Dangerous Propositions: Birthing Pod
- Gianluca Aicardi
The Modern ban list is a maximum-security prison with 33 inmates, some of which pose a potentially serious threat to the meta. But now that Big Jace has been released, anything can happen. I'll cover each offender in its own article to see who is eligible for parole, starting with the godmother of interactive combo decks.
There’s no denying that Birthing Pod has been a major force in the first three and a half years of Modern, until it was finally banned on January 2015. Which means we’re currently close to have had as many Modern seasons without Pod as there had been with the Pod as a playable card.
Full disclosure: I was a Pod lover and still am a Pod apologist. The official reasoning behind its banning was that too many Pod decks were around at the time, and they were consistently successful. They weren’t invincible, though, nor their basic mechanics too oppressive per se. Pod was ultimately removed from the meta mostly for the sake of diversity, which is an argument I reject because, at least where Pod was concerned, games hardly felt the same, in the way that they mostly do when playing with and against non-interactive combo decks like Valakut or Ad Nauseam, which require a precise set of “moves” executed in a precise order, with no other options than to pursue their one-way battleplan. Pod decks, on the other hand, were interactive builds with plenty of B-plans, involving a wide selection of cards that created a whole universe of possibilities, both in-game and during the deck building process.
An Abused Engine
The thing is… Pod suffered from a big misconception. It was uniquely seen as the enabler for the Melira Combo, or one of the other endgame maneuvers that the Pod builds would adopt.
It was just too alluring. The nature of the Pod as a repeatable fetching machine for creatures would immediately suggest a toolbox and, at that point, it was just a matter of finding the correct configuration for sealing the deal as quickly and reliably as possible. During Pod's tenure in Modern, we saw several of these endgames in action: you could fetch Kiki-Jiki, Mirror-Breaker to create infinite copies of Restoration Angel; or even better, you could start with a Murderous Redcap, pod him into Zealous Conscripts, untap the Pod, then turn the persisted Redcap into a freshly fetched Kiki-Jiki to start churning out Conscripts. One Pod, one creature, one turn, game over.
Toward the end, even more builds started to spread, like the Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder version. But Melira Pod would remain the most popular and successful Pod endgame; despite not consisting of a direct chain of podded creatures from one “Pod station” to the next, like the Redcap/Conscripts/Kiki-Jiki combo. The Melira build had the advantage of entirely residing on the lower side of the curve, with a 1-mana Viscera Seer (fetched by Ranger of Eos if need be) saccing a 4-mana Redcap (or 3-mana Kitchen Finks for lifegaining purposes) under the benevolent watch of a 2-mana Melira, Sylvok Outcast, who could keep those pesky -1/-1 counters away, setting the persister’s life cycle to anything less than infinity. Here’s what a winning pod list, piloted by Moises Rodriguez at a GPT Seville 2015, looked like a few weeks before its unceremonious expulsion from Modern:
|2Abrupt Decay||1Aven Mindcensor||2Choke|
|1Entomber Exarch||1Kataki, War's Wage||1Obstinate Baloth|
|1Qasali Pridemage||1Reclamation Sage||3Thoughtseize|
|1Thrun, the Last Troll||1Voice of Resurgence|
The World of Pod
Comboing off wasn’t the be-all and end-all of Birthing Pod, though. Or at least, it didn’t need to be. Nor was Pod the only way to achieve those endgame statuses - most of those combos, for instance, ended up being inherited by the Creatures Toolbox decks that kept flourishing after Birthing Pod’s demise; others, like Vizier of Remedies/Devoted Druid/Duskwatch Recruiter, were destined to take their place due to their superior efficiency and resilience to answers. After all, Chord of Calling was already a strong backup for Birthing Pod in Pod decks and Collective Company was printed just two months after Pod was banned, followed one year later by Eldritch Evolution, which is essentially a single Pod activation jumping two “stations” ahead. Both might not be as good as a proper Pod, but they’re more than enough to set up the endgame and reclaim a considerable share of the meta.
What they’re not, though, is as flexible as the Pod was. The challenge in both building and piloting a Pod deck was including the right creature to find at the right moment. It’s the green toolbox concept at its purest, the only true reworking of Survival of the Fittest in a not inherently broken capacity. Creatures with ETB or death triggers (or both, like Thragtusk) were the stars of the Pod universe and playing with something that felt close to a singleton deck was an ever-changing delight. And even when dispensing with endgame combos, Pod decks could prove successful. I’ve myself piloted this Jund build to first place in several online events from the first half of 2013:
|3Nature's Claim||3Spellskite||2Withered Wretch|
|2Sowing Salt||2Surgical Extraction||1Dosan the Falling Leaf|
|1Silklash Spider||1Silent Arbiter|
And while I had included here a Kiki-Jiki/Conscripts failsafe to answer the most cutthroat decks of the meta (but consciously avoiding to resort to it as much as possible), I also had a lot of fun and good success with this entirely combo-free Bant version, featuring delightful, only-for-Pod cards like Twilight Shepherd and a magnificent centerpiece in Glen Elendra Archmage.
|3Nature's Claim||3Spellskite||3Relic of Progenitus|
|2Runed Halo||2Aven Mindcensor||1Sylvok Replica|
|1Linvala, Keeper of Silence|
Pod People’s Republic
In summation, Birthing Pod decks were extremely popular for all the deadly combos that they enabled, and would have remained popular even if, say, Melira and Kiki-Jiki were banned instead (which is what I wish happened). But they wouldn’t be limited to a single list with minor variations, nor would they be linked to just a couple of color combinations; in fact, they would open the meta to all sorts of unusual, underplayed creatures, resulting in more variety and an overall richer game experience even with the constant presence of this one, superbly designed Phyrexian artifact. If the price to play is to see actual combo pieces banned, including the current creature-combo champion Vizier of Remedies, I’d say: go for it. And you know what? Even at the height of its reign, the Pod didn’t command much more of a meta dominance than Death’s Shadow did in 2017. That’s definitely something to think about.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.