of AJ demanding that his stream viewers praise me as a god; it must have made me seem unapproachable (I am). Consider my decision to write this a favor to him.

The reason I started playing and continue to play Melira Pod (I’ll start referring to the deck as Melira for the rest of the article) as my primary deck in Modern was a result of my quarterfinals match of the first Magic Online Modern PTQ against Gainsay (aka Andrew Cuneo). I was the maniac that had Tarmogoyf and Daybreak Ranger in his Splinter Twin deck, and Cuneo was playing his Melira pet deck. I’d seen a scant amount of Melira lists with winning records in the Daily Events, but I never gave them a thorough look or tried to figure out what Tutor targets they generally played. I mean, why would I bother worrying about the deck that plays several Viscera Seers in an Eternal(ish) format? Appropriately, I lost my match to Cuneo in large part because I played into his Chord of Callings because I was completely ignorant to the composition of his deck, what to play around, how fast it tended to be, etc.

I was pretty frustrated with myself afterward, getting gnawed at by an unshakable egodystonic feeling. Feeling so lost in a Constructed match playing a format that I didn’t consider myself to be inexperienced in was unexpected, uncomfortable, and unfamiliar. How could I let myself get caught with my pants down when I wasn’t even wearing pants (remember, this was an online tournament; I’m not an exhibitionist)?

Naturally, the only reasonable thing to do would be to play the deck myself until I felt like I wouldn’t be caught unaware again (this obviously isn’t the only reasonable thing to do and may in fact seem unreasonable to some in terms of costs, but I enjoy employing the language of absolutes). What I didn’t realize at the time was that Melira was a seriously seductive mistress that was perfect for me, and it wasn’t only because of her flowing auburn locks.

Melira is reminiscent of the first class of decks that made me fall in love with Magic (though now I’m more like a battered spouse stuck in a vicious circle of abuse). When I first got into the game, I gravitated toward Rock-ish decks with combo endgames, whether that was Heartbeat of Spring fueling Myojin of Seeing Winds and Time Stops in Kamigawa block or sacrificing Yosei, the Morning Star to Greater Good in Standard. This is much different than the more recognizable linear combo decks such as Storm. These decks can actually play a “normal” game of Magic, and this offers them a special quality. They can beat you as a midrange deck if you focus on stopping them from comboing, but dedicating resources to fighting them as a Rock deck makes it easier for them to combo when you’re in a vulnerable spot.

The presence of two Tutors (Birthing Pod and Chord of Calling) not only makes the deck very consistent; it also makes it highly customizable. This adds another dimension that makes Melira difficult to play against. The bullets in the deck may differ from one player to the next. What may be right for you may not be right for some (R.I.P. Gary Coleman).

Let’s say that you’re playing Splinter Twin against Melira. You untap on turn 4 with a Pestermite against two Birds of Paradise, a Melira, and two untapped lands. Would you play a Splinter Twin into a potential Chord of Calling for Spellskite? Do they even play Spellskite? Can you wait until you have Dispel backup next turn? That gets beat by Birthing Pod for Orzhov Pontiff. Could they have Birthing Pod in their hand? Do they even have a Pontiff in their deck? Etc. Against most other decks, you can isolate the questions down to, “Can I afford to play around a counter/removal spell?” Melira gives opponents a little bit more rope to hang themselves with.

Small changes to the deck can have huge effects on gameplay (obviously, you have up to eight Tutors). It really helps to be creative in trying to identify what tools are available to you in deckbuilding. To give you an idea of what I mean when I say creative, here’s a list of cards that have been in my 75 to try at some point: Matsu-Tribe Sniper, Scattershot Archer (you can get it with Ranger of Eos!), Garza’s Assassin, Seal of Doom, Master of the Wild Hunt, Silent Arbiter, Dosan the Falling Leaf, Cloudthresher, and many more that are equally or more “unplayable” (as if anyone has ever beaten a Matsu-Tribe Sniper; nice Emrakul, etc.).


The maindeck can be built in different ways depending on preferences. The first version, played at Pro Tour Philadelphia, was more toolbox oriented and was the only form for a long while (Modern wasn’t really getting played enough to see much development). This is probably the more common of the two main builds that see a significant amount of play. Andrew Cuneo’s list from Grand Prix Lincoln is a fine example of what these versions tend to look like.

Some people like to get super aggressive and play close to four of each combo piece (Viscera Seer, Melira, Kitchen Finks, and Murderous Redcap) along with two to three Gavony Townships. If I’m mistaken, I’m sorry (well, not really), but I believe this was first adopted by Zwischenzug online shortly before Grand Prix Lincoln. This is one of Zwischenzug’s more recent lists from a Magic Online Daily Event:

Still, others like to branch out even further into Blasting Station territory (I say others, but what I really mean is Th00mor and only Th00mor).

I really like what blue has to offer. Kira, Great Glass-Spinner and Sower of Temptation are both very good, but I’m not sure about all of those Blasting Stations. I think I’d like to splash at least one Viscera Seer to have a Tutorable sacrifice outlet.

I lean more towards the toolbox approach, though my list has aggressive elements as well. This is what I played in my most recent Magic Online Daily Event:

My list is a bit different than what most other people play, and I’ll try to explain the rationale for why I have my deck built the way that it is.

Noble Hierarch is usually not found in four copies in the lists that contain a six-drop (whether that’s Sun Titan or Mikaeus, the Unhallowed), but I have it here. Chord of Calling for six is much easier when you have Wall of Roots because it can effectively tap for three mana (play a spell on your turn with it, tap it for convoke, and add a mana to pay for Chord on your opponent’s turn) rather than the one mana that you’ll get from Noble Hierarch. However, Noble Hierarch and Gavony Township are one way that I choose to fight various hate cards after board. If my opponent sideboards Relic of Progenitus or Torpor Orb, it doesn’t really bother me. I can just attack them and try to turn their hate card into a pseudo mulligan. Grafdigger’s Cage is certainly more troublesome since it turns off your engines, but attacking is still a reasonable way to fight it.

I tend to focus less on comboing people and more on grinding people out while they defend themselves from playing against someone that just gained an arbitrarily large amount of life, especially after boarding when they have better tools to fight the combo. Sun Titan fits into this gameplan nicely, and I favor it over Mikaeus, the Unhallowed. Mikaeus doesn’t mesh well with my list because it’s very difficult to cast with Gavony Townships in my deck and no Woodland Cemetery or Twilight Mires. Sun Titan is better when you’re behind and brings along his own playmates, but Mikaeus requires you to already have other creatures around for him to shine.

Phantasmal Image is an attempt to fight Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite while still playing an objectively powerful card. You won’t be able to Birthing Pod for it to get rid of the legendary praetor, but a five-mana Chord of Calling is manageable. Outside of the Hero’s Demise mode, it’s just a good card in general with all of your utility creatures (it’s especially nice against Affinity copying Harmonic Sliver as you get to destroy two artifacts) and plays well with Sun Titan. It’s also a part of some of the more obscure combos in the deck.

The first combo involves Strangleroot Geist, Kitchen Finks/Murderous Redcap, Viscera Seer, and itself. You have the Image copy either Geist or Finks, sacrifice Image with Seer, have Image come back as the opposite creature that it previously was (Geist if it was Finks, Finks if it was Geist), and repeat. It conveniently does the sacrificing for you when it comes back as Geist with a -1/-1 counter (suicide is clearly an act showing great consideration for others)!

The second Image combo can be even more convoluted. It requires a Reveillark in play and a Viscera Seer. Image can copy Reveillark and then be sacrificed to Seer. Phantasmal Image will be able to return itself along with another creature with power two or less with the Reveillark trigger. This combo by itself lets you scry your entire deck, and you can kill with it if you have a Chord of Calling or a Murderous Redcap. Each time you sacrifice Phantasmal Image, you can untap a creature with power two or less that you have in play by sacrificing it and returning it with the Reveillark trigger, which should hopefully give you the necessary mana to Chord for a way to kill them. If you’re really fancy (remember: pinky out), you can Chord for Eternal Witness and subsequently Chord for every creature in your deck by returning the Chord with Witness over and over.

Strangleroot Geist serves as a robust two-drop creature to Pod for in addition to its combo capabilities. Melira and Canonist are easily killable, and sometimes you just want a two-mana value creature to Pod into. I think that it’s certainly better than the fourth Melira when Phantasmal Image is in the deck.

Ethersworn Canonist maindeck is certainly a debatable choice, and I sometimes cut it to make room for new things that I want to try. This is obviously a hate card for Storm. Everyone seems to think that Storm is a bad matchup for Melira, and it makes sense on the face of it. Non-interactive ritual deck versus a deck with thirty creatures traditionally favors the ritual deck. The presence of a maindeck Canonist changes all of that, though. Storm’s fundamental turn is usually 4, and the same is true for Melira. Without disruption, both decks can regularly execute their combos on turn 4. With a Canonist, the fundamental turn for Melira changes from 4 to 3. There are multiple ways to get Canonist into play on turn 3. Turn 1 Birds of Paradise, turn 2 Birthing Pod, turn 3 Pod turns Birds into Canonist. Turn 1 Birds, turn 2 play two more creatures, turn 3 Chord of Calling for Canonist. Typically, Storm is drawing dead to this in the maindeck.

Orzhov Pontiff used to be relegated to my sideboard, and I didn’t get to play much with it because I didn’t think I wanted to board it in. After trying it in the main, it became obvious that it was a huge over-performer. It deals with troublesome creatures such as Grim Lavamancer and Dark Confidant, but it’s also pretty good against Splinter Twin. It can sit in play and Fog Exarchs for a turn to let you break up their combo after the fact (if you have a Seer) or kill infinite Faeries.

Eternal Witness is a creature that works very well with both Reveillark and Sun Titan, making sure that you’ll always have something to do. A common play is Chord of Calling for Witness and having Witness return Chord. This not only gives you access to a bigger Chord the next turn, but having a Witness in play or in your graveyard is a huge boon in the late game with the aforementioned Lark and Titan.

I flirted with the idea of cutting Harmonic Sliver from the main for a little while. I went through and played a tournament without it. In my first game, I promptly lost to a Birthing Pod that I would have otherwise been able to destroy. In the second round, it was a Vedalken Shackles. You get the idea. Sliver is kind of a necessity. If you weren’t already aware, if you Phantasmal Image Harmonic Sliver you get to destroy two artifacts/enchantments because it triggers the original and the copy.

The Linvala is my only real way to fight Twin. It’s a bit broader in application than Spellskite, which I’ve excluded, as it also serves as a trump in the Melira mirror. It also isn’t totally embarrassing against Delver of Secrets, Squadron Hawks, Vendilion Cliques, and Spirit tokens.

Although the rest of the list is pretty much industry standard, I guess I should be thorough. For anyone that isn’t familiar with how the deck gains infinite life or deals infinite damage, Viscera Seer, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and either Kitchen Finks or Murderous Redcap are your primary combo. Melira keeps your persist creatures from acquiring a -1/-1 counter when you sacrifice them to Viscera Seer, and this allows you to perform this loop indefinitely while scrying with every iteration. You don’t want to have to Tutor for every piece of the combo, but you also don’t want to draw a ton of Viscera Seers or Meliras usually. Three copies of each still gives you a reasonable chance of seeing one naturally. Murderous Redcap is okay as a Nekrataal, but I don’t really want to overload on them as it’s expensive for what you pay for. Kitchen Finks is actually just a respectable card in its own right, so registering four isn’t in any way embarrassing.


Sideboarding was easily the most difficult puzzle to attempt to solve when building the deck. After going through several weeks of hectic sideboard adventures, there are a few cards that I think you definitely want access to and several more that are very nice if you expect certain decks to be prevalent. I generally dislike the list of cards and applications format, but I’m lazy so here it is anyway.

The cards I probably wouldn’t leave home without:

Qasali Pridemage — You are oftentimes going to want more Disenchant effects after boarding where you’ll run into Grafdigger’s Cages and similar cards, but there are also some other less dedicated cards that you’ll have trouble with. Vedalken Shackles and Isochron Scepter are big ones, but they’ve mostly fallen out of favor. Torpor Orb shuts down Harmonic Sliver, and you will probably want to board out Sliver for Pridemage against any deck that you expect might have it (i.e., decks that don’t have creatures with enters the battlefield effects).

Ethersworn Canonist — If you decide not to play Canonist maindeck then you should almost certainly include one in your sideboard. If you do decide to play maindeck Canonist, it isn’t a bad idea to include a second Canonist in your sideboard. Storm will have a way to get rid of this after boarding, and you can blow them out when they kill the first Canonist and you Chord for the second when they cast Past in Flames.

Obstinate Baloth — This isn’t a great card or anything, but you do deal yourself a fair amount of damage between fetchlands, duals, and Birthing Pod. Kitchen Finks helps to offset this, but you’re not actually getting comfortably out of burn range against decks like Zoo, Boros, or Jund with it. This gives you something to Pod your Finks into to have a noticeable effect on your life. It doesn’t hurt that you may get the occasional blowout when your opponent +1s Liliana of the Veil.

Thrun, the Last Troll — Caw-Blade can be an annoying matchup with them able to Path to Exile most of your important creatures with the help of Snapcaster Mage and being able to sit on Cryptic Command while pecking you with fliers. I like to get into a position where they’re on defense so that their counterspells are much worse, and Thrun does a good job of being a threat that they can’t counter or remove. Sure, it sometimes takes a minute to bust through all of their 1/1s, but I’m happy if they aren’t attacking me with them. Jund will also have a difficult time winning through a Thrun, giving you time to let your more powerful lategame take over.

Shriekmaw — This is another one of those unexciting but sometimes necessary cards. Linvala, Keeper of Secrets is the main offender. You really want to be able find a way to get rid of it. This gives you a second way to get rid of Linvala (the other way being to legend rule it). Bonus points if you evoke it with a Torpor Orb in play.

Maelstrom Pulse — This is a multipurpose spell that does a lot of the same work as Qasali Pridemage, but it’s slightly better than additional Pridemages. It can hit tokens, doesn’t get Spell Snared (which is very relevant against Caw-Blade and Faeries), can kill Dark Confidants and Lavamancers out of Jund, etc.

The more negotiables:

Nihil Spellbomb/Leyline of the Void — You probably want some dedicated graveyard hate so you can fight Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Past in Flames, and the mirror, and I’ve gone between these two. Nihil Spellbomb is probably overall better, but it can sometimes be awkward to find a spot to cast it since you already use your mana so well in the early turns. Leyline has the added benefit of shutting down some fringe strategies more effectively than Nihil Spellbomb such as Living End or “Dredge” decks that mess around with Hedron Crab.

Wurmcoil Engine — Jund can’t realistically beat this. That’s pretty much the only reason to include it in the sideboard, but it does its job admirably.

Aven Mindcensor — Tron is a difficult deck for Melira mostly because it has a four-mana echo spell that basically wins the game. The Eldrazi plan you can usually race, but you’re likely not beating a turn 3 or 4Gifts. Mindcensor helps address this problem, turning Gifts Ungiven into a glorified Inspiration. It isn’t exciting, but it does what you need for the most part (cross your fingers and hope they don’t have Unburial Rites and Elesh Norn in their top four cards). This also has a fair amount of utility in the Melira mirror by neutering the Tutors (after reading neutering the Tutors aloud, I giggled both at how aesthetically pleasing it sounded and the ambiguous meaning; please have your Tutor spayed or neutered).

Glen Elendra Archmage — This is another hate card for Tron. It’s great on its own and nigh unbeatable with a Melira and two-to-three blue mana. You can also fool around with it against other spell-heavy decks (this should go without saying, but don’t tell your significant other).

Kataki, War’s Wage — The Affinity speed bump isn’t quite as good as it was when their lands were all artifacts, but this is still a hefty obstacle that should give you enough time to take things over with your combo or just beat them with 187 creatures. Not a necessity, but nice to have.

Daybreak Ranger (with an accompanying Stomping Ground) — When I got away from Cloudthresher and company, this is where I found myself turning to. This is sort of my pet card in Modern as I’ve splashed it in Twin and Melira. It’s probably the most underplayed creature in the format because it can demolish entire strategies if they don’t answer it quickly. Splinter Twin and Melira have almost no shot of beating an active Nightfall Predator. Splinter Twin in particular has a hard time keeping it from transforming. They can’t just cast their Exarch on their turn because you can pass, flip Ranger, and eat their Exarch. They can’t just pass and end step their Exarch because that flips Ranger on your turn. It’s an awkward position to be in for Twin, and you’re trying to spread their Flame Slashes/Echoing Truths thin after board with Ranger.

In the Melira mirror there’s very little removal, and you can haumph a creature every turn. Needless to say, it’s hard to assemble a three-piece creature combo in this situation.

Also, LOL Faeries.

Ghostly Prison — A lock piece for Splinter Twin that isn’t Flame Slashable. They can still win by burning you with Grim Lavamancer and attacking with Pestermites, but this is pretty unrealistic as Lavamancer is going to be occupied keeping you from killing them and you can probably find a way to race a Pestermite.

Dismember — This is a passable tool to fight Splinter Twin with, but it can be somewhat awkward against Dispel (though it also makes them find answers to both permanents and spells, so it has a positive side to it).

The cards I really wouldn’t bother with:

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite — This is sort of the ultimate trump in the Melira mirrors, but it’s very slow and doesn’t play well when things go wrong. For example, if you find yourself up against a Linvala, this is uncastable. If your mana creatures get Pontiffed, this is uncastable. If you can successfully Chord for this, then you’re going to win. If you can Pod into this, you’re going to win (if you have an active Pod, you’re probably going to win anyway). I don’t endorse this too strongly even though it is a game winner.

Choke — There isn’t really a blue deck that has enough actual Islands for me to want to bring this in. It’s hit or miss. For every time Choke either significantly interferes with or completely locks out your opponent, there will be a game where you have it against Seachrome Coast, Mystic Gate, Plains, Sulfur Falls, Cascade Bluffs, Shivan Reef, Mountain, etc.

Thoughtseize / Inquisition of Kozilek — Discard in general is just not very good when you only have a few pieces of it in Modern right now. The combo decks are almost certainly not going to lose to a single discard spell. Storm has a ton of redundant Rituals so taking Grapeshot or Past in Flames does next to nothing. Splinter Twin has seven-to-eight untappers so taking one from them will either do nothing because they have a second or buy you a little bit of time while they find another. You’d rather interact with them in other ways.

Thoughtseizing Tron seems like it should be okay, but do you really want to be fighting a deck with four Thirst for Knowledge and four Gifts Ungiven with discard? This is a losing proposition, and you really want a bigger effect such as Glen Elendra Archmage.

Where Thoughtseize is actually useful is against decks like Caw-Blade and Faeries where you can use it to force through an important spell, but including it doesn’t seem worthwhile to me when the discard is bad everywhere else.

I’m not going to give any concrete sideboarding guides because they aren’t really all that applicable here (or almost anywhere I suppose). What I will tell you is how I approach sideboarded games in general. Assuming you’re playing against a deck that isn’t degenerate, embrace the Rock-ish nature of the deck. People are likely going to bring in some sort of graveyard hate or some way to break up your creatures.

As a result, I usually board down to the bare minimum of my weakest combo pieces. Viscera Seer is regularly cut down to a solitary copy after boarding. Melira is still pretty good against fair decks that have non-Path to Exile removal (such as Jund) because they’re going to have to go through Melira before they can get rid of Kitchen Finks. You also don’t want to go too low on two-drops for Birthing Pod, so I would usually not go below two Meliras (also because you want an extra Melira as insurance if the first one gets Path to Exiled).

Assuming you made it with me to the end, please feel free to comment. All feedback is appreciated, especially trolls, but only if they’re particularly clever (hint: they probably won’t be).

John (Doctor) Penick