Battle Pods

Pro Tour Philadelphia Top 4 competitor Sam Black shares his take on a Battle of Wits deck that’s a little different from what others have been building in Standard so far: Battle Pod Ramp.

Today, I want to talk a little about Battle of Wits.

I get that it’s probably never going to be the best deck, that it would probably be a nightmare for competitive Magic if it were, and that playing it in physical tournaments is… Let’s call it a challenge. However, I think the process of trying to build a Battle of Wits deck is, at the very least, an interesting exercise, and playing big decks is always fun.

When most people build Battle of Wits, they think it needs to be blue based and probably a U/B control deck. (I assume—I haven’t actually conducted any detailed research.) The reason I assume they assume this is that, in addition to Battle of Wits itself being blue, all the library manipulation is blue and the Tutors are black. After all, if you’re going to go through all the trouble of playing over 200 cards so that you can win with Battle of Wits, you probably at the very least want to be able to find your Battle of Wits, right?

Most people probably assume that a Battle of Wits deck should start with something like:

4 Battle of Wits
4 Ponder
4 Shrine of Piercing Visions
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Diabolic Tutor

It should probably also have cards like Forbidden Alchemy to help find Battle of Wits, and probably Gitaxian Probe type cards to power your Shrines and Snapcaster Mages.

That’s not the deck I’m interested in.

Spending most of my turns manipulating my library so that I can cast a five-mana enchantment that doesn’t immediately impact the board doesn’t sound like a good way to win the game. What if my opponent can find a counterspell, Acidic Slime, or lethal power before I finish all of my setup?

I didn’t come for the Battle of Wits; I came for the big deck, and I stay for the Battle of Wits.

What I mean is that I’m not drawn to the card because I think the card itself is super awesome. I’m drawn to the card because I’ve always believed that there has been or will be a time when the ideal build of a Magic deck has more than 60 cards.

There’s always been some card I absolutely wanted to draw enough that I couldn’t decrease my odds. Usually, it’s been a land; something like Seachrome Coast. Someday, the mana will be good enough that this won’t be a factor.

Of course, even when that happens, there’s the remarkably huge cost that sideboarding is less effective, but let’s not focus on the drawbacks for now. Now is the time to embrace the big deck and prepare for battle.

There are substantial benefits to having more than 60 cards, particularly in decks with a lot of Tutors since additional cards give you more options with all your Tutors, making a large number of cards in your deck more powerful. Also, playing more cards decreases your odds of drawing cards that are in your deck so that you can search for them that you don’t actually want to draw.

200+ cards is not what I’m talking about here; I’m talking about numbers between 60 and 80, but either way, I do love a big deck.

At the moment, I think Pod decks are very close to wanting to go over 60 cards. Most Pod decks currently play two Birthing Pods because they need to have enough targets and they don’t have enough room for creatures if they fill their deck with Birthing Pods and other noncreatures (especially Green Sun’s Zenith). But every time I would lose to a creature if they could Pod into it but they can’t because it’s not in their deck, I have to wonder if their deck is built optimally. Sure, you only have room for so many targets, but what if you just choose to have more room?

It might not be worth it by itself, but if I can combine Birthing Pod’s desire for more room with Battle of Wits’ desire for more room, maybe I can actually justify playing a huge deck.

My first take on Battle of Wits is a combination between Naya Pod, Bant Pod, and Wolf Run Ramp with Battle of Wits thrown in. Birthing Pod is very good at finding Primeval Titan, and Green Sun’s Zenith is excellent when it can play as both additional Titans in a dedicated ramp deck and a Tutor in a toolbox deck, especially when that deck has all the tools.

So I know I want all the good ramp:

4 Birds of Paradise
4 Llanowar Elves
4 Arbor Elf
4 Rampant Growth
4 Farseek
4 Sphere of the Suns
4 Solemn Simulacrum

Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself. I should choose a deck size so that I can have a number to use for the purposes of doing comparative math.

I start the game with seven cards, and I’m probably hoping to Battle of Wits on turn 5, so that’s twelve cards. That means playing fewer than 212 cards is really out of the question. Realistically, I’m likely to thin my deck with Rampant Growth and draw some extra cards and maybe activate Birthing Pod. I probably won’t draw more than one extra card per turn, so I could see playing as few as 217, but I don’t really want Battle of Wits to turn off as (at least) a midgame topdeck, and I also don’t want it to be disrupted by Thought Scour. I’m pretty sure the correct number is somewhere in the 220-230 range.

I’ll call it 225. That’s 3.75 times as large as a regular deck. That means I can divide the number of cards I’m playing by 3.75 to see how often I’ll draw it, or, if I want to be very rough with my math, I can just round to 4 and think of this as a 60-card Highlander deck, except than I can play fractions of cards. Actually, the deck gets a lot easier to lay out and look at if you just build it as a Highlander deck. This doesn’t matter for you reading this article, but given that I build decks by looking at them laid out in Magic Online, I’m going to build a Highlander Pod deck now.

Ok, I’ve now built a 55-card skeleton deck, and I’m not entirely sure if I should proceed by talking through the original deck or just giving that list. I guess I’ll list that and then explain, since that’s the order I’m thinking through things.

1 Cavern of Souls
1 Glacial Fortress
1 Seachrome Coast
1 Copperline Gorge
1 Rootbound Crag
1 Razorverge Thicket
1 Sunpetal Grove
1 Hinterland Harbor
1 Plains
1 Island
7 Forest
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Gavony Township
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Glimmerpost
1 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Kessig Wolf Run
1 Abundant Growth
1 Arbor Elf
1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim
1 Birds of Paradise
1 Llanowar Elves
1 Sphere of the Suns
1 Farseek
1 Rampant Growth
1 Naturalize
1 Phantasmal Image
1 Viridian Emissary
1 Palladium Myr
1 Pristine Talisman
1 Vessel of Endless Rest
1 Crushing Vines
1 Oblivion Ring
1 Blade Splicer
1 Borderland Ranger
1 Birthing Pod
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
1 Solemn Simulacrum
1 Day of Judgment
1 Ranger’s Path
1 Huntmaster of the Fells
1 Restoration Angel
1 Gilded Lotus
1 Battle of Wits
1 Acidic Slime
1 Primeval Titan
1 Karn Liberated
1 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Green Sun’s Zenith

That gives me the equivalent of around 13-15 ramp spells, depending on how you count things, which is like playing four Rampant Growth, four Sphere of the Suns, and four Solemn Simulacrum in old Wolf Run Ramp decks. Even factoring in their Green Sun’s Zenith’s, we’re still in the right ballpark.

The lands also work out—thirteen tap for green counting Evolving Wilds but not Ghost Quarter or Cavern of Souls, the same as what was in Kibler’s winning Wolf Run Ramp deck from PT Dark Ascension. I believe that enough of my fixers find other colors that the rest of the mana should work.

Simply multiplying this deck by four would result in a playable Battle of Wits deck, but we’re not quite finished.

Multiplying the 55 cards here gives me 220 cards. I set my target number at 225, which means I have room for five one-ofs. I’m not sure that there are only five bullets I’ll want access to, but after that I have to find cards to cut if I want to add others.

First, the lands. 23*4=92, so if I just multiply everything I have by four I’ll have 92 lands, which is 40.888% of my deck, like 24.533 lands in a 60-card deck. That’s the right range, but I might want two more lands to get it to play like 25 lands, although the extra ramp spells might make that unnecessary. If I decide to go up, I’ll have to cut more bullets. Also, just multiplying the lands I have doesn’t quite get me where I need to be.

First of all, I’m going to need at least one Mountain, and I’d probably like a second if one of my bullets is going to be Inferno Titan, which is certainly reasonable. I’m also somewhat interested in the idea of a single Desolate Lighthouse and a Buried Ruin. I think I can easily play only three Inkmoth Nexus and three Kessig Wolf Run, which opens two slots. I could also consider cutting a Plains or an Island. Regardless, this gets me extremely close to the mana base I want.

Next, the bullets.

Off the top of my head, a list of considerations:

Elvish Visionary
Strangleroot Geist
Viridian Corrupter
Sylvok Replica
Fiend Hunter
Daybreak Ranger
Tormentor Exarch
Dungeon Geists
Thrun, the Last Troll
Stingerfling Spider
Silklash Spider
Zealous Conscripts
Wolfir Silverheart
Thundermaw Hellkite
Sigarda, Host of Herons
Inferno Titan
Frost Titan
Sun Titan
Sunblast Angel
Consecrated Sphinx
Wurmcoil Engine
Deadeye Navigator
Goldnight Redeemer
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Craterhoof Behemoth

That’s a list of the creatures I can think of that I might want. Creatures are the highest value bullets because I can find them with Birthing Pod, and if they’re green, I can also find them with Green Sun’s Zenith. However, I could also imagine including one of any planeswalker just because they’re high impact and you don’t want to draw multiples. The top of that list would be:

Gideon Jura
Venser, the Sojourner
Jace, Memory Adept
Tamiyo, the Moon Sage
Garruk Relentless
Garruk, Primal Hunter

Now to consider them:

Elvish Visionary — Very low impact. I thought of it as a four-of to increase my odds of having something to Pod away, but I decided it wasn’t really want I wanted to spend my time doing. It’s very unlikely that I’d ever search for this, so there’s no point.

Strangleroot Geist — This is a creature that some aggressive Pod decks use, but it doesn’t fit my game plan well enough.

Viridian Corrupter — This would be more important if I didn’t already have Naturalize and Crushing Vines to supplement my four Acidic Slimes; that said, I could see cutting one copy of one of those artifact destruction spells to get added flexibility in my creature based answers.

Sylvok Replica — Including Viridian Corrupter makes this even less appealing, and the fact that I can’t Zenith for it and it ends my Pod chain makes me think this just isn’t the direction I want to go.

Fiend Hunter — Double white is a little rough, but this seems like a very important effect to be able to find.

Daybreak Ranger — I think I want access to this card at least in my sideboard, but I’m not sure that I need it main.

Glissa, the Traitor — Extremely difficult to cast, but the fact that I can Pod or Zenith for it makes it interesting.

Tormentor Exarch — I tried this out a bit, and I wasn’t impressed.

Dungeon Geists — I also tried this one, and between its unreliability and the fact that it’s UU I don’t think it’s worth it.

Archaeomancer — This is would primarily serve as a way to Pod to get Day of Judgment back. Seems way too narrow.

Thrun, the Last Troll — Not including him feels weird, but I just don’t think he does a lot for this deck or in this metagame. Maybe a sideboard card.

Stingerfling Spider — I love this guy right now.

Silklash Spider — Very into Spiders, but I think if I could only find room for one, I’d give it to Stingerfling. Vapor Snag is just too real.

Thragtusk — Mandatory.

Zealous Conscripts — Not great against Delver but amazing against Pod or Ramp, so I wouldn’t want to not have it.

Wolfir Silverheart — I think being a green target pushes this guy over the top, but I could see not playing him out of fear of Vapor Snag.

Thundermaw Hellkite — Too hard to cast.

Vorapede — Too low impact.

Sigarda, Host of Herons — Too many Clones.

Inferno Titan — I think this guy’s worth the difficulty casting him.

Frost Titan — Less sure about this one.

Sun Titan — Oddly, I’m leaning against. I think it’s too likely that I won’t have anything to get back if I draw it naturally.

Sunblast Angel — I think I might actually like this more than Sun Titan.

Wurmcoil Engine — I’m pretty sure I want this since it’s excellent to Pod through and sometimes you really want the ability to gain life.

Consecrated Sphinx — I don’t think I can really maximize the card draw here.

Deadeye Navigator — This has so much potential, but I think it’s too slow and narrow.

Goldnight Redeemer — Very slightly underpowered.

Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite — Necessary.

Craterhoof Behemoth — Over the top.

That looks like a lot of good options, so I’m just going to dismiss the planeswalkers for now, but I’ll keep them in mind after playing the deck some without them or maybe consider them for the sideboard.

That leaves me with the following bullets that I’d most like to be able to fit:

Viridian Corrupter
Fiend Hunter
Stingerfling Spider
Zealous Conscripts
Wolfir Silverheart
Inferno Titan
Sunblast Angel
Wurmcoil Engine
Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

Ten is more than five but not that unrealistically more. Finding some cards to trim leaves me with a list that looks something like:

I decided to go up to 227 cards; I added a Forest and didn’t cut a last spell. 225 was just a number to let me do some math anyway.

The last issue is the sideboard.

I want one Glissa, the Traitor for the green decks. I want the cards I cut: Naturalize, Crushing Vines, Karn Liberated, and Oblivion Ring. I want Gut Shots, and I want Ratchet Bombs to go with my Glissa. I want additional Zealous Conscripts, Daybreak Ranger, and Silklash Spider.

1 Glissa, the Traitor
1 Naturalize
1 Crushing Vines
1 Karn Liberated
1 Oblivion Ring
3 Zealous Conscripts
1 Daybreak Ranger
1 Silklash Spider
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Gut Shot

That’s a reasonable start. Other cards to consider include all the planeswalkers and Frost Titan, but I think they’re just worse than Zealous Conscripts, Celestial Purge, Mental Misstep, Timely Reinforcements, Negate, and Terminus.

And there’s my take on Battle Pod Ramp. It’s far from the only way to build it, and there are some cards I’m really not sure about, like Gilded Lotus, but I do think it’s a solidly competitive Battle of Wits deck.

Thanks for reading,


@samuelhblack on Twitter