While the duo has been making waves in Standard, the real damage they've been doing is in the older formats where their static abilities stack up much more favorably and they are much harder to remove. When you think about it, it's not weird at all that a planeswalker that removes your opponent's ability to interact while also dealing with a wide variety of permanents or a full on Dig Through Time that turns off many of your opponent's best cards would be good.
While both planeswalkers are good in fair or control shells, where they really shine is in combo decks. Teferi means you can combo without your opponent getting a chance to interact, while also having an answer to whatever piece of hate they might have, and Narset digs super deep to help you find the pieces that you need while also limiting your opponent's options. With both these new pieces in place I'm happy to announce that...
Splinter Twin is back in Modern!
... okay well not exactly, but I'm not going to lie - it's pretty damn close.
Jeskai Saheeli | Modern | Jim Davis | 7th Place SCGCON Modern Champs
- Sorceries (4)
- 4 Serum Visions
- Enchantments (3)
- 3 Spreading Seas
- Lands (22)
- 1 Mountain
- 1 Plains
- 2 Island
- 1 Celestial Colonnade
- 1 Glacial Fortress
- 1 Sacred Foundry
- 1 Sulfur Falls
- 2 Arid Mesa
- 2 Hallowed Fountain
- 2 Steam Vents
- 4 Flooded Strand
- 4 Scalding Tarn
(For the unfamiliar, the combo is fairly simple. Saheeli Rai can make a copy of Felidar Guardian, which enters the battlefield and can flicker a Saheeli Rai thereby resetting her. She can then be activated again to make a copy of Felidar Guardian, which will then flicker Saheeli again. All the copies have haste, so you can rinse and repeat several million times and then attack your opponent with several million cats.)
The Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo has been floating around in Modern since it was banned in Standard, but never really was much more than a fringe deck because the supporting cast was so lackluster. Felidar Guardian is much less nimble card than Deceiver Exarch, while also requiring decent cards to blink for value so it can do more than just be a combo piece.
Wall of Omens sucks, but it was a necessity because there wasn't anything better. Good lord believe me when I tell you that Teferi and Narset are worlds better than anything the deck has ever had.
Teferi is already a good card, but it plays so well in the deck and with the combo that it's frightening. You can use it early to buy tempo, bounce annoying things like Aether Vial, Pyromancer's Ascension, of Amulet of Vigor to buy time, and then blink it and do it all over again with Felidar Guardian. Once Teferi is in play the race is on for your opponent to kill it before you can combo, otherwise they can't react. This creates yet another sub game for your opponent to have to deal with, making their life even more difficult as they try to progress their own game plan while also trying to ensure they can interact with you.
In a lot of ways Narset is the card that is directly replacing Wall of Omens, providing you with a source of card advantage that plays very nice with Felidar Guardian. If you thought one Dig Through Time was good, you're gonna love doing it all over again, as the curve of Narset into Feldiar Guardian is just a cascade of card advantage and selection. The fact that Narset is one of the best cards in the format against Izzet Phoenix as well as many of the other best cards in the format is almost gravy, and if you don't love gravy there's something wrong with you.
The deck is rounded out with a full roster of Jeskai Control staples, ranging from great removal in Lightning Bolt and Path to Exile, a smattering of countermagic to bridge the gap and defend your combo in Remand and Spell Pierce, and Snapcaster Mage and Serum Visions to bring it all together. All of these cards are proven pieces of interaction in the Modern metagame, doing a great job of keeping you alive while you set up your card advantage engines and eventual combo.
Spell Pierce deserves a special mention because of how well it slots into the deck. This is not a pure control deck, so we are very interested in making tempo positive plays and that's exactly what Spell Pierce helps to set up. Being able to play a planeswalker on four mana and defend either it or yourself is great, as well as defending your combo pieces on your combo turn. Spell Pierce is also amazing against all sorts of nonsense that can be tough to beat, from Cathartic Reunion to Chalice of the Void to Karn Liberated, which is a great thing to have in such a wild and wide open format as Modern.
No Seriously, It's Splinter Twin
If you've ever played the old Splinter Twin decks before it was banned, you'll be right in your element playing Jeskai Saheeli. The deck plays out in remarkably similar fashion, as you have a great interactive core to react to your opponent's plays as well as the fear of god from your opponent that you will just combo kill them. It lacks the "end of turn Deceiver Exarch, untapped kill you" surprise potential, but can still kill out of nowhere with six mana and no board (just use Felidar Guardian to flicker and untap a land and then cast Saheeli) and both combo pieces are fairly durable if they are in play making the combo not difficult to set up.
Felidar Guardian isn't as nimble as Deceiver Exarch, but is much more powerful overall and can help accrue huge advantage all by itself by blinking Planeswalkers, Spreading Seas, or even Snapcaster Mage. Saheeli Rai is certainly the Splinter Twin half of the combo in that she is less universally useful, but scrying is nice and you'll find yourself copying Snapcaster Mage often enough to be happy.
Just like Splinter Twin you're not really in any huge rush to combo, but sometimes you will just run Shaleei on three and Felidar Guardian on four and run some people over who aren't interested in interacting. Control decks often suffer in Modern because they lack that kind of closing power, but Jeskai Saheeli has no problem slamming the door when it needs to. It's hard to understate how important having that kind of power in your Modern deck is, as the format is very hostile to decks that durdle too much.
Putting It In Practice
Both Ben Friedman and I played slightly different versions of Jeskai Saheeli at SCGCON, but in discussing our lists together both before and after the tournament we are convinced the deck is excellent. The Invitational didn't go as planned, mostly due to average performances in Standard, but both Ben and I made Top 8 of the Sunday Modern Summer Championship with the deck. I lost a very close match to an Azorius Spirits deck in Top 8, while Ben went on to split in the top four.
Of course with Modern Horizons about to shake Modern up even more we are in major state of flux right now, but Jeskai Saheeli is a great place to start. The deck is powerful, interactive, and both very fun and challenging to play and play against. It is also very adaptable, with a wide range of great maindeck and sideboard options.
If you've been waiting for Splinter Twin to be unbanned, this is about as close as you're going to get!