“Other guilds say the Gruul are savages, no better than the beasts we live with, I say we’ve found friends who won’t stab us in the back.” -Domri Rade
Hi i'm Chris Giglio or “GiglioMTG” and this is my Ponza Masters Guide! I've been playing with Arbor Elf decks in Modern for over 2 years now and streaming them daily for about a year. There is not a deck in this game that I enjoy piloting more than Ponza. Ive taken the deck to a few Challenge top 8's, several Preliminary 5-0s, and over 30 Leauge Trophies. I am by no means a profesional player but I am going to do my very best to teach you what Ive learned along the way. Wether your brand new to the world of turn 2 Bloodbraid Elves or you've been casting Blood Moons since before I was born im hoping you can walk away from this guide a wiser Gruul Mage. Lets get started.
What is "Ponza"?
Ponza is a Gruul Midrange deck that focuses on resource denial and aims to out-value your opponent by ramping into powerful threats. The general goal of Ponza is to play early ramp spells in Utopia Sprawl or Arbor Elf to cast disruptive and potent threats fast. If we are able to do this we can get ahead on tempo and outvalue our opponent. You typically want to play your disruptive spells early and then stick a creature to start clocking your opponent. A common curve could look something like this:
Turn one: Forest - Utopia Sprawl naming red.
Turn two: Forest - Blood Moon
Turn three: Mountain - Bloodbraid Elf
Turn Four: Stomping Ground - Glorybringer
Ponza's game plan is rather simple: Ramp - Disrupt - Threat. Of course it is not always that simple but that is the general goal of the deck. Ponza has gone through many iterations over the years but the current stock build of the deck is much more of a midrange value oriented deck with some disruptive cards compared to the 8 land destruction spell decks of old. Which brings me to my next point, build Ponza the way you want to play. Since we're a midrange goodstuff pile there are many many options for cards and adjusting numbers to your meta or liking. You can really build the deck how you want to but try not to veer too far from this general core: 4 Utopia Sprawl, 4 Arbor Elf, 4 Lightning Bolt, 5-9 Land Disruption spells, 4 Bloodbraid Elf, 4 Seasoned Pyro, 3 Klothys. Those cards I personally believe are the glue cards of the archetype these days and I wouldn't recommend any build of Gruul without that core. Other than that though the deck is super customizable. You like Domri Rade? Jam a few!, Wanna throw a Karn toolbox in your Gruul pile? Go for it. Were a midrange deck filled with tradebinder Gruul cards, you can and should tune to your local meta and preferred playstyle.
"The forest will surround you with its life if you are still and calm."
Utopia Sprawl and Arbor Elf are Ponza's ramp engine. We want to play these as early as possible. There are tons of nuances with these spells, let's talk about them!
- Utopia Sprawl: x4
First and foremost Utopia sprawl is our most resilient ramp spell in that it's an enchantment. Color naming is more important than you think but very often will be red. I can't give too much advice when it comes to color naming with sprawl but try to think about things like: Do I need green mana since i'm planning on playing this Blood Moon? Do I need red mana incase I draw a Pillage?, maybe I name green here since I have a Scavenging Ooze in play? All of these situations can and will come up. Make your color naming decisions based on the lands in your hand, the mana you know you will need in the future, and be cognizant of Blood Moons' effect on the board. A small note is that you should almost never Sprawl a Stomping Ground as the enchantment will fall off if a Blood Moon effect is played, but sometimes it is necessary. Knowing when to “Stack Sprawls” and when not too is important. Stacking Sprawls is the act of putting a Utopia Sprawl on a land that already has one on it. Stacking Sprawls is always correct as it allows you more mana in the event of an Arbor Elf draw unless: Your opponent has a way to destroy, tap, or bounce your lands. Some good examples would be Cryptic Command, Assassins Trophy, or even a Spreading Seas. There will be matchups like Burn where stacking Sprawls is completley safe and then matchups like Death and Taxes where stacking Sprawls will majorly punish you due to Ghost Quarter.
-Arbor Elf: x4
Arbor Elf is the decks riskier turn one ramp spell but it has the higher pay off. In the event of a Turn One Arbor Elf followed up by a Turn Two Utopia Sprawl we are able to create 4 mana on turn 2. This enables Turn 2 Bloodbraid Elf which is an extremley powerful play. The game will very often be decided on turn 2 if you resolve a Bloodbraid. Of course theres also Turn 2 Chandra, turn 2 Questing Beast, Turn 2 Scooze + Wrenn and Six, or my favorite Turn 2 Pillage + Bolt your bird (which requires you to sprawl a stomping ground by the way!). A small thing to remember is that post Blood Moon your Stomping Grounds are no longer forests so you won't be able to untap them. Always plan for your Arbor Elves to die, they are the card that allows us to do degenerate things and your opponents will know this.
So which one do I play on turn one if I have both?
Well… this is tricky. Knowing which ramp spell to play on turn 1 in a situation where you have both in hand is a skill you will master over time. Arbor Elf is the higher risk higher reward play since it is fragile but gives us 4 mana on turn 2. Where as Utopia Sprawl is usually going to be a safe and solid 3 mana on turn 2. Here's some tips: You're against a deck with tons of answers to creatures, Jund for example, lead on Utopia Sprawl to guarantee you have 3 mana on turn 2 since they are probably going to kill that elf if you play it. You're against Ad Nauseum, Jam that elf on turn 1 and go for that potential turn 2 Bloodbraid elf since your opponent probably doesn't have interaction. In short it mainly depends on what deck you're against and what else is in your hand. Utopia Sprawl is safer a lot of the time and in a blind situation it's not a bad idea to just play the Sprawl on turn 1. If your hand has no 4 drops then Utopia on turn 1 is almost always correct. If your hand has only 4 drops then go for the turn 1 Arbor elf. Again it's all situational and knowing when to go for that turn 2 Bloodbraid Elf and when to play it safe is tough. In a vacuum: If you think your opponent can answer the elf easily then play the sprawl, if you think the elf has a good chance of surviving then play the elf. Also don't play around Force of Negation, if your Blue opponent wants to Force your Utopia Sprawl you are very okay with that trust me.
Our ramp package allows for some pretty strong early boardstates:
Wouldn't be Ponza without the land disruption. Ponza plays spells that disrupt our opponents mana allowing us to get ahead on tempo and sometimes “cheese” our way to victory. Against decks like Tron for example we basically rely on our disruption package to win. Against the right deck do not be afraid to aggressively mulligan to these cards, they are in the deck for a reason! These spells are typically most potent on turn 2 and a turn 2 Blood Moon can often mean game over.
Destroying lands on turn 2 can win games on its own. Do not underestimate the power of turn 2 Pillage on the play. This card makes matchups against lands matter decks very easy, some examples being Tron, or Amulet Titan. Don't forget this card can destroy artifacts too! I should note that the longer this card stays in your hand against most decks the worse it gets as your opponent will make more and more land drops as the game progresses. If you have a window for a Pillage in the early game it's usually correct to go for it. When looking at the opponents lands and deciding which land to destroy try to think about these things: what colors you can cut them off of?, maybe they have a manland in play like Celestial Colonnade you can destroy, maybe you want to blow up their only basic land in case you draw a Blood Moon, perhaps they have a utility land like Blast Zone. All of these things matter. Assess the board and think before you Pillage. Againt certain decks like Death and Taxes for example often you are going to hold your Pillages for Batterskull or Aether Vial so be aware of the meta and what Artifacts you could need to save Pillage for.
-Blood Moon and Magus of the Moon: 3-6
Blood Moon effects are the most powerful cards in our deck. They allow us to punish greedy mana bases. 3+ Color decks, Tron decks, and Primeval Titan decks are our main targets. Choosing to play Magus or Blood Moon is a meta call. Is there lots of Force of Negation seeing play? Play Magus. Is there tons of removal packed midrange decks seeing play? Play Blood Moon. There is always a correct answer, I am not usually a fan of the split. Try to get at least 2 Green sources in play before you resolve a Blood Moon. Sometimes you wont be able to do this but being able to cast your spells is always a good thing. It can not be overstated how powerful of a card Blood Moon is especially on Turn 2. Certain decks can not beat it and we rely on our Moons in certain matchups heavily. Blood Moon also turns a usually poor top deck late game in Pillage into a fantastic one that can blast our opponents only basic land. Of course there is the argument that if our opponents play early fetch lands to play around moon that the cards effect becomes worse. However since our deck concistently casts Moon on turn 2 we are giving our opponent one or two fetch's before Mooning them and turning all future land drops into Mountains. This is still extremely powerful. Modern is full of greedy mana bases waiting to be punished by Moon and in the right matchup this card will win the game on its own.
“Bathed in deep crimson, the land that once gave comfort and shelter now yielded nothing but hostility.”
So you've successfully ramped into a turn 2 Disruption spell. Now we need to kill our opponent. At its core Ponza is a creature based midrange deck. We can disrupt our opponents mana and interact with their board as much as we want but we need to win the game. Ponza’s creature base has changed drastically over the years. We have incrementally gotten new tools over time to power creep the deck to a point where its threats are extremely potent especially if played ahead of curve. The days of Inferno Titans and Stormbreath Dragons are sadly over but the decks threat package is extremely versatile and quite aggressive.
-Scavenging Ooze: 1-3
Ponza needs a few 2 drops since sometimes we won't have a ramp spell in our opening hand. Scooze is about as good as it gets for a 2 drop creature in Gruul colors. Modern is a very graveyard based format and having a threat that interacts with the grave yard at a low cost is very strong.
-Wrenn and Six: 0-2
Wrenn dosent exactly fit Ponzas game plan but is such a powerful enough card on its own that in the right meta it can be a solid spell for your list. It allows us to not miss land drops, inevitability, and can kill a 1 toughness creature here or there. If the meta is very grindy or theres lots of one toughness creatures seeing play Wrenn is a good choice. Its worth noting that if your playing Wrenns you can replace one of your forests with a Tranquil Thicket. This gives you a powerful cycle engine with Wrenn. We prefer Tranquil Thicket over Canopy lands since Canopy lands are made useless under Blood Moon.
-Bonecrusher Giant: 2-4
This Giant from Eldraine is free removal strapped to a decent body. Its versatility is its biggest strength. The ammount of Crushers you play in your list will be determined by how well positioned Stomp is. Crusher is a fantastic Bloodbraid Cascade as you get to choose which mode of the card you'd like to use when Cascading. Always remember the “Damage cant be prevented this turn” text this card has as it gets around protection effects. Look for windows to Stomp anything before casting the 4/3 body as it is completley free if you have the mana. Just Stomping your opponent before casting a Seasoned Pyromancer to get the card out of your hand so you arent forced to discard it to Pyro is powerful in and of itself.
-Klothys, God of Destiny: x3
This God from Theros in my opinion is what truly pushed Ponza to a point of competitve viability. Where do I even begin. It ramps us, provides very fast inevitability, provides incidental lifegain, rips apart graveyards, is indestructible, and very often gets to attack for 4 damage or provide a free blocker. Yeah did i mention we can cast this thing on turn 2? Certain decks like Jund for example just can't beat a resolved Klothys. A very common curve of Turn 1 Ramp spell, Turn 2 Klothys, Turn 3 Eat a land with Klothys play Glorybringer will win you lots of games. This card is busted. Always be thinking about how fast you can turn this thing into a creature when you have the chance. Remember once you turn it into a creature it can die to things like Dismember or Path to Exile so it's not always smart to do so. Make sure you put a stop on your draw step on Magic Online so you can see what you draw before deciding what to eat, this is handy for niche situations such as an empty graveyard and you want to bolt your opponent and then eat the bolt with Klothys. In grindy matchups our best card is often going to be Klothys. Its just extremley hard to remove and produces so much value.
-Seasoned Pyromancer: x4
This Shaman provides card selection in a color pair that lacks it. In a topdeck war this card is game ending. Hitting it off of Bloodbraid Elf Cascade is extremley powerful as well. At any point if this card hits the graveyard it also has value there so make sure you don't forget! Try to not get funneled into discarding spells for tokens, it's a trap you can fall into and most of the time any spell in your hand is better than a 1/1. Do not be afraid to bin your lands. Pyro makes Mulligans far better for us as well due to it refreshing our hand on entry. The card just has too much text. Lets say you draw Bloodbraid Elf in a top deck war. You Cascade into Pyro. You just got 2 solid bodys and 2 Magic cards for 4 mana and thats not even mentioning the tokens Pyro will produce once it goes to the grave yard. This card is a very powerfull early play as well. It immediatley gunks up the board with blockers or allows us to start swinging. All while digging us to potential cards we actually need and throwing away the ones we dont.
-Bloodbraid Elf: x4
My favorite Magic card ever printed. It's a 2 for 1. Sometimes we get to cast it on turn 2, you will probably win those games. I personally beleive that Gruul Ponza is the best Bloodbraid Elf deck in Modern for a few reasons. We get to cast it ahead of curve due to the vary nature of our deck, most other value oriented Bloodbraid decks do not have this luxury. Our deck also has almost no bad Cascade hits. Jund can always Cascade into a Fatal Push with no targets but Ponza's worst Cascade is a Utopia Sprawl which isnt even a bad Cascade since it adds devotion for Klothys. The only time we ever have dead Cascades is when we hit a Klothys with one already on the board or we hit a sideboard card like Flame Slash with no targets. In a deck thats filled with powerfull 3 mana cards its a no brainer that Bloodbraid is a staple of the archtype. Bloodbraid has quite a few niche and corner case interactions to be wary of:
Make sure you have enough Green scources before casting Bloodbraid. You dont want to hit a Blood Moon and not have enough Green mana to cast your spells.
Be wary of hitting a Seasoned Pyro off of Cascade. Scorcery speed spells and creatures need to be cast before Bloodbraid if you have the mana and would like to do so. Otherwise a Seasoned Pyro Cascade could force you to discard precious cards.
If you have a Wrenn on the board and others in your deck use the Wrenn before casting Bloodbraid incase you hit another Wrenn.
You can not cast your Cascaded spell if your opponent controls a Teferi, Time Raveler.
If you have the option to leave forests untapped when casting Bloodbraid its usually a good idea to do so incase you Cascade into Utopia Sprawl.
If you control a Klothys, and at least one other non land permanent a Bloodbraid Cascade has a high likley hood of turning your Klothys into a crerature. Be aware of this and play accordingly.
When Cascading into Bonecrusher Giant you have the option to Stomp or Cast the Crusher so consider your options.
-Questing Beast: 0-2
This wall of text is a solid threat in the right meta. If lots of low power creatures or planeswalkers are seeing play this guy can be a strong mainboard threat. Its Combat Damage protection prevention text can be handy for overcoming an Auriok Champion or Giver of Runes. In certain meta's the Beast can be a suprisingly effective threat that ends games quickly.
-Chandra, Torch of Defiance: 1-3
This is our decks best planeswalker option. Chandra is the epitome of versatility. She can deal damage, provide card draw, kill creatures, or even ramp, all while threatening a game ending emblem. You aren't able to tap Arbor Elf or crack a fetch after a Chandra top +1 so make sure you float mana and crack fetch's before doing so. You also cant cast any spells off of her top +1 if your opponent controls a Teferi, Time Raveler. In almost any situation that you can play Chandra, uptick her for mana and cast another spell its usually going to be your best play.
This is our top end, our biggest boy. The spiritual successor to Stormbreath Dragon. This Dragon is usually going to be your closer, your game ender. Exerting is one of Ponzas few ways to deal with large creatures. Thought Knot Seer, Urza, Omnath, and Tarmogoyf all come to mind as powerful creatures in the format that GloryB can deal with all while providing a fast and evasive clock. The dragon contributes to our plan of clocking our opponent fast while providing solid interaction for threats that Red and Green have trouble dealing with. It's worth noting if your opening hand has: Lands, a ramp spell, a Klothys, and a Glorybanger, you can cast the Dragon on turn 3. That is powerful, keep those hands!
-Elder Gargaroth: 0-4
A brand new large and in charge threat to add to Ponza’s family. This is our other option to round out our top end. This card on paper doesn't look too threatening at least by Moderns standards and in certain Path to Exile heavy metas it probably wouldn't be. But in the right meta a 6/6 Vigilance Trampling wall of text that gains life on blocks AND attacks is not something aggro decks are happy to see. Figuring out your correct split of Glorybringers and Elder Gargaroths should always be a meta call although I've really enjoyed the 2/2 split as it lets you sculpt your 60 more post board. When Elder Gargaroth triggers what you should choose is always situational. If you're against burn or creature based aggro gaining life is never bad but it is worth noting that the life gain mode of Garg actually has come up the least of the three for me. A lot of the time you will make a 3/3 Beast as a free solid body which is often better than just ripping the top card of your deck or gaining some life but again it is all very situational. Assess your situation and think about risk vs reward. If you really need a certain silver bullet card or making a 3/3 Beast doesn't change your clock it probably isn't a bad idea to draw a card. If you really need life gain to survive the next turn then by all means gain life. But a lot of the time you will just be making 3/3’s and should be making 3/3s and that's okay! I see lots of people falling into the trap of always drawing a card when Gargaroth triggers because it could be something strong on top of the deck but oftentimes just making a solid guaranteed body is the best choice.
"in nature, not a single bone or scrap goes to waste."
Ponza like most Modern Midrange decks need some ways to interact with creatures and opposing threats. Gruul colors lock most of our removal into burn spells. We dont need many mainboard due to the aggressive nature of our deck as well as Glorybringer and Chandra giving us pseudo removal.
-Lightning Bolt: x4
Bolt is the best Removal spell a Red based deck could ask for. I dont think I need to sing this cards praises. Three damage to anything for one mana is absurdly effecient. Bolt is good. Play four Bolts in your Gruul deck.
Stomp is the Adventure half of Bonecrusher Giant. a Two mana shock is nothing noteworthy but the damage can’t be prevented text can be crucial for beating “Protection from Red'' cards like Kor Firewalker. Like we discussed earlier looking for windows to Stomp early can be powerful if you plan on casting the Crusher in following turns. Remember that when stomping a creature that can kill itself, Walking Ballista for example, your opponent can kill the ballista in response to your Stomp and your Stomp will not have a target so your Giant will never go on the Adventure but will instead go to your graveyard. Typically the ammount of Stomps / Bonecrushers you want in your deck will be determined by how creature based the meta is.
"Not every tale ends in glory."
Since the printing of Klothys we want 9-10 Fetch Lands to ensure she has proper fuel. I prefer 9 personally. I don't think our deck has room for utility lands like Kessig Wolf Run since we have so many colored mana symbols on our cards. However if your playing at least two Wrenn's I have loved a single Tranquil Thicket. This gives us a cycle engine with Wrenn. We prefer this to something like a Sunbaked Canyon since the Canyon cant be cycled under a Blood Moon. However if Wizards ever decides to print a Red Green Canopy land I think that could be intresting to test.
The traditional stock Gruul Ponza Midrange manabase looks like this:
6 Basic Forest's. Or 5 Basic Forest's + 1 Tranquil Thicket.
1 Basic Mountain.
4 Stomping Ground's.
4 Wooded Foothills.
5 Off Color Green Fetch Lands ( Windswept Heath, Verdant Catacombs etc ).
However recently Ponza players have been testing 2 Prismatic Vistas and 2 Basic Mountains. Vista can give you the Basic Forest you need on turn one for your Utopia Sprawl while still being able to obtain a red scource. If were playing Vista's we then need at least 2 Mountains to accomodate. Prismatic Vista makes a lot of sense in a deck that usually needs to fetch basic lands any way and also lets our mana base be even more painless then it already is. Personally I have been very impressed by Prismatic Vista in testing.
My current Prismatic Vista Manabase looks like this:
5 Basic Forest's. Or 4 Basic Forest's + 1 Tranquil Thicket.
2 Basic Mountains.
4 Stomping Ground's.
4 Wooded Foothills.
2 Prismatic Vista's.
3 Off Color Green Fetch Lands ( Windswept Heath, Verdant Catacombs etc ).
Make sure you are cracking any fetch lands that arent Wooded Foothills first as it is your best fetch. Try to get at least 2 Basic Forests before you cast Blood Moon if you can. Other than that Ponza's manabase is rather simple and quite easy to grasp.
"Where dragons' breath once burned, there bones now freeze".
Now that we have covered every card in the main deck I want to go over some general tips when assessing opening hands and mulliganing with Ponza. Please note that these are just some general guide lines and every decision regarding opening hands is going to be situational. Wether your on the play or the draw, the matchup, and your specific 75 are all going to be deciding factors that play into mulliganing. With all that being said here's some quick tips:
Mulligan most blind 7’s that dont have a ramp spell.
Bottom 5 drops unless your hand can cast them on turn 3.
If you're blind try and prioritize cards that have potential to win on their own like Blood Moon, or Klothys.
Against Control decks and Midrange decks don't be afraid to keep hands that are just threat dense.
Against decks like Tron and Amulet do not be afraid to mull to 4 or even 3 cards to find those disruption spells, they are in the deck for a reason!
Bottom redundant ramp spells. If you have 2 Arbor Elves for example.
Against Thoughtsieze decks try not to mull lower than 5, If you have lands and spells keeping is not a bad idea.
If you Mull to a low amount of cards like 5 or 4 try and keep Seasoned Pyro in your hand as it draws you fresh cards.
When mulling to 4 your goal is usually to find 2 lands, a ramp spell, and a 3 drop.
Prioritize silver bullet cards over everything else. Klothys vs Jund or Blood Moon against Amulet Titan are some examples.
Dont throw away good hands just because you have to put Utopia Sprawl on a Stomping Ground.
Ponza being the Gruul Tradebinder that it is makes it a very customizable deck with tons of sideboard options. Here is what I beleive to be the most effective cards the deck can play to attack any meta:
This is going to be your go to spell for creature heavy metas or metas where 4 toughness is a problem. Urza, Omnath, Thought Knot Seer, the list of impactful 4 toughness creatures in Modern is suprisingly long. Ive tested several other 5th Bolts such as Firebolt, Seal of Fire, and Burst Lightning. Typically Flame Slash outshines them all.
Another Card that shines in creature heavy metas but also has the option to destroy artifacts. I cant remember a time that I diddnt play at least one Abrade in my board. You very often need some number of Artifact hate in modern and Abrade doubling as that and a kill spell makes it very versatile.
-Anger of the Gods and Kozileks Return:
Despite our deck being very creature based having a few sweepers for the right matchups can be correct. Anger has the upside of more damage and an exile effect where as K Return kills Protection from Red creatures like Auriok Champion. Certain matchups like Humans or Prowess where we take a more controlling route is where these sweepers truly shine.
-Choke and Boil:
It dosent get any better than these two monsters of magic cards for the control matchup. Choke has the upside of being hit on Bloodbraid cascades and being concistently castable on turn 2. Boil has more resilience to Aether Gust and a more powerful effect overall. Personally I prefer Boil as Aether Gust is just too much of a bad beat against Choke. If you want to beat control Boil is your best card.
-Veil of Summer:
I do not like this card in Gruul Ponza but felt I needed to include it on this list. Veil is an absurdly pushed magic card that is very strong in a lot of matchups. However hitting Veil off of Bloodbraid Elf in my opinion is too high a price to pay, especially when cards like Boil exist to deal with Blue decks.
-Relic of Progenitus and Grafdiggers Cage:
Theese are Gruuls best options for grave yard hate. Typically we are going to play Relic over Cage but it all depends on your meta. Ive experimented with Soul Guide Lantern a few times since it leaves you with a grave yard for Klothys to eat but not drawing a card plus eating the grave just dosent cut it.
This Beast is extremley versatile. It is both a fantastic card for aggro and burn matchups while also being hilarious against decks that make you discard cards. Kroxa, Lilliana of the Veil, Kholgans Command, will all let you put a 4/4 beast that pads your life total onto the board for free. The Beast also just makes for a solid threat to swap out for less potent threats in certain matchups. For example if were against Ad nauseum we would much rather have a Baloth than a Gargaroth since Baloth starts the beats a turn earlier.
The Ouphe is usually going to be our best option for artifact hate. It comes down on turn 2 starts a clock and obliterates any artifact based strategy.
Cinder is another super versatile card. It provides solid Artifact and Enchantment hate while also being hilarious against spell slinger strategies. All while adding 2 devotion for Klothys. Storm comes to mind as a deck that does not want see Cinder on the board.
-Weather the Storm:
If you need to gain life there is not a card that does it better than Weather the Storm. This card is nuts against any burn startegy and can be good against certain spell based combo decks.
Another solid card for burn matchups Finks gives us 4 life, 2 bodies and 2 devotion for Klothys. Finks will be a solid choice if the meta has lots of fast creature based aggro decks.
-Arasta of the Endless Web:
Yes this is a Magic card. Yes I am suggesting you should play it. No im not joking. Arasta is a super niche threat specifically played in Prowess heavy metas. You will not find a more potent threat for the Prowess matchup it is hilarious how good she is. Arasta also some what doubles as a card you can board in against Control decks and some spell slinger strategies but shes mainly for Prowess decks.
-More Blood Moons or Pillages:
This ones pretty self explanatory but if Moon or Pillage are well positioned playing some extras in your side is standard Gruul practice.
This card is sometimes mainboarded but ive actually played it more as a one or two of in my side to bring in for specific matchups. Gargs is amazing vs any matchup that cant easily remove it. Making it a good sidebaord card but not always the perfect mainboard card.
This card is specifically for the mill matchup. Once its milled over it will immediatley shove all of your milled over cards back into your deck. If you need to beat mill put one of these in your sideboard.
"Best bury them right, we dont want any gruesome encores." -Constable Trosk
Since the Modern meta changes everyday and since Ponza is a midrange goodstuff pile that can and should be customized to beat the meta that you are preparing for I'm not going to make a cut and dry sideboard guide for my current 75 since that wouldn't be very helpful. Instead this will be a list of most decks you will play against in Modern with cards you should bring in, cards you should take out, and some matchup notes.
Uro Control Decks:
In: Boil, Choke, Relic of Progenitus, More Blood Moons.
Out: 5 Drop Creatures, Lightning Bolt, a few Bonecrusher Giants if you need the room.
Notes: Keep hands that are threat dense! You are the beat down in this matchup. Be wary of eating instants and Scorceries in your opponents grave yard with Klothys due to Mystic Sanctuary exsisting. Always consider Uro and his ability to escape on your opponents next turn, you will not beat it if it escapes and prioritizing the removal of Uro from the graveyard over everything else is usually correct. Don't stack Utopia Sprawls against Cryptic Command decks. Your best card in this matchup is going to be Blood Moon, stopping Uro and Cryptic Command is huge. This matchup is all about card advantage and resolving your potent threats as quickly as possible. Early Moon, Pillage, and Klothys are your best routes to victory.
In: Any Spot Removal, More Blood Moons, Anger of the Gods, Kozileks Return, Kitchen Finks, Elder Gargaroth.
Out: Pillage, Klothys, Scavenging Ooze.
Notes: You are the control deck in this matchup. Land early Blood Moons as quickly as possible and kill all of their threats on sight. Phantasmal image copying Glorybringer or Gargaroth is something you need to be afraid of and prepared to beat. Their blind Meddling Mage’s will almost always name Lightning Bolt so be wary of Aether Vial activations on 2. In game one Pillaging Aether Vial is usually better than Pillaging any land.
Gruul Ponza Midrange:
In: Spot Removal spells, Obstinate Baloth, Elder Gargaroth.
Out: Blood Moon.
Notes: The biggest deciding factor in winning the mirror is being on the play or draw. If both players make it to turn 3 without pillaging each other then congrats you will actually have to use your brain to win this game. Outside of Pillaging your opponent on turn 2 your next best way to win this mirror is Klothys. This matchup if it does go past turn 3 is a card advantage battle, who can land Klothys or Bloodbraids first will be important. Elder Gargaroth is also king in the mirror, if you land one before your opponent it will be hard for you to lose. Mulligan to hands with Pillages but don't over mulligan, you still need a plan to grind them out. Don't be afraid to put Utopia Sprawl on Stomping ground in games 2 and 3 since both players side their moons out. Don't ever stack your Utopia Sprawls in the mirror!
In: Relic of Progenitus, Obstinate Baloth, More Blood Moons, Elder Gargaroth.
Out: Pillage, Arbor Elf, a few Bonecrusher Giants if you need the room.
Notes: Another matchup that's very play / draw dependent. This matchup is grindy and you want to get maximum value out of your spells. Do not over mulligan vs Jund or any thoughtseize deck for that matter, keep hands with lands and spells. Klothys is our best card in this matchup, Jund can not beat her. Do not stack Utopia Sprawls against Jund. Don't be afraid to let lands build up in your hand if you have enough already, Liliana will punish you for over extending your hand. You are the better midrange deck here, play for card advantage and grind them out.
Black Red Lurrus Shadow:
In: Relic of Progenitus, Any Spot Removal, Obstinate Baloth, Elder Gargaroth, Kitchen Finks.
Out: Pillage, Arbor Elf, Chandra Torch of Defiance, Blood Moon.
Notes: This is a hard matchup. Your best bet is to just race them. You have removal for Lurrus and their Prowess creatures but you won't have much to deal with Shadows and Scourges. We can't over mulligan either since they are a Thoughtseize deck. Deal with there early threats via spot removal and chump their large creatures long enough to stabalize and outgrind them.
Grixis Deaths Shadow:
In: More Blood Moons, Relic of Progenitus, Obstinate Baloth, Elder Gargaroth, Kitchen Finks.
Out: Pillage, Chandra Torch of Defiance, Arbor Elf.
Notes: Blood Moon them as early as possible they can not beat it. Always be aware of the card Stubborn Denial and play around it accordingly. Pop Relic of Progenitus very early due to Gurmag Angler. Play Utopia Sprawl before Arbor Elf on turn one. Dont over mulligan against the Thoughtseize deck. Your goal here is to Moon them or chump their large creatures long enough to stabalize and outgrind them.
In: Boil, Choke, Relic of Progenitus, More Blood Moons.
Out: 5 cmc creatures, Lightning Bolt, a few Bonecrusher Giants if you need room.
Notes: Keep threat dense hands. Despite Cleansing Wildfire existing and the high amount of basics these UW Control piles run, I still think early Moons are a solid game plan against this deck. Be wary of eating instants and Scorceries in your opponents grave yard with Klothys due to Mystic Sanctuary exsisting. Don't over commit to the board if you already have a good clock due to board wipes like Supreme Verdict. It is also usually correct to not turn Klothys into a creature in this matchup as you don't want it to be path’d. If they are on a variant of UWx that plays Stoneforge Mystic then bringing in some artifact hate and leaving some bolts in the deck is not a bad idea. This is a grindy matchup, play for card advantage and try to resolve Klothys, Moon, or Pillage early.
Mono W Taxes:
In: Anything that deals with artifacts, Any spot removal, Anger of the Gods, Kozileks Return.
Out: Utopia Sprawl, Blood Moons, Elder Gargaroth.
Notes: Game one of this matchup is going to be rough. Moons are pretty dead and Sprawl is a liability. Games two and three we become a control deck and our goal is to kill everything on sight while providing a clock with some beaters. Batterskull can be tough to beat but Sword of Fire and Ice is even worse. Pillaging Aether Vials and Lands in the early game is great but you need to have a plan to beat their equipment. Abrade is an all star in this matchup doubling as a kill spell and a Sword destroyer. Play fetch lands as early as possible to play around Leonin Arbiter. Play Arbor Elf before Utopia Sprawl on turn 1. Don't stack Sprawls against the Ghost Quarter deck. Pillaging Aether Vial before lands is usually correct. Remember that Questing Beast and Stomp get around Giver of Runes and Burrenton Forge Tender Protection in their own interesting ways. Generally speaking, try to play around Aether Vial activations in combat with some caution. Be wary of what creatures are in their deck and what they're capable of. Flickerwisp is a good example of a “Gotcha” card they can vial in. Personally I think this is a super high skill and fun matchup to navigate.
In: More Blood Moons, Anything that deals with artifacts.
Out: 5 drop creatures, Scavenging Ooze, Klothys.
Notes: Not much to say about G Tron other than mulligan to Pillage and Blood Moons. Play Utopia Sprawl before Arbor Elf on turn one to play around Dismember and Walking Ballista. Don't stack Utopia Sprawls vs the Karn deck. Hands on the draw with pillage and moons but no Arbor Elf or Utopia Sprawls are not good enough. Seriously if you think you're mulliganing too aggressively against G Tron you're not, I have won several games against G Tron on mull to 3’s.
In: More Blood Moons, Anything that deals with artifacts, Flame Slash, Obstinate Baloth and Elder Gargaroth if you have the room.
Out: Lightning Bolt, Scavenging Ooze, Klothys, Wrenn and Six, Bonecrusher if you need the room.
Notes: This matchup is a lot less free than people think it is. Yes we can Blood Moon them and Pillage them early and that is good but they are much more of a midrange deck than a turn 3 Tron deck. Mulliganing to hate is good but don't over mulligan either, if your hand has a solid curve keeping is not a bad idea. Don't stack Sprawls against the Karn deck. Play Utopia Sprawl on turn one instead of Arbor Elf to play around dismember and walking ballista. If you are already mooning them saving your Pillages for Wastes and Artifacts is usually correct. The plan is still to moon them and provide a clock but know that they are much more of a midrange deck than G Tron and grinding for card advantage instead of trying to cheese them can be correct sometimes.
In: Any Spot Removal, Relic of Progenitus, More Blood Moon Effects, Anything that destroys artifacts, Gaea's Blessing.
Out: 5 cmc creatures, Wrenn and Six, a few Klothys if you need room.
Notes: Don't be afraid to be a 62 or 63 card deck postboard against mill. Crack fetch lands as early as possible to play around Archive Trap. Killing a crab on turn one is better than playing a ramp spell on turn one. Save Pillages for Mesmeric Orb and Profane Memento if possible. Don't over commit to the board if you already have a good clock since Mill plays Damnation mainboard. Always leave mana up for a relic activation if possible, Crypt Incursion, Drown in the Loch, Visions of Beyond, and Surgical Extraction all can not beat a Relic pop. Make sure you're keeping an eye on your graveyard for milled over Pyro tokens. Our main plan in this matchup is to kill crabs on sight and land Moon as early as possible.
In: Any Spot Removal, Obstinate Baloth, Anger or K Return, Gargaroth, Kitchen Finks, Weather The Storm, Arasta.
Out: Blood Moon, Pillage, Arbor Elf.
Notes: We are the control deck in this matchup. We swap our disruption out for large ammounts of removal. Your going to spend the early game killing every creature you see on sight. The goal is to live long enough to resolve a Gargaroth or GloryB or just overwhelm them with bodies after youve removed all there threats. If you can ever find an open window in the early game to resolve Klothys you can cripple them.
Green White Reclaimer:
In: Any Spot Removal, More Blood Moons, Boil, Choke, Cindervines.
Out: Elder Gargaroth, Scavenging Ooze, Wrenn and Six, a few Klothys if you need room.
Notes: This matchup is intresting since our disruption stops them from killing us with Valakut and Field but dosent accomplish much else. Having enough removal spells for Reclaimer is important as that creature will single handedly win them the game. Boil and Choke win the game on their own if they resolve a Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. Cindervines can also destroy the dryad since its an enchantment. Our role in this matchup is difficult to determine but essentialy we need to moon them off of killing us with Valakut and Titans while also dealing with their Reclaimers and their general midrange plan. Land a Moon early, Kill their Reclaimers, and provide a clock.
In: More Blood Moons, Cindervines, Choke, Boil.
Out: Scavenging Ooze, Elder Gargaroth, Klothys.
Notes: This matchup is very easy due to the sheer ammount of axis we attack them on. Our disruption package obviosuly cripples them but post board we can Boil all of their lands once they resolve a Dryad. Mulliganing aggresivley to your disruption spells is the best way to win this matchup.
In: Any Spot Removal, Kitchen Finks, Obstinate Baloth, Elder Gargaroth, Weather the Storm.
Out: Wrenn and Six, Blood Moon, Pillage.
Notes: Turn 2 Klothys is your best route to victory against burn. If you cant find a Klothys in the early game your best bet is to just kill their threats on sight and resolve as many creatures as possible. This is going to be one of those matchups where we either find our silver bullets or we dont, its pretty tought to beat Burn wiothout a Klothys or a Gargaroth.
In: Anger of the Gods or K Return, Elder Gargaroth, Any Graveyard hate.
Out: Chandra Torch of Defiance, Blood Moon, Pillage, a few Bolts if you need room.
Notes: Our deck can suprisingly grind against Dredge pretty well. They can always have nut draws but if we dont open the game with some sort of grave yard hate were not completley worthless. Mainboard Klothys and Scooze help a lot here and Elder Gargaroth has won me a lot of late games against Dredge. Still mulling to our grave hate is going to be our best route to victory here.
Oups All Spells:
In: Any graveyard hate, Any Artifact hate, More Blood Moons.
Out: Lightning Bolt, 5 drop Creatures, Chandra Torch of Defiance.
Notes: Another matchup where we either find our hate or we dont. Turn one Relic or Turn 2 Scooze are great ways to win this matchup but Blood Moon + some way to blow up their mana rocks is a solid way to beat them as well. Mulligan agressivley to hate pieces and clench.
In: More Blood Moons, Any Artifact hate.
Out: Chandra Torch of Defiance, Lightning Bolt.
Notes: Much like the Oups matchup the goal here is to Moon them and blow up their mana rocks while providing a clock. Cindervines is an absolute powerhouse in this matchup as it destroys mana rocks and Phyrexian Unlife. Yet again mulligan to Moon and Artifact hate and clench.
In: Any graveyard hate, Any spot removal, Anger or K Return, Cindervines, Arasta.
Out: Blood Moon, Elder Gargaroth, Wrenn and Six, Chandra Torch of Defiance, Pillage on the draw.
Notes: Storm can be a tough matchup since we usually need to answer there Creature accelerants and then provide a fast enough clock before they storm off raw. Mulliganing to hate cards like Relic can be helpful but do not over mulligan against storm. Cards like Repeal and Abrade can make short work of our Relic. Anger and K Return help against Empty the Warrens but essentially the goal is to kill there creature accelerants early, land some threats and get them dead before they go off. If were able to land a relic or blow them out with Anger then great but dont rely on these cards.
In: Any spot removal, Anger or K Return.
Out: Elder Gargaroth, Scavenging Ooze, Blood Moon, a few Klothys if you need room.
Notes: We are the control deck in this matchup. Despite the high ammount of removal spells we could have post board this matchup is tough since most of our removal needs to be saved for combo pieces. Choosing not to bolt the Ranger-Captain thats nugging you for 3 every turn is often correct since a Spike Feeder draw could win the game on its own. The best way to beat this deck is to kill combo pieces on sight and provide a clock, early Pillages can be especially fantatsic if they cast Utopia Sprawl.
Sideboard Guide last updated: 11/21/20
Off the beaten path.
"Leave but a shred of root and it will return, bursting with vigor".
Ponza has been around for some time and has gone through many iterations. Although the current Gruul Midrange build of the deck is having the most success that isn't stopping brewers from kicking around some crazy cool ideas:
Gruul with 4 Karn, the Great Creators and a full wishboard of artifacts. This deck took a hit when Mycosynth Lattice was banned from Modern, but that doesn't mean the Karn package still isn't very strong. If you like Karn this build may be for you!
Lukka Obosh Ponza: https://www.streamdecker.com/deck/Kr9B3du13
Now this deck is pretty cool. You run only 3 drop creatures, Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast and one Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. Are you seeing the combo yet? Essentially Using Lukka and any of our powerful 3 drops we can cheat an Emmy into play. Since the nature of this deck encourages only playing 3 drop creatures naturally we can play only odd cards to have access to Obosh. But I could totally see playing this deck without Obosh to get access to some strong cards with even cmc.
Obosh Ponza: https://www.streamdecker.com/deck/sx_2vyp1U
Quite possibly my favorite version of Ponza that's ever existed. Before the companions nerf this deck was a blast. Having access to an eighth card that turns our Lighting Bolts into 6 damage is something I'll never forget. With the companion nerf this deck is much less powerful but many are still trying to make it work.
Naya Ponza Blade: https://www.streamdecker.com/deck/bWXARiBSL
As the creator or maybe pioneer is a better word of Naya Ponza Blade im very biased toward this deck. Having an extremely powerful 2 drop creature fixes a lot of our opening hand problems and tutoring for Embercleave is a blast. I think in the right meta this deck is actually better than the current Gruul build. It grinds extremely well but can be a bit less explosive. The deck is very challenging to play, remember you're a 3 color deck with Blood Moons and Utopia Sprawls as well as having tons of colored mana symbols. Every fetch matters. If you want to be challenged and enjoy Embercleaving dragons then you might enjoy Naya Ponza Blade.
Kiki Ponza: https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2987870#paper
Popularized by Ponza grinder MrZarukai this build of the deck uses Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker and Hyrax Tower Scout as an infinite token kill combo. The deck also utilizes Eldritch evolution as a way to tutor for combo pieces or just to get different threats when you need them. Hyrax Tower Scout has some really cute interactions with the deck such as untapping Arbor Elves or Exerted Glorybringers. If you miss Splinter Twin this could be the build of Ponza for you.
This build of Ponza uses the synergy between Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner and Vengevine as a value plan. Playing multiple creatures in a turn allows you to bring back discarded or killed Vengevines from the graveyard for free. Kiora paired with Arbor Elf or Sprawled lands allows you to get lots of mana quickly to ensure you're able to play 2 creatures in a turn to bring back those Vengevines, all while drawing you cards. Definitely a unique take on Ponza.
That's all for now! I'm going to try and update this guide as often as I can and add new tips, tricks, matchups, meta suggestions, and more. Shouts out to the Ponza community, the Ponza sub Reddit, and the Ponza Discord! So many talented players that influence my own gameplay and decisions, I wouldn't be the Gruul mage I am today without them. If you have any questions concerning Gruul decks in Modern do not hesitate to contact me on any of my social media, Discord, or Twitch. Not Gruul then die!
"We are the heart of the wild, the fire in its eyes, and the howl in its throat. Come, join the battle to which you were born." -Kroshkar, Gruul shaman