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The Splintering of Splinter Twin

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Modern

So, I had an IQ this last weekend in Boonton, NJ.  I chose to play Esper Dragons again.  After being more familiar with the deck since the first IQ in which I had played it, to which I piloted the list to a ninth place finish on breakers, I thought that I would be able to have a similar run, but with better mulligan and play decisions.  The plan was to write up a report of this IQ for this week.

Things don’t always go as planned.  I ended up running 1-2 at the IQ.  Less than desirable.  Good thing there’s always another tournament, and while disheartening, I think that I’ll be going back to an Abzan list, either aggro or control.  I still have plenty of chances to qualify for New Jersey, and a strong support group of friends and an amazing wife that still keep telling me that I’ll have no problem qualifying by the time that invitational comes around.

So since I don’t have a stellar IQ performance about which to write, I’ll get on this Modern train that everyone is all hyped for lately.  In my last article, I touched on my choice for Modern.  I’ve been playing the UR Splinter Twin list for a while now, and I’m quite enamored with the deck.  Accepting that every deck has poor matchups in Modern, it’s my favorite way to win.

I like to treat the deck as many advise the deck should play, it’s primarily a UR tempo deck, that plans to win by firing burn spells and dinking little idiots off of your opponent’s forehead, while still having a “don’t tap out or I win” aspect that makes the deck stressful to play against.

I recently got into a heated discussion with a friend about the deck.  He doesn’t play Twin in Modern, but we were discussing a third splash color for the deck.  This made me think about which color I would splash if I were to splash a third in my list.  Adding a third color to the Splinter Twin decks is something that people have been doing ever since the deck hit the format.

A third color in the Splinter Twin decks opens up a whole plethora of different “alternative” game plans that all strive to complement the Deceiver Exarch/Splinter Twin combo.  These game plans all tend to be aimed at helping the deck’s poor matchups as well, trying to shore up typically the Jund and Abzan matchups, the decks that run the Abrupt Decays while applying board pressure.

Let’s start with the most popular splash color at the moment, black.  Here’s Grixis Splinter Twin list that Rudy Briksza used to place second at the most recent Modern open event in Columbus, Ohio.

I really like this Grixis list.  I haven’t been able to say this until I’ve seen this one.  That’s mainly because the consensus cost of adding cards that I think are good in Kolaghan’s Command, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, and Terminate, deviate a bit from the alternative plan of counter burn that the base UR Twin deck tries to perform (aside from Kolaghan’s Command, which can dome your opponent).

The other Grixis lists I’ve seen cut cards like Snapcaster Mage and Grim Lavamancer.  These not only hit your opponent, but make it possible for you to kill already large dudes on the battlefield.  Cards like Terminate only affect the board, and can’t deal the final 2-3 damage to your opponent to seal the game, whereas that 4th Snapcaster Mage could flashback a Lightning Bolt or Electrolyze, or a Grim Lavamancer could push that damage through also.

The same thing can be said about Tasigur.  While he’s a fine card, his activated ability only gets worse as the game progresses, and your opponent is able to leave you with dead cards on these activations.

Two things I don’t like about this list, cutting Remand, and adding any discard spell.  While I understand why this is done, and I feel that Rudy has cut the correct card Remand to replace with Inquisition of Kozilek, you lose a lot of digging power for your combo and also your tempo plan when you are half as likely to draw a virtual Time Walk as the other Twin decks, and people are already playing cards like Tasigur to get around the rampant Abrupt Decays and Inquisition of Kozileks.

I recommend this splash to the UR Twin player that wants to play a more controlling game, and is unhappy with the typical control decks of Modern (of which, the list is short).

Next, let’s peek at the green splash.  This is the Temur Twin deck that Todd Anderson, long time champion of the archetype, played at the last invitational in Columbus, Ohio.

So where the Grixis Twin deck strives to play a tempo-control gameplan behind the Splinter Twin combo, the Temur Twin deck strives to make the aggressive-tempo gameplan stronger.  By playing the big bad Tarmogoyf, you have access to a much more stable creature that can hold its own, and gets stronger as the game goes on.

A lot of concessions are made though in order to play this sort of game.  As you can see, you’re left again with no Grim Lavamancer as a flexible shock to either help kill 5 toughness creatures with Lightning Bolt while also attacking your opponent’s life total, you have to play a card that deals with these creatures that’s worse than Terminate in the form of Roast.

Your mana base is also a lot wonkier, since you absolutely want to hit green mana all of the time as early as possible without taking too much damage, so you have to play Hinterland Harbors and fewer basics, which means you’re unlikely to try to lock your opponents out with Blood Moon.

Since the base deck also runs few sorceries though, you’re incentivized to play Gitaxian Probe with Tarmogoyf to get him big quicker.

The really big draw to this deck however, is Huntmaster of the Fells out of the sideboard.  I think this is actually the real reason to play green, and Tarmogoyf is just a sweet bonus.  Huntmaster can game against a ton of the decks that really want to grind you out.  While the whole “dies to removal” argument can apply, he comes down later than most of the threats your opponents already want to answer, and when he does, he can really put you in the driver’s seat.

I recommend this Temur splash to UR Twin players that think their deck is fine, but want to keep applying pressure to their opponents, and aren’t excited about going too long into the game.

Finally, we come to the unsung hero of UR Twin splashes.  That is the Jeskai variety.  This version of the deck is actually probably the most varied.  You’ll see Jeskai Twin versions that really go all-in on the combo, playing with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breakers for their Restoration Angels, and adding Village-Bell Ringers as the third version of their Pestermites and Deceiver Exarchs, and you’ll see lists suited more for the longer game with Celestial Colonnades, and some builds even run Geist of Saint Traft.

Here is a Jeskai Twin list from Caleb Durward.

So this particular Jeskai Twin list looks a lot like the Jeskai Control lists championed by Shawn McLaren, but instead of Cryptic Command and Mana Leak, Jeskai Twin likes to suit up with Splinter Twins and Deceiver Exarchs.  The list has probably what is both the best and worst removal suite for this style of deck.  On one hand, you want to tap down your opponent’s mana with your combo creature, making them unable to react to your Splinter Twin on the following turn.  However, Path to Exile is the opposite of a tempo play for you, and letting your opponent untap with that extra land and being able to use it is not likely to play in your favor.

However, this deck does run better creatures than a typical UR Twin list.  With Restoration Angels, you don’t really lose too much in the way of combo pieces, although they only combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, but this also means that you can win through Abrupt Decay to really get at the UR deck’s worst matchups.

You also get to run Celestial Colonnade, which is again not a favorable tempo play most of the time, but allows you to go toe to toe in the long game against the really controlling decks in the format.

So the Jeskai deck is a better control strategy, and not so much a tempo strategy.  I would recommend this version of a splash to any player looking to play an actual control deck, that is also able to just untap and win in a single turn.

While I’m pretty happy with my current plain, bland, run-of-the-mill UR Splinter Twin deck, I’ve been thinking now that I switch my main deck to a splash build.  While I’ve tried all of these, if I were to go to a tournament tomorrow, I would play the Grixis list.  I really like the Blood Moon strategy, and I think that having the black cards really complements a control strategy that can just win out of nowhere.

However, it must be noted that Grixis had a pretty big week at the invitational, so I wouldn’t be upset seeing a ton of hate for the Grixis decks.  Cards like Celestial Purge are something to keep an eye on, but with G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom having a big focus with their results this past weekend, I think that the Grixis Twin deck is in a very good spot right now, and is what I would bring if I had played in North Carolina this past weekend.

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