Over the weekend, I Top 4’d a Star City Games Invitational Qualifier with a B/G Birthing Pod deck. Granted, there were only 18 people in the tournament, but 12 booster packs is still a great prize, and the deck was a blast to play. As someone who’s inclined to play Birthing Pod and who’s won something with it, and as Birthing Pod is still a cheap pickup from most online stores, now’s a fantastic time to investigate what to do with it in other formats. While Birthing Pod is a slow setup against some people, it’s nigh unto unbeatable for others, and it can live up pretty easily to my/its spoiler-season hype.
So what makes it so great?
There are a couple basic awesomes about the Pod. In my experience, they are:
- Sacrificing as the cost of an activated ability. That doesn’t sound important on the surface, but generally it’s hard to respond both to sacrifice-as-cost and activated abilities. If you just need to find something, you can cast its Pod partner, see if it resolves, and immediately have priority again. Resolving Acidic Slime equals resolving a Titan, and that option is fantastic. If it looks like the coast is clear, you can attack with a creature and Pod it second main phase; I did this a lot in the tournament.
- Interacting positively with enters-the-battlefield triggers. I built my deck around them, and it can pay off if you have a good chain of creatures. The Phyrexian green in the activation cost can work wonders here. My primary 3-drop was Liliana’s Specter (you’ll see why when I give the decklist later) and my primary 4-drop was Entomber Exarch. So I could play the Pod on turn 3, pay 1BB for Liliana’s Specter on turn 4, and then sacrifice it for a mana and 2 life and get an Entomber Exarch on the same turn. So for 2BB and 2 life, I made an opponent discard a card, then chose a noncreature card for them to discard, and had a 2/2. And if they used removal on the Specter in response to its discard trigger (which didn’t happen on Saturday), then they discarded a card anyway and I didn’t need to get the Exarch. Obviously, discard isn’t the only way to go, but getting two triggers out of drawing one creature can be absurdly good.
- Interacting positively with death. Do you have a reason to send creatures to the graveyard? Grave Pact, perhaps? What about Karador or Mimic Vat, which allow you to reuse all those wonderful entering triggers from the previous paragraph? Even just one extra reason to send creatures to the graveyard while upgrading your creatures can be devastating.
- Upgrading your creatures, which can be devastating. Whether you go for consistency, which I’d recommend in a 60-card deck, or a Commander-style toolbox, turning a creature you don’t need into one you do can make all the difference. If you have a game-ending bomb somewhere, let Birthing Pod find it. All you need is a worse creature.
- Faux-vigilance. This one came in handy plenty of times in the tournament. Swing with something evasive/big, sacrifice it on the second main phase, and have another creature ready to block. It becomes very difficult for the opponent to interact with you in combat with these options.
So what’s bad about it?
- Sacrificing the creature. If you’re the type who wants to overwhelm with a bunch of creatures, then trading one-for-one isn’t going to work for you.
- In some board states, trading up isn’t enough. You just need more creatures sometimes, and unless your deck has a creature that makes a bunch of dudes, the Pod won’t help.
- Setup time. This flows from the previous point; you’re trading an early turn to do absurd things later. Aggro has subsided enough in Standard to where this is okay right now, but your playgroup may not give you enough time to do cool things with it.
- If you take too much of a toolbox approach or are looking for too specific a Pod chain, your combo is fragile. Good things take time, and Birthing Pods take tapping. If you can’t win or at least hold serve with the early creatures in the chain, then you’ll get rolled over too often.
- Its approach is inherently weak in multiplayer. My approach is great for duels, but some creatures that melt duel face aren’t strong enough for multiplayer. Liliana’s Specter translates fine to multiplayer since it hits each opponent, but there aren’t too many good options in that vein.
I’ll list my deck from Saturday, opine about it, give a few theory-based Pod chains that should hold up in multiplayer, and leave the rest to you. Despite the limitations, Birthing Pod is fairly open-ended, and whether you build around it or just make it solid utility makes it different in each deck.
4 Sylvan Ranger
3 Liliana’s Specter
2 Phyrexian Rager
4 Entomber Exarch
3 Acidic Slime
2 Grave Titan
2 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
4 Birthing Pod
4 Mimic Vat
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Go for the Throat
4 Beast Within
3 Bala Ged Scorpion
This is about as Rock as Rock can be, with 14 discard spells involving 11 revealings of the hand. This was key for me; I had absurd amounts of disruption that slowed the opponent to where I could set up Pod/Vat interactions, enough knowledge of the opponent’s hand to know when I could resolve a Pod, and creature-based discard that attacked the hand and the life total. Because of all that discard, my finishers could wrap up games free of much interference. Without a Pod out, I still had the Mimic Vat to make combat and trades difficult (do you want me to put an Acidic Slime on the Vat?), and in the late game a topdecked Entomber Exarch could bring back my best dead things rather than force discard.
Really, Entomber Exarch stands for this deck’s entire approach: attrition through flexibility. If my early plays got countered or removed, then I made the opponent discard anyway; I was okay with that. But if I got to see the hand plenty of times and march a Pod and a creature onto the battlefield, several builds lacking spot removal would watch helplessly as I dropped bombs on their board and hand. Sheoldred was the ideal ending creature, as sacrificing a Wurmcoil Engine to find Sheoldred not only netted me two tokens but threatened to reanimate the Engine next turn anyway. In the end game, an active Birthing Pod makes countermagic basically irrelevant, as what I need to win is already on board. Late game draws of Despise or Inquisition were useful just to get an update on the opponent’s hand to ensure that my board state continued to be a winning one.
For what I faced, I’d take out Memoricide for some form of mass removal, though I’m not sure what. Go for the Throat and Beast Within did fine work, and Bala Ged Scorpion was very good all day (it kills Squadron Hawk, Stoneforge Mystic, Pulse Tracker, Blighted Agent, Glistener Elf, Soul’s Attendant, Serra Ascendant, and Spellskite, all while providing a 2/3 body and saving your spot removal for better targets).
So what are some ways you could take a Birthing Pod deck for multiplayer?
This way. Disrupt everybody’s hands, use Acidic Slime-style creatures to take out the biggest threat you can, and end with something huge and resilient.
The tokens way. If your creatures keep entering the battlefield bringing more creatures with them, then you lose the Pod disadvantage in multiplayer. Grave Titan and Wurmcoil Engine already fit into that, but there are plenty of other creatures across the colors that come with other creatures. With that many tokens, having a 1-mana creature for utility makes sense in the deck; I recommend Hex Parasite, though there are plenty of other fine specimens.
The sacrifice way. A Butcher of Malakir at the top of your Pod curve implies a whole deck around it. I suspect there are other creatures that imply a Pod deck as well.
The ? way. Birthing Pod hasn’t had much time for experimentation. What else could there be?
I don’t know, but I’m finding both success and fun with it in a stale format. In your more lively playgroup, what else could show up?
BONUS SECTION – RED DECK UPDATES
I went to the play night with monored Insects. It did not work well. I tend to build red decks as worse green decks. That obviously doesn’t do much, and so I’ll have to go another route probably. Last week’s comment suggestion of copy/redirect effects seems fun, although I don’t have enough cards for it. But as I was updating my card database for my foreign bulk purchase, I came across a card that was rated much higher in Gatherer than I expected until I read it more and figured it out – Laccolith Rig. For a common red Aura, this seems amazing on an opponent’s creature. Surely a multiplayer board will have some fatty that wants to attack every turn. Stick a Rig on it and not only do you get to decide whether the creature hits a player, you get to kill random things on the board for no investment on your part. The card seems like it can be quite powerful if I build the right shell, and it’s weird enough that I want to use it.
This is the type of thing that could make me take the Eldrazi out of mothballs; I hate the legendary ones, but Ulamog’s Crusher with a Laccolith Rig on it seems devastating in a creative way. The Eldrazi also like having Geosurge around, which I like. In short, it might be a “red cards I like with a semblance of synergy” deck. That’s not necessarily as tight as some of my decks, but it might be fun enough to put together and keep together, which is all I’m really looking for out of this endeavor. I’ll putter around with a few builds, but if you have any suggestions for Laccolith Rig, let me know.