RG Ponza: A Story Of Simplicity and Profit

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

RG Ponza: A Story Of Simplicity and Profit

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,

This month, I was lucky to go to back-to-back Grand Prix events. After my run at GP Detroit, I got ready for the Team Sealed event in DC. I teamed up with two of my best friends and geared up for an exciting day of team work, careful decision making, and nail-biting finishes in a delightfully complex limited format.

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

We swiftly went 1-3 drop after we opened 4 rare lands (Sanctum of Ugin, Prairie Stream, Hissing Quagmire, and Cinder Glade). We also opened Dread Defiler, Deceiver of Forms, Guardian of Tazeem, March from the Tombs, Captain’s Claws, Endbringer, Overwhelming Denial, and Jori En. We built a solid Ub<> deck and a well-paced Jund deck, but, with only 4 removal spells and a pile of vanilla allies, we couldn’t turn either into a strong deck and were susceptible to any bomb our opponents played. We ended a lot of rounds saying “Wow, that card was really good. You guys should have let ME play our one Oblivion Strike.” I anticipated having a quick exit from the main event, being that limited is not my strongest format and my friends and I were hoping to have fun rather than spike the event, and as such limited our prep to 20 or 30 sealed pools generated online. Besides, I was excited to play in the side events. I had a spicy number ready:

Oh lawdy, we got a spicy pile of Magic cards! Before GP Detroit, I was really close to playing a RG Scapeshift list solely because I wanted to play the delightful Mwovuldi Acid-Moss. I’ve been pretty obsessed with the idea of Stone Raining my opponent and getting a Farseek for myself, particularly in Scapeshift. The fact that it could find Stomping Grounds or Cinder Glade felt great. After sending the Scapeshift list to a few friends and remarking that I was disappointed that without a ramp spell Acid-Moss felt slow, it was suggested that I look at the emerging land destruction, bomb-filled deck Red Green Ponza. Ponza comes from an Italian dish, I believe.

This is the description that I found:

“The name originates from a Ponza Rotta that is served at Jimmy’s Grotto in Waukesha, WI. A Ponza is a small pizza that is folded over, sealed, and then deep fried.”
…and similarly:

“Like a real ponza rotta, it has plenty of meat (fat creatures) and red sauce (red spells). It characteristically slows down the game with land destruction and other removal and then finishes the game out with a decent-sized creature or two.”

Regardless, the deck plays Stone Rain, Bonfire, and Stormbreath Dragon: I’m sold. My plan for the weekend was to just have fun in a side event or two and play some relaxed, straightforward Magic, after months of playing a series of thought-provoking toolbox decks like Bring to Light Scapeshift and Kiki Chord. We were going to jam big, ignorant cards this weekend and let the chips fall where they may.

I opted against the 3rd Blood Moon and, instead, chose to play a Chandra, Flamecaller. Chandra is the 5th sweeper that I wanted and also offers an opportunity to gas back up if you seem to be drawing air. Besides, the card is sweet. In exchange for some big, dumb fatties, Ponza does not offer much draw power or versatility. Inevitably, my opponents would ask “what is this deck?” and I would always reply “Straight up 1998 Magic, friend!” There is a beautiful simplicity to this deck. You Stone Rain your opponent on Turn 2 and slam a big, dumb idiot on Turns 3 through 6. Mana acceleration paired with mana denial is a real treat in this format. The combination of mana denial and a brutal creature is often too much to overcome. However, my favorite thing about the deck is the ability to pivot. When mana denial is bad, your sideboard offers you a bevy of options to contort your strategy. Cards like Beast Within serve as versatile answers that suite either the LD plan or the big, dumb guys plan.

I won my first 8 man after my opponent said “I refuse to split with a deck that plays Stone Rain. You’re just playing a pile of Magic cards.”

He ate a Bonfire.
…and then a Stormbreath Dragon.
Justice.

I decided to run it back and split in the finals with a much nicer, albeit, more timid, UW Control player, who fearfully declared “I’d prefer not to get Stone Rained into oblivion. A split would be great.”
…and I was merciful.

After cracking a KTK box and opening 5 fetchlands (sometimes, it’s good to open lands in a sealed deck), I took some cash and ran back another 8 man. I was dispatched in the 2nd round by a Jund deck after I mulliganned to 5.

Still positive, I hopped in one last time before dinner; another quick trip to the finals before splitting with a Living End player.

On Sunday, we returned to the center and I got to play what was easily the most interesting match of the weekend against the dauntingly impressive Sam Black. Sam was on Lantern and he sadly defeated me in a razor-thin Game 3, in which his 3 Welding Jars protected his Ensnaring Bridge and a Pithing Needle was able to corral my Kessig Wolf Run from finishing him off with a Birds of Paradise. Sam finished the game at 7 and if I had Miracled or naturally drawn one of my last 2 Bonfires, he would have been dead. While you may think it’s unreasonable to hope for a topdeck against Lantern Control, I would say that an active Chandra Flamecaller helps even the odds. Sam was kind enough to tell me that he couldn’t remember any mistakes being made on my part, except not drawing a card in Game 1 because I was so star-struck.

Despite playing against Lantern, the defeat came quick enough that I was able to hop into one last queue before we went home. This was the bracket that I’d like to call The Justice Bracket. It featured a Tron deck, 2 Eldrazi decks, myself, Ad Nauseam, Affinity, Lantern, and a RG agro deck piloted by a young gentleman, likely only 10 years old. In round 1, I quickly dispatched an Eldrazi deck. Reality Smasher is really embarrassing when there’s an Inferno Titan in play, and is even more embarrassing when you have 1 land in play. In testing, my friends had told me Ponza was able to take 30+ games from Eldrazi in a 40 game set. The matchup is laughably good. The second round featured a close Affinity matchup that was cemented after a Bonfire on the 3rd turn nuked his board and an Inferno Titan cleared his second wave. The second game felt even less close as I was able to luck into 2 Ancient Grudges and 2 Sudden Shocks. The finals featured the evil RG Tron deck against my pile of commons and mythics. My opponent asked if I would be okay splitting the box with him. I declined. Generally, I like to give everyone a chance to walk away happy, but, this time, I chose blood. Despite the matchup being, once again, laughably good, I was very unhappy with the communication the Tron player used when playing against the RG Agro deck. He hastily went through his plays and tried to gain every possible edge against a good-natured opponent. It was time for me to Rain on his parade. Game 1 featured the delightful sequence of Arbor Elf into Utopia Sprawl and Stone Rain and Utopia Sprawl into Chandra Flamecaller into Miracle Bonfire for 8. That is delicious. In the second game, I mulliganned to 5 and was greeted with Birds of Paradise, Land, Land, Stone Rain, Acid-Moss. Um, yes, I think I shall keep this. I was able to scry into my 3rd land and play a Stormbreath Dragon after sequencing Stone Rain on 2 and Acid-Moss on 3.

The end of the day had me at 11-2-2. My records were 3-0, 2-0-1, 2-0-1, 1-1, 0-1, 3-0.
Eldrazi: 4-0
RG Tron: 1-0
Affinity 2-0
8 Rack 1-0
Elves 1-0
UW Control 0-1-0
Living End 1-1-0
Jund 0-1
Lantern 0-1
Burn 1-0

RG Ponza is, most assuredly, the most fun I’ve had in Eldrazi Winter in a long time and I’d recommend you pick it up. The deck hits hard, plays dirty, and leads to some great stories. If I could make any changes, I’d love to slot in a 3rd Blood Moon, a 22nd land, and add a Shatterstorm, and perhaps, another threat into the sideboard. I would not touch the Relics or the Grudges, the 3rd Sudden Shock may be a good place to go, and I did not board in the 2 Spellskites at all, outside of the Burn matchup. However, I will say I have yet to face Infect and Spellskite and Sudden Shock shine in that matchup. In conclusion, if you’d like to turn piles of lands sideways, throw your opponent’s lands in their graveyard, and have an absolute blast with a pile of mana dorks, 15th pick draft cards, and Mythics generally relegated to EDH decks, play this deck and put Eldrazi in its place while you still have time.

Stay tuned for next week when I hopefully begin an exciting string of articles.

Until next time!

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