Hello and welcome back to the Lab. As should be evident by now, the Magic community has been thrust into the horrific and splendid world of New Phyrexia. Such a gruesome and attention-grabbing plane should naturally be filled with gruesome and awesome cards. The fully revealed Card Image Gallery certainly attests to this. Upon reading, scanning, downloading, and salivating over the cards, I admit I am filled with awe. And grue, I suppose.
New Phyrexia's main mechanical pull is the introduction of Phyrexian mana to the game's timeline. I must confess I am within the target audience for this mechanic. For one, it's very visually stimulating, an aspect that generally appeals to me. I like myself a bizarre-looking Magic card (previous favorite candidates of mine have been Odds // Ends, Reaper King, and Curse of the Fire Penguin) and I'd say all the Phyrexian mana cards fall into this category. The creative process that went into the mechanic (as outlined by Mark Rosewater on Monday) is extremely fascinating. Making a set-defining mechanic on a deadline with four restrictions sounds wonderfully creative and challenging.
Other parts of the set appeal to me as well, like the cycle of Chancellors (riffing directly on the tiny pocket of design space otherwise known as the "opening hand") and the legendary Praetors, all of which scare me to death. In the coming weeks I'll no doubt come up with some cool ways to use these and other cards from New Phyrexia. This is as good a time as any to sound the Johnny conch shell: Send me your ideas! I've already received a couple, but I'd love more for the next couple of weeks.
But back to the focus of this column. Since the whole set's been revealed, the card I want to write about today isn't a preview card. Therefore, Birthing Pod is my first ever re-view card. Ha.
Birthing Pod is certainly a unique card. One of my favorite hidden aspects of Magic cards is converted mana cost, and as such I love it when cards directly mention it. Birthing Pod allows you to gradually grow any creature into any more expensive creature. So you can start with a lowly Llanowar Elves and end up with Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre... if you play your cards right. Literally.
- Pod Lunacy
As you're about to see, building around Birthing Pod leads to insanity. Just a warning.
When building around Birthing Pod, I knew I needed to put emphasis on creatures. Specifically, a barrage of creatures that hit every converted mana cost. And these creature chains don't have to be exclusively green. Birthing Pod may technically be green, but thanks to the painful flexibility of Phyrexia, it can slip into any deck with only a couple of scratches. Okay, lots of scratches.
Here are some tricks you can pull with Birthing Pod. One is to cheat out a card with a high converted mana cost early, quickly force it into the Pod, and watch some huge fat guy emerge. There are various ways to accomplish this. Abilities like morph, evoke, and suspend can get high converted mana costs out earlier than normal. (Not coincidentally, those are some of my favorite abilities ever. Morph is certainly number one, for anyone gathering deCordova trivia.)
Want a crazy deck? All righty then! Let's say you cast a Joraga Treespeaker on turn one and level it up once on turn two. Turn three, play a land (five mana total now) and a morph creature face down. Turn four, cast Birthing Pod for three (paying 2 life), pay a blue mana to flip up Scornful Egotist (!) and pay an additional mana and 2 more life to transform the Egotist into, oh, an Inkwell Leviathan. I'd personally die laughing, since the normally pathetic Scornful Egotist is one of my favorite cards specifically for reasons like this. Instead of the Leviathan, how about Reya Dawnbringer? The legendary Angel can bring back the Egotist every turn to be thrown into the Pod again. Obviously you don't want to keep fetching Reyas, but you could slowly amass a ton of powerful nine-mana beatsticks.
Hmm, lets head to an appropriately parallel set for inspiration: Fifth Dawn, the last set of the first Mirrodin block. Fifth Dawn had a powerful cycle of nine-mana fatties called Bringers, all of which warp the board. Bringer of the White Dawn is like a Reya for artifacts, Bringer of the Green Dawn makes 3/3 Beast tokens (which can be thrown into the Pod to find more Joraga Treespeakers, if necessary), Bringer of the Red Dawn steals creatures (which can be sacrificed to Birthing Pod, which delights me because I'd have no idea what converted mana cost it would be), and the Black and Blue Dawns get you some card advantage.
Since I'm playing around with Bringers, I may as well find ways to amass . Composite Golem seems to fit here, since both Reya and the White Dawn can repeatedly return it. Here's where Birthing Pod really shines. If you build around it correctly, you can basically tutor for any creature you need. So if I've a bunch of Bringers in my hand and no Composite Golem around, I can just sacrifice any five-mana creature to find it. Hmm... five-mana creature, five-color deck subtheme, first New Phyrexia Preview Week... I got nothing.
Ow. Etched Monstrosity just elbowed me in the temple.
We'll need a four-coster to find the Monstrosity, though. Worldheart Phoenix comes up huuuuge here, as it can be sacrificed repeatedly to find Monstrosities (and Mulldrifters, too.) Just pay from a Composite Golem (or Crystal Quarry activation.) Farhaven Elf is our three-coster that also finds the missing land types, which is generally helpful. Loaming Shaman is a silver bullet in case the graveyard is a bit too packed.
Altogether, it's an otherworldly five-color Birthing Pod into Bringers deck. That's zany enough, right?
That deck hits every converted mana cost except seven, since the only eight-coster is Scornful Egotist, and I'd rather cast that one face down. But every other number is accounted for. The early guys are mana accelerators that are really necessary to get the deck moving. A fun trick is to evoke Mulldrifter for only three mana, sacrifice it to Birthing Pod with the evoke ability on the stack to find Composite Golem, and still draw two cards.
See, Birthing Pod just lends itself naturally to restrictive synergy decks, the type of deck I love to build. You can shoehorn tons of creature oriented combos into a single deck and have Birthing Pod be the thread weaving them all together. It's nifty. And in honor of its niftiness, I'm proud to present the first ever reader-emailed idea during a preview week. Normally readers don't know about sets until us columnists gradually reveal them, but since New Phyrexia got its big reveal on Monday, some sharp readers have already informed me of their ideas. I mentioned it above, remember?
Anyway, Chris Woodiel (who came up with a nifty Arboria combo a while back) decided Birthing Pod wanted to be untapped with Aphetto Alchemist. And he also decided that anything the Pod brought in would naturally set off an alarm. An Intruder Alarm, so to speak. Intruder Alarm's one of the most spectacularly broken cards ever, but since I haven't used it in a long, long time, I'm happy to have it grace the Johnny stage once more.
Anyway, Chris has the foundation for an infinite combo. Adding two Birds of Paradise in there tips the eight over. Tap the Birds for two mana and sacrifice a Wild Mongrel to Birthing Pod. (What's the Mongrel for? Patience, patience...) No matter what the Pod births, Aphetto Alchemist untaps the Pod, and then Intruder Alarm untaps the Alchemist and the Birds. Infinite Birthing!
So how does the deck actually win? Inspired by my usage of Massacre Wurm alongside Hunted Phantasm from a while back, Chris's deck wanted to find the Phantasm, then sacrifice that to find Hunted Troll, then that to find Hunted Dragon, and finally inch towards a Massacre Wurm that should win the game instantly. By then your opponent should have twelve tokens, ensuring a life loss of 24.
Wild Mongrel was Chris's chosen two-drop, because if Hunted creatures or the Wurm wound up stuck in his hand, he could ditch them and reshuffle them in eventually with Elixir of Immortality. Brainstorm also mixes up hands and libraries. Here's Chris's deck.
Birthing Pod is a great card that slides into tons of strategies. Go out and discover them! Get creative! Send me ideas! Bask in the shadow of New Phyrexia! Come back next week! All of the above!