Building Birthing Pod
Birthing Pod decks are the latest incarnation in a hallowed tradition of base-Green decks that make use of utility creatures, ways to search for them, and ways to reuse them. I have long been a fan of these decks. In the first major tournament I ever played, I played a three-color base-Green deck with a lot of creatures, and my power cards were Demonic Tutor and Regrowth. Even without any of the Power Nine, I managed to finish in second place. In the semifinals, I even met and defeated future Hall of Famer Dave Humpherys, who later became a close friend and teammate. After Tempest came out in 1997, I created Five-Color Kastle for New England Regionals that year:
I shared my idea with four friends, and between the five of us, we captured the top three spots at Regionals that year. I was among the two who missed the Top 8, but I made up for it by winning a single-elimination grinder tournament at Nationals that same year. The next year, I made the Top 8 of three different Grand Prix events using a Recurring Nightmare/Survival of the Fittest deck. I played The Rock at Pro Tour: Houston and used Vampiric Tutors to search for the cards I needed on my way to a third-place finish. The long list of multicolored Green creature decks I’ve played and have had success with (only a few of which I’ve mentioned here) is a reflection of my great love for the archetype. It’s no surprise that I’m also a big fan of Birthing Pod decks.
A good example of Birthing Pod in the new Standard is the deck played by Kouichi Tanaka to a Top 8 finish at Grand Prix: Hiroshima:
There are a few keys to building a Pod deck:
- The creature curve. This is the most important aspect: making sure you have good creatures at every point in the curve to Pod away and to Pod for.
- Silver bullets. This is a utility deck, and it’s important to have creatures that answer a variety of problems and that can create problems for each of the major deck types.
- Recursion. Being able to reuse your silver bullets is another essential part of a Pod deck.
I kept these principles in mind when building my version of Pod:
Tanaka has the standard 1-drops: Birds of Paradise and Avacyn’s Pilgrim. The deck has more Green mana than any other color, so it uses mana-producing creatures to help find its other colors—usually just White and Blue. You want to play enough of these mana-producing creatures to give you a good chance at finding one on the first turn, but few enough that you aren’t constantly top-decking them. I’m playing more Birds than Pilgrims because I need colors other than Green and White more often than Tanaka.
At 2 mana, we’re both using Viridian Emissary and Phantasmal Image. The Emissary is perfect for sacrificing, and the Image is great to search for. I also have Merfolk Looter, Azure Mage, and Myr Superion at 2. Control decks like Solar Flare are very popular right now, and I think Looters and the Mage help against control. One of the biggest problems with Pod is that it’s inconsistent; if it doesn’t find a Pod, it seems like just a random assortment of creatures. The Looters help with this problem. While it’s possible for the deck to cast the Superion, it’s mainly a great 2-drop to Pod for. If I draw the Superion or extra Pods, I can ditch them to my Looters.
One of the biggest differences between my version and Tanaka’s is that I have greater variety in my creature selection with more one-ofs. While my Looters help me be more consistent, Tanaka increases his deck’s consistency by playing more copies of various creatures that he considers important. Unfortunately, this still doesn’t help him find his Pods. 3 mana is another point in the curve where our decks diverge. We both have Blade Splicer, Fiend Hunter, and Skaab Ruinator, but I have Mentor of the Meek where he has Brindle Boar—another example of me being more worried about control and Tanaka being more worried about aggro.
At 4, we both have Phyrexian Metamorph and Solemn Simulacrum, but I have Stonehorn Dignitary where he has Wing Splicer. In this case, I’m making a bigger commitment to stopping aggression, but the Splicer is also better in his deck because he has more Blade Splicers. One could argue that the Splicer is both good to search for and to sacrifice, but I have Simulacrum for that at 4.
We both have Acidic Slime and Archon of Justice at 5, but he has more Slimes, and I have a Razor Hippogriff. Not only does the Hippogriff give me some life-gain to make up for not having a Boar, but there are a lot of potential targets: Vat, Pod, Simulacrum, Wurmcoil Engine, Superion, and Metamorph. It’s especially helpful when your opponent tries to break up your engine by destroying your Birthing Pod.
Our 6-drops are identical: Sun Titan, Frost Titan, and Wurmcoil Engine. The Engine is amazing against beatdown strategies. Frost Titan is great in almost any situation, especially against other Titans. The Sun Titan gives us more recursion for Vats and cool creatures that cost 3 or less—like Phantasmal Images, Skaab Ruinator, or in my case, Myr Superion.
At 7, we have Elesh Norn to shut down token decks and to have a permanent Overrun-like effect in our decks. One of the big differences between our decks is that I have a sorcery: Unburial Rites. I have a couple of them to give me more recursion and the ability to search my graveyard for answers or problems. This is another good reason for me to play Looters. It’s also another reason I can throw things away to Looters and not worry about being completely unable to ever use those creatures later.
With Looters and Birthing Pods, I can usually get to the creatures I need . . . when I need them. With Mimic Vat, Metamorphs, Unburial Rites, Sun Titan, and Hippogriff, I can use those key creatures over and over again.
My sideboard uses cards I can search for to address various possible opponents and the problems their decks might present. Acidic Slime, Sylvok Replica, and Viridian Corrupter give me more options against artifacts, enchantments, and land. Spellskite, Sunblast Angel, Fiend Hunter, Brindle Boar, Tree of Redemption, and Hollowhenge Scavenger give me more tools against burn decks and aggressive, creature decks. Trinket Mage gives me another mini-engine in my sideboard. I can use the Mage to search for Nihil Spellbomb or Elixir of Immortality, both of which can be excellent silver bullets for certain matchups. I particularly like the Elixir because I can use it to reset the creature selection in my deck for my Pod. Day of Judgment gives me some mass removal for tokens, aggro, or even potentially the mirror-match. Grand Abolisher is another good tool against control.
If Birthing Pod seems like your style, you could do much worse than just playing Tanaka’s exact list—it did get him into the Top 8 of a Grand Prix. I recommend at least fine-tuning your creature selection a little bit based on the expected metagame in your area. Cards like Azure Mage, Mentor of the Meek, Acidic Slime, and Grand Abolisher are good tools against control. Cards like Brindle Boar, Hollowhenge Scavenger, and Tree of Redemption are great against beatdown. If you’re expecting a deck like Tempered Steel, try more Acidic Slimes, Viridian Corrupter, or Sylvok Replica. Just make sure you have enough creatures to choose from at every part of the curve, and make sure you have enough recursion.