OVER THE MOON

Posted in Event Coverage on June 13, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

When Justin Cohen made the Top 8 of Pro Tour Fate Reforged playing Amulet Bloom — the deck that uses Amulet of Vigor and Summer Bloom to make outrageous amounts of mana to take over the game early — he had the benefit of surprise on his side. The best Primeval Titan deck in Modern was a known quantity heading into the tournament, but no one knew just how dangerous it was in the hands of the right pilot.

Cohen was that pilot, and he took the deck as far as it could go, to the finals of the Pro Tour before losing to Antonia Del Moral León in four games. The run kickstarted Cohen's professional career and decisively put Amulet Bloom on the map.


Cohen's exciting run to the finals of Pro Tour Fate Reforged put Amulet Bloom on the map.

Cohen's run — along with the recent resurgence of Tron decks —has players more concerned with their opponent's lands than ever before, and the number of Blood Moons, Fulminator Mages and Spreading Seas is at an all-time high.

Splinter Twin/Deceiver Exarch combo has existed since the dawn of Modern, and the deck has been a cornerstone of the metagame ever since Samuele Estratti made "infinity faeries" at the inaugural Modern Pro Tour in 2011.

The deck's success has waxed and waned over the years, but it's never disappeared even as the format has undergone multiple shakeups. Five-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Seth Manfield has been present for all of that success, and he's wielded the deck through its permutations and additions, a trend he continued this weekend by choosing to battle with the deck at Grand Prix Charlotte.

It's a secret that's not lost on the rest of the field here, and everyone who can is packing Rending Volley, Torpor Orb or Choke in their sideboards.

The two decks are the class of the combo field this weekend, and both do some of the most objectively powerful things that can happen in the expansive Modern format. For the large number of players who aren't looking to play fair in Charlotte, Amulet Bloom and Splinter Twin are the first places they turn.

But as powerful as they are, neither deck is dominant, and the reason lies in the fifteen cards every player brings along with their main deck. The sideboard cards in Modern are powerful and game-changing, and just one Combust or Blood Moon or Choke can alter the course of a match.

Why, then, if the hate against the pair is so strong — and players know they'll be fighting an uphill battle all day — are both combo decks out in force this weekend? As similar as the two decks are in regards to their position within Modern, both remain viable for different reasons.

For Amulet Bloom, the secret lies in its raw power.

"Even with the hate, the deck is still just very powerful," Cohen said. "More people are playing Amulet than ever."

Cohen may be the deck's biggest proponent, but he's far from its only. As effective as the deck's foils are, the room in Charlotte is filled with players eager to fill up their mana pool faster than opponents can react. Still, when it comes to playing around the inevitable hate, the options are limited.

"Mostly you just hope to dodge it," Cohen admitted. "There's not a whole lot you can do besides playing a second basic land in the deck. Blood Moon just beats you, and you can play more answers to it in your sideboard, but the problem is that if you look at what you need to board in you can't afford a million answers to Blood Moon because it destabilizes the deck. You lose to yourself at that point."

Ironically, it's hard to imagine a combo deck more fair than Splinter Twin. Its namesake is an Aura, historically one of the most fragile card types in Magic. The combo can be stopped by any number of cards that almost every deck in the format has access to: Path to Exile, Torpor Orb, Vapor Snag, Rending Volley, Terminate, counterspells, any enchantment removal, and sometimes even something as simple as a Lightning Bolt.

Despite all that, Splinter Twin continues to perform as Modern's preeminent combo deck. What's the secret?

Versatility. Splinter Twin decks come in any number of variants this weekend. The most popular appears to be a Grixis variation that utilizes black mana to protect the combo by way of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek. Snapcaster Mage, Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Dragons of Tarkir breakout Kolaghan's Command also allow the deck to play an attrition game and wear out the opponent's defenses.

Some players have decided to stick to the original blue-red version, while still others have adopted green for Modern all-star Tarmogoyf. Each allows the deck a different angle to find success even against opponents who are fully prepared for the combo. More than once today a Twin pilot has won a game on the wings of a lone, unanswered Pestermite.

The deck's versatility is also the reason it's always had a place in the metagame, and why many of the deck's pilots feel it always will.

"It's definitely one of the best decks," Manfield said. "I like the flexibility it gives you. There's more slots that are up for grabs because you have your four Splinter Twins and six Exarchs [four Deceiver Exarch and two Pestermite], but beyond that you're still playing 50 other cards plus your sideboard. It's not just a straight combo deck, where a deck like Amulet has a bunch of slots you can't touch."


Seth Manfield chose to splash black in his Splinter Twin deck this weekend to take advantage of proactive answers like Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek.

It's two different approaches to the common problem that is solving the Modern format, at least for a weekend. Both have their merits, and despite the struggles both have against dedicated hate cards, both continue to have success in Modern.

What will win this weekend, the fair decks or the combo decks? It's an open question, but one both Cohen and Manfield hope to provide the answer to this weekend.

Justin Cohen – Amulet Bloom

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Seth Manfield – Grixis Twin

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