The greatest problem I face as an article writer is finding something to write about. Inspiration is fickle, as motivation can also be. This is made especially difficult by the pandemic choking off my easiest content source: actual Modern tournaments. Without much happening in greater Modern to discuss and limited source material, I find myself struggling at times. Thus, I sometimes must resort to stirring up arguments to find content. If you’re ever bored to tears, try kicking over a hornet’s nest; you’re guaranteed to not be bored anymore.
I know a lot of players, many of whom are reading this now. And some among them can be mined for content with a simple trollish jab. At the end of last week‘s article, I made a fairly trolly statement of support for bringing back Splinter Twin just to break its stalwarts’ hearts. Cue the hornets: I was met with an angry DM complaining about how unfair it is that there are plenty of two-card combos in Modern these days, yet Twin is unavailable. I asked, why not just play one of those? The answer: “They all suck!”
So today we’ll look at some of those combos, particularly the one closest to Twin, and examine why they’re just not on the UR behemoth’s level.
When Twin was banned it threw Modern for a loop. Since then, there have been many attempts to claim Twin’s throne. None have succeeded, primarily because Modern isn’t constant year-to-year anymore. Decks can no longer simply sit atop the metagame for years, and this is probably a good thing. Decks have to evolve more often now, and each Modern season has been wildly different from the preceding one. I’d argue that Modern is in far better shape as a dynamic format than it was when Twin was always the deck to beat.
And it isn’t like Modern is short on combo decks. They’re mostly fringe these days, but Storm, Ad Nauseam, and Toolbox combo decks are all viable. However, I know full well that what the Twin stalwarts are looking for are two-card A+B combos. Look at any Toolbox deck, particularly pre-Lurrus of the Dream-Den, and you’ll see plenty such combos, from Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista to Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune to Devoted Druid combo. However, these decks are primarily combo decks, and don’t scratch the itch for Twin players looking for an incidental “I Win” combo.
However, well before that, the first attempt to replace Twin was just to replace Twin with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. I remember a number of Twin players at the time desperately holding onto their decks by replacing the banned Twin with Kiki. And it kinda works. Then there’s Copycat. Following its emergency banning in Standard, players have tried to make Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian a thing in Modern. Which also sort of works.
The problem is, as my associate so boldly declared, these decks aren’t very good in Modern. I realize that I just linked to fairly lengthy results pages, but the vast majority of said results are MTGO League results, and anything can 5-0 a League. Even Mono-Green Stompy. The real measure of strength is paper success, and that has been very limited. Yes, Snoop doesn’t count; it can’t have paper results because paper’s shut down. Snoop is seeing lots of play online, and even having success. That said, it is also the new kid on the block, and seeing lots of play on the basis of being new and exciting rather than necessarily good. Time will tell if Snoop was just a flavor of the month or the real deal.
As for the other decks, the best example is Copycat. Subject of only the second emergency ban in Magic‘s history, it has had no measurable impact on Modern. If this be an heir to the mighty Twin, a pale and callow shadow it be at best. And even if that weren’t the case, it’s not actually a Twin deck. Twin was an interactive deck that played a hybrid control-tempo game and then incidentally won via combo. As they said of Trix, the best control decks have to be combos. There’s no room for real win conditions. Copycat and Snoop Goblins are creature decks first and foremost. They have little, if any, interaction. Their success isn’t worthy of Twin’s name and they don’t even act like the legend. Thus, Twin doesn’t have a direct lineage in Modern anymore.
Or so it appeared. Until players remembered that there is a monster in another format. A monster that closely resembles Twin’s combo and gameplan. The monster from Pioneer named Dimir Inverter. I will argue that Dimir Inverter is the closest deck Modern has to Twin, even if the combos work differently. Consider this fairly standard Twin list from its heyday:
UR Twin, Gabriel Fehr (GP Puerto Alegre)
4 Snapcaster Mage
4 Deceiver Exarch
2 Vendilion Clique
4 Splinter Twin
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Spell Snare
2 Cryptic Command
4 Serum Visions
4 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
3 Steam Vents
3 Sulfur Falls
2 Desolate Lighthouse
1 Stomping Ground
1 Grim Lavamancer
3 Ancient Grudge
2 Blood Moon
2 Jace, Architect of Thought
2 Keranos, God of Storms
|Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)|
Ah, memories. Now consider Inverter. Incidentally, when I was looking through the available decklists, I discovered that Modern Inverter is a fairly new creation. And it’s only in the past month that they’ve taken a leaf from the Pioneer version. Before June, all the decks seem to have been trying to be pure combo decks with Angel’s Grace and Spoils of the Vault. After the switch, there are far more results, and they’re clustered together, indicating that embracing Inverter’s innate Twinness was a strong call.
Dimir Inverter, wefald (MTGO League 5-0, 7/14)
4 Thassa’s Oracle
4 Inverter of Truth
3 Jace, Wielder of Mysteries
3 Relic of Progenitus
4 Omen of the Sea
4 Fatal Push
1 Cling to Dust
1 Murderous Cut
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Darkslick Shores
4 River of Tears
4 Watery Grave
3 Drowned Catacombs
3 Eldrazi Temple
2 Polluted Delta
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Swamp
3 Aether Gust
2 Ashiok, Dream Render
2 Collective Brutality
1 Disdainful Stroke
1 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Mystical Dispute
2 Spreading Seas
|Buy deck on Cardhoarder (MTGO)Buy deck on TCGPlayer (Paper)|
A True Inheritor…
Ignoring the superficial differences in color and combo, the gameplan is the same for both decks. Both Twin and Inverter are interaction-heavy control-combo hybrids playing a tempo game. Twin’s is entirely reactive, focusing on counterspells, while Inverter has proactive discard, but their purpose is the same: break up the opponent’s gameplan until the combo is assembled. These are primarily interactive decks; they just win via combos, rather than finisher-type creatures like Baneslayer Angel.
Secondly, both decks can treat the combo as incidental. Twin’s greatest defense has always been that the combo was an afterthought. The primary route to victory was attrition, tempo, and Bolt-Snap-Bolt. Sideboard games were about being a true control deck, as they often sided out most of the Twins. Inverter plays a similar game, controlling the game and then landing the Inverter of Truth to win the game. Inverter is actually a decent threat on its own, and many games never involve winning via Thassa’s Oracle. I actually know of attempts to use Inverter as intended: filling the graveyard with only useful spells, playing Inverter, and winning with a small, but stacked, library.
This is in stark contrast to Copycat decks, which are piles of value creatures, cantrips, and planeswalkers more reminiscent of Ephemerate decks than Twin. Or consider Snoop Goblins, which is just a Goblin deck with the combo added. There are plenty of two card combo decks in Modern, but only one of which share’s Twin’s genetics. Thus, if you really want to play Twin again, why not pick up Inverter?
…In Another Format
Probably because Inverter is not replicating Twin’s success in Modern. Granted, it is fairly new and is picking up more results, but most of those are League 5-0s. Compare Inverter to an established combo like Storm over the same timeframe: far more results, far more impressive tournaments. For some reason, this style of deck just isn’t working in Modern. Perhaps the playerbase just isn’t there, or maybe it actually isn’t good enough.
This is especially strange given that Inverter is king in Pioneer. To the point that it’s the default Best Deck. And those actually invested in the format hate it. And is probably the main factor driving players away from Pioneer. I actually started thinking about Modern Inverter with the expectation that Modern would see an influx of players following an Inverter ban last week. Obviously that hasn’t happened, but even if it had, the evidence seems to indicate that nothing would have changed regarding Inverter’s viability.
Where’s the Problem?
While I think the decks are viable and reasonable in Modern, the evidence does back up that “They all suck!” assessment from earlier, at least in comparison to what Twin used to be. The most common explanation I hear is that Modern has moved on. The other answers and threats are so much better now than in Twin’s heyday that its style of Magic is simply outclassed. Fatal Push, Assassin’s Trophy, and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath didn’t exist back then. This line of thought seems to conveniently ignore that Teferi, Time Raveler and Veil of Summer also didn’t exist in 2015.
However, the fact that the answers are better doesn’t explain Inverter’s lack of success. The counters and discard aren’t much better now than in 2015, and those are the only relevant answers to Inverter combo. The combo is creature-based, sure, but happens due to ETB triggers. Removal doesn’t matter, and can’t break up the combo. Once Inverter empties the library (often helped by Relic of Progenitus), the only thing that matters is resolving Oracle. If that happens, Inverter wins, end of story. It’s a far more robust combo than Twin in that sense.
Which adds to the mystery of Inverter’s poor Modern performance compared to Pioneer. Yes, there are better answers in Modern, but the answers relevant to Inverter aren’t that much better. It’s not about removal; it’s about preventing the pieces from resolving. There are better counterspells in Modern, but they’re played in smaller numbers than in Pioneer. Thoughseizesees extensive Pioneer play as a four-of, and it doesn’t in Modern. Inquisition isn’t Pioneer legal but Thought Erasure is and sees lots of play. Both formats have the same threat powercreep. It may be true that Modern is more powerful, but it isn’t relevantly more powerful to keep out Twin’s successor.
I think the problem is format speed. Pioneer is not a very fast format. Mono-Red is a good deck there, but it’s got nothing on Modern Burn or Prowess. Humans regularly kills on turn four, and every combo deck is at least that fast. Inverter can hit on turn three with Eldrazi Temple, setting up a turn four Oracle, but that requires a lot to go right. It’s more common to go for the combo on turn five or later in Modern. In Pioneer, there’s far more time to get set up, and so this more ponderous combo is more threatening.
Moreover, players can see Inverter coming. This is also true of the other A+B non-Company combos in Modern. To go off requires playing one creature/planeswalker one turn, then the other piece the following turn. That’s a clear signal that you’re in danger. That was never the case with Twin. Exarch and Pestermite got flashed in on end-step for a surprise win. I’ve been over this before, but the power of Twin was never in the combo. Twin’s advantage was being a tempo thief and keeping opponent’s off their gameplan via fear. That is missing from every other deck, and that’s the real reason they haven’t found success.
There are a lot of very powerful and successful decks in Modern. There are some that ape arguably the most successful deck ever. None can match its success because they cannot take advantage of the opponent in the same way. To be successful, they’re going to have to find a way on their own merits.
David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.