“Birthing Pod doesn’t beat X.”
Someone said this to me on Twitter, and it couldn’t be further from the truth.
Sure, Bant Pod doesn’t beat Flare, or Tempered Steel, or whatever deck you want to say it doesn’t beat. You know why? Bant Pod is still a deck from last year, and not in the good way. Pre-Innistrad, Pod was gunning for Caw-Blade, a fairly grindy control deck, and Splinter Twin, which required you to play defensively with odd answers.
What about now? The control decks don’t want to grind. They want to cast one spell and win, whether that spell is a Titan or an Unburial Rites that ends up with them having three Titans and a Liliana in play. You can’t grind that out. What about the decks applying pressure? They are slamming down Primeval Titan or lighting you on fire, not suiting up creatures with four-drop enchantments.
It’s time for a new Pod deck. The tools are all there; it’s just a matter of assembly.
So, what are our main problems?
- You can’t fight the current Titan decks on their level. Their Titans are either Primeval or make another Titan and a kill spell. To beat them, you have to go bigger or keep them off Titan mana.
- Red. Just the color red. This is something that is most likely going to be addressed by the few spells the deck gets to run, which will aim to deal with their low end and let us stabilize.
- Hero of Bladehold. None of the Pod decks I’ve seen have real answers.
- Flying. This was a problem in Block, where your opponent could just make the bodies you had irrelevant, and it got rough to win just on triggers.
- Not having Pod. You need to do something until you find it.
Here are the options.
Avacyn’s Pilgrim, Llanowar Elves, Birds of Paradise: Your mana. Don’t leave home without them. The number I would start with is 6, but that number is mostly based on historical reference to decks similarly focused on four-drops and not current testing.
The existence of these guys also likely invalidates any off-color one-drops that aren’t good later on, as it is too hard to support the dual mana requirement on the first turn. There also isn’t a reasonable way to Pod tutor for them, making singletons very subpar.
Viridian Emissary: The obvious inclusion. Bashes well, blocks well, and Pods away well.
Mayor of Avabruck: Good guy to upgrade a mana dork into. Provides an immediate threat instead of needing more Pod activations and could easily enable Blade Breaker style draws when Pod isn’t around.
Skinshifter: Same as above, only trading long-term value for short-term power.
Death-Hood Cobra: If reach is a concern.
Splinterfright: On average, I expect this to grow by about one a turn in Pod. Unsure if this is the right shell, as it gets better in multiples (see Knight of the Reliquary; if they kill the first, the second starts right where it left off), but it might be reasonable in an aggressive shell that just uses Pod for small values.
Thrun, the Last Troll: Very bland guy that fights. Would not be against having zero.
Acidic Slime: Likely one focal point of Pod decks in general. Repeated mana denial is some good.
Kessig Cage Breakers: Hero of Bladehold was color shifted. Hero of Bladehold is insane. Would want a copy of this guy in most builds to stretch the range where you can Pod into a game win down one mana.
Brutalizer Exarch: Very underrated currently. While in a Blue Pod deck, Frost Titan might be better for continuing the chain of LD, there aren’t good options in other colors other than “Make a four, Pod to Slime again” or “Use my Metamorph.” Exarch lets you keep them off Titan mana while going through to a seven that should be able to trump it or continue to lock (sequences will be discussed later).
Moldgraf Monstrosity: Probably loses a fight with a Titan.
Overall: Green is lacking in threes, fours, and endgame. Your other colors should fill this gap.
Grand Abolisher: Yeah, I’m digging fairly deep here. This guy is really unimpressive in so many ways: double white cost; if it is ever relevant, it immediately dies, and more. That said, there could be a matchup where the effect is backbreaking, but more likely than not it would be so in a completely different deck.
Alabaster Mage: A reasonable life gain choice. Ideally you tutor it up midgame against red and gain some life with whatever monster you are trying to kill them with, and they are forced to immediately deal with it or lose.
Mentor of the Meek: Depending on the end list, this might be a legitimate engine as backup when you don’t see a Pod.
Hero of Bladehold: Kessig Cagebreakers was color shifted. Oh wait, no. This guy gets lethal immediately. While it isn’t the best card to Pod away, ideally if it is still around, you won’t want to level it up.
Glimmerpoint Stag: Almost a white Metamorph. Lets you double up on Slimes and other important effects, then conveniently Pods into another Slime.
Master Splicer: Probably unnecessary. I imagine the white lists being much more aggressive due to the presence of Hero rather than needing to ramp up to six or higher. There likely is the need for some four-drop you want to chain through, so one of this would make the deck at most.
Mausoleum Guard: Same as above. Just a question of whether the option of just jamming with the 4/4 Golem is more important than getting to go to the air and fight a Nexus.
Archon of Justice: As good as this looks on paper, I’m not a fan. It provides no immediate board impact aside from the body. It won’t kill Titans given the current line of Sun Titan getting more Sun Titans and Oblivion Rings. Against beatdown, it just blocks one guy, and you get burned out or Dispatched. A very marginal five-drop.
Geist-Honored Monk: If your goal is beat aggro by gumming up the board into an Elesh Norn or similar threat, this is one of the prime five-drops. Good enough to fight on its own and keeps things on lock as you shift it to a six.
Razor Hippogriff: I never really understood the point of this guy. It rebuys Pod, but it’s a singleton that implies you have to have a Pod to get it. The life gain and flying are both marginal benefits, but there are better options for each.
Sunblast Angel: The theme I keep seeing with the white cards is shutting down beatdown by slowly flooding the board, and this guy is another way to curve up there. Takes out a couple guys even if you are very far behind and sticks around to hold off anything.
Elesh Norn: The grand finale to the other white cards. All the tokens you have left behind suddenly crush their team, assuming they have one after she hits.
Overall: Generates a strong board presence but no real trumps to a Titan and no good interaction with control.
Azure Mage: The mana cost on activating this guy is prohibitive. You don’t want your mana up with Pod, as you want to be casting more value guys while curving up. I would be more willing to go with Merfolk Looter than this guy, despite the actual card advantage.
Phantasmal Image: An obvious include, but not really a two-drop for curve purposes. I’m not exactly sure how this works out when figuring out numbers of each drop required to get going, but I think it’s less of an issue, as you can just going off of two or three fairly easily, while a four or higher Clone is going to disrupt sequencing.
Civilized Scholar: If we need a generic three-drop to fill slots, this seems like the guy. Looting is exceptionally good in a deck full of situational cards, and a 5/1 body beats hard.
Aether Adept: Duly noted as a temporary answer to Hero.
Skaab Ruinator: Obviously having one makes the cut. Good clock, good to Pod away, I just never would want to draw it (unless I have a Scholar online).
Master Thief: Yeah, I’m digging deep. Might be able to deal with a Shrine of Burning Rage in the magical world where they are out of removal and savages the Wolf Run Brown deck. Not even good against Tempered Steel, as you take a 1/1 to all their 3/3s, and it doesn’t fight Hero.
Mirror-Mad Phantasm: Only if you want to Ooze people.
Consecrated Sphinx: Best monster if you want to end on six and expect to have it locked.
Frost Titan: Best monster if you need to keep them locked while you finish up.
Phyrexian Ingester: Haumph. Kills Titans and doesn’t let your opponent Unburial Rites them (or get tokens from Wurmcoil Engine). Probably a bit too late, but exists if you want to Heartless Summoning.
Overall: Doesn’t actually have a lot of options on three or four, but you get Clones. Likely best as a very light splash or not at all, as Metamorph isn’t really a blue card.
Reassembling Skeletons: I would rather get value from a creature that wasn’t just a 1/1.
Phyrexian Rager: Generic filler three-drop. Heavy black lists will end up with a couple.
Phyrexian Crusader: Very reasonable defensive creature against Red.
Bloodline Keeper: An actual threat on four, as well as part of the Ooze setup. I would probably play one in most black-based lists.
Skinrender: Does what it does. Doesn’t kill a Hero, eats most other beatdown guys. Can’t complain.
Phyrexian Obliterator: Never want to draw it but would want to Pod it up if I am attacking.
Morkrut Banshee: Kills a Hero, but Limited has taught me it is difficult to naturally get this guy going. Basically only a Pod target.
Skithiryx, the Blight Dragon: Was a fine endgame in Block, but not enough now.
Massacre Wurm: I’m unsure if this actually does something. Probably slaughters tokens, so might be reasonable as a singleton in the board.
Sheoldred, Whispering One: The other endgame trump. If you can untap with this and not get Titaned, they are probably hard locked, but that seems too slow.
Rune-Scarred Demon: This on the other hand immediately starts the lock by getting an Acidic Slime or Unburial Rites. It can even start the super chain of tutoring up Clones for more of itself. Just beware opponents with their own Clones can do the same.
Overall: A ton of options. Can easily go in a bunch of different directions.
Grim Lavamancer: Probably miserable, as you don’t have fetches to power it up like last year. Won’t be killing much anymore.
I can’t even stretch for anything here. Just a world of Goblin Pikers with abilities you won’t have a chance to use.
Blisterstick Shaman: Pew pew. Guns down the problem red guys that keep your team off the board as well as random artifact guys or Lilianas on one.
Daybreak Ranger: Almost a Visara, but I don’t know how much you can rely on this to flip in the matchups you actually want it to.
Hero of Oxid Ridge: Last year, Patrick Chapin was using this as a Falter–Lava Axe. Without Squadron Hawk and with Emeria Angel being replaced by 2/1s with flash, it loses some value, but the effect is worth a slot if you are heavy enough red to cast it when you draw it.
Kuldotha Phoenix: Provides some value when Podded away. Don’t think you will get metalcraft, but 4-8 damage should be solid especially when it ramps to an Inferno Titan. Triple red is the main concern here, which might be a bit ambitious.
Falkenrath Marauder: Same as Phoenix, only less damage and less red mana. Generic five-drop that can win the game that provides some advantage during a Pod chain.
Urabrask the Hidden: One card that really enables the Hero endgame from last year. No more instant Snapcaster blockers, no more setting up a row of blocking Titans. Deserves a slot if only for the Kismet. Unfortunately the best card for this (Inferno Titan) is something you want to swap him for.
Inferno Titan: I can’t justify any of the other six-drops over this guy. I can’t even justify the sevens. This is the reason to play red. When he is good, he devastates people. Plague Wind meets a body that kills in two swings on a bad day. While people aren’t beating down right now, lighting them on fire will come back into style.
Overall: Red is light on options, but gets Inferno Titan. Seriously, that guy is a house.
Double Off Color
Olivia Voldaren: If I am Jund, this makes the cut. Definitely wins fights against Titans.
Evil Twin: On the other hand, likely not good enough. You have a ton of Clones already if you are blue, and this one’s benefit is that if you untap with it, you get an advantage. That might be fine against Frost Titan, Grave Titan, and Consecrated Sphinx, but against the rest of them I don’t think it’s close.
Grimgrin, Corpse-Born: This is either going to be really bad or really good. I’m thinking the former in a world of tokens, Oblivion Rings, and Wurmcoil Engines. It does however beat a Hero. Also, Ooze.
Overall: All of these are black. Just note that.
Spellskite: Reasonable against red, but not spectacular. That’s about it. This isn’t the world of Twin any more.
Molten-Tail Masticore: In Block, this was a reasonable four-drop threat, but it never was exceptional. I can’t imagine it got much better. If for some reason the color combo you want lacks real fours, one is fine, but otherwise I would stay away.
Precursor Golem: This guy is a lot of power. I’m not sure how the current removal spread of the format favors him, but he crashes for a ton, which is probably important against Ramp.
Before I start, the model curve I’m working with is something like this:
Let’s start with a fairly pure list aimed towards the tap-out style decks that have had success as of late.
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 3 Phyrexian Rager
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 1 Cemetery Reaper
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Viridian Corrupter
- 3 Viridian Emissary
- 2 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Brutalizer Exarch
- 3 Entomber Exarch
- 1 Rune-Scarred Demon
- 2 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Kessig Cagebreakers
- 1 Bloodline Keeper
- 2 Mayor of Avabruck
Yes, that is thirteen board cards for aggro. The maindeck is designed to fight control as much as possible. From turn-four on, you should be attacking their mana.
When getting a six, you aren’t going to grab Grave Titan. You are going to get Brutalizer Exarch, which Fallow Earths them into a Rune-Scarred Demon. From there, if you feel far enough ahead, you can just make some more Demons with Metamorph. If you need to keep Stone Raining, it gets Unburial Rites into a rebuy on your Exarch or Slime. You might only need one Rites, but this endgame represents a solid soft lock.
As for the board, Dead Weight hits the spot. It kills all of the red guys, and while it isn’t great against Steel, it holds its own until Slime gets online. Doom Blade kills actual everything, and the rest is filling in the gaps left when you take out all the bad maindeck cards. Just so it is out there, here is the plan for Red. The other decks are a lot simpler to handle, as board presence going into the mid-game is actually very relevant, so they don’t require quite this many cards.
Compared to the current lists of G/B Pod, this deck has a much stronger Plan A due to the mana creatures, but the lack of Heartless Summoning means you are leaning much more heavily on Pod. That isn’t a bad thing necessarily, but if you are going to try this list, you need to accept that.
Now for the list gunning for creatures
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Acidic Slime
- 1 Inferno Titan
- 1 Manic Vandal
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 1 Glimmerpoint Stag
- 1 Hero of Bladehold
- 1 Hero of Oxid Ridge
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
- 1 Urabrask the Hidden
- 2 Blade Splicer
- 1 Master Splicer
- 1 Alabaster Mage
- 1 Fiend Hunter
- 2 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 1 Kessig Cagebreakers
- 1 Geist-Honored Monk
- 1 Daybreak Ranger
Instead of reboarding for beatdown, you reboard for control. Instead of land locking them, you just want to lay out a bunch of threats and lightly LD for enough tempo to get there. You load up on actual two-drop threats post board (four might even be short) and cut most of the high end, just leaving an Inferno Titan above five.
While not having Pod is still an issue, against beatdown it is mitigated, as you often don’t need the exact value guy for the situation. Just curving out naturally should be good. My main concern with this list is beating an opposing Hero, but Oblivion Ring is a reasonable answer if not spectacular.
These are just two starting points for pure Pod lists. I haven’t even started with secondary plans. Why not try Heartless Summoning but lean heavier on the Rune-Scarred Clones plan? Or try Bant Pod with an aggressive lineup, including Civilized Scholar? The possibilities are vast. Just because one build of Pod isn’t working doesn’t mean there isn’t a solution. Put in the work, and the rewards exist.