One Step Ahead – Rebuilding Twin From The Ground Up

This Standard is not old Standard. We have to start from the bottom. Gerry Thompson builds Splinter Twin with a fresh look at the metagame. See where he’s at for SCG Open: Cincinnati this weekend.

Now that Stoneforge Mystic and Jace, the Mind Sculptor are gone, it’s starting to become clear what the format is going to look like. MTGO and Magic-League have been running events, and if you’ve got your ear to the ground, you’ve probably heard some chatter about various “secret” decks.

A couple things are going to happen in this article. First of all, I’m going to show you why and how I would take some great Standard decks and rebuild them from the ground up. Things aren’t the same as they used to be, so you shouldn’t treat them as such. You can’t just dust off your old Valakut deck, make sure you’re not playing any banned cards, then add new stuff from NPH and M12.

Sure, it could work, and it’s certainly less time consuming. However, I’m sort of meticulous. I enjoy striving for perfection, and that means tapping Plains and Island for Stoneforge Mystic, keeping up Seachrome Coast. Sure, it probably doesn’t matter as long as you keep open your Island for Spell Pierce, but that’s not the point. (Obviously all of this assumes that factoring Condemn into the equation is irrelevant.)

Perfection, or rather, the journey toward it, is wholly rewarding. Regardless, the above situation is just a good habit to get into (unless you’re trying to trick your opponent one way or the other, but that’s a different article entirely).

U/B Control, Valakut, RDW, and Vampires are all placing consistently on Magic Online. Splinter Twin and Tempered Steel (!) are the other big winners. This tells me a few things:

1) U/B Control was always the “good stuff”—mostly tap-out style, Rock-ish deck—so it’s no surprise that it’s doing well in a mostly open format. U/W Control was always the one that benefited from changing strategies week to week. Cards like Inquisition of Kozilek are generally good vs. most decks, whereas most of white cards are very matchup specific. Tuning U/W Control each week may yield higher dividends in the future though.

2) RDW and Vampires are always going to be present.

3) Tempered Steel is super-fast and easy to port from Pro Tour Nagoya. It’s not likely better than RDW or Vampires, but it’s en vogue right now, at least online.

4) There is no consensus best list for Splinter Twin, which forces its performance to suffer. With no “obvious” best list, there are probably fewer people willing to pick it up.

There are a few counterarguments to that last point, namely that Valakut is also in a similar position. However, I can say from experience that Valakut is far more consistent at “combo-ing” on turn four, and more forgiving of mistakes. Additionally, mis-building Valakut is far less devastating than mis-building a Splinter Twin deck. One uses brute force and consists of mostly cards with similar functions, while the other is elegant and requires specific answers.

So what if you play Khalni Heart Expedition or Explore or Cultivate or Harrow? At the end of the day, they all ramp you to Titan. As long as you start with a two-drop ramp spell and can therefore play a Titan on turn four, your job is basically done.

Even the most heated debate—Summoning Trap vs. Green Sun’s Zenith—is probably a non-issue. LSV is now on record stating that he prefers Zenith to Trap, even against decks like U/B Control, and it makes a lot of sense. Trap is certainly flashier, and you’ll remember those games where you double Trapped them after you got Mana Leaked. Zenith is just a simple, consistent killing machine.

If you play a Titan and it gets Leaked (obv obv obv!), would you rather have Summoning Trap or Zenith in your hand against U/B Control? If you are considering the “wait on Titan, end-of-their-turn Trap, untap, and cast Titan” play, you should ignore it. In both situations, you will have a Titan in play on turn five, so it’s irrelevant.

Trap has a pretty high chance of missing altogether, so I think I’d rather have Zenith, which is also a more versatile card. Against most decks with counterspells, you can give them another turn, as they won’t do anything too threatening on their turn. It’s not like they are already connecting with Sword of Feast and Famine or going to work with Jace or anything. Their tools are a little fairer than they used to be.

Against aggro decks, you’d prefer the consistency of Zenith. The frequency with which you are able to find a Primeval Titan will increase, as will your ability to cast it on turn four. Summoning Trap isn’t very appealing here.

Splinter Twin is the odd man out I suppose, as you would rather have Trap here. Who are you kidding though? A couple Urabrasks and/or Dismembers isn’t likely going to save this bad matchup. You could try holding up mana for Combust, Beast Within, Nature’s Claim, Act of Aggression, Dismember, or whatever hate card you’re packing, but then they’ll probably beat you with Consecrated Sphinx, Jace Beleren, or Mindslaver (seriously!).

Honestly, I’m more scared of my opponent tapping out for Titan on turn four, daring me to kill them. I don’t always have it! If you think your best shot of winning is them not having the combo, then play as if they don’t have it! Don’t build your deck around playing scared and hope that it works somehow.

Soooo, how exactly does Splinter Twin lose to any of the above decks? The problem lies, I believe, in preparation.

How do you build Splinter Twin? Is it best to play for the long game, more like a U/R Control deck with a combo sprinkled in? Those lists tend to have backup plans, like six-drop Titans, Sphinxes, or Wurmcoils, Spreading Seas, and/or Tectonic Edge, and a solid amount of counterspells.

What about the combo-oriented versions with maximum cantrips, few removal spells, and very little in the way of a backup plan? The other option, aside from wacky and crazy ideas, is a hybrid of the two.

For reference, here is the original “control” list of U/R Twin.

This is the epitome of a combo-control list, but that’s easy to do with Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Jace Beleren has a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but he can probably handle it. For the most part, every other deck is worse than Splinter Twin or got worse as well.

Here’s a very similar, current Twin list:

Things I don’t like:

— No Jace Beleren (or See Beyond). Multiple cards in Splinter Twin have diminishing returns past the first, and you would like ways to either draw enough total cards that it doesn’t matter or cycle the useless cards away. If you’re flooded or draw too many Twins/Exarchs/counterspells/removal against the wrong opponent, you are probably going to lose.

Neurok Commando is not a suitable replacement.

Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge. Seas might slow down the occasional Valakut or aggro deck, but is that even worth it? Can’t you be doing better things with your mana? Tectonic Edge was a lot better before, when you could use it on your unsuspecting opponent’s dual land, tap their other land with Exarch, and then combo at your leisure.

Everyone sees that play coming though. If the mana was pristine, it wouldn’t be an issue, but it isn’t actually all that great. Once you start adding cantrips (like Ponder from M12), you want to cut lands, and those basically have to be Edges. Those cantrips also eat away at your blue mana, so you need more colored sources overall.

Let’s be honest. You aren’t going to beat Valakut by Spreading and Edging their Valakuts like U/B Control will. You have no way to beat a resolved Primeval Titan aside from comboing anyway, so why not make that the true focus?

As far as “disruption” goes, you can do better than Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge.

Spellskite. I’m scared of Go for the Throat and Combust, and Spellskite is relatively embarrassing against both. I’d rather have answers like Mutagenic Growth that are quicker and cover more of your bases.

Things I do like:

Treasure Mage into Wurmcoil Engine or Mindslaver! Another potentially exciting thing is Treasure Mage into Moltensteel Dragon. Imagine them stocking up on Go for the Throats or Combusts, only for you to tutor up a Hatred Dragon, perhaps with Dispel backup?

Granted, this plan could fall apart in the face of Dismember, Flashfreeze, or Nature’s Claim. Perhaps even Act of Aggression could felt you. Between Gitaxian Probe and Dispel, you should be able to protect it well enough.

Wurmcoil Engine is clearly the go-to animal against beatdown, but he‘s not that good against control. You aren’t always in the market for a Mindslaver. Sometimes you have the tools to beat down and need to go for it.

In one of those games where they are sitting on triple Dismember while you attempt to outdraw them, Mindslaver is a trump. Those games are probably going long because of your opponent’s lack of action and your inability to kill them through a wall of removal.

What I really love is how compact the package is. You can give your deck a lot of depth by just adding 1 Treasure Mage, 1 Mindslaver, and 1 Wurmcoil Engine somewhere to the 75.

— Being less reliant on the combo means that you can play less Splinter Twins and Mountains.

Things I’m not sure about:

— Are Lightning Bolts necessary? If you were going to play a burn spell, shouldn’t it be Burst Lightning so it can kill a Deceiver or Spellskite if the game goes late?

Most of the Twin lists I’ve seen skim on removal, and they seem to be doing quite well. I’d be surprised if playing four Bolts is the way to go.

If I were going to play the control version, I would play something very close. Bolts and Seas would likely become Ponders and Jaces, while the Edges would become Misty Rainforests.

With the release of Ponder, I wouldn’t be too invested in Halimar Depths anymore. Say you are playing Probe, Ponder, and Preordain, and you could always open with these cards:

Scalding Tarn
Halimar Depths/Island split card

If you lead with Halimar Depths, play a two-drop on turn two (like Mana Leak), you start turn three with two cantrips in your hand. While holding them has previously been thrown around as gospel, it’s not that cut and dry, especially in a combo deck.

With this opening sequence, I’d rather just have an Island and start turn three with a single cantrip in my hand. If you were playing 12 Brainstorms, you wouldn’t want your hand to always contain three Brainstorms. At some point, you are going to want to cycle them for little value.

That’s how it feels like when your deck contains Probe, Ponder, and Preordain. When you have so many selection spells, holding them until you have more information loses a lot of value. Playing Halimar Depths causes you to hold them, makes you use your mana inefficiently, and can cause the same problems as any enters-the-battlefield-tapped land would on occasion.

Before, Twin decks were sort of strapped for a good, cheap search spell, but that isn’t the case anymore.

I would guess that most Twin lists would want 24 lands, but if you wanted to play 25, I think it would be fine to play a single Halimar Depths. It’s unlikely to mess with your mana development too much because it wouldn’t even be in your deck necessarily. It’s basically a free roll.

Moving on to the combo versions that intrigue me. Check out this list:

The Pyromancers could be Mana Leaks, but I like having an engine game one. Additionally, I wouldn’t mind having the Burst Lightnings and Call to Minds in the maindeck, but I’m not sure where I’d find the spots.

At the very least, I was impressed with Shrine. With so many cantrips, it wasn’t difficult to locate that Pyromancer Ascension, Splinter Twin, or Mountain that I desperately needed. Even if you’re just playing Pyromancer Ascension, I would advise playing Shrines.

A few other things I considered were playing Deceiver Exarchs in Ascension with one or two Splinter Twins maindeck. Deceiver often plays the role of removal spell or roadblock against aggro. Sure, having Burst Lightning and Lightning Bolt plays a little better with Ascension, but Deceiver isn’t the worst card on its own.

Adding a couple Splinter Twins allows you to fit both combos without tripping over the other one.

Or, if you really want to be tricky, you could play Ascension with one Deceiver Exarch in your sideboard, and “accidentally” drop it while you’re sideboarding.

“Oh, no… Now you know my secret sideboarding plan…”

Actually, I wonder if it’s legal to drop a Deceiver Exarch that isn’t even in your deck. That way you don’t have to waste a sideboard slot.

If none of this suits you, you could always sideboard:

4 Trinket Mage
4 Shape Anew
1 Darksteel Relic
1-2 Blightsteel Colossus

Another adorable thing I saw was a list that had 4 Shrine, 4 See Beyond, and a bunch of bullets. If you needed a Pyroclasm, you could dig for it. If you didn’t like the Shatter you drew, you could shuffle it away. An interesting approach for sure, but something that is better suited to a control deck.

So what’s best? I would say that depends on what kind of opposition you expect to face. Since I don’t exactly know what’s in store for me in Cincinnati, I’ll probably play a version that I’m more comfortable with, which means the control version.

This is what I’m thinking:


— I think I like the Treasure Mage package in the sideboard. Having a backup plan in game one seems extraneous, even though I’ve been told otherwise by deckbuilders smarter than I.

If I did play the package main, I’d probably shave some Probes, cut the Dismembers, and maybe a Splinter Twin.

— I could see cutting the Probes, which might allow me to play a couple Halimar Depths. I would have to add a land anyway. Maybe See Beyond is still good, or Shrine. I was worried about not having enough things to trigger Shrine consistently.

— I have more removal than most, but don’t have Sea Gate Oracle. I’m not sure which strategy is better yet. I still have plenty of work to do.

Combust seems like the best card in the mirror, aside from card drawers like Jace or Consecrated Sphinx. Tapping out for Sphinx seems risky though, so I don’t want to go down that path.

Pyroclasm is likely better than spot removal like Lightning Bolt.

Ratchet Bombs could take the place of Pyroclasm, but that doesn’t feel right. In this deck, it seems like your sideboard cards have to specifically address certain issues. Your combo invalidates a lot of strategies, so you can afford to make your sideboard a bit more narrow.

For the most part, Ratchet Bomb is just my version of Shatter. I took a couple beatings from the Torpor Orb/Spellskite/Kuldotha Forgemaster deck and decided I didn’t want that to happen again. A singular Shatter is never good enough to beat multiple Torpor Orbs, but Ratchet Bomb is often insane against them.

— The Twisted Image slot could be Mental Missteps for aggro and discard.

I debated allowing my readers to choose which deck I played again. It was pretty fun the first time, but since everyone knew I was championing Kuldotha Red, they came prepared with Pyroclasms and Ratchet Bombs. I imagine that had I not posted anything about Kuldotha Red, my tournament would have gone much differently.

RDW was among the decks I was considering, but could you imagine that? I’d probably have to fight through maindeck Firewalkers and sideboard Leylines, and that just didn’t seem like fun. At least with Splinter Twin, I feel like I can fight through the hate.

Allowing people to vote is something that I’ll probably do in the future, but when I’m considering playing a red deck, it doesn’t seem very fair for me. As of right now, I’m planning on playing Splinter Twin, and there isn’t much that can change my mind. I don’t know if my list is perfect, but I’ve still got time.