Last Sunday, I played the Red Bull Untapped qualifier in Brussels. The event was very well run and I hope I’ll be lucky enough to participate in more such events.
In Modern, I choose to play NeoBrand. People might be surprised to see me play this deck, as it isn’t usually what you’d expect me to play. In this article I’ll talk about the reasons I played NeoBrand, my testing, BridgeVine and the recent bannings.
In the weeks leading up to the tournament, it became clear how good 《Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis》 and 《Altar of Dementia》 actually are. BridgeVine is format warping. Modern is thought of as a turn four format, which means decks shouldn’t be able to kill before turn four. BridgeVine can get more then 10 power into play on turn two and mill you out on turn three.
This left me with a couple of choices:
As a sidenote, banning 《Bridge from Below》 makes a lot of sense to me, as it gave BridgeVine a combo kill, which just put it over the top. Without it, a lot of what BridgeVine does, will feel a lot fairer. It’ll also need a new name.
I didn’t want to play a non-Hogaak deck that’s weak to graveyard hate. People will play a lot of graveyard hate for BridgeVine already. A side effect of this is that it will leave everyone with less other sideboard options. This makes other linear strategies better. Being faster than Hogaak is the most effective way of battling it. The good matchup versus BridgeVine is one of the reasons I was interested in NeoBrand.
For a short period when War of the Spark was available on Magic Online together with the London mulligan rule, rumors were NeoBrand was too good. When looking for potentially broken Modern combo decks, I can only advise you to look at whatever MPL member and fellow Hareruya Pro Piotr Głogowski is doing.
The London mulligan rule came into effect again on the 5th of July, right before the tournament. Decks that would profit from this mulligan rule, would also be better. That’s another reason I wanted to try out NeoBrand.
After a couple of real life test sessions I decided to build the deck on Magic Online. Even though Magic Online still had the Vancouver mulligan rule, I thought I just needed the practice. I could live with losing a bit more due to mulligans. The practice was much needed as I punted several games in the beginning, but eventually I was winning more and more, even with the old mulligan rule.
On Magic Online, Japanese degenerate combo aficionado Atsushi Ito (@matsugan) and GP Toronto semifinalist Jonathan Zhang (@finalnub) had been putting up good results with NeoBrand including 《Serum Visions》.
At first, I tried their lists with 4 《Serum Visions》. While the added consistency is nice, I wasn’t totally impressed either. I would have games where I couldn’t kill because I was missing a green card to pitch to 《Allosaurus Rider》. Next to that, I fizzled a few times when going for the combo, because I only had 《Nourishing Shoal》 to gain life. If you’ve played a 《Summoner’s Pact》 to search 《Allosaurus Rider》, you can’t afford to fizzle.
《Serum Visions》 also doesn’t work well with 《Chancellor of the Tangle》. The lists with 4 《Serum Visions》 tend to go down to 13 or 14 lands, but I felt you’d often play 《Serum Visions》 just to hit a second land.
On the other hand, I disliked 《Samut’s Sprint》 as it has several disadvantages as well. You can’t cast it when a removal spell is targeting 《Griselbrand》. It’s not a green card either. The game where my opponent could sacrifice his untapped 《Ornithopter》 to an 《Arcbound Ravager》 was the proverbial nail in its coffin.
Another card I saw popping up in the lists of _matsugan and finalnub was 《Life Goes On》. This one I liked immediately when I saw it. Being green is key here. Your green spells can be pretty random, as any useless spells will be pitched to 《Allosaurus Rider》. Non-green spells don’t have the same luxury.
Somewhere I came to the conclusion I didn’t want the full 4 《Serum Visions》. This lead me to the following list, which I can very much recommend.
4 《Gemstone Mine》
4 《Botanical Sanctum》
4 《Waterlogged Grove》
2 《Yavimaya Coast》
-Land (15)- 2 《Wild Cantor》
4 《Simian Spirit Guide》
1 《Laboratory Maniac》
4 《Allosaurus Rider》
4 《Chancellor of the Tangle》
2 《Autochthon Wurm》
2 《Life Goes On》
2 《Serum Visions》
1 《Noxious Revival》
4 《Nourishing Shoal》
1 《Edge of Autumn》
4 《Eldritch Evolution》
The deck is pretty straightforward to play. Most of the time, you just go for it. Get an 《Allosaurus Rider》 in play, search 《Griselbrand》 with 《Neoform》 or 《Eldritch Evolution》 and draw you deck using 《Nourishing Shoal》 and 《Life Goes On》. You finish by exiling three 《Simian Spirit Guide》 and casting 《Laboratory Maniac》.
Sometimes you can wait a turn, if you’re playing against a deck that can’t really interact with you or kill you. This is especially true if you need both 《Summoner’s Pact》 and 《Simian Spirit Guide》 to combo. But when in doubt, just go for it.
Some Tips and Tricks
How Reliable does this Kill?
NeoBrand is the fastest deck in the format. As it is a glass cannon, it should be too. You want to win games that aren’t interactive. You want to play this deck if you don’t expect people to interact with you.
Essentially, you’re a two card combo deck with 8 pieces of each. The odds of drawing a piece of each in your opening hand are fairly easy to calculate:
However, there’s more to it. Not only do you need a piece of each, you also need mana and green cards. Not every hand without both pieces is a mulligan, too.
To get more data, I build a little program that randomly generates any number of starting hands. I generated 1.000 hands and evaluated them. Not only did this give me more data to work with, it also gave me a greater understanding of how to evaluate different hands.
This is my data summarized:
This means I’ll mulligan a hand 53,3% of the times. I mulligan very aggressively with this deck and I believe this is the right approach to the deck. 10,4% I’ll keep without having a clear turn by which I kill. These are mostly decent hands with one combo piece and multiple card drawing spells.
All these hands are seen as if I was on the play. Some hands could kill a turn faster if I drew a green card while being on the draw. If a hand has a turn two kill, but is missing a land while I have 《Serum Visions》, it is counted as a T2 kill. A T3 kill which misses a third mana source is still counted as a T3 kill.
Taking a mulligan with over 50% of my hands seems a lot. Of note is that just about every 6 card hand is as good as a 7 card hand. Rarely do you need all 7 cards? 5 card hands are a bit worse, but not too much. You need 5 cards to kill, so going any lower isn’t where you want to be.
The real question is, how does the above data translate to percentage including mulligan decisions.
This assumes the winning turn is as fast when you go to 5 as it is on 7. To compensate, I’ll assume you just die if you need to go below 5, which isn’t exactly true either, but I need to make some assumptions.
So the deck is as likely to mulligan into oblivion as it is to kill on turn one and you’re over 50% to kill on turn two. This is in line with my gut feeling when practicing.
Another useful number to know: If your hand is missing one combo piece, you have 49,12% to hit it if you have 《Serum Visions》, assuming you put both cards on the bottom if the missing piece isn’t there. This number is another reason I went lower on 《Serum Visions》. While I like some number, they work pretty badly in my overall plan of aggressive mulligans and being a glass cannon.
This deck is a glass cannon. It doesn’t play well versus hate. Don’t play this deck if you expect a lot of interaction. UW Control will never be a good matchup. In a metagame dominated by BridgeVine however, I thought NeoBrand to be an excellent choice.
That being said, this is the most common hate you can expect:
They will take a combo piece you have the least of. You will need to draw an additional copy.
A single removal spells is very beatable, but you’re be more likely to fizzle. Don’t forget you’ll still have a draw 7 on the stack and need to win by exactly drawing your entire library, except for seven cards. Proceed to play 《Laboratory Maniac》 and cycle 《Edge of Autumn》.
The sideboard plan is pretty straightforward. Your opponent is the one who should be answering what you are doing, so you only need sideboard cards that will respond to their answers. It is very important to keep your deck functional post sideboard, so you need to keep enough green cards in your deck.
vs. Discard Spells
If you’re not expecting a lot of hate, don’t bother sideboarding. You’ll make your deck worse.
《Bridge from Below》 got banned. This means BridgeVine in its current form will cease to exist. Make no mistake however, a graveyard strategy will still be tier 1 in Modern. Dredge was a tier 1 deck before 《Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis》 was printed. And Dredge might be upgraded with either 《Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis》 or 《Altar of Dementia》. I don’t know what the best version of the deck will be, but it’ll be there.
Still, BridgeVine was the reason I wanted to play NeoBrand. BridgeVine itself was a good matchup, as it is slower than NeoBrand. Next to that, BridgeVine acted as a Lightning Rod. People needed to play lots of graveyard interaction. All the focus went to beating BridgeVine. This meant people had fewer sideboard slots for cards that might randomly hose NeoBrand.
The banning of 《Bridge from Below》 will make Dredge mostly a turn four deck again, which I think is good for Modern. It’ll also give other Modern Horizons cards like 《Wrenn and Six》 more times to shine. Tron somewhat disappeared with the rise of BridgeVine, but I expect it to be back in full force too.
Red Bull Untapped
The event was three rounds of Modern Horizons Sealed, followed with five rounds of Modern. My Sealed pool was pretty bad. I registered a very mediocre RW aggro deck and was pretty happy to escape the Sealed portion with a 2-1 record, especially after losing the first round.
In Modern, I went 3-2, punting one match and winning four times on turn 1. Here is a quick summary of my matches, including the number of mulligans and turn I could win.
Round 4 – Humans
Game 2: I mulligan to 5 on the play and keep a hand capable of winning turn 2. I proceed to kill my opponent on turn 2.
Game 3: I keep 7 on the draw with a hand capable of winning turn 1. My opponent dies having played a single land.
Round 5 – Mono Red Phoenix
Game 1: I again keep 7 on the draw with a hand capable of winning the first turn. My opponent again dies on turn 1.
Game 2: I mulligan to 6 and keep a hand capable of winning on turn 2, but missing either land or 《Manamorphose》. I fail to hit either for four turns and die.
Game 3: I mulligan to 5 and keep a hand missing a combo piece. I draw it while on 8 life, so I get 《Griselbrand》 in play and pass the turn. Sadly, my opponent has enough gas to kill me the following turn.
Round 6 – 《Devoted Druid》 Combo
Game 1: I mulligan to 5 on the draw with a hand missing a combo piece. My opponent doesn’t really do anything and I draw my missing piece somewhere turn 7.
Game 2: I keep 7 on the draw and my hand is again a turn 1 kill. This time, my opponent dies having cast a land and 《Noble Hierarch》.
Round 7 – Prison Red
Game 1: I mulligan to six on the play, with a turn 2 kill in hand. My opponent starts the game with 《Gemstone Mine》 and plays a 《Blood Moon》 turn 1. I don’t draw 《Manamorphose》 and die six turns later.
Game 2: I keep seven with again a turn 2 kill. This time my opponent doesn’t stop me from drawing my library.
Game 3: I mulligan to five on the draw and am missing a combo piece. My opponent has a turn 1 《Blood Moon》 again, this time with double 《Simian Spirit Guide》. He attacks me with 《Eidolon of the Great Revel》. I have 《Manamorphose》 in hand however and draw my missing piece in the last possible turn.
Due to having used a lot of resources already and having to kill the 《Eidolon of the Great Revel》 with 《Nature’s Claim》, I think I’m unable to win the same turn and go for a line which allows me to win in my upkeep. He draws a land for 《Chandra, Torch of Defiance》 and kills my 《Laboratory Maniac》, however.
After the game, Marijn Lybaert points out I had a winning line. While the deck is easy under optimal conditions, performing your combo while having used a lot of your resources, it can be hard. No excuses though, I should’ve won this game.
Round 8 – Mono Red Phoenix
Game 1: I mulligan to 5 on the draw and keep a hand without two pieces. I concede the game a couple of turns later having done nothing.
Game 2: I mulligan to 6 on the play and keep a turn 1 kill. I win without letting my opponent play a single card.
Game 3: I mulligan to 5 on the draw and keep a turn 2 kill, but missing a land. I fail to draw a land, but combo on turn 3 using 《Simian Spirit Guide》 and 《Summoner’s Pact》 for 《Wild Cantor》, while starting my combo at 8 life. Luckily, I have a 《Nourishing Shoal》 in my top 7 and proceed to draw my deck.
I was happy with my deck choice for the tournament. Both the recent implementation of the London mulligan rule and the dominance of BridgeVine were good conditions for NeoBrand to thrive.
Core 2020 gives the deck 《Veil of Summer》, which is a very strong green answer to a lot of the interaction this deck has to deal with. I can see playing the full 4 in my 75, even with some number in the main deck.
But if the Modern metagames evolve into something with a lot of discard and 《Force of Negation》, this deck isn’t what I’d advise. I guess only the future will tell. For now, I can only say I think the deck is good at what it does: winning games without interaction.
As always, hit me up on Twitter with any comments or questions!
Pascal Vieren (Twitter)