Modern Deck Breakdown: Splinter Twin
The tier 1 deck I want to look at this week is Splinter Twin.
At it’s core this is a combo deck, and a good one at that. There are several possible builds of twin varying from the first “all in” twin list that Samuele Estratti used to win Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011, to the recent “Tarmo-Twin” list that Patrick Dickmann used to top 8 Pro Tour Born of the Gods last year.
Estratti maxed out on most of its combo pieces and protection, while Dickmann used the power of Tarmogoyf to beat down when he was not winning with the combo.
The list we will be breaking down today will be somewhere in between these strategies, loosely called “Tempo-Twin”. At the end I will explain how to beat this deck with specific cards or strategies, but first, the deck list.
2 Deceiver Exarch
4 Young Pyromancer
Noncreature Spells (30)
4 Splinter Twin
4 Serum Visions
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Treasure Cruise
4 Gitaxian Probe
2 Cryptic Command
2 Twisted Image
1 Spell Pierce
1 Pillar of Flame
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Arid Mesa
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
2 Sulfur Falls
2 Tectonic Edge
3 Blood Moon
2 Anger of the Gods
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Keranos, God of Storms
1 Flame Slash
1 Spell Pierce
Tempo-Twin is an intricate deck that aims to combine Splinter Twin with either Deceiver Exarch or Pestermite. When the deck is not winning with the combo it uses Young Pyromancer to play offense alongside all the elemental tokens he makes.
A strategy I like to use when playing this deck is if it looks like the Pyromancer has game one shored up, then even if I have the combo, I will not use it and save it as a surprise for game two when they sideboard expecting a Delver of Secrets deck to be sitting across from them.
Card by Card Breakdown
2 Deceiver Exarch, 4 Pestermite, 4 Splinter Twin
This is the main combo of the deck. Winning the game is an easy proposition after you resolve twin on one of these creatures. I wouldn’t consider running any less than 4 twins and 6 of the others. One could run Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker as an additional splinter twin but this deck does not care to much about the redundancy because of its other win conditions, and it can do without a clunky five drop that is easy to remove.
Behold! the non-combo power of Young Pyromancer!
This creature is the real deal, probably the best stand alone creature in this deck. The raw card and tempo advantage that this guy gives you is more than some decks can handle, and that is why he is here. There are 25 instants and sorceries in this deck and most of them are cheap and relevant cards making this a great deck to abuse this powerful creature.
The Pyromancer is capable of winning games by himself if he is not removed. He is a four of in this version and running less than four is a mortal sin… or something like that anyway.
4 Remand, 2 Cryptic Command, 1 Spell Pierce
The main counter suite of the deck.
You need these cards to keep and maintain your tempo advantage and to protect your win condition.
Remand is a great catch all soft counter that also draws a card. Remember, don’t be afraid to Remand your own spells to respond to disruption, this may seem non-intuitive or even foolish but remanding your own Splinter Twin in response to a Path to Exile targeting your Deceiver Exarch (which was cast in response to your Splinter Twin) can be the better play.
Cryptic Command is very good at what it does and has several relevant modes that can dig you out of almost any situation.
The reason this deck only wants two is because there are only 20 lands in the deck so getting to four mana on a turn that you do not want to cast Splinter Twin can sometimes be challenging.
The single Spell Pierce is usually good when you draw it early and passable to protect the combo while trying to go off, but you seldom want multiples.
In short, 4 Remand is a must, 2 Cryptic Command is about right, and 1 Spell Pierce is usually where you want to be in most match ups.
Dispel is a card worth mentioning because it can actually protect the combo better than Spell Pierce can, however Dispell has a much narrower application in all other situations. Since we are living in a Birthing Pod world, Spell Pierce is just better right now.
These are the cheap cantrips and card draw spells.
Serum Visions gives card selection at an unparalleled rate in modern, and it is one of the most powerful things you can do on turn one. After that it is a very reasonable card draw spell that you will always be happy to cast.
The new kid on the block is Treasure Cruise, and although it has not had much time to prove itself yet it has already shown up in large numbers in Legacy and Modern, usually as a four of!
Since I already talked about it last week I’ll spare most of the details, but it is best in a deck that has cheap spells to cast to pull ahead when you start to run out of gas. I know that this Twin list will be happy to go on a Cruise, and so will you when you cast it!
I wouldn’t fault anyone for wanting to try Dig Through Time here, but since this is more of a tempo build rather than a pure combo build, I like Cruise better. Whichever one you run, be careful of Remand, it is basically Counterspell and draw a card against Treasure Cruise so do not to let that happen to you.
Gitaxian Probe didn’t make it into my original lists, but because of how well it works with Treasure Cruise, Young Pyromancer, and the combo itself, I believe it has a case for inclusion.
Paying two life for a card and a Peek at their hand is an okay effect for Twin lists anyway, but also getting a 1/1 elemental and helping cast Treasure Cruise later is awesome!
Lastly there is Twisted Image.
This card may seem out of place for those who are not in the know, but trust me it is very good.
At worst it draws a card for one mana, and that is reasonable for any card, but the reason to include this in the deck is it flat out kills several high profile creatures that are in the format such as Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, Spellskite and a few others.
Twisted Image can also slow down one of the fastest decks in the format, Affinity, by making their creature that has a huge Cranial Plating on it look a lot less threatening.
Lastly, when you are the aggressor and you are attacking with a plain Deceiver Exarch, if he doesn’t get blocked, you can switch his power and toughness to deal three extra damage, basically turning this card into a situational Lightning Bolt that can draw a card! Put all of these powerful effects on one card and you have a very solid role player for this version of Twin.
Finally, as part of the removal suite of the deck, Lightning bolt needs little introduction as it may very well be the single most played card in Modern due to its versatility.
It can kill a creature, deal three to your opponent, kill another creature, make a pretty light show, help cast Treasure Cruise, oh, and did I mention it also kills a creature?
Then we have Pillar of Flame. Pillar kind of plays the role of a fifth lightning bolt that can do a little bit more in the right situation.
In addition to killing all creatures with toughness two or less just like its big brother, it also has the added benefit of keeping them dead.
Have a Kitchen finks problem? Cast Pillar of Flame, it will not persist back, and it will not grant it’s controller two life. It has a similar effect on Voice of Resurgence, Bloodghast, and others. This is the best mix of removal I can see running since it is not too much, not too little, and can all go to the face if needed.
Gut Shot is gaining popularity for helping kill a lot of creatures for free, but Twisted Image already plays some of that roll so I am happy to exclude it from this build.
The mana base is pretty straightforward.
There are fetches and lands to fetch for, just be sure to always keep in mind how many fetchable lands are still in the deck, and always leave one Steam Vents in the deck to get with your last fetch since all of them can get that land.
Do not be afraid to grab a basic whenever you fetch.
Use Tectonic Edge sparingly, as there are only two.
Other than that there are no real surprises here. Some lists run a Desolate Lighthouse for card filtering but this tempo build does not need or want it.
3 Blood Moon: This card is a powerful card against most three color+ decks, as it attacks them from a completely different angle than the rest of the deck.
Do use discretion when deciding to bring this in, as the influence it can have on the game can vary much more than most cards. In some games it is an Armageddon that only effects your opponent, and in other games it is of little less use than a Blanket of Night.
Also, if you do decide to board this in, fetch aggressively for basic Islands.
2 Anger of the Gods: Sweepers have been a powerful effect in Magic since the beginning, and in Modern this may be the best nonwhite one.
This comes in against all creature decks that are faster than you like Zoo, Affinity, some Delver decks, and it also should come in against Pod.
Keep in mind this is a nonbo with Young Pyromancer as it will sweep up all the tokens he has earned you so be careful of that interaction.
2 Ancient Grudge: Affinity is a powerful force to be reckoned with, and always having some hate for it in the sideboard is key to building a solid Modern deck.
This card is the only reason to have Stomping Ground in the deck. Because Affinity is so good I would never leave home without at least two sideboard cards against it. I usually also bring in one of these against Pod as destroying a Birthing Pod is always a good thing.
2 Combust: The mirror match up can sometimes be difficult and can boil down to who the better player is, or who drew the better cards.
Combust is aimed at helping you draw better than your opponent, so that even if they are the superior player you still have a chance at winning.
I also usually bring one in against Jeskai Control to kill Celestial Collonade – I’m still not used to calling it Jeskai; is there some unspoken rule that says when Wizards names a color combination that is what it must be called? But I digress.
Any time you feel you cannot win a game with the combo, bring in the God. He is a constant source of card advantage no matter how you look at him. He will draw you past even your largest land clump, and when you are drawing gas he helps you by killing off anything that needs to be killed, or sending a flurry of Lightning Bolts at your opponent’s face.
I usually bring him in against the more grindy decks like Pod, Jund, and Jeskai Control, and sometimes the mirror match as well.
1 Flame Slash: This is nothing special but it is something that is needed. It comes in against any deck where you need a little more removal, such as against Pod, Twin, or Jund.
However, Negate is a little better than Counterspell as long as the spell you want to counter is not a creature. This comes in against the mirror match, Control, and when you are on the play against Pod because you hit 2 mana the turn before they cast their Pod.
1 Spell Pierce: Remember when I said you usually only want one of these? Well when you want more you really need more, so this comes in against Control, Affinity, the mirror match, and against Pod if you are on the draw because if they play a turn one mana dork that you cannot kill, they will cast a Pod that you cannot stop without this card.
1 Spellskite: Rarely can you find a utility card that is as powerful in all it’s applications as this one.
If this was more of an all in Twin list then you can bet that this creature would be found in multiples in the main deck. The things that this creature works against include, but are not limited to; Abrupt Decay, Path to Exile, every three damage spell Burn can throw at you, opposing Twin decks, the entire Boggles deck, and it can block most creatures Zoo can attack you with. Basically if you are all in on the combo you want this creature around, and past that it has many more applications.
All together this deck costs about $800 (about $400 of that is in the mana base).
I will say this now and I will say it again, mana is one of the most important things in Modern, and you do not want to be caught without the appropriate colors to cast your spells, so fetch lands are essential.
That being said, two color decks are the easiest ones to skimp on this rule. Just be sure to put fetches on the top of the shopping list for later. Running this list without fetches makes Treasure Cruise worse, although I do not know by how much. A good guess would be to cut one, but cutting more may be correct without any fetch lands.
How to Beat it
Some of you out there do not like blue, or you think that every infinite combo deserves some disruption.
In any case if you play much Modern you will play against some version of Twin eventually, so it is a good idea to know how to beat it.
It is important to remember that as soon as the Twin player gets to three mana he is threatening to win any turn you tap out by casting one of the two flash creatures on your end step, then untaping to play a land and the deck’s namesake Splinter Twin for the win. So it is important to always leave up counter or removal mana every turn that they could win, this is called respecting the combo.
Unfortunately, there is not much removal that is a slam dunk against the Twin deck because a Remand or Spell Pierce could throw everything off, and if they are the version running Dispel then forget about it. But sometimes they don’t have it or they are ambitious and they go for it trying to force you to have an answer.
In those cases you will get to punish them for being so bold. In the end, although removal is not always great against this deck it is always a good tool to have and the most common one you will usually have access to.
Next there are discard spells like Thoughtseize.
Although not technically removal, discard is one of the best proactive things you can do against Twin (and most other decks) because you get perfect information to know if they can combo or if you can stop it. Then you get to remove the most threatening card you would like.
Other cards look to disrupt the combo in other ways.
Torpor Orb is that kind of card, by stopping creatures with enters the battlefield (ETB) effects in their tracks, this is a great disruptive card that will always work as long as it goes unanswered.
Suppression Field attacks Twin in a similar way by making each copy of their twined up creature cost two mana. Cards like these are worth putting into your side board to help with Twin and select other matches. They do have their flaws though, because all these do is stop something from happening, they give you more time to play more cards, but that is all they do.
Against a version of Twin like the Tempo Twin list above this can be a fatal flaw because they might just kill you like a fair deck!
The last category of disruption only has a few members, with Linvala, Keeper of Silence as one of the charter members.
This group of cards disrupts some aspect of the Twin combo, while applying pressure. Birthing Pod decks do this very well by playing the quiet angel and Qasali Pridemage (in addition to other smaller fun things that it can do).
Splinter Twin is a very good deck and it will usually depend on your meta game what version you should play or expect to play against.
I like this deck a lot and would suggest it to every Magic player, from ones that are new to the game and want a deck that is somewhat easy to learn, to experienced players that like decks that will reward you for outplaying your opponent every time.
Remember that there are a few ways to build this deck, not just the way I have built it, so go out and experiment with it!
Get comfortable with the deck, learn its ins and outs, and you will be able to beat almost every opponent that comes your way!
Come back next week to see what I have cooked up for you, and do not forget to give me feedback in the comments below or through the various other ways to reach me!