It's easy to forget Modern is still around with all the buzz from Pioneer and Mythic Championship VI, however, the format remains as adaptive and diverse as ever. We are beginning to see a trend of big mana archetypes such as Amulet Titan and Tron dominate the field as a response to Simic Urza, which ruled SCG Atlanta a few weeks ago. Big mana strategies have one disadvantage, which is being prone to resource denial such as land destruction, and one Modern strategy achieves this effect well.
Ponza has been an archetype since the early 2000s and was originally a mono-red control strategy in old Standard. It used aggressive creatures, cheap burn spells and land destruction to close out games. However, Ponza has evolved over the years and has introduced green to ramp into threats and cast disruption ahead of curve. It has seen a minor resurgence since the unbanning of Bloodbraid Elf but remains a lower-tier Modern strategy. Bloodbraid Elf is a core part of Ponza as it allows you to cast Blood Moon, Stone Rain and Pillage for free off the cascade while maintaining aggression. Admittedly, Ponza can be slow out of the gates but it makes up for it with disruption, making your opponent play to your rhythm so you can get ahead and deploy game-ending threats such as Inferno Titan.
Although Ponza is not for everyone, it can be incredibly effective in a metagame unready for it. Another bonus is that an optimal build of Ponza is under $500 which is financially attainable compared to other Modern decks at present. This week I offer a crash course on Modern Ponza and how to affordably pick up this disruptive archetype.
Let's begin by seeing what an optimal version of Ponza looks like.
Ponza follows a familiar trend as other Modern decks in that the mana base is what pushes the price tag up so high. Any list with fetch lands and shock lands will attract a higher price, despite the ally-colored fetches being considerably cheaper due to their availability in older Standard sets. However, the fetch and shock lands in this list come to $200 alone which we can cut out to create a budget-friendly entry into the archetype. Over time, you will want to pick up Wooded Foothills and Windswept Heath as they offer deck filtering to help you draw your threats. Besides, fetch lands are a safe investment as they form the core of Modern and have application in so many decks. However, these can be out of reach so we can substitute these for cheaper duals such as Rootbound Crag and Karplusan Forest.
It is worth noting you can aggressively add more basics to your list to offset the effect of Blood Moon, and Utopia Sprawl can aid with fixing if needed. I'd suggest running no more than one or two Cinder Glades for this reason as the likelihood of the dual land coming in untapped is low, and having untapped mana turn one and two is incredibly important for what Ponza wants to achieve. I recommend prioritizing the nonland cards first as this will create more impact in games, and we have decent budget alternatives for the manabase currently.
Let's swap out the lands to create a more affordable entry into Ponza.
Of the nonland cards, Blood Moon and Tireless Tracker are the most expensive, but these make up the foundation of Ponza which means substitutes are difficult to come by. Blood Moon is a unique card and it is important to obtain these first, as your objective is to cast Blood Moon as early as possible to thwart your opponent's game plan. Although we will be trimming fetch lands to create the budget list, Tireless Tracker still plays a compelling role outside of fetch land application. Not only is Tireless Tracker a great win condition independently, but it also converts any land draws later on into clues. However, if you cannot obtain Tireless Trackers then Courser of Kruphix is an excellent alternative. Despite operating differently, Courser of Kruphix has the potential to filter your draws and accrue incremental life gain which is excellent against strategies such as Burn, which remains popular in the Modern landscape.
The core and the sideboard largely remain the same, with some budget takes on the pricier staples, and overall the list comes to $250. Gilded Goose is a fine replacement for Birds of Paradise if you are coming into Modern from Standard. We are taking a slightly more creature-focused approach which means Xenagos, the Reveler works well as a replacement for Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Although Chandra is the most versatile planeswalker we have access to, it has risen in price due to the popularity of Pioneer. Over time I recommend picking up a few Chandras as she is the most versatile planeswalker in these colors. She offers soft card draw, the ability to ramp into threats such as Inferno Titan as well as removal. In matchups where the game state slows down, Chandra shines and is an excellent way to gain value.
The sideboard remains the same as the optimal version and should be adjusted to reflect your metagame. However, I would be tempted to run Shatterstorm or Shattering Spree if you are beginning to see more artifact strategies crop up. Once again, if you are seeing more combo-orientated strategies appear than Damping Sphere is a great addition, and also offers hate on big mana strategies as a bonus. Trinisphere is the best of this kind of effect but is roughly $50 at present.
While the Modern metagame is constantly evolving, one characteristic every deck has in common is running land. Since Ponza wins by denying your opponent lands, it has the potential to win any matchup if opponents are not prepared for it, and especially for Blood Moon. Blood Moon is the backbone of this strategy, as it prevents Tron from deploying turn-three Karn, prevents Amulet Titan from comboing off and protects you from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle damage. Coupled with spells such as Pillage and Stone Rain to remove any basic lands, Ponza is well equipped to deal with the threats Modern presents. One of the best features of Ponza is that it is highly interactive even against decks that do not pack interaction themselves. Ponza may not be the most powerful or flashiest strategy out there, but it is effective and can steal wins if players are not prepared to manage their resources correctly.
Emma Partlow is a writer and Modern enthusiast based in Suffolk, England. She's been involved in Magic since Khans of Tarkir back in 2014, and loves helping players dive into the game's most diverse format.
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