The most powerful Demon to ever be printed in Magic, Griselbrand sees play in every format, at least, where it’s legal! Whether it’s with Reanimate, Show and Tell, Goryo’s Vengeance or Neoform, Griselbrand is one of the best possible targets to cheat into play.
Typically, the moment it enters play you pay 14 life, draw 14 cards and go to town from there. This version of NeoBrand features the ability to win as soon as turn one, with Pact of Negation backup. Anything that can win on turn one in Modern is worth checking out. This version does it, with backup, and stops interaction for games two and three. This sets it apart from other versions.
On top of that, you get to play a math mini-game to win! First let’s look at the staple interactions that make NeoBrand function. Then we’ll go into why this version is far more powerful and consistent than it has ever been.
Free Dinosaurs Lead to Free Demons
For the cost of zero mana and exiling two green cards from your hand, you can cast Allosaurus Rider. Since it’s a massive seven mana value, that means resolving either a Neoform or an Eldritch Evolution immediately puts a Griselbrand into play. That’s a pretty big investment, though, as it is four cards to get one card. Of course, once you draw seven or fourteen cards with Griselbrand you have now gained huge card advantage.
But Neoform or Eldritch Evolution is two or three mana, how are we potentially doing this on turn one? Chancellor of the Tangle gives us that bonus mana and is a green card to pitch to the Allosaurus Rider. What if we don’t have the Rider in hand? Well, the deck also runs Summoner’s Pact to tutor for whichever green creature you need. The drawback of losing the game will never occur if we win the game on the spot.
Draw Your Deck
It’s possible off your initial draw from Griselbrand you simply do not get the pieces you need. The single most important card in that case is Nourishing Shoal. For zero mana, you can exile a green card from your hand and gain life. Life allows you to draw more cards and continue making plays. The deck runs Autochthon Wurm to gain a massive 15 life which is enough to draw another 14 cards! After drawing 28 cards you should hit a Wurm or a Summoner’s Pact. At worst, a Chancellor of the Tangle can still gain seven so you can then draw seven.
The deck also has an incredible piece of tech that is a new, old, development. At 20 life and a resolved Griselbrand, you would be at six life after drawing 14 cards. Exactly two extra life puts you to eight so you can pay seven life and draw seven more cards. What lets you, for the low cost of zero, gain two life? Gee, there’s a Modern legal Artifact that used to be banned… the inclusion of Zuran Orb is the greatest thing since sliced bread!
This card, effectively, turns your one land into seven more cards and it does this for free. But wait, it does that in another situation as well! With your starting 20 life and 15 more life from Nourishing Shoal on an Autochthon Wurm you go to exactly 35. Four activations of Griselbrand is 28 life leaving you at seven. So to activate Griselbrand one more time, you need one more life. After nearly 30 years, Zuran Orb is still a highly functional card! This isn’t even the only place that Zuran Orb is currently seeing play!
How Does it Win? Math
The setup is a bit complicated but Thassa’s Oracle is your primary wincon. Nothing does it better for only two mana. Oh, about that? This deck almost never pays for anything; you’re cheating out the Oracle with Chord of Calling. Once you’ve drawn a pile of cards you can tap the Allosaurus Riders, Griselbrand or another free Creature, Endurance, to cast the Chord and put the Oracle directly into play. However, you can’t do this during your Main Phase, you have to wait until your End Step, particularly your Clean Up Step and that is why the deck runs Worldspine Wurm
With your Creatures in play and a pile of cards in hand, you proceed to the End Step. Because you have more than seven cards in hand, you have to discard down to seven. Well, when you discard Worldspine Wurm it has a re-shuffle trigger. Because of that trigger, you can respond during your Clean Up step. This is when you Chord of Calling for a Thassa’s Oracle, put that ability on the stack and then respond to it. It gets quite a bit dicer here.
With two, one or zero cards in your Library the Oracle trigger wins the game on the spot. You can win in other situations as well, but the sequences required are beyond the scope of this article.
Between activating Griselbrand to draw seven more cards, putting an Endurance into play to put your graveyard back into your deck or casting more Nourishing Shoals to gain more life so you can draw more cards, you can always math out what your sequence needs to be so that when the Oracle trigger resolves, you win. It’s likely easier to show you so here’s a link to TheEpicStorm playing the math mini-game.
Matchups and Sideboarding
Both targeted discard and counter spells are strong against any combo deck and NeoBrand acknowledges that fact. However the banned in Pioneer Veil of Summer and zero mana Leyline of Sanctity are extremely powerful options that are also flexible as they stop a huge variety of decks from interacting. On top of that, it runs Pact of Negation in the main deck so it’s got protection even pre-sideboard.
NeoBrand accepts that with a good hand it wins but if not it has little chance. It’s a gambit and the player has chosen that at the deck selection screen. With a decent hand, an opponent only has one turn, at best, to stop the combo.
Post sideboard, they might have no hope against a Leyline of Sanctity even if they are on the play. Stealing wins post sideboard, on the draw, and starting hand quality is a tradeoff. Brutal inevitability and relative consistency for explosive wins in game one and on the play is the payoff.
A Long way from Tinfins and Grishoalbrand
Once Griselbrand was spoiled, players saw the potential in a card that called back to powerful draw effects like Yawgmoth’s Bargain and the decks soon flowed. Most of them cheated out the Demon, drew a bunch of cards but then fizzled.
Over time, various incarnations got more tuned and proposed different solutions to win on the spot. One such version featured Borborygmos Enraged and throwing Lands at players. This article from five years ago talks about the 17% chance of that version to go off on turn two and that deck had pact of Negation in the sideboard. Not only that but it featured Faithless Looting and Simian Spirit Guide which are now both banned in Modern.
The current incarnation, however, can win as soon as turn one, with multiple Pacts in the main deck. Optimizations have made the deck faster, more consistent and less vulnerable post sideboard. Time will tell if NeoBrand can continue to evolve until it’s recognized as a top tier deck, but it has come a long way since it’s original inception. With another synergistic card or two NeoBrand may be heading for a meta near you.
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