Deck Guide: Biomancer’s Familiar

Biomancer’s Familiar is a great card. I wanted it to happen so bad. I spent a substantial portion of my preperations for Cleveland trying to make Biomancer’s Familiar happen. I tried two color versions. I tried three color versions. I tried going big, going small, going wide, and everything else I could think of. I came close enough to consider buying the cards.

Ultimately, I could not make it happen. Blue was too strong and too structurally tough. You had to give up Pelt Collector, had to pay real mana for your spells. The format wanted different things than the Familiar deck could provide. Sideboarding wasn’t as impactful for you as I wanted. The deck was good. It was fun as hell. But not good enough. I switched to blue, tore up the ladder with it, and never looked back. Things didn’t work out at the Pro Tour, but given the overall results, I am confident I made the right decision.

There are three reasons to share the deck now.

The first reason is, as noted, that the deck is great fun. As constructed, it’s a step behind where it needs to be to win major tournamens, but it’s still good enough to get five wins more often than not in Traditional Constructed. Its best draws bury people if not answered, and it gets them often.

The second reason is that perhaps I missed something. There’s a lot of good things going on, so the deck might be one card, or one idea or sideboard plan, away from competitive. That might be a two color or three color build. It might involve a card from War of the Spark.

The third reason is that now that I write it out, I think this deck plays fine against what’s out there right now. My results weren’t as good as with blue, but perhaps things have changed.

Here is the strongest version of the deck:

3 Adventurous Impulse

2 Quench

2 Negate

 

4 Llanowar Elves

4 Biomancer’s Familiar

4 Growth-Chamber Guardian

4 Incubation Druid

2 Druid of the Cowl

4 Sphinx of Foresight

4 Frilled Mystic

4 Biogenic Ooze

10 Forest

5 Island

4 Hinterland Harbor

4 Breeding Pool

Sideboard

4 Kraul Harpooner

1 Thorn Lieutenant

4 Entrancing Melody

2 Negate

2 Spell Pierce

2 Dive Down

There are only eight adapt creatures in the deck for Biomancer’s Familiar. This seems light, but you have a lot of search, and more of that is not what you need. There are places where a Xengara, Utopia Speaker or two would be welcome for additional power, but I found that if we were going large and finding ways to close things out, it was better to just go straight to Biogenic Ooze. Ooze does often get a substantial boost from Biomancer’s Familiar, although those games are usually (but not always!) yours anyway.

This deck has a lot of mana. You have 23 lands, 3 Adventurous Impulse that will almost always hit mana if you want them to, and ten mana creatures. You also have a lot of ways to use that mana. Adventurous Impulse often finds a good sink if you want one, Sphinx sends mana away once you’re set. Incubation Druid turns into a 3/5 even without a Biomancer’s Familiar. WIth Biomancer’s Familiar it turns into a giant mana sink. Growth-Chamber Guardian eats up a lot of mana. Other games, you have a lot of mana and use it to keep counters up while developing your board. That’s fine too.

Path one is to go for the quick easy win. You get a lot of easy wins from a quick Biomancer’s Familiar even without Llanowar Elves. Get one out on turn 2, play a Growth-Chamber Guardian on turn 3 and turn it to 4/4 on the spot. Next turn, you’ll have a 6/6 and a 4/4 (plus a 2/2) and from there it rapidly gets worse, so those two cards together will beat most draws that can’t remove the Biomancer’s Familiar, even without additional spells.

The other main path is to build to five or more mana, then go for it. On turn four, you can deploy the Biomancer’s Familiar and the Growth-Chamber Guardian, or boot up the Incubation Druid right away and tap it for mana to keep going, or both. Other times, you power out a quick Biogenic Ooze instead, which also works. Having Ooze gives you extra ‘packages’ to deploy if Kaya’s Wrath or Gates Ablaze sets you back. Given Incubation Druid, you can often do this reasonably early with counter backup.

Playing traditional aggro-control without the boost is also strong. Force them to either walk into your counters, especially Frilled Mystic, or you can adapt if they pass, and things get steadily worse.

Sphinx of Foresight is a very good card that doesn’t have a good home elsewhere. This is its chance to shine, as you highly value the scry to set up your combinations, and going mana creature into turn three Sphinx of Foresight is often quite strong. If you untap with it, you often don’t have to ever tap out again and the extra scry triggers are more impactful than they appear, as once your mana is set, and especially once you find the first Growth-Chamber Guardian, you have a few very high impact cards and a lot of very low impact cards. Other times, they tap out dealing with it and you stick a Biogenic Ooze.

A nice bonus for this deck is that you know when Biomancer’s Familiar or Growth-Chamber Guardian isn’t doing anything for you. Sometimes you have a duplicate. Sometimes you have other uses for your mana. Sometimes there’s nothing to use the Biomancer’s Familiar on, and you have enough mana to work without it when that changes. In those cases, you can expose your creatures and let them get killed, soaking up mana and removal to make way for later. Smart opponents know that Biomancer’s Familiar is a space bunny and that space bunnies must die.

Sideboarding poses a problem. The deck’s cards, other than Biogenic Ooze, are all either counters, mana, or working towards making your central engine happen. What can we take out? If we put in good cards from the sideboard, are we improving matters? That’s why sideboarding wasn’t impactful enough. The new cards were good, but you have to give up a lot to put them in.

Matchups:

Blue

There are two problems in the blue matchup. The first is that you have a hard time stopping Curious Obsession. The four cheap counters help but if you try that you get blown out by Spell Pierce or by them not having Curious Obsession in the first place, in games where deploying mana would have let you compete. Your best weapon against Curious Obsession therefore is Sphinx of Foresight, since there are probably not putting Obsession on Mist-Cloaked Herald or Tempest Djinn, and it’s often not possible for them to hold up a counter on turn three that stops a creature. Your other best weapon is to overpower them through it. If you have Biomancer’s Familiar and Growth-Chamber Guardian, or stick a Biogenic Ooze, it is not going to much matter that they draw two cards per turn. You can also try to use your counters to stop Temptest Djinn, which is difficult for them to have counter backup to defend. Without the Djinns, they can’t bring much power to the table.

The other problem is that they have all the control. With lots of one drops, flyers, chump blockers, Merfolk Tricksters and counters, they choose where the battle is fought. Often you will have a lot more power, and they find a way to win regardless, especially if you had to take turns two and three setting up before things get rolling.

If they hang back and don’t tap mana, usually the right thing to do is develop your mana. If they fight it, you’ll still have enough and run out of counters. If they don’t fight it, you can pick up tempo and start double casting or having counter backup later. You have a lot of threats that are quite frustrating for them, and can make playing a Tempest Djinn quite perilous. Once you have them on the board, force them to make a move.

That doesn’t mean the matchup is great. It’s definitely not, but it is winnable.

You can do more or less sideboarding on the margin, the detaul is something like:

In: +4 Kraul Harpooner, +4 Entrancing Melody, +1 Spell Pierce, +1 Negate

Out: -3 Adventurous Impulse, -2 Druid of the Cowl, -4 Frilled Mystic, -1 Biogenic Ooze

Sideboarding offers you some very strong cards. Kraul Harpooner is perfect and fits right into your strategy. You also are very good with Entrancing Melody, with so much mana as to cast it often with counter backup, while the Kraul Harpooner keeps Siren Stormcaller from getting in the way. Your core strategy is to deploy creatures, so it’s hard for them to have a lot of defenses for Entrancing Melody like Negate or Dive Down, and if they try to respond in kind then that’s the type of mana exchange that favors you quite a bit.

We can consider more copies of Negate, or Spell Pierce, althoguh the motivation for those cards lies elsewhere.

I tested Essence Capture in this and other places. It’s very cute and sometimes a true blowout when it turns on Incubation Druid or a smaller one on Growth-Chamber Guardian, but the double blue mana wasn’t quite compatible with our mana base once we see what we have to sideboard out.

Frilled Mystic is the easy cut. Playing a waiting game and refusing to tap mana against a deck full of one drops, where they can counter back, where the 3/2 body doesn’t have much impact, is not a good idea. The other cut turns out to be Adventurous Impulse. Even tapping one mana is often something you don’t have time for, and you’re bringing in a high impact spell for a high impact creature, which makes the card much worse. For similar reasons, you let go of Druid of the Cowl, as it doesn’t block anything and the draws it enables are often far too slow, or let them break us up with counters. That gives us room for a third Negate or first Spell Pierce. Depending on how you feel about where that leaves the mana and how much you are determined to fight Curious Obsession, you can then cut copies of Biogenic Ooze. Being on the play versus draw can also be a consideration.

If you wanted to improve matters further after board, you could play Crushing Canopy in the board, or have access to more copies of Quench. It’s not clear how else we can improve much.

Red:

They will kill as many creatures as they can on sight. This is wise. Your goal is to keep forcing them to do this until they run out of removal, or develop your mana so that you can slip in the engine or an Ooze while they’re tapped out. There’s a scary early phase where you can get overrun, and a scary later phase where you have to find a way to quickly turn the corner before you get burned out, and often won’t have good attacks that seem safe. Ooze is better than it looks here because it lets you close games quickly without the engine despite being low on life. Often you have to do this while holding up Frilled Mystic for many turns, which can make things tricky. Sometimes you get burned out before you can finish the job, or have to expose risk of that happening to avoid giving them too much time.

The other way you lose is Experimental Frenzy or Rekindling Phoenix against an unimpressive board. Ideally you have counters ready for that, and there is a point in the game where this becomes your primary concern.

Thus, the early turns are largely about preventing them from getting creature damage in and establishing a board that will let you sit on counters. Druid of the Cowl is very good on turn two, as they have to take time off to kill it or you get to play a Sphinx, or a two drop with counter backup, on turn three.

In: +1 Thorn Lieutenant, +4 Entrancing Melody, +2 Negate

Out: -3 Adventurous Impulse, -4 Biogenic Ooze

Thorn Lieutenant is in the board for this matchup in particular. Thorn Lieutenant does exactly what you want. If they try to attack into it with one and two drops, it is a perfect wall. If they kill it, you get a free 1/1 that is surprisingly annoying. Later on, it turns around and attacks and is another way to exploit Biomancer’s Familiar. Cutting the activation from six mana to four makes things a lot easier. It’s a nice to have, and it offers another long term threat in other matchups where you want that, but an easy cut from the board if you want something else badly.

You do already have a ton of perfectly good two drops. But many of them are long term valuable, and you want the option to hold them for the right later opportunity. You also often want to cast two of them on your four mana turn, or one per turn while holding up counters.

Entrancing Melody gives you coverage against Rekindling Phoenix, and is also very strong when it takes Goblin Chainwhirler. That frees up the ground for you to attack, as they lost a good blocker and a good attacker and you picked up a great additional blocker, letting you close the game out quickly. Even taking a small creature prevents them from going wide.

With that, you no longer need Biogenic Ooze as much, which means Adventurous Impulse gets worse, so it comes out too. The extra counters let you stop Experimental Frenzy or prevent you from being burned out later.

Putting in Dive Down is reasonable as well, and can lead to the engine coming online, but is a way things can go wrong if they start aiming all their removal at your head, giving you dead cards. Watch how they play and act accordingly.

This matchup is quite good as configured. If you don’t care about it much, you can trim an additional Druid of the Cowl and give up Thorn Lieutenant, and things worse but still fine. If you care about it a lot, you can have access to more Thorn Lieutenants, including in the main, or a third maindeck Druid of the Cowl.

White:

They can deploy a lot of power quickly. Your best draws go over the top of that fast enough to not die, unless they go completely nuts. Once you turn the corner, you can be very patient, as not much threatens you, but there is risk that they gain the ability to go wide and kill you with an Alpha strike. There are games where you spend a lot of time pumping up your team but can’t get through and they’re making tokens or keep playing creatures, and closing it out gets tricky. That got a lot easier once we added a full four Biogneic Ooze, and either that or Sphinx of Foresight can close things out.

Sideboarding:

In: +4 Entrancing Melody, +1 Thorn Lieutenant

Out: -1 Negate, -4 Frilled Mystic

There is nothing you need to counter. There are things you’d like to counter, especially removal spells, but not enough to be thrilled about holding up mana. If they show a bunch of flyers that Kraul Harpooner can pick off, I don’t mind putting a few in. It’s also a solid blocker for the early turns.

Esper Control:

Kaya’s Wrath is your enemy. They can hit you with discard and then wipe your board. That is the most common way you lose. You also need to watch out for Cry of the Crenarium if you deploy creatures in the wrong order. The other way is they counter or kill everything one by one and you run out of threats. Biogenic Ooze gives you extra good threats, especially after they Kaya’s Wrath.

Once you have enough stuff, sit back on counters and don’t use them on spells that don’t change the path of the game. What matters is mostly Kaya’s Wrath. Know when you need to walk into it, when you can afford to play around it, and when they’ll get enough counter backup for it.

Sideboarding

In: +2 Negate, +2 Spell Pierce, +2 Dive Down, +1 Thorn Lieutenant

Out: -2 Druid of the Cowl, -4 Sphinx of Foresight, -1 Adventurous Impulse

Sphinx is easy to answer, doesn’t hit hard, and costs too much to protect properly. Giving up the scry at the start of the game is unfortunate, but that isn’t enough to justify its presence. Adventurous Impulse gets substantially worse, but we still have a lot of strong hits and love finding Frilled Mystic, so it mostly stays despite Sphinx leaving. The Thorn Lieutenant gives you a threat that can close things out, and I’ve found it plays surprisingly well against control. But if you don’t have it, you won’t miss it much here.

The counters shore you up against Kaya’s Wrath and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Dive Down protects your key creatures against removal.

Nexus of Fate:

You’re playing a similar game to blue. They’re better at it here, as your extra power is mostly overkill, but even a worse version of this strategy still works well. Always counter Search for Azcanta, and almost always hang back on counters once they get to four.

Sideboarding

In: +2 Spell Pierce, +2 Negate

Out: -4 Biogenic Ooze

You don’t need the power Ooze provides, so take it out, deploy stuff early then sit on counters. If you aren’t happy with the matchup, add more counters to the sideboard until you are satisfied.

Sultai:

You have a few different fears to worry about. Hostage Taker on your creatures is often quite bad. In corner cases it is so bad that you need to consider holding Biogenic Ooze. If a WIldgrowth Walker goes large, it can buy a lot of time. If the game goes long enough without you closing it out with your engine or a Biogenic Ooze or Sphinx of Foresight, they will cast Hydroid Krasis one time too many for escalating sizes.

Then there’s Finality. You need to be continuously aware of Finality. Sphinx of Foresight and Biogenic Ooze are both vulnerable, as are many of your cheaper creatures. Once you are clearly ahead, prioritize getting creatures to five toughness. Push a Growth-Chamber Guardian to 6/6 and leave one at 2/2 for now, which is usually right anyway. Get Incubation Druid to 3/5 even if it feels unnatural or slows things down a bit. If you can’t, consider paying a lot to hold up counters, and/or hold some creatures back. Holding up counters is how the last few turns are best handled most of the time in any case, if you have them available.

Sideboarding:

In: +4 Entrancing Melody, +2 Dive Down

Out: -3 Adventurous Impulse, -2 Druid of the Cowl, -1 Biogenic Ooze

You love the spells coming in, and need to make room. Their plan is mostly to trade cards with you in various forms and grind you out, so flooding on mana is a danger. Druid of the Cowl does not useful blocking and Adventurous Impulse can miss, while Entrancing Melody mostly only costs two mana and Dive Down costs one, and they rarely kill Llanowar Elves or a non-adapted Incubation Druid, so you’re not overly mana light.

I’m not sure how many copies of Negate you want. Finality is important, but so is Hostage Taker, and playing too many spells is how you run into trouble. I’m pretty unhappy that we’re cutting a Biogenic Ooze as it is to stay at eight answers.

Gruul:

Gruul smash. You build up. Who will do it better? Back when I tested no one was playing Gruul, so I don’t know. They can certainly deploy a lot of threats fast and pick off your creatures before you can do your thing, Pelt Collector is super efficient and Rekindling Phoenix is tough. If you can do your thing in full, you’ll win.

Sideboarding:

In: +4 Entrancing Melody, +2 Dive Down

Out: -2 Druid of the Cowl, -1 Biogenic Ooze, -1 Adventurous Impulse, -2 Negate

Dive Down is a better Negate, so it’s an easy swap. I can see going either up or down on answers, but I don’t think you have time for Negate, and Spell Pierce won’t play in context. Druid of the Cowl does not actually block, so go with your other two drops. That leaves two cards to bring out. Biogenic Ooze seems slow so I’m fine bringing one out, which in turn makes me like Adventurous Impulse less given how many spells I’m bringing in. This is a place to start, but it’s likely wrong.

Other matchups follow similar principles.

If you get a chance, take this deck for a spin and see what you think.

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1 Response to Deck Guide: Biomancer’s Familiar

  1. Aaron Gertler says:

    I agree that this card is great, and I hope it works out next season. Two notes:

    1. “Xengara” = “Zegana”
    2. Jeff Hoogland has also been trying to make Familiar work, and had some success in different shells (including Bant for Shalai/Resplendant Angel and Temur for Skaargan Hellkite/Nikya of the Old Ways). Here’s perhaps his most successful brew:

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