Modern PTQ season is upon us! In today's article, I will go over the Modern metagame and recommend a deck that I think has a good chance to do well in the current environment.
The Current Metagame
Let's look back at how the format evolved over the last few months. The first major event with the current card pool was Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. There was a completely new deck, Valakut, but even more important was that Deathrite Shaman became a staple in Jund decks, making an already strong deck the king of the format.
Most of players realized that Jund was the deck to beat at the Pro Tour, but it did really well despite the target on its head, putting three players into Top 8.
While the Pro Tour was won by Eggs, the biggest winner of the tournament was another underestimated deck: Affinity.
Nothing really important happened at the next event, Grand Prix Lion. Affinity confirmed its presence, putting two players into the Top 8, while the tournament title was won by Jund.
GP Chicago was ruled by a new version of Jund with Lingering Souls. Despite what looked like a marginal change, it affected the whole metagame. Lingering Souls was incredibly powerful versus Affinity, Infect, and even the other Jund decks.
At GP Toronto, the popularity of Affinity and Infect went down, and players had to be ready for Lingering Souls if they wanted to succeed. Scapeshift was a really good choice for the tournament. The most successful version of U/W was the one with planeswalkers, which is well prepared for Jund. If you look at Willy Edel's winning list, you can see many anti-Lingering Souls cards—he switched back to Maelstrom Pulse from Abrupt Decay, and at the top of the curve, he added Thundermaw Hellkite.
So what does Modern look like now?
If you compare today's format with that of the Pro Tour, it has slowed down, and there are almost no counterspells. Jund decks are really focused on being good in the mirror, and the field contains some slower decks that aren't very interactive like G/R Tron and Scapeshift.
What does that mean?
I think off-the-radar combo decks have the opportunity to make a comeback. The most powerful combo decks in the field are Melira Pod, Kiki Pod, Scapeshift, Eggs, Storm, and Splinter Twin. I believe most of these decks will be very good at some point during this season. This is because in general there is no great countermagic like Force of Will and control decks aren't able to handle powerful creatures like Bloodbraid Elf. If you want to succeed this PTQ season, I recommend practicing with most of these decks because no one can tell yet which will be the best choice. For example, I realized that Eggs would be good at the Pro Tour two days before the tournament. If I hadn't been familiar with the deck, I would have had to pick something else.
If I were playing in a PTQ next weekend, I would pick Splinter Twin for the following reasons:
2. Twin is solid against other combo decks since it's fast, stable, and has its own disruption.
3. The Jund matchup isn't as scary as it was before because they are focusing a lot on the mirror match. Lingering Souls isn't good against Twin, and the popularity of Abrupt Decay, which is the most annoying card for Twin, is going down.
4. In general, decks are less ready for Twin than they were six months ago. Last season Torpor Orb, Combust, and even Damping Matrix were popular sideboard cards, while nowadays people simply don't have enough space in their sideboards for these cards.
How To Build Splinter Twin
Despite looking easy to build, there are many versions of Splinter Twin, and I will do my best to highlight the strengths and weaknesses of each version. The deck is built around the combo of a creature that can untap itself when it enters the battlefield (Deceiver Exarch / Pestermite) and a tool to make infinite copies of this creature (Splinter Twin / Kiki Jiki, Mirror Breaker). Most of lists run eight flash creatures combined with four Splinter Twin and one to three Kiki Jiki. I think that's correct since you want to maximize your chance to draw the combo and you often need to find another piece if the first one died.
Four Splinter Twin is a given, but the question is how many Kiki Jiki you should run since five mana is a lot in Modern and often you want to play the combo with a backup card like Dispel. On the other hand, Kiki Jiki can combo against Spellskite and doesn't turn into card disadvantage if your opponent has removal ready like Splinter Twin does. I think right number depends on how many card drawing spells you are playing and your particular gameplan. It's worth considering playing another one in the sideboard for reasons explained below.
Another important part of the deck is library manipulation. Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand aren't powerful like Ponder and Preordain, but it's necessary to be able to find missing pieces, so you have to have a really good reason to run less than four of each. (The only version in which I wouldn't play all of them is the one with Thought Scour.)
I believe all the cards mentioned above should be in all Splinter Twin lists, but there is still space for about fifteen nonland cards, so there are a lot ways to build the deck. Every version needs ways to protect the combo, but putting everything together is the real science.
The first question you have to ask is if you want to splash black for Inquisition of Kozilek and Duress. Inquisition fits perfectly into the deck since it's a very flexible card. It helps you deal with the opponent's answers, including Abrupt Decay, and it also provides you with information about your opponent's hand, which is extremely important for this deck. Unfortunately, adding black also has some disadvantages. You'd like to play Ancient Grudge in the sideboard, and if you do, you will be taking a lot of damage from your lands. Also, you're not going to have as many color sources as you need. If you add black, you will need to play more nonbasic lands, so Blood Moon is not going to be as strong as in pure U/R versions.
In addition, you have to decide if you want to play some bounce spells maindeck. I think it's better to play them in the sideboard because the most important role of bounce spells is returning dangerous permanents like Torpor Orb that your opponent could bring in. I think the best one is Echoing Truth since sometimes you can bounce multiple permanents and overloading Cyclonic Rift is too ambitious.
Your deck also needs a way to deal with creatures since decks like Infect and Affinity can kill you very fast. It's also very nice to kill Dark Confidant in order to stop Jund from gaining card advantage. The first option is to play Izzet Charm, which is extremely flexible, and all three of its modes are very relevant for you. Other options are Lightning Bolt and Flame Slash. In general, Flame Slash is the better sideboard option because it can deal with Spellskite, while Lightning Bolt is somewhat more flexible due its instant speed.
Another question is whether to play Grim Lavamancer. It's very powerful against creature decks with a few removal spells like Affinity, Pod, and Soul Sisters, but it's pretty bad against control and other combo decks. The value of Grim Lavamancer grows with every fetchland you run, and it works well with your discard spells. So in general, I would rather play it in versions with black than in U/R, but more relevant is the expected metagame.
I will show you two versions of Splinter Twin, one with black and one straight U/R. Despite most of the cards being the same, the game plan of each version is different. Let's start with "Dark Twin."
The mana base of this deck is quite wild since it has to support four colors. It runs ten fetchlands and both Watery Grave and Blood Crypt in order to maximize the chance of having black mana. Halimar Depths is a very questionable card. Usually it's better to play Island + library manipulation on turn 1, but the presence of Halimar Depths makes the deck much more stable since you can keep more hands. Also, drawing it instead of an Island in the late game is usually better. The crucial disadvantage of this card is it's interaction with Blood Moon because you need to run as many Islands as possible in order to make it good. This version already played many nonbasic lands, making Blood Moon too ambitious, so I added three Halimar Depths.
The game plan with this version is pretty simple: play a few card draw spells followed by discard and win with the combo. It runs two Dispel and four Inquisition and one Spellskite in order to protect it. Izzet Charm fits very nicely in the deck since you're running 25 lands. Also, Inquisition is bad in a top deck war, so the draw two, discard two mode of the Charm can be very useful. Dark Twin can deal with Abrupt Decay and is also very good against other combo decks because discard is all-star in these matchups. The weaker side of this version is that you take a lot of damage from lands, which is bad against aggro decks, and the absence of Blood Moon in the sideboard is very detrimental to some matchups
Now about the sideboard:
Echoing Truth: This card is very solid against decks that can bring in some hate cards to stop your combo. Typically it's good against decks like Burn, Soul Sisters, and Storm because it's very flexible in these matchups.
Kiki-Jiki: This card might look weird, but post-board games are somewhat slower and five mana isn't as big a deal as it is in game 1. It allows you to combo through the opponent's Spellskite, avoids Disenchant effects, and doesn't cause card disadvantage if your combo fails. It's good in longer matchups like Tron, Jund, Gifts etc. It's even more appealing if your opponent plays Slaughter Games since Splinter Twin is the primary target and it's nice to have more outs.
Spellskite: Best card against Burn and Infect.
Pyroclasm: Great answer against Affinity and Soul Sisters. It's also nice against Haunted Zoo, since it can deal with Geist.
This is the version I'm currently using on Magic Online. It acts a lot like an aggro-control deck, playing Lightning Bolt, Snapcaster Mage, and Remand in order to stabilize the board. Don't get me wrong, most of your wins will come from the combo, but the rest of the games will be very different compared to "normal" Twin. For example, your plan against Jund is to kill early drops with Lightning Bolt, play Snapcaster Mage or Pestermite, and start attacking. It's kind a tough for them to deal with this plan since if they tap out for their own creature like Bloodbraid Elf, you can punish them by winning with the combo.
Thought Scour fits very nicely in the deck because it works extremely well with Snapcaster Mage / Lavamancer; the possibility of milling Ancient Grudge in post-board games is also very nice. With this version, games goes usually a little bit longer, and you have a lot of library manipulation, so four Splinter Twin and one Kiki-Jiki seems right.
If you look at the sideboard, the all-star there is Blood Moon because the deck runs a lot of basic lands and you can kill the opponent's mana creatures like Deathrite Shaman with Lightning Bolt. It's very good against Jund, Tron, Gifts Control, and some versions of Pod.
Negate is very good card in control matchups. This is because you are not in hurry in most of them and having another hard counter in matches versus Tron and Storm is priceless.
Combo decks will be important players during this Modern PTQ season. Most of these decks are very difficult to play, so it's important to get practice with them if you want succeed. I think Splinter Twin is very well positioned in the current field because it's somewhat under the radar and many decks aren't ready enough for it.
That's it for today. Thank you for reading, and I wish you good luck this season!