Like many great names taken from us this week in history, you were a true source of joy in my life. A bright spark where it seemed hopelessly bleak. The only enjoyable thing to do in Modern; taken from us far too young. Clearly this is big news to almost everyone with a vested interest in the Modern format. The B&R announcement was a juxtaposition in experiences, from the mundane “obviously they banned a piece of Amulet Bloom” to the blindsided “OMFG they did what?”
I’ve seen a whole host of things written on the subject in a short format (see: Twitter) over the 36 hours since the sky officially fell – and I feel that it is high time that I came down from my ivory tower and climbed atop my high horse; the world must know my thoughts on this matter after all.
Let’s start with the obvious shall we. Summer Bloom got the chop, we all saw it coming, and I don’t think anyone is too sad about it. Briefly, the deck was fundamentally unhealthy for Modern. Despite its defenders saying “it doesn’t kill on turn 2 that often!”, the fact that if it doesn’t kill on turn 2, then it is still very capable of winning on turn 3, 4, 5, 6 or perhaps even as late as turn 7, as it grinds Titan into Pact, into Titan into Pact. Modestly consistent turn 2 kills with a robust attrition game? Probably a little too strong for a format where you were only just recently allowed to cast Wild Nacatl, and may perhaps never cast a card as repugnantly degenerate as Green Sun’s Zenith ever again! The only thing about this Summer Bloom ban that strikes me as odd is that all the pieces are in place for a deck revolving around Amulet of Vigor and Primeval Titan to rise again, leaving me to wonder why they decided on Bloom over Amulet. Bloom might be the more obviously “I break a fundamental rule of Magic” card on its surface, but honestly, can you imagine a deck that plays Amulet of Vigor and doesn’t do obscenely unfair things with it? I wouldn’t be shocked if someone didn’t turn up at the next Pro Tour with a slightly slower version of the Amulet deck and did okay for themselves. There are plenty of cards in Magic that let you play more than 1 land per turn, but there is only one Amulet of Vigor.
Alas, Summer Bloom wasn’t the only combo piece to fall victim to the ban hammer. No, poor old dependable Splinter Twin was finally put out to pasture and a tidal wave of cheers and jeers have followed. The implications of this ban are incredibly far reaching, both in a pure gameplay perspective and from a handwavey philosophical perspective too.
First the direct implications of no Splinter Twin on the Modern metagame:
“Hail our new Tron and Affinity overlords!” has been the calling cry of the Modern player base over the last day. It’s somewhat easy to see why this is the immediate reaction. Twin was deemed GOOD verses affinity and Tron (though I had become increasingly sceptical of the strength of the Tron matchup). Surely in a format with no Twin deck, these decks will surge in popularity and take the format by the throat and not let go? Well perhaps, but Magic is rarely so cut and dry. Starting with Affinity, yes, I fully expect Affinity to gain in popularity with this latest B&R announcement. I also fully expect Affinity hate to be at an all-time high. There aren’t many decks that can’t have a good post-board game verses Affinity if they try hard enough; one of the major criticisms/flaws of the affinity strategy is that there are too many incredibly oppressive sideboard cards for the deck. In short, I expect any increase in Affinity popularity to be accompanied by an increase in sideboard slots dedicated to winning the matchup from almost every deck.
What about Tron though? Well Tron is slightly more complicated. Tron benefited double from the bans (even if you’re sceptical like me that Twin was a truly bad matchup, Amulet sure as hell was). On some level Tron will suffer from its own success in much the same way as Affinity did, we should see a rise in the number of land destruction spells in sideboards, and maybe even some of the Stony Silences aimed at Affinity will get brought in. All that considered, in my mind, Tron will suffer from this ban in an entirely different manner. To illustrate what I mean, ask yourself – What decks is Tron traditionally considered good against? Jund, Abzan and Grixis Control are three that spring to mind relatively quickly. You know what those decks were good against? Splinter Twin. What decks is Tron bad against? Infect, Affinity, and various other fast, linear combo decks. Exactly the kind of decks that Splinter Twin kept in check.
Splinter Twin was the Force of Will of Modern, standing squarely between the linear unfair decks and the rest of the format in much the same way that Force of Will keeps Legacy from devolving into combo decks ignoring each other and just trying to goldfish each other ASAP. I honestly expect this to happen to Modern immediately. There were very few truly interactive decks in the format before this B&R announcement, and they just removed one of the big ones, the one that happened to force people to be somewhat honest, lest they get turn 4’d into the dust by remand into exarch into twin. If you like ignoring your opponent while you try to do your thing, Modern just got a whole lot more fun for you. As for the rest of us, well we’ll make do I guess.
Amongst all of the “This is the death of interaction in Modern” outrage, Sam Black provided what I thought a remarkable piece of insight into the whole philosophy of Modern. In a SCG Premium article about Metagaming, Black addressed the differences between metagame evolution in rotating and non-rotating formats. I don’t want to rehash everything that he says, but in brief, he says “Fair Magic is bad for Modern”. When a linear deck is the best deck in Modern, it is compensated for by overwhelming sideboard hate (see: affinity and stony silence), this creates an opening for an entirely different linear deck to become the best deck the next week, and thus the cycle continues. When a “fair” deck is the best deck, it cannot be truly hated out. Twin was a shining example of this; despite putting up results from the very first Modern Pro Tour to the last premier event it was legal for, Twin was never able to be hated out of the metagame, and this prevented the natural metagame evolution that is necessary for non-rotating formats to remain dynamic and healthy.
Whether or not you believe what Sam Black has to say (and it appears very reasonable to me), Modern is undoubtedly headed for a period of non-interaction. In my opinion, this will simply amplify the aspects of the format that myself and many other competitive players find unpalatable. It is not a format that I would prefer to play for any significant prize, let alone a Pro Tour. Still, this is what the people demanded, and so they shall receive it. The price to pay for watching a Modern Pro Tour is having your beloved format torn asunder once a year in a desperate attempt to spice things up. Modern has turned overnight from a format where you buy a deck and know it’ll be good for years to come, into one where no one is truly sure when the ice will crack beneath their favourite strategy. To quote John Lyndon and Public Image Limited “This is what you want, this is what you get”.