Silvestri Says – TwinBlade: Return of the King

At the end of the Standard lifespan featuring [card]Jace, the Mind Sculptor[/card] and [card]Stoneforge Mystic[/card], the end game of the format ultimately came down to developing the best strategy utilizing those cards and any potential trumps to them. While Caw Blade was excellent, even the old version could be trumped by sheer power from say Splinter Twin or Valakut. Eventually the push was made to incorporate [card]Splinter Twin[/card] / [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card] combo into Caw and we had one final tournament which highlighted the depravity of it. It has been a very long time since Standard saw a deck that could effectively play all three roles of aggression, control and combo.

With the banning of Jace and Stoneforge it was assumed that Caw was dead… That turned out to be slightly incorrect. TwinBlade suffered the same fate and was written off as being a bad UW variant with a cute combo thrown in. With the reprinting of [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] you gain more than just the combo and you still have a great plan B to trump Valakut and Caw with. To top it off, you gain some nice sideboard options and the mana isn’t that much worse than just playing two colors straight.

Below is my newest list and my slightly older list Daniel Duterte played to a top 16 finish at SCG Richmond this past weekend. Grats to Daniel for the finish and Zaiem for shipping the list out.

[deck]2 Spellskite
2 Azure Mage
2 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Deceiver Exarch
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Squadron Hawk
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Splinter Twin
1 Gideon Jura
1 Jace Beleren
3 Ponder
4 Preordain
2 Island
3 Mountain
3 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
1 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Terramorphic Expanse
2 Spellskite
2 Dismember
4 Flashfreeze
3 Arc Trail
4 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

[deck]2 Spellskite
3 Azure Mage
2 Consecrated Sphinx
4 Deceiver Exarch
4 Grim Lavamancer
4 Squadron Hawk
2 Oblivion Ring
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Splinter Twin
1 Gideon Jura
1 Jace Beleren
3 Ponder
4 Preordain
3 Island
2 Mountain
2 Plains
4 Arid Mesa
1 Celestial Colonnade
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Seachrome Coast
1 Terramorphic Expanse
1 Spellskite
3 Divine Offering
4 Flashfreeze
3 Arc Trail
4 Timely Reinforcements[/deck]

The main difference between the two is that Daniel runs a 26th land and I’m currently trying out dropping the count to 25 and running the 3rd [card]Azure Mage[/card]*. Lately I’ve had a few issues with mana flood in non-Caw mirrors and two of my friends that played TwinBlade variants this weekend also reported a similar issue. [card]Preordain[/card], [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Azure Mage[/card] do a lot to help alleviate some of the issue, but the lack of manlands works against you. Note that staying at 26 and simply adding the 4th [card]Ponder[/card] and/or a [card]Jace Beleren[/card] or 3rd [card]Azure Mage[/card] may be the ticket.

*Other solutions include simply upping the heavy hitter count by adding more [card]Gideon Jura[/card], [card]Inferno Titan[/card] or other late-drops. If you still want to focus purely on the card draw, the fourth [card]Ponder[/card] and [card]Jace Beleren[/card] are also at your disposal.

While I could breakdown the choices in-depth, the majority of the shell is still just Caw and the Twin package is self-explanatory. My only advice is to not cut the [card]Oblivion Ring[/card] as they’ve been absolutely incredible, too many situations pop up where Ring hits a crucial permanent. Unlike [card]Into the Roil[/card], you don’t want to deal with a threat like [card]Spellskite[/card] or [card]Grave Titan[/card] for a turn, you want it gone for good. Past that the planeswalker selection may look a bit wonky, but Jace here is a lot easier to defend with the extra creatures and [card]Gideon Jura[/card] is just one more big threat. You could swap him with another six-drop and get a similar experience from him. I’ve also toyed with cutting these cards completely and just running a pair of [card]Spell Pierce[/card] or [card]Dispel[/card] for the blowouts.

Sideboard-wise the choices are obvious, [card]Flashfreeze[/card] against Valakut, [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] against aggro, [card]Arc Trail[/card] against aggro and Pod and then [card]Divine Offering[/card] so you can actually beat a resolved [card]Birthing Pod[/card]. Other options to consider for the sideboard are [card]Dispel[/card], [card]Phyrexian Revoker[/card] and [card]Torpor Orb[/card]. The alternative sideboard plan you could take up is boarding into straight UWR Caw and boarding out the Twin package in many of your matches. If you pack more general answers like [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Gideon Jura[/card] and [card]Day of Judgment[/card] then you’ll have that option against any deck instead of the half you would with the normal board. More of a surprise against people over-boarding against you than something that’s better in the abstract.

Now there are some drawbacks to TwinBlade and I want to get those out of the way so you can decide if you want to accept those risks or not. First off you have to accept that even with additional cantrips and a mana count which ends up being reasonable, you are still taking a few more mulligans and color screw losses with this deck than with traditional Caw. You will also be at the mercy of drawing too many [card]Deceiver Exarch[/card]s and [card]Splinter Twin[/card] without their pairing component and without [card]Jace, The Mind Sculptor[/card] you can’t do a whole lot about it. You also lose out on the room to pack as much general utility as the normal Caw deck does simply due to space constraints.

Once you accept those conditions you gain access to the most powerful plan B in the format and still have one of the strongest plan A’s. People have commented that the deck is just a bad version of Caw or Twin and I have to say, [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], [card]Azure Mage[/card] and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] as a back-up plan for Twin sounds like I would win a lot more games with that deck. In seriousness when it’s properly executed all you’re doing is giving up a few points from one angle of attack and gaining an entirely new one.

Having access to the Twin combo let’s you play toward it and blow through stalemates that were quite difficult to break at times. It also let’s you play the nasty trick of just killing people for tapping out and thinking there was nothing you could actually do to them. Importantly, it forces opponents into awkward sideboard plans depending on how much they need to dedicate to stopping the Twin package. A deck like UB Control or the CFB Caw list need not concern themselves, but decks like Pod, Valakut and anything aggressive all need to think long and hard if they want to try to stop the combo. You can easily punish them by boarding out the combo or even just shaving a few numbers. Every so often you even get UB or UW players to over-commit and you can punish them harder than most decks since they are likely siding out better cards than what is brought in.

However even without the Twin part of TwinBlade I would still consider adding red to the deck for [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] and sideboard options. The deck has transitioned from one that could assume full control of a match into one that is focused and built around maintaining board control until the opponent is dead. This is a pretty large fundamental shift and it took players a few weeks for the lists and general strategies to transition over. Well if you want to focus on board control then having [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is a large boon to your strategy.

Let’s take a look at five of the more popular matches on Magic Online:
1. Valakut – OK [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is pretty bad here. [X]

2. RDW/Goblins – With the bigger push toward Goblins based decks and less reliance on spot removal burn, [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] lives quite often. It also demolishes their entire strategy and keeps haste guys in check once you move on the offensive. [O]

3. Caw – Board control is important and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is one of the few cards that can eventually make up a [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] deficit without playing your own Hawk. You can effectively control their board size until they hit six-drops. While [card]Emeria Angel[/card] may live through two damage, if you have any of your own flyers on the board, they can’t effectively attack anymore. Plus you can keep planeswalkers and [card]Azure Mage[/card] in check with him. [O]

4. RUG and WUG Pod – They run [card]Birds of Paradise[/card] and [card]Lotus Cobra[/card], what do you think? [O]

5. UR Twin – Pretty miserable outside of the always fun Lavamancer, untap, Mancer again to kill an Exarch. [X]

If you expand it to include UB Control [X], Steel [O] and Vampires [O] then you quickly see that in over half your potential matches at any given time [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card] is a great card. Even in matches where he sucks, Grim can carry a Sword and deal some early damage. Sometimes all you want is a guy that can deal two and this one doesn’t even need to attack!

When considering your six-drops usually the only real options are [card]Sun Titan[/card] or [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card], but when you go red then you can play [card]Inferno Titan[/card] in lieu of the others. After trying multiple configurations I like Sphinx more in the UB and UW matches and Inferno more in just about every other match. Both have their own merits in the Twin match so it really comes down to if you suspect your metagame will be full of creature-based strategies or variable ones. I talked a lot about board control and Inferno Titan does that better than Sphinx for sure, but sometimes all you want to do is draw more of your sweet cards and crush them. Also the number of RR cards is low for a reason and being stuck with an Inferno Titan in hand is about as soul-crushing as can be when there’s a decent substitute.

Match Key-Points

Instead of the usual match breakdowns, I just want to cover the key points against decks I’ve played a fair amount of matches against.

UW Caw
The three most important cards by a huge margin are [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], [card]Azure Mage[/card] and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]. All are cheap, difficult to stop with countermagic and can take over a game when left unimpeded. They can overtake an opponent’s [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] given enough time, which is something few cards can really pull off.

[card]Spellskite[/card] is also valuable if only because it negates all non-DOJ removal and quite frankly Caw doesn’t have the number of removal spells or draw engine to kill Skite and your key creatures every game. It doesn’t always have a huge impact on the game and is sometimes a blank, but I’ve had more success keeping them in then boarding them out.

In the end-game, ultimately your Exarch Twin package can overtake any board position they can come up with. It also makes them tapping out for [card]Gideon Jura[/card] or [card]Consecrated Sphinx[/card] less likely because they know it could mean game over for them.

UB Control
You can’t grind them out unless you have a [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and even then it’s going to be difficult. This build has a higher chance of doing so simply because it has more creatures, but you are in some trouble for any long game.

This is one of the only matches where the Twin combo is more of a liability than an asset. UB has too many removal spells and the discard makes it so you can’t even sneak up on them with your combo. The one advantage is that just like UW, they won’t drop six-drops on turn six due to fear of dying to your combo. Try to take advantage of this and even just throw out Exarch to keep them off six for a turn longer if possible. The game ends when they resolve a six-drop unless you already have one or have the Twin combo.

Never hold back creatures for fear of them dying unless you have two different angles going on. If you deploy a [card]Squadron Hawk[/card] and want to hold back an [card]Azure Mage[/card], fine, but don’t hold back a bunch of Hawks because he might have [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card]. Even if he does have it and doesn’t cast it for multiple turns, so what? He just bought 2-3 extra turns through no action of his own and as I’ve said repeatedly you aren’t winning long games against UB.

There’s only one thing you need to know to make this match favorable, you need to know exactly what Valakut can do at every level of mana. If you can do that, it becomes a lot easier to maneuver yourself into a dominating position with removal, post-board counters and Deceiver Exarch. The goal is to aggressive and simply buy enough time to kill them before they get biggums online and crush you. There’s no way you can survive trading haymakers so you need to leverage the threat of the combo and Flashfreeze as much as you can. The only exception to being overly aggressive is when you have the combo in hand, in which case it’s a matter of patience.

Once you board in [card]Flashfreeze[/card] and they make their deck worse by bringing in Twin hate it usually comes down to leveraging counters and an aggressive start or the Twin combo against them.

UR Twin
On the plus side you sure do look smart for having [card]Spellskite[/card] in the maindeck and the same goes for having your own combo kill. The downside is that they just crush your normal draws game one and without all the instant speed removal the CFB list has you don’t have a real shot. There is a single trick that’s won me a few games that I mentioned earlier, if you have a Lavamancer on the table and an Exarch in hand sometimes you can use it, untap and kill the opponent’s Exarch. While quite situational usually when it’s applicable the opponent just stares at a hand full of Dispel and dies a few turns later.

Games two and three are a bit different since you can run removal ala [card]Dismember[/card], additional [card]Spellskite[/card] and [card]Flashfreeze[/card]. Essentially game one you’ll be against the clock if your opponent figures out your hand is a bunch of blanks. Post-board they actually have to respect counters and removal so that forces them to play a long game unless they have an atrocious hand and just throw whatever they have onto the table. It also makes [card]Azure Mage[/card] the best card against them since you never have to tap out on your own turn once she hits play.

Pod Decks
You absolutely need to keep a hand that either has a [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card], has an answer to [card]Birthing Pod[/card] or wins early off Exarch Twin. Keeping anything else is tantamount to scooping if they have a reasonable hand. The only hands I even consider without one of those three are multiple filters and [card]Squadron Hawk[/card], since that at least has the best attacker and a reasonable chance to finding the answer you need. It really is that simple of a match though, you need to be able to kill off all the early creatures and destroy [card]Birthing Pod[/card] or you’ll lose. Your Twin package is a good plan to be on as well, but they can answer that if they get an active Pod so that isn’t exactly foolproof game one.

I love this match when I get the early removal, otherwise it’s just like playing a game of normal Caw against the deck and all the same issues crop up.

Well that’s all I have for this week, if you have specific questions about the deck leave a comment or shoot me an e-mail. To ward off a question I get whenever I feature any deck, I’m not providing a full sideboarding guide because frankly I’m not sure of the optimal way to board. Throw in the fact that almost every single person I give a guide too ends up changing the board in some respect and throws the numbers out of wack and I loathe giving out guides. Play with the deck and figure it out, none of the options open to you are really that tough to work out. It’s just about figuring out the weakest cards in each match and whether or not you want to keep the Twin package in. Often if you ship the Twin package out you need to keep some of the weaker cards in as well, so be aware.

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom

21 thoughts on “Silvestri Says – TwinBlade: Return of the King”

  1. IMO having the twin-exarch combo with no real protection (other than spellskite) is just unreasonable. you do have a lot of ways to win, but the original version had stoneforge mystic, which is much stronger than the combination of squadron hawk and grim lavamancer.

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  3. FWIW Todd I agreed with that assessment when I was first messing with the deck. After playing it a lot and constantly tweaking it I’m pretty happy with the combo though. Arguably Dispel belongs in the list as well, but I just haven’t found the right numbers to make it work quite yet. Honestly though if there was a major tournament tomorrow I would still run red even if the combo was cut.

    Unless the format shifts significantly away from Caw and Pod decks toward UB and Twin it just positions itself very well.

  4. Gabriel D. Celery

    I was wondering.

    Did you guys ever thnk of cutting white entirely, and focus on running an UR Twinblade?

  5. Hey Josh,

    Thanks for the nice article. I really like your approach and the deck looks quite strong. However, I would like to know how your list would look if you were to play GrimBlade without the ExarchTwin counter? My idea would be roughly: -4 Exarch -3 Twin -3 Ponder -2 Spellskite; +4 mana leak +2 Spell Pierce +3 Dismember +1 Gideon +1 Puppy Collar +1 Trinket Mage.

    what do you think?

  6. This deck really doesn’t make too much sense. The Squadron Hawks in regular Cawblade are there to apply pressure while still leaving mana available to answer their threats/answers. In your build, you have few ways to control the game so the squadron hawks are basically just inefficient beaters.

    As this list seems right now, your opponent can just follow through with their plan while you are slowly dealing damage with your Squadron Hawks. At the very least I think you need more swords to make the Hawks more threatening and to be able to race your relatively undisrupted opponent.

    This deck worked when Stoneforge and Jace existed because Jace could dig and help with either plan as well as disrupt the opponent, and Stoneforge could win the game on her own relatively easily.

  7. See Beyond seems way better than Ponder in this deck. You speak of being stuck with extra pieces of the combo and having no way to shuffle them away. And you have Hawks, which very often will just make See Beyond “U1 – draw 2 cards”…

  8. Last time i checked caw blade has troubles dealing with combust as it does kill every single creature they run.. so running a Twin Blade deck allowing you access to red… sounds like Combust should be a SB card IMO… I could be wrong but it seems smart to me.. at least 2-3… escpecially as it allows you to bring 2-3 kill cards for the other 100 caw decks out there.. not to mention the twin decks…

  9. Caw decks aren’t afraid of Combust unless they’re splashing Exarch-Twin or they’re playing Hero of Bladehold, which is awful.

  10. Combust is a miserable card. You have Spellskite against Twin and if people board them in against you I’m generally pretty happy. Caw Blade never had problems with Combust even when it ran Hero and the new builds definitely don’t care.

    See Beyond is a terrible card, that’s the problem. In a deck with infinite shuffles Ponder is so much better it isn’t even a real comparison. Yeah sometimes you get stuck with multiple Twins in hand, as I said if you can’t accept that you shouldn’t play the deck. There’s no reason to play bad cards to marginalize that risk.

    @Wout: First I wouldn’t cut Ponder. The only reason it doesn’t work in normal Caw is because they don’t have enough shuffles even with hawks. This build had 9 fetches + Hawks though so you nearly always have a shuffler in hand.

    So a normal list if I cut -7 Twin package, -2 Skite.
    +2 Emeria Angel, +1 Gideon Jura, +2 Dismember, +1 Inferno Titan, +2 Spell Pierce, +1 Open

    I tried Trinket package and it comes up as relevant in maybe 5% of your games, just not worth the space. Lifestaff and even Adventuring Gear was a lot better than Collar as well. Honestly I’m not sure why people want to jump back to default Mana Leak. The card isn’t that strong anymore and in most matches you have to decide between doing something useful or holding oepn Leak unless you have Azure on the table.

    @Dan: Most decks can’t beat Hawks. They still can’t when backed by any sort of board control. This deck has enough to do so. Even Exarch’s by themselves are useful in a bunch of matches just because decks are tuned enough now that they have plans with their mana every turn and Time Walk is still fine.

    I understand some people won’t like this deck regardless, but shrug. Saying things like Squadron Hawk seems bad just seems… wrong. There’s no deck in the format that really shrugs off a turn two Hawk.

  11. Is the front page for CF having problems? I cant get to the front page, but the articles are accesible through a google search.

  12. i think a split of the 6 drops is in order. Inferno titan/sun titan/ sphinx all deserve consideration. Sun titan is awkward with lavamancer though, but it’s sweet with exarch.

  13. @Josh S.
    I did not mean that Squadron Hawks are bad, I simply mean that it seems like it is not the best option for this style of deck.

    Regular Cawblade can counter or wrath away their threats/answers and continue beating while yours can’t so the hawks just become road blocks. Because of your minimal disruption the clock that the Hawks can put up seem like they wouldn’t be fast enough vs Pod decks, Valakut, UB Control, etc. without a sword (maybe a 3rd sword would help alleviate this concern).

    Hawks are also advantageous in regular cawblade because they are the only creature that the opponent can interact with, meaning their removal is worse than it would be otherwise. In your build however, you have other cards that must be answered including Lavamancer and Deceiver Exarch.

    It could be advantageous to instead use a card like Blade Splicer which still leaves you a sword wielder if they use a removal spell on it, as well as a faster clock than Squadron Hawks if they don’t. Worst case scenario is they kill your golem and they have less removal spells for your combo and/or lavamancer (Splicer could be worse because of Into the Roil but the main point is for a greater clock that can force your opponent’s removal while creating value to clear the way for your combo and/or Lavamancer to do work).

    I do not have a problem with your deck as much as I simply think Squadron Hawk is not the best card you can be using to attack from another plan. I could definitely be wrong about this however. If the Squadron Hawks with/without swords can apply the necessary pressure to the decks you need it against then I apologize.

  14. I have watched replays for this deck, but have not piloted it myself. I kind of have an aversion to UW shells, but that is my problem.

    That said, one thing I saw this deck doing in the Caw-ntrol mirrors was to grind Plan A until the opponent was out of cards, and then to immediately shift gears into plan B. It seems pretty good, but I felt like I was watching someone who had the “run-goods”.

    In your experience, does it seem that you have to draw certain cards in a specific order or just die?

    For example, you give opening hands that you absolutely need for Pod decks. You admit softness to UR Twin (I assume because they have better mana and diggers). You also say Valakut and UB are unfavorable. Basically, your deck handily beats Caw, Red, and given a good hand Pod.

    Caw already does this though and has a better match up against Valakut.

    What makes the combo more appealing than just running Caw splash red for Lavamancer and Sparkmage or Bolt or something like that?

    Not flaming your deck choice, I think it is awesome TBH, I just want to understand the appeal of mucking up your mana base with a combo that belongs in its own deck.

  15. While Grim Lavamancer is good against Squadron Hawk, I doubt the combo is very effective against decks prepared for it, and I doubt that Lavamancer makes the deck better against Caw-Blade than Caw-Blade already is.

  16. Good stuff. My only questions are as follows:

    1. In a deck with 13 MD shuffle effects, why do you favor Preordain over Ponder?
    2. Is it unreasonable to cut Gideon and x for Sun Titan/Phantasmal Image shenanigans?
    3. If you were to cut the combo, what would you run in its place?

  17. I’m in a rush so I’ll do a full reply tomorrow, but I just wanted to give a quick snippet.

    @Dan: Ah. I understand your point more clearly now. Perhaps your correct in this regard and I think it’s something worth checking out, though I really think it has to be an evasive creature if you plan on getting real value from Sword. Maybe the best plan is just to dump the Sword / Hawk usefulness and focus on single shot threats.

    @dowjonze: Valakut isn’t unfavorable. Between myself and two friends who ran the deck through multiple DE’s, we played against Valakut 11 times and lost once. I’ve played against the deck in 2 and 8-mans plenty of times and I think your favored unless they have 4 Claim and 4 Oracle in which case it might be even.

    I’ll get to the rest tomorrow.

    @Chaos: 1. Mana-Fixing. Not close. Ponder sucks badly if you absolutely need to dig for lands early, because netting one land and two bricks is an awkward situation to be in unless the land is a fetch.

    2. Perfectly reasonable. Gideon was just one more late-game threat.

    3.So a normal list if I cut -7 Twin package, -2 Skite.
    +2 Emeria Angel, +1 Gideon Jura, +2 Dismember, +1 Inferno Titan, +2 Spell Pierce, +1 Open

    Off the top of my head at least.

  18. ok full reply to dowjonze.

    I mean every deck has to draw cards in a reasonable order or they die. Like in the mirror you can definitely just draw a bunch of late drops and lands and get run over by a Hawk, but that’s true of normal Caw as well. The main plan should almost always be going with board control first and playing toward a late-game and simply daring the opponent to tap out. Sometimes they will and you won’t have the combo, but you still have plenty of action to keep the game flowing well. Basically if Caw has their best draws and you don’t have the combo, you can’t win. If you both get reasonable draws, then I’d say your favored the longer the game goes on since you have better filtering, Azure Mage, etc.

    As for matches, I think Valakut is a fine match. Maybe Pat Cox’s build has a better game against it, IDK. Like people say Caw is a good match for Valakut, but the deck has so little play it’s basically just relying on Caw not to have a counter in hand. The same goes against this deck, game one they have to just hope you never see your combo and g2/3 they have to play around countermagic as well.

    UB is a rough match for Caw and this deck, it just hurts this deck more because the removal has more targets. UR Twin is tough, because UR Twin is a tough match for EVERYBODY at the moment. The problem with UR Twin is one PV loves to say, if your opp wants to beat you… they will. As a result of that and the deck’s inaccessibility to new people, the population of Twin players is pretty low. Basically you have bad matches against decks that very few people play.

    The reason I like the combo is just because no other 7 cards gives your deck as much power as the Twin package. Look at what I listed to take it’s place, some OK threats and some more removal or bringing back countermagic. That or you could run a sweet combo that wins you the long-game against most decks and sometimes just gives you free wins on T4/5. Plus just the card Deceiver Exarch laughs at Valakut, aggro, etc.

    With that said, the deck isn’t perfect and if you wanted to cut back on dead draws and potential issues with RR, then WUR Caw is also fine.

    Here’s the problem I have with most people talking about the mana as bad. You’re one U/W source off of an average Caw deck (Running 1 less land than them mind you) with 6 colorless land and you still have 11 red sources. You also run 3 Ponder in addition to Preordain which can help sort out your draws through turns 3-5. Do you even want Tec Edge or Inkmoth in Caw anymore? I’d much rather hit my fives and sixes then sac my Edges unless I can color screw the opp or it’s Valakut. In every other match I rather just keep the lands around and it screws up your Glacial Fortresses a fair amount.

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