Recurring Nightmares – Splinter Cell

In the past few weeks I’ve received a number of emails, Tweets, and Facebook messages wondering what I think about Modern in the face of the impending Grand Prix, whether or not I’d play the list from my recent PTQ win, and how to sideboard with said list. For those of you who missed it, you can find a report of that event here, where I played the following:

I tend to think of deck lists as snapshots in time of the 75 cards I want to play for a specific event, though there are parts of a deck that are typically found across a number of those events. In other words, some parts define the core strategy of the deck, while others are meant to fine-tune it for the specifics of what you expect to play against in a given tournament. Finding the core you want to play is the part of you that represents a deckbuilder. Finding the last 10 slots is the deck tuner in you.

Obviously I didn’t come up with the strategy of UR Twin, my contribution to this list is as a tuner. I’ve given Owen Turtenwald most of the credit for this deck list, as he was the person who inspired me to play Twisted Image, and it all snowballed from there.

Let’s begin with the changes to the deck that I’d make after the event I played in. First, and absolutely primarily, I WOULD NOT play 3 Keranos, God of Storms in the sideboard of this deck. I’ve said this a number of times but continue to get questions on it—Keranos is good, and I would still play it, but playing three was a specific choice for this tournament that had more to do with testing it than it did with wanting that number. My intent was to play UR Twin throughout this Modern season, and this event was a dry run-through for the list to see if some things were worth using. I had some online testing with Keranos but I wanted more data, so I ran enough that I’d be sure to draw them consistently. Three is too many.

As more players adopt Twin lists based on Owen’s articles, my own, and others who have tested our respective builds, Twisted Image has become more prominent. Along with this, I’ve seen a number of builds running Flame Slash in the main deck to combat Spellskite, Linvala, and Tarmogoyf. I think this is a reasonable decision, and it makes me concerned about running Spellskite in my own main deck, as the mirror is becoming both more volatile for the ‘Skite and less common in general. I’m not sure I’m ready to pull the trigger yet, but Skite may no longer be a reasonable maindeck card.

Having brought up Flame Slash, I think it’s important to note that my play style with UR Twin is rarely representative of how one would expect a combo deck to play. Granted, sometimes you play the do-you-have-it game and go for a turn 4 win, but those opportunities are often worse plays than waiting a few turns to ensure you have backup for the win should they actually have it. Your deck plays almost as many cantrip spells as Storm Combo, though yours have applications beyond the combo itself. This allows you to see a large number of cards per game, and as such you can afford to wait until you have the protection you need. To that end, Snapcaster Mage, combined with these cantrips, allows you the flexibility to get away with running 1-of spells in your deck, secure in the knowledge you can find them and access them when you absolutely need to—and play them twice in a bind. This is why I felt like I could get away with 1 Cryptic, 1 Dispel, 2 Image, 2 Probe, etc., as well as why the sideboard is constructed as it is. I consider this to be a UR Snapcaster deck with a combo win rather than the other way around.

Very few of the cards in the list underperformed, though those that did were played with the expectation of a slightly different metagame than I actually played against. While I didn’t play against Affinity, I would probably still want Ancient Grudge in my board. I didn’t play Scapeshift, but I did expect to, and I would still want Swan Song in that matchup.

If I were to play UR Twin again next weekend in Worchester, here’s the list I would run:

Not too many changes, but as I said, I was very happy with my list.

-1 Sulfur Falls
+1 Desolate Lighthouse

Sulfur Falls is your worst dual land, and though it can tap for both red and blue, it can’t cast Bolt or Image or Visions on turn 1. Lighthouse is a card I very much want to fit into the deck, to help filter through extra chaff in the late game and find you critical spells like counter backup or threats in a tight game. That you can cycle spells to the ‘yard with Snapcaster available makes it doubly desirable. The list can afford one more colorless land, meaning you now have 5 that can’t cast Serum Visions on their own, though the number that can’t do so on turn 1 remains the same. There are still only 2 lands in the deck that don’t produce red or blue mana on turn 2.

-2 Gitaxian Probe
+1 Electrolyze
+1 Flame Slash

Gitaxian Probe was fine, but it is better in RUG Twin (where it pumps ‘Goyf) or Young Pyromancer (where it creates tokens for free). In this deck, it was a cantrip that gave you information, but it wasn’t worth the slot compared to these more flexible spells. Often I’d note that after casting the Probe, my best line would be whatever I had planned to do prior to gaining the information on the opponent’s hand—even when it meant walking the combo into a removal spell! I want the deck to have consistent maindeck answers to Tarmogoyf/Restoration Angel/Scavenging Ooze/Linvala, etc. and Flame Slash fits the bill. Electrolyze allows you to answer multiple permanents at once, and does a reasonable Fire // Ice impression when you’re looking to draw an extra card. It gives you an even better game against Pod, which is a positive matchup in general but has draws that can be difficult. It also represents another card that’s good in the mirror, which is something Twisted Image or Probe cannot claim.

-1 Flame Slash
+1 Relic of Progenitus

This was the last card cut from the previous sideboard, and moving the Flame Slash to the main deck frees up a slot to add Relic back into the 75. The ability to mitigate some of the advantage of opposing Snapcaster decks, Past in Flames decks, and other graveyard shenanigans is apperciated. It also helps to marginalize the size of a Tarmogoyf, and combined with Twisted Image can actually kill a ‘Goyf for zero cards (as both spells cantrip)! It’s a lot of bang for a very small buck.

-1 Keranos
+1 Batterskull

As outlined above, I think this is the ideal split. I could see an argument being made for a 2/1 split either way, but I’m happy with four of this effect (a high-cost resilient threat).

Before giving you a sideboard guide, I’ll make the standard caveat: I am a proponent of the “shuffle all 15 cards into your deck and pull out the worst 15” method of sideboarding, and would highly recommend you play enough games with a given deck that you can identify the worst 15 without resorting to a guide.

UR Twin Mirror

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The mirror tends to fall into two distinct game patterns—either one player is far ahead in resources and tempo and can combo off easily while the other player is land/disruption light, or the game turns into a long and arduous attrition battle where the combo is not as relevant since both players have effective disruption. With this board strategy, your goal is to be prepared for either contingency by playing for a long game, where Keranos will give you a personal Howling Mine.

RUG Twin

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Similar to the true mirror, but Blood Moon becomes an additional trump. Remember the first four changes, you may see them often. Kiki-Jiki is an expensive and vulnerable win condition, and it gets boarded out wherever the answers are cheap and plentiful. Pestermite dies to almost everything, so the same applies there.

URW/URW Twin

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These matchups aren’t exactly the same, but they do run many of the same cards. Blood Moon is effective in both cases. Generally you’re using it to limit their ability to play multiple spells in a turn (for example, playing a threat and leaving up counter mana), rather than trying to lock them out, but that does happen. Batterskull and Keranos are both effective win conditions when your opponent can’t remove them and protect themselves at the same time.

Melira Pod

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You’re well prepared for this matchup. Twisted Image on a mana creature turn 1 is so good against Pod that you actually feel ashamed when you do it. It’s astonishing how many of their draws fall apart when you can pull off that opening. If you can’t, you have a slew of spells that are crippling for them, from spells that wipe their board of creatures to spells that cut off their mana. I tend to board in Combust despite its disadvantages because their plan A against you is invariably Linvala, and Combust will always answer her. Keranos works overtime in this matchup, picking off threats turn after turn. I’ve had opponents take Keranos with Thoughtseize when they see it next to Splinter Twin, because the card is that bad for the Pod opponent.

Jund/BG

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You’re unlikely to get the combo off through all of the disruption they play, so your best bet is to either stick a topdecked threat they have a tough time answering, or race them with burn. Keranos and Batterskull are both good at this. Blood Moon is not perfect in this matchup, especially if they run enough basics to support it themselves, so play that as you see it. It does turn off any manlands, and will limit their ability to play more than one thing per turn, much the way you use it against URW. Worth noting—Keranos kicks the tar out of Liliana.

Affinity

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You have a lot of removal for their creatures (even Image is good—see: Signal Pest, Ornithopter), and you have the A#1 trump in Ancient Grudge. Blood Moon isn’t especially good against them when they play a bunch of colorless spells, but it does “kill” 8 of their creatures. Batterskull is only here to mop up in case you get behind before you stabilize.

Storm/Ad Nauseam

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Admittedly, you are underprepared for this matchup. Not woefully so, but nonetheless you’d rather not play against these fast combo decks if possible. The best bet is to try and disrupt them, looking to use your combo creatures to stumble their mana early and get in fast attacks. You are a tempo deck here, not a control deck.

Tron

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Tron lists vary depending on the colors they play, but for the most part you know two things: First, Blood Moon is always good against Tron. Second, you can buy a lot of time with Remand as long as Tron is not a factor. So, your plan is to race them. Tapping down a land on turn 3 when they would otherwise hit Tron is a perfectly viable play, and continuing to do so to keep them from exploding with mana can lead to a window for the combo. If they don’t have Karn, Keranos is difficult for them to kill.

Burn

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This is a more difficult matchup than I’d like to admit. You’re going to have a close game 1, and often the difference between drawing a Pestermite or an Exarch can be the clincher. Post-board, it clearly comes down to Batterskull, and your goal is to leverage your Bolts and Remands in a way that commits the opponent the most to giving you time to set up the ‘Skull. Remanding a suspended Rift Bolt is fine, because it commits the opponent to either paying a full turn’s mana or another turn’s time into the spell. Getting that extra look off a Goblin Guide before you Bolt it brings you one card closer to the ‘Skull. Your margins are slim, so take advantage where you can.

I think that covers most of the more common archetypes you may see in a given event. At the least, this should give you an idea of how I approach the metagame, and what my plans are in some similar matchups to the one you have concern for. Your goal is to combo in game one, then convert into a deck full of answers and resilient threats for the post-board games, unless there’s a specific reason to focus on the combo win. Blood Moon goes a long way to solidifying some of your sketchier matchups, and giving you the time to stick a threat that will take the game home.

Good luck, and happy Twinning.
Adam
@AdamNightmare

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