Brewed Up: Neoform Druid

Those of you who have followed my work for some time are all too aware of my affinity for creature-based toolbox decks. From Pod, to Chord, to Company, to Eldritch Evolution; I love them all. Lately I have been working on the Bant Evolution deck from Chris Minor’s recent tournament report for us and have enjoyed it thoroughly. When I saw Neoform in the War of the Spark spoilers, I knew that I had to start brewing immediately.

Neoform
Between Neoform and Vannifar, it is clear that WotC now understands why Birthing Pod was too powerful. It was a cheap combo builder that you could repeat every turn. When the opponent had enough interaction to disrupt combos and not be stopped by a singleton toolbox creature, you could just net massive card advantage as the turns continued. Now they present us with one shot versions of the effect, such as Eldritch Evolution, or much slower versions like Vannifar. Eldritch Evolution is a respectable card but has not yet managed to make it into a Tier 1 deck. Now Neoform comes along as a new spin on it. The 1GG cost has been shifted down to UG and the creature enters with a +1/+1 counter. Evolution can find a creature that costs two more than the sacrificed creature, but Neoform can only find a creature that costs one more than the sacrificed creature. The more nuanced difference is that creatures found with Eldritch Evolution could cost more than, equal to, or even less than the sacrificed creature when desired; creatures found with Neoform must cost exactly one more mana than the sacrificed creature. It also does not exile itself so it can chain with Eternal Witness but this just results in a more mana intensive Eldritch Evolution in most cases. Luck would have it that the best Eldritch Evolution deck already plays blue and the combo pieces are cheap enough that the increase of two is not absolutely necessary.

Decklist
Lands (20)
2 Breeding Pool
2 Forest
3 Horizon Canopy
1 Plains
4 Razorverge Thicket
2 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
2 Wooded Foothills
Creatures (24)
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Devoted Druid
3 Duskwatch Recruiter
1 Eternal Witness
4 Noble Hierarch
1 Rhonas the Indomitable
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty
4 Vizier of Remedies
1 Walking Ballista
Spells (16)
4 Chord of Calling
4 Incubation // Incongruity
4 Postmortem Lunge
4 Neoform
Sideboard (15)
2 Burrenton Forge-Tender
1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
2 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
1 Kataki, War’s Wage
1 Knight of Autumn
2 Path to Exile
2 Stony Silence
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Tireless Tracker
75 Cards Total

The Build
Due to the obvious comparisons to Eldritch Evolution, I took Neoform and headed for Chris’s Grand Prix list. At first glance it is simple to swap Neoform in for Eldritch Evolution and call it a day. You do not want to overload on these effects as they are negative card advantage and very susceptible to counterspells. The blue in Chris’s list is a very light splash so an additional Breeding Pool is a necessity. Luckily, Dryad Arbor is any easy cut as it is very poor with Neoform compared to Evolution. Evolution can jump it up to one of the combo pieces while Neoform turns it into a mana dork; not much of an upgrade at all. So turning Evolution into Neoform and Arbor into Pool works out fine.

For those that are not aware, this is a simple combo deck. Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combine to generate infinite green mana. Once you have infinite mana you win on the spot with Walking Ballista or Shalai; Duskwatch Recruiter works as well by drawing into one of them. A key strength of the deck is that Parts A and B will almost always pay for Part C or a tutor for Part C. Eldritch Evolution works as well because once you have infinite mana, you can just sacrifice the Vizier into Part C. This can be an issue with Neoform though as Recruiter’s cost is equivalent and Shalai’s is too high. You could use your infinite mana to Neoform Vizier into an Eternal Witness, return the Neoform to hand, and then Neoform the Witness into a Shalia but that would require two blue mana and can be disrupted by instant speed graveyard hate; Surgical Extraction comes to mind. I was able to resolve this by replacing one Shalia with Rhonas; an effective Part C at three mana.

There are two key reasons to run Neoform over Eldritch Evolution. The first is that it obviously costs one fewer mana. It is inefficient to trade in a mana dork and pay three mana to upgrade it to a two mana combo piece. These exchanges only require a creature cost bump of one so Neoform still gets the job done and lets you get away with missing a land drop. The second reason is a bit more nuanced but it is all about that +1/+1 counter. At first glance, it seems meaningless to boost the stats on a combo creature. However, an additional toughness on Devoted Druid allows it to produce one more mana and that can win the game in some situations. A typical line for this deck is to play Turn 2 Devoted Druid and then Chord for Vizier on Turn 3 and win. To have the mana for this line you need to hit your first three lands or you need to play a mana dork on Turn 1 and hit two land drops. Unfortunately, the dork line is not possible if you used Evolution on the dork to get your Turn 2 Druid; you will absolutely need to hit the third land drop. However, if you are using instead using Neoform, the Devoted Druid will enter as a 1/3 and therefore be able to pay for the Chord regardless of a third land drop; typically winning the game in the process.

The Bad
I am sad to report that I believe this brew to be a failure. I was planning to not share it but I knew that we would receive questions about Neoform from our upcoming spoiler review. Furthermore, it is important to discuss and learn from our failures in order to get better. My testing leads me to believe that this updated version is inferior to the Eldritch Evolution version. I first began to worry when I realized the concessions that I had made to please Neoform. Dryad Arbor is actually one of the best cards in the deck. The ability to transform a fetchland into a combo piece is a huge boon. As always it is also edict protection and an emergency blocker. Also, with Postmortem Lunge it is a functional Lotus Petal. Also Rhonas is significantly worse than Shalai in a deck full of low-power creatures. The addition of blue in the mana cost has also been surprisingly detrimental. There are the standard small issues with additional colors; consistency, mana pain, Blood Moon. The real issue is when we our combo is going off. We can tap out to assemble Parts A and B because they can pay for Eldritch Evolution to get Part C. The combo only produces green mana so Neoform will demand a supplemental blue mana to present you with Part C. This comes up more often than the positive +1/+1 counter situation and is incredibly frustrating.

The greatest loss when testing though was in the versatility department. Being able to only find creatures that cost exactly one more than sacrificed creature is actually huge. It is very common that you will draw multiples of a combo piece. In such a situation, it feels great to trade in your second Druid for a Vizier so that you can combo off and win. With Neoform, you absolutely need a mana dork to sacrifice or you will not be finding Druid or Vizier. Furthermore, once sideboards come into play it is much more difficult to assemble your combo. This is when the toolbox comes into play. With Evolution you can find the two-drop options with any creature and you can find the three-drop options with any creature that is not Dryad Arbor. This versatility is critical to the deck and a Turn 2 Eidolon against Phoenix is amazing right now. Unfortunately, none of this is possible with Neoform. It will be impossible to find Burrenton-Forge Tender. You can only find Kataki with a mana dork. You can only find the three-drops with combo pieces or the singleton two drops. The deck is far less flexible as a result and I am marking this as a failed experiment. You can run cheaper, inferior toolbox creatures to further enable Neoform. But we have already made so many concessions for what is a surprisingly small efficiency boost. It just is not worth it when compared to Eldritch Evolution.

Wrap-Up
We hope that this piece saves you some time in experimenting with Neoform. This may not be the deck for Neoform but perhaps something is out there. Perhaps fringe toolbox archetypes such as Vannifar or Copy Cat could make use of it. Do you have a sweet Neoform list to share? Or are you brewing around a different card from War of the Spark? We would love to hear about it in our discussion group. Or if you would like to take a swing at writing content for the site you can contact us directly here. We will be back tomorrow with another entry in the Ideas Unbound series. Until then my friends.

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