Behind The Curtain – Don’t Deceive Me

Do you want to be prepared for the newest kid on the block, Deceiver-Twin? Valeriy Shunkov has the answers. Find out why the newest combo is overrated, and don’t be taken by surprise this weekend at SCG Open: Orlando.

Splinter Twin musings are all around. Literally every author mildly concerned with Standard wrote about it. A ton of decklists, proposals, and
ideas—and I assume that, despite of its real power, you’ll see many deceived people during the first weeks after the set release. So,
I’ll provide skepticism on the deck, on problems to solve, and on the ways to be prepared for this new kid on the block. Some thoughts about more
real decks can be found at the end of this article—I’m trying an interesting new card in two good but underrated decks.

Deceiver Exarch

If you’re not a Forgotten Cave dweller, you’ve probably seen some variations of the Deceiver ExarchSplinter Twin combo: with
Pyromancer Ascension or without it (or even Pyromancer Ascension without Splinter Twin), U/R or U/R/B with black for discard and removal and more and

The Splinter Twin and Pestermite combo also saw some play in Extended (and Pestermite + Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker in older formats), but it was largely
relegated to the sideboard. I bought my own playset of Splinter Twins right after Myr Galvanizer was spoiled—just because I collect Myrs, and I
found the Myr GalvanizerIron MyrSplinter Twin combo interesting enough to try, for example, at Game Day. The three-card combo, obviously,
proved itself to be clunky and fragile, but I was struck with recognition when Deceiver Exarch was spoiled; I thought, “Are they crazy or just kidding
us all?”

New Phyrexia will probably be remembered as the set that caused mass hysteria across formats. Let’s look at Splinter Twin from the perspective of the
realistic skeptic.

The god draw is to Deceiver Exarch at the end of the opponent’s turn and Splinter Twin during your own turn to make infinite creatures, but in reality,
the combo is going to be slower most of the time—because you want to draw both parts of the combo and make sure the opponent has no answers. So,
realistically, you need at least six mana to cast Splinter Twin and to protect it, which eliminates the main advantage of combo decks—their
speed. As the game progresses, the chances that the opponent has an answer, or will build up their own insurmountable amount of pressure, increase.
Meanwhile, we just have an awful control deck with a fragile finisher wasting eight slots.

Aside about good combo

I read the thread about the deck on one of the big MTG-related forums and became very curious when people said the combo was very hard to disrupt. But
at the same moment, I found the secret contained in the post stating, “I played Gitaxian Probe at the end of my opponent’s turn.” Combo becomes much better this way. (Spoiler: in reality, Gitaxian Probe is a sorcery, an important distinction.) However, I am still not worried
because I plan on casting Urabrask the Hidden in response to Splinter Twin.

End aside

To be serious, Gitaxian Probe provides a huge advantage for the deck, especially in the three-colored versions with bad mana bases, where sequencing
land drops may be very important (you can Despise Stoneforge Mystic on the draw but can’t counter it, etc.). Gitaxian Probe also speeds up
charging Pyromancer Ascension, but playing two combos in one deck is a huge mistake—because they’re vulnerable to the same hate while
requiring different cards and strategies to win. But if you want to run both combos anyway, I strongly recommend you play See Beyond—just because
I’ve lost many test games with Pyromancer Ascension on the table and two utterly useless Splinter Twins in my hand. If you don’t want to
play both combos (I assume you don’t), counter-answers become a bigger problem.

People are trying to find answers for the combo—I’ve even seen Suture Priest and Lethargy Trap—but some of them are really
efficient—like Combust and Act of Aggression. Combust is the main problem because you can’t even redirect it to Spellskite (who is a good against
other answers). The fact you can’t play around Combust (Apostle’s Blessing excluded because pro-red creatures can’t be enchanted with
Splinter Twin) means that you must play discard, even if you don’t want to play a bad mana base. Do you really want to play a deck with bad mana
in a format with Tectonic Edge?

There are three pinpoint discard spells in Standard right now: Inquisition of Kozilek, Despise, and good old Duress. I think we need at least six
maindeck and an additional one or two in the sideboard for matches where we need to get rid of not only the opponent’s answers, but his threats
too. I’d suggest Duress as your main spell because it works against Act of Aggression as well as a bunch of good cards like Jace, the Mind
Sculptor—and even Splinter Twin in the mirror! The secondary spell is probably Despise—because of Linvala, Keeper of Silence and Urabrask
the Hidden and, again, Gideon Jura.

By the way, fast Urabrask (say, turn 3 off of Lotus Cobra) is a pain—his second ability suppresses the combo, while the first provides a lot of
fast damage. The cheapest answer for him is Dismember for one mana and four life (unacceptable most of the time); the second is Into the
Roil—because it’s very broad and can also deal with Gideon Jura. Leaving up two additional mana is a huge loss of tempo, so I again recommend you
play a lot of discard spells to maintain the deck’s speed.

For all these reasons and after inestimable hours spent losing again and again, I suggest the list that looks less terrible and less fragile than the
others I’ve seen.

There are no counterspells (except for Flashfreeze, which is a must against Valakut) because I’d prefer to preemptively disrupt the opponent and
know what to play around rather than wait for a sixth mana to cast the combo with Mana Leak backup. Moreover, most people will respect our open mana

Liliana and Grave Titans are ways to win against Memoricide, and the rest of the sideboard seems to be obvious—and the deck looks like a
respectable part of my testing gauntlet, until it’s clear the deck isn’t good enough to take seriously. And now it’s time to talk about a more
interesting card, mentioned above, and other decks—no more mass hysteria and deception.

Urabrask the Hidden

This Praetor intrigues me very much—mostly because of Titans with haste. They become absurdly powerful with Urabrask—it’s very hard
to lose after you land one and attack in the same turn—and especially in any sort of mirror-like match. The Valakut mirror, despite everything,
is all about a fast Titan—just because the person who plays Titan first will be able to trigger his ability twice (probably killing the
opponent’s Titan in the process). Urabrask changes everything: you can outrace your opponent in the case he lands a Titan first. I do not have
good Valakut list right now, but I hope that the red Praetor helps the deck recover from being out of fashion.

Urabrask the Hidden on turn three is the real deal for any deck that runs both Lotus Cobra and red—RUG, Valakut, and Naya (you can read my thoughts about Lotus Cobra in Naya here). The
first one can use the power of Urabrask very effectively because he fits the game plan and the mana curve very well; the “lesser beaters”
are always changing—Acidic Slime, Precursor Golem, Oracle of Mul Daya, etc. Urabrask with a little help from Mana Leak allows us to not worry
about the Splinter Twin combo, makes a bad Valakut matchup better, and improves the matchup against Caw-Go—what else do we need? I’m
running the following list right now:

And now let’s try something more innovative than a previously known deck with some additions.

Urabrask the Revealed

One of the most impressive cards of Scars of Mirrodin set is Genesis Wave. Unfortunately, the playability of Genesis Wave is heavily suppressed by
aggressive decks, not by Caw-Go. Now imagine resolving Genesis Wave and revealing Urabrask the Hidden alongside any two Titans or, more interesting, an
Avenger of Zendikar and some lands. With Batterskull in the format and with the expected massive decline of aggressive decks, these dreams can become

Yes, Spell Pierce and Flashfreeze still exist, but these cards are lesser problems than Goblin Guide and Plated Geopede. U/G Genesis Wave proved itself
to have a considerably good matchup against Caw-Go (see, for example, Mike Flores’sarticles on this very site). It always has more mana than Caw-Go and can
deal with Caw’s mana base with Tectonic Edge, Acidic Slime, and Frost Titan, leaving them without a chance to play their powerful spells.

The real problem in fitting Urabrask into a Genesis Wave shell is the fact that I still want to play Jace, the Mind Sculptor in the deck, but a
three-colored mana base can’t support Tectonic Edges—and the combination of Tectonic Edge and Acidic Slime is a significant part of our
game plan; so here is an R/G attempt, where Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Frost Titan (another huge loss) are sacrificed in the favor of consistency and
Raging Ravine.

The deck looks super-square, but I believe that it’s the right direction. Urabrask the Hidden is as unfair as I’d dreamed it would be, even
without Genesis Wave, and the threat density seems to be good enough even without Jace, the Mind Sculptor—especially when we count Raging Ravine
as a powerful creature.

Pristine Talismans are surprisingly good as permanent-based acceleration and improves slightly our bad aggressive matchups. Invader Parasite is
interesting as land destruction cards numbers nine and ten in the matchups where we need it. My initial testing shows positive results against
Stoneforge Mystic and Squadron Hawk, so I’m going to hone the deck and look at aggression’s future.

That’s all for today; see you next time! I hope that the format will become interesting again and far from mono-Caw by that time. Don’t let
them deceive you!

Valeriy Shunkov
@amartology in Twitter