By now, it's undeniable that Wolf Run Ramp is among the best archetypes in Standard. My opinion happens to be that it's the single best strategy to play today. What's less clear-cut is exactly the best way to construct a Primeval Titan deck.
Throughout the season, we've seen players finish big with G/R builds and G/W/r builds. Others still forgo the second color altogether, opting to take advantage of the maximum number of colorless lands or sporting upwards of twenty Forests for giant Dungrove Elders. Today I'd like to present one more option for the Wildspeakers and Primal Hunters among us: a Wolf Run deck built to make use of Birthing Pod.
- 1 Palladium Myr
- 4 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Wurmcoil Engine
- 3 Acidic Slime
- 3 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Blade Splicer
- 4 Primeval Titan
- 4 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
Careful readers might notice that my suggested decklist plays no more than four white cards in the maindeck and only three more on the sideboard. Adding a whole extra color is certainly a high price to pay for only seven cards, especially when it precludes the options to play Dungrove Elder or a Glimmerpost package. Nevertheless, the addition of white is well worth it; even for those who end up rejecting the Birthing Pod idea, I feel that G/W/r is the overall best structure for Wolf Run.
The mono-green builds of Wolf Run have glaring, attackable weaknesses that I'm simply not willing to accept. In addition to cold-blooded killers like Mirran Crusader, Hero of Bladehold, and Olivia Voldaren, creature sweepers are irreplaceable in the way they allow you to come back when you're on the back foot. While you might not think of Day of Judgment as the best card against something like Red Deck Wins or Illusions, it's a critical tool in protecting against certain kinds of draws out of those decks.
Even once you accept the need for a second color, though, the question of which color remains unanswered. Red is tempting—Inferno Titan, Devil's Play, Slagstorm, Galvanic Blast, Arc Trail. However, the depth of the color is not as important as its quality. The red cards are strong, but they're replaceable, and they have functions that the deck can do without. The white splash, on the other hand, is for a handful of high impact cards that correct the weaknesses of the archetype.
In the words of the deck's creator, Jarvis Yu, “White lets you answer Hero of Bladehold, Mirran Crusader, and Geist of Saint Traft with Day of Judgment, all of which are problematic for the deck. You also get to play with Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, which is a huge trump.”
Day of Judgment is far and away the best creature control for this deck. Spot removal has too little impact; mana ramp decks don't want to trade one for one unless they have to. Slagstorm falls short against fatties, anything enchanted with Angelic Destiny, and, most importantly, Hero of Bladehold. The advantage of being one less mana than Day is an advantage that Wolf Run can't always make full use of because of Slagstorm's double red requirement. Note that Jun'ya Iyanaga's Pro Tour winning G/R deck actually has much stricter mana requirements than this three-color version.
The Birthing Pods
The Birthing Pods add an extra dimension that other Wolf Run builds lack. A traditional complaint about ramp decks is that they're at the mercy of whatever comes off the top of the deck. A blue player who has access to cards like Ponder, Think Twice, and Forbidden Alchemy often simply wants to see lands in the opening seven, knowing the rest will fall into place. With Wolf Run, what you see in your opening hand might be all you have to work with for the whole game! Birthing Pod changes that. With a Pod in play, you're no longer playing with just the cards in your hand but also with all of the creatures in your library.
For the sake of specifics, though, I can point to one reason why the Birthing Pods belong in this deck: Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite. Fellow StarCityGames.com columnist Bing Luke is as much a champion for Ramp Pod as I am myself. He put it best, “Both Birthing Pod and white can be explained simply with Elesh Norn. Whereas the ramp plan is primarily to land a Primeval Titan as soon as possible, Pod lets you hit Elesh Norn with regularity, which is a great trump in a lot of matchups.”
In my discussions with Jarvis and Bing about the deck, one word seemed to come up over and over again: “trump, trump, trump, trump, trump.” Elesh Norn is the secret trump card of Standard. Getting her into play is an unbelievably simple and reliable way to beat the majority of decks in the format, and it's the beauty of Ramp Pod. While Wolf Run makes the most mana of any deck in Standard, playing too many copies of a seven-casting-cost legend is always a risky proposition. The Birthing Pods provide reliable access to Elesh Norn without leaning on her too hard or ruining the deck's mana curve.
Beyond her clear applications against token decks, Elesh Norn is really a powerhouse against anything with creatures. Against Mono Red or Illusions, she clears the board and wins the game without leaving a good window for Vapor Snag or Traitorous Blood to finish you off. In the Wolf Run mirror, she protects you from opposing Inkmoth Nexuses and makes all of your creatures better than all of the opponent's. Finally, don't forget that Ramp Pod itself is a creature deck! Imagine all of your Viridian Emissaries and Solemn Simulacrums suddenly becoming lethal attackers. That's not even to mention how much she speeds up the poison clock on Inkmoth Nexus.
Here again, my careful readers might still have some doubts. What about Solar Flare? Or the U/W and U/R/B Control decks that are growing in popularity? Conveniently, in any matchup where Elesh Norn cannot be a one-woman show, the Birthing Pods are excellent for a different reason. They're a noncreature threat that can sometimes come down underneath permission and provide reliable card advantage every turn. Blue control decks have little hope of beating the uncounterable Acidic Slimes and Primeval Titans that can follow shortly from a resolved Birthing Pod.
Close, but squarely favorable if you come prepared. I'd gladly play this build of Ramp Pod against Illusions all day long. Most Illusion players will tell you that they like their Wolf Run matchup, but this list attacks from a slightly different angle.
The Illusions game plan is to set up a clock and then sit back on permission for Wolf Run's big spells. This decklist, though, has four Viridian Emissaries as well as Green Sun's Zenith and Blade Splicer to apply early pressure. Especially with all of their Phyrexian mana spells, it's perfectly reasonable to beat Illusions by attacking with two-power weenies. After all, it's what they're trying to do to you!
You may not officially “win” too many games by attacking with Viridian Emissary, but it will prevent the Illusion player from playing the game they want to play. By fighting on par with them in the early game and gaining mana advantage from your higher land count and trading Emissaries and Solemns, you make it hard for them to constantly hold up permission for your bigger threats.
Elesh Norn and Day of Judgment are also very good.
+2 Day of Judgment +2 Gut Shot +2 Autumn's Veil +1 Thrun, the Last Troll +1 Stingerfling Spider +1 Timely Reinforcements
-3 Birthing Pod -3 Acidic Slime -2 Primeval Titan -1 Wurmcoil Engine
Sideboarding is as simple as lowering the mana curve and preventing them from establishing a clock.
Another close and skill-intensive matchup. Luckily, the control player will not have practiced against your deck. I used to fear these matchups, but after fine-tuning the deck more and more, I think the matchup is favorable (depending on the exact build of the control deck).
Again, the Emissaries are useful for applying pressure. Unlike other builds of Wolf Run, you have the ability to land a game-ending threat at any spot on the mana curve.
What to cut depends on the opposing deck. Birds of Paradise should always stay in on the play for the potential to cast Birthing Pod underneath a Mana Leak. However, some opponents will be too well equipped to kill them when you're on the draw. Similarly, some very slow decks will struggle with a turn 2 Viridian Emissary while others will not. Wurmcoil Engine also dramatically changes in value depending on the presence or absence of Oblivion Ring.
The pseudo-mirror is probably the worst of the common matchups for my suggested decklist, but that's not a bad thing at all. Birthing Pods are actually some of the best cards for Wolf Run mirrors. The problem is more with my particular card choices: Viridian Emissary, Blade Splicer, Green Sun's Zenith. Any card that's not mana or a game-ending threat is a liability, and Zenith can sometimes be a turn too slow.
Nevertheless, this type of mirror is always going to be extremely close, and the die roll and luck of the draw matter far, far more than slight variations in decklist. Viridian Emissary and Green Sun's Zenith are among the best cards in the deck against the rest of the field. Trimming one or two Viridian Emissaries is an option if you desperately want to improve your Wolf Run matchup, but I consider Green Sun's Zenith an automatic four-of no matter what.
Ancient Grudge and Viridian Corrupter are strong against builds with Sphere of the Suns (or Birthing Pod). Gut Shot is strong against builds with enough mana dorks to reliable hit with it, or if you think your opponent might get careless with Inkmoth + Wolf Run. My default move is to bring in one copy, but sometimes zero or two is fine. The same is true of Day of Judgment, which is slightly better on the draw and slightly better if the opponent won't expect it. Anywhere between zero and three is reasonable.
Similar to Illusions, this matchup is favorable, but not to the point that you can get careless. Emissaries and Solemns hold the ground, and Wurmcoil and Elesh Norn clean things up. Keep your life total as high as possible because Brimstone Volley really hurts.
+1 Timely Reinforcements +1 Thrun, the Last Troll +1 Stingerfling Spider +1 Viridian Corrupter +2 Gut Shot +1 Wurmcoil Engine +1 Ghost Quarter
-3 Acidic Slime -1 Palladium Myr -3 Birthing Pod -1 Birds of Paradise
Play the whole game with Traitorous Blood in mind. If you have Elesh Norn in your hand, try at all costs to get rid of 3/3 Stormblood Berserkers because they can survive her -2/-2 and then add five damage when she turns on you. More likely, just try to play a Wurmcoil Engine with more than six life and you're in great shape.
Last month, I wrote about “Red Herrings,” extra options that can distract you from what's important. That article was inspired, in part, by my exploration of a rough version of Ramp Pod. First and foremost, this is a Primeval Titan Ramp deck. Birthing Pods are simply value cards, and Day of Judgment is only included to correct weaknesses of the archetype. If you can win the game without using those cards, please do! Casting a Titan and attacking is a tried and true way to win a game; Birthing Pods and DOJ are there for the games where that plan A isn't working.
The best way to use Birthing Pod is to play out what you can first and then play the Pod as your curve topper. Trying to start a chain from Birds of Paradise is painfully slow and will only work against an opponent who is struggling. However, playing a turn 3 Solemn and upgrading to a turn 4 Acidic Slime is great, especially given that you'll pass the turn with six mana, Acidic Slime, Birthing Pod, and a full hand!
I'll use Bing's words to summarize, “Birthing Pod and Day of Judgment take Ramp Pod from being a Valakut style deck to being very Rock like, adding angles of attack and allowing for better flexibility to attack the metagame.” If you're looking for a strong, straightforward deck with a little room to play, Ramp Pod is for you. It maintains all the strengths of traditional Wolf Run but attacks from an additional angle and makes for interesting, complex games. More importantly, the fact that it has no truly bad matchups makes it a good choice for a tournament of any size.