Constructed Criticism – Splinter Twin And Dreams Unending

StarCityGames.com Open: Orlando proved that the Deceiver Twin combo is a real contender, putting 4 into the top 16. Todd examines the Grixis version of this deck and provides some updates for anyone interested in Twinning in Louisville, KY.

With New Phyrexia fresh on the shelves, last weekend heralded a brand new Standard. Players flocked to Orlando for the StarCityGames.com Open Weekend,
hopeful that Caw-Blade would no longer rule the day. Splinter Twin was the talk of the town, comboing easily with New Phyrexia’s Deceiver Exarch,
making for a potential threat to the most dominant Standard deck of the last decade. With Stoneforge Mystic only getting better with the addition of
Batterskull and Sword of War and Peace, no one was sure just what would happen. Only now, in the aftermath, can we examine just what occurred and what
that means for the future of Standard.

With Edgar Flores winning once again, with an updated version of U/W Caw-Blade, we can only assume one thing: he is not human. With every other
Caw-Blade player in the Top 16 sporting black for disruption, Edgar realized that this would only make his Caw-Blade matchup stronger. In order to
hedge against the popular new combo, he maindecked a whopping three Into the Roils, a headache for unsuspecting players. For reference, here is his

Edgar was able to obtain solid results against the new kid on the block, while still keeping his Caw-Blade matchup as good as ever. While others were
stumbling on their mana bases, Edgar was free to play all of his spells and wreck people with Tectonic Edge. These were always the reasons to stick to
two colors, and Edgar made it evident that he doesn’t plan to deviate from this strategy until something drastic happens.

Batterskull is just bonkers. Against aggro, against control, against everything. It really is just a dumb card. Game 1, people will rarely have an
answer to your tutorable, cheatable, uncounterable, unkillable Baneslayer Angel. It’s much less potent in games 2 and 3 due to sideboarded Divine
Offerings and the like, but if they’re holding onto all of their artifact destruction, that will allow you to take control of the game with Jace and
Squadron Hawk. Additionally, your Spell Pierces and Mana Leaks will become even more potent as your opponents try to efficiently use their mana to cast
spells, while still holding open mana to kill your Equipment. If you wait until you have five mana and an active Stoneforge Mystic, Batterskull will be
almost impossible to deal with, since you can just bounce it back to your hand in response to anything!

As Caw-Blade stands in its current form, I’m slightly afraid of various aggro decks cropping back into the picture. Without Day of Judgment or Gideon
Jura in the maindeck, as well as Edgar cutting down on Condemn, it seems like Fauna Shaman and friends could really put a beating on you. I’m currently
under the impression that there are no decks to play in Standard besides Splinter Twin and Caw-Blade, but that could easily change as Valakut gets
worse and worse. I don’t think Valakut has a good matchup against either of these decks, even while maindecking four Nature’s Claims like Miguel Rondon
from the same Top 8 in Orlando, so now could be an awesome opportunity for a deck like Vampires to make a comeback. Caw-Blade has a fairly weak
Vampires matchup if the opponent’s deck is built correctly, and I think that access to Go for the Throat makes the Deceiver Exarch combo a bit easier
to beat, so anything could happen.

Now onto the main event. Grixis Splinter Twin was the breakout success of the tournament, putting three pilots into the Top 16, spearheaded by Michael
Strunk. Strunk and Cuvelier piloted the same list, while Joe Stuart opted for a slightly different route. I’m much more in favor of the Spellskite
variant, since it both stops the opponent’s combo and protects your Deceiver Exarch from a variety of removal. After going over some of the choices in
each and testing a few of the various matchups, I can safely say that I want four Spellskites in the maindeck. The card is just bonkers. I also noticed
that Strunk was only playing ten sources of red, which just doesn’t seem like enough. I’m not positive on how it should be fixed, but I think adding
another Mountain, and possibly a Lavaclaw Reaches, would be fine, but you really don’t want too many lands coming into play tapped. As for a starting
list to a new format, Cuvelier and Strunk came really close to hitting the nail on the head. If I play Splinter Twin this weekend in Louisville, it
will look something like this:

As you can see, I didn’t change the list much, but the smallest changes can occasionally bring you the most reward. For starters, Duress is much more
important than Inquisition of Kozilek at protecting your combo from disruption, so that switch seemed relatively easy. The biggest reason to run
Inquisition of Kozilek in this format is Stoneforge Mystic, but Duress hits the important half of that equation (the Sword). In the mirror, both are
solid, and I can’t see wanting one much more than the other, so that’s a push. Duress also helps fight the Jace war, which is a plus but not something
you should be too worried about. An opposing Jace means they’re tapping out, which means they’re probably dead. 

I think that the best replacement by far was the inclusion of Spell Pierce over Mana Leak. With so much discard in the format due to Grixis Twin and
Darkblade, Spell Pierce can actively protect your hand from disruption while you’re on the play, while Mana Leak can’t. Additionally, you’ll need to
combo off quickly against a lot of decks, which makes Spell Pierce optimal in most scenarios. You lack the ability to counter an early Stoneforge
Mystic by having Spell Pierce, but those are so much less threatening when you have Spellskite and Deceiver Exarch to block their attacking creature.
This is also ignoring the fact that you have Inquisition of Kozilek, Duress, and removal at your disposal.

I added in the fourth Spellskite and left the Twisted Images in the board, though I’m not sure they’re worth it. It seems really cute, but since
Twisted Image kills Spellskite for value, I guess it can’t be all bad. After all, an opposing Spellskite is just rough to play against. Spellskite is
probably my favorite card in New Phyrexia, and he is sure to continue rising in popularity when people figure out just how good he is. I’ve noticed
that a lot of people think it’s a wall, but it can definitely be equipped with a Sword of Feast and Famine and get to work, which is huge when
considering Spellskite could be a potential blowout sideboard card for Caw-Blade against Splinter Twin. Spellskite also plays double duty at
padding your life total while you set up your combo, buying you valuable time against Goblin Guide and company.

What Spellskite does is something unlike many cards we’ve had in Standard for quite some time. The last card I can remember that protected your
creatures in this manner was Sylvan Safekeeper, but Spellskite’s ability doesn’t force you to sacrifice land to protect yourself or commit you to a
color. On top of that, it has an enormous amount of toughness for a paltry two mana, making it one of the most resilient protection cards that a deck
like Splinter Twin could ask for.

The split of removal between Dismember and Go for the Throat is still up in the air for me, but Dismember might get the full-four nod if Spellskite
continues to rise in popularity. Go for the Throat can stop the Deceiver Exarch combo, but Spellskite shuts you down completely. For now, the split
seems best, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see either one overtake the other when everything is said and done.

As far as the “alternate win condition” in Consecrated Sphinx is concerned, I don’t buy it. You’re only playing 24-25 lands; you can’t really rely on
attacking people to win, and tapping out for a six-mana threat just seems tough. After sideboarding, people are only going to have more removal for
your creatures to break up your Deceiver-Twin combo, so what’s the point? It will all be instant-speed, so you’ll rarely get any value out of
Consecrated Sphinx at all. I decided to go old school with Sphinx of Jwar Isle, since you have the whole shroud element going on with Calcite Snapper.
Don’t expect Snapper to win many games on his own, but he can do some damage and doesn’t die to Pyroclasm. He effectively blanks all of the removal
most decks will be bringing in, and Big Sphinx should finish the job if you’re in need of an alternate route to victory.

The Into the Roils stuck out at first, seeming fairly unnecessary, but after a decent amount of consideration, they seem incredibly potent in the
mirror as well as passable against everything else. While you have plenty of ways of thwarting your opponent’s Splinter Twin combo, you never want to
have too few ways to deal with it, since it is infinite, after all. I’ll say that the mirror will most likely boil down to a topdeck war, so
having enough ways to prevent your opponent from comboing is necessary. Combust can go a long way in the war on this front, since it can’t be
countered, and Spellskite can’t redirect it. I wouldn’t recommend running more than two or three, since it’s a corner case, and I doubt you’ll want it
in any other matchup. People are likely to side into the shroud plan for the mirror as well, making all of your removal rather pointless.

I wasn’t a fan of the Surgical Extractions from the original list, as there aren’t any graveyard-based decks in the format. Again, most people will be
bringing in Calcite Snapper for the mirror, making Surgical Extraction much less potent, so I don’t really see it having any value. Sure, in Legacy,
the card can be bonkers, but that’s because people actively abuse the graveyard. When you have to make someone discard a card, then use Surgical
Extraction to remove an important aspect of their deck, you’re just spinning your wheels, putting in a lot of effort for a very small effect. If you
want something in this vein, Memoricide is probably better anyway. Though it costs more mana, you can see your opponent’s hand early with discard, hit
support elements, then take apart his combo from there.

As far as matchups go, I don’t think game one will be difficult against any deck except for the mirror, and that can be a little bit tricky at times.
Certain people will come packing maindeck answers, but you’ll almost always be able to knock those out of their hand before going off or use Spell
Pierce to slow them down or stop them completely. With everyone focused on Caw-Blade, this is a prime time for Splinter Twin to dominate. Divine
Offering does very little in fighting your deck, which is the disenchant effect of choice for most Caw-Blade decks.

If Caw-Blade stays U/W, the matchup should become somewhat of a joke if you build your deck correctly. If they trend towards Darkblade, it might be a
bit harder, but they should still be relatively soft since their discard package only hits Deceiver Exarch, which is the most vulnerable part of your
combo anyway. Just play smart against them. They won’t have much removal, and your Spellskites, Spell Pierces, and discard should be plenty of
disruption for them. They don’t have a lot of ways to interact with you, so don’t force the win and run into a topdecked counterspell or something
stupid. They can’t even get aggressive against you, since Squadron Hawk is so slow, and your creatures gum up the ground. Take your time, and wait for
the right moment to pull the trigger.

As people continue to gain access to the new set, you can bet that new archetypes and ideas will spring forth. I’m hopeful that the future will bring
something (and maybe someone) new to the trophy photos. Caw-Blade is still strong, but don’t expect it to continue winning like it did pre–New
Phyrexia. Without a lot of major changes, the deck can’t interact well with the format’s new combo deck. If it does change significantly, that could
leave a hole in the deck’s plan to fight off other decks, giving an advantage to anyone willing to exploit those weaknesses.

My current plan is to play Splinter Twin this weekend in Louisville, even though I have a ton of experience playtesting with Caw-Blade. I think the
deck is incredibly powerful and currently well-positioned to dominate. If people don’t take it seriously, it could end up being as potent as Caw-Blade.
Three copies made it into the top 16 of the Orlando Standard Open, and that was a rough draft! As people figure out what works and what doesn’t, the
deck will surely become a powerhouse. This weekend will truly be the test to make or break the deck, and we’ll see just how powerful the stranglehold
is that Caw-Blade has on Standard. I’m guessing “not that strong.”

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL