Neoform Has Done It again
Neoform, the same card that created the infamous NeoBrand deck in Modern seems to have finally enabled the same glass cannon-style combo deck in Pioneer. Neo-Machus is brand new to the scene, finishing with multiple League 5-0s and a Top 16 finish in Saturday’s Challenge by @aethergust in its first week of existence. The idea originated in the Neobrand Discord by @GR_DONKIN at the beginning of April and saw constant innovation, culminating in the list that top 16’d the challenge.
Neo-Machus is built for speed and consistency. The aim is to have five cards in the graveyard, three lands, Neoform, and one of your eight delve creatures in hand by turn three. From there, you cast the delve creature, sacrifice it to Neoform and get Velomachus Lorehold onto the battlefield on turn three. The goal from here is to hit one of your eight extra-turn spells off of Velo’s attack trigger, then to repeat that attack trigger hit on each extra turn.
As always with a combo deck, our main goal is to find pieces so here we rely on a pile of 16 card-selection spells to both find pieces and meet the five-card graveyard requirement for turn three. The jury is still out on the best out of Contingency Plan and Taigam’s Scheming, but either way, in terms of ranking, Otherworldly Gaze is next and Consider follows that, since it doesn’t fuel the graveyard by itself (even if it is the best in a vacuum). Another powerful tool that the deck takes advantage of is the London Mulligan. We can win on mulligans to four relatively easily due to the sheer number of cards that the deck can see.
Outside of that consistency comes in the form of the number of redundant combo pieces of each kind we can play. Currently, The final numbers are still being worked out, but most lists range from eight to twelve delve creatures from among Hooting Mandrills, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Sultai Scavenger. This makes it incredibly easy to find at least one copy during the early card selection turns. If you fail to find Neoform or the combo is no longer possible, these creatures are also able to present a clock if no other choice is available, though it is worth noting that these creatures become near uncastable in the face of graveyard hate like Rest in Peace.
Neofom proves itself to be the hardest piece to find. Its usual partner in crime, Eldritch Evolution, does not work as copies 5-8 of Neoform, since the combo needs the counter Neoform provides, as Velo can only cast spells equal to or less than her power. Because of this, we only have four functional copies to work with. The only surefire way to tutor it is with Solve the Equation, which slows the combo down by a full turn. Because we only have four functional copies of Neoform and up to 12 delve creatures, hands that have a Neoform but no delve creature are much more keepable than the alternative.
So you did all the work and you have a flying, vigilance, 6/6 dragon on turn three, Now what? This is the hardest part, and the bad news is – it’s completely out of your hands: you have to hit an extra turn spell off of Velomachus’ first attack trigger. If you hit, the game becomes almost deterministic, as you now have the mana to use your leftover selection spells to get rid of any card in the way of hitting additional extra turn spells each turn thereafter.
With most builds running eight extra turn spells, there‘s about a 30% chance you’re going to whiff. Some of us are trying to lessen the chance of that with additional hits in Invoke Calamity and a functionally similar outcome in Become Immense or Boon of Boseiju.
The other issue that you have to worry about is interaction and how it stops you. Most decks in the format will have some way to stop you, either in the main 60 or the board, with the worst offenders being bounce spells like Brazen Borrower or simple counter magic in any form from Mausoleum Wanderer to Dovin’s Veto, which will readily dispatch any copies of Neoform you’ve managed to draw. Mono-Red, outside of killing you on turn four when things don’t go to plan, can also hold up a burn spell with Soul-Scar Mage to shrink Velo, stopping her ability to cast the extra turn spell. Finally, Winota can both race you and slow you down with a timely Elite Spellbinder or Brutal Cathar.
I tell you all this for three reasons:
- This deck can high roll out of most situations if you are lucky enough, but on the other side of the coin, the variance can put every card you need on the bottom of your library making it feel like an unplayable pile.
- The deck is a pile of cards that, under normal circumstances, could only dream of being played in a draft deck – let alone in a constructed deck on their own. Like Lotus Field, it is unlikely that you will be able to find a new home for the cards you buy for this deck if you choose to do so and end up not enjoying it.
- There is still a lot of work to be done on the deck in its current state, but even now, it is more than powerful enough to be a strong force in the right metagame. There’s also the chance that the group working diligently on the deck finds the right configuration of spells to shore up its weaknesses in the future. I personally find the deck to be a blast to pilot through both the high and low rolls of variance, but that sort of gambling style of gameplay is not for everyone.
In closing, I can offer only one point of advice.
SIMPLY DON’T WHIFF
Author’s note: I want to give a big thanks to the Neobrand Discord for answering any questions I had about the lists as I was writing this article.