I can’t say I was surprised, but I was still disappointed. The Top 8 for Legacy Champs at this year’s Eternal Weekend featured 24 out of a possible 32 Brainstorms. The only two decks not packing the powerful cantrip were Lands and Merfolk.
Overall, I continue to perceive Legay as a stale format desperately in need of culling one or both of the blue cantrips before it can move forward. The new mulligan rule is expected to benefit combo decks, which certainly will point yet more people in the direction of blue aggro-control and/or Miracles.
I can’t say the format has been completely stagnant. We began the year expecting the resurgence of Shardless BUG on the heels of the Treasure Cruise ban. Instead the big story has been the emergence of Grixis in 2015. That narrative continued in Philly, as the deck earned three players a spot in the Top 8 of Champs this year. The other 3 Brainstorm decks included: Omni-tell, an interesting 4-color Delver list sporting a couple copies of Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, and Splinter Twin.
Wait a second, Splinter Twin?? Did we mix up the decklists from a Modern 8-man with Legacy Champs? Nope, it’s an honest-to-god port of the Splinter Twin + Pestermite combo that has been shaping the Modern format almost since it’s inception.
Pestermite has seen occasional Legacy play through the years. In 2010 and 2011 it could be seen in small numbers as part of the finishing combo in Cephalid Breakfast, the Cephalid Illusionist + Nomads en-Kor combo deck which dumps your entire library into your graveyard much as Oops All Spells or other gimmick decks do today. Having dumped your library into your yard and put a few Narcomoebas into play, you could Dread Return a Karmic Guide using its trigger to also return Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, use Kiki-Jiki’s ability to copy Karmic Guide, now bringing back a Pestermite and using the Pestermite to untap the Kiki-Jiki and start the familiar copying sequence from there. The deck had a wide variety of options for finishing combos, and it was never clear to me that this was the best one. The combo, and eventually Cephalid Breakfast itself, quietly faded out of Legacy entirely.
Going back a few years earlier, Pestermite saw play in Faerie Stompy, a mono-blue “Sol Land” + Chalice of the Void deck. In that deck, Pestermite worked alongside Cloud of Faeries to untap your Ancient Tombs and City of Traitors for additional mana. Of course, Pestermite was an also-run in that deck, which was mostly known for Sea Drake. If you had no idea what Sea Drake was before hovering over it just now, that should give you an idea how long it’s been since Faerie Stompy was relevant.
As best I can tell, this is the first significant finish of any kind for a Splinter Twin combo deck in Legacy. So the question arises: why now? It’s hard to pin down a good reason for why the deck should suddenly have success. In fact, I’m not sure the result isn’t just a total outlier, as Grixis and Miracles have continued to dominate online Legacy events in the wake of Champs.
The combo is not fast by Legacy standards. It cannot win the game before Turn 4 because there is no fast mana in the list. But the deck is flexible and can take many paths to victory, as Modern pilots would tell you. Given the presence of 2 Counterspell in the maindeck, I opted to view it as a control deck with a combo kill. But it could also win playing a pure control game and finishing with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, or by getting aggressive with Vendilion Clique and Pestermites performing an aerial assault.
As I mention in the deck overview video below, I had to make one small change to the list. The original list contained two copies of Misdirection in the sideboard, presumably to fight decks with access to Abrupt Decay. I’ve built and played dozens of decks for this video series and spent quite a bit of money on cards to bring you optimal deck lists, including overpaying for Power 9 early on to provide Vintage constructed play videos in the first days of Vintage Masters. But $240 on a pair of sideboard cards was not happening, and won’t be until something corrects the price on Misdirection. Get it below Black Lotus and we’ll talk.
If you have Modern Twin, this is not a very expensive deck to build apart from the Misdirections. So perhaps, like me, you would be interested in exploring alternatives. There are two categories of options to deal with Abrupt Decay: those which cost mana earlier in the game, and those that require you to hold up a mana when you try to land Twin. In the first category is Spellskite. The card has less applicability in Legacy than Modern, but it will protect your Twin-targeted creature from Abrupt Decay or Lightning Bolt. The problem is that it requires you to tap out early, and with so much countermagic and a fistful of cantrips in the deck, that seemed contrary to the deck’s design. I considered and dismissed Divert as being poor without Wasteland to constrain their mana. I opted for Apostle’s Blessing, but if you have other suggestions, I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
Here’s the list I’ll be piloting in today’s videos:
Legacy Splinter Twin by Max Ansbro
As I said, it’s a deck with many potential paths to victory and some complex decision trees. It is not a very user-friendly combo deck for something with an “auto-win button”, and you could find yourself forced to play very different games across the course of a match, and even shift roles multiple times within a single game. Of course, this is precisely what the deck’s Modern fans find enthralling about it.
My biggest question mark at this point is whether there should be some adjustment made to the sideboard to allow for boarding out the combo against certain removal-heavy opponents. There was not enough to board in for those matchups to make taking out the combo attractive. Perhaps the deck’s designer had a plan there, but it didn’t seem apparent looking at this 75.
Let me know what you think of the deck in the comments, especially if you have played the combo in Modern.