What’s going on with Melira Pod? Seriously, now… this is a thoroughly competitive deck by any estimation; it wins tournaments left and right, it gets netdecked at FNMs across the country, and is one of three decks that collectively make up a full third of the Modern metagame (alongside Jund and UrzaTron). But the core combo that drives it is only three cards long, and no card in that combo costs more than six dollars a pop.
The combo is easy enough to understand… Kitchen Finks can’t die without a -1/-1 counter, and Melira prevents your creatures from having -1/-1 counters. Throw in a Birthing Pod to tutor up the combo pieces, add a dedicated sac outlet, and you’ve got infinite life. Substitute a Murderous Redcap for the Kitchen Finks, and it becomes infinite damage.
Now certainly, the cost of Kitchen Finks has been brought down by Modern Masters. Personally, I don’t think Modern Masters did enough, and should have been given the full Chronicles treatment, but that’s another rant altogether. If you’re interested in hearing it sometime, find me in the alley behind a 7-11, where I’ll be screaming at random passers-by about the price of Vendilion Clique. But there’s no denying that some cards got shaken off the runaway price track by a timely reprint. That doesn’t account for the low price on Melira and Birthing Pod, but whatever the cause, there’s a powerful core combo floating around that can be acquired for less than the cost of a night out for dinner and a movie.
Unfortunately, the rest of the deck costs an arm and a leg. Staples include Voice of Resurgence, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Noble Hierarch, Deathrite Shaman, Linvala, Keeper of Silence, Chord of Calling, and Archangel of Thune. To say nothing of the fact that Melira Pod decks tend to run three or four colors, which means fetchlands, and plenty of ‘em.
If I say the word “fetchlands” and all you hear is your child quietly weeping while you try to explain to them why we can’t afford Christmas this year, don’t worry. That’s normal.
The colors of a Melira Pod deck tend to straddle somewhere between Junk and Naya, which means you might see a few copies of Grove of the Burnwillows or Horizon Canopy in there too. Long story short, just by reading this column, you agreed to take a second mortgage out on your house. An agent will be by tomorrow with the closing papers.
Now certainly, all these cards make a super-competitive deck, where the player can tutor up an answer to just about any threat at the drop of a hat. But the combo at the nut of the deck is still super-cheap to build, and there’s no law that says we can’t use that nut to grow a new deck altogether. So we’re going to do something a little different today; last time we dismantled the deck’s driving cards, and replaced them with a new skeleton. This time we’re going to keep the basic thrust of the deck intact, and rebuild the support system.
What Are We Keeping?
The first step we’re going to take in limiting our costs will be to pick our colors. Any step you take past two colors, the higher the cost of your deck. Ordinarily, in a deck with this much going on, figuring out which colors we keep would be a long, difficult process. But as it happens, in this case, the decision is pretty much made for us. For the combos in Melira Pod to work, we know for a fact that we need two colors: green to cast Melira, and black for a reliable sac outlet. It’s incredibly tempting to add white; there are a huge number of budget-friendly utility cards that open up in a Junk deck, like Reveillark, Cartel Aristocrat, Qasali Pridemage, or Orzhov Pontiff. If you choose to go three colors, these are all cards to consider in your build. But for today we’ll keep things cheap and simple, stick to black and green, and strip out what we can from the original deck.
For existing cards, we’re going to stick to utilities. With less power to draw on, we need to maintain what board control we can. Viscera Seer is obvious; we need something to eat creatures with persist. Birds of Paradise are a no-brainer in any budget multi-color deck, even if it’s only two colors. Eternal Witness is useful in any deck with green, let alone one that will draw targeted hate (more on that later), and Wall of Roots provides a little defense and a little ramp in one neat package. Shriekmaw is a versatile removal spell that can bring a body with it in the right circumstances, and Dryad Arbor is a zero-drop that can be used to tutor up a Viscera Seer when your Birthing Pod comes online.
What Are We Adding?
All right, now the fun stuff. Birthing Pod doesn’t just suddenly drop utility cards on the battlefield; it also assembles combos. The Kitchen Finks/Melira combo is the most common, but it’s not the only one we can use, by any stretch of the imagination. And one of the best things about Magic is that there are dozens of budget infinite combos floating around out there, and nobody cares. Some flare up briefly during their time in Standard, some show up in EDH, and some exist only as neat speculation on message board threads. But because they don’t slot easily into competitive decks, they only find their way into decks on the fringes. Thankfully, we happen to like the fringes in this column. The fringes are our bread and butter. We have a house on the fringes, where we rent out a room at a reasonable price, and serve a continental breakfast.
(Note to self: find investors, hotel for gamers. Working name: “Bed and Cephalid Breakfast.”)
A not-too-distant Standard environment brought us one such infinite combo, which happens to fit neatly into the colors we’re using for this deck:
This is about as straightforward as the deck’s namesake combo. First, tap Devoted Druid for a green mana. Next, use her second ability to untap her. Now you’ve got a floating green mana, and a creature with a -1/-1 counter. Finally, feed that mana and counter to Quillspike’s ability to give it +3/+3. Repeat as many times as you like.
Mind you, this combo can’t be used if Melira’s in play. If you’ve got a Kitchen Finks and a Quillspike on the board, then you’ve got a choice to make, my friend. Thankfully, the choice you’ve got to make is between two powerful combos, and as dilemmas go, that’s not exactly Sophie’s Choice.
But that’s not to say we won’t be including combos that interact with Melira as well. We already mentioned Murderous Redcap, but what else have we got?
Either of these, combined with Melira and a Viscera Seer, provides you with the means to cycle through your library on every draw (as would any creature with persist). Puppeteer Clique has the added bonus of reanimating any creature in your opponent’s graveyard at any time. Neither of these are necessarily game-winners on their own, but if they combo up right, they will enable you to set up your win conditions with relative ease, even if you’ve somehow got four Birthing Pods sitting idle at the bottom of your deck.
Last but not least, we’re going to add two utility cards that don’t show up in the existing competitive versions of this deck, or at least don’t show up a lot:
An interesting fact about Birthing Pod you might not know: it will attract a brand of righteous hatred usually reserved for war criminals and people who kick puppies. The second your opponent sees that card, they’ll know you’re setting up an infinite combo, and they will reign fiery death on anything that might enable your combos in anyway. If the guy at the next table looks like he’s lending you moral support, your opponent will flip his table over and throw him out a window.
Glissa serves as a good stall card; nobody wants to attack into first strike and deathtouch. And what’s more, any time you kill an opponent’s creature, you’ll get that Birthing Pod your opponent nuked back into your hand. Varolz, meanwhile, will serve as another sac outlet, and also take advantage of the fact that even if your opponent isn’t sending your creatures to the graveyard, your Birthing Pod will be.
So let’s put it all together, shall we?
All right, summing up! What have we lost? Raw power, certainly. A deck that loses Voice of Resurgence and Chord of Calling loses a chunk of raw might, no two ways about it. And we’ve lost no small amount of versatility. Pod doesn’t run three-four colors because it limits the player’s options, after all.
What have we kept? Instant answers. A Shriekmaw tutored directly to the battlefield kills a creature just as dead no matter what the deck around it costs. And we’ve kept the capacity for infinite combos. Birthing Pod is an enabler that can take your deck in multiple directions; when you get down to it, even the Melira and Kitchen Finks are window dressing. The Pod is the heart of the deck; use it to set up the board you want, for the game you want to play.