In newer formats, decks are typically named after key pieces of the deck or the deck’s overall strategy. For example, Mono Red Aggro, Tron, or Lotus Breach. Most of you should have an idea of what these decks are trying to do when you hear their names. In older formats, for some reason, the most popular decks were named after breakfast cereals. Seriously, I’m not making that up. There are decks with names like Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Fruity Pebbles in Legacy and Vintage. Oddly enough the name of today’s deck comes from a food. If you’re interested, the dish known as ponza is basically a pizza that is folded in half and then deep fried; that actually sounds pretty good. The short version of the story behind how this deck got its name is that the creator of the deck liked this dish and compared the different components of the deck to pizza ingredients.
The best way to describe Ponza is as a red green control deck. Control, and Midrange to an extent, seek to deny resources to the opponent. The most common are discard effects like Thoughtseize or counter spells and removal. Cards like Thoughtseize can deprive an opponent of cards in their hand which limits their options. Removal deprives the opponent of creatures which is how a majority of decks win. Counter spells can deprive an opponent of, well, anything that’s a legal target, plus it sets them back on mana. Ponza doesn’t seek to control any of these things. It goes outside the box and targets the opponent’s lands. Land destruction is somewhat frowned upon because when taken to an extreme it’s just not fun to play against, like those blue players who run nothing but counter spells. While Ponza does engage in land destruction, it’s not to the point where it’s unbeatable and I’ll cover this small package first. Pillage and Stone Rain are the only cards that destroy a land. Very few lists run a full playset of these cards, and some versions opt for one or the other. Some lists run as few as 3, but I think 6 is comfortable and I’d advise caution if you want to run the full 8. While you do want to play these cards, you don’t want to go overboard with them. There is a fine line between consistency and oppression here. The deck rounds out this package with 3 to 4 copies of Blood Moon. Now this is not the same as mana destruction; this is mana disruption. Pillage and Stone Rain destroy the land while Blood Moon still allows the opponent to use their nonbasic lands as mana sources, even though they can only produce red mana. Not really that big of a deal, but just disruptive enough that it throws most 2 and 3 color decks off balance, especially those that have no need for red mana.
While these cards are designed to push your opponent back, the next package is designed to push you further ahead. Utopia Sprawl is one of the iconic cards of this deck. Now it can only be played on a forest so it goes without saying that most of the lands in this deck should be basic forests so that Utopia Sprawl is more consistent and your own Blood Moon doesn’t affect you as much. The enchanted Forest will then produce its usual one green mana as well as the mana color you named. You should always plan on naming red as the color. This combines very well with Arbor Elf. A 1 green mana 1/1 elf that can tap to untap a land. A very unassuming creature, but it has some great combo potential, especially when that land that you want to untap produces more than 1 mana. To help the deck further generate mana, it also runs Simian Spirit Guide. Never cast this card; always discard it into exile to generate mana.
From here it’s mostly creatures and it’s entirely up to you what you want to run. These are your finishers, so big hasty threats are great. Inferno Titan is one of the more classic creatures in this deck. Bloodbraid Elf is a great addition that can get more value out of the deck with its cascade trigger. I’d actually say that this creature is mandatory for this deck; it’s just too good to not play it. Scavenging Ooze is a great addition at the low end which over time can turn into a nice sized threat, plus it gives you enough life gain for some resiliency as long as there are creatures in the graveyards. You could also run some cards that see more play in Pioneer and even Standard to an extent like Glorybringer or Questing Beast for example.
If you find yourself out of creature ideas and want more support cards, removal like Lightning Bolt is always welcome. Rampant Growth gives you some more ramp. Explore is also an okay option. These slots are the most flexible after the creatures. You could run a few board wipes if you need to. Just don’t fill the top of the curve with big stuff, otherwise it’ll be awhile before you can cast most of your cards even with ramp.
The shell of Ponza should look like the following:
Stone Rain x3-4
Blood Moon x3-4
Utopia Sprawl x4
Arbor Elf x4
Simian Spirit Guide x4
Bloodbraid Elf x4
Red and green are not typically control colors. In fact, most Modern players would say that the format doesn’t have a mainstream control deck. If you saw my How To Play post about deck archetypes, I said control decks seek to win by answering opposing threats or denying the opponent’s resources and then play a huge threat of their own that is hard to deal with. That’s exactly what’s going on here. Ponza disrupts the opponent’s mana, their resources, while you ramp into a threat. It’s also possible to have a budget version of this deck. This shell will cost roughly $100 (USD) or less right now. You can get away with no fetch lands and cheaper dual lands if you need to. That wraps up Ponza. Let me know what deck you want to see next in the comments down below.