In my last article I praised the merits of combo decks in Extended formats. In short, the wide variety and high power level of the cards lend towards some powerful combinations, and there is a huge pool from which to draw the supporting cast. I advocated the GUW Prismatic Omen-Valakut deck that abuses Wargate and Scapeshift, but there are other combo decks lurking in your MTGO queues and PTQs. One of these combo decks is based around Splinter Twin and Pestermite. Casting a Splinter Twin on a Pestermite lets you make a copy of Pestermite. This copy untaps the original Pestermite so you can create another token. Then you simply repeat ad nauseum until you have an arbitrarily large number of hasted 2/1 fliers. The beauty of this combo lies in the fact that it kills the turn it is assembled. It is important to note that Pestermite must not be summoning sick in order for this combo to work immediately. Pestermite conveniently has flash, which sets up an end of turn Pestermite followed by a Splinter Twin sucker punch on your own turn.
Some things to consider: Pestermite is a Blue, instant speed, 2/1 Flying Faerie. It would be at home in an aggressive deck. It also has a very useful ability, allowing us to disrupt the opponents mana or creatures.
Splinter Twin is powerful on any creature with a come into a play ability or some other sort of benefit. It has RR in its mana cost, so we must pay careful attention to our mana.
Now that we know the combo, we need to build a shell to house it. Pestermite-Splinter Twin is a very compact combo and affords you a lot of deck space to work with. The combo could be fit into a huge variety of decks; the puzzle as a deck builder is finding the perfect 75 to house this powerful combination. Luckily, versions of the deck have had some notable success and give us a place to start working from. I am going to lay out some of these decks and explain their inner workings. I will not go into as great a depth as I did with Wargate, but I will cover a greater breadth of decks and showcase what can be done with the Pestermite-Splinter Twin combination.
The combination has been run in some successful lists on both MTGO and in paper magic. A RUG version placed top 4 in the very first extended MTGO PTQ. An exact copy of that deck placed second at a PTQ in Montreal this past weekend.
This deck puts the combo into an aggressive shell. It has aggressive elements, tempo elements, and a strong suite of removal, permission, and card advantage. One of the strongest features of this deck, if it is not already obvious to you, is the sheer power level of the cards it plays. It is as if every card in an all-star and on the “who's who?” list of extended power cards. The only changes I would make is to first cut 1 Lightning Bolt for 1 Lotus Cobra. This deck is mana intensive and hitting 4 mana is critical, so we should maximize our chances. Lightning Bolt is also the least synergistic card in this deck, so I think 3 is all it really needs. Second I cut 1 Flooded Grove for 1 Raging Ravine. The deck has amazing mana, so I think it could benefit from playing a manland. I could see cutting one more land for a second Raging Ravine, but I would not make that change until I've played with the deck more.
4 Noble Hierarch and 4 Lotus Cobra provide tons of acceleration. They speed the deck up and allow you to cast your powerful spells sooner, fix the mana, and even give the deck the possibility of a turn 3 win. They also are both very aggressive in their own right.
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4 Bloodbraid Elf: This is one of the most powerful cards in extended, and it is right at home in this deck. It provides card advantage and an aggressive creature to put pressure on the opponent, or provides a blocker to buy time. It is also excellent when abused in conjunction with the blue spells in the deck.
4 Pestermite: This is necessary for the combo element of the deck. It is a good 4 of because it is still a very serviceable card without Splinter Twin. It can be used in the early turns to stunt your opponents mana or used later in the game to tap down mana on key turns. It can also be used end of turn to give them less mana to work with on your turn, usually when there is an impending Counterspell war. Pestermite also works as a mini Fog. Don't forget it can untap your own lands, which functionally reduces its mana cost in some situations. And finally, it is a solid creature in the form of a 2/1 flash flier. With a Noble Hierarch or two in play it becomes a fast clock.
2 Vendilion Clique: is excellent in this deck. It reveals the opponents hand and gives you powerful information, which lets you sculpt the perfect plan. It also makes sure the coast is clear to move in on the combo, or it clears away a problem card. It also can be used on yourself to trade in extra combo pieces or any other less than desirable card for a fresh one. Also simply being an instant speed three power flier makes it a great creature.
1 Wurmcoil Engine is very powerful, and having 1 in the deck will allow you to win games you would never win otherwise. It can be cast very early in this deck due to all of the acceleration. A turn 3 or 4 Wurmcoil Engine will win the game by itself. It also takes advantage of this decks high mana count by giving you a bomb to draw later in the game.
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor: Jace is simply amazing here. The acceleration allows you to cast Jace on turn 3 and lets you get the most out of the card.The deck also has a lot of creatures so you can actually protect Jace very well.
Jace serves many roles in this build:
Bounces opposing creatures, letting you win with aggressive draws.
Amazing card drawer in conjunction with 7 fetch lands.
Can set up the top card for Bloodbraid Elf cascades.
Bounces Bloodbraid Elf for more free spells and tempo.
Locks the opponent out of the game and wins by itself.
Lets you control their draws so you can win with your combo.
4 Cryptic Command: Acceleration allows you to use this on turn 3. The tempo this provides should be overwhelming.
It's uses in this deck:
Counter opposing strategies and bounces key permanents.
Acts as a Fog for alpha strikes.
Protects the combo from removal/discard.
Can bounce lands at end of turn, which restricts the opponents mana when you go off on your turn, which is even more brutal when used with Pestermite.
Allows you to bounce your Bloodbraid Elf.
Excellent card drawer.
4 Preordain: This card is exactly what the deck needs. Preordain really smooths out the draws while digging to your combo pieces. It is also excellent because this deck is capable of very fast, synergistic draws, and this helps you get them. Turn 1 Preordain finding a Lotus Cobra is a very powerful play. Scry is also insane in conjunction with Bloodbraid Elf because it sets up your cascade.
3 Lightning Bolt: Playing this powerful and efficient burn spells gives the deck an extra element. It is great at disrupting mana creatures, which gives you time to take over the game with your power spells. It also stops aggressive creatures like Putrid Leech from killing you or clears the way for your creatures to attack. It is excellent at killing planeswalkers, and, of course, is great at dealing the final points of damage to the opponent.
2 Splinter Twin: Two is a great number to play in this deck. Primarily it is not a combo deck, but a a RUG tempo deck, so it does not need to find one every game. It also has a lot of card manipulation, so you will be able to find one in situations where you do need it. Playing more Splinter Twin would make you more focused on the combo, and that hurts your flexibility. This is a price you need not pay, as sideboarding a third Splinter Twin is actually a better option.
There is not much to say about the mana. 24 lands seems like the perfect number, as you already have 8 mana producing creatures. Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn make this deck super consistent, and they can be abused by Lotus Cobra and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. The one thing of note is the absence of Raging Ravine in the original list. Adding one should make the deck even better, and I don't really see a reason not to play one. In the games I've drawn it, Raging Ravine has been excellent.
The sideboard of this deck should supplement the main aggressive strategy of the deck, help set up the combo, or provide a new dimension post sideboard. Maxime has a strong sideboard, but I think it could be better.
4 Great Sable Stag help shore up the matchup against Faeries. Faeries can disrupt the combo easily so you will beat them by being aggressive, and no card does that better than Stag. As Faeries is the most popular deck, and a very close matchup, I see no reason not to play 4 Stag. Stag is also a great option against Jund or the rare Merfolk deck.
2 Kitchen Finks are insane against opposing aggro decks like Jund, Mono Red, and Naya. It is life gain, tempo, and card advantage in one card. Kitchen Finks allows you to grind out the opponent while giving you time for your powerful spells to take over.
2 Spell Pierce: These are excellent against opposing control decks and combo decks. The tempo advantage you can gain against control decks like UW or 5cc will often be backbreaking. They also are amazing against Valakut based decks. You can make a case for bringing them in against burn decks or Faeries, but make sure they fit into your plan.
The deck is already strong against control and combo decks, so that combined with the poor synergy with Bloodbraid Elf makes Spell Pierce a 2 of in my eyes.
2 Nature's Claim: These are critical at destroying Prismatic Omen. They do double duty by destroying Bitterblossom and wrecking the artifact aggro deck. Four in the original list is absurd, and I don't think you need nearly that many. Two is ample.
1 Jace Beleren: Awesome against non aggro decks, and they are made even better by Noble Hierarch. It provides card advantage while also helping you win the Jace war.
2 Arc Trail: This card is AWESOME right now. It is devastating against Naya, Elves, WW, G/W Trap, Merfolk, and any deck with cheap creature based mana acceleration. Putting two in the sideboard gives you a lot of power against these decks. I could see playing more.
1 Splinter Twin: This final sideboard card can be brought in against decks with few ways to stop your combo, or decks where your aggressive strategy may fall short.
Another card to consider is Sower of Temptation. It is great against most creature based decks and can win you the game in a lot of situations.
Keep in mind that although this deck has a combo kill in it, its shell is that of an aggressive deck. By putting pressure on the opponent you are able to drain their resources and put them on the backpedal. You will win more games this way than with your combo. By putting on so much pressure you open them up to the combo. When your aggressive plan runs out of steam, you have your combo to fall back on. Of course, many times the combo will simply fall into your lap, and you will get easy wins, but do not rely on it.
Being aggressive is not the only angle to take with the Pestermite-Splinter Twin combo. Lists have been popping up on MTGO that take a more controlling approach.
The best list I have seen is piloted by c0d3x, who I know to be a strong player. He has been placing in Daily Events and doing well in 8 mans. I made one change to his list by cutting 1 Path to Exile for 1 Cryptic Command. The deck has a lot of removal, and playing less than 4 Cryptic Command cannot possibly be correct in my eyes.
The prime directive of this deck is to assemble the Pestermite-Splinter Twin combo. In addition, it functions as a Planeswalker based counter-control deck. The rest of the cards support both aspects of the deck.
4 Wall of Omens are excellent against aggro. They block all of the smaller creatures your opponent will have and can chump block larges ones. Often the opponent will be faced with the decision of either wasting removal on your Wall of Omen or not be able to attack you. If they use removal, that is one less card that can kill Pestermite. Wall of Omens is also critical in its role as a planeswalker shield.
4 Volcanic Fallout: This is not only amazing against Faeries, but it is actually very strong against every aggressive deck. Naya, White Weenie, Elves, and GW Trap are all common decks, and Volcanic Fallout is backbreaking against them. It is even good against Jund as it kills Fauna Shaman, Bloodbraid Elf, and any Putrid Leech in the middle of pumping.
4 Lightning Bolt/2 Path to Exile: These serve as very cheap and efficient removal spells. This is a control deck, and having access to so much cheap removal lets you stop their threats while leaving you mana to operate your own plan. Path to Exile serves double duty; it is an excellent ramp spell and mana fixer when used on your own Wall of Omens or Pestermite.
4 Cryptic Command/4 Mana Leak: Having access to 8 Counterspells means no spell the opponent plays will be safe. These cards let you craft game states and help supplement your abundant removal. I could go on for days about Cryptic Command, but I am sure you are all aware of the things it does for you. It is worth noting that the Fog ability is especially good in this deck. Mana Leak is also great at protecting your combo from removal and counterspells.
4 Jace, the Mind Sculptor: This deck is excellent at protecting its planeswalkers. Between Wall of Omens, Pestermite, 10 removal spells, and 8 counterspells, it will be very tough for the opponent to destroy your Jace. This deck might actually be the best i\in the format at protecting a Jace. It is a combo in itself; you will often win by playing “protect the queen” and taking over the game with your Mind Sculptor.
1 Ajani Vengeant: This deck is so good at protecting planeswalkers there is a lot of value of running an extra one. Ajani Vengeant is excellent in almost every matchup. It can hold down opposing creatures or Lightning Helix them. Against control and combo decks it is even better. It contains their mana while threatening to win the game by itself, as not many decks can survive a one-sided Armageddon.
4 Pestermite/3 Splinter Twin: Unlike in the RUG version, Pestermite is not as strong here. The deck will not often win by being aggressive, but Pestermite's tap or untap ability is still very useful. A turn 3 upkeep Pestermite tapping an opponents land followed by a Cryptic Command bouncing a land can put your opponent too far behind to recover. This version runs 3 Splinter Twin because the deck is much more reliant on the combo to win than the RUG version. Having 3 copies of Splinter Twin help ensure that you will find one when you need it.
This deck is very color intensive,and the mana is set up make casting all of your spells easy. 5 fetch lands help optimize Jace. The 4 Celestial Colonnade give you an extra dimension and let you get aggressive. Colonnade combined with a Pestermite or two will end the game in a hurry.
Sideboard: I love the sideboard, and here is why:
2 Ajani Vengeant: These are very underplayed in Extended and will take your opponent by surprise. Decks like UW, 5cc, Wargate, and any Scapeshift deck will be in a tough spot against a resolved Ajani. If you can backup your Ajani with Counterspells it will be hard for them to get back into the game. They also allow you to take a different angle against aggro decks if you work them into your sideboard strategy.
4 Leyline of Sanctity: These are great against decks with hand disruption, namely Faeries, Jund, and Doran. They also shut down all of the burn coming from Mono Red and Jund. Nothing protects a planeswalker from burn better than Leyline of Sanctity. In addition they can catch Valakut players with their pants down and win you the game outright. If they do have answers in their deck, Leyline will buy you time to assemble your own combo, play additional Leylines, and draw into your counterspells.
2 Vendilion Clique: give you a good way to interact with other control and combo decks. They are also very brutal when used to clear the way for a planeswalker on turn 4 or your combo later in the game.
3 Wall of Denial: another underplayed card, Wall of Denial is a beating against aggressive decks. No real creature in the format can swing through this besides a huge Knight of the Reliquary. It buys you a lot of time to take over the game with your powerful spells. Naya, Jund, Monored, Doran, Tempered Steel, etc are all weak to the wall. Turn 3 Wall of Denial followed by a Jace is backbreaking against almost everything.
1 Splinter Twin: While the RUG deck boarded up to 3 Splinter Twin, this deck boards up to 4. Against many decks, boarding into the full 4 Pestermite-4 Splinter Twin package will be your best option. All of your energy will be spent on assembling the combo and you will now have access to the maximum numbers of both pieces.
There is one last thing I want to note, and it applies to any deck with Splinter Twin-Pestermite. You will often be removing all of your combo pieces during sideboarding. You will transform your deck to make it optimal in the matchup. On the other hand, you will sometimes bring in your extra Splinter Twin and go full on combo. It is critical to remain flexible and always keep your opponent guessing.
Those two decks both play the Splintermite combo yet the remaining cards are very different. The RUG deck takes a very aggressive approach while the RUW version is a dedicated control deck. There are certainly even other approaches. One idea which I have not seen played would make an interesting deck.
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