Going Rogue: Twinless Twin
Hello and welcome back to Going Rogue, where winning isn't the goal but it often happens anyway!
Actually, this is a week about winning, or trying to at leastse.
To no one's surprise, I didn't get any of my B&R wishes fulfilled. But a different interesting thing happened: Modern's supposed flagship combo deck, Splinter Twin got its namesake card banned, and as a result, the deck is now a thing of Modern's past... or is it?
A year ago, folks like you and I were tearing up our Melira, Sylvok Outcasts and Kitchen Finks, momentarily assuming that the banning of Birthing Pod meant the combo-value deck would no longer be. Weeks later, we collectively learned that the deck was just a terrific value party with a powerful combo finish, and that the namesake card was simply the icing on the cake. Thus, Podless Pod was formed.
Well, similarly, UR Twin is by many accounts a combo deck. But it has proven itself post-sideboard as a very successful tempo deck - even with opponents wise to its side-out-the-combo shenanigans. Vendilion Clique and Bolt-Snap-Bolt are still incredibly powerful effects to rely on, so before you throw the baby out with the bathwater, let me present to you: Twinless Twin.
Let's be objective for a minute: the combo isn't dead, it's just powered down. While a turn four infinite army of Deceiver Exarchs is no longer possible, Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker still lets us throw down on turn five.
On the other hand, "a turn slower" doesn't quite sum up the differences between Kiki-Jiki and Splinter Twin. There are several differences, some fairly nuanced, and not all negative, either:
- Because of Deceiver Exarch's fourth point of toughness, its combination with Twin was immune to Lightning Bolt. I cannot overstate how huge this is. It has almost single-handedly been responsible for pushing Bolt copies out of control lists. With Kiki-Jiki, though, the combo is now susceptible to Lightning Bolt and more, including Electrolyze, Izzet Charm, and now Kozilek's Return.
- Two Red mana wasn't often a challenge to come by, but three is a totally different story, especially in a deck that likes to run Cryptic Command, Desolate Lighthouse, and often even splash a third colour.
- A hidden advantage to Kiki-Jiki's fragility is the fact that this makes Deceiver Exarch obsolete, and encourages you to play Pestermite instead. This is a huge upgrade to the deck's tempo and evasion game.
- While three Red mana can be tough to make, this actually lets Blood Moon step up and do more work for you, and justify a better spot in the main board. Two Islands, a Steam Vents, a Desolate Lighthouse, and a Watery Grave? No problem, here comes Kiki-Jiki.
- Kiki-Jiki works on creatures with summoning sickness. In a longer game, you can get to seven mana, rip a Pestermite off the top, and play it and the Kiki-Jiki you were holding, and that's game. This means you can still combo off without needing to hold up mana the previous turn, which will come as a surprise to many opponents at first.
- Finally, and most importantly, the biggest downside to Splinter Twin was the risk of getting two-for-one'd if you had to play it into possible removal. Now that risk isn't there. This means that Kiki-Jiki can be played with less caution, and also more freely for utility with other creatures that benefit from it, like Snapcaster Mage.
In a nutshell, these changes mean you are going to have to work harder to earn a Game 1 victory, instead of simply stealing it with a well-timed Exarch. But the combo is still there, and might even play more flexibly in a deck that is capable of winning fairly.
What's your flavour?
Twin decks have seen success over the past years across colour combinations, with quintessential creatures showing up from each colour to support the build in their own way. With the new changes at hand, which direction ought we to go?
Grixis Twin has been the most popular of these recently, adding black to gain access to disruption like Inquisition of Kozilek, better removal with Terminate and Kolaghan's Command, and Tasigur, the Golden Fang to add pressure and threaten card advantage as a great distraction while you assemble the combo. Despite its performance with the real Twin-shady, I don't like Grixis very much with Kiki-Jiki. Apart from an easier-to-cast Fulminator Mage, it doesn't offer new additions for utility use of creature copying. Additionally, these builds were more control than tempo, and I expect would suffer most from needing to cut down on Cryptic Commands. I'm going to pass on Black for now.
Next, there is straight-up Blue-Red without a splash. This makes your Cryptic Commands more playable in multiples, leaves more room for counter-magic in general, and also makes greedy lands and Blood Moon much easier to work with. A deck full of Pestermites and Vendilion Cliques can do an awful lot of damage while waiting to draw the combo, but falls apart to an opposing Electrolyze or Forked Bolt. Now that I have to wait until turn five to combo off, I think if I want a straight Blue-Red tempo deck, I'll play Delver instead.
Less common, but still reasonably successful, are the Temur Twin, or so-called Tarmo-Twin decks. These versions seek to resolve an early Tarmogoyf and apply pressure while taxing your resources low enough to execute the combo, possibly also with Bounding Krasis. These decks also often run Birds of Paradise, and can accelerate the combo out a turn earlier - so actually, we can still win on turn four if we want to. This is definitely an attractive proposition, and the Goyfs might not even have anything to do with it. Add in the extra mana-access trickery that Green brings and you've got potential. Also, could Oath of Nissa be an upgrade over Serum Visions? I'm keeping my eyes open here.
And finally, Jeskai Twin is rarely seen but did win a major event in 2015. Path to Exile, Lightning Helix, and Village Bell-Ringer are good additions to the classic deck, and come along with White's selection of powerful sideboard cards. Moving over to Kiki-Jiki from Splinter Twin comes with a convenient benefit for this deck, in that it turns Restoration Angel from a powerful beater and value creature into a secondary a infinite option. With a collection of big fliers that all combo with our favourite Goblin, one might even argue that Jeskai Twin got better.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Months of testing will be required to confirm if Twinless Twin is a viable deck at all, let alone which variant is best, but if I had to put my chips somewhere today, I'd be playing White.
URw Twinless Twin
URw Twinless Twin
The end result is a bit of a hybrid between UWr Control and previous Jeskai Twin lists. Unlike UWr Control, we ditch Geist of Saint Traft and take to the skies with Pestermite and Aven Mindcensor. This speeds up our primary strategy considerably, with 25 flying power spread over ten bodies, and 20 points of burn available - all with a combo backup. And unlike Jeskai Twin, we don't play any Deceiver Exarchs, and focus on aerial offence while controlling the ground with a strong repertoire of removal and card advantage.
Some things work out great (like a sideboard Firespout in a deck of mostly fliers), but others a little more awkwardly (like Eiganjo Castle that protects Kiki-Jiki, but not Pestermite.) So even though the list has put up decent testing numbers so far, it is also undoubtedly just a starting point, and only time will tell what the future holds for the deck that defined Modern for years.
I'll be testing and honing this list further over the coming weeks, as well as Green, Black, and straight-UR versions, and at some point will have some observations to report. In any case, I'm optimistic that with a bit of creativity, Twin will live on in spirit.
R.I.P. Splinter Twin.
Until next time, have fun, watch out for Rakdos Charms, and may the force be with brew!