Bannings (or lack thereof) & stepping back with Zombie Pod

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The Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster package is the reason Delver decks win and is the engine behind the best deck in the format.”
Nick Spagnolo said it, Mike Flores gave it his seal of approval and Gerry Thompson decided to take it one step ahead and do what he does best, breaking an already broken strategy by adding Restoration Angel and a crazy powerful sideboard plan to the mix.

Just a few weeks before that, Christian “3 Sulfur FallsCalcano took down Grand Prix Minneapolis with a Delver deck that eschewed the traditional white for the more unusual red, featuring Avacyn Restored all-stars Bonfire of the Damned and Pillar of Flame. Just recently Adam Boyd decided to eschew a second color altogether and take Mono-Blue Delver to the Top 8 of the StarCityGames Invitational in Indianapolis, Indiana, a Top 8 already stacked with four other Delver decks. All the way across the world, in Manila, Yuuya Watanabe was busy emerging victorious from a sea of Delver and conquering his sixth Grand Prix win with his own 19-land version of the deck.

By now, I’m sure that everyone knows about the most recent update to the Banned & Restricted List and have already heaved a sigh, either of relief or frustration, after seeing that the Standard format was left untouched and reading WOTC’s reasons for leaving it so. It sure seems like there is plenty of diversity among all the Delver and occasionally even Delverless Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster builds, but is there really enough diversity in the format? Are bannings really that unnecessary?

Yes.

No.

Maybe.

I don’t know.

Can you repeat the question?

To me, there are three reliable ways to, at least, have a decent to good shot at beating both the Delver and non-Delver Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster strategies:

  1. If you can’t beat them, join them.” Why fight against such a powerful and flexible package as Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster when we can just use it and adapt it to such a variety of decks?
  2. Strangleroot Geist/Gravecrawler decks.” Be the fastest aggro deck around, punish them hard if they happen to stumble, force them to pay life for their Gitaxian Probes, force them to have that crucial Vapor Snag, force them to make mistakes and capitalize on them;
  3. Sun Titan + Phantasmal Image.” Make damn sure you have the better late game and all kinds of ways to assure you get there. Phantasmal Image is and incredible value card, by far the best way to deal with a Geist of Saint Traft and it’s nearly impossible for a blue deck to come back from a Sun Titan + Phantasmal Image chain.

Delver is not Caw-Blade. It’s not unbeatable, it’s not overly oppressive and it hasn’t been winning every single tournament since its inception. Ponder/Probe/Snag/Snapcaster paired with Delver of Secrets make it the best deck in Standard but with such a flexible engine behind it, multiple ways to beat the deck and the Scars block rotation being so close I don’t really think the best solution was to ban one or more cards from this blue core. Though, I wouldn’t be terribly unhappy if a ban was able to weaken it to the point of allowing other decks to rise to the top. Maybe M13 will bring us some kind of hoser card for the archetype just like Volcanic Fallout and Great Sable Stag were for Faeries back in the Bitterblossom days. Who knows? Maybe some hoser card has already been printed and we just haven’t truly found it yet (Crushing Vines, anyone?). Better keep on looking!

Going back to the core with Zombie Pod

In other news, back in Grand Prix Minneapolis, Chris Schafer decided to go rogue and introduce Zombie Pod to the MTG World.

Chris Schafer: MTG World, this is Zombie Pod. Zombie Pod, this is the MTG World.

Zombie Pod: Nice to meet you, MTG World, we’re gonna have a lot of fun together.

MTG World: Nice to meet you too, have you met my friend Gerard?

Gerard Fabiano: LAND, CRACK, FETCH, TAKE TWO, I’M CONLEY WOODS! What’s up, Pod? Wanna Top 8 the TCGplayer.com 5k in Edison?

Zombie Pod: Sure do!

Chris Schafer: I’ll leave you two alone now…

The deck combines the raw power and aggression of Zombies with the Birthing Pod engine, taking full advantage of Gravecrawler’s inability to die, Geralf’s Messenger undying ability and the Blood Artist triggers, all while giving the archetype access to things it never had before. What? Things such as maindeck artifact removal in the form of Manic Vandal, the possibility of stopping the aggro decks cold by blocking with Gloom Surgeon forever and the best threaten effect available in Standard: Zealous Conscripts.

Unfortunately, as with most incredibly powerful three-color decks in which two of their colors are basically splashes, the manabase is really inconsistent. No, I mean REALLY inconsistent. With twenty-four lands and a single five-drop as the most expensive spell in the deck, you end up getting flooded a fair amount of time and with only three sources of green in the entire sixty, you often end up paying life in order to cast and activate your Birthing Pods, which can be a real problem when you’re facing an aggressive matchup. Having access to red mana is also an issue since with only eight dual-lands getting stuck with a couple of red creatures in hand and no way to cast them ends up being a very real thing in this deck. Cavern of Souls can’t help matters, as none of the red creatures are Zombies.

In addition, with all the Delver decks going back to Sword of War and Peace as their equipment of choice over Sword of Feast and Famine having access to Manic Vandal becomes less important and even though Falkenrath Aristocrat is miles ahead of all the other options, like Bloodflow Connoisseur or Devouring Swarm, it’s not really worth the cost of going into a whole other color for it. Sure, losing Zealous Conscripts is a pretty huge deal, but by discarding red completely and focusing solely on black and green, we get things like Glissa, the Traitor, a colossal roadblock against most attacking decks and also fringe cards such as Dungrove Elder- an impressively large green creature that has been making quite the comeback recently. Oh, and she can provide quite the toolbox…

Increasing the Zombie count after cutting an entire color allows the deck to run the full set of Cavern of Souls and have a real shot at casting Glissa, while only playing four copies of Woodland Cemetery and a Forest. The Forest, which can be searched up by the single Solemn Simulacrum, assures that you don’t always have to keep losing life in order to use your Birthing Pods. The Pod is one of the key cards in the deck, but one I chose to reduce to merely three copies since you never want to draw two in any game.

Morkrut Banshee is the lone five-drop in the deck. It is a good card to have access to in a format full of Restoration Angels and transformed Huntmaster of the Fells. Entomber Exarch’s versatile abilities make it a must-have both in the aggro and control matchups. Perilous Myr, a fine two-drop on its own, is absolute bonkers when paired with cards like Mortarpod, Bone Splinters, Blood Artist or Glissa, the Traitor.

The sideboard has a couple of silver bullets for the control archetypes, such as Bloodline Keeper, Bloodgift Demon, Phyrexian Revoker and Nihil Spellbomb, as well as a couple of discard spells and Crypt Creepers to make sure the opponent can’t start taking control of the game with their Sun Titans. Ratchet Bomb, Phyrexian Obliterator, Gloom Surgeon, Peace Strider and an additional removal spell in Go for the Throat help you live against the aggro matchups. They buy you enough time for either your Zombies or your Birthing Pod to take over the game.

If you’re in the mood to have some fun while fighting the Delver menace, look no further, this is the deck for you!

Thanks for reading,
André Mateus

 

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