Feature Article from Steven Mullahoo

Twin Peeks: A Whole New-Ish World

Steven Mullahoo

3/6/2015 11:01:00 AM

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Hello again! The TCGplayer Modern State Championship is coming up, and in preparation for it, I have returned! Modern is sweet, and I'm back to talk about it some more, so let's dive back into my favorite deck. It has persisted through the bannings, introduction of the Khans block, and a recent Pro Tour, coming out yet again on top of the format: Splinter Twin!

First things first: I LOVE playing reactive decks, and I'm a control player at heart. The decks that I play and love tend to fall in between the spectrum of true midrange and true control. Being able to keep hands like, oh, I don't know, four scry-lands, Thoughtseize, Bile Blight, Hero's Downfall feels SO GOOD. Cards that are incredibly low impact and strictly synergistic aren't exciting to me. Modern is a very powerful format, and unlike the necessity of synergy like in the old Junk Aristocrats standard deck, you can simply play powerful cards. Some people lament the lack of synergy, but apparently synergy in formats without a ubiquitous Fun-Police along the lines of Force of Will is destined to lead to undesirable decks and games (See: banning of old Affinity, banning of Dredge, recent banning of Birthing Pod).

So now in Modern and in Standard the name of the game is simply: Play Powerful Cards, or, have an Extremely Powerful Proactive Game Plan. Twin is a deck that can include powerful cards, though many people choose to stray from those cards, and Twin is a deck that does have an extremely powerful game plan. But the upside of Twin in my mind is not the ability to be able to suddenly win on turn four, since decks that you could just free-roll that against (Pod) have dropped in popularity. Instead it's the fact that the deck can switch from extremely reactive to extremely proactive and back based on the board state and your hand, and you only need a two-card-combo identifier of when to do so. On top of that, the ability to audible to the aggressive gameplan is still a choice; you can simply not go for it and wait. Some decks, since they operate on that sorcery speed level a-la Rhinos and Tarmogoyfs, must deploy their threats on their turn to take a certain plan of attack. This is what makes Twin and even Jeskai Control so powerful, since they are now effectively the only good examples of decks in Modern that have a wide series of game-to-game decision trees at multiple stages of the game.

So let's jump right into the card-by-card breakdown of the Twin lists nowadays. Powerful Cards: Thought Scour? Bleh. Now that we lost Dig Through Time (RIP) Thought Scour becomes very unattractive to me. It cycles and marginally synergizes with one other card in your deck, and in my case, mills powerful cards you want that have no upside of being in your yard. Peek? Maybe. At least, compared to the Gitaxian Probe alternative, it's functioning on an instant speed axis, a strictly more powerful axis than sorcery speed, and enables you to do powerful things by letting you play even better based on the situation. Though I'd like to remind us of an age-old argument that was mentioned once by some Pros with respect to Peek and Probe: if you're good enough, maybe you shouldn't need these cards, especially if you're playing a reactive game. Proactive decks, like the Grixis Twin list I'll post (spoiler), need the information because they're so linear and exclusively proactive. My ideal Twin deck is not, and these cards devolve into simple cantrips and not much else.

A question I had posed before was “Wurmcoil or Inferno Titan or Batterskull?” I think the answer to this question now is, unfortunately, neither Wurmcoil nor Inferno Titan. Wurmcoil looks so hilariously foolish in this metagame, with Paths all over the place and even just Twin tapping it down and comboing you out immediately. Inferno Titan might, in reality, not be completely ridiculous; it certainly beats up on Lingering Souls and even turns your Bolts into Doom Blades versus Tarmogoyfs when you factor in the Arc Lightning in combat. I think what might swing anything in Inferno Titan's favor is if the format shapes up to take into consideration Shackles and Sower of Temptation with bizarre niche removal and not general answers like Maelstrom Pulse. Nonetheless Batterskull coming down a turn earlier and being so resilient puts it over the top, and I had been pleased with two copies in the 75 in many cases.

Clique might have to be relegated to the sideboard with all ‘dese Lingering Souls literally floating around. Clique did work, believe me, the card is very good, but when 30% of your metagame is packing Souls, it seems dangerous to play. Granted, you can run good and tuck their Souls and now they have to Path it (versus the Bolts of old) to survive, but it turns out they play more copies of their card than we do of ours. The fact that it is still so good in the mirror, combo matchups, and matchups where the End Step is important still gives us a reason to keep it, but I just think it needs to stay in the board; we can take a hint from Legacy here. Also to combat the Lingering Souls menace is a one-of Jace, Architect of Thought in a lot of boards, and I really like this. Four CMC is the name of the game, and it has a lot of game against a lot of decks, just like it did in Standard, playing effectively against “go-wide” creature decks like Affinity and granting repeatable card draw to close the gap in the midgame.

Really quickly: what are you even doing playing fewer than two Ancient Grudge?! I could even see three! Have you had an Ancient Grudge in your hand against Affinity before? The Red Cryptic Command.

Back to form; Spell Snare has never excited me. I suppose it is a good enough card in the Blue Moon lists, but they rely so much more heavily on hard counters and even soft counters like Mana Leak to gain traction in the early game. Twin, and especially the style I like, functions like a Blue Moon deck that cuts those random Counterspells for the combo that I think leads to those free wins you want and need in Modern. Spell Snare is fine against Abzan since you're actually that annoyed by Tarmogoyf, and its good against Affinity, but I'm not scared of that deck in particular (actually Affinity is one of my favorite matchups to play from the Twin perspective; there's a lot of math and there are a lot of interesting decisions that showcase the difference between good and bad Twin players).

 Vedalken Shackles
Store QTY Price  
LegacyComicsandCards 1 $4.26
Nvmber 1 $4.95
Lemurite Games 1 $5.00
Moose Loot 1 $5.00
Life Zugzwang Games 1 $5.00
Main Street Gaming 1 $5.00
NeverTappedOut 1 $5.25
Card Wizards 1 $5.50
Academy 3 $5.50
Gamer's Guild 1 $5.58
Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card Vedalken Shackles Magic MTG Card
Magic MTG Card

Vedalken Shackles is still the primary thing I want anyone to take away from this article and from the Twin deck in general. I'm still stunned that this card has not gained popular traction and that people are still playing Threads of Disloyalty. Threads does not win games; your opponents' single creature tries to do that for you when you cast it. Shackles wins games. The effect that it provides is just out of control, and a repeatable Mind Control is so much more important now that Abzan is playing Path in every iteration of their deck, giving them more outs to your one-time Threads. Shackles beats up on Jeskai Control, steals Etched Champions, nullifies Lingering Souls; the card is just insane. I've said this all before, but I'll keep preaching it until you guys actually start sleeving it up!

Speaking of Shackles, the card I'm actually very newly excited for is Sower of Temptation. I love the notion of being able to sideboard into a Mind Control deck (“this Mind Control would be great for my Mind Control deck”). We move into a position to extremely, tightly tax Abzan's removal between Sower, Shackles, Blood Moon, even Batterskull on a Deceiver Exarch, and though I strongly advocate for cutting three if not all four of your Twins postboard against them, we can just get to play the midrange mirror, except that now we have access to more powerful spells. It also blocks Lingering Souls for days, which is just gravy.

I'm glad Blood Moon is back. The card is good, it's true; but then again I'm still not completely sold since my devotion to Shackles is actually that high. Since they compete for the sorcery speed three-drop “win the game” slot, you can't have too many of them. I think good players can beat Blood Moon, and it's very matchup dependent; sometimes you just can't beat a Shackles.

Still in the sideboard; Keranos underwhelmed me. Every time I won with a Keranos I felt like Batterskull could've done the same job, even taking into consideration all those extra lands Keranos inevitably draws you. Batterskull stabilizes, Keranos does not, and Twin is more in the business of stabilizing in more matchups. If we have attempted to solve the Abzan matchup with Spellskites, Shackles, Sowers and Jaces, I just don't think we need Keranos anymore. Batterskull can come in against Affinity, Burn, Zoo, Jeskai, the mirror, whereas Keranos is only good enough against Abzan and Jeskai.

Combust is actually a card people have considered in response to the uptick in Siege Rhino populations and Twin but I don't think we're particularly excited to bring in Combust for only the Rhino versus Abzan. Since we have Sowers and Shackles postboard, we simply have better options, and the Twin mirror can be navigated without the need for Combust. Besides, there just aren't enough decks where Combust is particularly great, especially with the reduction in Restoration Angels lately.

Anger of the Gods can definitely take a knock down, maybe even Disappear entirely. This was a card I wanted to pick up several of in foil because I couldn't imagine a world where it wasn't insane. That world had Pod as a mainstay. I'm honestly surprised Wizards banned Pod, even still, because of how much they love creatures, but now that Pod is gone, your Angers lose a lot of traction. Maybe it'll be good enough if the Brian Kibler/Jacob Wilson-esque Abzan Aggro deck, with Souls, Kitchen Finks, Voices is a really important staple of the format, but until then I'm okay with leaning on different sideboard cards.

Counterflux was always something that I really liked, feeling in part like Cryptic Commands three and four in that you felt like you couldn't lose some matchups when you had them in your hand and weren't savagely behind. Though good in the mirror and playable as “Counterspell X” against Burn, I think we haven't seen enough Scapeshift lately to warrant more or any Counterfluxen. Something that I just never really bothered to do, especially since I had enough cards to bring in against the Jund/Abzan variants in the past, was to bring in Counterflux as just Cancel in the midrange matchups. I'd be curious to see if it's good enough. Let me know if you've had any experience boarding like this!

At long last here's a functional decklist for Splinter Twin, followed by a super-secret decklist…

Splinter Twin by Steven Mullahoo
Main Deck
4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Pestermite
3 Snapcaster Mage
2 Spellskite
Creatures [11]
1 Batterskull
2 Cryptic Command
1 Dispel
2 Electrolyze
1 Flame Slash
1 Izzet Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Remand
4 Serum Visions
4 Splinter Twin
1 Vedalken Shackles
Spells [25]
1 Breeding Pool
2 Desolate Lighthouse
4 Flooded Strand
6 Island (254)
1 Mountain (262)
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
Lands [24]
Deck Total [60]

3 Ancient Grudge
2 Blood Moon
1 Dispel
2 Engineered Explosives
1 Jace, Architect of Thought
1 Negate
2 Sower of Temptation
1 Vedalken Shackles
2 Vendilion Clique
Sideboard [15]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

And on a final note, I'd like to bring to you another decklist that's far spicier than mine, and instead of playing anything remotely similar to my suggested list, plays like a true combo deck:

Grixis Twin by Anders Simpson-Wolf
Main Deck
4 Deceiver Exarch
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Spellskite
Creatures [10]
2 Dispel
4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Murderous Cut
1 Peek
1 See Beyond
4 Serum Visions
3 Shrine of Piercing Vision
4 Sleight of Hand
4 Splinter Twin
1 Swan Song
Spells [29]
1 Blood Crypt
3 Darkslick Shores
2 Island (254)
1 Mountain (262)
4 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
2 Sulfur Falls
1 Watery Grave
Lands [21]
Deck Total [60]

Click for full deck stats & notes!

This version tries to go for the combo on turn four or five almost every game. It has a lot more disruption and Peek effects, and instead of just rattling off an Inquisition on turn one, tries to save it for combo turns. Murderous Cut seems like an incredibly powerful option for any style of Twin deck, eliminating Hate Bears or simple pressure, even killing Tasigur (that conveniently dodges our Engineered Explosives). The Shrine of Piercing Vision is a throwback if I've ever seen one, but we like to call it Demonic Tutor.

Props to TCGplayer's own Seth Manfield for running a lot of these similar ideas to a Finals performance at SCG Baltimore! Now go forth with all this information unto a Modern States near you, and hoist the UR(x) flag high!

Steven Mullahoo
Of Team Tufts