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Getting into Modern on a Budget: Splinter Twin

Written by Tim Bachmann on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

Getting into Modern on a Budget:  Splinter Twin

Tim Bachmann

Hailing from northeast Pennsylvania, Tim has been playing since Mirrodin, and has been playing competitively since Dragons of Tarkir. With aspirations of playing on the Pro Tour, Tim plays in as many PPTQs and GPs as he can.

Modern can sometimes seem like a scary format to newcomers. There are so many decks, and the price of the format seems so relatively high when compared to a typical Standard format. I say typical because let’s face it, even the “cheap” decks of this Standard format are not cheap, thanks to the amazing amount of fetchlands that are required to be seriously competitive.

I once read a series a few years ago someone wrote on some website about how to get into the Legacy format. I thought that I would take on a similar series of articles, but for Modern. It seemed as if plenty of people were talking about Modern, but not how to get into the format. I know that I could have used these types of articles when I was buying into the format, especially because of my limited budget.

So in this series of articles, I’m going to go over different paths one may go on in order to attain a deck that is competitive in Modern at a high level, whether those be your Splinter Twin decks, Jund or Abzan decks, Burn or Zoo decks, or many other archetypes, slowly while still being able to play a competitive deck with the cards we’ve already acquired.

I’ll focus my first few articles on building up to a deck with which I am intimately familiar, U/R Splinter Twin. So I’m going to make the assumption that someone has about $200 to spend on a deck. I think this is a reasonable amount of money that someone has to build a new deck, especially in a format that is expected to be a touch more expensive than a typical Standard format, and also in a format that is going to have the cards hold their value a bit better than typical Standard format staples.

But you’re not just going to go buy 3-4 Scalding Tarns with that first $200. You would have only three cards of a 75 card deck to play with. To be brutally honest, a lot of the upper tier decks in Modern to cost a bundle of cash to play with, but that’s fine, because we’ll get there eventually. I take it if you’re this far into this article, you don’t have enough money to outright buy a Splinter Twin deck in modern, and that’s fine.

So tell me, Tim. I still want to play Splinter Twin in Modern, but I have none of the cards and a limited budget at the moment. How do I start?

Well, to be frank, we can still play Splinter Twin. Will it be as “good” as a very expensive Splinter Twin deck? Probably not. But you’ll still be able to play Modern, and you’ll probably do better than you expect.

If we look at the most common builds of U/R Tempo Twin in Modern, we can see that on the average, the cost of the cards is cheap, but there are a few very high cost staples that make just snap buying the deck somewhat prohibitive:

So if we just look at the cost of this on paper, from zero to 100, this deck would cost us about $1200. A far cry from our $200 starting point. But how can we build a Splinter Twin combo deck on $200 that can still win games?

Again, there are pockets of cost here. The Scalding Tarns alone cost between $320 and $360 for a playset. The Misty Rainforests cost $220 to $250, the Snapcaster Mages cost between $240 and $280. So if we add up the minimums that I put on just those twelve cards alone, that total comes to $780. Simple arithmetic means we are at about $420 already. So if we just decide not to play those cards, our deck is much more manageable in terms of cost.

Now, some may say, “hey, you can’t play this deck without those cards. Snapcaster is very important to how this deck operates. The manabase is also delicate. Not playing fetches means you have to change how your mana works.” Correct. This style of Splinter Twin really uses Snapcaster Mage effectively. And sure, the manabase looks much worse if we don’t have our eight fetchlands. So now let’s reverse how we build our Splinter Twin combo deck. Just above, we’re dissecting how we can effectively reduce the cost of the deck looking from the top down, subtracting dollar signs from what is perceived as a top-tier style of the deck. What happens now if we take our budget and build the deck from the ground up?

What does a Splinter Twin combo deck need? What is the absolute minimum the deck needs to run on? Quite simply, it needs either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite, and Splinter Twin. That’s it. If our goal is a minimal Splinter Twin deck, this is what we absolutely must have to start with. So the cost here is about $15 for the two sets creatures, and about $50 for the Splinter Twins. We’re at $65.

Now, since we’re a combo deck, we’re looking for ways to get to these cards we just paid $65 for. Luckily, we’re playing one of the colors that does this the best. Blue is known far and wide not only for its ability to counter spells, but also to draw cards. While we may not have awesome cantrips like Preordain or Ponder, we do have serviceable replacements in the less powerful Modern format. A play set of Serum Visions will cost us about $30. While Serum Visions is necessary for our long term goal of playing a high tier version of Splinter Twin, that $30 could be used elsewhere. Let’s revisit that. For now, let’s play cheaper cantrips, like 4 Sleight of Hand ($10), 4 Peek ($2), and 4 Twisted Image ($2). Right now, we look like this:

So we’re at 24 cards, either combo pieces or cantrips, and we’re at an estimated $79. We have Twisted Image to beat Spellskite, so now we need a way to beat other hate cards. Things like Terminate or Go for the Throat that kill our creatures, or things that beat cards like Torpor Orb or Ghostly Prison or Night of Souls’ Betrayal. Remand is a perfect card, and will help us in the future. It’s on the higher side of price, but I think it’s worth it to keep us alive. A set of these would cost about $20. We could also throw in Swan Song and a couple of Dispels if we’re really worried about hate cards. Adding 4 Remand, 2 Swan Song, and 2 Dispel puts us at 30 cards and about $102. We should probably focus the rest of our money on a mana base, so that we could cast our spells, and focus on filling out the rest of our deck later.

I think that 24 lands could be fine for our example of a budget deck here. I think other than the obvious Islands and Mountains, we can fire off a play set of Shivan Reef. Since they’ve been reprinted into oblivion, a set of these bad boys will cost us $8. I think we can also take advantage of the scrylands with Temple of Epiphany. A set of these will cost us about $10, but I think that with our combo-centric deck, a land that helps our mana and lets us look at an extra card is worth it coming into play tapped. I also want to spend of bit of money here, and buy our three Steam Vents. The three that we need will cost us about $38. If we put together our mana base so far, we have:

4 Shivan Reef
4 Temple of Epiphany
3 Steam Vents

And the cost of this mana base so far is about $56. Combined with the other part of our deck, we have a total of $158 spent. From here you can go a few different directions. Assuming we’re still within the $200 budget to build this base deck, we can use the remaining $42 to buy some Serum Visions, and flush out the mana with less than perfect lands with cards like Shimmering Grotto or Swiftwater Cliffs, or even lands like Frontier Bivouac or Mystic Monastery that can be gotten on the cheap, or we can spend a bit more on the mana and invest in some Sulfur Falls, and play some Gitaxian Probes in place of Serum Visions.

I think also, if you’re going to be looking for sideboard cards, I would focus on cards like Boomerang or Vapor Snag to deal with troublesome permanents and creatures, and cards like Mizzium Skin to help protect your combo even more. So while we’re still a bit of a ways away from playing those top-tier style tempo oriented Splinter Twin decks, we have a very solid foundation of an all-in Twin deck that is much more focused on the combo and protecting that.

Once we have our base here, my suggestion would be to invest in the mana base. You can play all-in style Splinter Twin until you have the money for Snapcaster Mages, but playing with a sub-par mana base won’t allow your Snapcaster Mages to help as much as you’d like them to. The most integral land in the deck is Scalding Tarn, so that’s what I would move toward first. After that, you could save some money and go for either Flooded Strand or Polluted Delta over the Misty Rainforests. The only reason Misty Rainforests are run over Flooded Strand or Polluted Delta in U/R Twin is so that all of your fetchlands can search for your Stomping Ground, which by itself is able to cast both sides of your Ancient Grudges out of the sideboard. You can easily just play a Breeding Pool instead of Stomping Ground if you’re planning to go the Ancient Grudge route. You could also just decide to go either Jeskai Twin with your Flooded Strands or Grixis Twin with your Polluted Deltas down the road.

I hope you found this helpful, and I look forward to making another one of these articles in the weeks to come.

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