At #SCGCHAR, after winning my Round 1 feature match, I said the following:
— Cedric Phillips (@CedricAPhillips) January 9, 2016
Many asked me why I made the switch from G/R Tron to Splinter Twin. The reason for that was pretty simple: Splinter Twin has been the best deck in Modern since day one and its numbers and resume’ prove that. And given that I’m going to be able to play a lot more Magic in 2016, I decided at the beginning of the year that I was going to play Splinter Twin in some capacity in every Modern tournament until I knew how to play it with my eyes closed.
And then it got banned! Nice!
So back to G/R Tron it is right? It’s getting all these sweet new cards from Oath of the Gatewatch like Kozilek’s Return and Kozilek, the Great Distortion! It has access to broken draws that some decks can never hope to beat, like a turn 3 Wurmcoil Engine or turn 4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger! And don’t even get me started on the power of Karn Liberated!
Where do I sign up?!
Where I Think Modern Is Going
Right now a lot of people are trying to figure out where Modern is going with the removal of Splinter Twin. The one thing that Splinter Twin decks did better than anyone else was interact. So for those decks who didn’t like to see interaction on the other side of the table, Splinter Twin got to play the role of fun police. The other thing Splinter Twin did that made it so powerful was that it forced the opponent to interact or they died on turn 4.
- 4 Arcbound Ravager
- 4 Ornithopter
- 1 Master of Etherium
- 3 Steel Overseer
- 2 Memnite
- 3 Etched Champion
- 4 Signal Pest
- 4 Vault Skirge
When you look at Affinity, you see a deck that has no interest in interacting with its opponent. Affinity is a deck that wants to dump its hand on the battlefield as fast as possible, peel a high impact spell like Cranial Plating or Archbound Ravager when it gets itself into trouble, and hope to kill the opponent before the opponent does anything of relevance. Affinity is so against interaction that it has a hard to kill Gray Ogre in its maindeck that, in most cases, cannot be interacted with.
The only ways that Affinity could interact with Splinter Twin were a few copies of Galvanic Blast and some nonsense out of the sideboard like Spellskite, Dismember, and/or Illness in the Ranks. Note that Affinity decks never had access to a ton of these cards that interact because if they dilute their deck too much with interaction, they wouldn’t be streamlined enough to do what they do best – kill the opponent as fast as possible.
This is why many considered Splinter Twin to be a poor matchup for Affinity.
We’ve all been there before. You keep a hand that’s a little bit slow, but you’ve got some overpriced interaction (AKA two- or three-mana spells) to buy you some time and your opponent starts by cracking their Wooded Foothills and nugging you with Lava Spike. All of a sudden, you realize that you’re probably dead, don’t have enough sideboard cards for the matchup, and can’t believe that someone would be crazy enough to sleeve up the deck that “only idiots play.”
Guess what Burn doesn’t like. Cheap interaction.
Guess what likes to interact on the cheap. Splinter Twin.
Goblin Guide? Lightning Bolt it. Boros Charm? Dispel it. Lava Spike? Uh sure I guess. I’m at seventeen and you’re about to die to a million Deceiver Exarchs that you can’t interact with because a four toughness creature is about as a rough on you as a boulder on James Franco’s arm in 127 hours.
Burn doesn’t like to interact. Furthermore, it likely can’t win if it’s forced to interact. Because we’ve all seen the agony a Burn player goes through when they have to decide to Lightning Bolt your nug or the creature that is breathing down their neck. They typically select your nug because if they select the creature, that’s one more spell that they have to hope to draw to kill you with.
Put another one in the books for Splinter Twin.
You know what deck doesn’t want its creatures killed on the cheap? This one! Because if you kill their creatures, how, exactly, are they going to win? When you sit down with Infect, you hope your opponent is casting Lava Spike targeting your nug. You want them playing a colorless Scathe Zombies that has no relevant text in the matchup. What you don’t want to see?
Could you imagine this card against Infect? Yes please!
Cheap interaction is what keeps this deck in check. And Splinter Twin had plenty of it. And by cheap, I mean one mana. Because two- and three-mana interaction might be too slow. Don’t believe me? How many times have we seen Tom Ross easily work past a Jund curve of Terminate into Liliana of the Veil over the past two years? Quite a few if memory serves…
Kill their first few creatures, cast a Deceiver Exarch, and watch them contort their play in an extreme way, because if they don’t, they’ll probably die. And if they’re contorting their play in a weird way, you’re already winning.
Isn’t This An Article About G/R Tron?
Yes. It is. But you assumed that it’s an article about why you should play G/R Tron. I never said that and I don’t appreciate you putting words in my mouth. Hashbrowns from the Waffle House? Sure that’s fine (smothered and covered or throw them in the trash). But words? No thank you.
Because I think you would have to be a crazy person to play G/R Tron in this new Modern metagame.
So what, exactly, is stopping people from playing these decks now? Think about when you sit down for your match in a Modern tournament. When I was playing G/R Tron, more than anything in the world, I wanted to see my opponent start with Verdant Catacombs or Overgrown Tomb. That was easy mode. Thoughtseize me all day my friend. I’ll find a Wurmcoil Engine eventually and work my way past your $300 Tarmogoyf. You know what I didn’t want to hear?
“Mountain. Lava Spike you.”
“Breeding Pool untapped. Glistener Elf.”
But, you see, those are the trendy decks right now. And for good reason. They’re powerful decks that I expect to continue to see near the top of the standings. But what we forget is that there are some decks that were seen as fringe that might be on their way back as well:
Oh I bet this matchup is really fun for G/R Tron. Nothing like trying to overcome Griselbrand and the various ways of putting it on the battlefield for a deck with Wurmcoil Engine and Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. I haven’t played this matchup a ton, but I can take two seconds, analyze a decklist, and know that this is hell on earth if I get paired against it.
- 4 Kird Ape
- 2 Grim Lavamancer
- 4 Wild Nacatl
- 4 Goblin Guide
- 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
- 4 Monastery Swiftspear
I’ve never really enjoyed playing against Wild Nacatl and friends when I was on the G/R Tron side of things. My Pyroclasms didn’t work, they generally never cared about my Karn Liberated, and Ulamog, one of the big new cards for G/R Tron, is too slow for the matchup. You have to have a very specific draw to beat them (typically a Wurmcoil Engine on turn 3) and if they have a Path to Exile for it, you’re just dead.
Ah yes. A mana denial strategy. My favorite. Now I’m not sold that this matchup is that bad for G/R Tron, but this deck is quite old (nice Dig Through Times!) and some updates could certainly be on the way. Because Splinter Twin is gone, a new U/R deck is going to pop up in some capacity because the cards are too powerful for that not to be the case, and if this is the deck that shows up, I’m not terribly thrilled about it. I’ve beaten Spreading Seas from Merfolk, and I’ve beaten Blood Moon from various decks, but rarely do those cards come in tandem with things like numerous copies of Cryptic Command, Vendilion Clique, and who knows what other annoying blue cards.
Nope. Just nope. Couldn’t be more dead if I tried and this deck actually lines up okay against aggressive decks. If my opponent starts by suspending a Lotus Bloom on turn 1, I am throwing my deck at them.
The Truth About G/R Tron
The truth is, I don’t think G/R Tron has a lot of good matchups right now. I don’t want to sit across from Zoo, Infect, Burn, Grishoalbrand, Affinity, or any other linear deck that is trying to beat my brains in quickly. Those matchups have always been bad and a three-mana Pyroclasm that I can cast as an instant isn’t going to change that.
What I want to sit across from are blue decks that durdle around and B/G decks that want to pick my hand apart. But those decks will probably come packing more hate than normal against G/R Tron because they don’t have to address their Splinter Twin matchup anymore.
And more than anything, that’s what I want for you to take away from this today.
With Splinter Twin banned, players don’t have to dedicate hate to that matchup anymore. As a result, they can dedicate the appropriate amount of hate to G/R Tron. And G/R Tron is a deck that has never stood up to dedicated hate. Can it power its way through a Fulminator Mage? Absolutely. Does it shrug off a Blood Moon? Better than you would think a deck with twenty lands, most of which are colorless, should be able to do.
But how does it stand up to a wall of counterspells and then a Crumble to Dust? Poorly. How does it do against an aggressive deck like Zoo when it is pressuring you and Molten Rains your land? Terribly. And what happens if people decide to dust off cards like Boom//Bust? No thanks.
G/R Tron has the ability to overpower anyone if its draw lines up appropriately. And sometimes it will. And sometimes your opponents’ draws will fail. It’s Modern. That’s the nature of the format. But I don’t want to be banking on that. I want to interact. And, with any luck, I want to interact and have a combo finish to fall back on. With Splinter Twin gone, we may no longer have that luxury.
But maybe. Just maybe. Splinter Twin isn’t as gone as people think.