Ponza is a historic deck building strategy that wants to do one thing – don’t let your opponent play Magic. It does this by depriving the opponent the main resource that allows him to play his cards – Lands.
Throughout magic’s history, land destruction cards were often color demanding. To build a good Ponza deck you need to lean heavily on a primary color that grants you the earliest land destruction spell and to this day, Sink Hole is by far the most cost efficient that saw constructed play.
Sinkhole on turn 2 was considered fair back in the day but in that same era, cards like Dark Ritual and Moxens are legal which allows you to play it on turn 1 even when you’re on the draw. Depriving your opponent lands this early in the game while you’re allowed to advance your mana base and play your cards often leads to crushing defeat or fist fights.
Since then, Magic has controlled the power and especially the cost of land destruction spells to allow players to work around it, prevent it from resolving, or give different ways to play Magic even if your lands get destroyed. Cards like Stone Rain, Choking Sands and Thermokarst replaced Sinkhole by placing them on the 3-drop slot and played in a format where counter magic like Counter Spell, Spell Blast and Arcane Denials were positioned on the 2-drop slot. Not to mention elves that are playable as early as turn 1 can get around the occasional land destruction.
In Modern, a Red Green Ponza Deck had great success which used Elves and Elf-like land auras like Utopia Sprawl to accelerate their mana and cast their 3 and 4-drop land destruction spells as early as turn 2 or 3. Coupled with Blood Moon to ‘mute’ non-red player’s lands was backbreaking.
Ponza wins by disabling and dealing huge amount of damage with a few swings. In Modern, the card of choice is Inferno Titan. It hits hard when it enters the battlefield, and hits like a truck the turns after which allows the Ponza player to close the game quickly before the opponent can get a chance to recover.
In standard however, we will never get access to 2 and 3-costed land destruction spell mainly because the power levels of cards in relation to their cost has increased over time. Counter magic these days are designed to be limited if its under 1 mana, conditional if its 2 mana, and usually a hard counter from 3 mana onwards.
This means that our land destruction spells will cost at least 4 mana, which by that turn you might be dead, dying, or your opponents have enough lands to deal with your spells. However there is 1 card in standard that’s worth revisiting to mimic the Ponza days of old. Baral.
Baral brings the cost of our land destruction spells from 4 back to 3. He also reduces the counter spells we have and lets us loot. His 1/3 body is also well poised against little creatures but he’s not someone I will rely on in combat.
Here’s my UR Baral Ponza budget deck for standard!
4 Baral, Chief of Compliance
4 Lightning Strike
4 Countervailing Winds
3 Aether Tradewinds
4 Violent Impact
4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Highland Lake
3 Enigma Drake
4 Harnessed Lightning
3 Glimmer of Genius
3 Essence Scatter
2 Sweltering Suns
Reduce//Rubble was actually the inspiration of this deck, particularly Rubble. Preventing your opponent from untapping 3 lands on turn 3 is basically a time walk for us. If we get to counter something on turn 3 and cast Rubble immediately the turn after, we’re gold! With 8 land destruction spells hopefully we find one and start sending our opponent home. Aether Tradewinds is also a great card we can cast after Baral enters the battlefield, targeting their land and your Baral. Setting him back by a turn on lands is like making him skip his land drop. Counterveiling Winds is a good 1U counter spell whose conditions will be impossible for the opponent to satisfy.
Riddleform is our win condition in this deck. It’s hard to remove if it’s not yet a creature. It allows us to scry if we need to, and he’s easy to turn on with 29 spells we have in the main. We also run a removal package of Shocks and Lightning Strike. Lastly we run a couple of Opts in case we open up with 2 or 3 lands. These will help us hit our land drops early in the game.
The sideboard gives us additional answers to very aggressive decks who can live with 2 or 3 mana. Enigma Drake gives us a decent clock with so many spells in the yard, I won’t be surprised if it hits for 5 or 6 midgame, at least.
That’s it for now – been toying with this list for quite some time when BFZ and SOI block were still legal in standard: We still had access to Volcanic Upheaval, Crumble to Dust, Structural Distortion. Maybe something like this might still work in Standard. Let me know if you have had the same evil idea in the comments below!