Pyre Of Heroes Really Is Just Birthing Pod

Is Pyre of Heroes really a “fixed” Birthing Pod? Ari Lax takes a deep dive into breaking the card for Kaldheim Standard.

Pyre of Heroes, illustrated by Piotr Dura

So you made a broken card. But everyone likes it. What do you, clearly someone who makes decisions at Wizards of the Coast (WotC), do?

Print a fixed version? Maybe people want that?

Yawgmoth's Bargain

Oh god not like that. Maybe a little more chill.

Prime Speaker Vannifar

Ok, that didn’t go so bad. What about….

Pyre of Heroes


It took people a long time to really break Birthing Pod, but once the ball got rolling it was clearly absurd for even longer.

Pyre of Heroes is more convoluted. It will probably take a little longer for the momentum to pick up. The ceiling on how broken it can be is lower than Birthing Pod since it costs more to activate and caps your plays a bit each following turn. But after a while in the tank on it, I’m coming around to it being another really, really powerful card.

The Eureka Moment

Maskwood Nexus

This story starts with a different weirdo artifact from Kaldheim: Maskwood Nexus. Like many Kaldheim cards, it has a million words on it. Then when consuming some Limited content, the actual text of the card clicked. “All your creatures are every creature type.”

We’ve had a ton of Conspiracy and Arcane Adaptations thrown our way and they all failed, but Maskwood Nexus wasn’t just granting one type. It was all of them at once, and I know I’ve seen meme combos involving multiple copies of those cards before. Was there some really weird card that broke in half here? Was I going to spend all weekend searching the text boxes of Modern for all creature types?

Thankfully, I saved myself a lot of time by parlaying this into a better idea — if all my creatures are all types, I can find whatever I want with Pyre of Heroes!

Wait a second…

Realmwalker Masked Vandal

I don’t need a Maskwood Nexus for that, do I?

I had written off Pyre of Heroes until someone else figured out an optimal long chain, but that wasn’t really how it would work. As long as you have changelings to bridge into and out of, your Pyre of Heroes chains can be significantly more flexible.

Masked Vandal Tajuru Paragon Realmwalker

Littjara Glade-Warden Orvar, the All-Form Moritte of the Frost

And Standard has a full curve of changelings or cards that are close enough. Pyre of Heroes has a backbone of relevant cards supporting it as long as you play green. You’re brick-walled on the full flexible finds at five mana since Moritte of the Frost takes the cost of whatever it copies, but you can easily find alternate lines from there or accept five as the end of the line.

That’s good enough for me to start trying to find the rest of the deck.

What to Find?

With that in mind, the next question is, what are the good creatures to Pyre through that aren’t changelings?

I’m going to go through this backwards, since it seems like reverse-engineering your chains from the top down is best.

Five and Six Mana

Dream Trawler Kogla, the Titan Ape

The question of whether you want to chain past five-drops is quickly answered by a creature type scan. The good six-drops don’t have good types. If you aren’t trying to put Dreadwurm in your deck, you’re talking about sacrificing Quakebringer to find Burning-Rune Demon or Brokkos, Apex of Forever to find Phylath, World Sculptor, a play that makes me question how many basic lands a deck with those cards plays.

Yorion, Sky Nomad Korvold, Fae-Cursed King Elder Gargaroth

The good new is the five-drops are bonkers. There are honestly too many to count, but the good non-Shapeshifter types are: Snake; Bird (Yorion, Sky Nomad); Dragon (Goldspan Dragon, Terror of the Peaks, and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King); Human; Noble (Korvold and Kenrith, the Returned King); and Beast (Elder Gargaroth). I also have minor interests in Knight (Syr Konrad, the Grim); Cat; and Nightmare (Nethroi, Apex of Death as an alternate end-game).

Four Mana

Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths Acolyte of Affliction Arcanist's Owl

Of those good five-drop types, the ones that have four-drops that are the best to Pyre through are Human and Bird. Arcanist’s Owl seems like a stretch but raises the point that you technically don’t have to have green mana in your deck to play Pyre of Heros. More likely I’m just sacrificing Acolyte of Affliction or Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths to find Kenrith and then recurring them with his black ability. I’m also not opposed to just getting in with Questing Beast twice before upgrading it to Elder Gargaroth.

Yasharn, Implacable Earth Luminous Broodmoth Polukranos, Unchained

The standalone good four-drop types are Elemental; Boar (Yasharn, Implacable Earth); Golem (Solemn Simulacrum); Faerie; Rogue (Rankle, Master of Pranks); Zombie, and Hydra (Polukranos, Unchained). There’s also a Vampire Dragon (Immersturm Predator) you may want access to and maybe an Angel Cleric (Glorious Protector).

Squad Commander Maja, Bretagard Protector

Probably the best card to Pyre through is Squad Commander, leaving a couple bodies around. Kor and Warrior are weird types to find five-drops with, but if you’re leaving tokens around Maja, Bretagard Protector seems like the natural thing you want to find. Both Pyre and changelings help fill out your party for Squad Commander as well, and I think this probably locks in one of the better Pyre decks as Selesnya or Abzan Party.

Luminous Broodmoth Nightmare Shepherd

The other important types here are Insect and Demon for the four-drops that make any future Pyre activations go insane. Previous attempts at making Luminous Broodmoth and Nightmare Shepherd good have felt like they failed because the sacrifice outlet didn’t accomplish anything or you had to invest too much mana into the rest of the setup, but Pyre both does something and handles that mana bit for you.

Oakhame Adversary Stalwart Valkyrie

There are also a couple of ways to jump the mana curve into a five-drop, but not really in great types or on universally good cards.

Ravenous Chupacabra Shriekmaw

The main issue I’m seeing at these high costs is a lack of interaction. Losing a set of enters-the-battlefield triggers to mutate is a tough hurdle to clear. You could play Wicked Wolf, but the Food commitment there is dicey. This is a big part of why I rate Polukranos so highly.

Three Mana

Starting again by working backwards from the four-drops:

Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire Blackbloom Rogue Brazen Borrower

Varragoth, Bloodsky Sire (Demon Rogue) splits two of the good types, allowing you to get Rankle or Nightmare Shepherd. Realmwalker also does that though, so you’re leaning on the deathtouch and the very slow search engine aspects of the card. The Rogues I’m more interested in are Blackbloom Rogue (Human Rogue) and Brazen Borrower (Faerie Rogue) that have effects beyond being a creature with types.

The Insect side of the recursion engine setup is a bit sparser. Scute Swarm is definitely too cute without ramp spells.

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager Liliana's Standard Bearer Silversmote Ghoul

Grakmaw, Skyclave Ravager (Hydra Horror) into Polukranos is the jackpot of a Pyre chain; all you want is to turn your Pyre activations into bonus real bodies. Silversmote Ghoul (Zombie Vampire) probably ends up taking a back seat to Grakmaw, but it can find Immersturm Predator if your other cards support the lifegain. Liliana’s Standard Bearer (Zombie Knight) drawing cards is a bit less exciting than free creatures, but still nice to have access to.

Alirios, Enraptured Llanowar Visionary Barrin, Tolarian Archmage

For non-linked types, there’s a lot of good value options to later turn into Orvar, the All-Form. Alirios, Enraptured (Human) gives you the Grakmaw bonus body up front; Llanowar Visionary (Elf Druid) is good value and mana for a deck that needs a lot of that; and Barrin, Tolarian Archmage (Human Wizard) and Skyclave Apparition (Kor Spirit) are your interaction with Irreverent Revelers (Satyr) as coverage for The Great Henge if you can’t Masked Vandal it. You might even get the text on Resplendent Marshal (Angel Warrior) do do something! The Humans here notably chain into the value four-drop Humans I mentioned before.

Bonecrusher Giant

With a mention of Orvar, it’s worth thinking about that card in combination with Adventures that can target your creatures without adding conditional spells to your deck. Bonecrusher Giant is the first card down the curve that does that and is just generally good.

Reidane, God of the Worthy Lurrus of the Dream-Den Radha, Heart of Keld

Three also has a lot of good standalone Pyre finds. Lurrus of the Dream-Den (Cat Nightmare) is the most obvious freeroll possible. Radha, Heart of Keld (Elf Warrior) is just a good card. Reidane, God of the Worthy (God) is a preemptive hold on Embercleave and Doomskar, though Linvala, Shield of Sea Gate (Angel Wizard) might be a more permanent resolution to the second of those.

Harald, King of Skemfar Harald Unites the Elves Moritte of the Frost

Three is also a good spot to discuss how Pyre of Heroes helps set up a true combo from Kaldheim: Harald Unites the Elves plus Moritte of the Frost. If you cast Harald Unites the Elves and return Moritte, you can copy the Saga and trigger the first chapter again. If you manage to get another Moritte, you can copy the Saga again, legend-rule away one of the Moritte Sagas, have the new Saga trigger recur the just-legend’ed Moritte back, and loop to mill your entire library. In addition to infinite self-mill, this combo is also infinite constellation triggers. The hurdle is finding a second Moritte when you are planning to Unite the Elves, but with Pyre and Acolyte of Affliction that almost becomes irrelevantly easy.

Two and One Mana

Two-drops and one-drops are bit easier. There aren’t a lot of high-impact things to find, so it’s largely just filling out your curve with cards that enable everything else.

Gilded Goose Whisper Squad Jaspera Sentinel

To break up the flow, the one-drops in Standard aren’t that exciting and there isn’t a changeling. Non-changeling two-drops are almost always going to be the start of a chain.

Steelbane Hydra Mesmeric Fiend

Bad news up front: there isn’t a two-drop Hydra or Horror for Grakmaw. That’s a lot of Masked Vandals to be played. There’s also a lot of stuff that’s clearly worse than Masked Vandal that “has good types” at two, and I’ll try to skip all that stuff and hit the real gems.

Fiend Artisan

There’s a good Nightmare for Lurrus of the Dream-Den though. Fiend Artisan has never been a reason to build a toolbox deck like this, but if you are already on this path it can’t hurt the card.

Acquisitions Expert Elderfang Disciple

In terms of raw fodder, the discard creatures are probably the best options, but I think just playing a creature that makes mana and ignoring the value in favor of making more plays is going to have a better result.

Mire Triton

Self-mill is actually a liability in Pyre of Heroes decks. The normal heuristic of milling a card is no different than if the milled card was on the bottom of your deck; the exception is always if you were utilize your entire deck, as you’re cutting access to the total of what you can produce. You do actually look at your entire deck in a normal game of Pyre Magic, probably multiple times, so randomly removing cards from it does actually impact your options.

Corridor Monitor

There will be no Corridor Monitor chain cheating in Standard. There isn’t a one-drop Construct, and the locked in two-cost activation of Pyre also cuts into that plan.

Drannith Magistrate

Shaheen Soorani, sitting in his office chair, hovering sadly over an uncastable Doomskar.

Three Starting Lists

Going through what I’ve just laid out, I think there are three main directions to take a Pyre of Heroes deck: Moritte combo, party, and just good clean value.

Moritte Combo is easily the most straightforward of the three options. You don’t really have questions about what five-drop you want to find, because it should just be Moritte. The core combo is all Humans anyway, including the backup kill conditions of Syr Konrad, the Grim and Eutropia the Twice-Favored, so you don’t even have to think too hard about weird chains.

Realmwalker is maximized in this shell, even if you don’t need it to bridge type gaps. There are 23 Humans in this deck to cast, but there are also Skull Prophets and Pyre of Heroes to clear dead cards off the top of your deck and fix future draws.

The main thing this preliminary list is missing is a good Shriekmaw, or even just a removal spell. The sideboard Skyclave Shades might not actually be what you want if opponents are coming for your graveyard, and you can just play Murderous Rider as a happy compromise between removal and getting somewhere. If you do that, you probably want a Polukranos, World Eater to chain into.

A step less linear than this, you have the Abzan Party deck.

I don’t think you need to max out on Pyre in a party shell since the rest of your gameplan is so sleek and you aren’t getting quite the high-cost toolbox out of it that other decks are, but Pyre provides some nice depth to the strategy. Part of this is that I prefer the broad power of Ross’s list to the Elves shell Sam proposed that is almost certainly a better Pyre deck.

That doesn’t mean I can’t steal some of Sam’s toolbox ideas to make the Abzan Party deck better. Access to at least one Tazri, Beacon of Unity seems good to find with Coveted Prize when you already have the main thing you want. Ross also seemed exceptionally short on Wizards, and the fix of “play more changelings” is great there.

I’m also very willing to splash off-color tutor targets with Jaspera Sentinels if I’ve already committed to burning four slots of my deck on the card. Basic lands are for chumps who don’t want to spend rare wild cards on Pathways until they are forced to.

Jegantha, the Wellspring would technically be a way to make that splash work, but I’m more into being able to Coveted Prize up a Rankle for haste damage.

I don’t quite know how you want to shape the sideboard here. Each party member you draw is so clutch I don’t really want to dilute the deck too much, so the best sideboard might actually just be a bunch of Pyre and Coveted Prize targets.

And now for the actual hard part: value Pyre.

Of the three, I think I’m the least happy with this list. I’m happy with it being the list that has the most flexibility in sideboarding because it’s just a pile of value creatures, but it’s missing a key component.

I’m reminded of how the original Standard Birthing Pod decks were background noise that occasionally showed up until Core Set 2013 brought back Elvish Visionary, at which point the archetype started rapidly evolving into something really broken. That Elvish Visionary piece is exactly what is missing again: just a good two-drop that’s the right thing to sacrifice. I think that creature is a mana producer with good types, but that could cut both ways if there’s a well-typed thing to find off Lotus Cobra released.

What didn’t I cover today that I’m most excited about? What might be missing a single card from an upcoming set?

Luminous Broodmoth Thornmantle Striker

There’s another infinite combo in Standard you can set up with Pyre of Heroes: Luminous Broodmoth, Thornmantle Striker removing a flying counter from itself, and any sacrifice outlet. I haven’t figured out what you do from there, but just that loop existing is interesting.

Before you ask, Blitz Leech can’t target itself. I checked.

Skyclave Apparition Yasharn, Implacable Earth

Similarly, the Skyclave Apparition lists feel short a playable two-drop Spirit. I think everything else works out for them: mana, payoffs, and so on.

Fiend Artisan Lurrus of the Dream-Den

The Fiend Artisan lists are really missing one-drops to sacrifice to Fiend Artisan and not much else. You don’t really want to be sacrificing the midrange bodies most of these decks are full of to activate Artisan and you don’t want to be playing a Nightmare with Squad Commander.

Pyre of Heroes

Really, I think the important part has been showing that Pyre of Heroes isn’t actually as far from Birthing Pod as it seems. The two-cost activation stifles a lot of the really egregious “blink the Pod” nonsense, but the last Birthing Pod deck before the card was banned played Siege Rhino.

If the fair applications of Birthing Pod were deemed too good for Modern, what is really holding Pyre of Heroes back besides a lot of Gatherer searches?