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By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Sep 25 2013 10:56am
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 You all know by now that I like playing with Birthing Pod. I just adore that damn card. So I deeply respect everyone who tries and does the best to honor the Pod. So, without further ado, meet the most successful Pod player on MTGO: pk23. His secrets, his triumphs, the man beyond the Kiki-Jiki mask, and other assorted epic lines.

 


 First of all, what can you tell us about you?
 I'm pk23 (it may sound a little weird, but I try to keep my personal details off the Internet as much as possible, so no pics of me or real name, sorry). I'm a semi-retired poker player from Las Vegas.

He's somewhere among those lights!

 A professional poker player in Las Vegas sounds very TV show-y! What pushed you out of that business, if that's something you want to share?
 The U.S. government did a major crack down on online poker rooms a few years ago, either pushing the major rooms out of the market or out of business all together.

 Did you ever think of going pro with Magic, or at least making money out of it rather than just the few tix of the PREs?
 I don't think there's really that much money to be made as a Magic pro, though I could be wrong. In any event, I don't currently have the skills to make it happen, nor am I interested in all the traveling it would entail.

 Your nick, pk23, has any particular meaning? I just spoke with someone who had a theory which is poker-related. Is it?
 It is poker related in that I kind of randomly use the initials "pk" when I put my name on the table list in poker rooms.

 Since when you've played MTG and MTGO?
 I got my start with MTG during Unlimited and Antiquities, and played paper MTG casually until Ice Age came out. I got into MTGO during Lorwyn block, and drafted very unsuccessfully for a while, before taking a bit of a break. When I came back I read about the Pauper format, and that's what really got me into the game. I eventually stumbled onto the PRE scene, where I was pretty unsuccessful at first, but do alright at now.

 What do you like to do when you're not throwing cloned Angels at people's faces?
 I enjoy video games, gambling, playing sports, and hiking. There are some decent bands and nightlife around here once in a while too.

Vegas as seen from The Calico Tanks Trail on the Red Rock Canyon — a good place for hiking.

 I know you as a Modern player mainly. Did you start play Modern right away when it was first launched? Were you playing Extended before? What's the appeal of the Modern format for you?
 I was a Pauper player first, then got really into the Standard Pauper format where I had some pretty good success. I never played Extended, and didn't know anything about Modern until I jumped into an Overdrive! event one day. I played a Silverblack legal version of RG Tron and got absolutely destroyed. But my interest was piqued. I like playing with more powerful cards than are available in Pauper, and I like the eternal aspect of the format. Maybe my favorite thing about Modern is that there are decks that I'm excited about playing.

 I saw you play Tribal Wars too, lately, which I think it was new for you. How was the approach with an entirely different format, with a vastly larger and more broken card pool, and no sideboard?
 Tribal Wars seems a lot more casual than Modern. There don't seem to be too many really established decks, and it feels like everyone is pretty much brewing their own stuff. I don't have too many Legacy staples, so my decks tend to be based around the most powerful cards and interactions that I own. For example, I have a set of Grove of the Burnwillows from Kiki-Pod, so I play decks in Tribal Wars that can utilize Punishing Fire.

 

...unfortunately.

 Do you happen to play competitively in sanctioned tournaments, too? Or it's just PREs for you?
 I try my hand in daily events from time to time, but I haven't had much success. When there is a Limited format that looks fun, I'll play a little bit of it (Modern Masters!!!)

 The sheer and, honestly, scary efficiency of your style of play clearly strikes me as that of a Spike. Do you see yourself this way?
 I always try to play the strongest deck that I enjoy playing. If I don't find the deck fun and challenging to play, then I'll look for something else, even if that deck is the most powerful. In the context of Modern, I don't think Kiki-Pod is the best deck in the format by any means, but I find it so enjoyable to play and it's strong enough in the PRE meta, that I'm happy to play it. I get a lot of enjoyment out of brewing in Standard Pauper, and I'm usually happier playing my own brews than the best decks in the format. Sometimes I get to do both!

 Let's get to the Pod of things. The Gatherling data alone show that you won a whopping 25 events with the Naya version of the Pod (that we'll discuss later), for an impressive total score of 220-54, including your 8-0-1 win at the second edition of the Modern's Birthday Bash, where you lost only 3 games (not counting the intentional draw) over 9 matches. Why did you choose to play so extensively with the Pod archetype? What lead you towards the Pod in the first place?
 I'm a big fan of combo decks, and Melira Pod looked pretty sweet. I had been working on putting the deck together, and even had a couple 2nd place finishes with a budget version with no shocklands or fetchlands, and basically no win condition aside from the combo. Then, I saw some videos (I think by LSV) showcasing Naya Pod, and the complexity and explosiveness of the deck were so appealing to me that I set my sights on building it. I had been on a tear in the (now defunct) Modern Pauper PRE and the Standard Pauper PREs, and had some credits stored up. I put together the shell and with the winning from ensuing Modern events was eventually able to get the deck completely built.

For some reason I get the sense you expected we would end up talking about this card.

 In my article Pod of Conduct, I posited that the Pod actually makes for just a shell that some combo decks, most notably Melira combo and Kiki-Jiki combo, exploited to better their efficiency, but that's somehow unrelated to the combo themselves (I made my mission to play pure Pod decks that win by themselves by exploiting the Pod advantage). In fact, you can say that Melira combo and Kiki-Jiki combo win as much through the Pod as they do through Chord of Calling. What do you think?
 Birthing Pod is more important to both of those decks than Chord of Calling, which most versions have been cutting back on anyway. Pod is a great way to find the pieces that these decks use to combo off, but also provides a solid plan B by generating value and facilitating the beat down. So, I agree with you!

I actually meant that the Chord is as important as the Pod for those combos. But oh well, it works both ways.

 This said, you mostly chose to run Kiki-Jiki combo (I only see a handful of attempts with Melira on Gatherling). Why is that? I feel like the Kiki-Jiki setup allows for better chances at winning games through just creature superiority when the combo fails or is thwarted, whereas Melira asks for a lot of support cards (like Viscera Seer) that don't do much by themselves. Restoration Angel is always a powerhouse. Do you feel the same way?
 The two decks have different strengths against different decks. The times I've played against UWR Control with Kiki-Pod I've felt like I almost had no chance. There isn't too much UWR in the Modern PRE meta, but the DEs are full of those decks. I think the PRE meta is more diverse in general, and Kiki-Pod is a great choice against a wide open field. And Resto IS a powerhouse! She is straight up value when combined with all the "enters-the-battlefield" creatures the deck packs.

And she doesn't even need to show (too much) skin to impress! Take that, Deathless Angel!

 By the way, I also see in your profile on Gatherling that you played a few other Modern decks. What can you tell me about those? What went wrong? None of them was really inspiring to you like the Pod was?
 I played around a bit with Blue Tron and UWR Splinter Twin. In both cases I had most of the cards for the decks already, and they looked like fun. But, the decks just felt weaker to me, and there weren't as many decisions to make.

 Indeed, that's what I also enjoy the most of the Pod shells: you are called to a lot of decision-making, and every game looks different, even just in virtue of the often tortuous ways with which the combos are assembled. And I have to say, you're really great at always making the right choice. Sometimes I would play against you and be sure you were done this time, but then you just do something I wouldn't expect that was the one right play that could put you back in the game. Do you think this kind of focus comes from your experiences with poker?
 I look at it more as problem solving. I'm constantly trying to make the right decisions, and I know there's still plenty of room for improvement. I don't think this focus comes from playing poker, but it's important to be successful at both poker and MTG. I think this explains why there tends to be a decent amount of interest in poker from Magic players.

 Now that you're playing in Tribal Apocalypse you're experimenting with different kind of decks. Do you plan to try and play other Modern decks too in the near future? Or come back and give another chance to Melira?
 As I wrote above, I don't think Kiki-Pod is well positioned to take into DEs. I think Melira Pod is where I want to be for those. And I'm working on getting that deck put together, and will likely be practicing with it in PREs soon.

 

 Let's have a closer look at your latest Naya Pod build now. First of all, the combo pieces. You run three Restoration Angels, and that's easy to understand. When almost every other creature has an ETB trigger, she's just the best, isn't she?
 You know it!

 Then you have two copies of Kiki-Jiki and only one Zealous Conscripts. That strikes me as odd, initially, since Kiki-Jiki is more frequently a dead card in hand due to his RRR cost, while Zealous Conscripts is easy to cast. But then I thought that it has to be exactly to prevent the situation where you can't fetch Kiki-Jiki because you have him in hand, right? Plus, they're going to try and exile him more than anything else.
 Sometimes Zealous Conscripts gets cast, but mainly it's in there to combo off of one of the 4 CMC persist creatures (pod for Conscripts, who untaps the Pod, then pod the persisted 4-drop for Kiki-Jiki). Kiki-Jiki can combo with Restoration Angel or Deceiver Exarch, so more than one Conscripts isn't needed. Without Kiki-Jiki, there is no combo.

 

"Without Kiki-Jiki there is no combo" says it all.

 Let's talk about protection, then. You run Spellskite, as it's obvious, but you also splash blue for Glen Elendra Archmage. I know how powerful she is from my experience with my Bant Noncombo Pod. She would decide games by herself then, especially against combo decks. You don't run much blue, though (you only have three land sources that produce blue, fetchable as they are). The Archmage still manages to be consistent enough? Did you come around to splash blue after a while, or was it always there since the beginning?
 In addition to the three lands, I also have Birds of Paradise and Noble Hierarch to provide the blue for activating Glen Elendra Archmage. I still come up short on the mana sometimes, but it's a situational card, so I don't want to mess with my mana too much to make it work. The deck started out with the blue splash only for Deceiver Exarch and Phantasmal Image to enable some of the combo chains. Eventually a second Deceiver was added to create an additional combo chain, and to add some redundancy when one was stranded in hand (that blue mana problem again). Archmage came later to add redundancy and some variety to the 4 CMC persist slot.

 

Safety measures.

 You seem to rely much on Deceiver Exarch to accelerate towards the combo. I remember seeing you build the combo from unassuming board states (one in particular: just a Wall of Roots and Restoration Angel, with the Angel sacrificed to fetch the Conscripts, which untap the Pod, fetch the Exarch from a Wall, untap Pod again, transform the Exarch into another Angel, flicker Conscripts, untap Pod one last time, turn Angel into Kiki-Jiki). Does Exarch have a conspicuous role in that?
 Deceiver Exarch allows 2 CMC creatures to be podded into 4 CMC creatures, by first being podded into the Exarch which untaps the Pod. This is useful for grabbing a situational creature like Murderous Redcap or Linvala. An Exarch in play will also allow another 3 CMC creature to be podded into a 5-drop (usually Kiki-Jiki) by chaining through Restoration Angel blinking Exarch. Without Deceiver Exarch, this deck couldn't do absurd things like comboing off with only one Pod, one 1-drop, and one 2-drop.

A more alluring Resto spending quality time with her favorite Beast. Art by merkymerx.

 Speaking of cool ways to the endgame, what's your favorite or default battleplan with Kiki-Pod, the combo chain you try to pursue first?
 It really depends on the opponents deck, and on my starting hand.  I can combine Kiki-Jiki with a 3-drop (Deceiver Exarch), a 4-drop (Restoration Angel), or a 5-drop (Zealous Conscripts), and I can make any of those combinations as early as turn 4.

 The last blue card you feature is Izzet Staticaster. It's there to fight tokens, I assume?
 Staticaster has value against almost all decks. It's obviously a house against token decks like Soul Sisters, but is great for picking off mana dorks, Dark Confidants, infect creatures, and random robots. It can also combo with several other cards in the deck to kill 2-toughness creatures.

 But why Staticaster over a safer — color-wise — Cunning Sparkmage?
 I initially chose Izzet Staticaster because there was a lot of Soul Sisters running around. I've kept it because the flash ability is very relevant as a trick, and for dealing with counterspells.

 

Improved concept.

 Your build is light in pure answers, anyway. Other than Staticaster, I only see one Qasali Pridemage and one Murderous Redcap. Is that enough?
 That mostly takes care of business in game 1. Post-board I can bring in the silver bullets I need.

 You have two magnificent hosers in Linvala and Thalia, though. Thalia never happens to get in the way by later making a Chord of Calling just one mana out of reach?
 The deck is mainly creatures, so Thalia doesn't hurt me too badly. If I'm going for an early Pod I just wait to play her. In general, I don't play her or I pod her away if I think she will hurt me more than my opponent. I only play 1 copy, so she can't clog up my hand too badly in any case.

 

You don't mess with these ladies.

 You then run 10 accelerators. You even cut down to 3 Kitchen Finks to make room for that, essentially. And Kitchen Finks is the engine's carburetor, no?
 Kitchen Finks keeps me alive against aggro, provides resiliency against sweepers, and is straight up value when combined with Pod and Gavony Township. It's a good card in the deck, but I don't know enough about engines to call it the carburetor.

 Oh, I don't know much about engines either! But I mean, Kitchen Finks is what "fuels" all those multiple transformations from CMC 3 to CMC 4, which in turn allow the gameplan to be completed, no?
 Kitchen Finks is more of a value card. It's most relevant for keeping me alive against aggro decks, and repeatedly podding into Restoration Angels in grindy matchups is huge. I find that it's Deceiver Exarch the card that most often powers out the explosive combos.

 

Some probable nonsensical engine metaphor.

 Finally for the main deck, thoughts on the land base? It seems very refined, with singleton copies of most lands except for Grove of the Burnwillows and a few others.
 I think the land base is pretty much perfect. It's essentially (exactly?) the mana base that successful pilots had in DEs many months ago when the deck was more popular.

 On to the sideboard. I guess this is what changes the most, following the flux of the meta. It most notably features several noncreature spells: three Path to Exile, two Negate. When exactly do you run these?
 Every so often I update the sideboard to reflect the changing meta. Path to Exile is a good general answer against aggro, midrange, and creature based combo decks. Negate provides disruption against Twin, UWR control, and Scapeshift.

 

 Artifact hate: Ancient Grudge and Harmonic Sliver.
 Ancient Grudge is great value against Robots, a matchup that can be pretty tough. Harmonic Sliver is a more general solution for auras, robots, other Pods, and the various hate cards that opponents will bring in against me.

 

 Land hate: Sowing Salt and Avalanche Riders.
 Sowing Salt is just for Tron, even though I haven't seen it much lately. I like Avalanche Riders so much that I almost want to main deck it. Besides hitting utility lands, it can really disrupt UWR, Tron, and Scapeshift. Plus, flashing in Restoration Angel to bounce it, or copying it with Kiki-Jiki is pretty epic.

 Good old Melira in her honest role. Is Infect.dek still a thing these days? I used to run 3 Spellskite against it, anyway, and they double against Bogle now.
 Melira used to run double duty as disruption to legend-rule away an opposing Melira. Since she can't do that anymore, I really ought to get rid of her.

 Ethersworn Canonist. Now, I had her in my Pod sideboards for ages since back when Storm was still rampant, but then I just freed this slot, because I realized I was never calling her in anymore. Do you happen to field her against other archetypes?
 I bring her in on occasion, but not too often. She's more of an "in case of", if I run into Storm or Living End.

 Aven Mindcensor. As a Pod player, I know what this one is about!
 Other than the mirror match, it's also for Scapeshift and Tron. And sometimes it's just a beater than I can flash in to draw counter magic.

 

 Obstinate Baloth. Not Thragtusk?
 Besides being a monster against Burn, the Baloth is strong against Liliana.

 Sigarda, Host of Herons.
 This is another anti-Jund card. She also can pose problems for UWR if I can get her into play somehow.

 Speaking of working around counter magic (and because there's no way I will not end this by asking you some advices for myself!), I'm recently experimenting with Pod builds that incorporate Cavern of Souls. This either means trying a tribal approach, or a specific set of finishers (see: Phyrexian Obliterator) that enter via Pod or Cavern, in both cases achieving uncounterability. For the former case,  I'm looking forward to test the new version of my Bant build with an even stronger Angel presence than before.
 

 

 There are Resto and Linvala of course, plus Sigarda and Baneslayer as aggro finishers, Sublime Archangel as soft combo (with a populated board, it's often a matter of dealing with her or losing in 2 turns), and the new endgame of Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder. What do you think? Bant Pod got its own endgame combo (except for more complicate things like Reveillark Combo), and I for one I'm excited.
 I'm not a big fan of Cavern of Souls here. Your Bant list isn't as greedy on mana as Kiki-Pod, but Cavern is going to be a colorless source for most of the cards in your deck. I like (Sower of Tempation) in this deck; it has some nice interactions with Pod and with Restoration Angel.  Kira is a nombo with Resto, and sometimes with Deceiver Exarch. I think Spellskite and Glen Elendra Archmage serve as better protection for your combo. I've been messing around a bit with the Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder combo in Melira-Pod myself, and I love it.

 

The future of the Pod?

 By the way, Angel's Grace in the sideboard is for Valakut, against which I'm losing more games than it's healthy, recently. And I'm re-warming to split second these days, I shocked more than one combo player with a main deck set of Extirpate in my Jund build. Valakut and (especially) Tron are toasted by it, in conjunction with Tectonic Edge. Melira Pod even more so. But I felt like the meta was ripe for main deck Extirpates because of people relying too much on single wincons or narrow answers in the PREs.
 Melira Pod has some plan B in the form of a mediocre beatdown, though. And with the addition of Archangel/Feeder, it gets a secondary combo, plus the Pod still provides value. And aren't you worried about the Valakut opponent topdecking a mountain the turn after you use Angel's Grace?

 Sure, but I already stopped a Scapeshift at that point, and their big finish is thwarted (and their remaining mountains scarce). They don't do much damage before that point, so 12 damage wouldn't be enough, especially with all my lifegaining. Plus, they usually reach the combo just a few turns from dying against this kind of deck. Anyway, do you plan some new experiments yourself?  Where is your build headed to in the near future?
 I'd like to try out the newer versions that feature Domri Rade and Voice of Resurgence, but those cards are so damn expensive right now!

Still gravitating around 40 tix. Stupid stagman!

 I'm getting the feeling you are concerned about putting money into the game (playing Pauper and PREs are other hints). Is that something you do consciously?
 I'll put money into the game if there's a draft format I like, but I don't want to spend much on constructed play. I like seeing my collection grow slowly over time, and it feels like somewhat of an accomplishment to earn the cards, rather than buy them.

 Speaking of Domri, I once played a couple of him in a Pod that had Obliterators, to give even more value to his fight ability. But I can't never tell if the Pod builds really need planeswalkers. I used to always include one copy of Garruk Relentless, as a "5th Pod" (deep down, he does some of what the Pod does), but then I would always side him out come game 2. Domri looks like he could have games where he does amazing things, and games where he's just there.
 It's my understanding that he shines against UWR control and Jund, but I haven't tested him out. Maybe once Block Constructed switches to Theros his price will dip.

 While we're on the argument of planeswalkers in the Pod. Do you feel like it's even worth using some of them? Like, if one owned Liliana of the Veil, which is arguably the most powerful planeswalker in Modern, would make sense to find her room within a Pod build?
 One thing that all pod decks seem to have in common is that they have very high creature counts. So by finding room for a planeswalker you need to cut something, and that something would ideally be a non-creature card. So Kiki-Pod has been dropping Chord of Calling to make room for Domri. Domri is somewhat unique in that he serves a similar role as Chord, being able to find a creature to feed to the pod. I don't think that Liliana goes along with what Pod wants to do, but I haven't tested it.

  

Planeswalkers, or no planeswalkers, that is the question.

 Domri doesn't find the creature you need, though, just a random one. That's why I still think Garruk Relentless is the better fit for the Pod.
 Could be. Again, I haven't tested them, so I don't really know.

 The mention of that damn expensive Voice of Resurgence brings us to the player I will interview in the next installment, Olioolli, the second most successful Pod player of the PRE scene (and I'm the third! I feel in good company). He's more of a Melira specialist (and lucky owner of a nice set of Voice of Resurgence at that). Do you happen to meet him often?
  I think I'm 2-1 against Olioolli with both using our Pod decks. I feel like Kiki-Pod is the stronger deck in that matchup. It can combo faster, and has a better beatdown plan via Restoration Angel. 


AND NOW, LET'S SEE SOME ACTION!

 From Blippy's Where Angels Fear To Tread 1.71 on September 15, won by pk23 with a 8-2 total score (2-0, 2-1, 2-0, 2-1). Here's the videos of some of those games with pk's own comments.

 Round 2 vs. Jund (played by call1me1dragon): Zealous Conscripts is in the deck for the combo, but sometimes it can do other great things. In this game it gets a 3-for-1.  He steals Liliana on 2, uses her -2 to both kill herself and force the opponent to sac a Deathrite Shaman, then sticks around to threaten the combo and draws removal. The game was fairly grindy, but a late game Pod just put it away.

 Round 3 vs. Kumagoro's crazy Golgari/Jund concoction (his words, not mine. It was actually Golgari with a tiny red splash only for Slaughter Games in the sideboard. And hey, I ended 3rd place with this! — Kuma's note): After having Kiki-Jiki taken with Slaughter Games, the deck proves it can still win by beating down. The bad mana for Glen Elendra Archmage is quite evident here, though it isn't relevant.

 Round 4 vs. Burn (played by NecrOmniPotenz, the deck ended 2nd place): It's a pretty sketchy keep, but I have a lot of good top decks. When I draw Finks, Burn's only chance is multiple Skullcracks. When the opponent ends up only having 1, my multiple Finks-bounces put the game totally out of reach for him.