I tried a lot of wild Modern decks leading up to GP Pittsburgh. I tried Abbot of Keral Keep in a Grixis attrition-style deck with Liliana of the Veil. I tried Blue-White Control with Mutavault, Spellstutter Sprite, Silumgar’s Scorn, and Dragonlord Ojutai. I tried Jeskai Ascendancy Combo – the Fatestitcher version – with Magmatic Insight and Visions of Beyond. I tried Goryo’s Vengeance Twin with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy. All of these decks were promising at first, but quickly fell off in consistency. My fallback was a comparatively boring Grixis Twin list.
The turning point for me choosing a deck was the weekend of October 31st to November 1st, when Burn and Zoo decks made up three of the Top 4 decks at SCG Dallas, and the entire Top 4 at GP Porto Alegre! If Burn decks were trending upwards, Grixis was not really where I wanted to be. Jeskai, on the other hand, can be built to crush these decks, utilizing cards like Wall of Omens, Lightning Helix, and Timely Reinforcements.
But rather than play a Jeskai Control deck built to pinpoint Aggro decks, I wanted a weapon that would serve me better in a diverse field. I could reasonably expect to play against ten or more different archetypes over the course of a Grand Prix. And since GPs are quite long and mentally-exhausting, I wanted a deck that could provide me with some number of fast wins. I also gained a bit of extra value by having an unknown decklist and a higher chance to catch opponents by surprise with the Splinter Twin combo.
Jeskai Twin – Alex Bianchi
I’ve been playing Jeskai in every form and format for forever. This was actually the third Modern GP that I’ve played Jeskai Twin – GP Detroit 2013 and GP Richmond 2014, previously. Others have correctly identified that my deck is first and foremost a Twin deck that splashes white, rather than a Jeskai Control deck that happens to combo off once in a while, like Shaun McLaren’s Kiki Control.
The main difference between my Jeskai Twin list and Blue-Red Twin, Grixis Twin, or Temur Twin is that I have a higher quality and quantity of removal, with a full four Path to Exile in addition to four Lightning Bolt. I am shaving cards like Dispel, Remand, Spell Pierce, Peek, and Cavern of Souls for Path to Exile, Restoration Angel, Wall of Omens, and Celestial Colonnade. This means that I am slightly better equipped to play a longer game, and slightly less equipped to end the game with the combo. In a Twin mirror, I know where I stand right off the bat. I can buckle down into the control role and plan on winning a longer game. Against decks like Jund, Abzan, and Grixis Control that are the best at dissecting the combo, I have a better shot at winning a longer game.
On top of that, the color white may have access to the best sideboard cards in Modern. Stony Silence, Celestial Purge, Timely Reinforcements, and Wear // Tear were all important for me. Elspeth, Sun’s Champion is an absolute game-breaker against Jund and Abzan. Rest in Peace, Aven Mindcensor, Supreme Verdict, and Rest for the Weary are other viable options, as well.
Other cards that were cut last-minute from my 75 were Lightning Helix, Spellskite, and Anger of the Gods. I had originally played these cards because they were not only good against the Naya Burn and Zoo matchups, but also useful in other matchups such as Merfolk, Infect, Delver, and Collected Company decks. In the end, those cards were not enough, and I found that having the narrow-but-powerful Timely Reinforcements was the only way to have a fighting chance against Burn, which I expected to be a popular deck at the GP.
These were my matchups in the tournament:
Round 1: Bye
Round 2: Bye
Round 3: W 2-1, Grixis Twin
Round 4: W 2-1, Mono-Blue Turns
Round 5: W 2-1, Abzan
Round 6: W 2-1, GW Hatebears
Round 7: L 1-2, Amulet Bloom
Round 8: W 2-0, Affinity
Round 9: W 2-1, Naya Burn
Round 10: W 2-1, UR Twin
Round 11: W 2-0, Naya Burn
Round 12: W 2-0, Affinity
Round 13: L 1-2, GR Tron
Round 14: W 2-0, Amulet Bloom
Round 15: W 2-1, Elves
Quarterfinals: W 2-1, UR Twin
Semifinals: W 2-1, Affinity
Finals: W 2-1, Affinity
A few highlights from the Swiss:
In game three against Grixis Twin, my opponent resolved Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver and immediately hit my Keranos, God of Storms off of the +2 ability. On the next turn, he +2’d again and hit two of my Snapcaster Mages. I then topdecked Celestial Purge – the first of many gracious gifts from the top of my library.
Game three against Mono-Blue Turns, I put a Splinter Twin on my Vendilion Clique to try to pick apart my opponent’s hand, while we were both drawing three to four cards per turn due to multiple Dictate of Kruphix. I finally managed to find a good spot to go for the combo at a time when my opponent only had two mana untapped, and I had plenty of counterspell backup. I activated Vendilion Clique one last time just to check my opponent’s hand, and he reveals a Trickbind that would have otherwise stopped me cold.
In round six, I played against Craig Wescoe on GW Hatebears. After losing game one, I was on the play for game two. Wescoe’s first two turns were Ghost Quarter, AEther Vial and Tectonic Edge, second AEther Vial. On my third turn, I topdecked a crucial Engineered Explosives that I played for X=1 and activated to slow him down immensely.
To no surprise, Wescoe went on to Top 4 the tournament, and I considered myself very fortunate to not have to face him again. Leonin Arbiter, Voice of Resurgence, Qasali Pridemage, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Loxodon Smiter, and Spellskite all put constraints on my deck. The white splash for Path to Exile was extremely important here, and I’m not sure that I could have won if I had been playing any other version of Twin.
In the first round of day two, I faced Matt Costa on UR Twin. In game one, I made several mistakes that were topped off by a huge blunder in which I let his Vendilion Clique trigger resolve and reveal to us both that I had missed lethal. I ended up topdecking and not getting punished for my terrible mistake. I felt deeply embarrassed to show that kind of poor play against a player of such high caliber as Costa, and I was certainly undeserving of that win. I could blame it on nerves or not having any coffee yet that morning, but I knew I had to tighten up, and this was a real sudden wake-up call for me.
In round fourteen, I faced Canadian mastermind Alexander Hayne on Amulet Bloom. I managed to finally find Blood Moon after taking losses to Amulet Bloom and Tron earlier in the tournament, where I couldn’t come up with the all-important hate enchantment. Hayne was the victim of mulligans to five and six, and, though the match was rather one-sided and uninteresting, it was a pleasure to get to meet him.
Going into the last round at 12-2 with the best tiebreakers, I would not only be playing for an invite to the Pro Tour, but also for Top 8. I had another “PTQ finals” match earlier this year at GP Vegas, where I was absolutely demolished by LSV. This time, it was a close battle back-and-forth with my Elves opponent. It came down to the point when he was presenting lethal in game three, and then this happened:
My path through the Top 8 bracket began with a long and grindy Twin mirror in which I think my deck was better set up to play a longer game. From there, I faced the two Affinity decks in a row, which is what I was hoping to play against. It has to be one of the most favorable matchups for my deck, since they are relatively soft to both the Splinter Twin combo and the “fair,” controlling gameplan. Stony Silence is the absolute greatest sideboard card for the matchup, and I have a lot of experience practicing with and against Affinity. But it mostly came down to the favorable matchup, which took some of the pressure off of me having to play perfectly (which I certainly did not do).
I considered Blood Moon to be a poor sideboard card in my deck, but a necessary evil in order to have a better chance at beating Tron and Amulet Bloom. Going forward, I’d consider swapping out the two Blood Moons for a Ghost Quarter and a Crumble to Dust. I would occasionally sideboard in Blood Moon on the play in other “fair” matchups like Jund, Abzan, and other three color decks, but it can create some awkward situations with Path to Exile, it shuts off my own Celestial Colonnades, or it can simply be difficult to find the one basic Plains and enough basic Islands first. Ghost Quarter doesn’t have near the same impact as Blood Moon against the big mana decks, but can come in against fair decks to destroy a manland and function as the 24th land when I am sideboarding in five and six drops. Crumble to Dust is basically only for the Tron matchup, where it can take out an entire Tron piece and isn’t vulnerable to things like Oblivion Stone and Nature’s Claim.
If I could find room in the maindeck for the Pia and Kiran Nalaar, I would consider moving it from the sideboard. The card blocks Etched Champion, is resilient against single-target removal, has synergy with Restoration Angel, is another target for Splinter Twin, and can have fast closing speed. I didn’t get to cast it much during the tournament, but it’s definitely my favorite singleton in the deck.
Huge shoutouts to everyone I saw at the GP, everyone from Buffalo who was supporting me and watching the Twitch coverage, and thanks especially to my friends who I travel and test with. Shoutouts to Buffalo players Ryan Hare and Dan Stella for qualifying for the Pro Tour, and motivating me to do the same. Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in Atlanta will be my first Pro Tour, and hopefully the kick-off to a great year of Magic.