If I told you that my Modern Regional Pro Tour Qualifier (RPTQ) went poorly, it would be an understatement. I registered Jund Shadow with the full playset of Liliana of the Veil main, and after an encouraging 2-0 start, I promptly lost a bunch. It’s one thing to go into a Modern tournament expecting a random outcome thanks to the format’s inherent matchup lottery, but it’s another thing to get a substandard random outcome while playing poorly. And play poorly I did. The things I did with Mishra’s Bauble in that tournament were downright embarrassing, not to mention inexcusable given how much emotional value I had placed on the event. This frustrating experience in self-loathing really drained my motivation to play Modern—moreso than usual. This was troublesome, since half of my next important tournament, the SCG Invitational, is Modern.
Paul Dean to the rescue. I had heard about what people were calling “Twin” decks showing up in 5-0 results on Magic Online, but had dismissed them as random Blue Moon decks getting carried on free Blood Moon wins. Paul posted in the Team Lucas Siow’s Basement group, summoning the eldritch gods of Toronto Splinter Twin, Glenn McIelwain and David Caplan. His offering? Two decks featuring the dynamic duo of Pestermite and Deceiver Exarch had finished the Magic Online PTQ at a 7-1 record. There must be more to it than just Blood Moon cheese, and I figured that I’d be happy to take any bait that let me play with my favourite cards again. It was time to get to work.
But, to successfully build a deck based on an ancient archetype, we gotta start with a history lesson.
U/R Twin – Samuele Estratti, 1st @ PT Philadelphia 2011
This is where it all began: when Ponder and Preordain were still legal in Modern. Wizards unleashed a wild Modern format with a hilariously untuned banlist upon Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011, and the top decks are borderline unrecognizable to the current state of Modern. Atog? Cloudpost? Banefire? Splinter Twin had the killer combination of a consistent finish and just enough disruption to beat up on the other combo decks. It thrived in this nascent format free of effective rock-style disruptive decks. Let’s skip ahead a few years – and a few bannings – to Grand Prix Detroit 2013, where Jund decks ruled supreme.
U/R Twin – David Caplan, 15th @ GP Detroit 2013
This event was a pretty huge success for the Toronto squad, with Lucas Siow’s fantastic Abzan deck carrying the grand majority of the team to various cash finishes just outside of the notably-stacked top 8. Lucas included some spice with a single sideboard copy of Blood Baron of Vizkopa for the mirror, but the real innovations came with David Caplan’s Twin deck. You see, there are Snapcaster Mages and Boomerangs in it. Nobody was playing Snapcaster Mage before this, and Caplan—alongside Glenn, if I remember correctly—brought about a fundamental change in how the deck approached gameplay. Before this, everyone was trying to push the maximum number of Spellskites in their deck, trying to jam the combo into their opponent’s face at all costs. What Caplan realized, however, is that the real strength of Twin lies in your ability to gain insurmountable tempo advantages with the mere representation of the combo. Your opponent would have to leave up mana—usually 2 or more in the pre-Fatal Push era—and you could use spells like Boomerang to create cascading resource advantage in conjunction with the blue creatures gaining advantage.
I played the same list at the tournament to a much more middling 6-2-1 finish, but to this day I look back fondly on casting Boomerang on my opponent’s turn 1 Celestial Colonnade only to Blood Moon them after they replayed it.
U/R Twin – Antonio Del Moral Leon, 1st @ PT Fate Reforged
This result was pretty much the nail in the coffin for Splinter Twin. The lists were finally getting tuned, and despite never being an overwhelming percentage of the winner’s metagame, Wizards decided that it was simply winning too many tournaments and therefore had to go. The enchantment that was a trash bulk rare up until the printing of Deceiver Exarch was subject to the free-swinging banhammer, and Modern became terrible. The next Modern Pro Tour was a hellscape of linear non-interactive decks trying to beat up on the broken Eldrazi decks, whose removal hardly improved the landscape of strategies trying to goldfish faster than their opponents.
Fast forward to 2017, where a world of risky Death’s Shadow decks teeter on the edge, trying to squeak-out an advantage against big mana and linear combo decks by going down to 5 life to end the game with a one-mana 8/8. A world where Blood Moon is good. A world where Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt is a real factor. It’s time. For what? It’s time to Twin.
Building Splinter Twin decks without Splinter Twin is obviously a bit of a challenge, since the reduced power of the combo means that we need to find alternative strategies for the matchups where Twin used to be able to lean on Exarch/Twin to win. There are a bunch of upsides to comboing in the current metagame, however. Lightning Bolt, previously the biggest threat to the Kiki-Jiki plan, is nowhere near as popular as it used to be. Fatal Push is not nearly as effective at beating a Kiki combo as Abrupt Decay was against Twin itself, and Push can’t even interact with you under a Blood Moon. Let’s start by taking a look at the two 7-1 decks from the recent PTQ.
U/R Kiki – Malum, 7-1 Magic Online PTQ
Wow. There’s a lot to unpack here. This list seems to adhere to the Todd Stephens philosophy of jamming random situationally-powerful one-ofs into your deck to hopefully draw them when they’re good. I, uh, don’t adhere to the increased-variance philosophy. This list does, however, give us the opportunity to talk about a bunch of the individual cards that should go into our final list, since it, well, plays one of every card ever.
Cascade Bluffs: Yes, please! Kiki-Jiki and Blood Moon are a natural non-bo thanks to how many basic Islands we want in play. This helps mitigate that in the biggest way possible.
Desolate Lighthouse: Yes, please! There aren’t nearly as many slow matchups around as there used to be, but this card is an absolute house, generating a ton of virtual card advantage in any grindy matchup. It’s worth it despite the difficult mana situations with Blood Moon and Kiki-Jiki.
Pestermite/Deceiver Exarch: I’m not a fan of any split that favours Deceiver Exarch without Splinter Twin itself in the deck. The 2/1 flying body is vastly superior in almost all scenarios, and the biggest advantage to Deceiver Exarch was the ability to blindly combo off into Lightning Bolt – something we can’t do with Kiki-Jiki. I’d definitely start the full set of Pestermites before considering any copies of Deceiver Exarch.
Torrential Gearhulk: This is my banner on Twitter, so it might not surprise you that I am in fact extremely into this card. A 6-toughness body on a 6-drop is almost impossible to kill in the current Modern metagame, so this has very little work to do to be high-impact. Five Snapcaster Mages is also the optimal number, of course.
Logic Knot: I don’t know why nobody really had this in Twin decks pre-banning. The card is very strong, and I guess people hadn’t really clued into that. We have no other Delve cards, so we might as well take the relative free-roll.
Mana Leak: I never really liked this card in Blue Moon decks because of how weak it is in the drawn-out Blood Moon games where your opponent has a bunch of excess mana. Logic Knot skirts around that issue with its ability to be cast for massive amounts from excess lands. I don’t really want that many 2-mana counterspells in the deck, so Mana Leak seems unnecessary here.
Negate: I think the last time I registered a Twin deck at a Grand Prix, it had 2 Negates in its maindeck (and only 3 Splinter Twins!). This is a different world, however, and I don’t like Negate in a world where tribal Humans is a thing.
3 Remand: Who hurt you?
Electrolyze: With the stock of Lingering Souls and Affinity comparatively low, this card is not as powerful as it once was. I’m still happy to play a couple, however.
Cryptic Command: In the wise words of Andrew van Leeuwen, as long as you can cast a Cryptic Command, you’re not dead yet. Given that we’re trying to take most games long, this card seems pretty essential, especially with its ability to bounce our 5 Snapcaster Mages. My only reservation is that it’s difficult to play under Blood Moon in a deck that also wants to generate triple red.
Engineered Explosives: I think this is more of a sideboard card if your deck doesn’t have any interesting ways of interacting with the Artifact card type. If Humans picks up even more, however, it’s something to keep in mind as a maindeck card. I would also want a single Stomping Grounds in the deck so that we could kill Lilianas with it.
Search for Azcanta: Ooh, baby, that’s spicy. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have any catch-up mechanics like Supreme Verdict out of the U/W shells that love this card, so spending our early turns on a scry engine is likely to spell doom. Also, the second half of the card kinda doesn’t work under Blood Moon, which makes this probably not much better than Desolate Lighthouse.
Spreading Seas: Alongside Blood Moon, this is almost a piece in a hard lock combo. I’m into it, but just like with Search, I’m not sure I want to be spending my early turns doing stuff like this instead of interacting with their spells.
Dead//Gone: Just play Boomerang and get it over with if you wanna do stuff like this.
Relic of Progenitus: The reigning king of graveyard hate in Snapcaster Mage decks. I’ve been a fan of Leyline of the Void recently, but in a slow strategy like this one, the versatility of Relic of Progenitus outweighs the high variance and high power of a Leyline. I wouldn’t register a U/R deck without at least two copies of this card in my sideboard.
Vandalblast: If we’re not playing Stomping Grounds, then we can’t play Ancient Grudge, but I’d much rather play something like Ceremonious Rejection in this slot for its many applications elsewhere in the metagame.
Pyroclasm/Anger of the Gods/Izzet Staticaster: Each of these cards is better against specific decks. Pyroclasm is stronger against the fastest decks, like Burn and Affinity, where the other options might lag behind. Anger is an all-star against Kitchen Finks and Voice of Resurgence decks, with the added value of being excellent against Dredge. Izzet Staticaster is like a hard lock against Affinity, Infect, and Elves. Make a decision based on what kinds of decks you’re expecting, and just play more Engineered Explosives if you’re unsure. Pyroclasm is the worst of the bunch, for what it’s worth.
Roast: Weak, but reasonable card. I like playing a Dismember instead of having to rely on double Roast because of how good it is with Torrential Gearhulk.
Vendilion Clique: Why is the best-designed Magic card languishing in our sideboard? This card is so excellent in Twin strategies. It does everything we could ask it to do, but is always held back by its awkward spot in our curve.
Jace, Architect of Thought/Pia and Kiran Nalaar/Batterskull/Keranos, God of Storms: Well, these are the four Blue Moon threats that everyone plays. I’m partial towards Pia and Kiran Nalaar over Jace because a lot of Shadow decks have Dreadbore in them. I’m also not a fan of Batterskull since the printing of Kolaghan’s Command, and Keranos just hasn’t aged very well. The format is much too fast for an effect that slow. There’s a soft spot in my heart for Thundermaw Hellkite in a build that would otherwise be low on answers to Lingering Souls. It’s also the fastest kill out of all of these cards.
U/R Kiki – teamCHB, 7-1 Magic Online PTQ
This deck is mostly more of the same, but with, uh, fewer one-ofs. It also has the full stack of Serum Visions and a pair of training wheels–I mean Peeks. A truly powerful magician doesn’t need to look at their opponent’s hand, after all. They’ve already read deep into their soul to, uh, see what cards they’re holding. Anyways, I much prefer Opt as my cantrip of choice in a deck like this that actually wants to play at instant speed. In interactive mirrors, having access to a turn 3 that can either be Pestermite, Snapcaster Mage into Opt, or Vendilion Clique presents a powerful decision tree that can potentially throw off an opponent’s pace of play if they opt (sorry) to play around one of the single creature lines. Say they hold up removal for the expected Pestermite, then all of a sudden you present a threat on board that also casts an Opt for free. If they burn their removal spell on your guy, then the path is free for you to combo, or Vendilion Clique for a quick clock in the air. If they continue to hold onto their Terminate, then you’ve just gained a significant tempo advantage. Ah, Twin, I’ve missed you. Anyways, Serum Visions is better than Opt, but this is one of the rare decks that can truly take advantage of it being an instant.
This deck also plays a card that’s always been a part of Modern’s identity to me: Spell Snare. There was a period where Spell Snare was weak, thanks to the prevalence of Delve threats and the absence of Tarmogoyfs. The erstwhile Lhurgoyf is still nowhere to be seen, but Spell Snare’s stock has rebounded in my head thanks to its diverse applications and ability to catch you up on the draw in a format where that’s otherwise very difficult.
Alright, we’ve done our research. It’s time to create a masterpiece.
SPLINTER TWIN, BABYYYY – Daniel Fournier
Take a second to compose yourself. I know that I’d be feeling pretty overwhelmed after looking at a decklist, nay, a piece of art so immaculate and beautiful. Not only is this list aesthetically perfect, but it is also the platonic ideal of a Magic: the Gathering deck. From the optimal splits of cantrips to the exclusion of any bad cards like Deceiver Exarch, this is clearly worthy of a Nobel Prize. The number of Blood Moons is mathematically perfect, and the sideboard has been scientifically crafted to ensure that this deck has No Bad Matchups™.
All joking aside, I do think that this is quite likely the best Blood Moon deck in Modern right now. The other Blue Moon decks either have to dedicate slots to otherwise blank cards in the Through the Breach/Emrakul combo finish, or have no effective way to end the game, which I found over the course of the last few years to just be unreasonable in a deck without Celestial Colonnade. While the threat of the turn four combo will no longer generate an obscene amount of free tempo, it’s quite likely that the new flock of Modern aficionados won’t play optimally against a strategy with this many tricks up its sleeve. After all, they keep acting like they forgot about Twin. Either way, I can’t wait to see how this strategy continues to evolve. Maybe at some point it’ll be time to return to some kind of Jeskai Kiki-Jiki deck with Restoration Angels instead of leaning on the Blood Moon plan. This is the kind of future Modern format that I can’t wait to play. One where all I do is Twin. No matter what.