Banned, sure, but not gone forever.
The Splinter Twin combo etched itself into the history of Modern, and Magic: The Gathering overall, by winning the format’s 2011 inaugural event, Pro Tour Philadelphia. From day one onward, Splinter Twin helped shape the metagame, blending blue control with a killer combo finish. It had counterspells to stop other combo decks, Lightning Bolt to kill creatures, and card selection to find whatever it needed. It could control the game as well as the best control decks, yet kill as fast as the fastest combo decks. This strategic flexibility made it a nightmare to play against. Opponents were forced to always respect a combo that might not be coming, as the deck was capable of playing a completely fair game and winning without it.
The deck was ultimately deemed too strong for the format, and it died with the ban of Splinter Twin in the first weeks of 2016. (I was a bit startled to realize that it has actually been banned longer than it was ever legal.) Yet this entire time, a very functional replacement for Splinter Twin has been readily available. Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker was lying in wait, but never helped the deck make a real comeback. Until now.
A player piloting the Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker version of this well-known strategy is having some incredible success on Magic Online, and I’m not the only person that has taken notice. Other players are starting to pick up the deck, and it’s on the cusp of breaking out as the solution to this metagame.
Maindeck, 60 cards
Sortsort deckCreature (12)
- 2Crackling Drake
- 3Deceiver Exarch
- 3Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
- 4Snapcaster Mage
- 1Flame Slash
- 2Serum Visions
- 3Archmage’s Charm
- 2Cryptic Command
- 4Lightning Bolt
- 1Magmatic Sinkhole
- 2Spell Snare
- 2Valakut Awakening
- 4Cascade Bluffs
- 1Minamo, School at Water’s Edge
- 1Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
- 3Reflecting Pool
- 4Riverglide Pathway
- 4Spirebluff Canal
- 3Aether Gust
- 1Anger of the Gods
- 1Ceremonious Rejection
- 2Cleansing Wildfire
- 2Engineered Explosives
- 1Mystical Dispute
- 2Relic of Progenitus
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker has always been around to combo with Splinter Twin, but at the cost of an extra red mana. This translates to speed and consistency, and that’s a big cost in Modern. Add the vulnerability to Lightning Bolt, which doesn’t disrupt Deceiver Exarch going off with Splinter Twin, and you can maybe see why the downgrade wasn’t good enough to compete.
But with the adoption of a handful of new cards over the past couple years, the shell around this combo has improved considerably. They’ve helped the deck evolve to exploit a metagame particularly vulnerable to the strategy, and look to have finally brought it to the next level.
After a near-miss 9th place finish in the Modern Players Tour Qualifier two weeks ago, streamer “tiemuuu” has gone on a complete tear with the deck. A successful 4-1 Preliminary run led to reaching the finals of a Modern Challenge, which is when I first took notice. But they’ve followed up with a top 4 Challenge run last Sunday, which was joined by a top 16 the day prior. And that’s just the beginning—because now other players are being published playing the same list.
Breaking Down the Decklist
And what a list it is. The deck includes plenty of innovations that have helped it reach the top. From various new cards to some extreme sideboard tech, the deck has it all.
I’ll start with the big one — yes, this is a blue deck that plays Boil. Currently, Boil is one of the strongest cards in all of Modern. It’s effective against the various blue “Uro Pile” Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath control decks, but it’s also a devastating hoser against land decks. These all include Dryad of the Ilsyian Grove, which makes their lands Islands and turns Boil into a one-sided Armageddon. It’s simply a brutal card right now, and especially so out of a blue deck where it’s supported by card selection and counterspells, and where opponents are least likely to expect it.
The deck is able to easily support Boil by keeping a minimum of Islands, giving up Scalding Tarn and Steam Vents, and loading up on alternative lands. This is made especially easy by the new inclusion of Riverglide Pathway, which is one reason we’re seeing the deck and its Boil tech emerge now after Zendikar Rising. This wealth of alternative dual lands also helps make casting Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker easier than before, because its triple-red cost goes directly against its desire to cast Cryptic Command.
This flexibility in mana is even more important now that the deck has gone deeper into blue with Archmage’s Charm. It’s likely the most important pickup for the deck since it was first banned, because its flexibility is a perfect addition to a strategy built on the ability to shift its game plan at will. It can be a counterspell or even creature removal to disrupt the opponent when necessary, or pull ahead with card advantage when there’s time. It really bolsters the deck throughout all stages of the game, especially with Snapcaster Mage providing a way to flash it back and stretch its impact.
Modern Horizons also brought a couple more nice pieces of disruption as minor quality of life updates. Magmatic Sinkhole adds a bigger creature removal spell, and more importantly a way to kill planeswalkers. Flusterstorm is particularly nice in a deck like this as a cheap and reliable way to protect the combo, so another joins in the sideboard.
It hasn’t received as much attention as some of the flashier modal double-faced cards in Zendikar Rising, but Valakut Awakening is starting to make a name for itself in Modern, with this deck leading the way. It’s a red card much like Thrill of Possibility, but it really feels like a blue card in disguise, especially with its instant-speed being such a good fit alongside them. The ability to turn extra lands, combo pieces, or disruption into something new is valuable, whether it’s a whole hand or just a couple cards. This is all from a card that takes the place of a land, and that will find itself being played as such often.
The most innovative inclusion in the decklist, and one I love to see, is Crackling Drake. It proved good enough to be a Modern staple in the Izzet Arclight Phoenix deck that once dominated the format. While this deck doesn’t take the same full advantage of it as a deck with Faithless Looting could, it has plenty of spells to boost its power and make it a real threat.
Crackling Drake belies the fact that this isn’t a pure combo deck. It often wants to just grind down its opponent with card advantage and win with damage from things like Snapcaster Mage and Lightning Bolt. It plays that part perfectly, acting much like a Snapcaster Mage with its built-in card advantage. This is especially important when considering its synergy with Kiki-Jiki, which will generate an extra card when making a copy. Of course, this will often make enough power to just kill the opponent, so in some ways it can fill in as another combo piece.
On its own, Crackling Drake feels somewhat like Tarmogoyf, which was historically often splashed in Splinter Twin combo decks to make them even more midrange focused. There’s real value in being able to just slap down a big threat to end the game quickly after disrupting the opponent.
In fact, it’s important to understand that this particular strain of the Kiki-Jiki combo deck actually began as a pure control deck. Before they started crushing Modern with the combo deck, tiemuuu could be seen grinding it out with the “Blue Moon” Blood Moon control deck that has long been a minor part of the metagame. Thing in the Ice is the typical finisher for the deck, but it’s just not reliable or powerful enough. It’s not until they transitioned to the combo kill that they started really winning.
While it now has the combo, the deck is still built on this control foundation. There may be matchups and particular games where the combo comes to the forefront, but they tend to be an exception to the typical, more traditional game. Still, there’s a real value in always threatening the opponent with it and keeping them honest. This is something the Blue Moon deck doesn’t do, and that makes things much easier on the opponent.
The Matchups and Sideboard Guide
Beyond any new cards or innovations, the success of this deck can also be attributed to the Modern metagame, which is shaping up quite favorably.
The best matchups for Splinter Twin tended to be decks low on interaction, especially other combo decks, which were also very vulnerable to its counterspells. In current Modern that means the “”Oops! All Spells” that has emerged after Zendikar Rising. There’s also been a big rise in the Selesnya Company deck with its Heliod, Sun-Crowned and Walking Ballista combo, which adds a vulnerability to Lightning Bolt and red removal. Lands decks like Amulet Titan and the rare Tron, its classic prey, also apply.
The weakest matchups tend to have the most disruption and aggression. Jund Midrange has never been a great matchup, but it has also really never been less popular. Izzet does have to contend with the current Jund and more commonly Rakdos Death’s Shadow decks that have risen with Skyclave Scourge. They have less disruption and many more creatures vulnerable to Lightning Bolt and other removal, so these matchups are more favorable than the classic midrange ever was.
Things get really interesting against Modern’s control decks—specifically, the Uro Piles. These matchups present fun and interactive battles. They ultimately have a better long-term control plan, but are also slower and able to be outmaneuvered by the combo deck. Backed by the threat of Boil, I’d be happy to be on the Izzet side.
-4 Lightning Bolt -1 Flame Slash -1 Abrade -1 Deceiver Exarch -1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker +2 Boil +2 Relic of Progenitus +2 Aether Gust +1 Flusterstorm +1 Mystical Dispute
-2 Remand -1 Deceiver Exarch -1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker -1 Abrade +2 Relic of Progenitus +2 Engineered Explosives +1 Anger of the Gods
-4 Remand -1 Abrade -1 Deceiver Exarch -1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker +3 Aether Gust +2 Engineered Explosives +2 Relic of Progenitus
-1 Crackling Drake -1 Flusterstorm -1 Abrade +2 Engineered Explosives +1 Anger of the Gods
Oops! All Spells
-4 Lightning Bolt -1 Magmatic Sinkhole -1 Flame Slash +2 Relic of Progenitus +2 Cleansing Wildfire +1 Ceremonious Rejection +1 Flusterstorm Amulet Titan
-2 Crackling Drake -2 Spell Snare -2 Lightning Bolt -1 Flusterstorm +3 Aether Gust +2 Boil +2 Cleansing Wildfire
-2 Crackling Drake -2 Spell Snare -1 Flusterstorm +3 Aether Gust +2 Boil Izzet Blitz -4 Remand -1 Deceiver Exarch -1 Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker +3 Aether Gust +2 Engineered Explosives +1 Anger of the Gods
Death and Taxes
-2 Remand -1 Flusterstorm +2 Engineered Explosives +1 Anger of the Gods
-4 Lightning Bolt -1 Flusterstorm +2 Cleansing WIldfire +2 Engineered Explosives +1 Ceremonious Rejection