Sitting in the back seat of a borrowed Jeep Cherokee, I stare out the window at the trees passing by, and consider the paths that have lead me to this moment—that put me in this unlikely place, with these unlikely traveling companions, on this trip like many others, and yet decidedly unique.
It’s coming up on five years since I lost touch with Bryant. The two of us came up in the game together, learning and playing like brothers more than friends. I’m five years his senior, and yet he’s always been easy to spend time with. For most of my time in Magic, Bryant was the little brother I never had.
As young men becoming adults often do, I made mistakes. I pushed when I should have relented. I poked when I should have consoled. I made fun when I should have seen that this was an impressionable boy who was in need of a mentor and a role model, not another in a long line of bullies.
It came to a head. Under the pretense of a spat over a play mistake turned shady, the lines in the sand were drawn. You and I are no longer friends, no longer acquaintances, no longer brothers. We are as strangers. Our backs are turned.
Bryant didn’t get to see the changes that I made in my life over the next few years. He didn’t get to see me clean myself up, remove the negative influences and habits from my life, and grow into a responsible and thriving adult. Despite repeated attempts to reconcile, given my new outlook and new place in life, he wasn’t ready. I began to move on.
Time passes and we both find new lives. The two of us have less and less in common, and more distance makes it difficult to remember why we began to fight in the first place. Bryant graduates from college and enters the world of adulthood. His youthful angst and rebellious nature temper, and my own tendency to patronize mellows. I grow from bitter and spiteful to content, and realize that my piece has been said—when he’s prepared to receive the olive branch, I’m still going to be there with it extended.
The time comes, and he reaches out. I’m sorry, he finally says, and recognizes his own role in the drama we’ve been acting out for years. I too, apologize for the rift we’ve created, and we vow that while things may never be the way they once were, they won’t be the way they are.
As Bryant focuses on the road and steers around traffic, I consider the ease with which we fell back into place, how it feels like the past five years never happened, and we are friends once more. A kinship turned bitter has sweetened again, and it feels like I have my kid brother back. Only, this time, we aren’t stupid kids anymore.
I played UR Splinter Twin at GP Boston, because it seemed like the right choice given my recent success with the deck. While the field has gotten more volatile for the combo, I felt that my experience and the ability to *just win* would give me the edge I was looking for.
The format adapted to Twisted Image, and I wasn’t 100% happy with that slot. I spoke at length with Jon Corpora, who was also sold on the deck for the event, and eventually arrived on the following:
I discussed in my last article the removal of the Gitaxian Probes for the Flame Slash and the Electrolyze, as well as a few of the changes in the sideboard to correspond. In testing more for this event, Jon decided he liked the added flexibility of the Vapor Snag, both as protection for your combo in the face of removal, as well as a way to interact with opposing threats. It took me a long time to come around, but before the event I did make the switch for one Twisted Image. In the sideboard, Jon was very concerned with the prominence of Jund, and wanted a permanent answer to Tarmogoyf. Engineered Explosives represents a reasonable Vindicate, and can answer multiple ‘Goyfs. Vedalken Shackles is very strong in the mirror, and has applications against decks like Junk and Jund, as well. We also felt like 4 five-drops was pushing it, and ended up choosing Keranos over Batterskull.
I came into the event with 2 byes, and had a snafu with the Sleep-in Special. I ended up at the event site before 9 a.m. despite the SiS, and the early start combined with a disastrous attempt at sleep on Friday night meant that I was playing with a handicap from the start. By the time round 3 began, around 1 p.m., I was already exhausted and I knew things were going to get dicey by the time round 9 came around.
Round 3 – Zach Moeller (Mono-U Merfolk)
Zach was unfortunately playing a deck that has very few ways to interact with the Splinter Twin combo. From what I can tell, Merfolk has a pretty good matchup with creature-based decks with little removal like Pod, but combining Lightning Bolt and Snapcaster Mage with a combo win is more than they can handle. I dispatched him on turn 4 in both games through only the most perfunctory of resistance. It was a noble effort on his part, but it was not to be.
Round 4 – Nektari Nicolau (Affinity)
Nekta was on his way to Portland from Australia, and made a pit stop to GP. He mulliganed to five on the play, and said go. Then he did it again, and again, until eventually he had discarded three times before finding his first land. It did not end well. Our second game was much closer, as he had a Spellskite to protect himself and a Ravager to make things interesting. Unfortunately I bore a Grudge against his deck selection, and was able to withstand his aggression long enough to Deceive him for exarctsies.
Round 5 – Ian McKeown (Mono-Black 8Rack)
Ian led off our first game with a somewhat crippling Swamp-Inquisition, taking a Snapcaster. His second turn was a Thoughtseize and The Rack. The jig was up, and I knew to hold back lands to protect my hand size. I did take a fair bit of damage from The Rack this game, though the Shrieking Affliction cost me no life. I got to make a sweet play when I bounced a Liliana in response to her +1 ability into Ian’s empty hand. Though he did have a pair of Ensnaring Bridges, I caught him with one card in hand and comboed off with Exarch. In our second game, Ian mulliganed to five, and discarded twice before playing his first land.
PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: It’s ok to mulligan to four, folks. I know it seems like you’re in a deep hole, but are you really more likely to win a game where you’re forced to let the opponent play AND draw first than you are if you mull to four? Go to three if you need to. It’s why the rule exists.
At this point I was feeling good in terms of “getting lucky as possible,” but feeling pretty miserable despite this.
Round 6 – Larry Swasey (UWR Geist Control)
Larry and I had a mutual “I know who you are but don’t know that much about you” attitude at the beginning of the match, but it was quickly dissipated as he took me apart systematically in game one and I took it like a champ. After that first game, the two of us discussed the Banned Series he’s helping Caleb Durward with here on ChannelFireball.com. He gave me an inside scoop on what kind of sweet decks they’re preparing to display, and then he beat me over the head with a Keranos until I died.
Geist of Saint Traft is a Billy Fuccillo HUGE problem for this deck. It puts two distinct pressures on the Twin player: A) You have to throw away one of your value creatures to try to trade with it, taking at least 4 damage in the process and B) you have to sideboard in Anger of the Gods as your only “real” answer for it, despite the card being terrible in the matchup. You’re already pressured in your draws because cards like Splinter Twin and Kiki-Jiki are terrible against them, and now you have these hands where you draw 3-plus-mana red spells and just die to Angels.
Which is the other problem: their deck operates at instant speed just as yours does, but they have threats where you have 1/4s and 2/1s for 3. This means they can operate on your end step, and force you to react first, so you lose initiative and have to play their game. In our second game, Larry broke serve with a Restoration Angel, I Remanded it (cutting me off on mana), and he resolved Keranos. I never had an opportunity to play my own from that point on, and I was quickly buried. It’s a really difficult matchup, and against an experienced player like Larry I’m not surprised I lost.
Between rounds, I stopped to chat with John Wasson, my semifinals opponent from the PTQ a couple weeks back. He was on his Geist Twin deck again, and sitting at X-1. I told him about my match with Larry, and he agreed with all of my posits. I told him I was exhausted, and was strongly considering dropping at X-1 to go to bed. He told me to suck it up and get some food from the vendors.
Round 7 – Matt Delaurier (Affinity)
Matt didn’t mulligan to five or discard cards to hand size this match, but he did equip a Cranial Plating to an Etched Champion. Twice. And I did not find an Ancient Grudge. Sometimes that’s just the way the cookie crumbles. Affinity is a good deck. I think the matchup is very good for Twin, but I didn’t draw any of my good cards and he did.
We’ll return to that thought shortly.
Round 8 – John Wasson (URW Twin)
Did you guys see that part where I mentioned talking to John and then we ended up playing each other in the penultimate round? Man, that was great.
John was bent on redemption, and I was bent over from sleep deprivation and a gut-wrenching pain from the terrible roast beef sandwich I had eaten about an hour ago. Curse you, Wasson! I managed to embarrass myself by throwing two-point-five cards away to an Eiganjo Castle, because it was far away and I couldn’t be bothered to read the card. Apparently, it prevents TWO damage to a Legendary creature. As if Geist weren’t hard enough to kill. I laughed it off, because what else could I do, and then John rolled me in game 2 as I again was forced to play the game on his terms rather than my own. John took the match, bringing our personal records to 1-1. I think I’m still ahead despite the numbers.
At this point, I sought out friend and aficionado of all things palette David “Web” Ochoa, who I could tell by his sullen demeanor had also just fallen to X-3. He told me in no uncertain terms that it was “time to hit the bar.” Though I had planned to play out the remaining round in the main event, I couldn’t just let the man drink alone. The two of us headed to Armsby Abbey to hold down the fort and hold up the bar while our compatriots completed their conquests in cardboard. About 15 of us made a raucous evening of it after the end of Day One. Dave changed his plans because he was having such a merry time of it, and crashed with us for the evening. We awoke on Sunday and headed back to the scene of last night’s crimes against sobriety, and began our day with a delicious brunch and beverage.
Adam Van Fleet, the third in the car with Bryant and me, had made Day 2, and Bryant was planning to leverage his skill at Legacy in the side events. Between the two of them, I realized it was looking like I’d be at the site for hours before hitting the road. This seemed like a poor decision given the number of Syracuse players available to bum a ride from, so I sought out transportation elsewhere. An enterprising gentleman by name of Casey offered a spot in his car, and I took the offer. We hit the road around 4, and headed back to New York.
About 15 miles outside the New York border, I awoke in Casey’s back seat to a buzzing from my pocket. It was Bryant. I answered hello, and he greeted me with “You have my car keys.” A three-hour bonus to our five-hour drive was now staring us in the face, as we made a questionable U-turn and headed back to Worcester.
A fitting end to a disaster of an event, though the rekindling of old friendships and the reinforcement of current relationships was of far more interest and value to me than the Grand Prix itself. I choose to look on the bright side.
I think the problem with the list that Corpora and I ran this weekend was that we cut three cantrips from the maindeck and replaced them with spells that don’t draw cards. A large portion of the games I lost were in places where I lacked any kind of library manipulation. I was left enslaved to the cards I had in hand, and had to make it work despite the difficulty. I ended many games with extra Twins or combo guys in hand, as those were basically dead cards whenever I wasn’t winning on the spot. I think that despite the fact that you want to have varied situational answers in the main, you’re really giving up a significant advantage when you reduce the velocity of the deck by cutting 1-mana cantrips. In the grand scheme, running a more focused game-1 deck with a higher concentration of draw would be better overall, since it also gives you a higher probability of hitting your board cards in post-board games.
Problem: Serum Visions is an awful card. It seems like that’s not the case, but every time you shuffle your deck with a Fetchland, you want to rip a Serum Visions in half. There is no solution. You have to run the card.
Hypothetical: You have 3 mana (on turn three) and on the opponent’s turn your opponent is forced to leave mana up because they could just die to the combo otherwise. You don’t have the fourth land, but you’ve already used a cantrip in the first two turns and you have Snapcaster Mage. You want to be able to punish them by playing an Ambush Viper that helps you hit your fourth land drop, but you would like your cantrip to do something more than just cycle for 1 mana. There are basically no options. A Gatherer search for 1-mana blue instants that draw a card returns a giant LOLCat with his tongue out.
What I wouldn’t give for an Opt in the format.
Because of this difficulty, you’re forced to consider other options. I’ve been considering Telling Time as a supplemental card selection spell for a while, and I think it may be in consideration over the fourth Serum Visions, at least, and likely over the Vapor Snag. I’ve gone back and forth with Jon quite a bit about how underwhelming I felt the Snag was, and how I want to put a second Cryptic in its slot. I have no further Modern events this summer, and Jon continues the PTQ grind, so ultimately its his call. The two of us agree that Shackles ended up being hot garbage, and we’re very glad we found some to borrow instead of sinking hard-earned dollars into them. Explosives was pretty ok though.
In light of the results from the GP, I maintain my assertion that UR Twin has all the tools to be the best deck in the hands of a prepared pilot. I’m regressing toward the mean in my personal match results, but that has little bearing on the viability of the deck itself. The combination of a combo win with some of the best removal/reach in Modern is a deadly pair, and Blood Moon can still just beat decks by itself. The better the opponent, the more difficult some matchups can be, but that’s the way Magic is supposed to work.
Get out there and PTQ while you still can, and if you’re in Worcester I recommend the Croque Madame paired with the Weihenstephaner Hefeweissbier Dunkel. The eggs were a little overdone for my taste.