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Two Heads Are Better Than One

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Hello! My name is Alex Ruggeri, and my very first pack of Magic was from Fallen Empires. I remember afterward borrowing some cards from my brother and piecing together a bad Thrull deck. It wasn't bad because it was a Thrull deck, although that does count too; it was bad because it was poorly constructed. But over the years since, I've learned a lot and have improved and refined my brewing skills. The lists have gotten crazier and crazier, but one of my favorite formats to play would be Two-Headed Giant. So many doors open up and there are so much possibilities. Its a whole new world out there full of crazy new deck lists! Decks that you thought would be bad can actually be the best. Decks you thought were strong can be weak. Everything is flipped over on its back and that is where I come in. I love the format because it is basically a blank slate. There isn't really a "best" deck. And if you take a minute to think about it, I think you too can look at it more competitively.

It was Two-Headed Giant (2HG) again this week at Genesis, and let me tell you my playtest partner Keith and I were pumped! Unfortunately this week was not a week of crushing other mighty planeswalkers but a week of learning. As much as I feel that Keith and I have a better understanding of the makings of a 2HG deck than your average person, I'm always amazed to figure out that we still have a lot to learn.

In case you don't know the important rules for deck building your 2HG brews, they are that no more than four copies of any one card can be used in both decks combined, and if one player loses then both players lose.

It's important to realize a few things before you get cracking on your 2HG brew. First and foremost is that cards that are generally undervalued in a 1v1 player environment can be killer in 2HG. For instance Time Warp is one of the most powerful cards in the format, especially when combined with cards like Howling Mine. And believe it or not, Silence is just a one mana Time Warp! Secondly you are not trying to build two 60 card decks. I've seen a lot of people show up with the top two decks in the Standard metagame and just get wiped. While this can work I like to think of it as a 120 card deck. The third thing, and in fact the lesson I learned last night, is that you need to make your decks as consistent as possible. Now you might be saying ... "duh" ... and I kind of agree with you there! But it isn't two out of three games. There is only one game to a match and if even one of your decks completely whiffs, you can be looking at a match loss because you missed that one land drop. I think the last thing to pay attention to is playtesting. It's important to get a few games in. You can learn a lot from even 2 games. I don't even think it matters what you are playing. We like to pick up any two decks on the table that we think combine well, for example Legacy Fish and Extended Faeries. Do you have any idea how dumb a card Force of Will is in Standard? Oof!

I like to start by brainstorming about all of the Combo decks out in the current format. Right now the Combo decks we were focussed on were Infect and Pyromancer Ascension. We decided that Pyromancer Ascension had lost much too much with Time Warp rotating and we decided to go for Infect. Now I've found the best place to start with any 2HG list is with a normal Standard list. This is a list I brewed up for FNM after Scars of Mirrodin came out:

So how do we go about turning this deck into two decks? First we need to know its weakness: Removal. This deck has an astronomical win percentage vs the mono Green decks in the format right now. Above and beyond anything, this deck needs a creature to live until after you can untap, and I'll tell you what, Lightning Bolt makes this deck a sad panda. That means you want your team mate to be playing Control, whch is probably a good idea anyway in 2HG. Most Combo decks have a weakness to counterspells, so a Control player lending assistance is usually your best bet. If both players run counterspells that is even better! Cards that can counter and also kill like Reverberate are definitely good, too. Nothing better then having the other team think they are going to win the counterwar and then having victory snatched away because you are running a "bad" card like Guttural Response maindeck. But you are Combo and the people that aren't playing counters will hopefully lose anyway. So if we have one side Control and one side Infect that means that Blue can come out of the deck because the other player will be running Blue! The loss of Preordain is huge, but it can be overcome by putting more creatures and pump effects into the decks to make up for the lack of consistency that it brings. The Infect list went something like:

The Carrion Call is worse then Cystbearer here because you are looking less for a surprise and more to just stick a creature as soon as possible. In hindsight the introduction of Silence might make Carrion Call better. The Lightning Bolts were just good removal, and Vines of Vastwood doubles as a counterspell when need be. And the Control brew we came up with looked like:

This deck felt a little unfocused to me. It wasn't sure whether to tap out for creatures, Duress or pump, or to hold back for more countermagic. It wanted the game to get to turn 4 before it was ready to do some real protecting. I think it was trying too hard to make up for the loss of Preordain in the Infect deck. It's possible we should have mostly kept the original list with all of the one mana counterspells out there and just focused on keeping things alive in the Control side. That is when we remembered Molten Psyche! The lists we quickly brewed up last minute were:

You see the thing we did wrong? We put Preordain in the wrong deck! Gaaaaah! It was the difference between going 1-2 and 3-0. I think our Control list was better than the team that went undefeated, but we spent two of our games just praying to topdeck a Temple Bell or a Molten Psyche! To be fair at some point with two Temple Bells and a Voltaic Key active you'd think we could have hit a Molten Psyche, but that is Magic sometimes! If your deck revolves around sticking a card then you should definitely put the "tutors" (read: Preordain) in that one. On top of that, we could have put another two Dispels and probably Trinket Mages in the Control list.

As a side note, I liked everything about the way these two decks fit together: from using Voltaic Keys to untap my teammate's Temple Bells, to nullifying a Frost Titan because we used Liquimetal Coating to turn a land into an artifact and then untapping it with Voltaic Key, to being able to cast Silence and Unsummon to put another card in their hands so they take more damage. We just had trouble finding our win conditions. We spent one of our games hoping a we could topdeck a Temple Bell and one of our games hoping that two Temple Bells and a Voltaic Key would draw us into a Molten Psyche. The one game we won, we saw 3 Temple Bells and 2 Voltaic Keys and still needed to draw well over half our decks in order to squeak by. Which brings us all the way back around to the point of consistency: splashing Blue for Preordain and Halimar Depths would have helped our games out a lot. If 2HG happened more often I would like to play around with the same deck concept except for maybe using more Quest for Pure Flame and Proliferate.

It's a whole new world out there just waiting for the proper deck fusions!

Alex Ruggeri

2 thoughts on “Two Heads Are Better Than One

  1. When we play kitchen table magic it's almost exclusively 2HG. One house rule was banning infect from our meta. Dropping from 20 life to 10 poison is reasonable. Going from 30 life 10 poison is brutal. Also just being able to add a second player's buffs and distortion strikes, etc, just took away any fun from the game.

    Competitively though sure sounds like a bomb.

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