The College Dropout: Through the Fire

Fifth Dawn is all the rage, and the banning of Skullclamp now makes this deck an even more serious contender. The eminent death of Elf and Nail (remember that is this deck’s hardest matchup) will allow this mono-Red control deck to wreak havoc on the newly formed metagame. If the Fifth Dawn became legal today, this is what I would be playing with from the new set.

When I set out in February to start testing for Regionals, I had a general idea of what to expect for the metagame. I outlined most of that in my tournament report, but I’ll restate the bulk of it right now. I knew I had to beat Goblin Bidding, Affinity, and some sort of White deck. Those were hands down, bar none the decks to beat in the format. Of course, people were going to play Cemetery decks, or Death Cloud decks, or even Red/Green but did I have to actually test against them?

Yes I had to test against the gawdawful decks as well. To get quality results, you cannot focus on one side of the metagame and put blinders on to the rest of the format. Did you know there actually was a solid build of Red/Green to play with? I’m sure by now you know about a Tooth and Nail deck that did not abuse the powerful non-basic lands and accelerated with Vernal Bloom instead. (Okay, I actually missed that deck as well. Vernal Bloom, who would have figured?)

So I tested, and started to mark off decks that I just did not feel were strong enough, or just did not want to play. Goblin Bidding was the first one off the list. I hate attacking with little Red men. Something about the deck just got on my nerves. Mono-White Control was the next deck that I decided to not play. I have a hard time believing that control decks are worth playing in this super aggressive format right now, and one that just absolutely rolled over to Bidding was one I was not willing to play. Affinity was the deck I thought I was going to eventually settle on. However, the mirror match was something I was not too thrilled about, and I pushed that away as well.

Why play against nine rounds of the same deck anyway? All I wanted to do was have a good time at Regionals.

Testing got bad for me. I was close to giving up, and just sticking with Affinity. Might as well play the best deck in the format and try to beat everyone else right?

Then I got an e-mail from Mike Long. No not a personal email, but one of those mass mail things. I’m not sure how many people actually signed up for that e-mail list thing that he started around states, but on a lark I decided to sign up for them myself. To this day, this decision has been the subject of great comedy at my expense. I need new friends I guess.

You can make fun of me now, and if you have yet to make fun of me, go ahead start doing it. All the cool kids are.

The e-mails I got were not exactly quality reads, but some of them had decklists in them. The decklists were the best things about them really. It was through these e-mails that I found out Mono-Red Land Destruction could be a valid choice for Regionals.

I tested this version of Ponza Wins for a while with my local group, and finally decided that was the deck I was going to play for the tournament. It had favorable matchups with the entirety tier one decks, and had some favorable matches with the rest of the metagame as well.

For reference, these decklists were the ones that Mike sent out in his mass mailings. The first version came before Darksteel was tournament legal, and the second one is the version that was modified heavily for the Affinity environment. My decklist, which will be the third one listed, is like a crossbreed between the two lists. The first list was developed by Evgenius Idzikovsky, or at least that is what Mike said in his non-pimped out mailing list email.

Ponza Wins

3 Arc-Slogger

4 Avarax

4 Dwarven Blastminer

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Chrome Mox

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Goblin Charbelcher

4 Molten Rain

4 Shock

4 Stone Rain

21 Mountain


3 Culling Scales

4 Detonate

4 Flashfires

4 Pyroclasm

Ponza Wins Darksteel Update

4 Chrome Mox

4 Detonate

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Dwarven Blastminer

4 Stone Rain

4 Molten Rain

3 Pyroclasm

4 Avarax

4 Arc-Slogger

4 Great Furnace

4 Darksteel Citadel

13 Mountain


4 Culling Scales

2 Oblivion Stone

4 Damping Matrix

4 Furnace Dragon

1 Flamebreak

Like I said earlier, I got the best results from neither of those decks, but rather one that is a cross between the two. This is how I came to get my deck for Regionals.

Through the Fire

22 Mountain

4 Chrome Mox

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Arc-Slogger

4 Dwarven Blastminer

4 Stone Rain

4 Molten Rain

4 Electrostatic Bolt

4 Detonate

3 Pyroclasm

3 Goblin Charbelcher


3 Culling Scales

3 Shatter

3 Echoing Ruin

2 Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

2 Oblivion Stone

2 Flashfires

Upon glancing at the Darksteel updated list of the deck, I kinda felt sick. I knew that the deck could have a good matchup with Affinity without having to play all of those artifact lands and such. I felt Furnace Dragon was not really needed in the matchup, as the main deck removal and the six sideboarded cards in the board made the Dragon overkill.

The one glaring oversight in the deck is the lack of the super duper golden power bomb that is Avarax. I cut those guys fairly late in testing after I decided that I was having to tough of a matchup with Tooth and Nail. Avarax is the nuts in this deck, as he comes correct against most of the decks that Ponza has a problem with.

Another thing to notice about the decks before mine is the amount of mana in the deck. Mike presented the deck with twenty-one lands, but I was too often getting screwed out of games because I could not draw enough lands. I cut one Goblin Charbelcher in favor of another land, and have not looked back since.

What else looks strange? I’ve meet people that swear Siege-Gang Commander is a golden God in this deck, and I’ve people who think Solemn Simulacrum and Rorix Bladewing both belong in the pile of sixty. I’m not going to agree with either of those statements, having had the chance to play with the Goblin in the deck. More often then not he was just a guy to play to make my opponent cast Wrath of God.

This current build of the deck has been successful thus far in my area of the state of Kentucky (you all know that is nothing to be too proud of), putting one person into the top four of a JSS in April, three hundred dollars in my pocket, and sixty-four rares into my binder. It also won me a first round bye and free entry into Kentucky’s biggest Type Two tournament of the year, the Kentucky Open. That at least sounds pretty successful to me.

Anyway, onto the card choices…


You know why I am playing it. I went with Mountains over stuff like Forgotten Cave, Great Furnace, Stalking Stones, and the other ilk for more then one reason actually. I wanted to have the greatest amount of damage with Goblin Charbelcher, and it only hits for a million when you flip a Mountain over. I wanted to make opponent’s Dwarven Blastminers and other main decked non-basic hate dead draws against me. Okay, so it is more the Charbelcher reason then another.

Chrome Mox

Accelerates me into turn 1 Slith Firewalker or Dwarven Blastminer, and can follow that up with a Land Destruction spell on turn 2. This card can be compared to the trophy girlfriend that some people get. You’ll be fine without her, but why would you not want something so pretty around you?

Slith Firewalker

What it is good against: Control Decks (White, Blue White) Tooth and Nail, Green/Red

What it is bad against: Goblin Bidding, Elf and Nail, Affinity

Though this guy shines against the slower decks of the format, he has a bit of difficulty performing well against the aggressive decks. You have to either be going first to make this guy start growing off the bat, or have a piece of removal ready for any potential blocker your opponent may have had. He is very situational against the aggro players of the world. However, this guy can hit for up to fifteen points of damage before he is dealt with by the White decks, and can cause some serious problems for traditional Tooth and Nail.

Dwarven Blastminer

What it is good against: Tooth and Nail, Mono White Control, Blue/White Control

What it is decent against: Affinity

What it is bad against: Goblin Bidding, Green/Red, Elf and Nail

He single handedly turned the Tooth and Nail match in my favor by almost thirty percent. He was killing enough lands by himself that my land destruction was almost a dead draw every time I drew it against that matchup. He slightly improved the game against the White decks as well. Killing Cloudposts and Urza lands are the specialty of this dork, but he can slowly annihilate the lands of Affinity as well. Be warned, he is often too slow against the popular deck, but can be great there. Finally, you can make people think you are playing with Blistering Firecat when you put him into play face down. He swung enough times for two over testing that his damage was making a difference as well.


What it is good against: Friggin’ Everything!

You know how people said if you ever untapped with Mirari’s Wake in play, you were going to win that game? This is the Wake of this deck. If you untap with this in play, you’re going to win. He has great synergy with the Goblin Charbelchers in the deck, as his activated ability removes a crap load of lands from the deck as well.

Stone Rain/Molten Rain

What are they good against: Tooth and Nail, Mono White, Blue/White, Goblin Bidding.

What they are decent against: Affinity

What they are bad against: Elf and Nail, Red/Green

You want to be able to disrupt your opponent and try to make them lose as much tempo as possible with these here cards. Keep them from casting their spells is the best way of saying this, I reckon.

Electrostatic Bolt

What it is good against: Elf and Nail, Affinity, Goblin Bidding

What it is decent against: Red/Green

What it is bad against: Mono White Control, Blue/White Control, Tooth and Nail.

This card is really good against the decks with creatures, as it can kill just about everything that is popular in the format right now. Platinum Angel, Every Creature in Affinity, Every Creature in Goblin Bidding, Birds of Paradise, and the list goes on. Sadly, you can say pretty much the same thing about the cards it does not kill as well. I feel it is superior to just about every other burn spell in the environment for what it does.


What it is good against: Affinity (sigh)

What it is decent against: Elf and Nail, Goblin Bidding, Mono White Control, Tooth and Nail

What it is bad against: Blue/White Control, Red/Green

Hey cool, a way to get rid of Skullclamp in my main deck! Seriously, I went with this artifact removal main over Echoing Ruin and Shatter just because it deals damage. If I could not”Fireball” my opponent for seven when I deal with a Platinum Angel, then I would play Echoing Ruin instead.


What it is good against: Goblin Bidding, Affinity

What it is bad against: Everything else*

As a way to combat the massive amounts of Goblins and Affinity that I thought were going to be in the Ohio Valley Regional, it just seemed to make sense to move this sideboard card in for the main. True, I could have played with Starstorm (at least it cycled), but to get two damage out of the Onslaught card, you have to invest four mana. I just felt that Pyroclasm was going to be the correct call here, and after testing between the two and the oft-maligned Flamebreak, this turned out to indeed be the correct call.

Goblin Charbelcher

What it is good against: Red/Green, Mono White Control, Blue/White Control, Elf and Nail, Tooth and Nail

What it is bad against: Goblin Bidding, Affinity

These used to be Avarax, but after the format continued to shift away from the control aspect, I decided to go to these artifacts. The simple idea of reusable creature removal seemed like something I wanted to incorporate into this deck, and after it proved its worth in the killing guys market, my deck could be so stacked that I could kill my opponent in a single activation. This card, as I mentioned before, has great synergy with the Arc-Sloggers in the deck. However, it is pretty poor against Affinity and Goblin Bidding, and is only truly useful in the late game against those two decks.

Sideboard Card Choices

These sideboarding guidelines are fairly generic. For a more in-depth guide, scroll past this part and go to the match up analysis.

Shatter/Echoing Ruin

What to bring these cards in against: Affinity.

What not to bring these cards in against: Everything Else.

There are six more ways to get rid of artifacts after you take out some of the more useless cards in the deck. I want to sideboard out the Charbelchers, and usually the Slith Firewalkers to bring in these six cards, as the Charbelchers are typically too slow, and the Slith Firewalker is much too fragile to be good against this quick matchup.

Culling Scales

What to bring this card in against: Goblin Bidding, Red/Green, Elf and Nail

What not to bring this card in against: Tooth and Nail, MWC, Blue/White Control, Affinity

This is, in my mind, a quicker way to get rid of Goblins outside of Pyroclasm. He is my own little Goblin Sharpshooter. Goblin Charbelcher comes out when this card is coming in.

Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author]

What to bring this card in against: Mono White Control, Blue/White Control, Tooth and Nail

What not to bring this card in against: Elf and Nail, Red Green, Affinity, Goblin Bidding

Typically this Pulse has only proved to be good against the slower control decks of the format. I try to bring out the useless cards like Pyroclasm when I am going to side this card in.

Oblivion Stone

What to bring this card in against: Goblin Bidding, Affinity, Elf and Nail

What not to bring this card in against: Tooth and Nail, Red/Green, Mono White Control, Blue/White Control

This takes the place of fragile guys like Slith Firewalker and the Dwarven Blastminer.


What to bring this card in against: White decks

What not to bring it in against: Non White decks.

Take out the useless Pyroclasm against the control White decks, and take out Dwarven Blastminers against aggressive White decks.

Eight pages later, I can finally get into the matchup analysis of the deck.

I feel it is only necessary to go into the matchups against the most popular decks in the format. Affinity, Goblin Bidding, Tooth and Nail (and its cousin Elf and Nail), and Mono White Control. Please remember that I have put in five hundred hours of testing against these four decks, so while the win percentages may seem inflated a bit, it is going to be more accurate then someone who played the deck say, twenty times against each of the other decks. If you can pilot these decks to victory over these decks, then things are looking mighty good for you.

Mono White Control: 80 percent win percentage for Ponza.

You have to go on a two-pronged attack against this deck, the early game is attacking early with Slith Firewalkers, and disrupting their mana with the land destruction spells. If this plan does not kill them, you have to play the part of the control deck, so switch gears and get ready for a long, drawn out game that more often than not will depend on how good your Charbelchers hit. Also, if you have a feeling that your opponent is playing with Pulse of the Fields, begin to start mana burning yourself, but do it enough to where they will stop buying back the Pulse, and won’t kill you outright with a cycled Decree of Justice.

The sideboard plan is pretty good for you, bringing in Flashfires for the useless Pyroclasm. If you think your opponent is playing with Circle of Protection: Red or Sacred Ground, go ahead and remove the rest of the Pyroclasms for the Oblivion Stones that are in the sideboard. If you resolve a Flashfires against your opponent, chances are you’re going to dominate that game.

Tooth and Nail, Urza Land Version: 90 percent win percentage for Ponza.

Heh. You have one card in your main deck that single handedly shuts down their entire strategy. Dwarven Blastminer is an All Star against this deck. If you have a choice to cast this guy first turn or the Firewalker, by all means cast that Blastminer. He kills four lands a game on average, but has wiped out as many as twelve for me in testing. With the amount of disruption that your deck packs for the Tooth, it is hard for them to be able to ramp up to cast anything.

After sideboarding, you can bring in the Shatters (if they are running Talisman and Solemn Simulacrum), but I often found it was better to side in Forge[/author]“]Pulse of the [author name="Forge"]Forge[/author] for the Pyroclasms. You have to take those dead draws out of the deck.

The after board plan is pretty much the same as the first game plan. Disrupt as soon as possible and begin to beat down.

Elf and Nail, Vernal Bloom Version: 40 percent win percentage for Ponza.

This deck was clearly tested after Regionals. It is an awful matchup for the Ponza deck, and it is clearly because you have no way to deal with it in the main deck. The creatures that have the high toughness make it hard for the Firewalker to become a threat, and Dwarven Blastminer is a dead draw.

After sideboarding, bring in the Oblivion Stones, Pulses of the Forge, and Culling Scales for the Dwarven Blastminers, and the Pyroclasm.

Just try to blow up the board with Oblivion Stone after the sideboard, even after board your matchup is still pretty awful. Maybe you should just ask for a draw anyway, since this deck wants to be in the draw bracket, and you can be in a great position in the draw bracket as well.

Goblin Bidding: 70 percent win percentage for Ponza.

First and foremost if you are killing their Swamps and Black sources, you are playing this matchup wrong. Let them cast Patriarch’s Bidding, because if you play the matchup correctly, they will not have had enough Red mana to actually abuse the sorcery. Attack the mountains. Keep their hand full of double Red casting stuff. In the same vein, Skirk Prospector is public enemy number one, just because he can power up to the double Red spells. However, if that plan fails, and the game drags on to the late stages, you have to go after the Swamps just so you do not die in one fell swoop.

Bring in Culling Scales for this matchup and take out the slow Goblin Charbelcher. You can bring in Oblivion Stone if they are not running Skullclamp in order to take out the Detonate.

Use the same plan for game two. It works, and it works well.

Affinity: 70 percent win percentage for Ponza.

There are two different schools of thought in this matchup – you can aggressively go after the lands to keep them from casting the colored stuff, or you can keep their artifact count low. I only recommend going after the lands if you think they are going to be casting Genesis Chamber. That card is going to be hard for you to deal with outside of the Detonate. Aether Vial is another card that you need to be prepared to deal with.

After board, you have another six ways to kill off the artifacts with Shatter and Echoing Ruin. Take out the slow Charbelchers, and the fragile Slith Firewalkers.

You want to double up with Echoing Ruin as often as possible. Welding Jar can cause some problems, but with the Bolts, Ruins, Shatters, and Detonates in the deck as dedicated artifact removal, you should have no problem winning. Remember though, sometimes this deck just wins, so do not get frustrated if their draw is beating you.

Ponza may have been one of the dominant decks before Darksteel was introduced to the format. It may have fallen off the radar while people were trying to break Skullclamp and the other cards. Is this a good deck to play in the current metagame? Yes, I believe it is.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy blowing up a bunch of stuff!

Joshua Claytor

Fifth Dawn Additions to Through the Fire

When this article was written, I had thought it was sent in and received by our esteemed editor here at Starcitygames.com. Sadly it was not, and now the article is a little bit behind the times. Fifth Dawn is all the rage, and the banning of Skullclamp now makes this deck an even more serious contender. The eminent death of Elf and Nail (remember that is this deck’s hardest matchup) will allow this mono-Red control deck to wreak havoc on the newly formed metagame. If the Fifth Dawn became legal today, this is what I would be playing with from the new set.

Through the Fire

Fifth Dawn Edition

21 Mountain

4 Chrome Mox

4 Arc-Slogger

4 Razormane Masticore

4 Slith Firewalker

4 Stone Rain

4 Molten Rain

4 Pyroclasm

4 Shatter

4 Electrostatic Bolt

3 Goblin Charbelcher


3 Threaten

3 Detonate

3 Culling Scales

2 Flashfires

2 Oblivion Stone

2 Echoing Ruin

Even now, I struggle with the lack of Dwarven Blastminer, however, if Mono White control, Traditional Tooth and Nail, and Affinity are still huge in your area after the Krark-Clan Ironworks fiasco that is sure to happen, he may very well be one of the best creatures to main deck again. I am a huge fan of the new Masticore, as he basically allows me to turn my dead draws (Shatter for one.) into a Lightning Bolts against my opponent’s creatures. Sadly though, he may prove to slow in the environment.

Anyway, thank you again for reading

Joshua Claytor

[email protected]