Modern Copycat

by Anthony Lee on 22 February 2017, Wednesday

AER  Modern 
Anthony Lee

Modern Copycat


Dear readers, my name is Anthony Lee, player on Team MTG Bent Card (companion to MTG Mint Card) and as I have received a lot of interest about the Copycat deck that I played to a 28th place finish at Grand Prix Brisbane, I decided to write something to answer the questions I've gotten about it.


First of all, I'll compare the Saheeli combo and the Splinter Twin combo to clear up what I think are common misconceptions about the Copycat deck that arise from its frequent references to Twin combo.


Then, I'll go over the card choices specific to the Copycat deck including a couple of changes that I would recommend going forward with the deck, and some sideboarding advice.


Here is the decklist for reference:



Comparing Saheeli Combo and Twin Combo


Saheeli Rai Splinter Twin

It may seem impractical to compare the Saheeli combo to the Twin combo since you aren't ever actually choosing between the two decks, but I think the surface-level similarity between the two creates a lot of misunderstanding and believe that exploring the differences that exist between the two will be illuminative in explaining how the Copycat deck works. I also hope it will show why Copycat is not just a worse Twin deck and in some contexts could even prove to be a better Twin deck.

Arguably the most defining difference between Twin and Saheeli is that you can cast both pieces of the Saheeli combo in one turn as long as you have at least 6 mana.


I believe this to be the biggest misunderstanding that players may have had when evaluating the potential of Saheeli in Modern. It looks like a downgrade because half of the Twin combo had flash, but this is actually not the case.


Deceiver Exarch


Consider the play patterns created by each combo. To avoid dying to the Twin combo, you leave up mana whenever the Twin player has 3+ mana open. To avoid dying to the Saheeli combo, you leave up mana once the Saheeli player reaches (or could reach) 6 mana on their turn.


It is harder for the Saheeli player to reach 5-6 mana than it is for a Twin player to pass with 3+ mana up, but once the Saheeli player does reach that point, they are much more free to spend their mana on their own turn or fighting against double-spell turns from their opponents.


It is easy to think of Twin as being strong because it can play on their opponent's turn, but note that it's not really an choice to do so and you either have to play cards that are less powerful because they fit into the flash strategy or accept some clunky turns. The Saheeli deck, in the other hand, is free to develop their board on their own turn whilst their opponent is constrained on mana if they want to play around the combo.

It follows that you should think of Saheeli as being a more proactive, board-oriented deck than Twin was and look more to powerful cards to spend your mana on rather than playing the tempo style associated with Twin. Your primary goal is to survive the first few turns and then start gaining advantage whilst your opponent is constrained, and sometimes you get random free wins from the combo.


Cryptic Command

This is why cards like Cryptic Command were excluded from the list I played at the Grand Prix - Cryptic Command is a fine card in general but it does not suit the most advantageous play patterns that the Saheeli deck can pursue. If you play cards like Cryptic Command or counterspells beyond the bare minimum you need to interact, you are playing a weak Twin deck instead of reaching the potential of a new Copycat deck.


Pia and Kiran Nalaar Jace, Architect of Thought


Instead, cards like Pia and Kiran Nalaar and Jace, Architect of Thought are ideal in this deck as they are great cards you can tap out for, don't play into the answers your opponent would leave up for the Saheeli combo, and are great targets for a Felidar Guardian cast for value. In hindsight, I regret not playing more of this type of card and would play more of them going forward (I'll go over this a little more in the next section).

The other difference worth noting is that the Saheeli combo is more resilient than the Twin combo was because neither combo piece is an Aura; or more to the point, that when you try to combo and they have a removal spell to stop you, you do not immediately lose 2 cards like you did when casting Splinter Twin.


This means that the Saheeli combo is substantially better against interactive and grindy decks, mainly GBx midrange, especially once you consider that as individual pieces both Felidar Guardian and Saheeli Rai are able to generate card advantage against these decks. In other words, while the new combo is just as disruptible as the old, the Punishment of being disrupted is much lower. This distinction is important to understand because it would be easy to write off the new Twin combo as being bad against GBx simply because that was true of the old Twin combo.



Card Choices


Snapcaster Mage Lightning Bolt Serum Visions

Many of the cards here do not require dedicated explanation given their pedigree in the Modern format (Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions and so on) but I will go over the cards that are more specific to a Copycat deck compared to a non-combo Jeskai deck.



Originally we had Dispel in the maindeck, but I think Spellskite is fundamentally better because you want to use your mana proactively as explained above, and it also has a number of small bonuses that Dispel doesn't – you can search for it with Saheeli's ultimate before comboing in very long games (this came up twice for me at the Grand Prix), it's a good target for Sun Titan's ability, and there are matchups like Infect and Bogles where it's game-winningly powerful whereas Dispel will only ever be fine.


I think you can't play very many copies of Spellskite, however, because it occupies the same slots as spot removal – in general, it's bad in the same matchups where spot removal is bad and often good when spot removal is good.


Vendilion Clique

Vendilion Clique's inclusion is just like Spellskite's – it's a unique card that both defends you, helps you combo off, and happens to give you another good Sun Titan target. Copying with Saheeli mostly only happens to check the coast is clear before you go for the Felidar combo, but blinking Clique with Felidar is a strong option against many decks and often forces decks with removal into making very difficult decisions. Also like Spellskite, however, I don't think you can afford many copies of Clique.

Pia and Kiran Nalaar is as powerful a threat as ever since it started to be played in Modern and remains excellent against both small creature decks and grindy decks, and it has obvious synergy with Felidar and Saheeli. We had two copies before, but I cut one of them for a maindeck Supreme Verdict as a metagame call against the Eldrazi decks that we knew would be very popular. In an unknown field or one not warped by high Eldrazi numbers, I would recommend going back to playing the second copy of Pia and Kiran Nalaar.


Sun Titan Felidar Guardian

Sun Titan is a great trump to have access to in long games and can combo with Saheeli through a lot of the removal that stops your combo with Felidar. It's nice that having Sun Titan in your deck means you can afford to have your Saheelis go to the graveyard and still be able to combo off. However, I would exchange it with the Jace in the sideboard going forward or possibly replace it altogether with a second copy of Jace, since Jace costs so much less mana, is equally very good in long games, and can win the game by himself just as Sun Titan can.


Spreading Seas Path to Exile

It might seem like a poor choice to have four copies of both Spreading Seas and Path to Exile in the same deck, but Spreading Seas is not about manascrewing your opponent (though that will happen occasionally) and is more about buying some time for your combo. Seas is important against any fair decks as it makes your Felidar Guardian generate a free card, and if you draw multiples or your opponent has a land-light draw you can make it difficult for them to both cast their spells and leave up removal for the combo. Spreading Seas is obviously excellent against big mana decks and it can also be very effective against Burn decks (especially on the play).



A Bit of Sideboarding Advice

I am in the camp that believes that exact sideboard guides are not very useful in Modern, both because there are too many decks to make an effective and comprehensive list and because I think sideboards in Modern should be built for the specific event you play in, so you should almost certainly not be playing the same 15 sideboard cards that I played in Brisbane.

The most important thing is that you sideboard out your combo pieces much less often and to a lesser extent than the Twin deck did because both of the cards are individually good, especially Felidar Guardian which is good at generating value even if you aren't anywhere close to being able to combo off. You can decrease your focus on the combo, such as by sideboarding out Spellskite when it's not defensively useful (I take it out against Jund and Abzan, for example) but you are free to leave the combo pieces in your deck to score some free wins and keep your opponent in fear of those free wins. This means that there is generally not as big a re-positioning after sideboarding as you may remember from playing the Twin deck – usually, you are just fixing the answers in your deck and/or gaining access to Modern's iconic hate cards.


Stony Silence Engineered Explosives

Also note that you should also not be afraid to have clashing hate cards in your post-sideboard configurations if the hate is powerful enough. For example, I have no problem sideboarding in both Stony Silence and Engineered Explosives against both Affinity and Tron, because Stony Silence is so good that I don't mind drawing a dead card if I have it in play, and against Gifts Storm I don't mind having both Snapcaster Mage and Rest in Peace in my deck at the same time.

I strongly believe that the Copycat deck is a real contender in Modern and highly recommend it for any Modern events going forward. The ability to simultaneously play as a fair deck and an unfair one is very powerful and allows the deck to adapt to local metagames very well in a way that is not common in Modern.


Thanks for reading!


Articles you might be also interested

Patrick Dickmann writes about what he feels is the best combo deck in Modern! Any guesses?
Martin Dang shares his deck of choice at Grand Prix Utrecht last weekend!

Copyright © 2002 - 2019