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By: The Milk Man, Michael Mulcahy
Jan 25 2016 1:00pm
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Plan A: Splinter Twin

You will have to forgive my Desperate Ravings.

For a while I had suspected that the deck would get hit by the banhammer.

For a while I thought that Splinter Twin would be taken down a notch by maybe hitting Serum Visions - a card that would bring most blue combo decks down a notch, but not the namesake card itself.

I even pre-warned a friend who wanted to play the deck and was buying the cards for the upcoming Melbourne Grand Prix.

Ten months prior to the article I am currently writing, I had written this article, the deck had not changed a great deal – there were no new cards that pushed the deck over the edge or shifts in the meta that meant Twin was unbeatable. A lot of people hated the deck, but the combo itself was very easy to interact with from multiple angles.

Still I had a feeling. It felt like this time 12 months ago when pod was banned - Pod could be beaten, but the core strategy was just a little too good and it kept getting better and better tools for its box. Getting rid of twin would turn the format upside down. Plenty of others have already written about the whys and the how's, so I will skip most of that. It has been the quintessential

As I have stated in my previous article, Twin is my deck. It is my go to deck and the deck I always come back to. I had even made the leap to get the Scalding Tarns and Misty Rainforests that always seemed somewhat unnecessary, elusive and overpriced. (The Misty Rainforests arrived in the mail today btw. Hooray!) Those tiny percentages of games where it will matter was becoming important – I wanted to do well with the deck – so in those 1% situations, I wanted to give myself as many of those little percentage points as possible. Having Stomping Ground instead of Breeding Pool doesn't make a difference in too many matchups, but occasionally a Blood Moon will shut off both colours rather than just one. Ditto for Boil & Choke.


January 10. Shepparton GPT.

This was an event that I had been looking forward to for months. I have been actively promoting and pushing Modern in my local community for a while now, so this was very important to me. The (fantastic) owner of the FLGS had organised 3 GPTs for the upcoming Melbourne Grand Prix. Unfortunately the formats had already been locked in as Standard. We had campaigned for at least one to be Modern, the same format as the GP and we were rewarded by a very accommodating host. (Thanks Matty!)

I had bought some new cards and been testing a lot on mtgo. I picked up some Cryptic Commands and Vendilion Cliques from MTGOtraders and starting playing around with different builds until I found one that I liked:

 

 

So this is the exact list I ended up playing. I played reasonably well and I only recall two serious mistakes that I made (forgot to play a land for the turn & moved to discard when I could have bolted opponents face with near zero downside) but those turned out to be inconsequential.

Round 1 I played against a friend who was on Naya Burn. My counter spells lined up quite well and I was able to take the match 2-0 from very low life totals.

Round 2 I played another friend who had recently picked up Splinter Twin – I won in 3 close games.

Round 3 was against a GW hatebear-ish brew. Game 1 I had the combo in hand & was facing down 2 Qasali Pridemage but was patient, waited and found a spot to tap down my opponent when he was down to 1 mana. I had a Spell Pierce for the Path to Exile that he attempted to exile the Deceiver Exarch with. Game 2 I sided out most of the combo and bought in all of the control cards. Anger of the Gods was an all-star. An ultimate from Jace, Architect of Thought and the game was pretty much locked up.

Round 4 was against my brother playing Living End. Being ranked 1st and 2nd in the swiss we decided to ID. It is a terrible match up for the Living End player, so it didn't take much convincing to shake hands.

Round 5 was against a local guy playing Elves. We decided to ID in to the top 8.

Going in to the top 8 this put me in 4th position. My opponent in the quarter finals was the Elves player that I had ID’d with the previous round. Being on the play turned out to be of no use as Spellskites stopped me from being able to combo off and I got overrun by Ezuri and friends pretty early in the picture. Game 2 I had mulliganned to six and looked at this hand

Snapcaster Mage Lightning Bolt Dispel Scalding Tarn

Lightning Bolt Serum Visions

 I decided to keep, as the cards were too important in the match up – I needed the early interaction and the Serum Visions would hopefully draw me in to more land and the combo. It was risky but it was my only shot against a 6 card keep from my opponent. He seemed to be stuck with a poor grip so bolting the mana dorks and Remanding the bigger spells to keep up on tempo for the land drops that I kept missing. On about turn 8 with 4 land on the field I was at 2 life facing down a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze and a Llanowar Elves. Opponent taps out for Ezuri, Renegade Leader, in response I play Deceiver Exarch, untap my own land, Remand Ezuri, Renegade Leader block the 3/3 Scavenging Ooze and take 1 from the Llanowar Elves. Untap. Splinter Twin - by the skin of my teeth.

Game 3 went a lot smoother hitting more of my land drops and Anger of the Gods. Ancient Grudges cleared Spellskites out of the way for the combo. Some players seem to lean on the combo too much and it would appear that most of my wins so far were due to the Splinter Twin combo, although I prefer to play post sideboard games with the tempo/control game rather than go for the combo as soon/often as I can. Against the aggro decks like Elves and Burn though, Splinter Twin is the best way to snatch victory from the brink while you’re on the back foot.

Semi Finals were a very long drawn out 3 games vs the burn player from round 1. Game 1 he had a very strong hand that I couldn’t keep up with despite having a good mix of land, creatures and interactive spells. Games 2 & 3 played out much better for me with my counter spells lining up well against his burn spells despite being bottle necked on land for so many turns.

The finals were against another friend who had also recently picked up Splinter Twin (different player than my round 2 opponent though). It was an odd game for a Splinter Twin mirror; usually one of the more interesting mirror matchups as the deck is so interactive- every single card can interact with your opponent (Serum Visions being the only notable exception).
 On the play in game 1 I played Deceiver Exarch on turn 4. Opponent fetches and casts Cryptic Command to counter Deceiver Exarch and draw a card. I fetch and counter the Cryptic Command with Dispel. I follow up on my turn with the Splinter Twin and we go to our sideboards. Game 2 I swap out about 8 or 9 cards and move in to the full control build with only 1 copy of Splinter Twin left in the deck. My opponent goes for the combo on turn 4 and I only had a Spell Snare in hand - back to the sideboard.


Game 3 was a bit more drawn out, but my control plan seemed to line up better. Beatdowns with Pestermite & Vendilion Clique tied with Snapcaster Mages and Lightning Bolts got the job done in the end, even in the face of an opposing Keranos, God of Storms. It was almost anticlimactic after a long day in the heat (near 40 degrees or 104 for North American readers).

So I am crowned Grand Prix (Trial) Champion!

Pose for photos, collect wheelbarrow of loot, hop in to limo and drive off in to the sunset.

I sleep with content knowing that I am ready for the Grand Prix on March 4-6. I have the deck. I have a build that is 73 or 74 cards locked in. I keep thinking about my games and what I could have done differently, but am still quite happy with how everything went. Now we play the waiting game. Waiting for my Misty Rainforests to arrive and for the Grand Prix to roll around. Nowhere did I actively recall that the Ban & Restricted list would be updated so soon or more specifically that Splinter Twin would be the victim this year (In the interests of diversity of the format).

The obvious targets for banning were:

Amulet of Vigor or Summer Bloom from the Amulet Bloom deck.

Nourishing Shoal or Goryo's Vengeance from the Grishoalbrand deck.

Lantern of Insight. It seems like everyone has forgotten about Lantern of Insight. Lantern of Insight breaks all the rules for a healthy competitive format except for the turn 4 rule - it is extremely not fun to play against, is very slow to enact its game plan and can become entirely uninteractive when the opponent gets locked out of the game with Ensnaring Bridges.

Lee Shi Tian even made an argument for neutering a card from Naya Burn, a deck that has increased its consistency over the past couple of years with Monastery Swiftspear, Wild Nacatl, Path to Exile and Destructive Revelry. But that was not to be.

January 16.

Six days after winning the GPT and I have almost forgotten about Modern. I have been looking at Legacy Storm decks thanks to the new card from Magic Origins; Dark Petition. I have been getting in to mtgfinance and speculating on pennystock modern staples. I already had a plan B deck to fall back on if for some reason Splinter Twin became a bad choice. I decide to take a quick look at twitter to see if there is any mtg related news & I see this:


  


I immediately look for other sources and confirm that some of my worst MTG related fears are unfolding before my eyes. I see that there is a fire sale on Splinter Twins. I offload mine and my Deceiver Exarchs, Jaces and Keranos. It's like my world is crashing down around me. My first thought is to protect myself (financially, as I am pretty invested in the deck at this point). I liquidate my Splinter Twin centric cards. I contact friends that are in the same boat. Then I go through a process of deciding what will be the cards and decks that benefit the most from these changes and have bought a heap of staples for Burn, Infect, Affinity, Tron, Merfolk and Hatebears – All decks that have cheap (mainly non-rare) staples at the moment that have the potential to explode with the absence of Twin.


After going through the five stages of grieving and realising that I had just bought Scalding Tarns to play in the deck and Misty Rainforests that had not even arrived yet, (they came today) I feel priced in to playing a UR(x) deck. So realising that my perfect plan for GP Melbourne is not going to come to fruition I need to decide on a new deck.

Without considering new decks are decks that all of a sudden become viable thanks to relying on tapping out on turn 3/4 here are my observations for changes to the meta.

The Winners

Tron has the most to gain from the banning of Splinter Twin & Summer Bloom. It was one of the worst matchups for Tron and now allows them to focus more utility and sideboard cards to the aggro matchups. Even with a big target on its back, the new tools allow Tron to be the top dog. There is no strategy that it can't beat.

Bx Eldrazi similarly moves up a notch and for the same reasons - but I would have to imagine Tron has a strong advantage in the match of the titans - playing the biggest and most bad of them all Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.

Living End is a big winner of the new meta - less Remands in play and more decks that rely on creatures or lands is everything that the deck with 4 mainboard Fulminator Mages wants.

The Losers

BGx - Jund, Abzan and the variants will have a much tougher time in this meta without a big pivot in the way the decks are built. It's not so much that they had such a good matchup against Splinter Twin that they won't be able to win a game, but more so that they get well and truly stood over by the bigger Tron and Eldrazi decks.

BW Tokens - BW Tokens that include the Soul Sisters - particularly Auriok Champion have good matches against Splinter Twin, Grixis Control and BGx as they are able to overwhelm their removal and have efficient removal of their own in the form of Path to Exile and Zealous Persecution and efficient disruption like Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress to combat the more controlling elements of those decks. Similarly, some of the decks that have moved up the ladder (Mostly Tron) care little for Spectral Processions when they run mainboard Pyroclasms and Oblivion Stones. BW Tokens needs quite a specific sequence of cards to be able to put the game away before they get overpowered.

Grixis Control - Another deck with a relatively good matchup vs Splinter Twin and quite a poor matchup vs the big mana decks. Suffers for essentially the same reason as Jund and other BGx midrange variants.

Of the existing strategies, midrange decks look to have a lot to lose, while the aggro and combo decks that were preyed on by Splinter Twin and Amulet Bloom decks are able to flex their muscles more against the big mana decks. The big mana decks will also be able to push back, as they can spend more resources hedging the aggro match up instead of Splinter Twin. So where does that leave us? The top existing strategies going forward are likely to be Tron, Bx Eldrazi, Naya Burn, Infect & Affinity - basically in that order too.

Plan B

My Plan B the whole time has been Affinity. I was able to buy in to the deck relatively cheaply as I picked up a few staples from MM2 boosters (Mox Opals, Etched Champions, Blinkmoth Nexuses & Cranial Platings) and so it seemed natural to pick up the other staples too. I managed to get Arcbound Ravagers and Glimmervoids before they exploded in price and am quite happy with my build and options that I have available. Affinity is a hard yet rewarding deck to play and I think I can play it competently. Not great, but passable. So after the Splinter Twin ban I sort of had this insurance that ‘Oh, I can just play Affinity”. Then I started to second guess my original choice. Will Affinity even be playable?

Etched Champion

 For the grindy matchups where you don’t win early, Etched Champion with metalcraft is the unsung hero. I feel that as an Affinity player I value this card so much higher than my opponents do - and it pays off. It can win on its own with your opponent at 20 and a grip full of cards. An absolute powerhouse against Grixis Control and BGx variants. (Kozilek’s Return) will change this though. Both of those decks can easily run (Kozilek’s Return) in place of an Anger of the Gods or Volcanic Fallout – and getting around the protection is huge.

Not even counting the new hate, the meta shift is not as friendly as it would first seem. An article on mtggoldfish recently claimed that Affinity is one of the big winners of the Splinter Twin ban, as Splinter Twin was its worst matchup by a long shot, despite having a very good win percentage against the rest of the field. I am not so sure about this. Tron is another deck that has gained a lot by the banning of Splinter Twin as well as getting some great new tools from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch. The problem with Affinity is that it is very susceptible to hate.


Affinity does however have a surprisingly high resilience to hate. You probably can't beat it all, but you can certainly beat some of the hate - you just need to be aware of the important cards in a particular situation. Players unfamiliar with the deck assume that Stony Silence is a lock on the deck. While it is awfully frustrating to draw dead cards and have the majority of the mana base locked up, Signal Pest, Master of Etherium and Etched Champion are cards that you can lean on to get the job done. Building a variant of Affinity that is more resilient to hate might be required if it does end up with a big target on its back. Master of Etheriums are great to give you a different angle. The only stock creatures that live through a Night of Souls' Betrayal are Ornithopter, Spellskite and Etched Champion. Master of Etherium allows you to play through a resolved Night of Souls' Betrayal or Stony Silence.

The deck is a good choice for a GP though, as it is very proactive and punishing - players trying to be too cute or not having the rights answer will often be waiting to die - even as early as turn 2. Yes - turn 2. Amulet of Vigor, Infect and Goryo's Vengeance decks are known for their turn 2 kills, however many are unaware or have forgotten that Affinity can have a turn 2 kill as well - it is quite rare though and requires a pretty specific opening hand, however it may just come up.


Inkmoth Nexus  Mox Opal Signal Pest
 Springleaf Drum Signal Pest

These are the cards that must be in the opening 7, as they all need to be played on turn 1. Then you need a 0 drop creature to activate the Springleaf Drum to play the second Signal Pest.

Memnite or Ornithopter

 The last card in your hand needs to be either Arcbound Ravager or Darksteel Citadel. Whichever piece isn't in your hand you will need to draw in to - either on turn 1 if you're on the draw or turn 2 on the play

Arcbound Ravager  Darksteel Citadel

So turn 1 plays out something like this: Inkmoth Nexus, Mox Opal, Ornithopter, Springleaf Drum, Signal Pest (now that the Mox Opal has metalcraft) and using the Springleaf Drum play the second Signal Pest

Turn 2 you play the Darksteel Citadel, tapping it and the Mox Opal for mana to play the Arcbound Ravager. Tapping the Arcbound Ravager or Ornithopter with the Springleaf Drum to activate the Inkmoth Nexus.

Move to attacks and collect the triggers from both Signal Pests, making the Inkmoth Nexus a 3/1 creature. Now using the Arcbound Ravager's ability, Sacrifice all remaining artifacts; 2 x Signal Pest, Springleaf Drum, Ornithopter, Mox Opal, Darksteel Citadel to make the Arcbound Ravager a 7/7, finally sacrifice the Arcbound Ravager to itself to transfer the 7 +1/+1 counters to the 3/1 Inkmoth Nexus with the modular trigger.

This is when you allow your opponent to Lightning Bolt or Path to Exile the 10/8 Inkmoth Nexus.

So how do the changes to the B & R List effect Affinity?

Normally Affinity has a poor matchup vs Splinter Twin, so the banning should take pressure off of the deck as its worst matchup is no longer around. However there is good reason to believe that the opposite in fact is true. Other decks that lose ground in a Splinter Twin free meta include Grixis Control, Jund and Abzan - matchups that are all quite good for Affinity. The decks that improve in the absence of Splinter Twin - GW Hatebears, Infect, Naya Burn, Tron and Bx Eldrazi are all tough matchups for Affinity with their ability to shut down the Affinity player's strategy whilst simultaneously advancing their own thanks to high value spells like Searing Blaze, Smash to Smithereens, Destructive Revelry and Searing Blood out of Naya Burn, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Karn Liberated & Wurmcoil Engine in Tron, Qasali Pridemage & Ghost Quarter in GW Hatebears.

I am going to have to jam a lot of games and find a suitable build for the new meta.

I attempted to record some games with Camstudio, however it splits the audio and video, maybe I don't have it set up correctly. Went 3-2 in a league. It is very apparent that the deck is weak to Tron. The increase in popularity of Tron means that I need a better plan for them. I have run Blood Moon in the board before which is quite good, however it slows me down as well as the opponent, meaning that it actually isn't the hoser that it is out of the board of Splinter Twin. I am happy to take suggestions for tech vs Tron. Crumble to Dust looks like the most playable option so far.

Paired with Springleaf Drum & Mox Opal, Crumble to Dust could even be cast before they assemble tron.

Here is the list I had been playing pre-ban: (I had been alternating between Blood Moons and Thoughtseizes depending on how I felt. Blood Moon is probably the better of the two as it is just so much stronger in the matchups where you want it - it can lock a lot of decks down.

 

 

Here is the final video I recorded from the league, apologies for no audio or commentary, I am a little disorganised at the moment:

 

 With the experience that I had in the league & with how I am expecting the meta to change I have made some small changes to the list:

 

I have entered another league - here is all 5 matches (without commentary unfortunately). Ironically played exactly zero big mana decks, but 4 out of 5 are decks that I have previously mentioned as shifting in the meta due to the Splinter Twin ban. It has become apparent that I need some way of at least having a chance against enchantments - there will be a lot of testing and tuning. I also made a tonne of mistakes that will iron out with practice - not killing a 3/3 Wild Nacatl with Galvanic Blast when I could have killed a Monastery Swiftspear, sequencing of spells to be more mana efficient etc. etc.

Rnd 1 vs Dimir Control

 Rnd 2 vs Death and Taxes

 Rnd 3 vs UWR Midrange

 Rnd 4 vs Naya Burn

 Rnd 5 vs Abzan Midrange

The matches played out pretty much as I thought they would - Affinity still preys on midrange strategies, but is weak to the other tier 1 Aggro strategies and the Big Mana decks. The Dimir Control deck was a pretty cool build I hadn't seen before. Night of Souls' Betrayal wrecked me pretty good there. So I am a lot less confident about my plan B than I was previous to the banning of Splinter Twin. I don't know... maybe I will go with plan C.


To be continued...