What? G/R PONZA is evolving!

For those of you with keen eyes, you may have spied a certain G/R Ponza player every so often in our weekly Modern FNM reports. I am proud (although perhaps I should be ashamed?) to inform you that player is none other than yours truly. Whilst I have enjoyed playing a very traditional Ponza list for a while now, the recent unbanning of a certain Bloodbraid Elf has made me rather excited. Here is the list I was running pre-unbannings, a relatively standard Ponza deck:

Creatures (20)
Tireless Tracker
Arbor Elf
Stormbreath Dragon
Pia and Kiran Nalaar
Birds of Paradise
Courser of Kruphix
Inferno Titan
Obstinate Baloth
Chameleon Colossus
Lands (21)
Forest
Mountain
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Kessig Wolf Run

Sorceries (8)
Stone Rain
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Primal Command

Other Spells (11)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Blood Moon
Utopia Sprawl

Sideboard (15)
Relic of Progenitus
Grafdigger’s Cage
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk
Ancient Grudge
Abrade
Anger of the Gods
Crumble to Dust
Shatterstorm

This list is by no means ideal, but it’s a blast to play and seems to do reasonably well against the decks of the Sheffield FNM meta. Whilst I’ve tweaked the list a few times, it’s remained a classic ponza list at its core, running four copies Blood Moon, four Stone Rain, and value creatures alongside an extensive ramp package. The unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf however requires some amount of consideration and possible changes to the list. Bloodbraid Elf is obviously a great card, and in theory it should slot right into most Ponza lists – effectively acting as extra copies of the cards we really want to be casting (Blood Moon and Stone Rain) with a 3/2 body with haste tacked on. Of course, variance dictates that it won’t always be that good, often grabbing one of our 1-drops from cascade, and with most standard lists cutting other value 4-drops like Huntmaster of the Fells, and Chandra, torch of Defiance to fit the elf in, our blood-braided friend might not be as great as we might think. To solve this conundrum, I tried out a new version of my deck at last week’s FNM. This was the list I threw together before the event:

Creatures (19)
Tireless Tracker
Arbor Elf
Stormbreath Dragon
Bloodbraid Elf
Birds of Paradise
Courser of Kruphix
Inferno Titan
Lands (21)
Forest
Mountain
Wooded Foothills
Windswept Heath
Stomping Ground
Kessig Wolf Run

Instants (2)
Beast Within

Sorceries (7)
Stone Rain
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Primal Command

Other Spells (11)
Chandra, Torch of Defiance
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
Blood Moon
Utopia Sprawl

Sideboard (15)
Relic of Progenitus
Grafdigger’s Cage
Ruric Thar, the Unbowed
Obstinate Baloth
Thragtusk
Ancient Grudge
Abrade
Anger of the Gods
Crumble to Dust
Shatterstorm

Comparing this to the previous list, not much has changed. The cuts we made are: -2 Pia and Kiran Nalaar, -2 Chameleon Colossus, -1 Mwonvuli Acid-Moss, -1 Obstinate Baloth, and our additions: +4 Bloodbraid Elf, and to improve our payoff from cascade: +2 Beast Within. I am yet to be impressed by Beast Within, and my experience with the card maindeck this Friday didn’t change my views. I ended up going 2-1-1 with this list (my one draw being to mono-white soul sisters), and my thoughts on the changes to the deck are fairly mixed. Bloodbraid elf proved valuable in some matches, but I found that in some it under performed fairly drastically. In my match against G/B tron (a good matchup for us anyway), Bloodbraid was excellent, finding the land destruction and blood moons I needed to keep my opponent under control and saving some hands which were light on early mana disruption. Naturally, in matchups where Blood Moon and our land destruction are great, Bloodbraid Elf really shines in the list. It was in more grindy matchups and games where I didn’t sufficiently disrupt my opponent’s manabase where I was less impressed. In longer games, whilst able to grab our main value creatures (courser and tracker), Bloodbraid Elf disappointed due to its inconsistency. In multiple games I peeled an Arbor Elf or Utopia Sprawl from the cascade trigger, when what I was really looking for was a resilient threat which affects the board in a big way. Herein lies the main issue with Bloodbraid in Ponza – its inconsistency. Whilst sometimes we’ll peel a bomb like tracker and blood moon when we really need it, an equal amount of time we’ll pull a one-drop dud, and in close games the deck really needs powerful 4-drop spells to secure the win. The creature suite usually run in traditional Ponza: Huntmaster of the Fells, Chameleon Colossus, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar, do just that, the reduced density of powerful and reliable threats which comes with running Bloodbraid Elf  makes its inclusion in the maindeck a difficult decision.

Whilst it sounds like I’m hating on Bloodbraid Elf fairly heavily, some amount of its shortcomings are due to the other cards I played alongside it. My list was relatively poorly put together to abuse BloodBraid Elf. You can’t deny the card is amazing, and with the right list, it can be excellent in Ponza too. Ponza lists like this one have recently been posting some seriously good results, and the only way left from here is up (the tier list) for Ponza in the current Modern metagame.

Creature (18)
Bloodbraid Elf
Tireless Tracker
Courser of Kruphix
Arbor Elf
Inferno Titan
Birds of Paradise
Stormbreath Dragon

Enchantment (8)
Blood Moon
Utopia Sprawl

Land (22)
Kessig Wolf Run
Stomping Ground
Windswept Heath
Wooded Foothills
Forest
Mountain

Sorcery (12)
Mwonvuli Acid-Moss
Stone Rain
Molten Rain
Primal Command
Sideboard (15)
Pithing Needle
Thorn of Amethyst
Relic of Progenitus
Kitchen Finks
Ancient Grudge
Abrade
Anger of the Gods

This version of Ponza is specifically constructed to play Bloodbraid Elf. Running a playset of Molten Rain and with a sideboard allowing cascade triggers to easily grab key cards for specific matchups, its well-equipped to abuse the value Bloodbraid Elf provides. It is possible that these types of lists have seen recent success due to a warped post-unban metagame of Jeskai, Jund, and other decks running greedy manabases, but it’ll be interesting to see how Ponza changes as the modern metagame also shifts in the coming months.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today’s Ponza-fest, but if your thirst for Blood Moon and land destruction is yet to be quenched, I strongly recommend you to head on over to the Ponza subreddit (https://www.reddit.com/r/PonzaMTG/). The community there is super active and very, very (some would say unhealthily) passionate about making Ponza as competitive as it can be, and I’ve learned a tonne about playing and building the deck from the community there. If, even after all that, your need for Ponza remains, check out Totalmtg’s sweet deck tech on Bloodbraid Elf Ponza here.

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