Modern On My Mind

Michael Martin writes about his preparation for Grand Prix Richmond, namely his exploration of different builds of Twin. What deck are you going to play?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s this event coming here to the East Coast soon that Pro Tour Born of the Gods had a huge impact on. Basically, if you plan on doing well at this upcoming event, you were probably well served by paying attention to the coverage of Valencia.

If you didn’t, well, I’m not going to apologize on Friday when I beat you in our FNM draft. You brought this upon yourself . . .

Oh, and something about Richmond and Modern. A Grand Prix, I think?

I’ve been looking forward to Grand Prix Richmond for months now, having cleared my weekend trip to our state capital with corporate headquarters (aka my fiancee) back in late 2013. While I don’t get to play much Modern at all, I began following the format months ago in hopes of gaining an idea of what I wanted to play as the tournament approached.

The only catch? This little shindig in Spain a couple of weeks before I was to descend upon Richmond was going to shake everything up. Oh, and a couple of weeks before that the banned and restricted announcement could also change everything.

So I followed the format. And it did me absolutely no good in the end.

At this point we all know what went down with both the banned and restricted announcement and the Pro Tour, so I’m not going to spend an article rehashing all of that. I will obviously go through the Pro Tour results, as they’re incredibly important to look at to see what we can expect in Richmond. I’m going to go over some of my ideas in the immediate aftermath of the banned and restricted announcement and how the results in Spain have changed all that.

The first thing that I thought of when the announcement came out was using Bitterblossom in a way that most people wouldn’t consider. We all know that Bitterblossom is awesome in Faeries because, well, the word Faerie appears in multiple places and multiple times on the card itself. People were going to give Fae a shot, but when Wild Nacatl was also unbanned at the same time, it almost felt like Wizards nipped the Fae problem in the bud (wing?) before it ever lifted off.

On the other hand, W/B Tokens is a very real deck; after the loss of Deathrite Shaman, Thoughtseize needed a place to call home. The coverage team in Valencia mentioned multiple times that W/B Tokens may very well be the best Thoughtseize deck left in Modern. I can’t say I disagree with this assessment since the deck gives you a way to pressure other decks, including Zoo, with vigilant tokens but needs a way to interact with combo players’ hands. Thoughtseize is the best way to do that and synergizes really well with what the deck wants to be doing.

I wasn’t interested in either of those strategies though. I wanted to use Bitterblossom in a different way completely.

I’ve been playing Splinter Twin variants for years now, going back to US Nationals in 2011 (aka the last Nationals ever) when I played the straight combo version of U/R Twin to a 3-1 Standard record before my terrible draft derailed me. I played U/R Twin in the last Modern tournament I participated in, a medium-sized event in Richmond a few months ago, making Top 8. In between, I’ve rocked the Splinter Twin combo in plenty of tournaments, both Standard and Modern. I’m fairly comfortable with the deck, so when Bitterblossom was unbanned obviously I wanted to put it in a Twin deck.

It only makes sense, right?

Here’s the first draft I came up with:

This was my initial stab at the concept. Basically, the one problem I had with Splinter Twin was playing against control decks and knowing that we were both stockpiling nukes for when Deceiver Exarch hit the little red button for World War III. While as Twin I could definitely see winning that fight, the fact is that it just wasn’t something I wanted to do round after round.

Bitterblossom seemingly changes the game completely. We have the scary turn 1 Thoughtseize, turn 2 Bitterblossom sequence, and we also have the ability to pressure our opponent into being unable to just sit and wait for us to try our combo. They have to do something about our gang of Faerie Rogues, and when they do, we’re ready to pounce with our infinite combo.

Basically, our opponents can either die to a gang of faeries or infinity faeries. Their choice!

There’s just one eency-weency problem with this plan: Thoughtseize and Bitterblossom aren’t freerolls (in regards to the life they cost) in Modern. Not with Wizards releasing that cat back into the wild. From what I’ve heard, the cat went out and rounded up some apes and lhurgoyfs for a fight, and unfortunately our little faeries are ill equipped to deal with such a threat.

So what’s a Twin to do?

Well, another idea I had was to simply move Bitterblossom to the sideboard. This would give me the option of playing combo-control in the first game and switching to the Bitterblossom plan post-sideboard.

This list gives us solid removal for Twin mirrors (Terminate) in addition to plenty of cheap spells to interact early and often against Zoo.

This was all theorycrafting prior to the actual Pro Tour. I had all kinds of grandiose ideas before last weekend, but I knew that they would have to wait until the event kicked off so I could see how viable they were.

And in total truth, I was spending my time watching coverage and mentally updating the lists I was planning on testing until this happened:

I. Was. Hooked.

To beat a horse that’s been dead for years now, I love anything RUG. I have no clue why, but the color combination simply makes me excited regardless of the shell that is constructed using Mountains, Forests, and Islands. Something about the combination of card types available in those colors just makes me excited to play a game of Magic.

Shaheen Soorani has control.

Craig Wescoe has White Weenie.

I have . . . a color combination?

Yeah, you’re right; it does look a little weird now that I put it that way.

Anyway, I realized that I’d been putting my efforts into trying to make black work with Twin in a field expected to be full of Zoo players when in reality I could add the third color I truly wanted and have a great deck. Patrick Dickmann and his crew have my gratitude and respect, as putting this work of art together was no small feat.

What I especially like about this list is the fact that it gets to play a real game of Magic the majority of the time. This cannot be understated: having access to a plan that doesn’t involve resolving an enchantment on a creature is a huge deal. Being able to simply attack with Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze is a real path to victory.

I’m curious about some of the numbers though and am planning on spending my time this week figuring out why they’re configured the way they are. For instance, the one-of Electrolyze. What’s it specifically in there for? I get that it’s a generically good card and draws a card while slowing down some opponents, but how many one-toughness creatures are we realistically expecting to see?

I’m someone who advocates trying the list out in its original form before making changes, so I’ve been adhering to that philosophy, but I do wonder what the reasoning for it was. Is there a chance that the slot could be better utilized as Jace Beleren?

Either way, there is a slightly higher than a 100% chance that I run this deck next weekend in Richmond, as it has everything I could ever want to play in a deck. The trick is going to be getting in enough reps between school, work, and kids.

If you’ve played with the deck at all, sound off and let me know how it’s been running for you. I’ve had a decent time so far playing the deck, but since I’ve only got a limited amount of time to pick up all the nuances, I’d love to hear your respective experience with the deck!

Thoughts On Modern In General

Aaron Forsythe had this to say on Twitter:

While I agree that the format currently stands as the Lightning Bolt format, I truly think that in time it’ll become the Snapcaster Mage format. Deathrite Shaman gave us a brief respite from dealing with nonstop Snapcaster Mages, but in a case of "forgive them Lord, for they know not what they do," Wizards has unleashed the power of Snapcaster Mage again on the Modern format.

There were people advocating the position that Snapcaster Mage is a better creature than even the mighty Dark Confidant, taking the place of the blue two-drop in the "greatest two-drops in every color" pantheon. (It still seems to be missing its red component. Early word from Brad Nelson’s camp is that Satyr Firedancer is not that card. The jury’s still out on Young Pyromancer.) Now that we have our graveyards back in Modern, I see no reason why Snapcaster Mage won’t return to its spot atop the "most played, most hated, and most annoying creatures in the format" list.

You people must have forgotten how obnoxious this card was when you called for the banning of Deathrite Shaman.

That’s fine by me; I’ve always loved casting Snapcaster Mage. But keep that in mind when tempo decks start popping up out of the woodwork in Modern. Between Bitterblossom, Snapcaster Mage, and Delver of Secrets, we don’t even need to restrict ourselves to playing the Faerie tribe. The one thing I’d say is holding this back is the prevalence of Zoo decks right now (even though the metagame share of around 18% is less than you’d expect).

Honestly, this may not be a bad thing.

On that same note, while I do believe the format will be defined by Snapcaster Mage, I see no reason why Zoo won’t just be the best deck for most tournaments in an open field. The cards are brutally efficient and fast, and unless you’re incredibly prepared or lucky, they’re fully capable of killing you before you even touch them. Prepare for a lot of Zoo and Snapcaster decks, as the changes to the banned list have brought this upon us like a plague in the Biblical days.

Final Thoughts

With Grand Prix Richmond coming up in the next week, I’ve been devoting all of my time and effort to learning and getting good at Modern; however, that’s not the only big tournament on the horizon. At the end of March, the SCG Invitational will visit my "hometown" of Charlotte, North Carolina, and I’ve gotten clearance from the command tower to attend this event as well. As such, I’m going to need to figure out my Legacy weapon of choice. I’d been planning for a while now to just run the same deck that I did at Grand Prix Washington DC last year (Shardless BUG), but from what I understand, it’s no longer viable.

So with that being said, I’m going to put it in your hands. What do you think ol’ Michael should play come the Invitational at the end of the month? What decks do you think are viable and which one do you think I’ll do the best with?

Comment or shoot me an email with your choice and I’ll compile them and figure out my plans. I am putting my Invitational fate in the hands of the faithful readers who have made it to the bottom of my article this week.

Please make it something good!