What To Do About Pod & Affinity

In this week’s article, Patrick analyzes the metagame at Grand Prix Richmond this past weekend to try to figure out the direction the Modern format might go in next.

Can we ban Birthing Pod yet?

. . .

If the card you want banned is not the card you wanted banned last week and the card you wanted banned last week is no longer a "problem," that is not the sort of problem bans are supposed to address.

Was Birthing Pod extremely popular at Grand Prix Richmond?


Guess what? It also performed fantastically. It was a really great choice for the weekend, probably the best of all of the mainstream decks. If Pod was always this strong, its popularity would climb. If this turns into some trend, it could eventually lead to some kind of a ban. However, we are not only really far away from that, but we are further from a ban than we were last week.

Let’s set aside the fact that if WotC wanted to hurt Pod, they would generally look for options to hurt it without killing it. The card Birthing Pod makes the entire archetype possible and the archetype generally promotes a play pattern that is actually not that bad. There is plenty of interaction. It’s not "too fast." The card Birthing Pod is actually completely disgusting, but banning Birthing Pod would completely kill a very beloved archetype that makes a lot of cards playable that otherwise wouldn’t be.

Setting that aside, remember that no one was calling for Birthing Pod’s ban after Pro Tour Born of the Gods. The notion of banning Cranial Plating last week would have been a giant joke. Was it just that people at the Pro Tour didn’t understand how good Birthing Pod and Cranial Plating were?

No. Here’s what happened. At the PT everyone was aiming for Zoo. As a result fast combo did great. This week everyone aimed more for fast combo and stopped playing Zoo. The result? Slow combo and Affinity did great. Affinity faced less hate than before, and its speed is more decisive. Additionally, the total number of Ancient Grudge tremendously fell (with just one-third as many Zoo decks).

The format had already adjusted to Wild Nacatl. Now the format has adjusted to fast combo. The logical step is to see if the format can adjust to Birthing Pod and Affinity. I suspect it can. Affinity in particular is very easy to adjust for. You don’t exactly need a treasure map to find where the anti-Affinity cards are buried.

So let’s take a look at the metagame that came out of the largest Constructed Grand Prix of all time. While day 1 was extremely diverse, particularly in the early rounds, things settled down a bit for day 2.

The 443 decks in day 2 can be broken down like so:

GP Richmond Day 2 Metagame


*Other Combo = Scapeshift, Infect, Gifts, Reanimator, Dredge, Elves, Turbo Mill

**Other Blue Decks = Faeries, Delver, Blue Moon, Grixis

***Misc = 8 Rack, Mono-Black Control, Goblins, Mono-Red Control

While it is certainly also useful to break down the major decks into sub-archetypes at times, we generally get a more useful snapshot of the metagame when we look at 14 archetypes rather than 44.

Last Friday the challenge was presented to predict the Top 3 most popular archetypes at the GP. The result?

No one correctly predicted Affinity, B/G/x, and Pod.

Wait a minute. The WotC page doesn’t have B/G/x as one of the Top 3 decks.

The WotC coverage page has a very different look at the metagame, splitting up Twin into four decks, Zoo into four decks, B/G/x into four decks, and so on. This creates the illusion that the format doesn’t have many popular decks, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. In any event, even if we went by this breakdown, the Top 3 decks would be Affinity, Melira Pod, and Storm, which was also not predicted by anyone.

What threw people off? Well, for starters most predictions were invalidated from the start due to including Zoo. Wild Nacatl has been in the Top 3 decks in basically every Extended and Modern tournament where it’s been legal with shock lands, so I can’t blame you. Still, a 48% win rate at the PT combined with matching up poorly with where the format was heading scared a lot of people off. I know we were looking for Zoo decks still in contention and quickly couldn’t find any to feature.

That 5.9% listed above actually merges Fast Zoo, Big Naya, Domain Zoo, and more. The format just isn’t about that at the moment. This isn’t that crazy. Legacy isn’t about Wild Nacatl either. You can play Wild Nacatl if you want; it just isn’t as unfair as the unfair things people are doing, and frankly there are other really good beatdown options.

  • Affinity – Cranial Plating and Arcbound Ravager are great.
  • Merfolk – Aether Vial and tons of lords are great.
  • White Aggro – The white hate is great.
  • Burn – While not an aggro deck per se, it has a lot of similarities.
  • Goblins – Even Goblins is showing up!

That isn’t a ton of diversity, and hopefully things continue to improve. But that is a lot better than when Wild Nacatl was originally banned, and frankly it’s better than what existed while it was banned.

Will Zoo be back?

Yeah, and it hasn’t exactly "left." Once the format shifts even more focus to what’s winning, Wild Nacatl will profit. Additionally, decks that lose to Zoo were too afraid to show up, leaving them short on natural prey. With so much less Zoo, people will start getting a bit more brazen about playing decks that lose to Zoo (or are disadvantaged).

Is next week Zoo’s big week? I don’t think so, but there will be a little recovery. The big jump won’t be for a little bit.

Okay, let’s turn our focus to what actually did well this past weekend and how it relates to our metagame snapshot above. We might as well start with the winner:

In a sea of Melira Pod decks, Kiki Pod came out on top. Personally I prefer Melira Pod since it has better mana and a better backup plan, but Kiki Pod has the edge in the head-to-head. It can combo more easily, and the disruption in Melira Pod is not particularly well suited. Plus the Kiki Pod deck doesn’t spend much effort to disrupt the Melira Pod deck, making the backup plan and better mana less relevant.

Does this mean we’ll see a rise in Kiki Pod decks?

Well, we’re going to see a rise in Kiki Pod decks because it was the actual winner. Additionally, people used to play Kiki Pod anyway, so it’s not a hard swap to make. I would expect Kiki Pod to be less good when Melira and Affinity aren’t as big a focus, but it is a fine deck.

Liu’s build is not particularly unusual, though it is important to note the full four copies of Restoration Angel. This is a big part of the "backup plan" it does have. Drawing the card also works really well for so many of the lines the deck takes. This is a deck with a lot of combos, and knowing how Restoration Angel interacts with them is crucial.

Look at Liu’s sideboard. Ancient Grudge; Kataki, War’s Wage; Shatterstorm; Fiery Justice; and three copies of Path to Exile? That’s a man that wants to beat Affinity! The Paths have a ton of other applications, but I love the diversity of true spoilers. That makes it much harder for the Affinity player while giving you the most options for other matchups.

Despite Kiki Pod’s win, I do expect Melira Pod to remain the more popular of the two styles. Melira Pod has a lot of the same things going for it that B/G/x does while also having a nice taste of the unfair.

Not everyone plays the Spike Feeder plus Archangel of Thune combo, but I think it’s worth it. Having a combo that dodges graveyard hate is great, and it’s one of the best things to do with just two creatures in Melira (while the normal "Melira" combos take three).

The maindeck Thrun, the Last Troll was not good for Luis. I recommend replacing it with Orzhov Pontiff because the card is absolutely vital for Pod mirrors, which there will no doubt be a lot of in the weeks to come. Likewise, I think you want a Harmonic Sliver main to kill opposing Pods and fight Affinity. Luis does have Qasali Pridemage, but I think more anti-artifact hate is warranted. We are short on room, but I could see trimming a Kitchen Finks, maybe even an Abrupt Decay. It’s tough.

The Kataki, War’s Wage in the sideboard is obviously great against Affinity, but I think we want a little more. Even with a maindeck Harmonic Sliver, I could see keeping a second one in the board. Remember, if you play the second with the first in play, you get to kill two artifacts at once!

What I want to try as an additional anti-Affinity card is one Scattershot Archer. Scattershot Archer is fast and impactful if you draw it, but it is also a great card to Ranger of Eos for eventually. Maybe it’s too cute, but it sure would disrupt them. Obviously, if everyone plays four copies of Galvanic Blast, it loses a lot of value, but it could be sweet to try.

Of course, you can also just put a Creeping Corrosion in there and live with having to juggle it and Birthing Pod sometimes. My guess is that you’ll win enough when you cast it to be worth having to lose Pod some amount of the time.

Speaking of the great robot menace:

Affinity is a fine deck, but my goodness is it a rough one to play the week after it does well. The hate is so obvious and so good and people love to hate it so much that I would not touch Affinity until after the next big Modern event.

The finalist’s build was not much different than semifinalist Michael Silgrist’s, but for reference:

The divergence between them was Silgrist trimming two Galvanic Blast, two Thoughtcast, and an Etched Champion for two Master of Etherium, a Memnite, a Welding Jar, and a land. Also, it’s interesting that Silgrist has two copies of Rule of Law rather than the third and fourth Thoughtseize.

Grand Prix Richmond’s Top 8 painted a slightly skewed picture of the metagame that isn’t entirely fair. Yes, it did feature five Pod decks and two Affinity decks, but when we go down to the Top 16, we see a lot more variety. Nevertheless, this will have a big impact on perception. Generally in spots like this I like to look at the decks that had the same record as the lowest Top 8 slots. That is one of the best places to look for the next big thing. They are decks that had good enough records to win but because of tiebreakers will be a little underrated and underprepared for (since people are so focused on Top 8s).

Pro Tour Berlin was dominated by Elves, or at least that’s what everyone remembers. There were zero Faeries decks in the Top 8. However, savvy deckbuilders realized that Faeries put something like five in the Top 16. People weren’t going to focus on it anywhere near as much as they should. And it completely thrashed Elves!

Before looking at all the decks that went 13-2 but missed, we should look at the remaining Top 8 deck, the other deck in the big four:

Jaime’s build isn’t particularly unusual, but it does have a slight control slant. I love his use of multiple Ancient Grudge and multiple Anger of the Gods. Anger gives him more anti-Affinity cards while still having slots against fast aggro.

Interestingly, straight-up U/R Splinter Twin was actually not the most common way to build the deck. RUG Twin has actually taken over as the Twin deck of choice. Not only were there multiple people with records of 13-2, but Pro Tour Born of the Gods Top 8 competitor Patrick Dickmann only missed Top 8 because of missing the first round of day 2. Being from Germany, he did not know about Daylight Savings Time. How sucky it is for such an incredible player to take such a beat aside, it is notable that RUG Twin was not just the most popular but generally the most successful percentage-wise.

By the way, if you want to catch some great Magic, check out Dickmann’s round 9. It was definitely one of the better games I’ve seen.

This archetype hasn’t changed a lot since the Pro Tour (and in fact, Dickmann’s list changed almost not at all), but I do like the mixing up of tricks and sideboard plans. With two Ancient Grudge, two Anger of the Gods, and Vandalblast, Todd is serious about beating Affinity and rightly so.

The other type of Twin deck to show up (and also put a player the 13-2 bracket) was U/W/R Twin:

Notice a recurring theme among the top performers of the weekend?

It’s not enough to play two anti-Affinity cards in your board and call it a day. They’re going to win game 1 most of the time. If you want to win this matchup, you need to reliably draw a hate card most games.

While so much attention was on Storm and Twin going into the event and Pod and Affinity after, the real story of the metagame’s evolution is the return of B/G/x. WotC’s page even obscures how popular B/G/x has become by listing three types of Rock decks, not to mention Jund and Junk being listed separately despite functioning the same.

B/G/x decks need to know what they’re up against so they can be tuned accordingly, but the metagame is becoming more predictable. People are figuring out which reactive cards they actually want.

While there are a lot of varieties of B/G/x, the most popular and the highest finishing was Reid Duke’s B/G Midrange deck (even though he abandoned it for U/W Tron).

This list strays very little from the Duke’s original vision, with just Courser of Kruphix replacing Kitchen Finks as the only important change. The four toughness and life gain do a lot of the same work Finks would, and the extra cards it draws makes it a better threat versus blue decks.

Do I like B/G/x decks going forward? I do. They are long on card power; resilient to hate; and have tools to fight Pod, Affinity, Twin, and Storm. The decline of Zoo means we can be a little more liberal with our anti-combo cards, and I would actually swap a Thoughtseize into the main (moving Inquisition of Kozilek to the board). Having extra answers to Birthing Pod and Cryptic Command is worth it at the moment in my opinion.

I would also look to slightly buff the sideboard against Affinity and Pod. We already have three copies of Creeping Corrosion, but I know the Duke really wanted the fourth for the PT (it might have been his sixteenth card). With the rise of Affinity, the fourth Corrosion is quite justified.

As for fighting Pod, you already have Grafdigger’s Cage, which is the primary weapon. I’m not sure you want a third. Maybe. But the Thoughtseize main helps, and practicing a lot of the matchup helps too.

If Pod, Affinity, Twin, and B/G/x are the four biggest decks, the fifth is very clearly U/W/x. There is a real divide between the true control decks and the aggro-control decks (with Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel); but in general the control decks are just way more successful. Of course, neither style is that big, as control players struggle to have the right answers to everything and just have access to fewer overpowered cards than many other archetypes.

The biggest key to playing control at the moment is to play stuff that is not what people have been testing against. Guillaume Wafo-Tapa’s control deck was great for the PT, as was Shaun McLaren’s, but I would not copy them straight up and run them back. It is important for opponents to not know what you have and what you are capable of.

Not surprisingly, the top finishing control deck was an unorthodox build that people were not prepared for piloted by a very experienced control player:

A pretty straightforward tapout control deck, this list is very Shaheen. And that’s good! Modern is a format that rewards people for playing what they know. Having watched some of Shaheen’s matches, he definitely reaped a lot of benefits from opponents not knowing all the tricks he had.

Amusingly, Shaheen attempts to solve the card selection issue plaguing control decks with Serum Visions. I am a huge fan of this, particularly since he doesn’t have nearly as many lands he wants to play tapped as the three-color control decks.

Stony Silence and Baneslayer Angel are fantastic anti-Affinity cards, not to mention Supreme Verdict and the full four copies of Spell Snare. Another top finishing deck, another deck doing what it takes to beat Affinity. If you want to play something like this, great; my only recommendations are to make sure it is your style and to change it up enough so that people don’t know your list.

Interestingly, all five of the five biggest archetypes finished 13-2 or better at least once. Running just behind them? Storm and Zoo, both of which did okay, but neither put even one player at the top tables. Instead, the final two slots at the top were taken up by some fringe decks:

To call Scapeshift fringe is a little funny, but the archetype really is such a small percentage of the field and has not been winning consistently. Andrew’s story of the tournament is likely going to be remembered most for his 13-0 start followed by getting paired down twice, losing twice, and somehow missing Top 8.

How was this possible?

By dropping the day 1 tiebreakers (which is needed at the moment due to DCI Reporter not being able to handle more than 2000 players), it actually creates this weird situation where breakers can swing a lot and someone that started out 9-0 will actually have worse breakers than someone that started 8-1 if they have the same record in the last round.

I don’t have an easy fix for this, but the tiebreaker results at GP Richmond were calculated as advertised so at least the result is legitimate. As for changing things going forward, I think that is a great conversation for the community to have. What is needed are suggestions that can be acted on besides just "make DCI Reporter better."

I wouldn’t recommend Scapeshift, but if I were going to play it, I would definitely want more anti-Affinity cards. Volcanic Fallout, Ancient Grudge, and Electrolyze are great, but let’s get at least one more Grudge in there!

Finally, we have a possible sleeper:

Faeries was on everyone’s radar before the PT, but now people ignore it. It’s vulnerable to Zoo and Blood Moon, but both have fallen a lot. It has a lot of great tools against combo and could be tuned to beat this narrow of a metagame.

My suggestion? Damnation in the sideboard. Three copies of Go for the Throat are too many for how much Affinity is out there (replace with Smother). This list is not far from being able to compete, but it needs more. Hurkyl’s Recall is tempting but the wrong way I think.

Long story short, Modern has proven dynamic so far. Perhaps it will settle into a bad place someday, but that day is not today or the place here. This is not the time for talk of bans. This is the time for beating the field of today and beating the field people expect for tomorrow.


I would play still play Esper Gifts. I particularly like the Melira Pod and Affinity matchups, and getting to trim some anti-Zoo cards goes a long way. Here is my most recent build:

Thanks to everyone that made it out to Grand Prix Richmond and everyone that tuned in and made it the most watched GP of all time. If you missed the Next Level Deckbuilding Seminar, watch for it later this week.

Other than that, I’m out. See you next week!