The Invoke Cycle
Kamigawa Neon Dynasty featured a number of unique and powerful cards which have already broken through to impact the Pioneer meta, but there are still a number of cards which have not yet found a home! In today’s brew article, I am going deep on a cycle of new cards from NEO which have not been showing up in Pioneer but might be able to make an impact! These are the Invoke cycle, a cycle of five instants/sorceries for five mana, with four ‘pips’ of a single color. As a general rule, I like my five-drops in Pioneer to be able to take over or win the game on their own, so I will be looking at the best place where each of these five cards can shine!
Invoke the Ancients (Green)
I’m starting off with Invoke The Ancients as the member of the cycle with the most obvious home. Mono-green strategies have had a place in Pioneer since the beginning of the format, and the raw power of Invoke the Ancients might be exactly what the deck is looking for. As far as what it replaces, the most obvious answer would be Nissa Who Shakes the World. Big Nissa has been on a pretty serious downturn lately, with it often coming out just a little too late to take over the game in Pioneer.
Without Nissa around, the plan of building around planeswalkers (like Karn and Vivien) was less attractive, so I looked at a different shell which has found success. This one stars a different walker: Kiora, Behemoth Beckoner. With Kiora in play, Invoke is not only putting 8/10 of power and toughness into play, but also draws you two cards! You can do this as early as by turn three with the curve of Llanowar Elves into Kiora into Invoke.
Some other notable changes happen when we are building around Kiora. We want a majority of the creatures to be 4+ power so we focus on powerful three-drops like Old Growth Troll and Yorvo Lord of Garenbrig, and we can also easily support Rhonas the Indomitable. I am also trying out a card that I think has been playable but was waiting for a shell: Garruk’s Uprising. Uprising is a second copy of Kiora’s effect, and it has upside of drawing a card even if it comes down after your creatures. The trade-off is that it doesn’t ramp the way Kiora does. Granting trample to everything is also extremely powerful in a deck of big green creatures including Invoke tokens, Rhonas, Yorvo, and Questing Beast, all of whom benefit greatly.
The last thing to note is one other new card in this list. It shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Boseiju Who Endures showing up in Mono-green. In fact, because this list isn’t focused on Nissa (who requires maximizing forests) or devotion (which requires 4x Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx) we can go as high as three copies of Boseiju. From testing, the channel land has beaten expectations by taking out many cards that normally give Mono-green trouble such as Eidolon of the Great Revel, Esika’s Chariot, and Chained to the Rocks, as well answering the many popular new artifact decks from NEO Kamigawa.
Invoke Justice (White)
Moving on, Invoke Justice was the one that took me the longest to find a home for. It’s naturally a tricky card to build around because the mana asks you to be mono-white, or at least heavily white, but white is by far the worst color at filling up its own graveyard. I bounced around a few ideas before falling back on an old favorite of mine: God Pharaoh’s Gift.
“I expected the additional mana of Invoke Justice over Refurbish to feel slow and clunky, but in reality the Invoke overperformed every time.”
In classic GPG decks, by far the worst-feeling card in the deck was Refurbish. Many lists ran no other targets to bring back from the graveyard with Refurbish other than God Pharaoh’s Gift, so it was very frequent that it would be stuck in your hand. I had made attempts before to add other artifacts to the deck, but those never resulted in any success. So instead, I asked the question: what happens if I replace Refurbish with Invoke Justice? I expected the additional mana to feel slow and clunky, but in reality the Invoke overperformed every time.
The main difference between Invoke and Refurbish is the ability to hit non-artifacts. Suddenly, the card that was often dead in your hand is almost never dead. Bringing back a Skyclave Apparition (as a 6/6!) can be absolutely game-changing in a spot where Refurbish would have done nothing. Even better is how Invoke interacts with Champion of Wits. Because the +1/+1 counters are put on the creature as part of resolution, bringing back a dinky Champion of Wits suddenly becomes a draw six, discard two – which is a quick way to get back into the game.
The other big advantage of Invoke is that it lets you play some bigger reanimation targets. You would never want to play something like a Void Winnower in traditional GPG since it would be impossible to hardcast and only good when you have Gift in play (meaning you are already way ahead). But with a list running Invoke you can include reanimator hits in the main and side that are perfect to bring back with Invoke, and with the added bonus of making you less vulnerable to artifact destruction!
The last thing to look at here are some new additions from NEO. March of Otherworldly Light is an improvement for the deck over things like Portable Hole. It acts as removal but is also an answer to most hate cards which could stop the GPG combo such as Rest in Peace. Similarly, Otawara Soaring City is nearly free in the manabase and can bounce to buy you time or to remove a hate piece.
Invoke Calamity (Red)
Invoke Calamity was the first of the cycle that I knew I had to brew with. It screams “break me” and I immediately started looking for combo potential with any combination of two instant/sorceries that could win the game. It ended up taking an extra piece, but the combination I found was: Irencrag Feat plus a “Fork” effect makes exactly 14 red mana, which is exactly enough to cast Crackle with Power for X=4.
The first issue is that most of the effects in Pioneer that copy spells have to be cast first. The way that Invoke Calamity works is that it puts both spells onto the stack, so choosing Galvanic Iteration and Irencrag Feat does not work. Luckily we have one effect that does still work; Expansion from the card Expansion//Explosion.
Note: This does work. Casting Expansion only counts as two mana value for Invoke Calamity, and casting a copy of Irencrag does not count as your “one more spell this turn” because copying is not casting.
So, the result is a four-card combo, but in reality it plays more like a two-card combo because the Irencrag Feat and Expansion can be in any combination of your hand and graveyard.
For redundancy, we also make sure that none of the cards are dead on their own: Irencrag + Crackle can be a mass removal spell or a kill with enough mana, Irencrag + Expansion still makes 14 mana even without the Invoke, Expansion can be cast as explosion for card draw or additional damage, and Invoke plays well as a way to dig for additional pieces (for example recasting Unexpected Windfall + Expansion from the graveyard).
As for the rest of the deck, it is essentially just ‘UR Spells go BRRRR’ because you get to play all of the best card draw spells to churn through your deck. Lightning Axe is a freebie when your win cons work just as well from the graveyard as they do in your hand, and Prismari Command has been in all-star in a meta where artifact decks are everywhere.
Invoke Despair (Black)
To me, Invoke Despair is another one which has a high level of raw power, such that it could show up generically in any powerful midrange strategy which can actually cast it. It is guaranteed to be a three-for-one, and can deal a good chunk of damage to your opponent in the process. For example, a frequent way that it plays out is making the opponent sacrifice their only creature, deals them four damage and you draw two cards. Sacrifice effects are also in a good place in the meta against decks like Auras or Ensoul.
On the other hand, Invoke Despair isn’t the best when you are behind in the game. If your opponent is beating down with multiple creatures, Invoke will only kill the weakest one and the life/cards don’t do anything to give you tempo.
As far as brewing with Invoke Despair, I felt like it would be reasonable to try dropping it into a 1-2 color black midrange deck, but I wanted to try something that makes the Invokes more castable, so I went with Fires of Invention.
For the decklist, I started with an existing Grixis Fires shell I had found online, but was able to work in room for Invoke as the top-end finisher. Lier, Disciple of the Drowned also plays a big role in this deck as a way to turn spells like Invoke into a win con by casting them multiple times.
The sideboard ends up being entirely a wishboard (making the deck a bit of a game one hero) because we need targets for both Learn as well as Fae of Wishes. Divide by Zero has played surprisingly well alongside Fires of Invention, and it is perfectly reasonable to bounce and loot away the Fires of you get to a point where Lier + Divide could take over the game.
Invoke the Winds (Blue)
Alright last but… possibly least! The blue Invoke was probably the one I had the most trouble with, as the power level is maybe just a little bit lower than the rest of the cycle. So I tried something a little bit different, and what I wanted to look at was other ways that you might be able to cast a spell with a mana cost as restrictive as the Invoke cycle. What came to mind is Bring to Light. Finding and casting a five-mana sorcery with Bring to Light is mana efficient, and it can actually be easier to hit WUBRG for BTL than the four blue pips for Invoke the Winds.
The issue with existing Bring the Light decks is that generally what they want to do is cast something big like Niv Mizzet, Reborn… The solution I found for this conundrum was to look back at a Bring to Light shell which people had tried in the past: Lurrus Bring to Light. The best BTL target is already Valki, God of Lies (who is only two Mana Value), which lets the deck run Lurrus of the Dream Den as a companion! And because we can’t run large creatures in a Lurrus deck, powerful sorceries like Invoke the Winds become more attractive as a win condition.
The idea behind this list is to get out an early Tibalt, Cosmic Imposter by playing Valki and Release to the Wind, or by finding one with Bring to Light and casting the backside of it. Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy supports the strategy as another two-drop you can bring back.
Where the deck – and Invoke the Winds in general – falls short is that your power can largely depend on the opponent’s deck. Your main win cons are Tibalt and Invoke, both of which use your opponent’s cards against them. In a world where Lurrus decks are plentiful, you may not be able to win by simply stealing 1-2 drops. Invoke would look much better in a meta where people were casting big creatures like Dragons, green Stompy creatures, or Eldrazi. My conclusion for this Invoke is probably to keep it on the shelf for now, but that this may be a shell for it in the future if the meta is right for it!
Invoke the End
That wraps up my five brews to explore the five Neo Kamigawa Invokes! I’m always brewing and testing, so if you enjoyed this content let me know and I’ll continue making brew articles in the future. Until then, keep on Invoking in Pioneer!