Singleton Shmingleton - Twiddle

(Lotus Field | Art by John Avon)

Get Those Thumbs Moving

Welcome back to Singleton Shmingleton, where I bend the singleton rules of Commander by building decks with as many functional reprints of a certain card as possible. This week I'm building around an effect that is always difficult to make worth a card in Twiddle. Tapping and untapping permanents is useful, and can be exactly the thing you need at a given point, but the joke is right there in the name: usually this isn't much more than twiddling your thumbs. Despite the card's flexibility, it's still just about the smallest game action you can take. So how can a deck filled with this style of card expect to function?

Well, over the years, players have taken up that challenge, using Twiddle and its lookalikes as engine-pieces alongside permanents such as Lotus Field and The One Ring to generate piles of mana and cards. Storm-style decks always look for the easiest ways to make more mana and draw more cards, and Twiddle doubling as a great Dark Ritual impression or an Ancestral Recall is pretty powerful. That's if all of the pieces line up right, of course, but it's a powerful strategy to aim for.

There are thirteen instant-speed ways to untap a permanent at the cost of a card. Of them, most are blue, and most have never seen play in competitive formats. Here they are!

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The most played of these effects is Vizier of Tumbling Sands, featured in 23,922 decks. The flexibility of being able to cycle it for a one-time use or to play it and use the effect multiple times makes this a staple of any deck that wants to tap permanents for abilities over and over. The next-most-played card is Turnabout, with 16,411 decks to its name. The sheer amount of mana it can generate makes it a mainstay of combo decks of all kinds. The least played of these effects is Toils of Night and Day, in only 961 decks. All of the other three-mana versions of this effect cantrip, and this card doesn't combine well with the commanders that make many of the other versions tick.

Speaking of which, most of these Twiddles saw much more play than I expected, thanks to players who have found combos with some funny commanders. First up is one I have heard about, Orvar, the All-Form. With Orvar, the All-Form in play, every one-mana way to target a permanent you control will copy that permanent, which can lead to ridiculous ramp or crazy shenanigans with powerful creatures. The second commander is Alaundo the Seer, who I hadn't even heard of. After Suspending some huge spell, using Alaundo the Seer's ability on a one-mana Twiddle will set the clock forward by one, and then immediately untap him. And finally, using Twiddles with Codie, Vociferous Codex can generate Storm count and Magecraft triggers at no cost by allowing Codie, Vociferous Codex to re-activate. All of these are sweet combos, but they're not why I'm here. I'm here to play Twiddlestorm in Commander!

More Redundancy!

Current Lotus Field decks look pretty similar to some of the earliest combo decks around, the old High Tide decks. By using High Tide to make lands tap for double mana, lots of Urza's Block cards like Cloud of Faeries and Frantic Search turned into powerful mana-generating spells. There are quite a few cards that untap as many lands as they supposedly cost to cast, since this was a (broken) mechanic of Urza's Block. Here they are:

Broken Untappers

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Creatures (4)
Instants (4)
Sorceries (1)
Enchantments (1)

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Of these spells, only Rewind and its reboot Unwind have not found their way into absurd combo decks, since they cannot be played proactively. Otherwise, these spells are all design mistakes that have enabled broken decks from Pauper all the way up to Vintage. The idea of making free spells was already treading a fine line, and the way these cards were implemented left miles of room for degenerate brewers to scheme.

What Will We Untap?

The next challenge is to find enough lands that tap for more than one mana so that we can draw a couple of them every game. Lotus Field is an obvious include, but there is also the land that inspired it, Lotus Vale, and that land's cousin Scorched Ruins. Even before Tolarian Academy, these were the original lands that could tap for multiple mana, the first inspiration for Twiddle combo. Beyond these lands, Simic Growth Chamber and Guildless Commons fill the role well, as does Reserved List sleeper Soldevi Excavations. There's even a potential commander in Arixmethes, Slumbering Isle, who can guarantee us a solid permanent to untap. And of course, High Tide can turbocharge all of our Islands for a turn, and Heartbeat of Spring does a fine job as a redundant copy.

Using Our Mana

The first step in any combo deck is to generate a massive amount of one resource, in our case mana. The second step is to use that resource. This can often be as simple as turning it into a different resource, which can be more easily used to kill opponents (or to escalate the engine). Thankfully, turning mana into cards is trivially easy. Effects like Stroke of Genius and Finale of Revelation can do it directly, and we can often chain these effects once we get going. In a deck full of Twiddles, cards like The One Ring and Arcanis the Omnipotent become very tempting as well. And once we have both mana and cards, winning the game becomes an afterthought. Aetherflux Reservoir can take out a player or two, Weather the Storm can gain three gazillion life, and perennial killjoy Thassa's Oracle can save everyone the brainwork of how the game will end.

The rest of the deck fills in the gaps with land tutors, creatures like Gyre Engineer and Kiora's Follower that can ramp us into and sustain the combo, and a couple "distraction threats" like Titania, Protector of Argoth, who works very well with Lotus Vale and friends.

The Decklist

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This is a linear combo deck, so playing it definitely gets old. I love figuring out how to pilot convoluted combos; it just satisfies a puzzle-loving part of my brain to try to find the line to get the most possible mana into this Stroke of Genius and hold up the right amount for what I might draw from it. But after a few times around the block, my puzzle urge is satisfied, and all that's left is a fairly non-interactive deck that tries to take one very long turn and end the game.

The more I experiment with building Commander decks around redundant effects, the more I realize that the challenge isn't to make a functional deck, but rather to make a re-playable deck. Most people don't play Commander for the same reason that they play Lotus Field in Pioneer or High Tide in Legacy. They want their games to be different, and that becomes even more of a challenge when a deck is built around drawing a couple copies of the same exact card every game. But it is possible. At some level, all Commander decks select cards that will lead to patterns in how games play out, and I have found some of my favorite decks through this project. My next step is to try and find patterns in which cards lead to the novel gameplay I like.

Until Next Time

Did you know that there are now twelve two-mana creatures that draw a card when they enter the battlefield? That sounds like enough for a deck. This rate has always been impressive, performing well in formats from Draft all the way to Legacy? How can these utility dorks become an engine? Find out next time on Singleton Shmingleton!

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Jesse Barker Plotkin started playing Magic with Innistrad. He was disqualified from his first Commander game after he played his second copy of Goblins of the Flarg, and it's all been uphill from there. Outside of Magic, he enjoys writing and running.

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