A Twin Epiphany In Columbus

Ross Merriam has a lot of experience with Splinter Twin decks in Modern, so he didn’t really expect to learn something new when he picked up Grixis Twin for the Season Two Invitational. What he learned surprised him, and he shares his insights in time for Grand Prix Charlotte.

For much of this year, my Modern deck of choice has been U/R Splinter Twin. A powerful deck with several angles of attack, Splinter Twin has been a staple of the Modern format since its inception. I had initially sided with the straight U/R version because I always err on the side of consistency and better mana.

However, with the reemergence of B/G/x decks (and thus Abrupt Decay) I found the U/R Twin deck to be lacking, especially in game ones when it was fairly reliant on assembling the combo to win. Up until recently, the only option for moving towards a more midrange approach has been to splash green and use Tarmogoyf, but Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Polluted Delta now make a black splash viable. With the many excellent options that a black splash presented, I sided with Grixis Twin for the Season Two Invitational last weekend and registered the following list:

My pairings were rather strange, never playing Jund or Abzan while I ran into G/W Hexproof and Twinning End, but I was happier with how this deck played out than I had been with U/R recently. The format has shifted back to being more midrange-focused, and being able to play an effective fair game is important for the Twin decks right now.

Tasigur, the Golden Fang gives the deck a solid ground threat that can be played while still holding up the various instant-speed tricks that makes the Twin decks so hard to play against. It even provides a source of card advantage going long, which is important in a deck that is light on space from trying to make room for enough cards to support multiple angles of attack.

Terminate and Murderous Cut are perhaps the cards I enjoy having the most coming from U/R Twin. Every time my opponent would open on a discard spell into a Tarmogoyf I felt hopelessly far behind. Cards like Flame Slash, Roast, and Harvest Pyre could be employed to help solve the issue, but having cleaner answers in midrange mirrors is important. The threats in Magic these days are so powerful that you cannot afford to let them stay in play just because you drew the wrong answer.

Terminate can even kill things like Deceiver Exarch and Primeval Titan that the other red options struggle mightily with. The rise of Grixis even makes Tasigur a must-kill in several rounds. There are too many great creatures in Modern to be messing around with weak removal spells. Just get them dead.

The last maindeck addition from black is Kolaghan’s Command. I came away from the Invitational less impressed with this card than I expected to be, but I suspect that has a lot to do with my strange matchups. Certainly this card will get worse if combo decks like G/R Tron and Amulet Bloom continue to rise, but in midrange-dominated metagames it will continue to shine. These subtle shifts are something I will always keep an eye on when tuning Grixis Twin for a tournament.

All of the singletons I used in the maindeck were impressive over the course of last weekend, and all are cards that I rarely saw used in the maindecks of other lists. Vendilion Clique is one of my favorite cards of all time so I am admittedly biased, but its versatility is incredible in a deck like this. It provides information, hand disruption, an instant-speed threat and card selection all in one sleek, efficient package. Having a card that is so versatile is very important when you are trying to make your deck malleable enough to adapt to the game as it evolves. You will never change gears into a game-plan where Vendilion Clique is bad, and quite often it will be excellent. I was even convinced to play a second copy in the sideboard and will continue to do so moving forward.

The maindeck Dispel is a card I have used a lot in U/R Twin and was at times dissatisfied with, but with the emergence of Kolaghan’s Command and decline of Abrupt Decay, you are now less likely to be caught without a good target. I also think Dispel is extremely important in the mirror since it is the best card at winning counter wars. In Twin-heavy metagames, I would consider playing two more copies in the sideboard.

Of all the cards in the deck, Thought Scour is the one I am most interested in finding more room for before Charlotte. Being able to play a value Snapcaster Mage on the end step is incredibly valuable, as is fueling Delve and ensuring that you have a wide array of options for your Snapcaster Mages to target. Increasing your card selection also means you will find the combo more often, or at least threaten to in order to pigeonhole your opponents’ plays.

From analyzing why certain cards were successful in the deck, I can say that if there is one central theme to this deck it is adaptability. Terminate is going to kill the creature you want it to almost all the time. Kolaghan’s Command will always have a mode that make it a relevant two-for-one. Vendilion Clique does everything.

Moreover, all the cards in the deck can be used either defensively or offensively based on what is needed at the time. Grixis Twin would be Charles Darwin’s deck of choice. It rewards you for leaving yourself options, and is always able to react to whatever your opponent is doing.

Because of this, I think my use of Thoughtseizes in the sideboard was incorrect. I had added them because I wanted to have a disruptive element that was separate from counterspells and removal, especially against the many combo decks of Modern, but as Todd Anderson explained to me, Thoughtseize and other point discard spells ask you to assess the game-state as it is right now and devise a plan to win from that point.

In effect, they force you to sacrifice your adaptability and live at the mercy of the top of each person’s deck after making the best decision available to you at the time. They are proactive instead of reactive and thus do not fit the play style of the rest of the deck. This lesson forced me to reshape how I thought about Grixis Twin and other versions of the deck, and I am excited to share what I have learned thus far in the process.

Having such a wide range and keeping myself from narrowing in on just one single game-plan too early were difficult for me last weekend; I typically favor focused and thus more linear decks. The key with Grixis Twin and decks like it is that you want to keep your opponent fighting on multiple fronts for as long as possible. The sooner you give up ground and focus on one plan, the sooner your opponent can begin to direct their own resources to stop that plan.

Oddly enough, having such a nebulous gameplan allows you to play your own cards in the most straightforward way: simply extract as much value from each resource as possible. Rather than try to formulate a plan that makes Vendilion Clique the important piece and Pestermite the expendable one, it is better to simply play both, let your opponent decide which they find most important, and then adapt to whatever decision they make.

Being so versatile is also a great advantage when sideboarding, especially for game three. Once you see how your opponent has sideboarded, you gain insight into what parts of the matchup they find important. Are they aggressively trying to stop your combo? Are they trying to play a long attrition game? Have they lowered their curve to gain an edge early? In any of these cases, you can adjust your deck to make the aspect of your deck they’re focusing on less essential – if you know what they think matters, you can strategically blunt your opponent’s sideboard plans by making something else matter more.

That doesn’t mean that all your sideboard cards have to be more broadly-applicable ones like Engineered Explosives. Some cards can serve a very specific purpose and still excel, like Keranos, God of Storms as an attrition trump card. It just means that when you bring in Keranos you are not completely shifting to an attrition game-plan, merely emphasizing that aspect more heavily. In fact, I found Keranos so impressive in that role that I plan on cutting the sideboard copy of Tasigur, the Golden Fang for another one.

Similarly, Anger of the Gods is only there for small creature decks where you become more of a combo-control deck than anything else and the sweeper emphasizes the control part of this plan. Sideboarding with Grixis Twin is much more about small adjustments than about sweeping changes. Figure out which aspects of the deck you want to strengthen and which you wish to weaken, then adjust accordingly.

Lastly, note that sideboarding with Grixis Twin, much like playing it, is an exercise in adaptability. You may have a specific sideboarding guide in place for a given matchup, but if your opponent has a unique approach against you then you’ll have to be able to adjust. Do not be afraid to get creative in testing since at the very least you will learn something.

Perfecting your skills with Twin is a tedious but rewarding process, and one I look forward to embarking on with a renewed understanding of the deck starting this weekend in Charlotte.