The Splinter Twin Ban in Modern was a Mistake, and Here’s Why by Matt Gregory

To the Future By Sam Southworth-Barlow

The Splinter Twin Ban in Modern was a Mistake, and Here’s Why

I’d intended a week ago to write about the impact of both Oath of the Gatewatch and the Banned and Restricted List announcement on Modern. This isn’t the article I thought I’d be writing. I’ll be looking at the impact of the new set on Modern in another article now as, frankly, I have a full-length rant to get off my chest.

Let’s get straight to the heart of it – Summer Bloom is banned, everybody saw it coming, we all know why, and just about nobody thinks it was anything other than the right thing to do (unless they thought Amulet of Vigor was the more appropriate card to go, I suppose). I’d gladly have bet my collection on Bloom Titan getting the ban hammer, and it’s almost unequivocally the correct decision. Then again, I’d probably have laid the same stake on Splinter Twin surviving the ban hammer’s fall, and guess what? I’d have been dead, dead wrong.

Before I go any further, I should confess my bias here – I may be better-known for playing janky-looking Jeskai Ascendancy decks in Modern, but I have played Twin regularly for over a year now. I owned the deck, played the deck, loved the deck. I will sorely miss smashing my opponents’ faces in with an infinite army of faeries. I’m not too concerned by the financial hit as whatever “money” I lost was tied up in cards I hadn’t intended to move on anyway, but my views on the matter of Twin’s removal from the format may no doubt be distorted, even if unintentionally, by the fact that I was among the many players jilted by the banning.

In spite of that, I think after a few days I’ve managed to get sufficiently far along the grieving process to say with a clear mind that the decision is wrong, for a number of reasons, and I have severe concerns about the implications of the ban.

Twin, in all its forms but primarily its classic Blue-Red version, was the best deck in the format. I’ve no argument about that – the numbers back it up. It was more than a powerhouse though – it was a proactive and effective safety valve on the format, and specifically on its most linear archetypes.

Affinity, Burn, Infect and Grishoalbrand are all examples of hyper-linear decks which are able to pull off blisteringly fast kills. Infect and Grishoalbrand especially are perfectly capable of killing on turn two, and that hasn’t changed. They are all also decks which intentionally try to play out the same way every single time. They aren’t trying to create games with large numbers of decisions – they are trying to finish you off before you’ve had any chance to react to what they’re doing. And Splinter Twin was a huge part of the reason that they didn’t dominate the format.

Twin had some of the best early interaction in the format – cheap countermagic and Lightning Bolt – and it was these cards that kept the linear decks in line. Now, other decks can of course play these cards. The difference between Twin and, for instance, Jeskai Control, was that Twin had a quick clock to back it up – they could simply win on turn four. Maybe that sounds no fairer than Goryo’s Vengeance targeting Griselbrand on turn two, but the key difference was the dynamic created by the specific combo Twin used.

Splinter Twin deceiver exarch banner

Splinter Twin on Deceiver Exarch could be broken up by cards that just about any deck played. Creature removal, countermagic, enchantment destruction and Spellskite all shut the combo down. As a result, Twin players usually couldn’t blindly jam the combo – they had to try and manoeuvre into a better position over several turns. That in turn created not only opportunities for skilful opponents to make their own move and win the game, but also forced people to build interactive elements into their otherwise linear decks to beat it. Because Twin was such a popular and successful deck, that dynamic was a key factor in Modern deck building and as such created decks designed to weather a longer, more interactive game. That was the safety valve Twin created for the format.

When you look at the other blue, non-linear decks in the format, they’re either aggressive themselves and rely on relatively minimal amounts of disruption to get by (Merfolk and Delver decks) or are control decks which can disrupt linear strategies in the early game but can’t back that up with the threat of a fast kill. Those decks don’t create an incentive for the linear players to try and interact, but in fact provide an incentive for the linear player to try and make their deck more linear in order to have greater redundancy in their game plan – and therefore be better able to battle through early disruption and still get to their desired end-point quickly, or to be able to beat the clock their opponent is presenting.

Basically, if you’re in favour of the Twin ban, then ask yourself this – Do you prefer longer games with multiple points of interaction for both players? Or do you prefer high-speed crapshoots between players desperately trying to be the first to reach their combo? Or twenty points of burn? Or their sideboard haymaker? Those are the kind of games that are encouraged by the Twin banning in my view. Of course, they existed beforehand as well. But taking Twin away is liable to increase the volume of games that go down that road, and that doesn’t sound like a direction I’d want the format to go in. Twin was not only a skill intensive deck to play but one of the most skill-testing to play against. It actively created games which went long and involved larger numbers of decisions. I’d say that about 90% of the closest, tensest and most enjoyable matches of Modern I’ve played involved Twin on one side of the table or the other.

Even beyond that, the ban aggravates me because I feel that Wizards’ argument for it makes little sense. Their reasoning was that Twin stifled metagame diversity and pushed other blue control decks out of the format. Now, it’s true that one reason not to play other blue control decks was that they were all worse than Twin. Another reason, however, was that the other blue control decks weren’t very good, largely because of the inability to pressure opponents that I mentioned earlier. Ironically, one of the best reasons to play Jeskai or Grixis Control was that they had great Twin match-ups – and I’m pretty confident that in banning Twin, Wizards haven’t freed other control decks but driven the final nail into their coffin. I’d also question the notion that Modern had anything resembling a stifled metagame – Twin made up no more than 10% of the overall field and was one of dozens of viable archetypes. I’d be hard-pressed to imagine how much more of a healthy format one could ask for.

Modern Scapeshift Primer (GP Madrid Report) by Fabrizio Anteri

Now, despite my pessimism, I’m not giving up hope. Maybe I’m horribly wrong and the format turns out to be just hunky dory, as opposed to the apocalyptic combo-ravaged wasteland I’m imagining. There aren’t many times I want to be wrong, but this is certainly one of them.

Maybe I’m also wrong about the other blue decks not being able to pick up the slack. Perhaps Grixis can adapt, or Scapeshift can finally step out of Twin’s shadow and prove itself as a tier one deck that can pick up Twin’s mantle as an interactive control deck with a good clock. Maybe some other deck emerges from the rubble of the format we once knew and acts as an effective police force on linear strategies. Maybe, eventually, they unban something like Sword of the Meek or even realise the error of their ways and set Splinter Twin free somewhere down the road. Hell, they did it with Wild Nacatl once they realised they’d got that one wrong. If such wild hopes do have any foundation though, it’s unlikely any dramatic movement will happen with the Banned List for another year. Wizards have made a rod for our collective back and I hope we can learn to love it.

Even if it does all turns up roses in the end though, it also bothers me that this sends a very negative message towards players thinking of buying into Modern. I remember well (it wasn’t very long ago after all) being a new player with a mere handful of cards and an empty trade binder, and owning a Modern deck looked a mile away. Investing into a Modern deck takes a considerable amount of time or money, and if the message being sent to new players looking to make that leap is that their deck could be unexpectedly banned at any moment solely for the purpose of “spicing up” the metagame, then that can only serve to put them off taking the plunge. For Modern to continue to thrive as a format it needs a constant stream of newcomers getting involved, and whilst I doubt that one shock ban will do that much damage in the long run, it sets a somewhat unsettling precedent.

Either way, the decision has been made, the hammer has fallen, the tears of weeping Twin players have already filled the gutters and run dry. So what does the format look like now? Well, the big winners are surely the linear decks I mentioned earlier. Infect, Grishoalbrand, Burn and Affinity – my pick for the new king of the hill – all lost a tough-to-navigate match-up and are looking ahead towards clear skies free from interaction. Many people think Tron, with all of its shiny new toys from Battle for Zendikar block, will be the new end boss, but Tron has such a dreadful match-up against those linear decks right now that I doubt that will actually be the case. Furthermore, Tron’s natural prey – Jund and its fellow fair creature decks – have just lost a good match-up and watched their worst ones gain ground. It may not be the case forever but I wouldn’t advise anyone to turn up to this putative format’s first few tournaments and try to play “fair” Magic. It wasn’t especially advisable before and it’s likely much less so now.

That’s all I have to say for now on the subject and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the ban in the comments below. I’m trying to stay optimistic about the future of Modern so if anybody wants to try and persuade me that the outlook is brighter than I think then I’m happy to hear why – but for now the bitter taste of the ban hammer is still fresh in my mouth. RIP Deceiver Exarch – we hardly knew ye.

Community Question: What are your thoughts on Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom being banned in Modern? Was this the right decision by Wizards of the Coast? If so then why? If no then why not?

Thanks for reading,

Matt Gregory


[schema type=”review” url=”” name=”The Splinter Twin Ban in Modern was a Mistake, and Here’s Why by Matt Gregory” description=”I’d intended a week ago to write about the impact of both Oath of the Gatewatch and the Banned and Restricted List announcement on Modern. This isn’t the article I thought I’d be writing. I’ll be looking at the impact of the new set on Modern in another article now as, frankly, I have a full-length rant to get off my chest.” ]

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