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How To: Melira – The Ins and Outs of Melira Combo

My preparation for GP Melbourne was a mess. I started with Splinter Twin, then switched to an Abzan Chord deck after the ban, then started casting around for another deck after the Pro Tour when it became clear that my slow, grindy Chord deck was weak to the Eldrazi menace. I looked through the PTOGW lists and settled on Ari Lax’s Melira Combo deck. I’d played with earlier versions of the deck, but found it pretty miserable to play – it’s just a combo deck that has the illusion of being interesting because sometimes you get to attack.

Despite it being, to me, an uninteresting and uninteractive deck, I had resolved to play decks for their power level rather than entertainment value. With one constructed GP a year in Australia, I wanted to give it my best shot, which meant restraining my urge to do something off the wall, and just learn how to play a tried and tested #netdeck.

(For the uninitiated, your combo involves a creature with persist, a way to sacrifice creatures, and either Melira or Anafenza. When the persist creature returns to the graveyard, Melira stops it from gaining a -1/-1 counter and Anafenza allows you to Bolster it with a +1/+1 counter, negating the -1/-1 counter. Repeat the process to gain infinite life or deal infinite damage. If you have Anafenza and Melira, you can stack up Bolster triggers to create an arbitrarily large army. If you have Anafenza, Melira and Redcaps but no sacrifice outlet, you can target Redcaps with its own ETB trigger, resolve this before the Bolster trigger, and repeat to again stack infinite Bolsters.)

Metagame

The metagame for GP Melbourne was defined by Eldrazi – they were expected to be out in force, the de facto best deck by a considerable margin, and resilient to hate. Over the three GP Top 8s that weekend, 14/24 decks were Eldrazi, and it took down two trophies. A ban is certain – so I won’t spend time going over the exact configuration of my deck, as the current metagame is going to be wildly different in the future. But Melira Combo has proven itself to be a legitimate contender regardless of what happens to Eldrazi.

Melira sports a ‘good’ Eldrazi matchup. ‘Good’, in this context, means even or better. When one deck is so far ahead of the field, I’ll take a close matchup and back myself to gain the edge in gameplay. This, of course, fails when you play against someone better than yourself but if the better player wins, you can hardly complain. But the important thing is that Melira also matches up well against three of the other big decks from PTOGW – Burn, Infect and Affinity are all favourable. Decks like Merfolk and Living End, which gained popularity as foils to Eldrazi, are also great, but will likely show up in lesser numbers going forward.

Bad matchups are the combo decks like Storm, Grishoalbrand, and Scapeshift. They are slightly faster on average than Melira, and can sometimes go off before you have a chance to chord up your silver bullets. Tron is also a problem. All these decks are weak in an Eldrazi world, but are also kept in check by the aggression of an Affinity/Infect/Burn meta, so I would expect Melira to still be a good choice going forward.

My main deck was very similar to the Ari Lax list, whilst my sideboard was quite different, which is unsurprising given how much the PT shook things up.

Chris Cousen's GP Melbourne Melira Combo

Creatures: (29)
 Noble Hierarch
Birds of Paradise
Viscera Seer
 Qasali Pridemage
 Wall of Roots
 Spellskite
 Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit
 Melira, Sylvok Outcast
 Kitchen Finks
 Eternal Witness
 Orzhov Pontiff
 Murderous Redcap

Instant: (8)
 Collected Company
 Chord of Calling
Lands: (23)
 Plains
 Forest
 Razorverge Thicket
 Godless Shrine
 Overgrown Tomb
 Temple Garden
Marsh Flats
 Windswept Heath
 Verdant Catacombs
 Gavony Township

Sideboard: (15)
 Worship
 Path to Exile
 Abrupt Decay 
 Phyrexian Revoker 
Ethersworn Canonist 
 Kataki, War’s Wage
 Fulminator Mage 
 Voice of Resurgence
 Sin Collector 
 Scavenging Ooze

Compared to Lax’s list, my main deck only changed 3 spells.
-1 Fiend Hunter
-1 Abrupt Decay
-1 Eternal Witness

+1 Viscera Seer
+1 Orzhov Pontiff
+1 Quasali Pridemage

My changes

The Decay/Pridemage swap is easy, as Lax wanted Decay in the board but needed space, so squeezed it into the main, I did the same thing, but with a creature so it could be Chorded for.

I swapped Fiend Hunter for Pontiff, as I expected Scavenging Ooze to be at an all time low, and Pontiff is a game-breaking card in some board states against Affinity and Infect, and even Eldrazi at times.

The Witness/Viscera Seer swap is more illustrative of how I saw the deck playing out – the format is fast, and Witness is great in longer games but I did not expect too many of these in game one, and often wanted to reduce my reliance on the graveyard for game 2. I was really lucky with my Companies all weekend, hitting the necessary combo pieces in desperate situations, but by playing 4 copies of Viscera Seer, I put myself in a position to do that. Melira is first and foremost a combo deck, so you have to be willing to draw copies of bad creatures to increase your combo speed. The Melira deck that won GP Detroit went the other way, cutting a Seer and playing Voice of Resurgence main, but despite that success I prefer to focus on the combo in game one. Game two, when people are much more likely to disrupt you, the value plan comes in, which is why my changes to the mana base are important too.

Ari Lax played 3 Horizon Canopy and 3 Gavony Township as his value lands. I found that the damage from the Horizon Canopy mattered a lot – two or three life could be the difference between untapping and comboing off, or not. When games only last 4-5 turns, you rarely have the luxury of spending mana and a land to draw a card. That said, the post-board plan of hiding behind a Worship or bringing in removal is only good if you can win the game before they find an out like Oblivion Ring or Echoing Truth, so I wanted the 4th Township to increase the likelihood of finding one in Games 2 and 3. Game 2 of my quarter final would have been very different if I had a Township in play, and other games were won purely be activating it and attacking with 0/1s.

Game 1

So the key principles, as I see them, of Melira are as follows. Game one, you are a combo deck, so try to combo them. Turn 4 is usual. Virtually any combination of 2 different combo pieces or CoCo/Chord is a keep (assuming passable mana), and anything else is likely a mulligan. For example, I would tend to mulligan Wall of Roots, Quasali Pridemage, Eternal Witness ,Viscera Seer, 3 lands – although if one of the lands was a Township, I might consider keeping. On the other hand, I would keep Birds of Paradise, Viscera Seer, Collected Company, 4 lands.

Post-Sideboard

After sideboarding, you are much better equipped to play fair games – other people dilute their deck with graveyard hate and removal, as do you with removal, silver bullet creatures and Worships, so games are slower and involve more trading of resources. In these games, building up a board with creatures and Companies before activating Townships is a valid plan, though I never sideboard out more than 1 of each combo piece. You decide your game plan (combo or beatdown) based on your hand, your draws, your opposition and their draws.

And this is the only really difficult part of playing the deck. I know lots of people say Melira is really hard to pilot, and in one sense that’s true. It is, mechanically, a very intricate deck. There are loads of triggers, different loops and interactions to control, and I forgot several Bolsters, and at least one Eternal Witness trigger, over the course of the GP.

But this means it’s difficult like fixing a car engine is difficult – if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll make an almighty mess, but once you understand how the parts work, it’s fairly straightforward (I assume, for the purposes of analogy – I have no idea how a car works).

The mechanics of the deck are intricate but the deck is strategically simple – game one, try to execute the combo. Play around counterspells and removal with your instants and Spellskites. Game two and three, you have to identify if you’re more likely to win via combo or beatdown, and choosing wrong can cost you games. I fired off an Abrupt Decay to kill an Endless One, because I thought I would win by attacking. One Path to Exile and Drowner of Hope later and I had to switch to the combo plan –at that moment, my opponent dropped Rest in Peace, leaving me unable to combo and without a way to remove the enchantment. The hardest part of playing the deck, to my mind, is role assignment, and in a deck with such powerful draws (CoCo, Chord and Township), switching plan mid-game is a real possibility.

GP Melbourne

The GP went super well. I lost Round One to Affinity, before beating Goblins, Bant, Infect, Tokens, Storm, Jeskai, Grishoalbrand, Merfolk, Living End, Jeskai again, the mirror, Living End again, and Eldrazi (in that order). Despite only facing Eldrazi once, which was statistically very unlikely, I think that matchup is fine (though not as good as Living End, nor as bad as Grishoalbrand and Storm). I lost the quarter final to Eldrazi, and I think that if I had correctly identified my best route to victory in Game 2, I could have won that match too.

It’s awesome to watch friends do well at big events, and obviously it’s great to do well at those yourself, but I was unprepared for how humbling it would be to be at the centre of that. The Magic community is capable of being incredibly rewarding and generous, and I was lucky enough to be the one receiving support and congratulations this weekend – though I am well aware that next time, it will likely be me cheering you on. Thanks to all who were involved in testing, chilling out between rounds, lending and borrowing cards, and otherwise being excellent. My opponents were all gracious in victory and defeat, whilst the judges were efficient and professional.

Good luck playing Melira going forward – hopefully, this article gives you some strategic insight into the deck and will help you understand it. I’m not going to be worrying too much about Modern for the near future though, as I need to brush up on Limited for GP Sydney, and my first Pro Tour!

  • Alex Bianchi

    Great report, great insight, and congrats. You said PT Sydney will be your first PT – didn’t GP Melbourne qualify for PT Madrid? Or did you have your invite transferred?

    • Chris Cousens

      I’m attempting to transfer it – I tutor at uni and Madrid falls right in the middle of marking, so hopefully I will be able to defer.

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