Magic's new set Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is on the horizon, and with it comes a set based on Kaiju themes of giant monsters battling and mutating while poor humans run for cover. However, even in a world of giant expensive monsters, there needs to be other elements as well. Not every card can be a six-mana humongous creature, and any serious competitive player knows the real competitive cards come at the lower and friendlier mana costs and with powerful abilities.
Remember Birthing Pod?
Birthing Pod was a terror in Standard, and so efficient in Modern that it's been on the ban list for a long time. Phyrexian mana, of course, was part of the problem, pushing the effect to its absolute limit with no color restrictions, but the card was a perfect mix of tutor package and combo finisher.
In Standard, Birthing Pod was a value and tutor engine in one. Sacrifice your Blade Splicer (which already made a 3/3) to go get Solemn Simulacrum, then sacrifice that to go get Acidic Slime, and so on as you work your way up the chain. It also allowed you to play a bunch of great silver bullets in your maindeck for just the right times, making it very difficult to play against.
In Modern, things got crazy. There are a multitude of Birthing Pod chains that outright win the game; for example - you sacrifice a 2-drop to go get Deceiver Exarch, untap your Birthing Pod, sacrifice a 1-drop to go get Phantasmal Image, copy Deceiver Exarch and untap your Birthing Pod, sacrifice the copy to go get Restoration Angel, flicker the Deceiver Exarch and untap your Birthing pod, sacrifice the Restoration Angel to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and use Kiki-Jiki with Deceiver Exarch to Splinter Twin kill your opponent. There may be more efficient or cleaner kills, but the low cost of activation allows this to be a fairly cheap process. These decks also got to play just like the Standard Birthing Pod decks, with a bunch of great value creatures that could win the game without even comboing.
Either way, Birthing Pod is an astoundingly powerful card with a wide array of applications.
Standard does currently have a Birthing Pod-style card in Prime Speaker Vannifar, but she has a few issues. She's two colors, she's expensive, and she's hard to tap out for on turn four in a world full of Teferi, Time Raveler and Embercleave. If only she was about two mana cheaper...
Presenting the official CoolStuffInc.com preview card... Fiend Artisan!
Maybe you'd like a little Tarmogoyf with your Birthing Pod?
Fiend Artisan is a very exciting new Mythic from Ikoria with a lot to unpack.
Starting from the top we see a fairly friendly mana cost. While hybrid mana makes Fiend Artisan look like a multicolored card, it actually ends up giving the card even more flexibility. Playing Fiend Artisan in a Golgari deck is great, but it will also work great in a heavy Green or heavy Black deck. I'm sure Fiend Artisan is very happy to share a color with Satyr Wayfinder and Stitcher's Supplier, as Green and Black are the best two graveyard colors.
Two mana is also a sweet spot when it comes to tournament playability. Just think about all the best creatures of all time; Tarmogoyf, Snapcaster Mage, Dark Confidant, Stoneforge Mystic, Young Pyromancer, Mogg War Marshall, and so on. Two-mana creatures come online early enough that they can slip through early countermagic and interaction and don't have to worry about if you're ahead or behind on board. And if they are killed? You never end up too far down in the exchange.
Moving down the card we see Nightmare as the creature type, probably not relevant, and a mythic rarity symbol meaning that Wizards of the Coast means business. Two-mana Mythics don't come along that often but are usually important cards. Moving on we come to the first line of rules text:
We've seen this effect before on cards like Nighthowler, Boneyard Wurm, and, the original gangster, Lhurgoyf, but never this efficient. Unlike Nighthowler or Boneyard Wurm, you can play Fiend Artisan onto an empty board, and given its activated ability it wouldn't be crazy to play it if it just was a 1/1. But Fiend Artisan has this ability, which allows it to grow like a Tarmogoyf as the game progresses. This can be just from your creatures naturally dying, being sacrificed to the ability, or turbocharged with some self-mill effects. The end result is that Fiend Artisan is not just a spellcaster-type creature. Fiend Artisan can both beat down and play defense!
Aside from keyword "big" however, Fiend Artisan does have quite the activated ability too:
Call it an "X" factor, if you will.
Fiend Artisan requires you to pay the total converted mana cost plus one for any creature you get. This means if you want to get Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, you're paying retail plus a small premium to get there. Furthermore, the size or converted mana cost of the creature you are sacrificing has no relevance. You can sacrifice a Saproling token or a Griselbrand, it's all the same to Fiend Artisan. This means there are no deck-building limitations around needing to chain your creatures up via mana cost. It also puts a premium on playing creatures that are cheap; you're much happier tutoring up a Death's Shadow than a Primeval Titan.
Because of this, Fiend Artisan is likely to be most impactful in Pioneer and Modern.
Fiend Artisan is a synergy card through and through, and Standard doesn't lend itself very well to its effects. There aren't always good graveyard enablers in Standard, which makes the sizing on Fiend Artisan not nearly as good, and Standard decks tend to have a much higher average converted mana cost than other formats because the card pool is so much smaller. With less enablers to fuel the graveyard and less good cheap creatures to get, you have to work harder in Standard to power up Fiend Artisan.
That's not to say that Fiend Artisan won't be playable in Standard. On the contrary, it seems to fit rather well into a deck like Rakdos Sacrifice, but it will require a more specific set of circumstances to see play. However, as we open up to older formats, Fiend Artisan has a lot of potential friends.
Pioneer and Modern have a whole host of awesome graveyard enablers and payoffs, with Stitcher's Supplier being perhaps the standout. Stitcher's Supplier curves perfectly into Fiend Artisan, helps to size it up, and then is perfect sacrifice fodder. Even just chaining Stitcher's Supplier for another Stitcher's Supplier is a very nice and cheap way to fill the graveyard. Best of all is that Fiend Artisan is not entirely reliant on the graveyard. Even if there is a Rest In Peace in play, you can still use the Birthing Pod effect to find whatever creature you need. As the card pool grows all sorts of potential combos open up, as well as toolbox effects.
Open Ended Nightmare
Fiend Artisan is an extremely deep card, both in building your deck to enable it as well as building your deck to optimize its ability.
In theory you could play it in a deck that doesn't even care about the graveyard as a creature tutor effect, or play it as a super Tarmogoyf in a deck that only cares about the graveyard and isn't really interested in the Birthing Pod ability. Pragmatically you'll likely want to be using both, but how deep you go on either side is up to you.
We're going to be trying to solve the deck-building puzzle that is Fiend Artisan for a long time and I for one can't wait to get started!