Play & Explain: Wishful Neobrand

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Decklist: https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/3114765

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Play & Explain: Neobrand

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Neobrand Primer Update

Analyzing the past 500+ Matches with London Mulligan and Wishing for a Glittering Future for the Deck

Hello everyone!

It has been over half a year since I last wrote about Neobrand! Modern has gone through some seismic changes since then.  However, it’s evident that more and more people have slowly picked up Neobrand through the highs and lows, which I’m excited to see!  Given that the archetype has been evolving and given that I now have over 500 matches with the deck under London Mulligan, I thought an update to the archetype as well as some thoughts about the archetype as a result of these 500+ matches would be warranted.  I’ll impart some wisdom I gained in those matches as well as share my thought process on a new build of Neobrand that I’ve been preferring.

  • 532 Matches Under the London Mulligan with Neobrand (Both Wish and Non-Wish)

Here’s a summary of my key stats under the London Mulligan:

    • Record: 323-209 (60.7%). This peaked at around 67% during Hogaak summer, but the last few months have seen a lot of blue Force decks and therefore the rate has been on the downswing, unfortunately. 
  • Win rate before and after OUAT under London Mulligan: 
      • 180-115 (61.0%) without OUAT
      • 143-94 (60.3%) with OUAT

  • Surprisingly, I have not seen a big win rate delta between decks with OUAT and without.  It’s hard to say where the truth is from these numbers, but I will say empirically it has felt that OUAT is a good addition, but nowhere near the gamebreaker than people thought it was for Neobrand
  • Glittering Wish Neobrand vs. Non-Wish (both with Once Upon a Time for control):
      • 99-55 (64.3%) with Glittering Wish
      • 55-45 (55.0%) without Wish
      • This didn’t surprise me as much. Even though it’s still hard to quantify or pinpoint how much, if at all, the Wish version is better, the Wishful version has played better in my experience.  Glittering WIsh has outperformed as a redundant Neoform that you can cast on turn 1 and serve as a swiss army knife (Neoform is the card you wish for the most by a wide margin. But Guttural Response, Eladamri’s Call and Decay/Trophy have also served me very well). Given that counterspells are expensive in Modern (before Force of Negation, anyway) it’s plausible to take a turn off to wish for a Guttural Response to fight blue decks.  I’ve also recently enjoyed having access to multiple Abrupt Decays for Ashiok, T3feri, Blood Moon, etc.
  • Turn 1 Kill Rate: 9.5%-14.0% at 95% CI. Readers of my previous article will note that under mostly Vancouver mulligan, my turn 1 kill rate was at 9.0%.  Not a surprise that London Mulligan has materially increased the turn 1 kill rate
  • # of Games With Mulligans:
  • 45.8% under London Mulligan
  • 28.1% under Vancouver Mulligan
    • That I mulligan over 60% more under London Mulligan than with Vancouver Mulligan should not be a surprise.

Data is only good as the inputs and the interpretation.  So what have I taken away from my first 500 matches with London Mulligan Neobrand?

  • Neobrand Has Proven to be One of Many Reasonable Mainstays in Modern, With the Ability to Crush Certain Metagames – Maintaining a 60%+ win rate on MTGO, while not exceptional, should indicate that the deck’s concept is robust and can be a reasonable choice in any Modern tournament.  Nothing has changed about the thesis for playing this deck: If the metagame is a linear arms race where decks like Shadow and UWx Control have been chased out, Neobrand will ambush everyone trying to go under or over the top decks. For example, I still maintain that I had the best deck for GP Vegas, the last hurrah for Hogaak.
  • London Mulligan Has Helped the Archetype Significantly, and Is a Big Reason for its Viability – We suspected that the London Mulligan would be a significant help for a deck like Neobrand, and the results do not dispute that between the significant increase in mulligan rate and the increased turn 1 kill rate.
  1. Once Upon a Time is Not the Difference Maker that Many Thought It Was – Many people, most who hadn’t played the deck before, lamented on Twitter that this was what was going to break Neobrand.  I was a bit more lukewarm about it and it has basically played out like I imagined: A good role player but not a gamebreaker.  It’s very nice that it can act as fractionally extra copies of a land or Allosaurus Rider. In a deck where I’ve always wanted 0.5-1 more than stock, having a free green card that can also get Riders was a welcome addition.  However, that it cannot get ⅓ of the combo (I consider these to be a Rider, an Evolution spell and mana which is a constraint in a 13-14 land deck) means that on average it’s not as impactful as you think it can be. In fact, noted degenerate deck builder Matsugan has played 0 Once Upon a Time (for Serum Visions).  I personally only play 2 in the Glittering Wish version, which I consider to be the better version. Speaking of..
  2. Glittering Wish Feels Like the Better Version – Noted old time MTG pro Øyvind Wefald Andersen was the first one to pioneer this Glittering Wish build (4 Wish maindeck, 1 Neoform sideboard).  Admittedly, I was skeptical at first – Why would you slow down your deck by a turn in a deck that’s designed to go fast?  After playing matches with it, I’m mostly sold on the Wish version being better. The last few cycles of the Modern metagame have featured relatively slow formats.  Basically, if the format is slowing down by 1.5 turns on average, then you can afford to slow down 1.0 turn on average for more consistency. The redundancy that the Glittering Wish for Neoform offers has been incredible.  The other main benefit is the line to fetch a Guttural Response. Because most counterspells in Modern are expensive (curse you Force of Negation. . .) you can now afford to take a turn off to set up a turn with Neoform+Guttural Response.  Basically, unless the format is super fast (such as during Hogaak summer) I think the Wish version is better than the UG version.  
  • Introducing Wishful Neobrand

[deck title=Wishful Neobrand – finalnub]
[Creatures]
1 Laboratory Maniac
4 Simian Spirit Guide
4 Allosaurus Rider
4 Chancellor of the Tangle
2 Griselbrand
2 Autochthon Wurm
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Summoner’s Pact
1 Life Goes On
3 Veil of Summer
4 Glittering Wish
4 Manamorphose
3 Neoform
4 Nourishing Shoal
2 Once Upon a Time
4 Eldritch Evolution
[/Spells]
[Lands]
3 Botanical Sanctum
4 City of Brass
4 Gemstone Mine
2 Mana Confluence
1 Snow-Covered Forest
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Eladamri’s Call
1 Guttural Response
1 Hurkyl’s Recall
2 Leyline of Sanctity
1 Nature’s Claim
1 Neoform
4 Pact of Negation
1 Spell Pierce
1 Veil of Summer
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2787050#paper

I suspect that the first question for many of you will be: Why this over the UG version, and what does Glittering Wish do for this deck?

  1. Glittering Wish improves its goldfish consistency by providing 4 more copies of Neoform or 4 more copies of Allosaurus Rider in instalments (Eladamri’s Call).
  2. Glittering Wish can wish for an answer to random hate permanents (Abrupt Decay or Assassin’s Trophy).  This is especially important nowadays because decks are playing a variety of answers for you, many instances of which you cannot credibly guess and prepare for until you see them first in game 2 (for example, any deck can run Damping Sphere or Grafdigger’s Cage, and a wide range of decks can play Ashiok, Dream Render).
  3. Glittering Wish can wish for Guttural Response.  Given how expensive Modern’s counterspell suite is (well, was, before Force of Negation), it’s now possible to beat one piece of counterspell if you just take a turn off to wish for Guttural Response.
  4. Glittering Wish is a green card, so the floor of the card is super high to begin with.
  5. Glittering Wish often getting you Neoform means that there’s a better balance of the A+B combo (OUAT being fractional copies of Allosaurus Rider, and Wish being fractional copies of Neoform).
  6. The 55th+ slots in the UG version were uninspiring.  These consisted of noted powerhouses such as Edge of Autumn, Safewright Question (though this still has its place in some builds, IMO), Street Wraith, and even Serum Visions.  These cards certainly do their jobs, but in a mediocre way.
  7. Glittering Wish widens the range of your turn 2 kill hands when you can reveal Chancellor and turn 1 wish for Neoform.

The play pattern does not change that much from the traditional UG build, though you will see decline in your turn 1 kill rate because of the decrease in OUAT and 1 less Neoform.  I believe that the consistency and the resilience offered by Glittering Wish to be worthwhile, however, and I believe this is my preferred build going forward unless something drastically changes.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why aren’t you picking up the new hot tech Thassa’s Oracle?

A: This is by far the most asked question for me.  I just don’t get the hype though and perhaps you need some reps with the deck to separate theory from reality.  In an ideal world, you can always get your library down to 1 so you can Manamorphose into the Oracle and it’s a clean kill.  This would likely let you go down to 3 SSGs or let you add the second Life Goes On. However, games rarely go that cleanly, even though perfect library manipulation with Summoner’s Pacts and Manamorphoses. Sometimes you have to wait a few turns and have to pitch some of those cards to Nourishing Shoals or Allosaurus Riders to get going. Sometimes you draw all the green creatures first and Summoner’s Pacts later so Pacts cannot help you manage library size.  Weird things do happen such that you cannot perfectly manage the library size and I don’t see the benefit being high enough to run Oracle. Also, if your library is 1 or 2 cards deep, then all of the sudden previously blank cards such as Abrupt Decay become real cards against you. In conclusion, I’m not buying it and someone will have to prove to me that this is worthwhile.

Q: What about former mainstays like Edge of Autumn, Street Wraith, Tranquil Thicket, Safewright Quest, Wild Cantor, etc.?

A: These all serve their purposes for sure, but I believe they were mostly fillers to fill the UG decks to 60 cards because Modern doesn’t have anything better.  I think a 1 of Edge of Autumn is still OK because I’ve often wanted to ramp to 3 or 4 mana so I can combo with Veil or Guttural backup, and it’s still useful to have a way to freely cycle on your last turn or to win after Griselbrand has been removed before you could cast Laboratory Maniac.  I don’t miss the other cards though. I just think that the hardest part of the deck is to cheat a Griselbrand into play and we’ll figure out a way to cobble together a win from there, and as a result want to streamline the deck to optimize for that.

Q: Can we cut Life Goes On? It looks so dorky!

A: Absolutely not! I often call it the secret best card of the deck.  It is a green card and a 1 mana mitigation tool for the most common ways you fizzle (fizzled Summoner’s Pact combo turn on your first draw 14) that fits with your most common mana configuration during combos (lands are tapped out and you have 4 Simian Spirit Guides and 3 of them need to be devoted to Laboratory Manic, so you have 1 “free” mana). I’d play two if I could!

Q: Why only 2 OUAT? Wasn’t this card the best thing for the deck since sliced bread?

A: I think the first 55 cards in the deck are more or less set in stone (you could make the argument to cut down to 1 Griselbrand and I have played that before, but the format is slower right now).  The last 5 slots in the maindeck (3 Veils, 2 OUAT) are merely a function of me mapping out the optimal post-board 50 for the top matches and optimizing my 75. I figured my configuration does want access to 4 Veil of Summer in some matchups, and Veils are the most maindeckable of the sideboard cards, being green and having random utility.  The remaining 2 slots were free so I filled it with the next best card, OUAT, which is great considering I’ve often wanted to go up 0.5 or 1 land.

Q: Can the land base even support the GW and the GB spells on time?

A: It mostly hasn’t been the issue with 8 rainbow lands for me.  Remember you also have Manamorphose. Also keep in mind that post-board games are slower so you’ll have more time.  I’ve played 10 rainbow lands out of fear but I think 8 is fine to be honest.

  • Sideboard Guide

Now it’s time for everyone’s favourite, the #sideboardguide.

Caveat: Modern evolves very quickly nowadays, so be flexible and dynamic when you see things you weren’t expecting.  For example, Red Prowess lists now run 2-3 Cages as the norm whereas they didn’t before.

Vs. Red Prowess (Favored)

-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Nature’s Claim
+2 Abrupt Decay

Your plan A trumps their plan A by far, although they are capable of killing or shrinking a Griselbrand.  There are many close spots where you are at 16 life for example and decide whether to go all in or not. Context is everything, but I generally like to draw the first 7 and evaluate from there.  There are spots where it’s definitely correct to pass with Griselbrand though.

Post-sideboard, games will be slower as they bring in Blood Moons and Grafdigger’s Cage.  Consider bringing in your Spell Pierce on the play.

Vs. Amulet Titan (Very Favored)

-3 Veil of Summer
-1 Once Upon a Time
+4 Pact of Negation

They are dead in the water in game one save for their one Pact of Negation, so you can realistically wait until the turn they can Titan or the turn they can pay for Pact. I rarely see Grafdigger’s Cage nowadays from them.  It’s mostly been Mystical Disputes and Aether Gusts, so plan accordingly and bring in the blue Pacts.

Vs. Eldrazi Tron (Unfavored)

-1 Once Upon a Time
-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Nature’s Claim
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Abrupt Decay

They have a lot of angles of attack that’s sometimes hard to combat if they line up correctly (Chalice0, KGC into Needle/Spyglass/Cage, turn 2 TKS).  Hurkyl’s is an all star here. If they are telegraphing Warping Wail so hard, you could just try to beat down with Allosaurus Riders, which I have done. Most of the time you cannot do anything about it though.  A braver person than I can try leaving in Veils to counter Chalice0 and Wail, but it’s not like the deck gives you a lot of time to build your mana before they lock you out or kill you through other means though.

Vs. Jund (Favored)

OTP

-1 Chancellor of the Tangle
-2 Manamorphose
-2 Once Upon a Time
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+2 Leyline of Sanctity
+1 Abrupt Decay

OTD

-3 Chancellor of the Tangle
-2 Once Upon a Time
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Leyline of Sanctity
+1 Abrupt Decay

Their clock is still slow and you can work through their discards with Veils and Leylines.  They have now adopted Ashiok, Dream Render as an answer to Primeval Titan decks, which is obnoxious.  More Chancellors come out on the draw as you are highly unlikely to turn 1 on the draw through discards.

Vs. Bant Snowblade or UWx Control (Very Unfavored)

-1 Griselbrand
-1 Chancellor of the Tangle
-2 Manamorphose
-1 Life Goes On
-2 Once Upon a Time
+4 Pact of Negation
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Abrupt Decay

Very tough matchups.  They have a variety of 2, 3, 4 and free counterspells in the maindeck.  Some lists even have Spell Quellers which you cannot Veil! In the sideboard I’ve seen Ashiok, Dream Render and Blood Moon too. Everything they do is good against you.  Try to cheese them out on turn 1 or mulligan aggressively to a hand that can answer one or two of their hate pieces/counters.

Vs. Dredge (Very Favored)

OTP

-1 Once Upon a Time
+1 Spell Pierce

OTD

-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+2 Leyline of Sanctity

Game 1 is a race that you win most of the time.  Post-board they have Magus of the Moon and Thoughtseize, which the sideboard plan reflects.  Value your Manamorphoses slightly higher with the Magus in mind

Vs. Burn (Favored)

-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Pact of Negation
+2 Leyline of Sanctity

You should be able to win this race handily and they generally don’t play Cages so sideboard minimally.  Blue pact looks weird but it’s for Skullcrack and Path to Exile.

Vs. Grixis Shadows (Unfavored)

OTP

-4 Glittering Wish
-2 Once Upon a Time
+3 Pact of Negation
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Leyline of Sanctity

OTD

-4 Glittering Wish
-3 Chancellor of the Tangle
-2 Once Upon a Time
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Spell Pierce
+2 Leyline of Sanctity
+1 Abrupt Decay

This deck has an extremely wide range of attacks that are mostly effective against you, but you can still cheese them out in game 1s if they draw the wrong quarter of the deck.  Some play Ashioks for the Titan decks which explains the Decay. Decay also kills a Shadow which is nice. On the play though you just want to race them.

Vs. UGx Titan (Very Favored)

-2 Once Upon a Time
-3 Veil of Summer
-1 Manamorphose
+3 Pact of Negation
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Nature’s Claim
+1 Abrupt Decay

Vs. UB Whriza (Probably Very Unfavored)

-1 Griselbrand
-1 Chancellor of the Tangle
-1 Manamorphose
-2 Once Upon a Time
-1 Veil of Summer
+3 Pact of Negation
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Abrupt Decay
+1 Spell Pierce

The new menace. Not sure if the deck is any good but it’s probably a very bad matchup for us, as they have discard, counterspell, artifact lock pieces and Whir of Invention to tutor for them.  My philosophy is to sprinkle in a small number of answers to everything but don’t dilute too much and cross my fingers.

Vs. Green Tron (Very Favored)

-1 Once Upon a Time
-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Nature’s Claim
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Abrupt Decay

Still a very easy matchup.  You win the race on average in game 1.  In post-board games expect some Cages and infrequently Warping Wail.  This is one of the few matchups where it’s often correct to just play your Rider on turn 1 and start beating down.  Some Tron players will just keep a junky Cage/Warping Wail hand that doesn’t do anything else because the matchup is so hopeless.

Vs. Humans (Unfavored)

-1 Griselbrand
-4 Glittering Wish
-1 Veil of Summer
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Nature’s Claim
+1 Neoform
+1 Eladamri’s Call
+1 Abrupt Decay

Wishes go out because timeliness is very important and Wish is embarrassing against Meddling Mage.  This is another matchup where playing out a turn 1 Rider is often correct just so they have to guess which evolution spell to Meddle with.  Sure, Deputy and Reflector will get you sometime, but especially post-board they are more likely to keep Meddling Mage hands than Deputy/Reflector hands, IMO.  Also Veil of Summer randomly protects your Griselbrand from those!

Vs. Infect (Very Unfavored)

-1 Griselbrand
-4 Glittering Wish
-3 Veil of Summer
-1 Once Upon a Time
+3 Pact of Negation
+1 Hurkyl’s Recall
+1 Nature’s Claim
+1 Spell Pierce
+1 Neoform
+2 Abrupt Decay

Their goldfish is almost as fast and they have a light sprinkle of hate from different angles (Spell Pierce, Cage), so this is not a great matchup at all.  Turn 1 Glistener Elf is deadly. Hope you can cheese them out on turn 1 or 2 or they jam into your surprise Decay.

Vs. Devoted Druid Combo (Favored)

-3 Veil of Summer
+1 Pact of Negation
+2 Abrupt Decay

I haven’t seen lists play black for Thoughtseize in a bit.  Blue pact looks weird but the Veils are useless and it can snag their Path to Exile and also their combo if you have to pass with Griselbrand up and you can pay with SSGs.

Vs. Heliod Company (Probably Favored)

-2 Once Upon a Time
-2 Veil of Summer
+2 Leyline of Sanctity
+2 Abrupt Decay

They have both the infinite life combo and the Ballista combo (with Heliod, not infinite mana with Devoted Druid). I’ve seen a variety of hate pieces from them, from Eidolon of Rhetoric to Aven Mindcensor to Damping Sphere to Thoughtseize.  Leyline should be pretty good here both to buy time from the Ballista instant kill and against their discard. Decays are a catchall on the lethal Ballista and hate pieces.

Vs. Storm (Even?)

-4 Glittering Wish
-2 Once Upon a Time
+4 Pact of Negation
+1 Veil of Summer
+1 Neoform

They are almost as fast and have permission so this matchup shouldn’t be great but I keep winning against it.  Veil is very good against their permission (even Flusterstorm sometimes!) and Gifts Ungiven. I do think you cannot afford to tap out for Glittering Wish.  If you see fetchlands it’s possible they have Blood Moon. If that’s the case I like some number of Abrupt Decays, both for the Moon and their bears.

  • Conclusion

I’ve been working hard on this archetype for over half a year and I can safely say that it’s a legitimate strategy that you can bring to high level tournaments without feeling silly! I don’t think it’ll ever be the best deck because it can easily be hated out, but for certain metagames it can be THE metagame call to ambush people with (metagames filled big mana and linear but not as fast decks. I keep referring back to the Hogaak summer because it was a prime example).  I hope that these findings from someone maniacal enough to play this deck for more than a few hundred matches have been helpful to some people. I think the Wish version is the real deal for sure and the future of Neoform.

Until next time, keep on turn 1ing!

Selling Out – How I Won the Vancouver F2F Open+

Introduction

For those who have read the title and for those who have been following my work, you probably expected a cookie cutter F2F Open/PTQ report. Something to the tune of “Finalnub poured hours into this one meme, all-in deck and lucksacked a PTQ win. Can we get an updated sideboard guide, ban Allosaurus Rider yet and be done with this yet??”. Why yes, I did win the event and PT invite with my beloved Neobra.. Wait no, Dredg.. That’s not it. Maybe Grishoalbrand made a comeback…? Sorry to disappoint fans of my work, but this isn’t a story where innovation and perseverance with a meme deck triumph. This is a story where netdecking prevailed, and how I won my second PT invite with Eldrazi Tron.

How did we get to this point? What had to happen where I had to resort to netdecking? I’ve been saying this to everyone who would listen, but I feel like 2019 must’ve been the year where cards were reduced to obsolescence and people displaced from their favourite decks at the fastest rate of all time. Just for me, I’ve “lost” the following decks that I own in paper all within the last two years: Cheerios (Fatal Push printed at the same time), Grishoalbrand (RIP, WOTC banned the graveyard and it is strictly worse than Neobrand), Dredge (an exaggeration, but in my eyes unless your name is Sodeq it is a shell of its former self and not close to a tier 1 deck). I can’t imagine what long-time Affinity, Abzan etc. players are feeling right now either. Granted, I’ve found my new love in Neobrand but you will encounter problems in Modern if you only have one playable deck and the metagame shifts against you. For the last year or so, I’ve felt displaced and wandering aimlessly in Modern after seeing so many of my cards that I own obsoleted so easily.

Preparation

Having said that, I’ve still been enjoying considerable success with Neobrand, posting a 67% win rate since the printing of Once Upon a Time. And leading up to the F2F Vancouver Open+, I noted a noticeable decrease in Force of Negation decks, Neobrand’s nemesis. If that’s the case, why not run back Neobrand, something that may be reasonably positioned and that you have incredible familiarity with? A few reasons:

  1. I wanted to be forward-thinking rather than looking at the snapshot of the metagame a few weeks before the event. Predicting paper metagame is more art than science, but given my knowledge of the propensity of the Pacific Northwest players, recent high profile Modern events, and online results, I felt like there was still going to be a lot of predators to Neobrand (blue-based Shadow decks, Eldrazi Tron itself, Infect, etc.)
  2. Given that my only priority was to win the whole event and the PT invite, I wanted to make sure that I play the best deck that would give me the best chance to win, which in my eyes is a function of the deck’s power level, metagame positioning, and the pilot skill value-add.
  3. I didn’t mind going outside my comfort zone to #ExPaNdMyRaNgE.

As an aside, 2019 is a wonderful time for information flow and no tech/deck can truly stay hidden for very long. With many capable streamers and people eager to share their findings on Twitter, an astute and resourceful observer, in my opinion, can arrive at the correct conclusion a high percentage of the time as long as they know where to look in a very time efficient manner. After all, why expend hours upon hours of fruitless testing and not take advantage of the people who are willing to show you their work as well? I understand that this has not always been that way, but in my opinion, this is essential to being a successful competitive MTG player in 2019 and beyond.

But back to the difficult decision I was faced with. Playing Neobrand would certainly be on-brand (I’ll show myself out) and would help with my identity as an MTG content creator, but at this point my top priority was to get back onto the PT circuit. I constantly recall back to my first PT invitation, earned through a fortunate GP top 4 run a year into my MTG career. I’ve always lamented that it was a regrettable and wasted opportunity, as my skills (especially Limited!) were too raw and I didn’t have the resources or the network to fully leverage this opportunity. I’d like to think I’ve come a long way since then and have been eager to get another opportunity. With that being said, winning the invite was the top priority for me over “memeing” and branding.

One more note on my deck selection process: a lot of people noted that if I ever only focus on “real” decks over “meme” decks, I’d be doing much better. While I certainly get that point of view, I believe deck selection has more nuance to it and it’s dangerous to make these types of “x is the best deck, play it” statements and take it in a vacuum. I could probably write a whole article on this and other tournament preparation topics, but for me, I view the EV of playing deck X to be a function of:

  1. How powerful is the deck in a vacuum?
  2. How does X look relative to the expected metagame?
  3. How much pilot skill value can I add?
  4. How much will I be able to enjoy/tolerate playing X for Y rounds?

I do think that 3) and 4) are severely understated when considering deck choices for competitive events. 3) and 4) will compound at an increasing rate the longer the tournament is (15/18 rounds and hours a GP!), so I think it’s important to understand yourself and your limitations if you want to do well at tournaments. This comes at odds with my previous statement about going outside your comfort zone, but I think it’s all about prioritizing your goals and managing the time that you have at hand, which is different for everyone.

Some examples of the above from my recent tournament success:

  • For this event, I knew I was very proficient with Neobrand and thought it was reasonably positioned. However, I think Eldrazi Tron was more abstractly powerful and would be very well positioned in a sea of expected Infect, Shadows, Urza and Druid players. I also enjoyed these powerful nut draws a lot and liked playing it
  • For GP Vegas where I almost top 8d during Hogaak summer, I could have easily gotten my hands on the soon-to-be banned deck. However, I genuinely believed (and was very loud about it on Twitter) that I had the best deck for that tournament. This was backed up by data, where I had a couple hundred matches during Hogaak Summer with Neobrand when its predators had been driven out by Hogaak (UW, Shadows) and I literally had 80%+ win rate vs. Hogaak itself (where lists were getting so inbred it couldn’t afford to have any cards for combo), 70%+ win rate vs the decks purported to have good matchups against Hogaak (Burn, Red Prowess, Tron, Urza). Unfortunately, I went 11-2 into 0-2, but a bunch of people did well with the deck and the deck had the highest win rate of any decks in the tournament, so perhaps I wasn’t so crazy 🙂
  • For SCG Vegas that we won, I had never played Dredge and Grishoalbrand looked to be reasonably positioned. However, just a little testing proved that Creeping Chill was absurd, and we could ambush the meta with what I thought was this unexpected tier 0 deck. Even though this was definitely outside my comfort zone and it was going to be tough to play physically, it would’ve been foolish to ignore Dredge. It was also a deck I had a lot of fun playing (free Lightning Helixes against aggro and Burn? Yes please)

TLDR: There is a method to my madness, no matter how much of a memer I look to be!

The Tournament

[Deck Title= First Place, Eldrazi Tron – Jonathan Zhang]
[Creatures]
1 Endbringer
1 Hangarback Walker
4 Matter Reshaper
4 Reality Smasher
4 Thought-Knot Seer
2 Walking Ballista
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
1 All is Dust
2 Dismember
2 Warping Wail
4 Chalice of the Void
4 Expedition Map
4 Karn, the Great Creator
1 Mind Stone
2 Ugin, the Ineffable
[/Spells]
[Lands]
2 Blast Zone
1 Cavern of Souls
4 Eldrazi Temple
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Radiant Fountain
1 Scavenger Grounds
4 Urza’s Mine
4 Urza’s Power Plant
4 Urza’s Tower
2 Wastes
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Dismember
1 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Liquimetal Coating
1 Mycosynth Lattice
1 Pithing Needle
2 Relic of Progenitus
1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
1 Sorcerous Spyglass
1 Spatial Contortion
1 Tormod’s Crypt
1 Walking Ballista
1 Withbane Orb
1 Wurmcoil Engine
[/Sideboard]
[/Deck]

I won’t bore you with all the minute details, but I will provide some select commentary and highlights. Before that though, I wanted to shout out the Vancouver MTG chat, where we placed four (!) people into the top 8, and Vancouver in general for representing the top tables and defending home turf. Well done everyone!

R1: W vs Red Prowess
In both wins, I stabilized with a Chalice on 1 and my opponent’s deck literally ceased to function. Not very insightful, but I want to highlight the power of Eldrazi Tron’s prison pieces right now, especially Chalice’s current position.

R2: W vs UG Eldrazi
This deck has been low-key crushing it online, so I wasn’t surprised to find out that a group of Seattle Spikes decided on this. I won a very close set of three games where I had to make some on-the-fly adjustments, being unfamiliar with the deck. I think Chalice 1 is actually pretty good (4 Noble, 4 Stirring, 4 Stubborn Denial, x Ceremonious Rejection). Also, I figured that since they were significantly better at powering out fast Eldrazis I needed to take a more defensive stance, having the best late game (but always being mindful that Oko can undo any work that my Endbringer or Ensnaring Bridge is doing).

R3: W vs Aggro Goblins

R4: W vs Crabvine
I lost game 1, and won both post-board games, mulling aggressively to interaction and establishing Chalice 1 + Grafdigger’s Cage in both games. Again, another example of Chalice being great in this environment.

R5: L vs RUG Urza
Amusing loss against a friend where I turn 3 TKS’d away his hand of Cryptic+lands, and he literally ripped running Urza->spin Urza into Oko->win. Then in game 3 he ambushed me with a turn 3 Magus of the Moon that I’d never seen in Urza, and I ended the game with 6 <> spells!

R6: W vs UW Miracles

R7: W vs Infect
Shout out to Sean, who said he was a regular listener and only started playing 7 months ago and almost made it to the top 8 of a high stakes competitive event. Unfortunately, I played a pretty solid control game and Chalice 1 ruined another opponent’s day.

R8: ID (8th place)

QF: W vs Sarah on Infect
Going into the top 8 as the 8th seed and having to break serve against a lot of bad matchups seemed daunting, especially against a very good local player in Sarah piloting Infect. It wasn’t the best start when I had to mulligan down to 4, but I knew that against this matchup I could only keep a specific subset of hands. I ended up winning game 1 on the draw on 4 cards (2 lands, Chalice, Ballista) which was incredibly important. I mulliganned a lot in this matchup, including some tempting hands like natural Tron hands and turn 3 TKS hands, but I knew I had to be disciplined. Chalice 1 invalidates half their decks, and in both games, I had Chalice 1s. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I won and started to feel like this is my day.

SF: W vs Etron
Being on the draw in the mirror was brutal, but fortunately I had several natural Tron hands and ended up sweeping, setting up a finals match against a good friend.

F: W vs Paul Turbo Druid
I was dreading this matchup all top 8, as Paul is a master with the Devoted Druid archetype and his version with Simian Spirit Guides was especially threatening. This is part of the reason why I added the third Dismember over the second Spatial Contortion (one of the only changes I made to Yamakiller/Mateusf’s list). If you look at the list of matchups throughout the day, Dismember was much better than Contortion, which I was ecstatic about.

We played a very intense three game set where we mulliganned a lot and played interactive matches. Like against Infect, I knew I can only keep a small subset of hands against Paul. Thankfully, I drew above average and Paul had some unlucky draws, and I managed to netdeck my way into a PT win!

Sideboard Guide

I’ll be honest – I’m only 100 matches in and I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. To prepare, I watched a bunch of Yamakiller’s Etron videos and subbed for his sideboard guide, and it worked out great. I would highly recommend you check out his videos/get his guide if you are interested in this deck.

For what it’s worth, I think Karn, the Great Creator and Blast Zone have revolutionized the deck, and I believe this deck has the power level to be an evergreen tier 1/2 deck. So much so that I’m considering buying the deck in full in paper with the prize that I won!

Tips & Tricks

Mulligan very aggressively

The above is not a joke! There’s been a lot of literature on Etron already, so I’m not going to parrot what other great Etron pilots have said. However, I believe this is a big reason for my success with Etron (76% win rate through the first 100 matches, as well as my relative success since the London Mulligan). I’m fairly sure that people are still underestimating the power of the London Mulligan. Coming from a Neobrand background, getting in this mindset of “mulligan to the nuts” wasn’t so hard. The biggest change with this deck, in my opinion, has been the fact that you can now nut draw even your worst matchups with Karn. I can’t stress this point enough!

So, with that being said:

  • Don’t keep mediocre hands such as turn 4 TKS+turn 5 Smasher hands, turn 4 Karn with interaction hands, and anything that resembles you playing these cards on curve.
  • Do keep hands that has the nuts or a likely path to the nuts. These include natural Tron, 2 Urza lands+map, turn 2 TKS, turn 2 Reshape + turn 3 TKS or turn 3 Karn with interaction hands.

For reference, I have a higher mulligan rate (58%) with Eldrazi Tron than with Neobrand, which is incredible to me! That I mulligan more often with this “midrange” deck than with an A+B combo deck should speak volumes about how I play this deck and how you should be playing it too.

Conclusion

  • Eldrazi Tron is great and likely going to be among the best decks for the next half year at least
  • Don’t be afraid to venture outside your comfort zone, but at the same time be cognizant about your strengths and limitations
  • Thorough deck selection and preparatory processes goes a long way towards having successful tournaments
  • I’m going to PT Phoenix! If you are there, come say hi!

Neobrand Combo Primer Part 3: Sample Game Walkthrough & #Sideboardguide

In part 2, I covered a lot of theory about how to play the deck, but I understand that imagining how to apply these in a real game is hard.  As such, I will go through a sample match to illustrate some of the concepts, as well as provide the sideboard guide for the top decks.

  1. Game Walkthrough

Game 1 on the play, in the dark

This hand has everything you could ask for: an Allosaurus Rider, two green cards to pitch, a Neoform, and mana to cast a turn 2 Neoform.  Extra credit for the hand having a SSG to start the combo, as well as a Summoner’s Pact you can use for a Wild Cantor or an Autochthon Wurm during the combo if you draw another green card in your two draws.  This is one of the best hands you can have, save for turn 1 combo hands.

Turn 1A: Opponent goes turn 1 Goblin Guide->reveal Griselbrand.  If it didn’t reveal such a distinct card, I would play out the Island to bluff a different deck.

Turn 1B: I draw the Griselbrand. As played, I play out the Gemstone Mine on the off chance that Goblin Guide gives me a Tranquil Thicket.

Turn 2A: Goblin Guide reveals Tranquil Thicket (rewarded!).  Opponent plays an Eidolon and passes.  I do not cycle here because I think the Eidolon will severely limit my ability to manage the library size with Summoner’s Pacts and Manamorphoses, so I opt to not cycle to keep the library size divisible by 7 (49) to start the combo.

Turn 2B:  Island->Allosaurus Rider pitch two Eldritch Evolutions->Neoform take two damage.  Note that I keep the Summoner’s Pact as it can have utility later on in the game.  I decide to pass here, as in game 1s Burn does not have problematic cards like Path to Exile or Deflecting Palm, so Griselbrand should do the trick here.  If I draw 7, I die to three 1 mana burn spells. The worst case scenario would be a triple Lightning Bolt to Griselbrand.  Any combinations with Lava Spikes or Skewer the Critic will not work to kill Griselbrand.

However, I note that if I were going to just Neoform and pass, I should have cycled the Tranquil Thicket.  That’s a small mistake for sure.  Note that if the opponent attacked, I would not block as to enable a 2 Lightning Bolt/Skewer hand to kill Griselbrand.

Turn 3A: Opponent plays Grim Lavamancer->Lava Spike, pass. 

Turn 3B: I draw an Allosaurus Rider, which is food for Nourishing Shoal and another blocker.  My plan should be to present a two turn clock and not risk anything by drawing.  I attack, but I choose to draw which is a huge mistake.  It’s hard to miss from this spot, but there’s a possibility I miss and go down to 12, at which point I’m dead to 3 1 mana spells again.  I do draw an exceptionally bad batch of 7.  Remember – there’s no harm in passing if you have an unbeatable board!

I plan on playing the Allosaurus Rider as a blocker but I elect to cycle the Thicket first because it’s free.  Lo and behold – a Nourishing Shoal!  However, rather than gaining 7 to go to 19 and passing, I double down on my mistake and keep going, thinking at worst I’ll be back up to 12.

Luckily, I draw another Shoal.  At this point, I should have the win in hand given that I have plenty of mana and Laboratory Maniac already in hand.  However, If I Pact for a Wurm, I die to Eidolon and Bolt.  So I should Shoal pitch Allosaurus Rider (gain 7), Pact taking 2 for a Wurm, and Shoal pitch Autochthon Wurm (gain 15), putting me to 25 and being safe from any shenanigans going forward.

Turn 3B cont.: Nourishing Shoal pitch Allosaurus Rider (12 life)->Summoner’s Pact for Autochthon Wurm (10 life)->Shoal pitch Wurm (25 life).

At this point, my opponent has seen enough and concedes.

Game 2 on the draw vs. Burn

Sideboard philosophy: You are a faster combo deck with a 0 mana gain 15.  You are favored as long as you can execute your plan in a reasonable timeframe.  Burn tends to play Paths and Grafdigger’s Cages, but you generally shouldn’t dilute your deck too much.  I like Serum Visions a lot more on the play, as on the draw you may not want to cast multiple Serum Visions after an Eidolon of the Great Revel.  Since the list I was playing had 2 Dissenter’s Deliverances, I elect not to bring in many Oxidizes.  I think Pact of Negation is defensible, but if they are leaving up mana for Path/Skullcrack, you are likely not getting pressured enough to be worried. One may be OK, though.

Suggested Sideboarding: Present your 60 on the play, -4 Serum Visions +1 Oxidize +1 Pact of Negation +2 Leyline of Sanctity on the draw

Against Burn, I’d like to present a turn 2 Griselbrand on the draw.  This 7 is on the lower end of keepable, as it’s missing a piece.  However, Grove can cantrip, and Life Goes On can buy some time.  If this only had Eldritch Evolution and not Neoform, I would likely mulligan.

Turn 1A: Mountain->Monastery Swiftspear->attack

Turn 1B: Draw Edge of Autumn. Not the worst hit considering it wasn’t an Allosaurus Rider, as it cycles.  I lay a Botanical Sanctum, go

Turn 2A: Bloodstained Mire->Suspend Rift Bolt->attack/pass.  Given that Burn should be pressuring your life total ASAP to reduce your ability to draw with Griselbrand and the lack of turn 2 plays despite that, I put my opponent on a range heavier on disruption (Path, Skullcrack).  I also elect to cast Life Goes On here, which puts me to 22 for another Griselbrand draw (I already had enough spare green cards).

Turn 2B: I’m fortunate enough to draw a Summoner’s Pact, and now comes the first go/no-go decision point.

Starting with two lands and having to use Summoner’s Pact means that I need to win this turn or pass with 2 SSGs in hand (32% to draw the two in the first 14 cards, by the way).  Waiting will reduce the Pact burden and give us one more mana to work with.  The question becomes what could happen if we pass.  They currently have 5 points of damage on-board.  Any spell means at least 9 in total, which would put us to 13, which brings the number of draws we can take from 3 to 1.  I figure that that is an unacceptable risk to take, so we go for it here.  If we have to fight a Path, we’ll try and figure it out on the way.

Turn 2B cont.: Gemstone Mine->Summoner’s Pact for Allosaurus Rider->Allosaurus Rider pitch 2x Eldritch Evolution->Neoform

As mentioned in the last article, the biggest concerns from this point are 1) life, 2) mana, 3) accessing Laboratory Maniac.  Life to keep going is by far the most important factor.  If all fails, 2 SSGs can hopefully keep us alive and set us up to win in two turns.

Unfortunately, our first draw 7 is met by a Path as we feared.  This is what the singleton Pact of Negation would be for.  As we haven’t boarded it in, we can either 1) fight through it and win with the Maniac without Griselbrand, or 2) draw enough, gain enough, and get to 2 SSGs to win in a few turns.  Drawing 7 in response is mandatory, though.

Turn 2B cont.: Draw 7->Path to Exile->Draw 7 in response. Here, we’ll need to carefully reconsider each decision point after every draw.  It’s possible we stop midway.

We have some food for the Shoal and mana, but no life gain yet.  We keep drawing. Draw 7 more.

Now we are in business.  Note that we have 4 total mana (4 SSGs) so we can even fire off a Life Goes On or Serum Vision.  If we Pact for an Autochthon Wurm here, note that we need to win this turn as we can no longer pay for Pact.  Also, we would put the library at X/7+6.  We have 4 Manamorphoses, 1 Edge of Autumn, and Summoner’s Pacts to get through everything in the library.  So we should be OK.

Summoner’s Pact for Autochthon Wurm->Nourishing Shoal pitch Wurm->Draw 7 more. We hit a Nourishing Shoal+Wurm in the next 7, so this should all be OK.  All we need to do is set up a spot where after the Path and the original draw 7, I can get my library empty for the Maniac.  That means getting your library size ideally to X/7+4, so 4 Manamorphose+Edge of Autumn can do the job.  Or just draw the Pact of Negation and make this infinitely easier.

Summoner’s Pact for X.  This is done to thin the deck. Ideally, I hit more Summoner’s Pacts with green creatures left in the library to thin the deck some more.

However, the next 7 yields me nothing useful (Summoner’s Pact to thin or Pact of Negation to counter the Path)  and now I’m in a bit of a precarious spot.  I still have 4 Manamorphoses, 1 Edge of Autumn and 1 mana to cycle with Dissenter’s Deliverance.  How do we maneuver into a spot where even after Griselbrand is gone, we can draw all the cards in the library?  Note that we still have our original draw 7, so we have to go through the remaining 5 cards manually…

As seen in the picture below, we are at an effective 5 cards in the library after the original draw 7 (note we have already drawn our only basic).  Note that we already have 3 of the 4 Manamorphoses, 3 SSGs, Edge of Autumn and Dissenter’s.  We can use the 4 Manamorphoses, Edge and Dissenter’s to draw 6 cards as long as the last Manamorphose isn’t the actual bottom card of the library.  So statistically we should still be good to go.

Manamorphose 3 times->Let the Path resolve and fail to find->let the original draw 7 resolve. The Manamorphoses are ones I have to fire off this game anyway so it’s free to do so to look for a Pact of Negation to win the game on the spot.  The 3 draws are all bricks and I let the Path resolve. However, here I make a humongous mistake!!  I was going to have to fire off an Edge of Autumn anyway to get through my library, so I should’ve done that here.  I just gave up a 1/9  chance that the next card is a Pact of Negation and win the game on the spot by countering the Path! Hopefully this won’t bite me in the behind here..

As long as the last card is not Manamorphose, we should win.  We’ll draw the last SSG along the way, have 2 cards remaining in the library, and go for a combination of Manamophose/Edge of Autumn/cycle with Dissenter’s and win the game.

The draw 7 doesn’t yield me the Manamorphose! Now I’m getting really nervous.  If the last card is actually Manamorphose, I can’t win.  I get a bit lazy and Pact to see the last two cards, which are both the key cards that I’ve needed all this time.  What started as a seemingly easy win is now a coinflip.

.. And I draw the Pact!  Because The last card is Manamorphose, I can’t cast it after Laboratory Maniac.  Therefore, I lose a game where it looked like such a lock to be a win.  There were a lot of microdecisions and I was doubting myself after wondering how many mistakes I’ve made, but upon review the only mistake I’d call out is not cycling the Edge of Autumn when Pact of Negation was still an out.

It feels bad to lose a game based on one card out of 60 being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but hopefully this illustrated how thin the margins can be with this deck!

Game 3 on the play vs. Burn

The 7 is two mana sources away with a Serum Visions for a turn 3 Griselbrand.  While acceptable, I can see arguments for and against this hand.  In the end, I keep as we have the actual Allosaurus Rider, and Manamorphose allowing me to have more outs (SSGs can now be filtered into GG).

Opponent also keeps 6.

Turn 1A: Island->Serum Visions draw Pact of Negation and scry 2x Summoner’s Pact to the bottom. An easy decision considering all you need is mana.

Turn 1B: Fetch Sacred Foundry->Lava Spike. I’m ecstatic to see a non-creature hand from the opponent.

Turn 2A: Draw Summoner’s Pact->pass. Didn’t I scry those away..?

Turn 2B: Mountain->go.  This makes Path to Exile/Skullcrack way more likely..

Turn 3A: Draw Nourishing Shoal->move to End Step->Lightning Helix->Discard Eldritch Evolution. This isn’t looking good..! I can hopefully at least draw a big fatty to pitch to Nourishing Shoal when the opponent has tapped out.

Turn 3B: Fetch Mountain->Swiftspear->go.  Clearly, the Swiftspear was just drawn off the top.  That the opponent declined to play anything makes me really suspicious.  Now I’m almost certain that the opponent is holding up Skullcrack, which makes the Nourishing Shoal in my hand very tricky to play.

Turn 4A: Draw Chancellor of the Tangle->move to discard intending to pitch a Pact of Negation. If my opponent taps out, I’m going to take my opportunity to Shoal pitch Chancellor while Skullcrack is down.  The opponent does nothing, and I pitch the blue Pact, reasoning that because I have the Allosaurus Rider, I can win by passing with a Griselbrand and therefore I don’t need to be reckless with Pacts.

Turn 4B: Fetch Sacred Foundry->Bolt->Attack me down to 8 and pass. Not sure why the opponent fetch/shocked main phase.  Perhaps they are representing Path+another white spell? If so, I’ll be very hard-pressed to win this game..

Turn 5A: Draw Simian Spirit Guide. We need to get going here.  How to sequence this is interesting, but I’m fairly sure we just need to Manamorphose into UG.  Granted, 4 Neoforms become outs at that point, but at the expense of 4 SSGs if we make GG (all 13 untapped lands are outs regardless of what we make).  I elect to gamble on the Neoform as they make comboing much easier if we do hit, and if we don’t at least we can cast Serum Visions if we draw it.  Pitch SSG, Cast Manamorphose make UG->Draw Waterlogged Grove

This is the dirtiest of all the outs, since cheating in Griselbrand means we can’t even draw 7!.  However, our hand is our hand.  At least we don’t have to pay for a Pact because we have the rider.  We just need to cheat in Griselbrand, leaving Nourishing Shoal up, and hope.  Play Waterlogged Grove->Allosaurus Rider pitch Chancellor and Pact->take 1 to cast Eldritch Evolution->Pass

Given that our read is Skullcrack, we need to be very careful playing around that.  Hopefully, we draw a green card and we can Shoal in response to put the game away at some point.

Turn 5B: Inspiring Vantage->Goblin Guide->Pass.  I’m almost certain the last card in the hand is Skullcrack.

Turn 6A: Draw Allosaurus Rider.  Excellent.  Now we can attack to threaten lifelink and put the game away.  If they have Skullcrack, we can Shoal and gain 7 in response.

They do and we do! The rest of the game is academic, and I win a match that had many ups and downs.

Even though the combo turns were early and the games may have appeared mindless from the outside, I hope this highlighted some of the concepts that I highlighted in part 2 of the article and how interactive this deck can be!

  1. Sideboarding

Now the part everyone’s been waiting for!  Generally speaking, you are a combo deck that’s almost always asking the question, not answering.  Therefore, we want our sideboarding to be minimal and efficient.  Generally, the cards that come in are obvious.  As for cards that come out:

  • Serum Visions is much better on the play, and become much worse in fast matchups
  • Edge of Autumn, Life Goes On 1-2, and Wild Cantor are some of the weakest cards of the deck.

Here’s my most current list that I’ll be referencing.  This is also my frontrunner for GP Las Vegas:

[deck title=Neobrand – finalnub]
[Creatures]
4 Allosaurus Rider
2 Autochthon Wurm
4 Chancellor of the Tangle
2 Griselbrand
1 Laboratory Maniac
4 Simian Spirit Guide
1 Wild Cantor
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
1 Edge of Autumn
4 Eldritch Evolution
2 Life Goes On
4 Manamorphose
4 Neoform
4 Nourishing Shoal
4 Serum Visions
4 Summoner’s Pact
[/Spells]
[Lands]
4 Botanical Sanctum
4 Gemstone Mine
1 Island
1 Tranquil Thicket
4 Waterlogged Grove
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Oxidize
4 Pact of Negation
3 Slaughter Pact
2 Veil of Summer
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

https://www.mtggoldfish.com/deck/2193980#paper

Vs. Hogaak (Very favored)

-1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
-1 Life Goes On
-1 Serum Visions
-1 Serum Visions (Draw)
+2 Veil of Summer
+1 Leyline of Sanctity
+1 Leyline of Sanctity (Draw)

  • One of the main reasons to play this deck right now.  Hogaak as constructed is not structurally set up to combat Neoform. Truly tragic that it’s about to go
  • Matchup is mostly a race except Carrion Feeder can throw a wrinkle on the combat math as it can deny lifelink if Griselbrand is blocking
  • Post-board, it’s generally pretty obvious when they are holding up an Assassin’s Trophy.  If you have the read, you can just pass on turn 2 so you can combo with Veil backup.
  • Veil is amazing for this matchup, as it both ruins Thoughtseize and Trophy on Griselbrand/Laboratory Maniac.  It’s a common pattern to stop comboing (as long as you don’t have any Pact obligations) once you can produce a Wild Cantor/another open green mana to Veil
  • Lately, the lists have started to play ~5 discards (heavily weighted towards Brutality for the red matchups).  Before they were only playing 2-3 Thoughtseize so I was happy with just Veils.  As it is now I’m happy to bring in some Leylines to blank their, but you want the right ratio of answers vs. their threats.  In generally I’d like Leylines more on the draw where you can’t Veil their turn 1 Thoughtseize, whereas you can do that on the play.
  • Sample Enemy SB plan: +? Trophy, +1-2 Thoughtseize, +2-4 Collective Brutality

Vs. Jund (Favored)

-1 Edge of Autumn
-1 Life Goes On
-1 Wild Cantor
-1 Life Goes On (play)
-1 Chancellor of the Tangle (draw)
+2 Leyline of Sanctity
+2 Veil of Summer

  • Matchup is surprisingly favored.  You’d think that discards+Liliana+clock is bad but them playing Wren over Confidant is a huge boon for us.
  • MD can range from 6-8 discard and 0-4 Trophy. Liliana of the Veil is a huge problem if the opponent can weather the storm in the first few turns as she can exhaust all of your resources and playing out an Allosaurus is no good against her Edict.
  • A very common play pattern is to combo and stop as soon as you can produce other Allosaurus Riders+evolution spell (then you can re-combo next turn with an extra land) or Wild Cantor (both serve as food for Liliana Edict)
  • Veil of Summer works overtime here.  I’ve countered anywhere from turn 1 Thoughtseize to Liliana Edict/Ultimate and Fulminator Mage
  • Dissenter’s stay in as lists generally have 0-2 Grafdigger’s Cages and the floor as a green cycler is high.  My current list only has 1 Dissenter’s Deliverance unfortunately, but these lists play 0-2 so I’ll take my chances and not bring in Oxidizes in the dark.
  • I shave a Chancellor on the draw as the odds of you turn 1ing is much lower against the likely turn 1 discard
  • Sample Enemy SB plan: +0-3 Fulminator Mage, +0-2 Grafdigger’s Cage, +0-2 Collective Brutality

Vs. Izzet Phoenix (Neutral to slightly unfavored)

-1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
-1 Serum Visions
-1 Wild Cantor / -1 Edge of Autumn (Play)
-2 Serum Visions (Draw)
+4 Pact of Negation

  • Pre-board, the matchup is favored as Izzet should have no relevant interaction mainboard and you are faster than them.  Note that its clock can be pretty disguised with Aria/Phoenixes so if you are presented with an option to jam or wait, chances are jamming is correct.
  • Think carefully in cases where the opponent is threatening to flip Thing after Griselbrand has entered play.  It’s still possible drawing 14 is correct sometimes
  • Post-board, they have a wide variety of hateful things for us.  These include Force of Negation, Spell Pierce, Blood Moon and Narset, Parter of Veils. You can play through Blood Moon somewhat with Manamorphoses, but in general if you have a chance to jam you jam, as you don’t have the ability to sculpt your hand like they do.  If they have it, too bad!
  • Both their turn 3 bombs (Blood Moon and Narset, Parter of Veils) are more or less game over
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +? Vapor Snag, +3-4 total Spell Pierce/Force of Negation, +1 Narset, Parter of Veils, +1-2 Blood Moon

Vs. UWx (Very unfavored)

-2 Life Goes On
-1 Serum Visions
-1 Edge of Autumn / -1 Serum Visions (play)
-1 Griselbrand
-1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
+4 Pact of Negation
+2 Veil of Summer

  • This likely would’ve been a fine matchup before MH1/WAR.  Too many of UW’s new toys are devastating for you in one way or another.  These include Dovin’s Veto (only way to beat it is go under it or Veil of Summer), Force of Negation, Narset, and Teferi
  • In the mainboard, they seem to have 4 total permission cards that they can play on 2 or less mana.  Most seem to be something like 1 Spell Snare, 1 Mana Leak, 1 Logic Knot, 1 Spell Pierce.  If you have the option, elect to jam Eldritch Evolution over Neoform, but I doubt that you’ll have the luxury
  • ^ is in addition to the ~3 Force of Negations main and ~2 Surgical Extractions main
  • Games rarely get better, so chances are you are best off jamming at your earliest convenience, even post-board where you have some pretty useful cards.  The issue with waiting is that UWx slamming T3feri or Narset can undo all of the sculpting you may have done to this point
  • Enemy MD plan: 3-4 turn 2 or earlier counterspells (Pierce, Knot, Leak, Snare), ~3 Force of Negation, ~2 Surgical Extraction, ~3 Narset, ~2 T3feri
  • Enemy SB plan: +1 Dovin’s Veto, +? Vendilion Clique

Vs. Eldrazi Tron (Neutral to slightly unfavored)

-3 Serum Visions
+3 Oxidize

  • This matchup should be pretty good theoretically, but I haven’t had much success against them.
  • It’s possible with Karn, the Great Creator that they have too many angles pre and post-board that it evens out to be an even matchup (fast TKS, fast KGC into Needle/Cage, fast Eldrazi beatdown, Chalice on 0)
  • Karn and the presence of Hogaak have forced decks like Eldrazi Tron to compress their sideboards, so the post-board games shouldn’t change much.  Expect them to board in the 1 Cage and 1 Needle and the KGC bomb to e strictly Lattice or Liquimetal Coating
  • Sample Enemy SB plan: +1 Grafdigger’s Cage +1 Sorcerous Spyglass

Vs. Gx Tron (Very favored)

-1 Life Goes On
-1 Edge of Autumn (play)
-1 Serum Visions (draw)
+2 Oxidize

  • Unlike its little spaghetti brother, this is a very good matchup.  Tron puts up very little resistance on turns 1-3.  Most of their bombs don’t matter.
  • Using the same logic as I used above, Gx Tron has also been forced to be very focused with its sideboard space with Hogaak.  Starting a sideboard with 4 Leylines really limits what can go into your SB, especially if you insist on playing the Karn package.
  • As you can see, the sideboarding is very minimal because your main plan is already very good against them and their SB currently aren’t flush with hate cards for Neoform.
  • The non-Karn, the Great Creator lists have more room, but you shouldn’t expect more than an errant Warping Wail and Grafdigger’s Cage.  Indeed, the MC Barcelona winning list had 1 Warping Wail, so it may become more common going forward (which is weird because that card is only good against Thing in the Ice? Right now? There’s no Scapeshifts or Past in Flames these days)
  • The Karn, the Great Creator lists shouldn’t have room for Warping Wail.  But if you suspect that your opponent has Warping Wail, consider boarding in one Spell Pierce for a Serum Visions
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +0-1 Grafdigger’s Cage, +0-1 Pithing Needle, +0-1 Warping Wail

Vs. Humans (Slightly unfavored)

-1 Life Goes On
-3 Serum Visions
+3 Slaughter Pact
+1 Engineered Explosives

  • Like your matches against UW, most of your games are decided from turn 0-2, so consider your starting hands very carefully
  • Feel free to play out your EE preemptively on X=2, as their relevant hatebears are all at cmc=2
  • 1-2 Grafdigger’s Cage seems stock in today’s Humans list.  I wouldn’t expect too many other changes as there’s a lot of good hatebears in their maindeck already.  This is why Deliverances stay in (it’s also nice to blow up a Vial sometime)
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +1-2 Grafdigger’s Cage, +? Sin Collector, +? Gaddog Teeg

Vs. Mono-Red Phoenix (Very favored)

On the play: Present the starting 60

On the draw:

-1 Dissenter’s Deliverance
-1 Serum Visions
+2 Leyline of Sanctity

  • This, Hogaak and Burn are the other reasons to play this deck.  For a deck with a real fizzle rate, it’s nice to have matchups where Griselbrand staying on the field will win the game most of the times
  • That said, if they start with a Soul-Scar Mage, consider that it won’t take that much to kill or weaken the Griselbrand to their advantage.  Consider all permutations of spells if they make a suspicious attack
  • Because most lists play Arclight Phoenixes and because of Hogaak, most lists can’t afford to play Grafdigger’s Cage.  They are close to having to present their 60 like us (for very different reasons)
  • Be frugal with your Manamorphose usage as Blood Moon is one of the few ways to get you.  Observe their turn 3s carefully
  • In general, aim to keep hands that can produce a turn 2/turn 3 Griselbrand on the draw/on the play
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +0-3 Blood Moon, +0-2 Surgical Extraction

Vs. Burn (Favored)

-1 Wild Cantor
-2 Serum Visions
-1 Edge of Autumn (play)
-1 Serum Visions (draw)
+1 Oxidize
+1 Pact of Negation
+2 Leyline of Sanctity (draw)

  • Similar matchup as Mono-Red Phoenix, except that they have Eidolon of the Great Revel, they are more spell dependent, and they likely have Grafdigger’s Cage postboard
  • Lists seem to play 0-2 Grafdigger’s Cage.  Deliverances are fine as a high floor hedge
  • Be mindful of Path to Exile or Skullcrack where possible.  It’s often correct to fire off an errant Nourishing Shoal if they tap out of Skullcrack mana just so you can buy those crucial turns
  • As with against Mono-Red Phoenix, aim to keep hands that can produce a turn 2/turn 3 Griselbrand on the draw/on the play
  • Serum Visions aren’t great against a deck with Eidolon of the Great Revel, especially so on the draw
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +0-2 Grafdigger’s Cage, +? Skullcrack, +? Path to Exile

Vs. Urza (Neutral)

-1 Edge of Autumn
-1 Life Goes On
-1 Wild Cantor
-1 Serum Visions
+3 Oxidize
+1 Engineered Explosives

  • I thought this would be a good matchup on paper as they are slow to disrupt you and can’t kill you fast enough (also Laboratory Maniac goes through life gain), but in my limited matches vs. them it seems more even to me.
  • In their 60, expect 1-2 Cage, 1-2 Needle, 3-4 Whir of Invention and 0-3 Goblin Engineers to tutor these hate pieces
  • Postboard, expect the black versions to bring in at least 2 Thoughtseizes
  • Setups where they show an open Whir of Invention for Grafdigger’s Cage is quite annoying, so try to go under that if possible.  If not, because they don’t clock you, you can also try to sculpt your hand into a hand that can kill a tutored Cage before your evolution spell resolves
  • Keep in mind that this archetype is brand new, so ready for almost anything (Ashiok, Clique, etc.)
  • Sample enemy SB plan: +2-3 Thoughtseize, +1 Grafdigger’s Cage

Well there you have it! I tried to convey everything that I’ve learned in the last few months on the deck and hope people found it helpful.  I hope some of you will take away that the deck’s power level is unacceptably high for Modern, there is a lot of play to it in the games, and that it’s very well positioned while Hogaak is still legal.  I honestly don’t know what’ll happen to the deck once Hogaak gets banned.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the format becomes more interactive and decks like UW and blue Shadows variants rise up to police a deck like this.  Until the deck becomes unplayable or banned, I’m sure to continue playing it though! Thanks for reading, and until next time, keep on turn 1ing!

Neobrand Combo Primer Part 2: In-Game Heuristics & Gameplay

choo choo all aboard the luck express!

Isn’t this just playing the slot machine? This isn’t Magic at all?

Why are you playing a deck that loses to itself more often than not?

LOL FINALNUB Y R U PLAYING THIS DECK ISN’T IT EZ2PLAY AND BORING?

I’ve gotten infinite variations of this, and I always reply with the same thing: There is a lot of play with this deck and a lot of micro decisions you can optimize to squeeze out percentage points.   Whereas mistakes with other decks may only delay the inevitable or fasten their demise some turns down the road, mistakes with this deck manifest in the worst way possible, often losing the game on the spot.  People have repeatedly told me that they tried to goldfish the deck but they can’t even beat the goldfish, or they fizzle in many different, unexpected ways, and so on.  I hope to share with you what I’ve learned with regards to the in-game decisions and help you all avoid the embarrassing mistakes that have doomed me over the months.

  1. Mulliganing with Neoform

Let’s get this out of the way: I mulligan with this deck. A lot. Consider my mulligan frequency in my 200+ games with the London Mulligan:

It’s both surprising and unsurprising to learn that I mulligan in over half of my games (this is almost double the rate that I had under Vancouver Mulligan).  For one, the London Mulligan rule has undoubtedly helped the deck.  The less obvious reason is that the post-London Mulligan metagame has been notably faster than the previous, leading me to have different target combo turns.  The Turbo Hogaak deck does that to a format, unfortunately.  Generally speaking, I aim for a turn 2/3 Griselbrand OTD/OTP.  A lot of contextual factors change this obviously, but in general if my hand does not have a good chance to produce a Griselbrand in these turns, I’m happy taking a mulligan.  This deck mulligans relatively well up until 5, and even then there are nut 5 card hands that kill on turn 1 (Chancellor, blue land, Allosaurus Rider, Neoform, green card).

It’s also important to consider the decks in the metagame and their fundamental turns against you.  Understanding the matchups well will help you adjust the target combo turn appropriately.  As examples:

  • Against Turbo Hogaak, giving them a turn 2 is generally OK, unless their turn 1 play reveals multiple Vengevines (which are the actual cards I fear in the matchup, not Hogaak).
  • Against Humans, their non-Grafdigger’s Cage hate all come in the form of 2 mana hatebears, so aim to keep hands that can get under their turn 2 threat
  • Against Burn/Mono-Red Phoenix, I like to use the turn 2/3 benchmark outlined above, as against these decks a timely Griselbrand’s generally enough to get the job done
  • Against Gx Tron, you are more or less safe until their Karn Liberated/Karn, the Great Creator Turn (i.e. before Tron)
  • Against Valakut, you can do whatever you want until they can start pinging you with Valakut/Scapeshift you for lethal

It’s really hard to provide a rule of thumb for mulliganing, as MTG is all about context.  However, if I were to summarize my mulligan philosophy in one line…:

On 6 or 7, if the hand can produce a Griselbrand by turn 2/3 OTD/OTP, keep.  If your hand is one card away from doing so with some other positive things about it*, keep.  Otherwise, mulligan.  On 5 or less, if your hand is 1-2 cards away from a combo, keep.

*By something positive, it can mean a variety of things:

  • Some of the key pieces replace themselves if you flood on them (cards with cycling, canopy lands, Manamorphoses)
  • It has a Nourishing Shoal that you wouldn’t have to pitch to Allosaurus Rider (otherwise comboing becomes significantly harder)
  • You have redundant combo pieces and thus are resistant to discard
  • You have Serum Visions to dig deeper
  • Your hand needs 1-2 things to go right but it’s absolutely crucial to get under your opponent so you’ll take your chances with an otherwise bad hand (for example, vs UW you have Chancellor, Allosaurus Rider, Neoform, Summoner’s Pact, Pact of Negation, Life Goes On on the draw and you need to hit 1 of the 13 blue sources for a clean turn 1 combo/SSG for 4 additional dirty outs if you fetch for a Wild Cantor.  In this matchup, giving them 2 lands already open them up to Dovin’s Veto and Logic Knot which make the matchup significantly harder).
  • Your hand has an Allosaurus Rider not a Summoner’s Pact, and thus you can safely stop if you fizzle.
  • Your hand would not have to expend SSGs to combo, making the actual combo more likely to succeed

A lot of your hands will read like Yu-Gi-Oh hands rather than normal Magic hands, so you’ll need a little bit of practice to process all of these and identify which hands are good or not.  Talk is cheap, so let’s run through a few examples:

Example Hand #1: OTP vs. Hardened Scales

The no lands aspect may tell your brain to auto-mull, but hold up! This is a turn 1 combo on the play, as you have 3 Chancellors for enough Eldritch Evolution mana and you have an Allosaurus Rider already (bonus points for not having to Pact).  Keep!

Example Hand #2: Game 2 OTD vs. Goblins

This hand technically has a potential turn 1 kill, but it’s not a clean one.  You’ll have to expend an SSG (one less mana to complete the combo) to filter your SSG into Neoform Mana with the Chancellor mana.  However, you’d be needing to draw a green card for this to work (32/53 in my current configuration). Plus you have to finish the kill on the same turn, as paying for a Summoner’s Pact is practically impossible.  However, you can also draw an untapped blue land (13 outs) for a much more cleaner kill.  So you have 32 clean-ish outs to a turn 1 combo, 13 additional outs for a cleaner turn 1 combo, and 8 actual misses.  Although Goblins do not kill fast and their form of interaction is generally their 3 Thoughtseizes, I think the odds are good enough that we should keep this.  Keep!

Example Hand #3: Game 1 OTP vs. an unknown who kept 7 (you have mulled to 5)

This hand is here mainly to highlight the power of the mulligan with this deck. Remember that you can always nut someone out and turn 1 kill with as little as 5 cards (4 if you are on the draw and are feeling lucky!).  Here, we can bottom a land and a Dissenter’s Deliverance (Manamorphose can be useful in the library where Deliverance likely will never be).  Reveal Chancellor to make a G, play Allosaurus Rider pitching Chancellor and Deliverance, and Neoform with the land and Chancellor mana.  And voila, a turn 1 combo on a mulligan to 5! Keep, put back land and Manamorphose!

Example Hand #4: Game 1 OTP vs. an unknown who kept 7

This is very close to a turn 1 kill.. It’s missing a green card, unfortunately.  As such, we should view this as a potential turn 2 hand that is missing a green card.  Neither the Eldritch (mana intensive) or the Summoner’s Pact (need to pay for the Pact or win on the spot) or the Griselbrand (every draw is going to come attached with a 2% chance to lose on the spot if you draw the other Griselbrand) is ideal.  Because this still has turn 2 potential and the one missing card is the most abundant resource in our deck, I’m inclined to keep.  Hopefully, the matchup is not fast so we can pass on turn 2 and combo with 4 mana sources potentially available for that turn.  Waiting until turn 3 also has the benefit of requiring only one SSG out of you to pay for the Pact if you fizzle.  Keep!

Example Hand #5: Game 2 OTD vs. an unknown after you killed your opponent on turn 1 and thus are in the dark (you have mulliganed to five)

This would be a turn 1 combo even on a mulligan to 6, but alas we are not as lucky.  I think this is definitely a keep.  The question is, what would you put back?  This is where killing in game 1 without giving your opponent a turn is a bit of a disadvantage (I know, tough life).  I would consider the Rider and Neoform untouchable.  If you keep the Chancellor, Manamorphose, and SSG as well, you have a potential turn 1 if you can Manamorphose into a green card in two draws (~84% to hit if ~60% of your deck is green cards). If you keep these cards, 13 untapped blue lands also become outs as you can simply pitch Chancellor and Manamorphose to the Allosaurus Rider and cast Neoform. As such, though the hand may not look like it on a mulligan to five, you are 95% to hit either of the outs in two draw steps and combo on turn 1!  If I knew that my opponent was on a discard-heavy deck who has snap kept 7 (thus making turn 1 discard a certainty), I may consider shipping a Chancellor and keeping an Eldritch Evolution, but in the dark I think keeping the five on the right is a slam dunk.  Keep, and ship back the Eldritch Evolution and SSG!

Example Hand #6: Game 1 OTD vs. an opponent who kept their seven.

I’m a bit wary of hands who needs help to make a turn 3 Griselbrand on the draw in this metagame, but let’s evaluate this hand either way.  The positives include having both an evolution spell and an Allosaurus Rider (notably, both are the worse halves of the respective card groups), more than enough green cards, and a Serum Visions to dig for our lands.  Either a SSG or a Neoform would allow us to combo on turn 1 (though I am highly unlikely to try and combo on turn 1 with a SSG draw as you’ll need to pay for a Pact and comboing fully with 3 SSGs only is not something I actively want to do). So that’s 8 outs to a “dirty” turn 1 combo turn.  If you miss and cannot use the Chancellor mana, then your hand becomes much worse as a hand that can’t produce a Griselbrand until turn 3 on the draw and need help doing so.  Serum Visions will help us get a land/Neoform and Edge of Autumn can get us to three lands once we find our second, but one Visions is not a guarantee to find us a land by turn 2 (77% to do so with the draw step, three looks from Visions, and another draw step).  Without Edge and Visions to bridge us towards the turn 3 combo in the fail case, I think this hand is a clear mulligan.  As is, I think this is very, very close and it may depend on what my soul read is on my opponent’s deck.. Or just flip a mental coin.  Either a keep or mulligan seems acceptable!

Example Hand #6: Game 1 OTD vs. an opponent who kept their seven.

There’s a bunch of things to like and dislike with this hand.  On the bright side, any land will let you combo off (14 outs).  By my count, that’s 26%, 46% and 61% to hit by your turn 1, 2 and 3, respectively.  It’s also true that this hand would be using an actual Allosaurus Rider, so won’t have a Pact obligation if you want to stop (if you fizzle or are up against Burn/Mono-Red Phoenix).  On the other hand, having the Griselbrand means each draw has a small chance of losing you the game on the spot.  You may also have to expend one of your Nourishing Shoals, which will make comboing tough.  The numbers above also mean that 39% of the times, you’ll just sit there, twiddling your thumb, and dying a horrible death and look silly while doing so, and you don’t even have a land or a cantrip to start to help dig.  Lastly, you having the Griselbrand means you may not be able to beat a single Path to Exile of Assassin’s Trophy because you won’t be able to re-evolve into a second Griselbrand.  Ultimately, the format is so fast that I value the chance to produce a turn 2 Griselbrand on the draw, even if it is less than half the time.  Keep… but prepare to brick and look silly!

Example Hand #7: Game 3 OTD vs. a Burn opponent who has kept seven. (this is your mull to 6)

This is an actual hand from what would be my win-and-in in the MCQ I played last month.  Because they are on Burn, it’s likely that an active Griselbrand alone will let you win the game, but it needs to come down fast (turn 2/3 OTD/OTP).  There’s definitely great appeal for this hand as a hand that can make a turn 1 Griselbrand on a mulligan to 6 already, but it would definitely be all-in.  Given that you have an 8-outer on the draw, you are 28% to hit it in two draws.  However, half of those outs (Summoner’s Pact) are actually dirty as it requires you to win on the spot, which is harder if Burn is on the play and will be pressuring your life total from the start.  If I put a rough estimate and say I’ll be able to win 100% of the games I produce a turn 1 Griselbrand through Allosaurus Rider, but only 60% of the games I produce a turn 1 Griselbrand through a Summoner’s Pact, my EV here is roughly 14%*100%+14%*60%=22.4%.  Now, do I think that my EV on a mulligan to five or lower is greater or less than 22.4%? It’s obviously harder to do these rough mental math on the fly, but looking back, I believe the answer is that I was better off taking a mulligan to 5 instead.  As I said, the deck mulligans well down to five, and I feel like I’d have a better 5 enough times to muck this.  Mulligan! (I ended up keeping this and bricked, losing the match and my top 8 aspirations).

TLDR: Be willing to mulligan a lot and aim for a hand that can/is close to cheating in a Griselbrand by the fundamental turn of the format/matchup (turn 2 OTD and turn 3 OTP being good benchmarks currently).

  1. Gameplay with Neoform

To simplify, the two key phases of the games with Neoform is pre-Griselbrand and post-Griselbrand.  In a nutshell:

  • Your Pre-Griselbrand phase’ main goal is to dig to produce a Griselbrand in the most efficient manner while playing around as much disruption as you can.
  • For your post-Griselbrand phase, you are looking to combo efficiently until you win or you have reached an unbeatable state and mitigate all the downside cases that you are able to control.  This doesn’t necessarily mean you always jam and go for broke, nor does it mean you palm 14 and pray/hope you hit your goods.  In fact, you will have micro decisions facing you every draw 7, constantly asking questions such as “should I fire a Summoner’s Pact(s)?”, “when can I reasonably stop?” and “how many of the bottom X cards do I not have access to? What if my [key resource such as SSG/Lab Man/Shoal] are in the bottom X?”

Pre-Griselbrand Phase

Much of this will be your basic combo deck things, such as seeing the most cards in the window given, optimizing cantrips, etc.  As such, I won’t state the obvious here, but share with you some of my findings specific to this deck that I’ve encountered

  • A common spot that comes up is where you have 2 lands in play (including Waterlogged Grove), a third land in hand, and a rolled up Allosaurus Rider.  In that case, do you crack the Waterlogged Grove on their End Step, or untap and draw (basically a question of do you want two shots at Neoform or 1 shot at Neoform or Eldritch Evolution? Generally, it’s correct to not crack the canopy land, as the odds of hitting a 4-outer in two draws vs. the odds of hitting an 8-outer in one draw is about the same, so you want to leave yourself the option of the third land being free to do as you please
  • Often, you Serum Visions into a kill in hand and you think the scries are irrelevant.  Instead, try and think of what are the ways this can go wrong from here.  If you have two copies of Allosaurus Rider but only one Neoform, dig hardest towards the second Neoform in case your opponent casts a discard.  If you are up against Burn/Red Phoenix and life total during the combo will be tight, dig hardest towards Nourishing Shoal.
  • Generally, when presented with an option to fire a cycling card or a Manamorphose, I would aggressively fire it off at the first chance where I can draw into an immediate combo (for example, you have Allosaurus+2 green cards that are not Manamorphose, but no Neoform).  If there’s no chance of comboing on the spot, then you may still want to fire it off for UG to dig into a SV/cycling card, but it may also be correct to pass and keep up pretenses if you think your opponent doesn’t know what you are on (for example, Island+Waterlogged Grove could theoretically be UG Merfolk).
  • The most common color combination for Manamorphose is UG.  This is because 1. UG makes Neoform mana and you can still cast a Serum Visions if you miss, and 2. When comboing, UG with 2 SSGs means that you can cast Laboratory Maniac with a Life Goes On up.
  • There are some spots where it’s correct to Summoner’s Pact on your upkeep to thin the library and maximize your draw quality.  This basically comes down to if you think this your last turn and you need to combo ASAP.  In these spots, you typically would Pact for an otherwise non-functional card like Chancellor of the Tangle to thin the deck so your chances of hitting the card you need (Neoform, Nourishing Shoal) is maximized

Post-Griselbrand Phase

So you’ve managed to cheat in a Griselbrand.. Congratulations! You are well on your way to winning your game, but you still need to take great care in assessing your situation.  I’ve had many people tell me about how they failed to combo after producing a fast Griselbrand.  For most of them, there were ways you could mitigate the issue.  Here are some common ones already:

  • I couldn’t access the bottom 1-4 cards in the library due to having expended all of my cantrips, and all of my Nourishing Shoals/SSGs were there!
  • I was feeling overconfident, and fired off all of my Summoner’s Pacts indiscriminately early in the combo.  Now I can’t access the bottom 1-4 cards of the library!
  • Laboratory Maniac was at the very bottom of the library, how unlucky! (this could’ve been prevented if he/she had an Allosaurus Rider and the mana for Eldritch Evolution)
  • My library size was exactly 49, so I thought great I could go through ever card in the library! But when I drew my entire deck I couldn’t make blue mana for Laboratory Maniac because I had to pitch Wild Cantor to Allosaurus Rider, and Manamorphose with 0 cards in the deck is not advisable!

I’ve already gone through a lot of these through trial and error, so I’m hoping I can help you guys and gals not repeat my mistakes!

So you have a Griselbrand in play.. What do you need to be aware of to avoid embarrassing losses to fizzling?

Basically, after I cheat in a Griselbrand, these are the questions that I always ask first before I even draw my first 7 cards.  By extension, being aware of these will help prevent many of these tragic fail cases:

  • How many, if any, Pact obligations do I have for the next turn? If you have none, you have the freedom to stop any time.  If you are already in deep with multiple Pact obligations, it may be right to just fire off the remaining Summoner’s Pacts to thin the library ASAP.
  • How many mana sources do I have between SSGs, untapped lands, and Wild Cantor? This will greatly affect what you can do this turn.  Note that you need 3 mana to cast Laboratory Maniac and thus this is the minimum amount that you need to win this game.  Anything more gives you extra luxuries that will make comboing easier, such as being able to fire off Serum Visions or gaining 8 from Life Goes On.
  • How many Nourishing Shoals do I have in hand? Starting with these cards will significantly improve your success rate.
  • What is the maximum life points that I can theoretically gain this turn? This is especially relevant if you have had to pitch Nourishing Shoals/Autochthon Wurms/Life Goes Ons to Allosaurus Rider already.
  • Do I already have access to Laboratory Maniac? This can come in the form of drawing them, or having an Allosaurus Rider plus an Eldritch Evolution (but not Neoform!!)
  • What is the library size X? How close is X to being divisible by 7? As you draw in increments on 7s, knowing this will inform you on how aggressive you can manage the library size..
  • How many ways do I have to manage the library size for free? For example, in my current list, I have 4 Manamorphose, 1 Edge of Autumn, and 4 Summoner’s Pacts.  Some lists play Street Wraiths too.  So for example, if I have 6 cards remaining in the deck and you don’t have any spare mana, it may be possible that your 4 Manamorphose and 1 Edge of Autumn cannot get you to the last card, which may very well be the SSG that you need.  This is preventable though – if you had cast a Summoner’s Pact very early, then the library size would’ve been N/7+5, not N/7+6, and thus your free cantrips can go through the entire library.  As you will see, your Summoner’s Pact usage can greatly affect your combo success rate.

Using Summoner’s Pacts correctly.. The secret MVP of the deck

This card does so much more than meets the eye.  Here are some of the ways I’ve used it for:

  • Pact for Allosaurus Rider to start the combo
  • Pact for Autochthon Wurm to ensure your Shoal gains 15
  • Pact for Wild Cantor when you only have 1 SSG and need to keep the combo going, so you can filter your SSG into G for Life Goes On, gain the life, and continue drawing
  • Pact for an irrelevant card on Upkeep because you know exactly what you need to draw (likely Neoform) and/or because you believe this is the last turn
  • Pact for whatever before your first draw 7 when your library size is at 48.  The next closest X/7 number is 42, so you can afford to Pact early to try and improve your draws by thinning the deck
  • In general, Pact mid-combo to manipulate the library size
  • Pact for Allosaurus Rider to cast because your opponent has Pathed your Griselbrand on sight, and you can still win by beating down with an army of free 5/5s and you can pay for this Pact.

As you can see, the possibilities are endless!

Thinking of your combo turn as a constant stream of decision tree branches

The fun thing about comboing with this deck is the non-slam dunk (where you have 2 Shoals and 2 Wurms in the first 14 cards) combo hands are dynamic and you can do a lot to maximize your chances.  Here’s a summary of what I have in mind:

  • There are some times where I can try and combo, but decline to and just pass and ensure an extra land drop next turn.  This can happen when your opponent is on a deck that can’t punish you immediately and the chance of you dying to your own Pact is higher than the chances of your opponent killing you in time.
    • Consider a hand against a Tron opponent of [Summoner’s Pact, Manamorphose, Life Goes On, Neoform, Waterlogged Grove]. You are on your turn 2 and can play the Waterlogged Grove and try to combo.  Your Tron opponent has gone turn 1 Forest->Stirring for Map, turn 2 Mine->cast Map and a Chromatic Sphere.  They can’t do anything bad to you next turn, and you could use the extra land drop to significantly reduce your fail rate.  Therefore, you make your land drop and pass.
  • Early in the combo, if you are forced to go for it this turn (you had to expend a Summoner’s Pact and a Pact of Negation and are dead next turn), you can fire off your Summoner’s Pacts more freely before your first 7 to optimize the library size
  • If you aren’t constrained by these factors, my philosophy is to hold off on the “potentially lethal” (using Pact or SSGs preemptively) actions to the last possible moment.  Like in poker, position is key and you want as much information as possible before you make these critical decisions
  • Against some decks, it’s possible you can stop early. The general rule of thumb is that if your opponent’s best possible turn next turn can’t kill you, err towards stopping rather than firing off a Pact you can die to.  This is also matchup dependent, as some decks actually cannot beat a 8/8 Flying Lifelinker.  Some examples:
    • You are on the play on turn 2, against Burn/Red Phoenix, and your first draw 7 which takes you down to 11 contains no good cards, it’s likely that you should just stop and pass (assuming no Pact triggers).
    • You are against Jund or Hogaak post-board on your turn 2.  You aren’t facing significant pressure but your first 7 cards only yielded a SSG, Wild Cantor, and Veil of Summer.  In that case, the worst they can do to you is to either Liliana Edict or Assassin’s Trophy on Griselbrand.  In that case, play out your Wild Cantor and pass, knowing that you are protected by the Veil against the worst that they can do.
    • You are against Tron and they cannot produce Tron+Karn Liberated or Karn, the Great Creator+something harmful next turn.  You’ve Pacted once, have 2 lands in play and 2 SSGs.  You are totally OK to stop here and finish the job next turn while paying the Pact.

 Miscellaneous pointers

  • You can Eldritch Evolution your Allosaurus Rider into Chancellor of the Tangle.  Sometimes, you need that immediate blocker/Vigilance attacker to win a race and it’s sometimes better than your Rider
  • If you are short one card for the win but have Laboratory Maniac out, I’ve also won with some Pact triggers on the stack by untapping and cracking my Waterlogged Grove on Upkeep to draw a card from an empty library
  • Winning through a removal on Laboratory Maniac is pretty trivial, even if it’s uncounterable like Abrupt Decay.  Just maneuver your draws such that you can layer as many draw effects as possible. This can mean managing your library size to be 0 before you cast Laboratory Maniac, casting your life gain spells before you play Laboratory Maniac to re-activate Griselbrand, making the right colored mana before playing the Maniac to cast Serum Visions/cycle, etc.  You cannot beat a Wipe Away though, but if you really suspect that go ahead and beat down for the win instead.
  • You can win with just Allosaurus Rider beats.  Always be on the lookout for an opportunity to do so!

 Conclusion

As I’ve outlined, the deck’s extremely powerful but the combo can definitely fizzle due to pilot error.  Hopefully, what I’ve shown here can save hopeful Neoform pilots from making the mistakes that I’ve already made!  In the last part of the primer next time, I will go through a sample game walkthrough where we can apply these concepts, as well as the coveted #sbguide.  Until then, keep on turn 1ing!