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By: olaw, Oliver Law
May 21 2019 3:19pm
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Hello!

Welcome to another Becoming A Modern Man!  I am going to be taking a look at the War of the Spark cards in Modern in my coming articles and NeoBrand is one of the hottest new decks to emerge so far.  NeoBrand uses War of the Spark addition Neoform to turn Allosaurus Rider into a Griselbrand as early as turn 1.

I have been putting the deck through its paces and will share my experiences and what I have learnt about the deck in this article.

DECK TECH

I've been making a number of tweaks and changes as I went along with this deck and learned more about it.  Here is my current version of the deck:

The deck should be running four copies of Gemstone Mine but it's quite expensive so I amended my list.  I've also gone for more cantrips to try and find our combo pieces as I don't feel we can rely on having the combo in hand every game.

Creatures

Allosaurus Rider
Allosaurus Rider
This is the creature that makes it all possible.  Allosaurus Rider can be cast for 'free' by exiling two green cards from our hand, which means that we can cast it for no mana and immediately cast Neoform or Eldritch Evolution to turn it into the 8-mana Griselbrand.  As a green creature we can also tutor it up with Summoner's Pact for no cost which gives us some redundancy.

It should be noted that having two green cards in hand to exile to Allosaurus Rider is by no means a given and that is probably one of the bigger restrictions on the deck.  It also means that you can't really afford to mulligan to oblivion as some might have you believe.

Griselbrand
Griselbrand
The true centrepiece of the deck.  Griselbrand powers our combo by allowing us to draw our deck, gaining life from Nourishing Shoal in the process.  Putting a 7/7 flying lifelink creature onto the battlefield, or 8/8 if we put it into play with Neoform, can also just win the game in itself if the opponent doesn't have an immediate answer.  I tend to wait for the last possible minute to combo because if we can crack in with Griselbrand and gain the additional life that protects us from our combo fizzling out.  Also, our combo is completely instant-speed so there is no real reason to immediately pull the trigger.

Simian Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide
Simian Spirit Guide is the fuel for our endgame.  Once we have drawn our deck with Griselbrand, Spirit Guide provides the mana required to cast Lightning Storm to finish the opponent off.  Guide can also be used to power out a speedy Eldritch Evolution or a Neoform, with the help of Manamorphose

Just bear in mind that using Spirit Guide for anything other than producing mana for Lightning Storm increases the risk of fizzling as, unless you have untapped lands or other mana available, you will have to find all 3 of your other Spirit Guides to successfully cast Lightning Storm.  This can be a problem if you are unlucky enough to have one of those Guides be in the last few cards of your library.

Chancellor of the Tangle
Chancellor of the Tangle
Chancellor of the Tangle can lead to our Turn 1 combo kills, as it generates an additional mana on Turn 1, while also being a 7-CMC green card for Nourishing Shoal.  Without the London mulligan, I feel Chancellor's attraction is less apparent and I would consider cutting Chancellor if I could but I think we need the extra Shoal and Allosaurus Rider fodder.  It ticks a lot of boxes in that regard but I have found Chancellor generally pretty underwhelming.

Autochthon Wurm
Autochthon Wurm
Autochthon Wurm is here purely as Nourishing Shoal fodder.  Gaining 15 life from a single Nourishing Shoal gives us two activations of Griselbrand in itself which is just what we want to be doing.  It can also be found with Summoner's Pact which is a handy use for the extra Pacts on your combo turn.

Spells

Summoner's Pact
Summoner's Pact
Pact is a great tool for the deck that does a lot of things we need.  It's an instant tutor for Allosaurus Rider most importantly which means we have an extra 4 copies of Allosaurus Rider in the deck.  You have to go off at least by the upkeep of you following turn unless you can pay for the Pact which is a legitimate constraint.

Additionally, Summoner's Pact helps perpetuate our combo when we are going off by finding Autochthon Wurm to ensure we gain 15 life from our Nourishing Shoals.  It's also a green card so it can pitched to cast Allosaurus Rider.  All in all Summoner's Pact does pretty much everything we could reasonably expect it to do for our deck.

Serum Visions
Serum Visions
Some NeoBrand decks don't run card draw/selection cards but without the London mulligan I really think it's a necessary evil for the deck.  You just can't rely on mulliganing into an insane hand every game and being able to dig deeper into the deck is very useful.

Sleight of Hand
Sleight of Hand
I run an extra cantrip as I felt I just wanted as many as I could fit in the deck without compromising the core of the deck.  Sculpting your hand and sculpting it quickly is an important function if you don't happen to have a crazy starting hand.  As a blue card it cannot be used to cast Allosaurus Rider but we can usually find something more useful with it.

Noxious Revival
Noxious Revival
All the NeoBrand decks seem to be running this card as a standard.  It seems its primary usage is to put Nourishing Shoal back on top of your library so you can guarantee you draw it again on your next Griselbrand activation.  Not finding a Shoal is an easy way to fizzle once you start going off.  Another potential use is to put Griselbrand back into your deck, if you happen to draw the second copy, but that seems like a narrow situation as we rarely get an opportunity to combo twice.

Honestly I don't think I've ever cast Revival in my time playing the deck and I often sideboard it out.  I appreciate why it's there but I just haven't found it necessary or useful enough of the time.

NeoformEldritch Evolution
Neoform/Eldritch Evolution
The fundamental part of the deck.  It's interesting to note that the fundamentals of the combo were achievable before Neoform was printed but now we have a cheaper Eldritch Evolution the combo is actually much more viable.  Both cards are used to sacrifice Allosaurus Rider to put Griselbrand into play.  Unlike Goryo's Vengeance or Through the Breach the addition of Griselbrand is permanent so it is possible to just keep the big demon around and try and win the game through attacking.  As the combo is achievable at instant speed there isn't really any punishment for this.

Nourishing Shoal
Nourishing Shoal
As with Grishoalbrand, Nourishing Shoal is a key part of the deck.  Shoal allows us to really go off once Griselbrand is in play; padding our life total to allow multiple activations.  Autochthon Wurm is the ideal fodder for Nourishing Shoal but Chancellor of the Tangle or Allosaurus Rider will also net you 7 life for an additional Griselbrand activation if you have an awkward draw.

Manamorphose
Manamorphose
Manamorphose isn't really an essential part of the deck's gameplan but it is a cantrip that is essentially free,  a green spell for Allosaurus Rider and can fix our mana.  It ups the chances of a Turn 1 kill by being able to turn Simian Spirit Guide mana into Neoform mana.

Lightning Storm
Lightning Storm
The finisher for the deck and the true kill card of the deck.  Lightning Storm allows us to pitch lands to it to power up the damage it deals and with most of our deck in our hand we should have enough lands to reach at least 21 damage, which is usually all that is required.  The deck is actually fairly light on lands though so sometimes it is a good idea to keep lands in hand in the late game to avoid weakening the Lightning Storm.

Also, something that seems to have escaped most opponents I have played against so far is that the ability to discard lands to Lightning Storm can be used by both players.  As such, after you have powered up the Lightning Storm your opponent can discard a land and redirect Lightning Storm at your face.  Accordingly you don't just want to pitch all your lands to Lightning Storm if you can avoid it, you will want to keep some back in case your opponent has lands in hand to discard to Lightning Storm.

Lands

The manabase isn't very exciting.  We really only need to get to three lands, at most, to combo so we can keep a lean 16 lands and I've seen some decks run 15.  Just keep in mind that Lightning Storm needs lands to kill the opponent so lands are still an important part of the deck and you don't necessarily want to play out every land you draw.

Gemstone Mine
Gemstone Mine
Gemstone Mine is a land that can produce either green or blue mana at no extra cost.  It can't stick around long but generally we will not need it to so it's a great card for ensuring we have the necessary colours to combo as soon as possible.

SIDEBOARD

Pact of NegationNature's Claim

  • Pact of Negation is a free counterspell that can protect our combo on the turn we combo.  We want to bring this in against Control decks or anybody who is likely to be able to counter our spells.
  • Leyline of Sanctity is a good way to protect us from hand disruption which is a big problem for the deck.  As I mentioned, exiling two green cards to cast Allosaurus Rider is a real cost so we need to keep our hand well stocked with cards.  Leyline also is a good answer to various combos - such as Ad Nauseam, Storm and opposing NeoBrand decks.
  • Echoing Truth is a catch all answer to various problems we might face when looking to combo.  Echoing Truth can bounce Pithing Needle, Narset, Parter of Veils, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Grafdigger's Cage and Damping Sphere to give some examples.
  • Nature's Claim is another strong answer to a lot of the hate cards we might face.  There are a lot of artifacts and enchantments that can disrupt our gameplan and having a one-mana answer to those is very useful.
  • Reclamation Sage is an artifact/enchantment destruction card we can tutor up with Summoner's Pact.
  • Laboratory Maniac provides the deck with an alternate win condition as you continue drawing cards with Griselbrand once you are out of cards in the library and win the game.  As you have to cast Lab Maniac on your own turn and make blue mana to cast it I feel it is less effective than Lightning Storm as a win condition but we can bring this in where we feel like Lightning Storm might be disrupted.  Pithing Needle can name Lightning Storm to prevent you discarding cards to it and if an opponent is going to take that route an alternate win condition is handy.
  • Chalice of the Void is an interesting option for the deck.  Technically we don't need one-drops to combo off but it is at the expense of our draw spells which is risky.  Chalice can be very powerful against decks like Izzet Phoenix, Death's Shadow, Storm and Lantern Control.

GAMEPLAY
So lets get into some gameplay:


Our first matchup is against The Rock.  Hand disruption can be a real problem for us and between Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek and Liliana of the Veil they have a number of cards that prove very problematic to us.  Leyline of Sanctity comes in from the sideboard in an effort to protect us from that disruption but Assassin's Trophy provides them with an answer to cards like this so we aren't strictly safe.  On the positive side, they aren't the most aggressive deck which gives us some time to set up and keep our life total in good shape.


Our second matchup is against Whir Prison.  This matchup is pretty rough as our opponent is likely to have main deck answers to our deck, such as Pithing Needle and potentially even Grafdigger's Cage, as was the case here.  With my current setup there really isn't anything we can do about these cards Game 1 and in Game 2 they are able to tutor for all their hate cards which makes this matchup very problematic.


Our third matchup is against a new deck designed by Conley Woods called Pitch Blue (or Narset's Undoing as I have now seen it referenced).  The deck is based around the new Narset, Parter of Veils and creating a prison effect where the opponent cannot draw any cards.  Narset, Parter of Veils is a huge problem for our deck because our MO is repeatedly drawing 7 cards with Griselbrand.  The deck doesn't have many functional ways to attack Narset once it hits play so it's a huge problem.  They also run countermagic, hand disruption and bounce spells which can all be problematic in their own way.  The deck is extremely well set up against us and the matchup is really unfavourable.


The fourth matchup is against 8-Rack or some variation thereof.  This isn't really a good example of this matchup but is more of a demonstration of our more powerful combo turns.  We were able to go off on Turn 2 in both games despite disruption which shows the power of the deck when we get our best hands.  Funnily enough 8-Rack is actually a bad matchup for us as hand disruption can really ruin our gameplan and once they get you low on cards it's hard to ever get an Allosaurus Rider into play.  Leyline of Sanctity from the sideboard is our best protection against hand disruption so we want to bringing those in for this matchup.


Our fifth matchup is against Eldrazi Tron.  Both decks are trying to get a broken hand and demolish each other quickly.  I think our combo is generally faster and they don't disrupt us too much.  Thought-Knot Seer is a pain for sure but it's not the fastest and is the one-of hand disruption effect which is not necessarily the end of the world.  Post-board we are looking out for the usual hate artifacts and want to bring in our artifact destruction.  This matchup seems pretty good.

CONCLUSIONS

NeoBrand is an exciting new deck that does some interesting things.  Certainly the move back to the Vancouver mulligan online has dramatically reduced the consistency of the fast combos of the deck.

Pros:

  • The deck is capable of fast combo kills as early as Turn 1.
  • Neoform and Eldritch Evolution are more difficult to hate out than graveyard-based strategies, like Goryo's Vengeance.
  • Nourishing Shoal gaining you 15 life can buy you a lot of time against some decks in the format.

Cons:

  • The deck is very inconsistent and it is hard to recover from disruption.
  • You tend to be pretty badly punished for not winning the game quickly.  The longer the game goes the more likely it is that your opponent can disrupt you, you have lost life so Griselbrand can't activate as many times or that the Lightning Storm or Simian Spirit Guides in your deck are reduced.  There is also a risk that you simply draw both of your Griselbrands which essentially neuters the deck's gameplan.

It's hard to recommend this deck as in its current state it is just too inconsistent and vulnerable to any sort of disruption.  Should the London mulligan become the permanent mulligan rule then it will be worth revisiting but otherwise I think there are better options.  If you want to run a Griselbrand deck then I think Grishoalbrand, which I was playing in my last article, is a more resilient version of this deck that has more options should it be disrupted.

War of the Spark is having an exciting impact on Modern and I am going to continue to look at the latest brews.  In my next article I plan to look at Conley Woods' Pitch Blue deck so watch out for that.

Thanks for reading,

Oliver Law (olaw on MTGO)
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