Nothing brings a guy out of a writing hibernation more than the rumblings of a new Splinter Twin deck in Standard!
For the uninitiated, Splinter Twin is in reference to an infinite combo deck that originated in Standard all the way back in Rise of the Eldrazi/New Phyrexia. It burst onto the scene when Modern became a format the next year, and from then on it was the most polarizing deck in the game and considered the best deck in Modern by most players. It was essentially a combo control deck that relied on flash creatures, and though the primary goal was creating infinite creatures to win on the spot, it often won through tempo by attacking with Snapcaster Mage and other creatures generally considered embarrassing in combat. In 2016 it was contentiously struck down by the ban hammer in the prime of its life and has since captured the hearts and minds of many players. Still today there are countless articles, podcasts, and even apparel honoring a defunct deck around a card that now sees no play in any major format.
Less than a year after it was culled from Modern, there was an echo of the deck’s former glory in Standard, this time relying on an inconspicuous planeswalker and her army of loyal cats. Like its progenitor, it was unceremoniously banned after it quickly took over the format, but this time the combo still exists to this day as a fringe strategy in Modern.
The Newest Iteration
This iteration of the combo uses the -2 ability of Ral, and then casts Finale of Devastation for x=4. The spell will be copied, and your opponent will take 1 damage because of Ral’s passive ability. With the copy of Finale of Devastation, you then search up Naru Meha, Master Wizard from your library or graveyard, and her enters-the-battlefield ability will again copy Finale of Devastation, dealing 1 damage through Ral’s passive ability. With that new copy, you search for a second Naru Meha, repeating the copy/search process until your opponent is dead or you run out of rope on Magic Arena. As long as you have two copies of Naru Meha somewhere in your deck/graveyard, your combo is immune to creature removal that destroys and if you have three copies you are also immune to exiling effects.
Here’s where I first saw it:
Okay so Splinter Twin ™ is GREAT. We even had t5 kills. @AutumnLilyMTG is great and raided us with like 200 people, and we got to combo kill someone the next match.
Deck here: https://t.co/MEEwSOwj3G
— yoman5 (@yoman_5) May 7, 2019
There’s already one very good combo deck in Standard, so why would we want to play this instead? Well the reasons certainly go beyond nostalgia for better days of Modern. The Nexus combo deck in Standard has some major matchup weaknesses, which may crimp its future success, and I believe that our Wizard Storm deck has a better matchup (at least in theory) against all decks.
The red deck is very fast, and since the Simic Nexus decks have no creatures in the main deck they are often too slow in game 1 to put up a fight. The matchup improves significantly after sideboard when you can sideboard in creatures to block, but starting every match against red behind a game is playing the tournament on hard mode. Our Wizard Storm combo deck has a natural benefit in that Finale of Devastation encourages us to play creatures other than Naru Meha, and the green creatures we are likely to play such as Jadelight Ranger, Merfolk Branchwalker, and Wildgrowth Walker are natural predators of aggressive strategies.
The Simic Nexus decks struggle against planeswalkers that accrue advantage every turn and allow control opponents to find their counterspells and removal spells for the critical enchantment. This is in addition to the static abilities of some planeswalkers that can lock us out from combo’ing while they’re on the board. Even the Mono-Red decks are moving into playing planeswalkers in the main deck to make us more miserable.
Again, the natural predator to opposing planeswalkers and counterspells is to get underneath them with creatures and provide a viable backup plan or pressure the planeswalkers while we set up our main plan.
Thief of Sanity
The Thief is perhaps one of the most warping cards of Standard, and is so good that it has inspired some odd inclusions to combat it. I’ve seen a lot of Simic Nexus players lose to their own cards after their opponents have stolen them with the Thief. Again, a good strategy to oppose this is to shorten the game with our large creatures that pressure our opponent and force them to wrath the board, or we can choose to play some removal spells since our deck is red anyway.
The constant theme between all those improved matchups in theory is the same as the last time Splinter Twin came to Standard. Often, you could win through the backup plan of attacking with creatures, and if your opponent could deal with it then you could likely combo kill them. In fact, that creature strategy was so good that it remained the dominant deck after the combo was banned and then the combo-less version required even more bans to finally kill it. Standard is a format where board presence really matters, and so having a hybrid creature/combo deck provides flexibility.
While Adam Hernandez may have been the first person I saw mention our new combo, in researching this article I found previous mentions on Reddit and even a draft list/playthrough video, which I should also credit.
I’ll try to explain some of their choices and then provide my own deck list.
Jeff Hoogland’s list:
4 Breeding Pool 3 Sulfur Falls 4 Steam Vents 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 1 Forest 4 Hinterland Harbor 4 Wildgrowth Walker 4 Llanowar Elves 1 Fblthp, the Lost 4 Jadelight Ranger 2 Naru Meha, Master Wizard 1 Thrashing Brontodon 4 Merfolk Branchwalker 4 Ral, Storm Conduit 4 Lava Coil 4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 4 Finale of Devastation
Here, Jeff uses the powerful explore package to provide more targets for Finale of Devastation if we are not ready to go for the combo. I especially like the inclusion of Fblthp, the Lost, who acts as a present-day variation of Rogue Refiner, drawing cards and stalling the game. It only gets better if we search it up from our library with Finale. Jeff is only playing two copies of Naru Meha though, which creates the Living End effect where it’s pretty bad if we draw it (as demonstrated in Jeff’s testing). It’s not disastrous though, as drawing it often only delays the combo by one turn and since Naru has flash this risk is mitigated, but it can still be costly in some spots. I like the choice of Lava Coil for removal because it removes Drakes, Phoenixes, and Elephants you might encounter throughout the day. Tamiyo, Collector of Tales seems like a must-include since it allows us to find either piece of our combo or removal, and even our counterspells post-sideboard more easily. In a matchup of attrition, it mitigates discard effects by allowing us to regrow important cards from our graveyard. Llanowar Elves gives us a nice bit of ramp since our combo is 6 mana after all, and provides yet another creature that can pressure the 3 mana planeswalkers that commonly end up on 1 loyalty.
Adam Hernandez’s list:
4 Sulfur Falls 3 Stomping Ground 3 Steam Vents 3 Rootbound Crag 3 Hinterland Harbor 2 Island 2 Forest 1 Mountain 3 Breeding Pool 2 Fblthp, the Lost 2 Incubation Druid 4 Paradise Druid 4 Sailor of Means 3 Naru Meha, Master Wizard 1 Living Twister 1 Biogenic Ooze 1 God-Eternal Kefnet 1 Expansion/Explosion 1 Siren's Ruse 4 Finale of Devastation 4 Lightning Strike 4 Ral's Outburst 4 Ral, Storm Conduit
This version is more all-in on the combo and gets there by ramping as fast as possible, along with the aid of some card selection that finds the missing combo pieces. Incubation Druid provides ramp and a mana sink later in the game, Sailor of Means provides ramp and early defense, and Paradise Druid provides ramp that is resilient to some forms of removal. There’s also a tutor package that can search up silver bullets like a resilient clock, which pairs well with the number of instants we run, a fast clock, and even removal. The Siren’s Ruse provides an extra combo route with Naru and Ral on board while the Ral’s Outburst provides filtering and pairs well with Kefnet. Frankly, if all-in combo is the direction you want to go, then Simic Nexus seems like the better option.
Combining some ideas from these two builds, I would start here:
2 Forest 4 Breeding Pool 4 Hinterland Harbor 3 Sulfur Falls 4 Rootbound Crag 4 Stomping Ground 3 Steam Vents 4 Llanowar Elves 1 Fblthp, the Lost 4 Jadelight Ranger 4 Merfolk Branchwalker 3 Naru Meha, Master Wizard 3 Wildgrowth Walker 1 Thrashing Brontodon 4 Lava Coil 4 Ral, Storm Conduit 4 Tamiyo, Collector of Tales 4 Finale of Devastation Sideboard 1 Dire Fleet Daredevil 2 Biogenic Ooze 1 Goblin Chainwhirler 2 Kraul Harpooner 2 Narset, Parter of Veils 2 Negate 1 Spell Pierce 1 Thrashing Brontodon 3 Shock
Not much different from Jeff’s list, but I would add a third copy of Naru since exile effects can be pretty bad and I would replace one of the Wildgrowth Walker. We still have effectively seven copies of the Walker since we can tutor it up if it’s good in the matchup. I also would like to have another untapped green source on turn 1, so I would play a second Forest.
For our sideboard, I want the Dire Fleet Daredevil, Shock, and Thrashing Brontodon against Mono-Red, Narset, Kraul Harpooner, Biogenic Ooze, and Spell Pierce against the control decks, and Narset, Negate, Spell Pierce, and Thrashing Brontodon against the Simic Nexus decks. The Goblin Chainwhirler is likely to be uncastable, but it is a very important addition to tutor up if we run into a tokens type of build.
I do not know if this has what it takes in a very strong format, but it definitely has the pedigree to be tested. At least it will hold us Splinter Twin fans over until it is unbanned in Modern someday.
How much do you miss Splinter Twin? Do you think this deck has what it takes to break out in Standard? What changes would you make?