Today I will present the first of two articles about my experiences with a tempo oriented version of the Modern Splinter Twin deck and its development.
My name is Patrick Dickmann and I’m a 24 year old student living in Cologne, Germany. I got back into Magic in April 2010, played two Pro Tours (Nagoya 2011, finishing 25th, and Philadelphia in 2011, where the tournament was over for me at the end of the first day of competition), as well as a few GPs – finishing 25th in Bochum 2010. During the last two years I played more and more Magic Online under the username “Ofelia” and almost exclusively played online from there on.
Everything Has to Start Somewhere, Sometime
The decision to play Splinter Twin was actually based on availability. Back then I thought of it as a decent choice for daily events with a relatively low initial investment. At that time I was by no means an expert and just took a stock list with slight adjustments. For reference, here is what I used to play:
I got decent results with what I called “All-in Twin”. I could have just stopped there but I actually got quite some satisfaction in playing Twin. It was not the games that I easily won with a turn 4 combo that made me enjoy what I was doing, but those where I was victorious despite them having plenty of solutions. I was soon sick of running my cards clumsily into my opponents’ removals while having to hope for the best. And in this case, hoping for the best was in a way having more protection than they had removal, which became increasingly difficult with the rise of Jund as well as the rise in popularity of Abrupt Decay.
The journey towards Tempo Twin began in small steps. With an increasing amount of experience, I was less and less excited to end games as soon as possible and instead went for the long game. At that time I was able to establish my own take on the traditional game plan. I came to realize that constantly threatening a combo attempt was much more powerful than actually going for it most of the time. It was simple. By delaying the combo by a turn it was possible to restrain about three of your opponents’ mana sources each and every single turn and to force an unpleasant decision upon them: “Do I trade a precious removal one for one with a Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch?” If the answer is “Yes!”, just play another Exarch and once they run out of removal, you win. However, if the answer is “No!” you take a toll on their life total. Back then all of my opponents had a tough time beating this strategy. The more I refined my new game plan, the more I understood that the deck in its current form was not suited to playing the game I was looking for.
A few brainstorming sessions with Philipp Leube, who is a good friend and testing partner of mine, led to a new era and the first take on “Tempo Twin”.
At the end of 2012, I was excited to participate in the PTQ season as the format was modern. I felt well-prepared and one or two steps ahead of the meta. I gave my decklist to German pro and friend Andre Müller a few days prior to the first PTQ on December 22, 2012. This is what I ended up playing:
Tempo Twin put both of us in the top 8. We were almost the only Twin players in the tournament. I ended up losing the 75 cards mirror match in the semi-finals and although Andre was unable to take down this qualifier, he repeated his run a week later and took down the next PTQ. The finals of the second PTQ was a Tempo Twin mirror, as the deck’s popularity was rapidly growing in the German Magic scene.
Andre followed my suggestions and added a Cryptic Command for a Remand as a powerful “catch all” card, as well as a Combust in place of the third Ancient Grudge to combat the anticipated Twin mirrors.
Let me sum up what made this raw form of Tempo Twin different from traditional Splinter Twin decklists:
1) Snapcaster Mage was a novelty that the archetype had not seen before. I can say with confidence that this card has become the bread and butter of the deck and my whole game plan. It is an efficient, highly versatile source of card advantage to draw out games and represent a clock at the same time. Furthermore it is a powerful, free target for Splinter Twin and will spell disaster for your opponent almost the same way a successful combo attempt with an Exarch does. However, to make Snapcaster Mage the beast it has become, further alterations had to be made.
2) Lightning Bolt is easily one of my favorite Magic cards. I find burn spells to be marvelous as they represent both a solution and a threat at the same time. Countless games have been decided by a series of Lightning Bolts and Snapcaster Mages. This package is responsible for the majority of successes I have had thus far, as most of the modern mana-bases (especially true for Jund) are very painful and it’s rather easy to close out a game with Lightning Bolts when your opponent sacrifices a quarter of his life total to fetch-lands, Thoughtseizes and Dark Confidants.
3) Cryptic Command, although a relatively late inclusion, has become another cornerstone to me and often my whole strategy revolves around valuable hits with it. Cryptic Command serves multiple purposes and is basically never a dead card as it will, in the worst case, tap their guys and buy another turn (remember that the combination of an Exarch, a Kiki-Jiki and 7 mana can win the game on the spot, so you are basically never drawing dead) and, in the best case, wins the game outright by the card advantage it provides (see my quarter finals at GP Antwerp for reference). It is easily the strongest all-round card in the format.
I had another three top 8 appearances over the course of the season and was more than devastated to see a lot of players having success with my deck, while I came short. At this time I started to doubt my ability to actually win and get back on the tour. Philipp managed to build me up again, convincing me to push forward, and after another brainstorming session joined by Canadian Twin veteran and friend Alexander Neufeldt, we arrived at the first form of what I would call a masterpiece.
I signed up for the last PTQ of the season (Magic Online this time) and after a convincing 8-1 in the swiss part, I lost yet another final at 6:30am. Yes, I was disappointed, but this time I absolutely have to blame the Magic Online schedule. For us Europeans, online PTQ’s don’t start before 4pm (8pm in this specific tournament), so I ended up losing two games that I absolutely should have won. I was not in a condition to play anymore and threw both games away due to miss-clicks while being in a very favorable position.
Numerous very important developments found their way into the deck this time:
1) Peek / Vendilion Clique: I ended up relying way less on combo kills than I had anticipated. What was initially a method to pave the way for a safer way to combo had become a whole new, reactive game plan. Primarily, these two cards provide the necessary information to formulate your strategy. Peek got the edge over Gitaxian Probe, as it is an instant and therefore you will not only get to see an additional card most of the time but also have another efficient way to make use of your Snapcaster Mages at the end of your opponent’s turn. Your life total is probably your most precious resource when playing Tempo Twin. You will often receive quite a beating before taking control of the game, therefore paying the Phyrexian mana costs for Gitaxian Probe would not be an option most of the time. Vendilion Clique does everything Tempo Twin can wish for. Not only does it provide information and degrades your opponent’s hand, but even more important to me: it does cycle excessive copies of Splinter Twin or whichever card is of no use to you at the time, while also representing an extremely effective threat.
2) Tectonic Edge: Okay, this one raised quite a few eyebrows. To understand why I included this card, one has to understand that my game plan had nothing to do with a traditional Twin deck anymore. Tempo Twin tries to trade as much as possible until you take over the game due to superior card selection and card advantage mechanics. I lost an upsetting amount of games to manlands, as I could hardly afford to deal with a Raging Ravine and, even worse, Celestial Colonnade. Furthermore, Tron has been a popular deck for quite some time now, and although a fast Tron goes under Tectonic Edge, chaining a Remand into a Tectonic Edge actually timewalks them twice. Finally, Tectonic Edge combines very nicely with the Exarchs and even Cryptic Command by bouncing a land and an option of choice to really pressure your opponent’s resources.
3) Desolate Lighthouse: I wasn’t always a fan of this card. It was not until Alexander Neufeldt almost forced me to give it a shot that I put it in for a few test games and never looked back. I was a fool not to have included it before. Twin’s 2-coloured mana-base is very stable, so playing a few utility lands is perfectly fine and in my opinion actually absolutely necessary to keep up. I’d say 3 is the slightly greedy variant, while 2 is super safe – all based on 23 lands. Games often end up in a stalemate where neither player wants to tap out first. Being able to sculpt your hand the way you want to, all while leaving counter mana up, is extremely valuable. Another common situation is an excessive battle against Jund, where both players are left with no cards in hand and about 5 lands. Being able to dig for useful cards in this situation has won me a lot of games. Desolate Lighthouse‘s ability is game-changing in a lot of matchups.
4) Batterskull: I enjoy saving the best for last. Batterskull has become my answer to specific Twin related hate cards. I don’t try to deal with them anymore. Instead, I ignore them and focus on resolving an extremely hard to kill threat instead. One quickly realizes that in a world with an abundance of mana, Batterskull is absolutely unstoppable. That’s great! I will go for the longest game possible, anyway. Batterskull is a beast on its own but once you combine it with your creatures, especially the flying ones, victory is one or two attacks away, all while leaving you with an extremely large blocker and a nice amount of extra life points.
Although I was unable to take down a qualifier in the end, the PTQ season was obviously a success.
The Road to Antwerp
I was content with the list we arrived at and proceeded to dominate most Magic Online dailies for the next few months. With no incentive to make further alterations, deck development stagnated for a while.
This stagnation came to an end a few weeks prior to GP Antwerp. Tempo Twin had become relatively popular online and by now modern was definitely my favorite format. Theros had just been released and several cards caught my attention. Destructive Revelry and Swan Song offered unique effects, but in the end Destructive Revelry, although a perfect fit for the tempo/aggro-based strategy, fell short to Ancient Grudge due to the lack of enchantments in the format. Swan Song, on the other hand, had a lot of applications. Having an answer to everything, from Thoughtseize, over Cryptic Command and up to Splinter Twin, is definitely useful. Unfortunately there is no easy way to compensate for the downside. A 2/2 flying body implies a 2 for 1 trade, which is just bad.
Several cards rotated in and out. After further brainstorming sessions, I ended up with my final decklist:
No revolutionary improvements, but numerous small changes that worked out decently.
1) Izzet Charm was Alexander’s suggestion. I had several test runs with it in the past and always cut it right away as it was too expensive to be effective. But when he suggested it again, things had changed. Birthing Pod, Liliana of the Veil, Deathrite Shaman and several other cards demanded a permanent solution. Lately all three modes of Izzet Charm have been very helpful.
2) Grim Lavamancer has always been a staple for me but lately it became a cornerstone to combat Birthing Pod decks, Jund and many others, which is why I decided to main deck 2 copies with access to a third in the sideboard.
3) Molten Rain came to mind when I was testing Destructive Revelry due to the 2 damage clause. I used to be unhappy with Blood Moon as everyone was expecting it to come out of Twin anyway and even Tron had a very easy time against it. Molten Rain supports the aggressive strategy by dealing damage and restraining your opponents resources, which is especially important in post-board games. I have been very happy with Molten Rain against UWR, Tron, Scapeshift, Gifts, Junk/Jund and others (check out my finals in GP Antwerp for reference).
By reading this article you have accompanied me through almost one and a half years of modern’s history and several thousand games. I have shown you the origins and the thought processes behind my Tempo Twin deck and I hope that you have enjoyed the ride. I came close to a few big finishes but in the end fell short, which didn’t keep me from constantly refining the deck. I want to thank Philipp Leube and Alexander Neufeldt once more for their continuous support, as without them I would have missed out on quite a few cards that now carry their weight in gold.
I will be back next week to report on my experiences at the largest Modern GP thus far and give a few insights on matchups. Hoped you enjoyed the article!