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: