Patrick Chapin has written TWO different articles that have changed my perspective on life. That's pretty insane if you think about it... Not two articles "I liked" or anything but two that actually moved me and changed my life in a lasting way. The first one unsurprisingly is his Article of the Year winner Information Cascades in Magic.
In Information Cascades Patrick talks about the value of difference and dissension in critical thought.
Just as you can't get any edge in financial investments if you do the exact same thing as everyone else in the marketplace it is essentially impossible to beat the curve in any other endeavor if you just go with the flow and adhere to "conventional wisdom" in the realms of say marketing or deck selection.
People often ask me why I can't just suck it up and play the best deck like ever. I respond by saying that I basically always try to play the best deck for the tournament but that that deck might not conform 100% to your opinion of what a best deck for the entirety of a format is.
For example it would be difficult to argue that Gifts Ungiven was not the most sustainably successful card of Kamigawa Block Constructed (sorry my man Umezawa's Jitte); but it would be downright foolish to argue against the dissenting deck decision of Critical Mass over the format's final two weeks... which produced a PTQ win for me followed by a Grand Prix Top 8 for my friend Gerard Fabiano the next.
To bring it closer to the present let's assume that prevailing wisdom is that Caw-Blade is the best and that you are playing in a tournament—say a tournament of champions—and this tournament is therefore composed of a disproportionate number of players who are 1) likely to play "good" decks and 2) in particular are predisposed to running a Stoneforge Mystic under the age-old wisdom of "dance with the girl who brung ya."
It is hard in my opinion to justify playing Squadron Hawk in that room... Producing a substantial edge in most mirrors is very difficult (if you work really hard you can get what? 60/40 [unless you are Carlos Romao]?); and a 60/40 (unsecured mind you) probably puts you long run sub-50% if you have to go through say Edgar Flores and Gerry Thompson if you plan to win. Selecting "the best deck" is a decidedly mediocre game plan even if you and everyone else agree on what that is.
Anyway that was one of them.
Can you believe Information Cascades was Patrick's third ever article?
That article of the year helped give structure to something I always thought.
The other life changer was more recent.
It isn't so much anything Patrick wrote himself but a video he linked to that basically got my mind rolling and thinking about things in a totally different way. That is kind of amazing considering I am 35 now... Well old enough to be set in my ways.
Patrick talked about the nature of creativity and how almost all of us are born with the ability to be exceptionally creative. As a father of two young children I have in recent years become passionate about education and ultimately concerned about the development of my little ones' brains. Ultimately I want my kids to be able to hold on to the ability to figure out 200 uses for a paperclip... forever if they can whereas in the past (that is before seeing his video) I would have been more in the conservative camp.
Believe it or not I used to be one of those hyper-literal close-minded conformo-fascists at least vocally. I realize if you know anything about me (Patrick says I am the most contrarian person he knows) this probably seems antithetical to your conception of me but I was also largely the kind of person who would think about achievement intelligence performance and so on in a very limited way.
Now I am all about lateral thinking! I make an effort to celebrate creative capacity at least as much as the math. Patrick followed up the article by challenging us to figure out say twenty ways to deal with Thrun the Last Troll (remember when people thought Thrun was going to be a problem in Standard? Called that one!).
So that is the direction I am going to go in this article.
“There are no bad ideas when you're brainstorming!”
—The Imagination Movers
Do you know how many outlandish things I have done with a Splinter Twin in the last month?
Put Splinter Twin on a Manic Vandal... when I had another Manic Vandal in my hand—this raised a few eyebrows at the time. You're probably scratching your head right now. Why would I do that? My opponent had a Batterskull in hand and a Stoneforge Mystic in play. Playing the Twin on the Manic Vandal was the only way I could keep the Batterskull from you know battering in my skull.
Put a Splinter Twin on Consecrated Sphinx... when my opponent had Gideon Jura in play—obviously he was using Gideon to make all my men attack his Gideon. I didn't want to expose Consecrated Sphinx to Condemn so I played Splinter Twin and sent fake Consecrated Sphinxes into his planeswalker (and some innocent Squadron Hawks). My opponent could have used Gideon's Royal Assassin ability to kill my Consecrated Sphinx but I passed the turn with eight cards in hand repeatedly (and obviously showed I didn't care about the destiny of my card “Splinter Twin”) so he had to keep using the “attack me” ability for fear of dying to a heretofore unseen Deceiver Exarch. I eventually overwhelmed his Squadron Hawks and lived the dream: activating Consecrated Sphinx + Splinter Twin on his upkeep!
Put a Splinter Twin on Trinket Mage... People have been asking me about the weird one-mana artifact package in my Twin sideboard. Do you know how impossible it is to beat a Trinket Mage token that goes and gets Elixir of Immortality every turn and attacks equipped with a Basilisk Collar? It's basically unblockable and leeches for two; meanwhile you're gaining seven per turn. Unless there is some kind of annihilator involved... try getting through that. It is a combo only Jon Becker could love.
All of these Splinter Twin combinations can be snap-considered awful. If someone mentioned them to me I would probably say they are awful. No one would ever build a deck around doing these things... No one rational anyway. But the fact is the presence of lots of 187 creatures in a deck that already profitably busts a Splinter Twin via Deceiver Exarch infinite damage can do creative—and situationally devastating—stuff that doesn't seem like it would be very good in the abstract but can prove next to unbeatable in particular in-game situations. Like how difficult is it for Hawks and one piece of Equipment to penetrate Pilgrim's Eye + Splinter Twin? I'm not asking how ridiculous it might seem to burn a Splinter Twin on a Pilgrim's Eye... I'm asking how difficult it is to break through this (and remember you basically have a personal Howling Mine going as well).
So despite the grave personal risk to YT I decided to try to come up with twenty solutions to the Exarch Twin combination thinking sideways. Can you come up with twenty of your own?
Act of Aggression
Go for the Throat
Into the Roil
Inquisition of Kozilek
Twenty was so easy! I mixed stuff I would actually play have actually played could see other people playing and a little fringe. I didn't even get to obvious things like “two Lightning Bolts” or “a Lightning Bolt and a Burst Lightning” (but you don't really build for that kind of stuff... It mostly just comes up and you run it when you see it).
You can do wild things like the “Phyrexian Opportunities” section things that your opponents might not expect or versatile things. You can meet problems head on or reframe conflicts. For example before the release of New Phyrexia my favorite deck to play online was Mono-White Control (MWC). In fact I crushed many a queue with Pilgrim's Eye grabbling Plains before I switched to Pilgrim's Eye finding my second Mountain. The most common opponent—and the most common victory therefore—was the much-discussed Caw-Blade. Was this a good matchup or a bad matchup? Wasn't MWC kinda sorta just a bad Caw-Blade with no Jace the Mind Sculptor?
That is certainly one way of looking at it but it was more fun to reframe the conflict. How do you beat a Caw-Blade? Most people are mostly concerned with containing Sword of Feast and Famine. How do I keep Sword of Feast and Famine off of me? You can solve that problem (kinda sorta) by attacking on a completely different line.
Pre-New Phyrexia Caw-Blade had a sum total of eight dudes. Maybe they had nine with a Sun Titan but they didn't have that many dudes. How many Mortarpods does it take to kill all their dudes? If Caw-Blade has no Swordsmen then Sword of Feast and Famine becomes moot. How much freaking mana does it take to get Celestial Colonnade + Sword of Feast and Famine online? Sure they have Jace and they have as many as seven manlands and they probably can draw more cards than you but believe me... When you reframe the fight to just kill all of their guys that is a line they might not be thinking about and it really takes a chunk out of their potential game plan.
You can think laterally and do similar stuff in the mirror match. Edgar Flores made it cool to win Caw-Blade battles by using Condemn to focus on particular points in the fight... to make the opponent tap all of his mana and then get a huge advantage on mana by trading one mana for four and a card for a fraction of a card.
After the testing of other decks it became obvious that this strategy could be extrapolated to Disfigures and Doom Blades and maybe even Lightning Bolts. Lots of you are thinking to yourselves “yeah that's obvious” … Maybe it's obvious in context—your opponent is tapping and getting ready for the big fourth-turn Feast and Famine swing—but it might be less obvious to build a deck specifically to take advantage of that turn.
Let's get back to what Edgar made cool specifically. Everybody knows that nobody plays Day of Judgment any more. You know what's cool? Playing Day of Judgment. In the Top 16 of the TCGPlayer event I won David Shiels came back from a horrendous disadvantage by topdecking the card that no one plays—certainly no one sides in in the mirror—to Day of Judgment away four Squadron Hawks an Emeria Angel some tokens some Stoneforge Mystics etc. Shiels eventually won with his Batterskulls.
Anyway let's talk about some of my twenty:
Phyrexian Opportunities: Act of Aggression and Dismember
Dismember is just a card. You can play it in any deck and sometimes it is a Dark Banishing. When it is really cool is when it is a surprise like on turn 3. You tap for a Squadron Hawk leaving up your third land. Your opponent seeing a fish moves in with Deceiver Exarch expecting to tap your last land and kill you the next turn. How sick is tapping for Dismember in this spot?
Act of Aggression is a card on the other hand that you build for. When you play Act of Aggression you have a very specific plan in mind: The goal is to play the card in response to Splinter Twin and win the game yourself.
Point Removal: Go for the Throat Doom Blade and Combust
Point removal cards are obviously good against Splinter Twin. Successfully respond to Splinter Twin with one of these and you nab two crucial cards at the cost of just two mana (yes yes Dismember is also a point removal card but it is tricky rather than consistent).
Go for the Throat is the best of these because it can't be redirected to a Spellskite. When I was building my deck originally I liked Into the Roil because it could target a Spellskite... Not realizing that being unable to hit both could actually be an advantage.
Bounce Spells: Unsummon Whiplash Trap and Into the Roil
I started out with four copies of Into the Roil (of course) knowing that I could potentially fight off anything. While being unable to target Spellskite is an advantage when you're trying to stop the opponent from going off with Deceiver Exarch the flexibility of dealing with Spellskite is necessary when you're trying to go off with Deceiver Exarch yourself. Into the Roil is just the best card you can play... Deals with Jace the Mind Sculptor; bounces a pesky Spellskite; stops the opponent cold while he is trying to go off; heck even draws a card!
One of the first cards I thought of as a sideboard option for the mirror was Unsummon. My thinking was that it was basically an Into the Roil that might not be as great when Into the Roil is great... But is still potentially very good (and in fact good—rather than “great”—in a better way than Into the Roil is good). There is a very “Dismember” feel to this card... You just don't expect the Spanish Inquisition or a one-mana answer to your Deceiver Exarch.
Whiplash Trap is almost a strict upgrade to Unsummon. You don't have the random one-mana “I Unsummon your guy” functionality but in terms of actually breaking up Deceiver Exarch + Splinter Twin this card can't be beat. The cool thing about Whiplash Trap is that it can break up the Twin combo with a Spellskite on the table... all for one mana!
Jace Beleren + One-Mana Discard Spells (Despise Duress Inquisition of Kozilek etc.)
I know last week I said “thou shalt not lose to Inquisition of Kozilek” but obviously you can. I wanted to characterize it a particular way which is fueled by baby Jace. I actually like Jace Beleren more than Jace the Mind Sculptor in a lot of ways. You can actually play baby Jace (big Jace gets you killed much more often). Splinter Twin—at least when you have lots of Jaces to draw out of disruption—doesn't lose to Inquisition of Kozilek but if the disruption deck has Jace advantage obviously discard is going to ruin a day.
Inquisition of Kozilek hits Deceiver Exarch and Jace Beleren but not Splinter Twin. Despise hits Exarch and either Jace. Duress only hits Jaces and Splinter Twin but not Deceiver Exarch. So to an extent it matters which one you have for what stage of the game you are in and what the opponent has.
… But as I said Jace advantage will cure a lot of ills.
Temporary Measures (various)
There are a lot of ways you can just not die to the Deceiver Twin combo on the spot. They can have the combo; they will have it again next turn but for now you're not dead. You have time to topdeck; if your opponent went off early you might be able to stick a big Jace and bounce the Deceiver Exarch (simultaneously kolding a Splinter Twin).
Stuff You Already Had Against Valakut (Memoricide Flashfreeze)
You pack them for Primeval Titans... No reason not to run them up against the Twin combo.
The Much-Discussed Spellskite
This falls under much the same umbrella as Inquisition of Kozilek. Neither one of these cards beats Exarch Twin by itself but if it's next to something awesome Spellskite can shift the baseline paradigm of playing with or against Exarch Twin. Typically the Twin is the fastest deck at the table (infinite damage on turn 4); however other decks can be fast(-ish) too.
Anyway just twenty or so thoughts.