by Corey Murphy
Let’s all begin by reading from the script in front of you…
I played twin combo for _________ years and I have come here today because I did a bad thing. I didn’t know the thing I was doing was a bad thing until Wizards said the thing we were doing was so bad that it needed to be locked up in the same room as other bad things (like JTMS, Bloodbraid Elf, and Stoneforge Mystic). Now that I have been forced to quit cold turkey, I will take the first step towards recovery with a replacement activity. I am here to figure out where to begin.
Joking, of course, but it kinda feels that way, doesn’t it? A large, manufactured dip in the value of our investment feels a lot like a punishment for making the investment in the first place. Imagine if the company that made Surge soda was the same one that decided it was too unhealthy to sell and banned it. Now you’re hooked, Mountain Dew might come close.
Having just traded for the last piece of my Grixis Twin deck on Friday, the thought of going infinite with some Exarchs still makes me twitch. I honestly have mixed feelings, though. While this is a huge loss for me, it could have been much worse (*cough cough* Bloom). Fortunately, the other pieces of the deck are so versatile that EVERYTHING doesn’t suffer. Let’s remind ourselves of a few of the most powerful and versatile non-combo pieces of the deck…
Where Do We Go From Here? (…and without selling kidneys?)
Since we aren’t left with a pile of Amulet Blooms and Ravnica bounce lands, we won’t have too much trouble converting the ruins of our deck into something else. Obviously, our goal would be to do so without a major financial investment. I’ve brewed a couple of alternatives that use many of the Twin pieces and only add some relatively affordable additions. If money weren’t an option, these decks might look different, but these two builds are competitive enough for us to play at an event while we trade for improvements.
In a lot of match-ups, the post board version of the deck where Twins and Exarchs were replaced with pieces like Pia and Kiran, Keranos, or Jace were much better than game one versions. When you attempt a combo and are met with a surprise disruption spell from an opponent, you are functionally walking right in to a two-for-one. Occasionally, you might even have the security Dispel waiting and your opponent might just have a “security-security-Dispel”…ouch, three-for-two. Either way, getting blanked after investing so many resources into this plan leaves you behind in advantage. Now imagine if the combo pieces were replaced by some great value cards instead. I can think of another red 4-drop that seems to be a win condition in itself.
Pia and Kiran has always been a great threat because of its ability to produce flying chump blockers that can also explode for some damage to an opponent. This works best against big dumb creatures like Tarmogoyf or Tasigur but my favorite use of this is to block a Wurmcoil and sacrifice the token before damage to prevent the lifelink. The fact that Pia and Kiran dies to bolt is one of the best and worst things about the card. If it ends up in the graveyard, I am always happy to Kolaghan’s Command it back to my hand and recast. Having not two but FOUR thopters on the table means that I’ve got 8 damage at the ready and this is often near-lethal by the time I am able to do it.
This interaction gave me hope that a Kolaghan’s Command-based midrange deck could be competitive. In this first list, I’ve replaced the Twin Combo pieces with utility and value creatures that often get boarded into the deck in game twos where Twin would come out.
ALTERNATIVE #1: Grixis Midrange
(Click here for MTG Goldfish display)
2-Pia and Kiran Nalaar
2-Tasigur, the Golden Fang
2-Inquisition of Kozilek
2-Anger of the Gods
1-Teferi, Mage of Zhalfir
This deck intentionally uses the same mana base as many of the Grixis Twin decks. That should make for an easy transition as this can be one of the biggest money sinks. It may be something that can be optimized after a closer look but I have had no problems so far in testing.
This includes Desolate Lighthouse which was typically used to dig for combo pieces or pitch un-needed components. In many of the pre-Jace versions of Grixis Delver, Creeping Tar pit was included instead. I like Desolate Lighthouse here because it can dig for threats like Pia and Kiran, fill your yard for delve spells, and works quite nicely with Deprive. The latter is a bit of an odd one. If you are hellbent, the “return a land” clause on Deprive allows you to cycle an extra basic into (hopefully) a non-land via Desolate Lighthouse’s loot ability.
This deck plays a very odd array of creatures. Some of them, like Mulldrifter and Grim Lavamancer, are great hosers to specific strategies. The odds of naturally drawing them in their bad match-ups are low because they are only included in small numbers. When you need them, though, there is a good chance that a Thought Scour put them into your yard to be Kolaghan’s Commanded back to your hand. With 4 Snaps and 3 Commands, you are running a virtual 7 copies of this card that is very much the ‘toolbox engine’ to this deck.
Mainly, I will be looking to add 2-3 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy to this deck. I’m leaning more towards 2 because I like that this deck has an instant-speed response identity that is different from the Inquisition and Thoughtseize versions that run a full four Jace.
I might also want to give Goblin Dark Dwellers a shot (probably in the sideboard) as it can mean additional K-Commands, Terminates, or Lightning Bolts. Again, this card pushes us more towards the “Blue Jund” version as it is another sorcery-speed graveyard tool. I could see 1-2 in the side.
ALTERNATIVE #2: Grixis Delver
(Click here for MTG Goldfish display)
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
3 Young Pyromancer
1 Sedraxis Specter
2 Tasigur, the Golden Fang
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Serum Visions
2 Spell Pierce
2 Spell Snare
4 Thought Scour
3 Vapor Snag
2 Mana Leak
2 Kolaghan’s Command
2 Murderous Cut
1 Blood Crypt
1 Bloodstained Mire
4 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
1 Watery Grave
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Magma Spray
1 Vapor Snag
3 Molten Rain
2 Sedraxis Specter
1 Vendilion Clique
This version is a bit more of a stock Delver deck with the exception of one card, Sedraxis Specter. This card is similar in stats to Clique but the one extra toughness is a big deal because it does not die to a Lingering Souls token.
It does NOT pass the “survives Lightning Bolt rule” but, in a deck where you are playing turn 1 Delver and turn 2 Young Pyromancer, there may not be any Lightning Bolt left by the time you cast it. If there is, this guy is even scarier in the graveyard. It gives you quite a bit more longevity in a deck that often runs out threats in early turns and goes hellbent in the lategame. When the Specter is in the graveyard, it’s unearth haste allows you to attack when your opponent is not ready with flying blockers. I am REALLY liking this guy in the main here and I think this is the perfect deck for this sort of card. I’ve got two in the side that are often coming in against control and midrange opponents as it’s a great card to pitch to a Liliana or Kolaghan’s Command discard.
Some number of Gitaxian Probes probably belong here. The amount of damage you already deal to yourself is a little concerning but I might be crazy running zero when I have Young Pyromancer in the main.
I’ve also considered trying the new Stormchaser Mage once it is modern legal. This inclusion would require a more significant change to the rest of the deck as it would either increase the creature count or replace some of the other existing creatures in the deck. Probably the latter. I don’t feel like you can play many fewer instants/sorceries and still hope to flip delvers. With Stormchaser in the deck, cards like Gitaxian Probe are even more important.
Both of these decks rely pretty heavily on the graveyard. If the new Eldrazi deck is for real, this might become an issue. Eldrazi Midrange decks typically run 4 Relic of Progenitus and some combination of Scrabbling Claws and/or Nihil Spellbomb. This would be a very challenging match-up for the Grixis Midrange deck in particular and changes would have to be considered to account for those issues. Fulminator Mage in the sideboard helps but may not be enough…
Other options for Twin players include UR Storm and Blue/Grixis Moon. If you want to trade black for white, you may play UWR Control, UW Control, or Titan Control. Depending on your sideboard leftover from Twin, these changes can be quick and easy or quite costly (ie-do you have the Blood Moons needed for Blue Moon?). I would start with an easy and cheap switch while the meta shakes out. There will be LOTS of changes coming in Modern because every pillar of the meta leans on it’s match-ups. Without Twin, decks that it suppresses will find more success. Decks that prey on it will suffer. I will not immediately jump to the conclusion that Tron and Affinity will rule the format (but I am not going to rule it out). A change like this encourages a lot of brewing. This is the exciting part. Though it’s sad to see our favorite deck get hit so hard, it means that our favorite format remains fresh and interesting.
So, as a Twin player myself, I’ll be the first to say, let’s stop sulking about this and start brewing. Good luck and have fun!