RUG Twin In Richmond *9th*

Todd Anderson tells you all the details about the RUG Twin list he used to make Top 16 of the largest Constructed Grand Prix of all time in Richmond, Virginia last weekend!

After achieving one of my best records in any tournament, I came away from Grand Prix Richmond with mixed feelings. On one hand, I missed Top 8 on tiebreakers, but so did a lot of other players. On the other hand, my last match was a virtual triple PTQ final. The points I accrued in the tournament gave me my fifth Grand Prix finish for Pro Points and locked me for Silver in the Pro Players Club for the rest of the year as well as the first Pro Tour of next season.

It was bittersweet, but mostly I’m just happy that I actually get to go to Pro Tours again. This is the first time in my Magic career that I’ve been qualified for four Pro Tours in a row (including the last one), which is definitely a relief. I’ve been performing quite well in Grand Prix as of late, with two Top 8s, two Top 16s, and a Top 32. But with that said, I still feel pretty awkward about missing out on a chance to win the tournament.

The format was Modern, and if you read my article last week about Griselbrand, then you know that I love doing powerful unfair things in a format where other people aren’t. While most decks in Modern have some sort of combo-esque finish, I wouldn’t really consider them combo decks. Most of their games are won on the back of threats like Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence, with Birthing Pod acting as a way to gain them card advantage.

I wanted to draw a lot of cards and interact with my opponent as little as possible. After all, the best way to get around cards like Kitchen Finks (or Thragtusk from last Standard season) is to go way over the top. This is one of the reasons why I think Zoo is a pretty poor choice for the current Modern format; you absolutely need to answer so many ridiculous threats, and it is unlikely that you build the perfect sideboard to beat every single weird strategy you play against.

The Birthing Pod decks that littered the Top 8 are consistent, proactive, and have a powerful (but slow) endgame. Affinity has much more explosive opening hands that can close out the game before the opponent even gets going, and it often kills the opponent with something like a Mortal Kombat finishing move. Arcbound Ravager is a crazy card sometimes, but Cranial Plating gives the deck a lot of raw power.

As a Griselbrand pilot, neither of these two decks scares me all that much. If you have a solid draw, it’s really difficult for them to win the game, though the Affinity deck can occasionally race you. If they’re able to deal you a significant amount of damage in the early turns of the game, your Griselbrand won’t always combo them out, as you need those precious life points to draw into extra copies of Fury of the Horde (and more red spells).

After writing my article last week about Griselbrand in Modern, I wanted nothing more than to just smash the tournament with it. I had been doing moderately well with various Reanimator decks, including Breaking // Entering and a number of other goodies, but there were just too many games where I couldn’t find the right pieces to the combo in the right order or time frame. When that happened I was helpless because my deck wasn’t designed to interact with the opponent. Slowing them down was not really an option, meaning they were goldfishing against my draw while I was not goldfishing against them if they drew any way to interact with me, such as Spell Pierce, Spell Snare, or Thoughtseize.

After losing six matches in a row due to excessive hate, too much disruption, or just failing to draw the correct combo pieces, I gave up on Reanimator. It will always have a place in my heart, but it just didn’t end up being the deck I thought it could be and wasn’t what I settled on for the Grand Prix.

In some of my last few major tournaments, I’ve had a strange type of a complex. If I come up with a cool or interesting strategy that seems powerful but fragile, I will ignore the people around me telling me not to play it. I spend most of my playing time enveloped by that deck, testing for hours on Magic Online until I have the best version I can come up with. While brewing new powerful archetypes isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I tend to get tunnel vision and push everything else aside. For Grand Prix Richmond, Reanimator was that deck.

I did everything in my power to make it as consistent as possible, but the truth of the matter is that I’m probably not a good enough deckbuilder to do that on my own. Without some sort of genius to help me as well as many of the potent forms of card selection being banned in Ponder and Preordain, I just couldn’t get Reanimator to run as smoothly as I wanted it to. Add to that the fact that you’re inherently weak to Splinter Twin decks due to half of their combo preventing your entire combo and you have a serious problem. I fully expected Splinter Twin to run rampant in the tournament, though it didn’t end up being as prevalent as I anticipated.

After much deliberation I concluded that the best deck for me to play as both a metagame choice and a playstyle preference was RUG Twin.

This list is incredibly similar to Patrick Dickmann’s from Pro Tour Born of the Gods, and there’s a good reason for that. Patrick has been playing Splinter Twin for quite some time, and it’s evident he put a lot of thought into his Pro Tour list. At times RUG Twin just feels like a tempo deck that beats down with some cheap threats. Tarmogoyf is a virtual Spellskite for the deck, acting as a lightning rod for spot removal spells that could potentially disrupt your combo. I can’t tell you how many games I won because my opponent was forced to use their Path to Exile or something similar to remove it, leaving me wide open to combo kill them with Splinter Twin.

On the other side of the coin, the combo often acts as a protective cover for Tarmogoyf. If they expect you to kill them with Splinter Twin, they will often wait too long to kill Tarmogoyf, allowing you to finish the job with Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage. It’s pretty funny that it’s rarely correct for them to kill either creature because you just end up beating them with the other one. That’s one of the reasons why this deck is so powerful.

My favorite part about this deck is the games after sideboard. Against a number of strategies that are moderately disruptive, it’s close to impossible to beat them with Splinter Twin. With so many discard spells, removal spells, and hate cards in the format for Splinter Twin, you will find that most of your wins come from just attacking with a menagerie of monsters. Even Pestermite adds to this part of the plan, tapping down blockers or keeping your opponent from casting a big spell early in the game. With mana bases being so fragile in Modern, Pestermite is actually a very real threat. The two damage worth of flying should not to be ignored.

The major changes I made to the deck came in the sideboard and were made for what I thought was a good reason. I felt Combust wasn’t necessary anymore simply because most versions of Splinter Twin would switch to the RUG version. Winning with the combo in the mirror is already difficult due to the fact that you can use Deceiver Exarch and Pestermite to tap their creature before Splinter Twin resolves, allowing you to untap and kill them with your combo. Generally speaking, whoever goes for the combo first is usually the one who ends up losing. So with that in mind, why not just cut the combo completely?

With significant threats and disruption in the early turns of the game, killing via Splinter Twin is absurdly difficult. Add to this the fact that your opponents will often come to the same conclusion and sideboard accordingly, moving all in on Tarmogoyf. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted Threads of Disloyalty in my sideboard.

One of the best cards I had access to all day, Threads of Disloyalty gave me the ability to steal one of my opponent’s best creatures for a paltry three mana. Tarmogoyf was everywhere, and Spellskite is almost always a sideboard option for the opponent, meaning there are few matchups where you don’t actually want it. It is also one of the strongest weapons you can bring to the table against one of your worst matchups: Jund.

While there are answers to Threads of Disloyalty in the format, namely Abrupt Decay, the card can swing games heavily in your favor and is often a complete blowout. Stealing Dark Confidant, Scavenging Ooze, or Tarmogoyf against Jund will force them to have the answer almost immediately or just fold. And if they do have the answer, it isn’t always the worst thing in the world. It usually means they’re forced to kill Threads of Disloyalty instead of your Tarmogoyf or combo piece, giving you a lot of windows to go through for the win.

While it’s nothing new, Threads of Disloyalty gives RUG Twin even more of a tempo boost after sideboard when you move away from the combo. When Tarmogoyf becomes your main source of damage output, having a way to move their Tarmogoyf out of the way while you beat them down is a boon.

My other favorite sideboard card this past weekend was Vandalblast.

Before the tournament began, I knew I wanted help against Affinity besides Ancient Grudge. Shatterstorm and Creeping Corrosion were cards I considered, but they are expensive and don’t always come online before you’re virtually dead. Without Deathrite Shaman, Noble Hierarch, or Birds of Paradise in the deck, four mana ends up being a ton. For reference, I lost multiple games to Affinity on the draw with a potential turn 4 combo when I was forced to block with my Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch because they were able to play and equip Cranial Plating on turn 2!

Vandalblast has the same blowout potential as both Shatterstorm and Creeping Corrosion but also has the added benefit of being a one-mana removal spell in the matchup, which is important in a lot of scenarios. Having your sideboard cards be more flexible is certainly strong in a format like Modern where drawing the right answers at the right time is paramount. The fact that Vandalblast is also a one-mana spell that can be easily recast with Snapcaster Mage is unbelievable.

I remember going to the dealer booth to buy one before the tournament began and my friend giving me an odd look. At that exact moment I knew I wouldn’t regret it. Throughout my four matches against Affinity, I ended up overloading Vandalblast one time, but I cast it for one mana to kill various absurd threats three times and used it with Snapcaster Mage twice.

The big debate I had with myself was whether Batterskull was actually good enough in the sideboard. Obviously it has a lot of play against a number of archetypes, acting as a reusable threat against some strategies as well as giving you a life bump in aggressive matchups. However, I knew that U/W/R Control would be a particularly tough matchup since my combo is not great against them, and Tarmogoyf isn’t all that good against them either. U/W/R has so many removal spells and Snapcaster Mage that I needed a plan to beat it that involved a threat they just can’t deal with.

Thrun, the Last Troll was that threat.

If people were to copy the exact list that Shaun McLaren used to win the Pro Tour, then their outs to Thrun, the Last Troll would equal zero. If you were to play a Thrun on the fourth turn, then they had to try ti race you with Celestial Colonnade and Lightning Helix. Obviously that is a real possibility since they can block your Thrun with Snapcaster Mage, but it is also fairly difficult if they’re trying to contain your other threats. The fact that you can still use Pestermite to great effect against Celestial Colonnade is also a plus.

With that in mind and the fact that Batterskull easily folds to Mana Leak, I figured Thrun, the Last Troll would be an outstanding addition to the sideboard, and I wasn’t wrong. Even against Jund it’s a solid win condition as long as you can bust through their Tarmogoyf. Most of the time Tarmogoyf is slightly bigger than Thrun, but they can rarely block for the threat of Lightning Bolt post-combat and post-regeneration. When you’re also taking their creatures as well as playing many of your own, Liliana of the Veil isn’t much of an issue either.

Thrun, the Last Troll was outstanding in the post-board game plan that sided out all of the combo and relied solely on removal, tempo, and card advantage. Snapcaster Mage did wonders at all points in nearly every game simply because it exacerbated the problems that were already evident for the opponent. Flashbacking Serum Visions is a strong play on turn 3 while also rebuying removal in the later turns of the game or even Cryptic Command.

RUG Twin attacks from so many angles that it’s nearly impossible for your opponent to be completely prepared for all of them. Add to this the fact that they’re likely siding in mostly irrelevant sideboard cards to prevent you from combo killing them and your tempo plan is almost always golden. I can’t tell you how many times I faced off against an opposing Spellskite, Torpor Orb, or even Combust and wasn’t all that afraid. I had the answers for their answers or just ignored them and used Tarmogoyf to eat their life total.

It was a delight.

With so many diverse threats and answers in the sideboard, I was able to regularly change six or more cards in nearly every matchup, giving me the most fluid and flexible deck I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. Cards like Engineered Explosives and Sword of Feast and Famine were blowouts against a number of strategies, while cards such as Dispel, Negate, and Counterflux were solid at either protecting the combo or just keeping the opponent’s deck in check. I was able to use every single sideboard card throughout the tournament to great effect, either by invalidating my opponent’s strategy or complementing my own.

The best part about the deck is that your opponent can have an incredibly difficult time figuring out how to disrupt your plan. There’s a solid chance that you can invalidate a great number of their sideboard cards just by siding into a different kind of strategy. Multiple times during the tournament I was able to beat an opposing Spellskite either by using Flame Slash, Ancient Grudge, Threads of Disloyalty, or ignoring it completely with a 4/5 Tarmogoyf.

With how the deck is built, there are some matchups where the combo is the most important aspect of your plan. Some decks are fantastic at beating fair strategies while being pretty weak to combo effects like Splinter Twin. In those matchups it’s important to accentuate your combo plan by using cards like Dispel, Negate, and Spellskite to protect your creatures. There aren’t many matchups where Tarmogoyf is bad, but when it is you basically have to combo kill them or bust.

On the other side of the coin, there are decks that are fantastic at interacting with Splinter Twin, meaning you aren’t able to combo kill them very easily. In those matchups siding into a pure tempo strategy is key, as they will be diluting their strategy with things that can interact with your combo. The fact that they always have to react to you and you can easily figure out your most important plan is the reason why RUG Twin is so powerful. Both sides of the deck can easily win you the game, and the rest of your deck complements both strategies fairly well.

Cards like Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command are great at buying you time, gaining you card advantage, or helping apply pressure on the opponent. Both are strong versatile cards that can be used in a number of situations. Remand is similar in this regard, digging you deeper into your deck while providing you with some much needed breathing room.

At the end of the day I was unable to make Reanimator function exactly how I wanted it to, and it wasn’t as consistent as I would have liked so I gave up on it. I will probably pick it back up in the future, especially if a card similar to Entomb makes its way into the format, but as of now I don’t think the archetype is consistent enough to make a significant impact on the metagame. It has the most explosive draws in the format, but it’s vulnerable to a number of common cards and sometimes just fails to do what it’s designed to do.

Moving forward in Modern, I want to keep exploring different archetypes, but I know that RUG Twin is awesome. It has a game plan and sideboard that is powerful in an open format, with the combo finish against unfair decks and the tempo finish against fair decks. I’m very used to playing strategies that do similar things to RUG Twin, which is probably the reason why I was so comfortable with the sideboard plan. I don’t know how many times I used the Splinter Twin combo to win games 2 or 3, but it wasn’t very many. The next time I play in a Modern tournament I will lean toward this strategy first and foremost, and I highly recommend you do the same.