Kumagoro42's picture
By: Kumagoro42, Gianluca Aicardi
Oct 20 2011 8:04pm
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 I'm not a Spike. Never been. I played Magic since 1995, and back in the days I had a group of (kinda competitive) MTG-playing friends that used to bring me to official tournaments all over the country, or even abroad (I'm in Italy, so that means France and Switzerland). I never brought to these events a single deck that a Spike wouldn't find terrible. I knew they weren't competitive decks, but I couldn't help. The Spike way wasn't just "not my cup of tea"; it was utterly alien to me.

 Years later, when I read the well-known MaRo article linked above and learned about the MTG psychographic profiles, I realized that I was, essentially, everything but a Spike. I would say I'm 50% Johnny, 30% Timmy, 10% Melthos, and 10% something else. This latter 10% is currently influencing very heavily the way I relate to the game.

 I'm a deckbuilder. I love to build decks. I spend hours just doing that, researching cards, interactions and combos; tweaking and fixing; finding the cards I miss or the best replacements for them; testing the decks in solitaire games. And looking at the finished work (or, to better say, the current step in a neverending work in progress) like a painter would look at his canvas. I take great pleasure from that. I have hundreds of decks, accurately classified (and thousands of discarded, failed projects). Sometimes, I even play them. It's like I don't even think about playing them when I build them. Deckbuilding is a self-contained activity to me. I'm an Accidental Player.

Enchanted EveningMaralen of the MornsongRakka MarPower Conduit

If I built decks around each of these cards? Yes, I did. If I then ever actually played them? Nope.

 The psychographic profiles are misinterpreted sometimes. People seem to think that if you're a Spike, you want to win; if you're not, you don't care. That's deeply wrong: Johnnies want to win. Timmies want to win. The only difference resides in their approach to this goal. (Also, no, Spikes aren't willing to do everything in order to win, cheating included; Spikes are often actually very fair players, cheaters just belong to a transversal profile: the Jerk). Spikes rationalize their approach to winning, and only use the best, more effective cards and strategies towards this goal, discarding everything else. Johnnies only take satisfaction by winning through elaborate, mindbending strategies and combos. Timmies love to prevail in flashy, larger-than-life, empowering ways. But everyone's final aim is smashing the opponent somehow.

 Another common misconception is that decks built by pure Johnnies are unplayable, and decks built by pure Timmies are just bad. That's true only if we're talking of Johnnies and Timmies whom are bad at deckbuilding (Timmies can often be bad at playing, but that's not our point here). Pure Johnny decks and pure Timmy decks are surely bad from a Spike's point of view. But they can be built wisely. They can be effective, if not consistent. In short, there's good versions and bad versions of Johnny and Timmy decks. And this overly long introduction was just meant to say that this series of articles will be devoted to show how it's possible to build good Johnny/Timmy decks with the purpose of win games. And also how to put a bit of Spike in there, without becoming entirely Spike-ish. (I will not talk here about the difference between competitive and casual -- that's another matter, and a very complex one, if somehow directly linked. Maybe we'll talk about it in future installments).

 Since the 1v1 formats I'm playing are Standard, Modern and Legacy Tribal Wars, here's what I'll do: each article, I'll take a specific card or strategy or archetype and I'll propose decklists for these three formats. Together, they encompass the whole card pool. Standard is always the best indicator of the "state of the game", it emphasizes novelty and innovation, and it's also the most used format in 2HG PREs. Modern is currently the safest way to enlarge the Standard card pool (it's de facto what Extended was 2 years ago) without meeting uber-broken plays. And Legacy Tribal Wars, if built properly, is a fine way to play within the Legacy pool (i.e. almost every card existing online) and still dribbling power decks with turn-3 win strategies, which are hardly what a Johnny/Timmy seek in the game, since both Johnnies and Timmies like the setups as much as they like the punchlines (that's why Commander is the ultimate Johnny/Timmy format, but I'm skipping it because it's too different from everything else, so it wouldn't make sense for me to include Commander decklists here. Also, there are great Commander writers on PureMTGO already).

 So, let's start. To celebrate the birth of this series, I wanted to build around a card that was both poignant and topical. And the best-fitting choice was this:

Birthing Pod

What's more topical than this?

 Birthing Pod is actually a very interesting blend of the three main profiles. Johnnies like it because it's a classic shenanigan engine and you can do sick combos with it (more on that later). Timmies like it because you are allowed, and somehow encouraged, to include big creatures in the deck, and you win through an array of different, powerful effects. (Timmies like toolbox decks enough, because Timmies like variety and having 1-ofs in their decks). And Spikes respect it too, because Pod decks are currently relevant in several metagames, and have been able to win tournaments.

 The first aspect of Birthing Pod that catches the eye is its cheating into play effect. But looking at the Pod this way is actually the wrong approach. Green has had plenty of cheating into play cards, like these:

Pattern of RebirthDefense of the Heart

Tooth and NailChord of Calling

Kind of the basic package of any green-based Commander deck I ever built

 And especially this one:

Natural Order

Now, that's fearful, uh?

 While Natural Order is clearly a more powerful card (and currently one of the most expensive in the game indeed), and surely it's something a Timmy likes a lot, it's hardly a Johnny card. It's too straightforward, and not really versatile when you look closer. First of all, it needs green creatures, both as a target and as a sacrifice fuel. (Funnily enough, I once got my Natural Orders shut down by Darkest Hour). But the main issue with Natural Order, deckbuilding-wise, is that it doesn't call for deckbuilding choices anymore. Not after Conflux gave us this guy:


The Soul of the World has returned... to kick ass and take names

 Now when you see a Natural Order on the stack, you know Progenitus is coming. That's like the perfect marriage between Spike and Timmy, yet Johnny is just bored to death by all that. Natural Order isn't a "build around me" card anymore (if it ever was), it's just part of a 5-card package you can add to virtually any Legacy deck that generates green mana through mana creatures. (You can even see the "NO Prog" package in some sideboards, as a surprise move for game 2).

 The actual Birthing Pod value doesn't reside in its "cheating into play" aspect. The big difference between all the cards above and Birthing Pod is that the Pod isn't a one-shot effect. It's an engine. And, like we'll learn, it doesn't even require green to work. Let's see how all this unfolds.


Standard Birthing Pod

 This is where all starts, because the Pod is a quite recent addition to the card pool after all. And the very first Pod decks were BG standard builds, like this one: 


 This is from before the recent rotation, so the mana base needs to be adjusted (Verdant Catacombs becomes Woodland Cemetery, Tectonic Edge becomes Ghost Quarter), and some of the creatures are not legal anymore, notably Obstinate Baloth (it can be replaced by either Peace Strider or Hollowhenge Scavenger).

 The trick is simple: switch between a vast range of creatures with nice "enters the battlefield" (and some "dies") effects, which basically makes them totally expendable once the effects went off, escalating into higher casting costs until you hit the big threats at the end of the curve. The presence of so many utility one-shot creatures, doubling as effective road blocks, makes it perfectly possible to control the board long enough to win, even without the Pod actually showing up. The Pod itself, however, is the key to the fast access to all the different silver bullets in the deck (in a way that reminds of a classic card like Survival of the Fittest, to which the Pod bears indeed more resemblance than to the abovementioned "cheating into play" effects). It also gives you a way to keep your opponents guessing: since most of the 1-ofs of the deck are vastly customizable, it's hard to predict what you're going to "pod in" next.

 When we're building a Pod deck is therefore very important to organize properly the mana curve. Let's examine that previous build, breaking it up into what I like to call the "stations", i.e. the different casting cost levels.


Spellskite Spellskite: you don't actually need to start the "Pod escalation" from casting cost 2. The deck is able to accelerate nicely, so you will frequently have a 3cc or 4cc creature on the board by the time the Pod will show up. In fact, 2cc is more of an ending point from the "podding" of a redundant or no more essential Birds of Paradise. And Spellskite is usually what you want to find this way, since it protects both the critical creatures and the Pods themselves.

Perilous Myr  Perilous Myr: that's part of a very popular sub-combo with Glissa, the Traitor. The Perilous Myr is an amazing road block by itself, messing with any aggro deck's early attacks. And when you sacrifice it to fetch a Viridian Corrupter and kill both those Porcelain Legionnaires while Glissa is giving you your little dude back, that's the sweetest the deck can be in the early turns.

Viridian Emissary Viridian Emissary: road block and mana acceleration. Before the rotation we had the Sylvan Ranger option too, but Emissary was strictly better anyway.


Glissa, the Traitor Glissa, the Traitor: a centerpiece of the BG builds. Glissa is an unpassable defense on the ground, and a combo enabler with both Perilous Myr and Sylvok Replica (plus Wurmcoil Engine, if she's still around at that point).

Sylvok Replica Sylvok Replica: it might looks like a self-sacrificing creature isn't that good in a deck built around a sacrifice engine, but the Replica is the only available creature able to answers both artifacts and enchantments, it does combo with Glissa, and being colorless it's good to stop/kill protected creatures too.

Viridian Corrupter Viridian Corrupter: especially relevant in a meta where Steel decks were a dominating force (I often found myself with 4 Corrupters and 4 Replicas after sideboarding). Post-rotation might need to be re-evaluated.

Phyrexian Rager Phyrexian Rager: card advantage is always sweet, and some builds had up to 4 of these guys, but here is where the Bant builds were strictly better, having access to the vastly superior Sea Gate Oracle, which is now sadly gone.

Cadaver Imp Cadaver Imp: that's another card that the rotation took out (Pilgrim's Eye was another option for this station). It was good for recursion at a low casting cost, the current options being all 4cc or more.


Skinrender Skinrender: the Alien-looking zombie is still an amazing removal on legs. One of the reasons you want to build a Pod in black.

Obstinate Baloth Obstinate Baloth: the enemy of burn, fast aggro and discard strategies is unfortunately no more with us. The replacements are all underwhelming, to the point where you can question if you really need life gaining, even if it's not unusual to take 4 damage from phyrexian mana in order to accelerate the first Pod usage alone.

Entomber Exarch Entomber Exarch: both the aimed discard and the recursion are strong options. A tactical card that's not crucial but hard to leave out.

Solemn Simulacrum Solemn Simulacrum: M12 brought us the perfect Pod card, able to create nice effects both by entering and leaving the battlefield. And Glissa loves it too.

Phyrexian Metamorph Phyrexian Metamorph: the way to make your Pod copy itself. Plus another hundred uses.


Acidic Slime Acidic Slime: hitting the higher casting costs, we need to find strong cards. The slime is definitely one of them.

Precursor Golem Precursor Golem: if we manage to sacrifice the "alpha golem" fast enough, we get a couple of safe 3/3 creatures for free during the process of hitting higher casting costs. This is the station you hit when you don't have sensible targets for the Slime. Another option here is Clone Shell: these are all guys that you like to see come and go.


Wurmcoil Engine Wurmcoil Engine: one of the strongest creatures of the format, it's also somehow "expendable", since it leaves two lesser parts of itself when it leaves. Plus it's Glissa's BFF.

Massacre Wurm Massacre Wurm: it can be a win-con by itself against the right deck. This slot is highly customizable though (and you can also try to include more 6cc slots). Other popular options are Grave Titan and Brutalizer Exarch.


Sheoldred, Whispering One Sheoldred, Whispering One: as the top end of the curve, she's less explosive than her pal Elesh, but she's also more heavily linked to the deck's strategy. If she's able to stick, it's good game in a few turns of course. Other (no more viable) options here included Avenger of Zendikar.

 In the example above, the deck is focused on the low parts of the mana curve (there are 7 2cc creatures, 7 3cc creatures, 6 4cc creatures, and only 3 5cc creatures, 2 6cc creatures and 1 7cc creature). That's because the meta was fast and furious back then. In a slower meta, you can put more emphasis on the big guys. Innistrad actually just gave us a way to do that without slowing down too much. Thanks to this card:


  A Pod deck fueled by Heartless Summoning looks like this:


 With Morkrut Banshee as Skinrender's big sister, and the demons' firepower and card advantage, this becomes a high-octane Pod deck, where the Pod itself is just one of the tricks. And so far we have explored only the BG side of the Pod world. The number of variants is huge (every color got good ETB creatures to exploit, after all). The Bant version is probably one of the strongest:


 The power play here is Sun Titan interacting with Phantasmal Image, thus creating a ripple effect of cloned Titans bringing back more stuff from the graveyard. Plus Archon of Justice is both a reliable beater and a Vindicate on legs, and Venser is able to join the party for more recursive ETB fun.

 And like I said earlier, the green is not even needed at all for a Pod deck to function (that's how the phyrexian mana is supposed to work, after all). Here's an Esper version concocted by Paul Leicht a.k.a. Winter.Wolf for a 2HG tournament (again, that's from before rotation).


 Last things to add, this is the Pod's nemesis:

Torpor Orb

 And this is its best friend:

Mimic Vat

 The newcomer Stony Silence (Null Rod's cooler grandchild) is often seen as another strong Pod hoser, but it's actually easier to deal with. Both are defeated by Sylvok Replica, another strong reason to include multiples of it in any Pod deck. Finally, the Pod/Vat alliance is a strong one, but building heavily around the two of them means shifting the focus to the control side, probably reducing the number of creatures in favor of some sweepers.

 And now that we have covered all the basic concepts, let's widen the perspective.


Modern Birthing Pod

 Here be dragons. Modern opens the Pod to a vast number of "enters the battlefield" and "dies" effects, capable of generating several sick combos and interactions. Here's one of the most popular:

Phantasmal ImageBody DoubleReveillarkYosei, the Morning Star

 With a dying Reveillark being able to bring back both Phantasmal Image and Body Double (copying Reveillark again) while at the same time fetching Yosei, the result is sheer craziness. Probably leading to the paralysis of all the opponent's permanents. A favorite for the top of the curve here is Protean Hulk, for more fetching shenanigans. Modern Pod decks are also the perfect base to incorporate other combos, that become easier to pull off due to the tutoring effect of the Pod. The possibilities are endless, as far as creature combos go (Kiki-Jiki and his friends come to mind, for instance). Very frequently seen in this early stage of the Modern development is the Melira combo.

Viscera SeerMelira, Sylvok OutcastKitchen FinksMurderous Redcap

 Here's a Pod deck that tries and abuses the infinite persistance caused by the lovely scout's presence on the board:


Legacy Tribal Wars Birthing Pod

  And finally, let's take a look at a couple of tribes whose inherent ETB effects could benefit from a Pod build (there's many more, of course).


 The interesting element here is Gleancrawler, who's able to bring back anything that has been sacrificed to fetch it. There's also a 8cc slot (this way Protean Hulk's sacrifice is not wasted): Devouring Strossus is a Timmilicious beater, that's supposedly maintained by Creakwood Liege.


 The battleplan with these Bant Humans is more clearly defined: they try to pod away Academy Rector in order to fetch simultaneously Doubling Season and  Knight-Captain of Eos, followed by Captain of the Watch (then, hopefully, Elesh or the Avenger). This way we'll be able to generate a lot of soldier tokens, that both the Captain and the Praetor will boost for the win. Speaking of putting some Spike in there, Swords to Plowshares isn't a Johnny or Timmy favorite, of course (the same goes for the Dismembers seen in previous decks). That's a measure to try and be competitive enough, but it's easily replaced, in this case, by more enchantments for the Rectors to fetch (including something to pump the tokens some more). Also, Parallel Lives should replace Doubling Season here, since there are no counters to duplicate. But I really hate that art.

 Before wrapping up, I just want to mention that the painting I used for the logo of the series is Le tripot (The Gambling Den) by Jean-Eugène Buland (1852–1926). The poster you can see behind the characters is this one (for this and all the Magic: The Gathering logos, © Wizards of the Coast LLC). It's a new and truly beautiful promotional image by Brad Rigney, featuring all the current planeswalkers. The lady merfolk between Garruk and Liliana is Kiora Atua, only seen on the Xbox 360 videogame so far. The fact that they asked Rigney to add her might mean we will have her in card form in the future. (I really hope so, she's UG and her description mentions that she worships and controls krakens and leviathans. My inner Timmy is already dreaming of a "search your library for a leviathan card and put it onto the battlefield" ultimate!). Also, Venser isn't there because he apparently died to free Karn, and Bolas isn't there because he's too evil to pose for a group photo. And Liliana is that hot because, you ever wondered how she makes all those creatures sacrifice themselves? And the other planeswalkers (included her own ally) lose their minds over her? Yeah, that way. The world's oldest magic trick.

 See you next week, and in the meantime, stay tuned for scenes from the next episode.

Hibernation's End

Yeah, that's Birthing Pod's weird uncle


Yeah you can tell the Timmy by Paul Leicht at Thu, 10/20/2011 - 22:29
Paul Leicht's picture

Yeah you can tell the Timmy in me influenced my Esper deck. :) 1 ofs all over the place (and no Ascendant??). I was a little surprised to this article, but Im glad you posted it. Nicely done Kuma.

Holy cow, this article is by PiDave at Fri, 10/21/2011 - 02:45
PiDave's picture

Holy cow, this article is packed with awesome tech to the brim! :O

Great work Kuma! Also, your Accidental Player psychographic profile hits me right on the mark. I'm already looking forward to read this series so keep up the good work!!!

P.S. I'm currently in a state of Commander-n00biness and this article alone is a gold mine. You should consider my rating as 7 fireballs, not just 5.

stony silence by sanity at Fri, 10/21/2011 - 04:26
sanity's picture

Did I miss something, or can Sylvok Replica not, in fact, deal with Stony Silence. The Silence turns the Replica off too, no?

Right, Acidic Slime on the by Paul Leicht at Fri, 10/21/2011 - 05:24
Paul Leicht's picture

Right, Acidic Slime on the other hand deals with Silence.

Thanks for the comments and by Kumagoro42 at Fri, 10/21/2011 - 11:02
Kumagoro42's picture

Thanks for the comments and appreciation, guys!
Yeah, I stand corrected about Replica. I knew I was going to screw up something along the line! :)
Anyway, I see Stony Silence is currently sold at bulk price. The fact that artifact decks are apparently gone means nobody will care to put Silence in their sideboards just to mess with the occasional Pod deck (also because in that case, Torpor Orb is still strictly better: Silence stops just 1 card, Orb turns 90% of the Pod deck into vanilla).

Well written with lots of by Leviathan at Fri, 10/21/2011 - 17:33
Leviathan's picture

Well written with lots of deck lists. Really good article.