Oops!… I Did It Again

This past weekend, Cedric won his 11th PTQ and will be going to Pro Tour Return to Ravnica! He runs down the deck that got him there, Bant Pod, in classic Ceddy style.

“Oops!… I did it again.”
—Britney Spears

You could say I had a good weekend! On Thursday I fired up the ole stream and took this pile of garbage…

…and turned it into this masterpiece!

“I don’t care who knows. I’m playing Bant Pod at the PTQ in Seattle next weekend.”
—Cedric Phillips on day two of the SCG Open Series: Las Vegas broadcast

A lot of people have asked me why I was so insistent on playing Bant Pod leading up to the Seattle PTQ. Well, as many as you may know, your experiences in life are what shape who you are. And I had quite the experience in SCG Open Series: Las Vegas 2011 where I got 9th place with the following decklist:

Wait. This isn’t Bant Pod!

You’re right. It isn’t. That’s what I lost to playing for top 8:

Something about that deck stood out to me at the time. I remember the entire time playing against Lawrence hoping that he didn’t draw Venser, the Sojourner + Stonehorn Dignitary because I was drawing quite slim to it. It always baffled me that Venser, the Sojourner never saw more play. Given enough time, its +2 ability should dominate a game, its -1 ability is quite useful, and its ultimate is unbeatable.

And then this happened…

And then THIS happened…

Now I’m not the smartest guy in the world, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Restoration Angel and Thragtusk work far too well together. The trick was to find the best base of cards to put around them. Mana accelerants and Blade Splicer were obvious, but I didn’t want to play Naya Pod all that much because I was tired of the Bonfire of the Damned wars.

And then I remembered getting my ass kicked by Lawrence! Perfect!

As I looked over the decks in the format, not only were they soft to Venser, the Sojourner blinking stuff, but they were also soft to the Stonehorn Dignitary lock!

This should be easy!

Well, as I was playing games, things actually weren’t easy at all. Stonehorn Dignitary was terrible unless I drew Venser. And while Venser could dominate a game, it rarely did.

So one of my reasons for playing the deck—Stonehorn Dignitary + Venser, the Sojourner—actually wasn’t a good reason at all. So how did I get from my terrible starting decklist to my PTQ-winning one?


Before I even get into deck analysis or a PTQ report, I need to take a moment to say something to each and every one of you who were with my Thursday night for those eight hours.

Thank you.

Without each and every one of you pointing out my misplays, telling me which cards sucked, and what cards to try (you don’t think I came up with Slayer of the Wicked on my own, did you?), I would not have won my 11th PTQ.

So from the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every single one of you who helped in this process. Even though I won the tournament, this was a group effort in every way possible.

So about that decklist…

4 Avacyn’s Pilgrim & 4 Birds of Paradise

Mana accelerants are pretty standard in Birthing Pod decks, so these eight cards really shouldn’t surprise you much. Both do a fairly good job at making the mana work and both can be sacrificed to Birthing Pod to find the most powerful card in our deck…

2 Phantasmal Image

The card that truly makes this deck tick, Phantasmal Image is completely broken when copying just about every card in this deck. I only played two because, as good as it is, there are matchups/board states that exist where it is lackluster (most of the time against B/r Zombies for example).

3 Elvish Visionary

An innovation made by Caleb Durward with his Naya Pod deck, Elvish Visionary is miles better than Strangleroot Geist for numerous reasons:

1.) Easier on the mana. Even though there are 15 sources of green mana in the above decklist, having two green mana in the early turns can be more difficult than you think. The interaction between Strangleroot Geist and Birthing Pod is certainly a powerful one, but Birthing Pod is already powerful enough on its own, and stretching the mana to include a card that makes it better is going to lead to more losses than wins.

2.) Draw a card! Drawing extra cards in a turn isn’t my calling card, but this is one of the times that I’m willing to oblige. The extra card that Elvish Visionary provides will help to smooth your draw in the early turns, find you action in the late turns, and dig you to the card that you’re always looking for—Birthing Pod.

4 Blade Splicer & 4 Restoration Angel

You probably know how good this interaction is by now, but glossing over it would be a mistake. This combination is an integral part of Bant Pod, and to skimp on either one of them would be a mistake. I considered cutting a Blade Splicer for a long time to fit in an additional silver bullet, but nothing does what Blade Splicer does in the early turns on both offense or defense. Do not leave home without four copies of each.

2 Borderland Ranger

A month ago, I wrote the following about Borderland Ranger and its inclusion in G/r Aggro:

“…This is the card that holds everything together for this deck. Like Civic Wayfinder before it, Borderland Ranger isn’t very flashy, but it does everything you want it to:

The thing I’ve noticed most about Borderland Ranger in my testing/streaming of G/R Aggro is that when playing against a deck with Mana Leak, your opponent will rarely counter this card because ‘It’s Borderland Ranger. That card isn’t even good.’ In reality, it’s the glue that holds this deck together…”

So it will probably come as a surprise when I tell you that my first hours testing Bant Pod were without Borderland Ranger. I wanted to do cool things with my three-drops (!) and searching for a land is NOT cool. But as the losses started to pile up, I decided to re-evaluate what was cool and what wasn’t. And I came to a startling conclusion…

Being able to cast your spells is cool!

1 Deceiver Exarch

Now if it’s cool that you want, cool is what you’re about to get! Deceiver Exarch does a LOT of different things for this deck, but I will take the time to highlight my favorite interaction for you:

In play = Birds of Paradise / Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Elvish Visionary, Birthing Pod, and some number of lands.

1.) Sacrifice Elvish Visionary to find Deceiver Exarch
2.) Untap Birthing Pod
3.) Sacrifice Birds of Paradise / Avacyn’s Pilgrim to find Phantasmal Image
4.) Phantasmal Image copies Deceiver Exarch, which untaps Birthing Pod
5.) Sacrifice the “fake” Deceiver Exarch to find Restoration Angel
6.) Blink the Deceiver Exarch, which untaps Birthing Pod
7.) Sacrifice Restoration Angel to find whatever five-drop you’d like (typically Thragtusk)
8.) Smile at what you’ve just done

This is just one line of play that Deceiver Exarch opens you up to. Going into my testing with Bant Pod, I didn’t think that those types of situations would ever come up. During the PTQ, I went crazy with Deceiver Exarch multiple times and put my opponent into horrifying board positions in a matter of one turn, a handful of life, and the loss of some rather useless creatures.

This is one card that falls into the category of both cool and powerful.

1 Phyrexian Metamorph

Not as good as Phantasmal Image because it doesn’t interact favorably with Sun Titan, Phyrexian Metamorph still does a lot of positive things for Bant Pod:

1.) It’s still a clone! Clone effects are the most powerful aspect of Bant Pod, and this is one that doesn’t die to Gut Shot, Vapor Snag, and the other handful of spells that take care of Phantasmal Image. It can be hit by Ancient Grudge, but that’s more of an annoyance than anything else.

2.) Fits perfectly on the curve. As good as Blade Splicer and Borderland Ranger are, sometimes you need to find a clone-type effect to deal with a legendary creature like Geist of Saint Traft or Talrand, Sky Summoner. It’s very nice to have the option to turn your “useless” three-drop into a removal spell if necessary.

3.) Plays favorably with Restoration Angel. Restoration Angel loves her value, and while she can’t get it with Phantasmal Image, she certainly can get it with Phyrexian Metamorph. A Restoration Angel blinking a Phyrexian Metamorph means that you have two Restoration Angels and another blink trigger coming if the situation calls for it.

1 Mist Raven

You read that right! The nightmare from AVR Limited is back and ready to ruin the fun for everyone. There are two reasons that this isn’t Aether Adept:

1.) Flying. You would be surprised how many games you can win against certain decks just because of the keyword “flying.” When you start copying Mist Raven and flying over for damage instead of getting into ground stalls against green decks, you will understand its inclusion. The fact that it can trade with Insectile Aberration is just icing on top.

2.) 3-4-5. There are a lot of times when you need to Birthing Pod from 3 to 4 to 5, but the four-drop that you are sacrificing is something far too powerful to be moving up the chain with (here’s looking at you, Restoration Angel). Mist Raven is a great way to ignore that issue while getting value on the way. Not only will the bounce effect likely be useful, but you will have no qualms about sacrificing the best AVR common to find the best green card printed in some time…

2 Thragtusk

This is a real card? Really?

In my M13 set review, I wrote the following about Thragtusk:

“I won’t insult your intelligence and explain to you how good Thragtusk is against Vapor Snag or how good it is in combination with Birthing Pod because those things are obvious. The reason I’ve decided to go with Thragtusk as the best green card in M13 is because I want it to be. I don’t want a card with all this upside to be relegated to the bench because Wolfir Silverheart is too good in green mirrors and there are better options against U/W Delver. Thragtusk is just a really cool, well-designed card that does a ton of different things, and I think Standard will be a more enjoyable format if that card is a part of it.”

Guess what? I enjoyed myself quite a bit last weekend!

There are a LOT of things that make Thragtusk ridiculous, but here are just a few:

1.) Restoration Angel
2.) Copying it with Phantasmal Image / Phyrexian Metamorph
3.) Sacrificing it to Birthing Pod to search up Frost Titan or Sun Titan
4.) Pairing it with Deadeye Navigator (we’ll get to him in a minute!)

My favorite line of play throughout the tournament was the following:

With Thragtusk and Birthing Pod in play:

1.) Copy Thragtusk with Phantasmal Image (gain five life LOL)
2.) Sacrifice the “fake” Thragtusk to find Sun Titan (don’t forget that 3/3 Beast!)

3.) Sun Titan back Phantasmal Image copying either Sun Titan or Thragtusk

Really? Really.

1 Geist-Honored Monk

As great as Thragtusk is, it won’t save you in every situation (it was hard for me to believe too!). In times where you need multiple blockers or some that fly, Geist-Honored Monk is the man for the job. Now it goes without saying how good Geist-Honored Monk is in combination with the rest of our deck, but keep in mind that there are situations that exist where you would much rather search for this via Birthing Pod than Thragtusk.

1 Acidic Slime

For when you absolutely, positively have to kill that Gavony Township, Oblivion Ring, or Sword of War and Peace, Acidic Slime is your very best friend. There were multiple times where I needed to kill something and have the deathtouch blocker back on defense, so for those of you who are looking to replace this with Viridian Corrupter, think again!

1 Frost Titan

A late inclusion into the deck, this spot was all but reserved for Deadeye Navigator during the early stages of deck construction. The reason for the change was rather simple honestly. When drawn, Deadeye Navigator is awkward and doesn’t impact the board very much. Yes, it IS absurd when you get to untap and start activating it, but that doesn’t matter if you can’t deal with what’s already on the board. Frost Titan does a fantastic job of staving off elimination while presenting a relevant clock and a fantastic Phantasmal Image / Phyrexian Metamorph / Restoration Angel target. I was truly surprised at how great Frost Titan was for me all day.

1 Sun Titan

This one, however, wasn’t a surprise at all. The combination of Sun Titan and Phantasmal Image is something we’ve seen for months now in Solar Flare decks. It’s basically what they’re trying to set up the entire game, and once achieved, it is extremely difficult to win.

Well instead of focusing our entire deck on it, it’s a subgame that Bant Pod gets to play. And that subgame is too much for a lot of decks to handle. Instead of having to play crappy cards like Think Twice and Forbidden Alchemy, we get to play Restoration Angel, Birthing Pod, and Thragtusk.

Who’s the better Sun Titan deck now?!

4 Birthing Pod


The mana base

I make no claims to the 24 lands above being the perfect mix. This was a very difficult mana base to build, but it worked for me during the PTQ. I do know that you would be insane to leave home without at least two copies of Gavony Township because I tried the deck without them during testing and got tired of my mana accelerants and Elvish Visionaries doing nothing the entire game.

A quick review of the sideboard:

1 Slayer of the Wicked

One day you’ll get tired of losing to Blood Artist too…

1 Deadeye Navigator

This is very close to getting too cute. Deadeye Navigator’s power level is off the charts when you get it into play, but it’s very close to a win-more card. I prefer the Titans maindeck because of their immediate impact and how much better they are when you actually draw them, but there are matchups that exist where you’d much rather have Deadeye Navigator (e.g. Sam Black U/W Midrange).

1 Stonehorn Dignitary

For all you psychos out there playing 24 Forests or something else close to it (here’s looking at you, Travis Woo!).

1 Viridian Corrupter

Acidic Slime is great, but there are situations that exist where you’d like to have a cheaper Naturalize-type effect. Viridian Corrupter takes care of that need for you while also giving you an additional answer to Birthing Pod in mirrors.

1 Thragtusk

1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite

During my stream testing of this deck, some of my viewers were insistent that I had to play one of these somewhere in my 75. I gave it a few test runs prior to the PTQ, and it was rather unimpressive for me, but I chose to play it anyway in case I was being shortsighted. My thoughts were—and still are—that between Sun Titan, Frost Titan, and the ridiculousness of an unanswered Deadeye Navigator, you shouldn’t need Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to get the job done. 

1 Melira, Sylvok Outcast

Go take your Blighted Agent somewhere else!

1 Stingerfling Spider

Completely insane against U/W Delver. Not only does it kill Insectile Aberration and Restoration Angel, but it blocks Geist of Saint Traft favorably. In most circumstances, you’ll just search up Thragtusk against U/W Delver, but situations do come up where no other card could possibly save you.

2 Crushing Vines

A little more help against U/W Delver never hurts.

3 Celestial Purge

I really don’t like losing to Blood Artist

2 Garruk Relentless

The one I get questions about the most, Garruk Relentless does a lot of things for Bant Pod:

1.) Suck it, Phantasmal Image! A popular strategy to beat green decks is to copy their threats with Phantasmal Image. Garruk Relentless trumps that strategy quite well and does so without losing any loyalty counters.
2.) Enough with the Elves! Elves is a deck that is beginning to pick up in popularity due to the lack of answers to Elvish Archdruid. This is way to mitigate that.
3.) Birthing Pod 5 and 6. Ok, it’s not quite Birthing Pod 5 and 6, but it can tutor for something in a pinch if need be. And when you’re playing as many high impact cards as Bant Pod is, all you need is one tutor to win the game.

I’m not going to get too deep into the PTQ report. I played rather well after round one, didn’t mulligan much, and tricked some people along the way. The reason that I’ve won 11 PTQs in my life is very simple:

“Beat me if you can. Survive if I let you.”

This is my mindset for every PTQ that I play in. Nothing but first place is acceptable for me. Once the wins start coming in, this mindset is amplified more and more until the tournament is over.

Saturday was an extreme case of that.

When I got to 5-0, I had a talk with myself outside basically saying that there was no way that I was letting this opportunity get away. I would do whatever it took to win (legally of course), and when the dust settled, I was the victor. 

And yes, the 11th PTQ win feels just as good as the 1st.

A Special Announcement

I had many reasons that I wanted to qualify for this Pro Tour, but there’s one that’s more important than the rest. Many people ask me what it takes to get on the Pro Tour, how to prepare for a Pro Tour, and how important it is to network for a Pro Tour.

This is your chance to find out!

For Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, my testing process is going to be 100% open the public. All of my preparation will be documented via articles and my stream. Instead of working on a team of 5-10, I will be working with a team of 500-1000 (and hopefully more), as each and every one of you will be my testing partners. If you have an idea that you want to share or think it’s something I should try out, all you have to do is contact me via Facebook, Twitter, or watch my stream when I’m live! As most of you know, I’m incredibly open-minded, so no idea is a bad one.  

And it did work quite well on Thursday now, didn’t it?