Birthing Pod is the most powerful thing you can be doing in Standard. This is not necessarily intuitive, but I believe Birthing Pod decks win more when they draw Birthing Pod than any other deck with its own best card (Delver when it draws Snapcaster Mage, Zombies when it draws Geralf’s Messenger, etc.).
The cost of playing Pod strategies is that they are often weakest when they don’t draw their namesake card. If Delver is a 7 out of 10 regardless of draw, Pod is a 10 when it does draw Pod—and a 2 or 3 when it doesn’t. The thing is, it doesn’t really take that much to make Pod decks great when they draw Pod. Thus, our goal should be to make a Pod deck that is as powerful as possible when it doesn’t draw Pod. Many people have turned to making a Zombie Pod deck to do this. However, I think the best way to address the issue is to make a deck as close to RG aggro as possible, with Pod essentially replacing Swords. Without further ado, Gru Pod:
This deck has the core of the RG aggro deck, including 8 Elves, 4 Strangleroot Geists, 4 Huntmaster of the Fells, and 4 Green Sun’s Zenith. In fact, it functionally has more copies of these cards, since there are also 3 Clones in the deck. The deck plays very differently against its various matchups, so most of this article will be discussing those individually—but there are some general tricks that are important to know:
First, Podding into a Huntmaster doesn’t count as playing a spell, so it will immediately flip. This works with either a 3-drop, or a Geist and a Pod at the start of the turn. You can turn Strangleroot Geist into Deceiver Exarch, untap Pod, and then turn Exarch into Huntmaster of the Fells. The same Pod untapping trick can be used to send 4s straight to Titan or Sphinx via Zealous Conscripts. Speaking of Conscripts, it is pretty sweet to Threaten an opposing guy and then sacrifice it to Pod.
Lastly, this deck is at its best, by far, when it draws Pod, and you should mulligan aggressively for it. Winning with a five or four card hand that has Pod is not unrealistic, as Pod already provides you with something to do with all your mana. Birds of Paradise into Birthing Pod into Strangleroot Geist into Deceiver Exarch and [card huntmaster of the fells]Huntmaster[/card], flip [card ravager of the fells]Huntmaster[/card] involves drawing just two spells and beats a lot of decks.
In addition, Green Sun’s Zenith can essentially get any creature when you have Pod, because you can tutor for a green creature of cost one less than the card you actually want. Because of the power of Pod it is also important to remember that against decks with artifact removal you really want to take advantage of Pod’s “haste”. Pick a spot where you think a single activation will be crippling and go big. This is particularly relevant in post board games. Now, onto matchups:
Public enemy number one is a pretty close matchup for RUG Pod. They have a lot of cheap ways to interact with creatures, so you don’t win every single game you draw Pod (unlike Green matchups where you basically do). If you do draw a Pod, you should absolutely take the control role. The longer the game goes, the better it is for you. Your first goal is to control their Delver of Secrets via Cloning them, Aether Adepting them, or flipping Huntmaster. Then, start creating a bigger and bigger army with Pod and try to force them to cast spells on both their turn and your turn to prevent Huntmasters from flipping.
Eventually, they will run out of gas and you should take control of the game. If you don’t have Pod, you want to play as many Strangleroot Geists as possible. It is not at all unreasonable to cast a Geist on turns 2,3, and 4. If they do happen to tap out, feel free to Green Sun’s Zenith for Huntmaster, but in general, you want to be all Geists all the time. This strategy doesn’t always work, especially if they draw Restoration Angels to interact, but the fact that you win a reasonable amount of non-Pod games in this matchup is pretty sweet. Cloning Restoration Angel blinking Huntmaster is a pretty big game, especially if it was previously flipped. Watch out for Sword of Feast and Famine.
Post board the Geist plan is less effective as they sometimes morph into a control deck with Timely Reinforcements and Consecrated Sphinx. Fortunately Stingerfling Spider puts a pretty nice dent in this plan. If you don’t draw Pod, use Green Sun’s Zenith to get Daybreak Ranger, and try to interact with their plan as much as possible. They may have some small number of [card day of judgment]Days[/card] in their deck, but I would not recommend playing around it unless you are really confident that they have it, and you are really confident that you can afford to.
You are absolutely the control deck in this matchup. Basically never attack with Strangleroot Geist, and just make sure to keep nongreen guys back so you don’t get crushed by a random Sword of Feast and Famine. Also try to play around Bonfire of the Damned if possible.
Post board, they should have some large amount of Arc Trails and Bonfires. While you do want mana dudes in your deck to force them to use these spells instead of applying more pressure, there is no real reason you have to keep more than one Geist in your deck. Having your own Arc Trails makes getting to the long game (where you are significantly favored) much easier.
Wolf Run Ramp
Against Ramp there are two basic plans. The first is to use Geist to apply pressure, and then when they play Primeval Titan, Zealous Conscripts it and kill them. The second is to apply some pressure and try to “combo off” with Acidic Slime and Clones to keep them off of Titan. This plan is really only viable if you draw Pod.
Try to play around Whipflare and Slagstorm as much as possible, but in game ones it is often better to just make sure you win if they don’t have it than to try and beat it. A quick Wolfir Silverheart is very hard for them to beat, but is often only possible if they don’t have a sweeper.
I really like this matchup post board as you have more Zealous Conscripts to punish them for playing Titan and Hellrider is a huge upgrade over Huntmaster. The Kessig Wolf Run is also particularly cute as you can clone their Titan and find it. Cutting a Llanowar Elves is something I’m not in love with, but ramp has a ton of sweepers and I really want all of the above cards in.
Control decks are far and away your worst matchup. If you don’t draw a Pod the Geist/Huntmaster deck basically never wins. In addition they have Oblivion Ring, so even when you do draw Pod you have to be careful about how you use it. Your goal is similar to the Ramp plan in that you want to apply pressure, Slime them as much as possible, and keep them off Titans—in this case those of the Sun variety.
Hellrider changes this matchup from miserable to reasonable post board. Clocking and applying pressure without having to overcommit becomes a lot more viable. Hero getting Lingering Souls is also pretty awesome. Kessig Wolf Run killing opposing Phantasmal Images is another nice interaction.
Zombies is like Mono-Red, and you should play against it accordingly. Preserve your life total at all costs. If they have Blood Artist, killing it is crucial, as Pod shenanigans are quite costly with it in play. Zombie Pod decks still aren’t going to beat you in a long game, so you should continue to take the controlling role. Take life for Pod only when an activation will be truly backbreaking.
If you see/expect Zealous Conscripts, remove:
If you don’t, remove:
Like RG, they may have Zealous Conscripts, so be careful when Titaning. If you see Conscripts, it is not unreasonable to cut your own Conscripts and Inferno Titan, and just play a smaller deck. If you don’t, just cut all the non-Titan chain expensive cards, and bring in the Trails.
This matchup is similar to Ramp and Control, except that they are faster and contain less sweepers. Apply pressure and try and save clone effects for boom-booms. One cool trick against an [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] in the graveyard is to play a Clone on a Geist. This way you can apply more pressure, and when they do get back the Norn your clone will persist and kill it. Note that the ordering of state based effects means that any [card birds of paradise]Birds[/card] they have will die when you Clone their Norn.
Arc Trail doesn’t seem good against a slow deck, but I think having one more way to interact with Birds and Elves besides the miser’s Bonfire to slow them down is nice. Once again, Hero gets Lingering Souls pretty good. The fact that Hellrider survives Elesh Norn is huge. [card zealous conscripts]Conscripting[/card] an [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] is also pretty respectable as they combine for nine damage together. Throw in a Hellrider, and you are looking at 17 damage out of nowhere.
Overall, I think RUG Pod is a great choice for the current standard if Delver isn’t your thing. The deck is inherently very solid against other aggressive decks, and has a great sideboard plan against slower decks. Speaking of which, I’d like to thank Michael Hetrick for working on the deck and specifically coming up with the Hellrider board plan. If you want to watch the deck in action before trying it, I would strongly recommend watching Hetrick’s games from the Starcity Invitational. He played the deck well and showed a lot of the powerful things it can do.
Lastly, I wanted to apologize for my long break from the site. While I was in school I was having trouble finding time to write and make videos. I will definitely try to produce more content during the summer, and hopefully during the next school year as well. Until next time, may you turn Geist into Exarch into Huntmaster!