This is the first time I’ve sat down to write an article about Modern. I’ve been meaning to for a while, but I was entrenched in the weekly Standard grind and switching decks every two weeks to keep myself from getting bored. It didn’t work. I kept going back to Modern though; brewing decks, talking tech, and dreaming of a format that has more than three viable archetypes. There is this diversity in the format unparalleled, even in Legacy, and because of this I find that I don’t get sick of it, even when I’m just attaching a Splinter Twin to a Deceiver Exarch and winning on the spot.

Diversity is a double edged sword though, because with diversity comes unwinnable matches and the hair-pulling  predicament that is limiting your sideboard to 15 cards. Yet, even this I don’t really mind. Sometimes I won’t have graveyard hate and will lose to Living End, sometimes I won’t have artifact hate and will lose to Affinity, and sometimes I won’t know what’s going on until I am re-reading Lightning Storm for the millionth time. I’m okay with this, since it means that I can attack the format in a variety of ways, with a multitude of different decks.

In an attempt to fully appreciate diversity in the Modern world, I wanted to run my favorite deck, UWR Twin, against whatever my group of friends wanted to throw at it. In the spirit of competition, but also testing, I decided to do a best three out of five match against each deck with sideboards available after the first game. In general, I find that I don’t play enough games post-sideboard despite the fact that most of the games we play in sanctioned Magic end up being games where the sideboard is relevant. Also, sideboarding is especially relevant in Modern because of all the specialized and powerful answers to certain strategies. One only needs to see the final game of GP Richmond to see the Affinity deck decimated by a Shatterstorm to understand the importance of sideboard slots in this format.

This week I played a best out of five against my friend Nik who was playing Merfolk.





Before getting into our games, here are some things to know about Nik.

  • His mustache’s days are numbered. He gave himself one for a wrestling themed party for my brother’s birthday. Despite impassioned pleas from all his friends, he’s going to shave it.
  • One time, at a local game day, I was horrible at math and messed up our entire group of friends being able to double draw into the top eight. Because I split the previous round, instead of asking my 4-0 friend to scoop to me, I realized I would have to play it out in the final round. Naturally, my opponent was Nik. I was playing Maze’s End and he was playing Hexproof. I won. So not only did he not make top eight, because of me, but also he had to sit through a match against Maze’s End. He reminds me of this every time we play Magic. He even tries to kill me first when we play EDH.
  • The Sublime poster behind his head is not his. This is not even his apartment. No one in this article endorses Sublime. You have my word on that.



UWR Twin

Lands (24)
Arid Mesa
Cascade Bluffs
Celestial Colonnade
Hallowed Fountain
Sacred Foundry
Scalding Tarn
Shivan Reef
Steam Vents
Sulfur Falls

Creatures (17)
Deceiver Exarch
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker
Restoration Angel
Snapcaster Mage
Wall of Omens

Spells (19)
Lightning Bolt
Lightning Helix
Path to Exile
Splinter Twin
Sideboard (15)
Anger of the Gods
Rule of Law
Sowing Salt
Stony Silence
Wear // Tear




Creatures (22)
Lord of Atlantis
Master of the Pearl Trident
Merrow Reejerey
Phantasmal Image
Silvergill Adept

Spells (18)
AEther Vial
Mana Leak
Spell Pierce
Spreading Seas
Vapor Snag
Lands (20)
16 Island

Hurkyl’s Recall
Shadow of Doubt
Swan Song
Kira, Great Glass Spinner
Torpor Orb
Relic of Progenitus

Game One

My opener for this game consisted of Arid Mesa, Steam Vents, Mountain, Shivan Reef, Lightning Bolt, Deceiver Exarch, and Lightning Helix. Having played against Merfolk a few times in the past, I felt good about keeping a hand with two pieces of removal for his lords and an Exarch which can block (if his guys don’t have islandwalk), tap creatures, and win the game out of nowhere in conjuction with Twin and Kiki. Since Nik didn’t have a turn one Aether Vial, he had to play out his creatures the fair way, which forced him to tap low in order to put pressure on me with a Mutavault. After playing out a Deceiver Exarch and tapping his remaining untapped island on turn three, I naturally drew a Splinter Twin off the top and proceeded to win the game.


The thing I’m leaving out here is that I fetched on turn three with Arid Mesa and got a Steam Vents instead of a Sacred Foundry, which meant that I couldn’t cast my Lightning Helix had I needed to. My brother sat next to me and looked on the whole thing with a horrified look on his face. After I drew the Twin off the top, he just shook his head. Nik tried to play the optimist and commented that I was obviously just trying to throw off his sideboarding by pretended to just be UR Twin…The only UR Twin deck ever to play Arid Mesa over Misty Rainforest.


+3 Anger of the Gods
+1 Wear//Tear
-4 Wall of Omens

One positive thing about the unbanning of Wild Nacatl is that decks started to ditch Pyroclasm in favor of Anger of the Gods which also happens to match-up better against Merfolk. In this match-up, Pyroclasm would be exceptionally bad because of the number of lords in the deck, and the ability to flash them in with Aether Vial. The extra point of damage on Anger of the Gods makes it a better sideboarding option, though perhaps still not the best one. I found that in many of my games, Anger was a little slow and too susceptible to being Spell Pierced, Mana Leaked, or Cursecatcher-ed. Yet I still think this card is better than Wall of Omens in the match-up. While Wall theoretically blocks everything in Merfolk, with all of the islandwalking creatures, the card often amounts to a two mana can-trip that doesn’t do anything to stop them from killing you. I ended up siding in the Wear//Tear after game two where Nik revealed that he had Torpor Orb. Given that I want to destroy Torpor Orb and may want to destroy Aether Vial or Spreading Seas, I felt comfortable siding in one of these.

Nick told me, after our games, that he sideboarded like this:

-2 Spreading Seas
-2 Vapor Snag
+2 Swan Song
+2 Torpor Orb

While Spreading Seas has some utility in disrupting my three color manabase, given the fact that I naturally play Islands to make his creatures unblockable, I can see taking them out. While I don’t like taking out Vapor Snag, as it disrupts my combo and allows him to remove blockers, he did side in other disruptive answers to the combo in its place. Swan Song is a card I hadn’t really considered but it stops me from burning his creatures and from winning with Splinter Twin. Torpor Orb is an obvious choice against Twin, though it’s not as much of a blowout against UWR since the deck has a reasonable plan B in Restoration Angel/Celestial Colonnade beats.

Game Two

Game two, Nik started off the game with Aether Vial. This turn one play just really changes the way the entire game plays out. He can respond to my burn by flashing in a lord, counter spells by vialing in Cursecatcher, and can hold up his mana to counter my spells or actively beat with Mutavault. This game effectively ended on turn four after my Anger of the Gods was Spell Pierced and he could attack on the backswing for 14.


Game Three 

Nik ended up keeping a slower hand with a Torpor Orb to prevent me from going off before he got a board presence. While the Orb did prevent early wins, I was able to burn out his lords and attack in the air with Restoration Angel and Celestial Colonnade and just win that way. This is not to say that I don’t think Orb is an effective sideboard card, but when it was played so early in the game, it did allow me to rethink my strategy and play UWR Twin like an American Midrange deck. This is one of the main reasons I prefer UWR twin to UR; while you have significantly fewer ways to find the combo, you can more effectively play around hate cards.


Game Four

Despite siding out two Spreading Seas, Nik ended up seeing the other two this game and completely hosed my manabase which was pretty reliant on basic lands this game. Since I couldn’t cast white spells, I couldn’t play the four cards in my hand which could have easily turned the game around (two Path to Exile and two Lightning Helix). While I think I was fairly unlucky to not draw a fetch land, this game really showed how potent Spreading Seas can be against a three color deck.


Game Five

This one was for all the marbles. Nik mulliganed, and I felt really good after seeing my opener:


Three removal spells, a potential turn four combo win, and access to all my colors… what could go wrong? Well, I never drew another land. Nik had a turn one vial and managed to leave up mana to Pierce and Leak my attempts at killing his creatures. Though I did end up drawing more Lightning Bolts, they weren’t enough to stop his small army of lords from ending the game pretty quickly.

Final Thoughts on the Match-up

  • Be careful what you fetch for. Since Lord of Atlantis and Master of the Pearl Trident grant islandwalk, sometimes it’s right to not search up an island in order to actually block.
  • Remember that Cursecatcher just counters instants and sorceries. This is really obvious if you read the card but not so obvious if you, like me, incorrectly assume that it just counters non creature spells.
  • Aggressively try to preserve your life total by killing all early lords. Merfolk has a faster clock than UWR Twin, but given a longer game UWR Twin should be able to close out the game with Restoration Angel, Burn, Colonnade, or the combo.
  • If you expect to see a lot of Twin, UWR, or Merfolk decks in your meta, Combust seems like an awesome sideboard option. The instant speed burn spell can’t be redirected to Spellskite or countered by well, anything, and it kills Restoration Angel, Deceiver Exarch,  and Celestial Colonnade.

Next week I’ll be doing some more testing, this time against my brother playing his favorite deck in the format, Skred Red.

At age 15, while standing in a record store with his high school bandmates, Shawn Massak made the uncool decision to spend the last of his money on a 7th edition starter deck (the one with foil Thorn Elemental). Since that fateful day 11 years ago, Shawn has decorated rooms of his apartment with MTG posters, cosplayed as Jace, the Mindsculptor, and competes with LSV for the record of most islands played (lifetime). When he’s not playing Magic, Shawn works as a job coach for people with disabilities, plays guitar in an indie-pop band, and keeps a blog about pro-wrestling.

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