Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing a lot of three things: reading George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, finding a job, and playing Magic in some form or another. Magic Online has been an outlet for my Magic addiction, but we’ve met quite a few people here in Roanoke with a love for cubing, as well as getting in a few drafts of M12. There has been something fun to do almost every single night since we moved in, but I always find myself staying up until the wee hours of the morning grinding matches on Magic Online (drunk or sober). These past few weeks have been a blur of Scars Block Constructed and Standard, with me piloting so many different archetypes I can’t even tell you exactly what I played last week.
With SCG Open: Cincinnati in the books, and Caw-Blade once again taking home the trophy, where do we go from here? The list that won was eerily similar to the U/W Control deck I posted a few weeks ago in my article, with the only maindeck exception being Oblivion Ring. The card gives U/W Control a new element of defense, giving them the ability to deal with creatures and planeswalkers in a single card. The bannings hurt U/W Control to a substantial degree, as both Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were staples in the archetype, but the cards surrounding those linchpins are still great, and this weekend proved it.
For reference, here is Tim Pskowski winning decklist:
While a few new baddies were added to the mix, namely Hero of Bladehold and Blade Splicer, the core of the deck remains mostly intact. With the addition of these creatures, the deck can become much more aggressive. Blade Splicer and Hero of Bladehold can easily win the game on their own if left unchecked, and Squadron Hawk has more than proven its worth in Standard. So what does this mean? Are we going to go through another round of bannings if this deck continues to dominate?
The short answer is no, but people will cling to dying archetypes for as long as they can. I honestly don’t even think the deck is that powerful, though it does do some powerful things. The aggressive draws you can manage while having Spell Pierce backup are often devastating, and the ability to turn the tide with a single card in control mirrors is absurd. Sure, Hero of Bladehold has a gigantic target on his head and will die pretty often. The thing you have to remember is that he wins the game on his own with just a few attacks. With a Sword of Feast and Famine suited up on him, it becomes laughable.
Spell Pierce and Mana Leak make up the counter suite in the maindeck, similar to the versions of old, while Flashfreeze plays cleanup for Valakut in the sideboard. This mix is tried and true, functioning as the backbone of the deck’s defenses for the better part of the last year. Without these cards, combo decks would run rampant all over you, and control decks would break your aggressive draws in two with mass removal. Spell Pierce is easily the best card for this archetype, functioning as a trump to both counterspells and removal when fighting a battle over your creatures or planeswalkers. I think three is the correct number for the current metagame, since you can’t afford to get flooded with them against aggressive decks.
The real question is: Does Oblivion Ring put this deck over the top? I honestly think it does. Before, you had no real answer to cards like Pyromancer Ascension or Tempered Steel in the maindeck, and now you have a catchall that functions as a spot removal spell against most aggro decks. Oblivion Ring has always been one of my favorite cards, since it does exactly what you want it to do: kill things. While it doesn’t blow up lands, it can shut down planeswalkers and anything else that is giving you trouble. It makes its triumphant return to Standard with a win in the Standard portion of Cincinnati, which ultimately says a lot about both the card and archetype.
While I’m sure everyone is sick of “Caw-Blade,” you need to know how to beat this deck. Nationals is coming up soon, and I’m sure this deck will be represented in full force, but I’m here to talk about it for a different reason. I think it sucks.
I think this deck is full of powerful cards that do a lot of things right but has very little synergy. This deck is the Jund of today’s Standard, full of powerful cards that “interact” with the opponent while simultaneously giving you card advantage. Sure, the colors are different, but the feel is the same. Grind cards from your opponent until they are out of resources, then run them over with efficient creatures. Blade Splicer is about as close to Sprouting Thrinax that you can get for U/W Control, and Hero of Bladehold is essentially a Bloodbraid Elf that doesn’t have haste. Think about it. Even Oblivion Ring feels like Maelstrom Pulse most of the time.
The real difference is that you get to play with card selection, a better mana base, and countermagic. While you have the option to sideboard it out against the more aggressive opponents, you still have the potential for blowouts with Spell Pierce on your opponent’s Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas after casting your Blade Splicer. Jund was never able to do that.
While this prospect frightens me a little bit, I don’t think it means “the end of the world” or whatever you call it. It simply means that you have to do two things: you have to be more aggressive than this deck. Day of Judgment is a relic of maindecks past and usually only shows up in the sideboard. Exploit this weakness from the control decks and run wild all over them before they know what hit them.
I’m also under the impression that the newer versions of Splinter Twin are just bonkers, and I don’t mean the ones playing Pyromancer Ascension. As I’ve said before, I don’t think you can realistically play both in the same maindeck without running into some major problems here and there. Even watching the coverage, I saw Jason Hager get two Pyromancer Ascensions active, but he drew two Deceiver Exarchs and was unable to put them to use. While you can argue that this example is “variance,” the fact remains that drawing those Deceiver Exarchs lost him the game. Any card draw spell would have helped him dig infinitely more for other card draw spells, or other burn spells to finish the job. Alternatively, if those Pyromancer Ascensions had been card draw spells, he would have been able to find Splinter Twin much more easily and won the game that way.
I’ve been playing Splinter Twin for the better part of the last month, and it’s basically the only deck I have enjoyed playing since the bannings of Jace and Stoneforge Mystic. I would like to think that I know a thing or two about the archetype, and I’ve learned a lot over the last few weeks. Since M12 has become legal, Ponder has altered the way I view the archetype. Before it was in Standard, I felt like you needed some large “trump” card like Consecrated Sphinx to help refuel your resources after your opponent expended all of their hate cards. With Ponder, it honestly just doesn’t seem like it is necessary anymore. Jace Beleren feels flat. Waiting to play Consecrated Sphinx is like watching paint dry. I don’t think either of these cards is necessary in the maindeck anymore. The control decks are even becoming more aggressive, making the prospect of playing these cards fairly abysmal.
While there is no one card that “solves” any matchup, there can be a unique combination of cards that certainly helps. Tempered Steel has been an oft-maligned matchup for me over the last few weeks, since they maindeck Spellskite, have an aggressive curve, and have a cheap removal spell for your combo. Fortunately, almost all of their creatures die to Slagstorm even when they have Tempered Steel in play, making your life much easier. While Pyroclasm costs one less mana, Slagstorm can be invaluable against many matchups. I’m actually recommending you maindeck at least two of them, since it can singlehandedly swing games against decks that you aren’t capable of containing in the early turns.
You should recognize most of the other culprits by now, but here is the rundown of the deck as well as a bit of explanation and a sideboarding guide.
With this list in particular, I don’t think there is a cause for a secondary win condition. If they resolve Memoricide, you’re probably not winning anyway. Do you think they’re going to side out all of their Go for the Throats? How good are one or two win conditions against a flurry of removal and hate? Your best bet is to just side in protection for your combo in the form of Mental Misstep and Negate and leave the rest up to your ability and the deck’s raw power.
While you might want to argue that 24 land is too many, mind that four of those lands are Halimar Depths, and they go a long way to helping you dig for the cards you need. I like to think of Halimar Depths as a dig spell of sorts, since it combines so well with fetchlands to grab exactly what you want and shuffle away what you don’t.
You won’t always want to play Preordain on the first turn, but you rarely mind using Halimar Depths on turn 1 to help smooth out your draws. Ponder and Preordain should not make the card unplayable. They should work alongside it and use it to filter your draws as much as possible. With so much deck manipulation, you should rarely have trouble finding your combo pieces.
The combo itself is quite easy to assemble, but the manipulation that revolves around it feels like an intricate dance that you’ve known all along. You know the top card of your deck is a Ponder, and you also know that Splinter Twin lies just beneath, waiting to be slammed onto your Deceiver Exarch when your opponent foolishly taps out. It is fate.
The rush only lasts for about half a second until your opponent realizes that they’re actually dead (or in the case of Magic Online, when you manually make 20+ copies of Deceiver Exarch), and they begin to scoop up their cards. That isn’t the fun part. The fun part is the elegant tale you’re weaving in front of the opponent while they interact with you (or don’t) at their own discretion. Most people will be forced to mulligan to answers, only to have their draws contain no pressure, giving you infinite time to set up behind a wall of Dispels.
The dance is what makes the dream.
With each match of Magic I play with the deck, I learn a new step. I become more nimble, and my feet seem to move with the rhythm of the music much more easily than they did before. I see interactions that only a blind man could see. I feel the cards coming in the correct order, when I need them most. I ask for them, and she delivers. Your fingers sway back and forth with the beat of the drum, picking up card after card, spinning her around and around until the song finally ends…
“Attack for a million.”
For those of you interested, here is how I would sideboard for each matchup:
This matchup is all about speed. Dispel is trash, since their only instant spell will be Dispatch, and Mental Misstep counters it quite easily and has the added benefit of stunting their early turns involving Signal Pest. Slagstorm really delivers, and Manic Vandal suited up with Splinter Twin is quite gross. They’re sure to have targets aplenty, including Phyrexian Revoker and Spellskite.
A lot of lists of Valakut are running Dismember in the maindeck, giving them an answer to early annoying creatures, as well as a solid removal spell for your combo. Flashfreeze catches most of their spells, slowing them down and also countering their big threats. Mutagenic Growth is a bit more absurd, since it gets around Dismember and Combust, a card that is notoriously hard for you to beat. Oh, what I wouldn’t pay to have Vendilion Clique in this format.
Your Dismembers are actually decent, since they can kill Overgrown Battlements to slow them down, or outright kill annoyances like Urabrask the Hidden. Be careful not to run your combo into Combust, and use Dispel wisely. Their Summoning Traps can be quite dangerous.
This matchup should be pretty easy. They have to tap out for their threats most of the time and are usually afraid to put pressure on you for fear of tapping out and losing. Dispel protects your combo from Dismember and counterspells, making the games go long on occasion but usually in your favor.
Unfortunately, you can’t side out your Dismembers here, since a lot of lists run Spellskite in the sideboard. It is also a good answer to Hero of Bladehold, but if they tap out for him, they’re usually dead. Gideon Jura is another matter entirely, since he allows them to untap even if you assemble your combo, barring an Into the Roil. If he resolves, be sure you can protect your Deceiver Exarch should they untap. If not, it might be better to just wait a few turns to build up a bigger wall of countermagic.
Slagstorm is actually fine here, since they will rely on swarming you with Hawks or Blade Splicers. Sea Gate Oracle is okay, but he’s like a slow Preordain. You need to keep in all of your other cards.
Most versions of this deck are incredibly aggressive but have a lot of creatures as their backbone. Slagstorm is usually quite good, and even Dismember can buy you life points. However, it is too often a dead card in the late game to matter.
In this matchup, you can manipulate your deck to have lands sitting on top for Goblin Guide, and I don’t think you can afford to get flooded, so I would definitely side out a land. Misty Rainforest deals you damage, and you can’t afford to take too much from your own cards, hence the cut of Dismember as well. Gitaxian Probe is much better when it is free, and you don’t want to clog your draw with too many of them against a deck as aggressive as Mono Red, but it is always valuable to see what your opponent is packing when you’re trying to combo through the disruption. Act of Aggression and Combust are the main culprits, and your protection package should deal with those accordingly.
This matchup is like Caw-Blade, except your Manic Vandals become absurd when they board in Spellskite, on top of all their juicy Equipment. Slagstorm wrecks them heartily. Expect counterspells after sideboard, but they will rarely have any maindeck.
You become much more of a control deck after the first game, using your sweepers and Manic Vandals to gain card advantage on them. Gitaxian Probe is always much less awesome after the first game, since you will generally already know what cards to play around. It is much worse in this matchup than others because they have so very little they keep in hand that can disrupt your combo. Flashfreeze, Celestial Purge, etc. can all be played around quite easily.
I’m honestly not sure how to board against this deck, since I have literally no experience playing with it or against it. I would assume your maindeck is well equipped to beat them, though Mental Misstep could help against the barrage of discard. Other than that, your maindeck seems fine against them.
A notoriously difficult matchup, the Twilight fans rejoice. Mental Misstep can help a lot here, giving you a way to counter disruption and early pressure, but their massive amount of maindeck removal and sideboard discard make for a stunningly good combination against you. Fortunately, Slagstorm and Mental Misstep are bonkers against them.
Assume they always have the removal spell. Play around Gatekeeper of Malakir with your Sea Gate Oracles, and don’t let your Exarchs get blown out by them. Mutagenic Growth can be awesome if they’re boarding Combust, but most opt for Act of Aggression instead. Gitaxian Probe proves mediocre in this matchup as well, since you will know most of their sideboard cards immediately, and you can’t afford to pay the life to see their hand.
I want to say that I’ll be playing this deck for quite some time to come, but I often get bored and switch decks every few days or so. I seem to always come back here in one form or another, but I think that speaks more about the strength of the deck than about me. If you want to win with this deck, play it a lot. There are a lot of interactions I still miss. For example, just tonight I missed two on-board kills because they were not obvious:
— I landed Splinter Twin on Deceiver Exarch with only an Island left untapped. My opponent had Gideon Jura that I was forced to attack, and I had an Into the Roil in hand. I used my Jace Beleren to draw a card, needing an untapped land to bounce Gideon and kill him outright. Instead I drew Preordain, which I promptly cast.
Do you see what I missed here?
— Later, in the same tournament, I played an excess Splinter Twin on a Sea Gate Oracle and started digging for my combo. I had an Into the Roil to protect myself from harm, and finally drew a Deceiver Exarch. I continued to dig with Sea Gate Oracle tokens and couldn’t seem to find a second Splinter Twin to kill him. My opponent finally tapped out to cast Acidic Slime, targeting the Splinter Twin… so I used the Into the Roil to bounce the Splinter Twin, then untapped and killed him. I could have killed him a turn earlier, but you can get so caught up in certain aspects of the deck that you can miss the most simple of plays from time to time.
The moral of the story is: test. The deck, much like most decks I like to play (and advocate), requires a bit of thought and knowledge of the matchups for you to be successful. In any competition, we must strive to be the best and work hard for it. If not, you will ultimately fail. The same is true with Magic, and this deck is an exemplification of that rule. Hard work pays off, and this deck pays out in dividends. Much like Prismatic Omen–Wargate–Scapeshift from last Extended season, the deck is a skill-intensive combo deck that rewards tight play and adapting to metagame hate.
Feel free to test out other sideboard and maindeck options and decide for yourself! All of the things said in this article are merely opinions, and only you can decide what is right for you. Whatever deck you bring to your next major tournament, or even FNM, remember to have fun. That’s what it’s all about. I just happen to enjoy attacking for a million.
Thanks for reading.
strong sad on MOL