Building Vannifar in Modern: Understanding Pod’s Most-Playable Successor

Written by Zach Cramer on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Building Vannifar in Modern: Understanding Pod’s Most-Playable Successor

Zach Cramer

Zach is a Northeastern Magic grinder who specializes in eternal formats. When building decks, he has a strong preference to Blue cards, toolboxes and combo decks. With a recent RPTQ finish just short of an invitation, Zach hopes to take his skills to the next level and play on the Pro Tour.

Greetings all! Last week, I took some time to get back to my roots and play in a local Modern tournament. The store featured a Standard Showdown event into a small Modern event and I thought it’d be a great opportunity to play Prime Speaker Vannifar in both formats. The Standard deck I played was fairly stock, but, the Modern deck I played was much more divergent. I say it was divergent because despite seeing a homogenous build on the MTGO deck dumps, we really haven’t settled on what this deck is supposed to look like. Today, I’d like to take my experiences and break down exactly what you need to have in your Vannifar deck and how much room you have for all the sweet bullets you’re dreaming up in your head.

Explaining the Core through “The Chain”:

Most decks in Modern start out with a very small core of cards you need to play and we begin to make that list larger and larger as we figure out what the best slots for the deck are. The Vannifar decks are not much different. At your core, you’re a green creature deck that gets lots of value from playing a solid curve to go up the chain. The Vannifar “Combo” for those of you who are unaware is the following:

One Mana Creature into Scryb Ranger. Use Scryb Ranger’s untap ability by returning a Forest to untap Vannifar and sacrifice the Scryb Ranger. Tutor up a Renegade Rallier to recur the Scryb Ranger to untap Vannifar again by bouncing either a 2nd Forest or the Forest you previously bounced if you have a land drop to give. Now, search up a three mana untap creature like Deceiver Exarch, Bounding Krasis or Village Bell-Ringer to untap Vannifar and then sacrifice the Rallier for a Restoration Angel to blink the Exarch or search up Breaching Hippocamp and untap Vannifar. Sacrifice the Angel or Horse for a Kiki-Jiki and make a bunch of Clerics, Humans, or Fish Lizards. Phew. What a trip.

Alternatively, you can combo with only a 2 or 3 mana creature in play if you have Ranger of Eos and Teardrop Kami in your deck. This combo would be using Vannifar to get untap creatures until you get up to Ranger of Eos. Ranger finds any one drop plus Teardrop Kami. You cast both 1 CMC creatures and use Kami’s ability to untap Vannifar and then follow a similar tap/untap pattern until you can combo with Kiki-Jiki again.

Once more: a different package of creatures can offer us a similar avenue. Starting with a 2 and no Scryb Ranger, we could combo as such: two drop into Krasis to untap Vannifar, getting a 4 drop to Zealous Conscripts can then get you a Woodland Bellower that can then send you back down the chain with a Bounding Krasis finding Restoration Angel which can blink Conscripts or Bellower to find a Krasis, either of which can untap Vannifar to pod the Restoration Angel into a Kiki-Jiki making infinite conscripts or krasis.

Outside of the Vannifar combo, it’s pretty easy to shoehorn in the Devoted Druid combo or the Felidar Guardian combo into your deck if you’d like to. What’s important to know is that Vannifar, given the correct number of flex slots, grants you the ability to kill your opponent without spending any extra mana, cards or life. This is very potent. However, the more copies of these cards you put in your deck, the less protection you offer yourself. Having tried to utilize the power of Breaching Hippocamp outside of the combo, I can tell you this is a losing proposition.

4 Birds of Paradise
1 Scryb Ranger
1 Renegade Rallier
1 Deceiver Exarch/Bounding Krasis
1 Restoration Angel
4 Prime Speaker Vannifar
1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

These 13 cards seem essential to the deck, in my opinion. Outside of this core, there are several essential “packages” to consider. Chiefly, we have a combo which means we want to be accelerating to the combo and surviving our opponent’s onslaught. The least necessary might be Scryb Ranger, but, I believe that it’s the lowest cost ‘bad card’ to add.

The “Packages”

The main acceleration creatures you could consider are:

Wall of Roots
Coiling Oracle
Devoted Druid
Birds of Paradise
Noble Hierarch
Arbor Elf

Adding extra mana creatures allows you to pool from specific philosophies:

-More One Mana creatures maximizes the power of your 3s, for example the Eldrich Evolutions and Kitchen Finks in the 8-0 GP Toronto Decklist.

-More copies of Wall of Roots offers more defense and the ability to power out Chord of Callings or a Dork to Evolution into Prime Speaker Vannifar. Wall of Roots seems best in people trying to port Kiki Chord strategies over and a good edge versus Lightning Bolt metagames.

-More copies of Coiling Oracle offers more card draw and potential mana acceleration at the damage of your manabase. This card seems strongest in decks that hope to push the Renegade Rallier and Restoration Angel plans.

-Devoted Druid offers you a weaker mana creature in exchange for being able to relatively freely shoehorn in the Vizier Combo at relatively low cost. Remember, adding the Vizier combo means you need to find room for not just Devoted Druid, but, Vizier of Remedies (good friends with Glen Elendra and Kitchen Finks), Duskwatch Recruiter and Walking Ballista.
I’ve seen as many as 11 accelerants and as few as 8. Add what’s best for you, but, know your plan should reflect it.

Beyond the acceleration, you also need to stay alive. The cards commonly seen to accomplish this task have been:

Spellskite
Scavenging Ooze
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Knight of Autumn
Deputy of Detention
Shalai, Voice of Plenty
Glen Elendra Archmage
Reflector Mage
Bounding Krasis
Kitchen Finks

Now, many of these cards bridge the gap between utility creatures and protection spells. Glen Elendra and Spellskite are much more interested in protecting Vannifar while Shalai and Scavenging Ooze are more like silver bullets. Knight of Autumn and Deputy of Detention are utility knife creatures that can address a vast number of threats while Kitchen Finks and Reflector Mage just make combat insufferable. Bounding Krasis offers some tempo protection and the benefit of being an additional combo body to untap Vannifar in a pinch.

At this point, we’ve found a clear divergence in lists. If you’re craving Reflector Mage, Kitchen Finks, and Bounding Krasis, you’re really wanting access to the full 8 one mana creatures and Restoration Angel to utilize these ETB triggers. The other cards offer a more bullet oriented approach, you might want to consider toolbox tutors like Chord of Calling and Eldritch Evolution to find your beneficial cards.

I believe the major differential comes with what you would like your plan B to be. Playing a bunch of specific bullets along with your Chords and Evolutions means you can go for a more varied toolbox approach. The more Chords you play, the more Wall of Roots you want. Playing more non-creature spells makes you more interested in going longer. Cards that can protect your combo or offer alternate mana sinks like Glen Elendra and Shalai become more appealing. The other route you can go is to play Reflector Mage, Bounding Krasis and Restoration Angel as 4 ofs. The major focus here would be that you’re planning on gumming up the ground with a lot of bodies and forcing your opponent to devote resources to that can allow you to just win the game once Vannifar comes down. I would say the largest trade off with the deck is determining how many cards you want to devote to helping you combo off once your creature is down. Cards like Renegade Rallier, Restoration Angel, and even Kiki-Jiki don’t hurt your deck too much, but, every Breaching Hippocamp, Teardrop Kami, and Zealous Conscripts is one less card that you like to have in your hand.

For this reason, I like to fill my deck with as many generically good cards as I can. 8 one mana dorks plus the full playset of Krasis, Reflector Mage, and Restoration Angel offers me a strong plan B. Renegade Rallier is perfectly serviceable while Kiki Jiki and Scryb Ranger serve as my combo card concessions. Playing the full 8 dorks makes it very likely for me to have a 1 CMC creature in play with Vannifar which is the easiest and most straightforward combo in the deck. Below, I’ve posted the decklist I have enjoyed the most due to my play preferences with the deck.

This is the deck that I’ve settled on when I play. My plan is to use my last flex slots to keep my gameplan consistent. The Eldritch Evolutions as my only maindeck spells speed me up to have extra copies of my bullets after board and have additional copies of early Vannifars rather than trying to set up Chord turns later. Moreover, most of my creatures like Bounding Krasis and Restoration Angel want to be attacking, so Chord doesn’t seem right for this plan. In the sideboard, I’m hoping to lean on my bullets to end the game. I have the full set of Path to Exile to combat Phoenix and Thing in the Ice as well as Eldrazis and Primeval Titans. The Tireless Trackers serve as a plan against the Thoughtseize decks in the format. As I’ve spent most of my article saying, you can play Vannifar Pod a lot of different ways, it’s really up to your own preferences. Good luck, and happy podding!

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