Sunday, August 16, 2015

Modern Bible of RG Tron chapter 26 - RG Tron vs Splinter Twin

(co-written with David Musick)

This week we will talk about the deck that is perhaps the #1 reason to choose another deck than RG Tron for your next Modern tournament. Before we go any further I want to stress that. If Splinter Twin is strong in your meta (say 20% or more) you should try to play another deck if you can. Actually, the BGx decks we discussed last week would be excellent choices in such a meta. 

Right now Splinter Twin is 7.5% of the MTGO Meta. 

Why is this such a bad matchup for RG Tron?
The premier combo deck in Modern is Splinter Twin and it has been a tier 1 deck since forever. The deck has won several Pro Tours.

RG Tron is weak to combo. Combo decks don't care as much about you sweeping the board with Pyroclasm or Oblivion Stone. They don't care that Wurmcoil Engine is in the way. They just win.

This is a losing matchup for RG Tron which means that if Splinter Twin is a big presence in the meta (and if often is) and you still elect to play RG Tron you have to be prepared to use many of your sideboard slots to combat it. 

To further my ability to help you win this matchup I enlisted the help of David Musick, a Tron player with a winning record against Splinter Twin. We had a long discussion about the matchup and he even wrote a tournament report and shared his deck list (see below). Thank you, David.

Things to consider when playing RG Tron vs Splinter Twin
Game 1 is a nightmare. All you can do is do your thing. If you maindeck Spellskite(s) you are slightly better off. Try to get a Spellskite or Oblivion Stone active before they combo off. If you manage to do this and keep mana open you can just durdle until you have a ton of mana. If they combo on turn 4 you are just dead. Their tempo control plan is weak against your Pyroclasm but will work better against you in game 2 and 3.

The match becomes more interesting after sideboarding. 

David recommends keeping any combination of Rending Volley, Grove of the Burnwillows, Spellskite and Nature's Claim. You need to forget about getting to Tron. Getting to Tron is not your priority. If you can answer the combo they are just a bad aggro deck and we have no problems handling bad aggro decks even if our Pyroclasms are sideboarded out.

Maindeck Dismember may be a consideration (replacing Pyroclasm) in a Tron-heavy meta.
If you destroy their combo you always win. 

Consider getting a colored source with your Sylvan Scrying and Expedition Maps instead of trying to complete your Tron. Remember, you have to disrupt their combo to win.

Remember if you have something to break up there combo, ALWAYS keep the mana open to cast it. There are no exceptions to this. If you tap out you are doomed. That is one of the big strengths of Splinter Twin. Why we care about their combo they can just win with their tempo aggro plan. However, Wurmcoil Engine makes us less vulnerable to this than many other decks. 

Use Karn to get rid of their 2nd red source or their 4th mana.

Consider replacing your Torpor Orbs with Spellskites (see below).

Useful and less useful sideboard cards
Any Twin hate card must be useful even if they have boarded out their combo.

Boil: Boil is used against counterspell decks to cast at the end of their turn, then it gets countered and you are able to resolve a bomb on your own turn. That is not the way games against Splinter Twin goes. Boiling in response to a Deceiver Exarch at the end of your turn is pretty sweet though (see tournament report below)

Nature's Claim: Our catch-all answer comes in here as well. Deceiver Exarch taps our green source of mana at the end of our turn so it is definitely less useful than Rending Volley but if you can keep a green mana available and not get countered Nature's Claim will save you. Just use Nature's Claim on the creatures targeted by Splinter Twin AFTER they activate it to create a copy for the first time and you will disrupt their combo.

Rending Volley: This replaces Combust in all RG Tron sideboards. Just having to keep one mana open instead of two helps a lot. Even if they play Exarch to tap your mana, you just destroy the Exarch in response to the Exarch trigger going on the stack.

Slaughter Games: Surprisingly this card is not good enough against Twin. Some Twin decks sideboard out the combo and cluttering your deck with this card might leave you vulnerable to their tempo control plan. Other Twin decks have Kiki-Jikis as backup and can still combo off after you take their Splinter Twin. Slaughter Games is our #1 tool against combo decks but strangely enough the Games are not the solution here. You could make this argument for Nature's Claim as well if they board out Splinter Twins but at least Nature's Claim can still be used to kill a Blood Moon or get yourselves 4 life which might help against their aggro plan.

Spellskite: This little guy can steal their Splinter Twin but note that he can not stop the Deceiver Exarch trigger as it only targets creatures your opponent controls and thus Spellskite is not a valid target. If they are playing Tarmo Twin Spellskite is your best bet as an early blocker for the Tarmogoyfs. Spellskite also has the advantage of being uncounterable once it is on the table. 

Torpor Orb: The standard SB card against Twin. However, David argues that Torpor Orb is too obvious. We both agree that there are few other relevant matchups where you bring in Torpor Orb. If you replace it will Spellskite you get a card that is useful in many other matchups as well.

Less useful main deck cards
Karn Liberated: While Karn is super powerful you can hardly afford to tap out and he does nothing to disrupt the combo.

Emrakul: The big girl is tempting to take out as she will not disrupt the combo but it can be nice to have inevitability against a deck that can essentially turn into a bad tempo control deck. Games against Twin can go long. I have seen good Tron players both keeping Emrakul and sideboarding her out. 

Pyroclasm: 2 damage at sorcery speed does not do enough against Splinter Twin. Killing a Pestermite or a Snapcaster Mage on your turn will not save you.

Relic of Progenitus: The Relic can disrupt a Snapcaster Mage but that is not good enough.

Wurmcoil Engine: The big snake is not at his best here but you need to have something left in your deck to win with. I would consider sideboarding out one copy but I am reluctant to go down to less than two Wurmcoil Engines in my deck against Splinter Twin.

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon: If Karn is too slow, Ugin is ever worse. To the sideboard with him.

As you are not as focused on getting to your Tron this is one of the few matchups where you can consider taking out a single compy of Chromatic Sphere or Sylvan Scrying. Try to avoid it, though, if at all possible.

What do they bring in?

Ancient Grudge: Turns out that killing our artifacts can wreck us in the early game, allowing them time to set up. They are also pretty good against Oblivion Stone.

Blood Moon is a favorite staple in Splinter Twin decks (especially the Izzet versions). As you are not too concerned about finding your own Tron and only intent on disrupting their combo their Blood Moon can actually help you find enough red mana for Rending Volley. Some Twin decks main deck Blood Moon so always keep the card in mind when playing against Twin.

Echoing Truth can come in to counter your Torpor Orbs. Sadly, this card works great against your Spellskites as well.

Molten Rain/Stone Rain: This will delay our Emrakul kill but as we are not focused on getting to Tron quickly it simply delays us.

The rare Splinter Twin deck splashing white can be a nightmare for you. If they board in Stony Silence your Spellskite plan (and most of your other plans) go out the window. Nature's Claim and Oblivion Stone are your only hopes here.

Here is a Pro Tour player talking about how easy this matchup is for Twin:

Here is one disheartening quote from Dickmann's article: "The common kill will be an early combo in game 1 and a slightly delayed one in game 2 although it is, as always, possible to win by beatdown."

Dickmann's article is a tournament report and he finishes his RG Tron matchup with reporting the following:  "Everything went as said above with the nice bonus of leaving my opponent without a single permanent in game 2 as multiple Molten Rains, Snapcaster Mage and Ancient Grudge did their dirty work."

This is the kind of soul crushing defeat we risk in this matchup. You have been warned. Never think that any sideboard card of yours can make this an easy matchup. It never is.

Further notes on maindeck Dismember
Please note that I do not recommend playing Dismember in the main deck. However, David does and he is the one who is beating Splinter Twin decks all the time.

David: Dismember gives us another resource against other decks. It's a battletrick, they don't expect it. Every player usually is confortable playing against tron because you only think in your turn. Tron doesn't know about the instant speed

Destroy an infect creature, they usually keep only 1 against us

Destroy the lethal damage of an affinity cranial plating

It's a battletrick, it's risky. But it makes the difference so many times against the fast aggro decks.

Dan: I suppose Dismembering a Siege Rhino could also be useful but then we are talking about a lot of damage.

Sample video
In this video I take on Splinter Twin with one of my RG Tron builds.

David reports from a PPTQ playing RG Tron against Splinter Twin twice
Well I finished the PPTQ in 9th place! Unfortunately just outside top 8. There were 42 people and 6 rounds. I played twin round one and won 2-0. I played burn round two and after a mull to 3 in game two I went 1-2. Then 2-0 against grixis delver round three. The best part of the tourney came round four. I was up against twin again, he comboed me game one, game two I delayed until I could Emrakul for the win. Game three my opponent played a blood moon turn three. Turn four he plays his land and has steam vents and 3 islands. I play my fourth land and say go. He taps all his islands for pestermite and in response I boil his whole mana base. Highlight of the night. He looked at the card looked at his lands and said "Is that legal?" You could just tell that I rocked him. He didn't know what to do with himself. It was just a matter of a few karns taking every land he played before he conceded. So I'm 3-1 going into round four and I get paired up against the only undefeated player in the room. He asked to draw but I had natural tron karn and spellskite in hand and he mulled to 5 on Boggles. I easily take game one. Game two was a blow out. Game three I kept two spellskites and he had path of exile for both of them. 1-2 and it turns out the draw would've changed the final round pairings. Unfortunately everyone 4-1 going into the final round was able to draw into top 8 so I barely missed it. I played abzan in the final round just for fun, it didn't effect the standings. It was fun, I was pretty happy with the deck. The twin match up was straight locked up. 

Here's the deck list I'm running

4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Sphere
4 Chromatic Star
4 Expedition Map
4 Sylvan Scrying
3 Pyroclasm
4 Oblivion Stone
4 Karn Liberated
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
2 Spellskite
3 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
4 Urza's Mine
4 Urza's Power Plant
4 Urza's Tower
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Forest
1 Eye of Ugin
1 Cavern of Souls

3 Rending Volley
1 Boil
3 Nature's Claim
1 Spellskite
1 Wurmcoil Engine
1 Sundering Titan
3 Relic of Progenitus
1 Feed the Clan
1 Ghost Quarter

So basically what I've learned is game one you can't really interact. We have no idea they are on twin which means you can't really justify keeping any hand with a Spellskite and two lands. That being said we just try to do our thing and hope we don't lose to a tapper on three and twin on four. Assuming we have made it to tron and aren't stone dead, we are on the hunt for an immediate oblivion stone or Spellskite. If we get the stone we literally play "land go" being sure  we have 5 mana for our stone. From that point on we really just try to get a ton of mana and lock them out. The cavern of souls naming "horror" is pretty sweet interaction too. Spellskite is the bain of twins existence. Never block with it. I cannot tell you how many times I've had a Spellskite sitting there half the game until they just go crazy and double bolt it. Game one really just comes down to if your opponent has the combo early or not and finding a fast answer if they don't. We eventually win if the game drags on due to more impactful cards.

When boarding I bring in:
3 Rending Volley
1 Boil (or 4th claim)
3 Nature's Claim
1 Spellskite

I take out:
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
2 Ugin, the Spirit Dragon
1 Karn Liberated
1 Chromatic Sphere
2 Pyroclasm
1 Sylvan Scrying

The Sundering Titan and Boil in the side have been flip flopping in and out for me. Usually for another natures claim. I'm not 100% convinced on any of the three.

After board I feel a TON better. I tend to keep any hands with some combination of rending volley, spellskites, nature's claim and grove/forest. I would say the grove is probably the most important thing to have post board. It turns on all of our best hate. We do not care at all about tron post board. If we can stop the combo, we win. Stopping the combo will drag the game out long enough for us to just naturally draw or cantrip into tron, then we get Emrakul and it's over. This strat also plays around blood moon. If you don't care about your tron pieces what good is the blood moon? They usually wind up slowing themselves down just as much as us and that's exactly the game we want to play. We can O-Stone or claim the moon when we are ready to go off. A lot of times they will also bring in ghost quarters against us. Again, if we ignore tron, what good does a ghost quarter do? Give us a basic forest? Sweet. Now we can play our claims, stirrings and scryings at will.

I'm not trying to sound like an expert or anything, I've only been playing the deck a month and I never even played modern before that. However, I did my homework. I do feel like I have a solid understanding of the deck (mostly thanks to you) and have been performing very well and consistently with the deck so far. Like I said, I went 5-0 last night at the Modern Monday event I attend every week (usually 20+ people). I played Twin 3 times and only lost game 1 to my opponent in the last round. It's not the first time I won the tourney with tron and it won't be the last. Looking forward to trying out the build at a PPTQ this weekend!

Until next week -  may you please not die to 1,000,000 Deceiver Exarch copies.

Next week we take on the most played deck in Modern right now: Burn.

If you have any tips on winning this most dreaded matchup, share them in the comments below.

For a full list of the chapters of The Modern Bible:

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