Sometimes it just takes playing a lot of Magic and a little bit of patience before a hot streak comes, and when the streak does come it almost feels like you can't lose. Playing Magic always feels better when you are winning. Sometimes mistakes happen, and you will win regardless; there is a little thing called luck that is a key part of the game of course. Luck is unpredictable but when it is on your side I recommend making the most of the moment. This past weekend I finished in second place at the Modern SCG Open in Baltimore with Blue/Red Splinter Twin.Why play Twin after being so successful with Burn?
This is a question I heard many times over the weekend and there are a couple reasons why I opted to go with Twin for the Open. When I chose to play Burn at the Pro Tour it was a metagame call, and also the decision I felt most comfortable with. It was a deck I had extensively tested and the list was tuned, as opposed to picking up an un-tuned list of a different archetype. When thinking about the banning of Birthing Pod the anticipation was that there would be less Kitchen Finks seeing play, the card I was most scared of when running Burn. There would also be less tier two decks at the Pro Tour, like say Bogles or other decks with lots of lifegain effects, which can be very poor matchups for Burn.
At the Open I knew that I could face off against anything, especially in the early rounds since I didn't have any byes. Indeed round one I faced off against Bogles, and that helped validate my deck choice. The big reason I wanted to play Twin was I wanted to be playing long games with lots of small decisions involved. With Burn the games are generally short and sweet and while there are certainly decisions to be made, Twin is the deck that is more difficult to play against. It is easy for the best players to makes mistakes when playing against Twin, whether that means not respecting the combo enough or giving it too much respect. Let me be clear though I think Burn is still a very good deck, but for this tournament the correct decision was to play Blue/Red Twin.
With the new Open Series structure it means there are 15 rounds before Top 8 which means that at some point when playing Twin you will run into a variety of hate cards. Originally I was planning on playing more of an all-in style Twin deck that included a couple copies of Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, Sleight of Hand, and the full set of Pestermites to go along with Deceiver Exarch, but I wanted to be able to win games by not comboing too. Sometimes the best thing you can do for a tournament is simply copy someone else's list and play it. This is certainly not the most innovative way to go about choosing a deck, nor is it the most fun, but it may provide the greatest chance of winning. Blue/Red Twin has been on a tear lately after winning the Pro Tour and the Grand Prix in Vancouver, so who am I to mess with success?
When a deck continues to win like this it usually means that it isn't that easy to hate out, because people are aware of the deck, yet are still losing to it. Over the course of the tournament I got hit with Slaughter Games three different times, and won all of those games! More often than not, especially after sideboard the deck wins by regular damage, and the threat of the combo is enough for opponents to play conservatively. The sideboard plan which was created by Sam Pardee and Paul Cheon is what makes the deck so dynamic, and gives the deck a larger variety of threats after board. Here is what I played in the tournament:
Before the tournament I was told that Snapcaster Mage is the best card in Modern and now I am willing to believe it. Without the presence of card advantage engines like Dig Through Time or Treasure Cruise Snapcaster Mage is what blue decks look to for some type of card advantage. There are a wide variety of instants in the deck which makes Snapcaster Mage that much more threatening of a card. Snapcaster Mage is also one of the primary alternative win conditions the deck has access to. Many games involve you answering whatever threat the opponent presents and them using removal spells to take out the Exarchs, which just leaves Snapcaster Mage.
The deck fills up its graveyard pretty easily, so you can abuse Grim Lavamancer. Grim Lavamancer wasn't typically played in Blue/Red Twin until recently, but it makes all of the burn spells much better. Now it is easier to kill something like a Tarmogoyf by simply activating Grim Lavamancer and Lightning Bolting it. Grim Lavamancer is a one mana creature that usually needs to be answered, but if your opponent is using their Abrupt Decays or Path to Exiles on the Grim Lavamancer you can set up the combo more easily. The creatures of the deck are so versatile that I don't recommend messing around with them too much. The fourth Snapcaster Mage and the Vendilion Clique should definitely not be cut.
The deck plays a variety of one and two-of spells that you generally don't want to draw multiples of but can catch the opponent off guard. The staple cards are Remand, Serum Visions, Lightning Bolt, and obviously Splinter Twin, but after that things get interesting. The singleton Dispel won me multiple games, and along with Snapcaster Mage when you do draw a singleton it can be like drawing two copies of it. Before the tournament I will admit that I wasn't sure how great Cryptic Command was in the deck, because it is hard to get to four mana and not already be trying to combo, and even harder to get to six to go Snapcaster Mage plus Cryptic Command, right? Disregard all of this; Cryptic Command is bananas. All of the modes are extremely important, and it allows you to have an answer to a lot of random hate cards that could be brought in against you. For instance how do you beat an Ensnaring Bridge or Torpor Orb if you don't expect them? The answer is bouncing them with Cryptic Command.
This deck is a work of art, and as I mentioned before the sideboard is key. The primary reason not to go ahead and pick up Twin for a major tournament was its poor Abzan matchup. Abzan has such a wide variety of disruption that comboing can become extremely difficult. After boarding Abzan can bring even more removal and discard to disrupt the Twin player, so the answer is siding out the entire combo vs. Abzan. All four Deceiver Exarchs and Splinter Twins come out, for a variety of threats in the board. Versus Abzan you board -4 Deceiver Exarch, -4 Splinter Twin, -1 Dispel, +1 Batterskull, +1 Keranos, God of Storms, +1 Jace, Architect of Though, +2 Blood Moon, +2 Engineered Explosives, +2 Sower of Temptation. This sideboard plan helped me go 4-0 against Abzan in the Open. Each of these sideboard cards interacts with the Abzan player in a different way, and it is very difficult for them to play around everything.
Having a transformational sideboard is one of the best ways to catch opponents off guard, and oftentimes when preparing for a tournament there are fewer sideboarded games tested, than unsideboarded games. When a major deck like Abzan is a bad matchup, it is necessary to find a way to make it better, and that is what the sideboard does. It isn't like these cards just come in against Abzan either, there are a variety of matchups where you want to trim some parts of the combo, and rely on these more versatile threats. Having access to cards like Blood Moon and Sower of Temptation will make the opponents feel the need to play differently even if you don't draw or board these cards in.
Splinter Twin has gotten to the point where there is a very strong argument that it is the best deck in Modern. The question becomes how to beat Splinter Twin?
Perhaps the Sultai Control deck that Gerard Fabiano brewed up is the answer, though that deck is still a bit of an unknown quantity. For reference here is the deck that beat me in the finals of the tournament:
After talking to Gerard he said the matchup is close but it does seem like it is in his favor. The combination of cheap threats like Tarmogoyf and Tasigur, the Golden Fang, to go along with removal like Abrupt Decay, Counterspells, and discard is often too much for Twin to overcome. It takes a combination of different elements to have a good Splinter Twin matchup and Gerard has done that with this deck. To be fair the matchup could be even more favorable for Sultai without some of the clunkier cards like Thragtusk and Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver, but those cards do have applications in other matchups.
I'm not going to go into the Sultai versus Twin matchup too extensively since time will tell if Sultai Control can compete with the top dogs in Modern (though I have a feeling it can). The deck is certainly sweet, and a brand new archetype, which is a breath of fresh air in Modern.
One of the best cards against Twin has traditionally been Tarmogoyf, in fact I would go so far as to say that Twin's bad matchups almost exclusively are decks that play Tarmogoyf. The reason is that it is an early cheap threat that can't be easily dealt with by one card out of the Blue/Red Twin deck. This is what leads me to Temur Twin. Twin is the deck putting up the best results of late, and by adding Tarmogoyf you can get a legitimate edge in the mirror. Todd Anderson played Temur Twin in the Open and beat me during the swiss rounds quite handily, and while I did beat him in top eight, he also didn't get a Tarmogoyf into play against me. Here is his deck:
At one point Temur Twin was more popular than straight Blue/Red Twin but with all the success Blue/Red Twin has been having lately it's almost like people have forgotten about other Twin variants. Todd's deck isn't very different at all from the straight Blue/Red version except for Tarmogoyf, which doesn't hurt the mana too much. The best way to combat Blue/Red Twin has traditionally been early pressure, and then sitting back on disruption. In the mirror it is very difficult to actually combo, as most games are won with direct damage. For players looking to get an edge versus the other Twin decks this may be the way to go.
Right now it seems that going off recent results Twin is the strongest archetype in Modern, but new creations like Gerard's Sultai Control deck may be able to change this. Blue/Red Twin is a deck that does take some practice, as there are a lot of lines the deck has in a given matchup, so I would recommend either playing the deck or testing full matches against it, when preparing for a big Modern event.
Thanks for reading,