There are some funny things that happen in Modern when an archetype runs into itself. There are so many troublesome match-ups outside of your own to consider, it can be difficult to worry about fighting yourself. This was the position Grand Prix finalist Eric Severson and former Canadian National Champion Dan Lanthier found themselves in the sixth round.
Both players were on Blue-Red Splinter Twin. A deck that aims to have just enough burn and counterspells to stall the opponent until the deadly two-card combo can be assembled—Splinter Twin cast on either a Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch. This allows for the caster to create as many as copies of the enchanted creatures as they’d like—even ten! Or, you know, 800 billion. Whichever.
This mirror can be tough, because both decks are both set up to stop the other player’s combo. “There’s no concrete was of sideboarding. It’s all kind of guess work and feeling your opponent out,” Lanthier said. Severson fully agreed. Though there are some players who have tuned their deck for the mirror, playing cards like Vedalken Shackles to steal the Twin target, for most pilots, sideboarding can change the deck, and the match dramatically.
Dan Lanthier went first, but Eric Severson was already calling shots. “Serum Visions,” he said before Lanthier’s first spell.
“It’s true.” Lanthier was less animated than Severson, but still slightly amused.
“I know it all!” Severson shook his head. He then took his first turn, casting the same spell, and said, “Me too.” The two jockeyed for position in the early game, testing some spells, and getting them Remanded. Position is key, and is often hard to determine based solely on the paltry battlefield.
Severson resolved a Vendilion Clique and got to look at Lanthier’s hand. It had a Remand, Splinter Twin, Flame Slash, Cryptic Command, Deceiver Exarch, Dispel, and Lightning Bolt. This was good positioning; a 3/1 evasive creature in play, and complete knowledge of Lanthier’s tools. “All those spells?! Jeez.” Severson got out his notepad and feverishly wrote all seven names down.
Turns moved back and forth and creatures were generally not long for the battlefield. Clique died to a Bolt; Exarch died to a Flame Slash. Someone was going to have to stick something, but it wasn’t happening anytime soon.
The difference maker was that Severson hitting all his land drops, and Lanthier missing them. Though Lanthier found three land easy, the others were not following suit. And constant Deceiver Exarchs from Severson were keeping a land on lockdown. When Severson had assembled the pieces he needed to combo off, Lanthier was still stuck on mana. All Severson did was Peek at his opponent’s hand, see everything was good, and drop an uncontested Splinter Twin on a Deceiver Exarch.
Eric Severson took the first game.
“This is the kind of deck that didn’t seem good for so long, because no one ever played it,” Severson said as the two sideboarded.
Lanthier agreed. “The sample size was never really big enough. And there weren’t a lot of competent pilots,” he said. It’s clear that’s no longer true. After Pro Tour Fate Reforged saw two Twin players into the Top 8, the days of being under the radar are over.
The two players sideboarded into different decks. Lots of Splinter Twins came out, and things like Keranos, God of Storms came in on both sides. Whether the opponent would go for the combo, go for the attrition war, or tempo-burn would be extremely draw dependent.
In the second game, it was Severson again to see his opponent’s hand, and again the one who attacked in. Lanthier was holding Dispel, Flame Slash, Dismember, Keranos, God of Storms, Misty Rainforest, and Lightning Bolt. Severson would be on the offensive against this controlling hand.
He aggressively cast the Exarch and used Remand to try to delay its death, triggering a whole stack war. Alternating players, spell casting went Flame Slash (targeting Exarch)—Remand #1 (targeting Flame Slash)—Dismember (targeting Exarch—Remand #2 (targeting Remand #1)—Dispel (also targeting Remand #1). The end result was the 1/4 dying and no one drawing any cards. To think, such toil over so small a thing. But this was how these wars were won.
The life totals were steadily draining from both players—cards like Scalding Tarn, Dismember, and tiny little burn spells like Electrolyze were going back and forth. But there was little board presence. That’s just the way a two-card combo deck can work. Especially when one of the pieces can be cast at instant speed.
A game-changer came when Lanthier found Desolate Lighthouse. As silly as it sounds, that card selection is key. The longer the game went on, the better Lanthier’s draws became.
But Severson kept pointing Electrolyzes at Lanthier’s head. The Canadian went from 14, to 12 to 10 to 8. Severson was at 13 himself, but he was playing like he was quite ahead indeed. It was probably because of the two mirror-breaking Spellskite he had drawn. Serving as a blocker, a damage reducer, and a stealer of Splinter Twin, the 0/4 was trouble. Lanthier burned out both of them, but not before going to 4 life—a precarious amount.
But Lanthier was drawing nothing but gas, thanks to the Lighthouse. He resolved a Pestermite and an Exarch and went on the attack. Severson was on mono-counterspells in his hand, so he had to delay until he could finish things off. He had a plan.
It was 6-4 when Severson landed a Jace Architect of Thought. It reduced Lanthier’s damage output from three per turn to one. But he still wasn’t drawing things to finish off the game. He used the second ability of Jace to find something he could use and came up empty. The plan was fizzling.
A Lanthier Peek revealed Severson’s hand to have Deceiver Exarch, Cryptic Command, Dispel, and two Remand. Lanthier realized he might just win. He started a Remand war over Severson’s Keranos, God of Storms. It looked bad for Lanthier, but looks were deceiving. Lanthier had finally drawn a Splinter Twin, and noticed that Severson was down to only three untapped land. He saw an opening and responded to the Remand wars with a Deceiver Exarch. “Responding to a Remand with a Deceiver Exarch?” Severson inquired. The Exarch tapped Severson down to two land.
He knew what was up. On the next turn, Lanthier went for the combo. Severson had some stuff, but not enough. The stack went back and forth— Splinter Twin, Remand—Negate—Dispel—Dispel. The Twin resolved on a Pestermite, and we were on to the third game.
Dan Lanthier tied it up.
“This game is hard,” Lanthier sighed. He was relieved to be going to a third game, but was wearing down, and it was almost time in the round. “Can you watch both of us for slow play?” he asked a judge—there was less than six minutes left on the clock.
In the last, turbo-speed game, Severson cast a Lightning Bolt on Lanthier’s face, then used Snapcaster Mage to flashback the Lightning Bolt. He had Lanthier quickly down to 9. He was going for the blowout
More burn came in, as Severson was not slowing his assault. And he couldn’t, because that was when time was called in the round. Lanthier now found himself in the same position, and started lobbing burn at Severson’s face as well. The board had become cluttered with little creatures, so burn would be the only way to win it.
Though both players tried their best, but neither was able to finish things out. Both players would have to be content with two good games, and one point for the round.
“How do you feel about playing Twin in the draw bracket?” Severson laughed.
Eric Severson and Dan Lanthier play to a 1-1 draw.