Search. Your. Library.
Neoform is the latest in Wizards of the Coast dabbling with how they can get tutoring in the right place for modern Magic design. It's not quite Vampiric Tutor, but it's definitely posed to be a Constructed role-player.
Neoform's Closest Comparison
We have seen this "sacrifice a creature to search for a bigger one" effect several times. The one-shot effect is a callback to Eldritch Evolution, an occasionally successful card over the years.
What can we expect Neoform to do differently from that card?
Neoform's +1/+1 relative to Eldritch Evolution is an obvious aspect to try to utilize. There are two creatures from Ravnica Allegiance that gain immensely from the immediate counter. Neoform into Incubation Druid lets you massively upgrade an early Llanowar Elves, and Neoform into Skarrgan Hellkite lets you get both the haste and the ping. A larger Gatherer search revealed Rage Forger as a possible choice, but I only looked at 300 cards related to counters and not the full 1300 I bet a few other searches would bring up if I went down the power and toughness rabbit hole.
Unlike Eldritch Evolution, you won't get ahead of the curve with Neoform. Jumping only one on the cost won't let you. The Birds of Paradise evolving into Magus of the Moon lines are locked into happening off a two-drop on Turn 3. There's a little extra precision required with your tutor toolbox as a result: fewer hammers to quickly steal games, more specific answers. Of course, Magus of the Moon might qualify as both these days against decks like Amulet Titan, so expect it to still see play with Neoform.
There's another minor difference between Neoform and Eldrith Evolution, or rather absence. Neoform doesn't exile itself, probably because there isn't enough space in the text box. You can run up some chain action with Eternal Witness or Goblin Dark-Dwellers effects. Snapcaster Mage bridging a one-drop into a two-drop and then three-drop is probably the most important jump in quality, but all the others can play specific roles that are key to a given deck.
Neoform in Standard
The single best card with Neoform in Standard has to be Prime Speaker Vannifar. Vannifar's fundamental issue is consistency. If you build a Prime Speaker Vannifar deck, you want to draw one Prime Speaker Vannifar and probably don't want to draw two. Neoform lets you play three copies of Prime Speaker Vannifar and avoid doubling up, yet also play six or seven effective copies. Vannifar's biggest removal predator is Lava Coil, which Neoform conveniently pushes it out of range of.
- 3 Biogenic Ooze
- 1 Exclusion Mage
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 1 Legion Warboss
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Ravager Wurm
- 4 Rekindling Phoenix
- 2 Skarrgan Hellkite
- 1 Wildgrowth Walker
- 3 Prime Speaker Vannifar
This list is based off a couple of trains of thought I've had for a while. One was a deck that beat the crap out of me on the Arena ladder when I played Sultai, largely due to being a pile of hard-to-answer threats and Prime Speaker Vannifar dodging Cast Down to find them. The other was wondering why a deck overloading on mana accelerants and Biogenic Ooze hadn't seen play.
I'm sending a clear message. I don't want to get too toolboxy in Standard because the toolbox threats aren't clean kills for your one-shot tutor. There's nothing like Ethersworn Canonist shutting off the entire Storm deck. The best way to utilize Neoform is ensuring you always have the best threat in the format on the battlefield, especially when those threats are designed to dodge removal that would punish your sacrifice tutor.
Legion Warboss is a phenomenal card in certain matchups, and having even more ways to have it on the battlefield on Turn 3 means you will get a ton of free wins. It's good enough across the board that I'm willing to spend one slot on a maindeck copy, which really translates into a playset of them to steal games against control. Incubation Druid into Neoform even lets you leave up Negate mana with your Turn 3 Legion Warboss.
Atzocan Archer with Neoform is another nice one. Fight with a bonus power clears out a fair number of additional threats, or just things that got out of range. Kill one Knight token and still block the other 4/3 when History of Benalia goes off! I originally had Goblin Chainwhirler there, but I think that's reaching too far in our twelve-red-land deck.
Should We Play Vivien's Arkbow?
Vivien's Arkbow and Neoform operate in a similar space. They even have a similar critical number: Neoform is aiming to layer your four- and five-drops, while Vivien's Arkbow with 26 creatures hits the 90% success rate when activated for four. By comparison, given the above Temur list, an Arkbow for three is only around 70% to hit.
Unlike Todd, I think Vivien's Arkbow is going to excel with mana accelerants. Incubation Druid is a reasonable hit, mana accelerants let you quickly generate the mana to cast and activate Arkbow, and mana-accelerant-heavy decks are the most likely to want the flood insurance Arkbow provides. This Neoform deck has 31 mana sources and explore creatures, so you will have lands you need to turn into spells.
I remain unconvinced on Fblthp, the Lost. As cute as it is to be able to cycle Llanowar Elves and Neform into two draws, I'm not sure Elvish Visionary has a place in 2019 Standard, at least outside of a go-wide deck, and definitely not when you can fill the land-drop-smoothing role with explore bodies. Check back with me post-Ixalan rotation.
The nonbo between Frilled Mystic and the sorcery-speed upgrades is probably what I'm most disappointed in. There's even a deck design macro-nonbo of Mystic taking up other important four-drop slots. I think you have to take Prime Speaker Vannifar out of your deck at that point and swing to a different approach where Neoform takes a backseat role. Here's a quick pass at a Sultai deck going down this road, based somewhat off Piotr Glogowski's list from Mythic Championship Cleveland.
- 1 Biogenic Ooze
- 2 Frilled Mystic
- 3 Hostage Taker
- 4 Hydroid Krasis
- 4 Incubation Druid
- 3 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 1 Thief of Sanity
Neoform's big role here is letting you play a fairly stable green-centric manabase while still supporting Thief of Sanity in the maindeck, much like how the Temur deck was using Neoform to let it start with Legion Warboss. Unfortunately I had to drop Vivien's Arkbow, but Hydroid Krasis is an equally fine late-game mana sink.
I might be skimping a little on Finality, but I want to try Liliana, Dreadhorde General as a threat-sweeper split card. It probably isn't enough against Azorius Aggro, but that can be adjusted as the format moves on.
The one adorable interaction I couldn't find a use for was Dreadhorde Arcanist with Neoform. If you Neoform up a Dreadhorde Arcanist, it has two power and can recast Neoform on attack. The first problem is that you now have a deck that wants one-drop creatures to Neoform with and one-drop spells to recast with Dreadhorde Arcanist. The second is, what's the big payoff at three mana? The third is, why is this worth waiting a turn to continue up the chain? Maybe someone else can answer these questions for me.
Neoform in Modern
As you dive into an older format with a larger card pool, I think Eldritch Evolution gets significant upgrades. The jumps from Birds of Paradise to Magus of the Moon or from Deceiver Exarch to Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker are just way more important deckbuilding tools.
The card I think Neoform is actually competing with is Chord of Calling. Chord of Calling is typically used to find cheap creatures, and jumping from one cheap creature to another is the exact role Neoform is good at playing.
This is good news because Chord of Calling sucks. It finds cheap creatures because it is so resource-intensive to cast it for anything more than two or three, and the triple green cost is often a huge issue. Wall of Roots stopped being a relevant blocker some time in 2017. We should build our toolbox decks with better cards instead.
I'm very interested in using Neoform with recursion to jump curve gaps. This sounds like I'm just trying to play it as another Eldritch Evolution because that's literally what I'm doing, just like how all I'm doing with this Neoform list is making a minor adaptation to the existing successful Saheeli Rai -Felidar Guardian combo deck.
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 3 Felidar Guardian
- 1 Knight of Autumn
- 1 Kor Firewalker
- 2 Lotus Cobra
- 2 Magus of the Moon
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 1 Remorseful Cleric
- 1 Renegade Rallier
- 2 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Snapcaster Mage
- 1 Eidolon of Rhetoric
- 1 Kataki, War's Wage
- 1 Linvala, Keeper of Silence
- 1 Thrun, the Last Troll
- 1 Dryad Arbor
Lotus Cobra is one of the cards I'm most excited to pair with Neoform. It's a two-drop with high immediate impact and diminishing longer returns, and it readily provides the mana to chain up to a four-drop with recycled Neoforms.
This has been your public service announcement to not play Heartwood Storyteller. If you play it, you will die with ten cards in hand when Thing in the Ice transforms and your deck still can't beat a 7/8 creature. I'm not just saying things; this was literally what happened the first time my opponent cast it. There was about a three-second window where I was upset I didn't have Lightning Bolt before I realized their card does nothing.
The card I'm closest to adding is Yixlid Jailer. I have real concerns about the expensive Scavenging Ooze or one-shot Remorseful Cleric actually stopping Dredge, whereas Yixlid Jailer does that fairly well.
What I wish I had access to was any way to tutor up Saheeli Rai. With so many ways to tutor, the actual answer might be a Regrowth four-drop to let you Neoform up to a Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker from a three-drop for an alternate combo path.
Neoform has me cautiously optimistic. I had high hopes for Eldritch Evolution that didn't quite pan out, but Neoform exists in a format with fewer real over-the-top payoffs like Emrakul, the Promised End and adds another copy of a similar tutor effect to Eldritch Evolution in older formats for consistency. That's more than enough to make it worth a try, because "search your library" remains one of the most powerful phrases in Magic.