Pyre of Heroes – A Magic the Gathering Card Review

For Magic the Gathering competitive veterans, Birthing Pod was one of the most powerful (and polarizing) cards ever printed. As a way to cheaply and quickly tutor bigger and better creatures from your deck, Birthing Pod decks dominated both the Standard and Modern scenes for quite some time. Eventually, the Pod was banned in Modern, pushed in Legacy where it never quite took off, and of course has become a solid card in Modern. 

Since the Modern banning of Birthing Pod, we’ve seen several “fixed” versions of the card. The most obvious was Prime Speaker Zannifar, a very good Legendary creature who had a few flings with competitive play, and is also excellent as a Commander. To a lesser extent, Fiend Artisan from the Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths served a similar function, but on a very brittle body to begin with, so its competitive scope has thus far been a bit limited.

With the release of Kaldheim spoilers, though, Magic players were greeted with a new artifact that is yet another “fixed” version of Birthing Pod. However, despite their being some new restrictions to this card, it’s not quite as “fixed” as it would first appear. Let’s dig into this very spicy Pyre of Heroes.

Pyre of Heroes VS Birthing Pod

Without further ado, here is what makes this artifact, Pyre of Heroes, different from Birthing Pod. 

2, T: Sacrifice a creature: Search your library for a creature card that shares a creature type with the sacrificed creature and has converted mana cost equal to 1 plus that creature’s converted mana cost. Put that card onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery. 

First of all, the Pyre limits you to a specific creature type. As we’ll see in a moment, Birthing Pod didn’t have this restriction. But, before we get into the pros and cons of Pyre of Heroes, let’s see what the card that inspired it does and circle back to comparing and contrasting them.

Birthing Pod was a four-mana Green artifact. The ability was somewhat inspired by a very powerful Sorcery called Natural Order, so powerful that it became banned in pretty much every competitive format except for Legacy, Vintage, and Commander. It allowed you to sacrifice a Green creature you control, then put any Green creature from your library into play. Of course, it was limited to Green creatures, but that didn’t stop it from being a ridiculous card.

What made Birthing Pod special is that it’s functionally colorless, thanks to the Phyrexian mana costs associated with many New Phyrexia set cards. So, instead of paying the Green mana, you could instead pay 3 colorless mana and 2 life to cast Birthing Pod. While in Commander the Birthing Pod is restricted to Commanders with Green in their color identity, this is not the case in ordinary Constructed decks. Yes, pretty much every Birthing Pod deck played Green creatures with powerful enter-the-battlefield abilities, but you could run any deck with Birthing Pod in it. Plus, it wasn’t restricted at all to Green creatures.

Still, what Birthing Pod does is powerful, but seemingly very narrow when you first read the card at face value. 

(1}{Green/Phyrexian Mana), (Tap), Sacrifice a creature: Search your library for a creature card with converted mana cost equal to 1 plus the sacrificed creature’s converted mana cost, put that card onto the battlefield, then shuffle your library. Activate this ability only any time you could cast a sorcery.

While Birthing Pod did place deck-building restrictions on those pilots who wished to play it, there are so many creatures that naturally “curve” into one another that Birthing Pod simply created a ridiculous value engine, especially in the late game. The fact that its activation cost doesn’t even require colored mana makes it even more ridiculous. About the only safety valve built into this card is that you can only use the ability whenever you would be able to cast a sorcery (a.k.a. your own turn). Of course, there are ways that you can get around the restriction of tapping it once per turn. But, Birthing Pod is so powerful that one activation per turn is plenty enough to make it a busted card in competitive play.

It’s not quite as bad in Commander, where having only a single copy limits just how often it actually comes into play. Of course, in Commander where the card pool is so huge, there are enough redundancies of this sort of effect that playing a “Birthing Pod” style deck is easy to do.

All that being said, what makes Pyre of Heroes so special? First of all, it costs just 2 to play and 2 mana to activate. Yes, it is limited to searching a creature of the same creature type, but with how much Wizards of the Coast has pushed tribal decks, that’s not nearly as much of a restriction as you might think. Also, many creatures have one or two subtypes, making it easier than you’d think to find “tribal” cards that all work together.

Is Pyre of Heroes More Like Aether Vial Than Birthing Pod?

In effect, I see Pyre of Heroes as being more similar to a powerful artifact called Aether Vial. This isn’t a comparison that I saw mentioned early on when the Pyre was first spoiled. The Vial is a one-drop artifact that has made many tribal decks possible in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage. For reference, here is what Aether Vial does:

At the beginning of your upkeep, you may put a charge counter on Aether Vial.

(Tap): You may put a creature card with converted mana cost equal to the number of charge counters on Aether Vial from your hand onto the battlefield.

In many ways, Aether Vial and Pyre of Heroes have more in common than they do at first glance. Of course, Aether Vial isn’t at all limited to tribal decks – the popular Death and Taxes archetype in Modern, Legacy, and Vintage is far from tribal for example). The idea here is that Pyre of Heroes can serve a similar purpose in purely tribal decks. Today’s Magic scene is littered with tribal decks, such as Warriors, Soldiers, Elves, Goblins, etc. Especially in Standard, Pyre of Heroes seems like a card begging to be included in many decks.

One Standard deck extremely popular prior to the release of Pyre of Heroes is Dimir Rogues, which is a deck as you would expect runs Rogue creatures. Of course, seeing a seemingly obvious place for a card to contribute begs the question if it actually works within the context of the deck. With Rogues, the deck actually wants to keep its creatures in play in order to grind out value by milling cards from the top of an opponent’s library, or even your own library depending on the circumstances. You could build a version of the deck that would be built around Pyre of Heroes, but it would be somewhat awkward.

Many other top decks in Standard aren’t Tribal at all, such as Gruul Adventures, Mono-Green Food, Temur Ramp, etc. However, Tribal themes have continued to be played up in recent Standard-legal sets, and whatever Kaldheim has to offer can mean brand new decks to brew around with Pyre of Heroes as a key value engine for consistency.

What Magic the Gathering Tribes Benefit the Most from Pyre of Heroes?

The most popular tribes in competitive Magic, especially when it comes to formats other than Standard, are Elves, Goblins, Dragons, and Merfolk. Elves probably don’t have a need for the Pyre, Merfolk already have Aether Vial, and Dragons don’t curve out from one mana up to really be consistent in most competitive formats (although it is doable in Commander thanks to a deep card pool and Changelings who we will get to in a moment).

Goblins are the one deck that may seem to benefit the most from Pyre of Heroes, as sacrificing Goblins for value is a theme of the deck to begin with. Thing is, Goblin decks are explosive enough to win the game without an added value engine like Pyre of Heroes. You could have builds, Red/Black builds for example, that become more consistent with Pyre of Heroes, but it would take a lot of testing to prove if those builds would be competitive enough to keep up with fast formats such as Modern.

Where Pyre of Heroes could really shine is the Pioneer format, which has a much smaller card pool than Modern, and the Historic format on Magic Arena which has an even smaller card selection. Neither of those formats have access to Aether Vial, but do have access to cards like Fiend Artisan and Prime Speaker Vannifar that would potentially give the Pyre of Heroes some redundancy. Both Merfolk and Elf Tribal decks in those formats could be nicely boosted by Pyre of Heroes.

What tribes could benefit most in Modern to me would be Allies, Slivers, and Changelings. Allies are probably the most interesting to me since Aether Vial has never really made them a winner in Modern, despite their massive support in Magic. There are enough synergies that have made them powerhouse decks in Commander, but not consistently in Modern. Yes, Allies decks have won events before, but they have often been relegated to “rogue” status.

Slivers are a powerful enough deck to sometimes win an event out of the woodworks, but never consistently, even with the power of Aether Vial. Changelings are extremely deadly in Commander, and since they are all in the Modern card pool, give you plenty of options to work with. Both are at their best when you can play all five colors, which makes them often inconsistent and awkward in Modern. Pyre of Heroes, like Aether Vial, bypasses many of the mana-fixing issues that beleaguer these decks. 

For me, the best decks for Pyre of Heroes are tribal decks that operate best when they use the best cards they have in either four or five colors. That’s extremely easy to do in Commander, so I can see Pyre of Heroes being a staple in so many decks, as it’s purely colorless. A couple of other tribes that come to mind are Humans, Elementals, Vampires, and Zombies, but we’ll get into why I don’t immediately jump to those tribal decks in a moment.

Pyre of Heroes as a “Win More” Card

Many times that a card with an effect that’s been explored before is spoiled, people flock to it immediately because it’s both familiar and new. In many decks that want this sort of tutor effect, the decks are already able to find consistency with existing cards (such as Aether Vial or other tutor/recursion effects) or are synergistic within their tribes already that Pyre of Heroes is sort of just there as a “win more” card.

For example, many decks have used the powerful tutor Collected Company to great effect, including Humans, Merfolk, and recently even Zombies. The aforementioned Slivers and Allies have also used Collected Company to great effect on the fringes of competitive play. As I’ve already mentioned, four and five color decks, which Humans and Elementals lend themselves to, can benefit from Pyre of Heroes.

But, I’m not sure that there’s much that Pyre of Heroes can do at sorcery speed, which also costs you a creature, that Collected Company doesn’t do at instant speed, even with the obvious chance that “Co-Co” can whiff. Company decks are also very limited in that they have to play three-mana or less creatures, but in a way, that makes them inherently more consistent to begin with.

Another place that I’ve considered Pyre of Heroes being good is in decks that don’t mind sacrificing, such as the aforementioned Vampires and Zombies. Clerics are another tribe that can actually benefit from sacrificing. Sacrifice-themed decks probably do well to consider Pyre of Heroes, but again, those decks (better known as Aristocrat decks) already have solid engines to power their strategy. As such, Pyre of Heroes becomes a card that’s nice to consider, but “win more” cards aren’t always good and can end up being dead draws at certain points of the game.

CoCo Pyre Wizards in Pioneer?

Not long after Pyre of Heroes was revealed. MTG Goldfish featured a viewer-submitted deck called CoCo Pyre Wizards. It’s based in the Pioneer format, which is a non-rotating competitive format which has a card pool that begins with Return to Ravnica. It seems to play like a tempo deck, with no non-creature spells except for Collected Company and Pyre of Heroes. It also only features Green mana for CoCo and nothing else, besides two copies of the planeswalker Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate in the sideboard.

This brew seems like a good beginning for Pyre of Heroes decks in Modern and Pioneer. Interestingly, I never really thought of Wizards as a tribe that would work well with Pyre of Heroes, so I’m impressed with this clever build. Whether it’s actually competitive remains to be seen, but I like where this build is going.

Pyre of Heroes as a Budget Replacement for Birthing Pod (Or Even Aether Vial?)

Besides four and five color tribal decks that benefit from a colorless tutor, Pyre of Heroes could also fill two other voids. One, decks that could play Birthing Pod, but don’t want to spend the extra $60+ for the play set can instead play Pyre of Heroes. The tribal restriction can actually streamline deck building choices as well as the consistency from playing tribal synergies. Colorless lords like Adaptive Automaton help that cause, too.

The other voids are decks that would but can’t play Birthing Pod because of it flat-out being banned, like in Modern, or have color restrictions, such as in Commander. For example, can you imagine Mono-Brown Tribal, such as Myrs or even Constructs having access to a Birthing Pod-type effect? I’ve certainly thought about it, and Pyre of Heroes gets to benefit from artifact synergies that can abuse its tap abilities, too! I can see Wizard Tribal benefitting too, as well as other decks that may not tutor creatures as well, especially in Red and Blue – whereas White, Black, and Green naturally have many creature tutors available.

Also, many colorless tutors exist, but they happen at much higher mana costs, such as Planar Bridge. Early game consistency created by Pyre of Heroes, especially in decks that can easily get back the sacrificed creatures, could be the key to helping some previously clunky decks create value where it would’ve been hardly possible before.

In any case, Pyre of Heroes should be a solid budget replacement for Birthing Pod, plus give tribal decks a new weapon. Whereas Tribal decks have often won by power and toughness boosts and enter-the-battlefield synergies, Pyre of Heroes gives tribal decks an additional tutor while also enhancing the boost and ETB effects. It’s also a pseudo-draw engine that cashes in early-game plays into more value. Yes, I even expect tribes that like lots of their kind in the graveyard, such as Rogues and Zombies, will eventually develop builds that utilize Pyre of Heroes.

Also, decks that utilize “when it dies” triggers will have a lot of fun with Pyre of Heroes, much as Birthing Pod decks did. While I don’t have specific examples off the top of my head it will be relevant in quite a few Commander decks, for sure.

All in all, I could write for days about Pyre of Heroes just from a speculative standpoint. I can’t wait to see some of these potential brews I’ve conceptualized actually played in real life Magic. We will definitely be revising this article in the future to see just how Pyre of Heroes fares in actual gameplay. Pyre of Heroes is one of the more fascinating “rabbit hole” type cards we’ve seen in quite some time. I’d love your thoughts on this card. Am I on to something with my esoteric ramblings about tribal deck consistency? Please let me know what you’re thinking about this and other Kaldheim cards!

Happy magical gatherings!

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