“Power is a curious thing. Power resides where men believe it resides. It’s a trick, a shadow on the wall.”
I didn’t go to Boston for the Modern Grand Prix this weekend. Long story short, I have five decent finishes at Grand Prix this season, and I needed to make
Top 4 for any number of Pro Points to matter. Boston is also not realistically driveable unless I wanted to take a twelve hour trek by myself, and plane
tickets put you at an airport about 45 minutes away from where you need to be for the tournament itself.
Plus, there was a PTQ of the same format about two minutes from my house. Lucky, right?
Even though I decided to stay home instead of flying to the Grand Prix, I was taking the PTQ seriously. And in actuality, I was unaware that there was
another PTQ just two hours away on Saturday, as well as the rebuy event in Roanoke on Sunday. Things were already turning up Millhouse.
For the last few months, I’ve noticed that I stopped doing something before tournaments that had become somewhat of a ritual: staying up late, tinkering
with various slots in my deck, and figuring out the exact way to sideboard in all of my most important matchups so that no sideboard slot went unused.
Now, that isn’t to say that I haven’t been putting in the effort to succeed, but have I really? Looking back, the past six months or so have been some of
my worst tournament results in recent memory. Yes, I’ve Top 8’ed a few Opens, but that’s nothing! Just last week, two different people went back-to-back on
the Standard and Legacy Open Top 8’s in Baltimore!
My heart just hasn’t been in it, to be honest. Standard hasn’t had much of an appeal for me in quite some time, but I think it is all because I’m just not
approaching it from the right angle. Some people get stuck on a deck for weeks on end, and continue playing it even though the general consensus is that it
is “bad.” People like Sam Black and Sam Pardee continued to champion Blue Devotion through the “hard times” to fantastic results. But I was jumping from
deck to deck almost every single week for months.
Yes, I came back to Black Devotion from time to time, but I was jumping on the train for any deck that did well the week before instead of implementing
that data to update an archetype I was more comfortable with. And it wasn’t just in Standard. I did the same thing in Legacy too, and my results have
suffered for it.
And I almost did the same thing in Modern.
I’m not sure if it was some compulsion or some incarnation of desperation, but I felt like I couldn’t sit still. One poor finish at a tournament or one
shift in the metagame and I just abandoned the deck I was playing instead of trying to make it better.
When it comes to formats like Modern or Legacy, the card pool is gigantic. There is no way you can carry around every single card that you could have
access to, but one thing I love to do is bring cards that I have used before, or might use again based on their utility against some of the format’s best
Cards like Forked Bolt. Cards like Vandalblast.
So this weekend before the PTQ in Greensboro, NC, I stayed up pretty late on Friday night even though I needed to be awake and ready to go before 8am. And
I tinkered. I spent nearly an hour trying to figure out how to fit a Vendilion Clique into the deck and another hour on whether or not Repeal was something
I wanted to try out.
I felt like a mad scientist.
Obsession is not a healthy quality, but when I get that way before a tournament I know that tend to do much better. Playing Garruk Relentless in G/W
Maverick; playing Porcelain Legionnaire and Mutagenic Growth in U/W Delver; playing Thrun, the Last Troll in TarmoTwin. These are the kinds of cards and
decks I end up playing when I actually think about what I want to beat, and how to beat it.
And so the long night began with me setting out the TarmoTwin deck I played at Grand Prix Richmond, as well as the countless boxes of cards I keep all of
my “playables” in. I looked to Patrick Dickmann’s most recent list that made the finals of a PTQ in the hands of Valentin Mackl, which featured an
interesting take on the archetype. But that’s Patrick!
For those of you who don’t know Patrick Dickmann, he’s actually a genius. This man played 21 lands in his TarmoTwin deck at Pro Tour Born of the Gods
because he expected that people were going to be using Path to Exile on his Tarmogoyf. He used an opponent’s card to justify the number of lands
he was going to run in his deck. Just take a minute and let that sink in. That is absolutely on another level when it comes to deckbuilding and one reason
why I respect him a lot as a player.
So when Patrick says that Huntmaster of the Fells is good in the deck, I had to listen, even if I didn’t think it was all that great. The logic behind
Huntmaster of the Fells is also quite sound if you think about it. Your opponent’s removal is going to be stretched thin with Tarmogoyf and your Splinter
Twin package, leaving you free in the late game to beat them down with just about anything. Why can’t that anything be a creature that gives you a virtual
two-for-one while also being outrageously powerful if left unanswered!?
With that said, I think that Huntmaster is great in theory, but I’m not sure how good it actually is in practice, and it was the card on my chopping block
all night. I wanted to play a Vendilion Clique and a Grim Lavamancer instead, or possibly a Repeal or Forked Bolt or…
The tinkering had begun.
Some people sit down at their computer, see a deck, and trust that the person on the other side of the screen knows more than they do about a deck or
archetype, so they jump in head first. Let me be the first to say that it is incredibly rare that any deckbuilder can see everything, and many people
(including myself) build decks based on a sort of guessing game. When it comes to Magic, there are far too many variables to be able to perfectly predict
anything that could go wrong, and many others also tend to ignore certain problems because, in actuality, they aren’t worth fixing.
Specifically, Brad Nelson tends to ignore Mono Red decks when building a new brew for a tournament because it generally takes a lot of slots out of your
deck and usually doesn’t help you enough to justify the real estate. This is a fairly common practice that regularly results in failure, but building your
deck to beat the best decks in the format goes a long way to actually winning a tournament as opposed to making the Top 8. Focusing on the end-goal of
actually winning is a strong place to be.
So I sat down with all my boxes, looked over hundreds, if not thousands of cards, looking for something that would make a perfect fit. When one in the
morning rolled around, I was finally finished. Here is what I registered for the PTQ in Greensboro, NC.
Let me begin by saying that this list is significantly different from the one ran by Patrick Dickmann and company at Grand Prix Boston, but I have my
reasons. For one, Tectonic Edge is not a card I’m in the mood for. I understand what it does. It kills lands. Some lands are pretty important in the
format. Having an answer to stuff like Celestial Colonnade or Raging Ravine is pretty sweet.
I am also in the business of casting my spells on time.
Tectonic Edge is pretty bad in a deck that needs access to green and red mana on turn 2, as well as three blue mana on turn 4. If you start to stretch
that, you will ultimately stumble at a point where it is not affordable. While it has its uses against stuff like Tron or UWR Control, I don’t think it is
the card that will win you games in those situations. I briefly considered Ghost Quarter, a la Larry Swasey, but opted to forego the burden of playing a
colorless land. Those matchups are not centered around whether or not you can disrupt their mana.
TarmoTwin shines in situations where you can put pressure on your opponent early with Tarmogoyf, forcing their hand when it comes to playing certain spells
when they aren’t ready, or even making them burn their removal spell when you have the Splinter Twin combo at the ready. Cards like Remand become
significantly better when you have a clock, even if that clock is something as small as a Snapcaster Mage. When you put pressure on your opponent, you
force them to react, and you are in a much better spot when that happens.
The quote from earlier is one of my all-time favorites, and fits perfectly into what this deck is designed to do. There are many games, and many
situations, where you are able to lead your opponent to believe that one creature is more powerful than another. If your opponent is afraid of Splinter
Twin, they will let your Tarmogoyf continue to beat them down which ultimately leads to Lightning Bolt finishing the job. When your Tarmogoyf isn’t going
to be able to close the gap in time, putting emphasis on it makes it so your opponent is forced to kill it as opposed to your Pestermite or Deceiver
And when all else fails, you just cast Huntmaster of the Fells.
With TarmoTwin, it is easy to dictate the pace of the game. The fear of Splinter Twin will often force people to hold up two mana for Abrupt Decay, or save
their removal and allow your Snapcaster Mage or Tarmogoyf to smash them in the face. You can do the same things with spells like Cryptic Command. For
example, I “burned” a Cryptic Command to counter a Wall of Omens, baiting my opponent into using his Counterflux. I had seen his hand with Gitaxian Probe,
knew he needed to hit land drops, and basically forced his hand. This allowed me to untap and resolve Keranos, God of Storms.
Plays like this are not uncommon with TarmoTwin, and often result in you winning the game even if it isn’t exactly conventional. Using a card as powerful
as Cryptic Command to counter something as irrelevant against you as Wall of Omens isn’t correct in the majority of situations, but using the knowledge of
your opponent’s hand to put them in a bad spot is something that does come up a lot. That’s one of the reasons why I love Gitaxian Probe in this deck. The
knowledge of your opponent’s hand coupled with the ability to cycle through your deck is exceptional and can make Snapcaster Mage into a Silvergill Adept
The sideboard might seem like a smattering of singletons, but I assure you they all have a place and purpose. Against most opponents, sideboarded games
will go much longer, allowing you enough time to find the sideboard cards you need to win the game. Serum Visions lets you dig pretty far into your deck,
and especially so when consistently flashbacked by Snapcaster Mage. Another reason for the singleton-esque sideboard is that many of the cards do similar
things yet have applications across multiple matchups. Dismember and Combust are both functionally similar against other Splinter Twin decks, while
Dismember has applications against Tarmogoyf, and Combust has applications against Restoration Angel and company.
There is a similar argument to playing two Anger of the Gods alongside one copy of Pyroclasm. Anger of the Gods is obviously superior against Birthing Pod,
but Pyroclasm is suitable in many situations. But against something like Affinity, I would much rather have Pyroclasm, as it interacts with them a turn
earlier. I am a huge proponent of sideboard like these in flexible decks. TarmoTwin can easily shift away from the Splinter Twin combo when the going gets
tough, and you can morph your deck into a control or tempo deck based on the matchup in front of you. Having sideboard options that are powerful and
versatile is a good way to fluidly facilitate this change.
Having access to singleton instants or sorceries with powerful effects also makes Snapcaster Mage unbelievable. When you have removal spells that do
different things for different costs, your Snapcaster Mage becomes a swiss army knife and will often be the card you want to draw the most. This is one of
the reasons why I’m a proponent of effects like Vandalblast, as the Overload is game-ending against Affinity, but still gives you the option of casting it
early and using it again with Snapcaster Mage.
As for the PTQ itself, things went well for me. Very well, to be completely honest. I started off 4-0, only to lose the fifth round to an Affinity draw
featuring a first turn Etched Champion followed by a second turn Cranial Plating with equip. This draw was virtually impossible for me to beat, but I
probably shouldn’t have been in that situation anyway. I made a major misplay in the second game, which sent us to that game three where he drew the nuts.
Ultimately, my play mistake put me in that situation, and that’s more of what I focused on rather than “how lucky my opponent got.”
One thing I’ve learned over the years is that it is very rare that a loss didn’t come from some mistake you made yourself, rather than your opponent
getting super lucky. It bothers me a lot when people tell me a story about how well their opponent drew, or how many lands they drew in a row to die,
because they are often leaving out the part about how they screwed up. Selective memory is a plague, and you will find yourself doing much better at
tournaments if you put emphasis on how you could have played differently, mulliganed differently, or even built your deck differently to handle the
situation presented to you.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t actual nut draws that no deck can beat, but then you must ask the question: “Why am I not playing that deck?”
After that loss, I was a little angry at myself but also knew that my tournament wasn’t over. In fact, I ended up having the best tiebreakers out of all
the 4-1 players in the tournament. That meant that if I won my next round, I would almost assuredly be able to draw into Top 8. I ended up winning my next
round and did exactly that.
In the quarterfinals, I had an interesting situation against Living End, where he was very short on lands after cycling two cards. In response to one of my
fetches, he decided to “go small” with a Violent Outburst into Living End during his own end step by pitching a Simian Spirit Guide, putting just two
creatures into play. To me, this signified that his hand was pretty weak, and probably full of sideboard cards or Living Ends. Luckily, I drew a Gitaxian
Probe on the next turn, saw his hand, and knew that it was very likely that I was going to win the game with Pestermite into Splinter Twin. By tapping one
of his two lands, I took away a few outs, and knew the game was mine when he played the land that he had drawn for the turn.
The semifinals was against Michael Braverman playing B/G Rock. Both games were fairly grindy, featuring multiple Liliana of the Veil from him, while I used
Snapcaster Mage and removal spells to limit his options. Eventually, I overcame his slew of removal with Huntmaster of the Fells, followed by a Splinter
Twin on Snapcaster Mage to rebuy Lightning Bolt and the like.
The final match was against the Affinity opponent from Round 5, and it was an absolute slugfest. I ended up mulliganing the first game, and promptly drew
two dead Huntmaster of the Fells, while his second turn Etched Champion and some Inkmoth Nexus beat me to death. The second game was a rout where I kept a
one-land hand featuring Pestermite, Dismember, Lightning Bolt, Ancient Grudge, Tarmogoyf, Steam Vents, Serum Visions. I cast Serum Visions, drew a
non-land, saw two lands on top, though the only green source was a fetchland. My opponent drew, played a land, and said go.
At this point, I knew that I had to put pressure on him, and his hand was probably full of Etched Champions. I just hoped that his next few lands weren’t
Darksteel Citadel. I immediately fetched, shuffling away that third land, and cast Tarmogoyf. The next few turns found me killing every creature he played
and beating him down.
The final game was fairly epic, which resulted in me clawing hand over foot to kill him from 30 life after he gained nineteen with a Vault Skirge carrying
two Cranial Platings (I blocked with a Pestermite). There were a few situations I could have played a little differently, but I felt like the sheer number
of decisions with the deck over the course of twenty odd turns will result in a mistake or two.
So as it stands, I am currently qualified for the next three Pro Tours. I’m on my way to Portland this week for Pro Tour M15, and I couldn’t be more
excited! While the format is diverse, I expect to see a lot of Black Devotion, Blue Devotion, U/W Control, Red Aggro, and G/W Aggro. I’m not quite sure
what I’m playing yet, but I have the rest of the week to draft and test Standard. I have a few good ideas I’m looking to implement, but you’ll just have to
wait until I get back!
Next week I’ll be posting a video for Sneak and Show featuring the new Magic Online client, but I’m sure I’ll be right back to Standard after that. Wish me