GP Nashville *2nd* And Birthing Pod In Standard

Todd Anderson made the finals of GP Nashville. He talks about what he learned about Limited, and he also goes over the G/W Birthing Pod deck he’s been testing for SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational.

I’m no master at Limited. I’ve never claimed to be. Over the last few years, I’ve slowly felt myself falling further and further away from Limited and focusing most of my efforts on Constructed. Even still, I’ve continued to do relatively well at drafts in major events, rarely falling below a 2-1 record, though I also rarely 3-0. Limited is easily the area I need to improve the most when it comes to my Magic game, and I still don’t think that it is any different.

Over the last few months, I’ve played a lot of random matches here and there of Innistrad Limited, gathering as much information about the format as I could. Though I rarely do more than a single draft per week, I feel like listening to others with more experience talk about the format and specific cards helped me a lot. I also feel like I’m pretty decent at figuring various things out when it comes to building a sealed deck and usually can make something good out of a pretty weak pool. I felt like I did just that this past weekend, dropping only one match with a deck featuring zero rares but a lot of synergy.

If you feel like your pool is mediocre, then you have to start looking at other aspects of deckbuilding and try to take advantage of whatever situation is presented to you. I’ve rarely seen a sealed pool that couldn’t make Day 2 with perfect play (though they obviously do exist). Just because you don’t open two Bloodline Keepers doesn’t mean you have no shot. Sealed is a much different animal than Draft, but both have their ups and downs. While Sealed tends to be more grindy and focus more on bombs, Draft tends to reward people for building archetypes as they go along. I also feel like people trap themselves a lot in Draft, but most losses in Sealed come from misplays or building your deck wrong.

I know I have a lot of room for improvement, but here are a few things I think might help you for your next Sealed tournament. My basic ideals when it comes to building a sealed deck are the following:

1. Bombs

Everyone plays their bombs. In order to combat this, you need to pick your colors based on your ability to handle their bombs as efficiently as possible. If your pool doesn’t offer you that solution, then you will have to find another way to fight. This could be done a number of ways, but sometimes you can just open enough rares to trump them no matter how “good” their deck is.

If you don’t have the removal necessary to deal with most of the format’s more problematic creatures or enough powerful cards of your own, then you will probably need to get a bit creative. Generally, if this is the case, then you should try to race the decks relying on late-game bombs to take over. The lower your curve, the better. You should try and focus on synergy and emphasize combat tricks or situational removal. You should also try to look at cards in a different light, because there are some things people will never play around and can definitely lead to blowouts given the right set of circumstances.

2. Removal

Everyone plays their removal in Sealed, and most people will have a lot of it. Playing the colors that give you the best overall creature suite is more important than playing the colors that give you the best removal. This is especially true when the removal in the format looks more like Dead Weight and Geistflame rather than Doom Blade and Incinerate. In Sealed, creatures tend to be much better than removal so build your deck to suit the needs of your best creatures rather than fitting in your best removal. There are no wrong threats, only wrong answers. 

It’s also much harder to kill big creatures in Innistrad Limited, so playing a sealed deck featuring large monsters is definitely where I want to start. I’m not trying to say that small creatures are bad, only that they’re worse in Sealed than in Draft. When drafting this format, I almost always try to draft an aggressive deck because it’s much less likely that your opponent will have more than just a scant few removal spells. Since the format has less removal, small creatures tend to increase in value, giving you added benefit when you have the fastest deck.

I’m not trying to say that all control decks are bad in Draft or that aggro decks are bad in Sealed, only that each format makes it easier or harder to build one or the other based on the average pool of cards. Removal spells like Wrack with Madness are really good in Sealed while generally underwhelming in Draft. This is mostly because you can expect to face off against at least one bomb rare per match in Sealed, while your average Draft opponent will opt to take Travel Preparations over a decent rare that’s much slower. Wrack with Madness is a perfect example of a good removal spell for Sealed because it can kill just about any rare creature in the format while still being able to handle most annoying creatures with evasion. Once the format becomes more aggressive and you begin to kill creatures that cost less than four mana, Wrack with Madness becomes much worse.

3. Consistent Mana Bases

It really bothers me to see people get greedy in Limited with their mana bases, especially when the format doesn’t easily allow for it. Ravnica and Alara block were obvious exceptions to this rule. I saw multiple people who were playing for Day 2 this past weekend lose to their own mana bases because they tried to fit all of their removal and bombs into one “sweet” three-and-a-half color deck. Sure you had an Evolving Wilds, but what about when you need it to fetch out your main color on the first turn of the game? You aren’t going to be casting that Olivia Voldaren until it’s much too late to come back. Even then, your opponent will probably just have their Wrack with Madness ready to dispatch her. 

I don’t have much to say about this matter other than I think people try to splash cards a bit too much without sufficient sources. I think that having a third color for flashback costs is perfectly fine because the cards you’re casting actually do something if you don’t hit your third color. When you do, you’re just going to get more value out of an already useful card. However, splashing something from flashback shouldn’t give you a lot of leeway to play an actual card of that color. This is because then you become more and more committed to playing lands that produce that color of mana, and eventually that decreases the consistency of playing the rest of your spells.

As far as Draft is concerned, I don’t feel like I’m in any way qualified to give you advice. I felt like I drafted rather poorly both times but was trapped into my colors by the player on my right. After a few solid picks, they would take a flip card that was the same color as the first three picks or so, and I was “expected” to get the signal and switch colors. Abandoning a color at that point is a bit outrageous, but you can just try to make it less important to your overall draft.

I think I played fairly well throughout the entirety of the tournament, which was a major contributor to my success. Combine that with the fact that Lingering Souls is just bonkers, and you can see my smiling mug in the finals of the Grand Prix. Other than that, I don’t really know what to tell you. My draft deck in the Top 8 featured such hits as Kindercatch, Make a Wish, eighteen lands, and a Caravan Vigil. Lingering Souls was the main reason I won games in the last two drafts, but taking that card put me into a precarious position. In both drafts, the player feeding me was in white, which made my deck much worse overall as a result. Had I shifted colors at the correct time I could’ve had a better deck, but I’m just not skilled enough to see all the signs at the right time.

I will also say that drafting with flip cards is a whole new game. The signals that can get passed around are incredible if you can read them correctly, but you can also screw yourself out of a good deck if the person on your right changes their mind midway through the first pack. You can also avoid diving into green/red when the guy on your right opens Huntmaster of the Fells.

With the first StarCityGames.com Open Series featuring the Invitational in Baltimore coming up this weekend, there’s a lot of preparation to be done. The two formats for the event will be Standard and Legacy, and I’m looking to find something spicy to play in both. In Standard, I’ve been working on various Birthing Pod lists since it has been performing well on Magic Online lately. In Legacy, the Grand Prix in Indy a few weeks ago gives us a lot to talk about.

As far as Standard is concerned, I posted some videos earlier this week using an interesting take on Birthing Pod, utilizing such goodies as Primeval Titan and Green Sun’s Zenith to give you a bit of reach in the late game. Kessig Wolf Run can be added to virtually any strategy to make it “better,” but at what cost? Sure, you’re giving yourself an out in some very specific situations, but I’m not sure that it’s consistency that Birthing Pod decks lack. While your deck is usually stocked full of one-of creatures, they’re generally pretty powerful on their own or function in some very specific role that chains your Birthing Pod into an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite to end the game.

While I still don’t think anyone has built a “perfect” Birthing Pod deck, I also feel like they are incredibly hard to innovate or tune. Each week, different decks begin rising to the top, and you need to have a different answer to fight them. Some weeks being more aggressive with the full set of Blade Splicers and Strangleroot Geists is correct, while there are other metagames where you just want a few of each and the ability to search out more specific answers.

For reference, here’s my current Birthing Pod list:

While obviously still a little off, I think this deck has a ton of potential and a lot of reach against the various control and ramp decks in the format. With Birthing Pod, you have the potential to wreak havoc on their mana base thanks to Acidic Slime and various clone effects. This is also one of the most difficult decks I’ve ever had the pleasure to play with. Certain lines involve multiple turns of Tutoring, making every action and every turn feel vastly more important than the one before it.

Deckbuilding is also another very important part of this archetype. As I said before, having more Strangleroot Geist and Blade Splicer could be correct and Rampant Growth could be worse than Avacyn’s Pilgrim, but I’ve been pretty happy with my results thus far. Rampant Growth allows you to play a much rougher mana base and gives you more sources of blue and red for your various effects. While you’re a green-white based deck, Phantasmal Image is too good not to play, and I don’t really see playing Avacyn’s Pilgrim instead of Rampant Growth and maintaining the same number of Phantasmal Images in the deck.

Along with the correct mana base, you must also figure out the most common lines of Birthing Pod depending on the situation at hand. It can often be correct to use Phantasmal Image to copy the opponent’s creatures so that your Birthing Pod ticks up faster, but at the same time you begin to lose value since you aren’t gaining any “enters the battlefield” effects. Birthing Pod is just an incredibly complex card that emphasizes the ability to make correct decisions every turn, much like a planeswalker. Unfortunately, these lines are incredibly difficult to find unless you’ve played the deck a lot. Without perfect knowledge of the entire stock of interactions in the deck, you’ll find yourself making mistakes because they are just not easy to figure out on the fly.

Birthing Pod, as a card, can put a lot of pressure on the opponent, but you must also build your deck in a way that isn’t completely reliant on the card to function. After the first game, most opponents will be prepared for your shenanigans with Ancient Grudge, Revoke Existence, and various other cards that can kill your deck’s namesake artifact. Even though your deck is full of Tutor targets, you must fill your deck with cards that are powerful on their own even when you aren’t searching them up.

For the longest time I saw people playing Archon of Justice in their Birthing Pod deck, and I couldn’t figure out why. I played with it one time, used Birthing Pod to search it up, and my opponent put it back in my hand with Vapor Snag. I was left with virtually nothing in play and didn’t have enough mana to cast it and activate Birthing Pod the next turn. Aside from that fact, my opponent had a Mana Leak at the ready, and I was pretty much dead. While you can argue that the Delver opponent probably had a good draw there, it’s safe to say that there are a lot of five-drop creatures that could’ve gained me a lot of value whereas Archon of Justice did absolutely nothing.

It’s much more important in this day and age to be good against Vapor Snag than traditional removal since that is one of the format’s best sources of pseudo-removal. If your creature gains you no value from coming into play, you need to have a really good reason to play it. Acidic Slime kills most annoyances that Archon of Justice normally kills and does it while entering the battlefield instead of having to wait an entire turn. If you find yourself needing another five-drop, you can always play more Acidic Slimes or Geist-Honored Monks. Vorapede fits in the same category as Archon of Justice, but I haven’t played with him yet and I want to see if he’s any good at all. Green Sun’s Zenith gets you to try out a lot of different creatures in each mana slot. At the very least, Evan Erwin will be tickled about it.

As far as Legacy is concerned, I talked about Maverick in my article last week, but I think I’d much rather be playing Brainstorm at the SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational. Maverick is fine, but I’m really starting to love Kenny Castor RUG Delver and Tom Martell Esper Stoneblade deck. While each has its weaknesses, I think both are fine choices for next weekend, and they’re what I’ll be testing with over the next few days. I’ll also be working on a few more Birthing Pod decks before I just give up and play Delver of Secrets. At the very least, I’ll be able to say that I gave it a shot!

I really appreciated all the cheers this weekend, as I know what my success means to my friends and family. I thank you all for your support, and next time I’ll try to go one step further and finally win a trophy bigger than Kali’s. Until then, she’s just going to lord it over me.

Thanks for reading!

Todd Anderson

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