The most recent bans have been announced. In the first bans of 2016 Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom were hit. There have been a lot of mixed feelings towards Wizards of the Coast’s decision. Most of the discussion is towards the surprise banning of Splinter Twin. We had heard cries of outrage at the last two bannings when Bloom Titan hadn’t received the axe. I have watched the running debates of “Oh no, WotC is going to ban Splinter Twin.”/”WotC loves Splinter Twin it’s a fair combo deck. It’ll never be taken away.” The discussion has now changed to “why only slow down Bloom Titan and completely cripple Splinter Twin?”. I would like to share my ideas on this topic.
First let’s talk about Bloom Titan. WotC’s long standing stance on Modern is that they do not want anything in the format that can consistently end the game before turn four. Bloom Titan was more than capable of doing this. The deck had multiple ways to run out a turn 2 or 3 kill and even has the potential for a turn one kill. Personally I’m a huge fan of degenerate combo decks in Magic the Gathering. I love that type of deck. However, I do agree that it is unhealthy in a format without the proper tools to combat it. Unlike Legacy, Modern does not have those needed cards. There is no Force of Will, Stifle, Daze, or Wasteland to keep decks like Bloom Titan in check. This makes the deck’s “bad” matchups only so bad rather than nearly unwinnable. As Bob Huang said in his article about Grishoalbrand, which I have a feeling may be next on the chopping block, “Having the potential to kill on turns 2 and 3 puts a ceiling on just how bad your bad matchups are.” If you’ve read my article on my pet deck Iron Curtain Control then you will see the deck preys upon Bloom Titan with mainboard Chalice of the Void, Blood Moon, Ensnaring Bridge and Spellskites. The deck can still lose to Bloom though as they can just go “oops I kill you.” As much as I don’t like seeing this deck go, it’s time to say goodbye to Bloom Titan or at the very least say goodbye to it killing on turn 2 and 3.
Now that that is out of the way, let’s talk about Splinter Twin getting the ban hammer. WotC’s official statement states the deck has made it into the top 8 of too many Grand Prix and Pro Tours as well as making up too much of the competitive field thereby reducing the diversity of the format. I think there is more to that. Splinter Twin was the most reliable, longest running and consistent Modern deck. It has existed since the format began. Frankly I’m tired of seeing the deck. I’m bored of playing against it, watching it on camera, and seeing articles on it and the severe lack of new tech in the deck. I think Wizards of the Coast and a large chunk of the competitive field feels the same about Splinter Twin. For many decks all they see in games 1 and 2 versus Splinter Twin is turn 1 Serum Visions turn 2 Remand turn 3 Deceiver Exarch turn 4 lose. It’s boring. Think of the amount of time you have wasted holding up removal on turn 3 instead of actually playing the game. As for players who avidly watch coverage, think about this: do you enjoy watching the same episodes of a show over and over again? How about if you have a child or a younger sibling that has a favourite movie and they want to watch that movie a billion times in a day. When you listen to the radio in your car or at work how do you feel hearing the same song multiple times in an hour? I have a feeling this is how wizards feels about covering Splinter Twin.
To Ban or Not to Ban
I agree with many players when they say it would have been healthier for the format to either ban a different part of Splinter Twin or maybe see some unbannings. I feel that Deceiver Exarch is the card that should have received the death sentence. It would have forced players to use only Pestermite or splash colours for Bounding Krasis. Perhaps Village Bell Ringer would have made an impact. The most common suggestions I see for unbanning are Bloodbraid Elf, Sword of the Meek, and Stone Forge Mystic. I have also seen some interesting suggestions such as Chrome Mox, Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and Dread Return. I feel that Bloodbraid Elf may still be too strong for the format, given the tools that Jund already has at its disposal. I doubt we would be seeing many turn 3 Bloodbraid Elves since Deathrite Shaman is still banned and you don’t see much in the terms of mana acceleration in Jund, but the card could put out some exceedingly problematic cards. 4 mana to put a 3/2 haste creature and a Liliana of the Veil into play is huge. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is still likely too oppressive for Modern and Wizards of the Coast has made it clear they do not like the concept of having reliable top deck fixing in Modern. That leaves Sword of the Meek, Chrome Mox, Stoneforge Mystic, and Dread Return. Each of these cards could have strong cases made for them to be unbanned. The least logical of these cards to be unbanned would be Dread Return.
I feel Dread Return should be unbanned since it would enable a different graveyard strategy – Dredge. WotC has made it painfully clear that they do not like Dredge as a mechanic or an archetype as it is non-interactive. The deck can be explosive in Legacy and Vintage with extremely common turn 1 and 2 wins. The difference here between Modern and other Eternal formats is there is no Bazaar of Baghdad, Lotus Petal, Lion’s Eye Diamond, Ichorid, or Nether Shadow to enable the deck. A Modern Dredge combo would be more reliant on actual lands and this would slow it down to at the earliest a sketchy turn 3. Manaless Dredge could become a viable option, but it would run into the same roadblocks it does in Legacy, making it continue to be an absolute joke.
Next on the least viable cards to unban in this list is Chrome Mox. Chrome Mox is arguably the most fair of the moxen as it requires a card be exiled instead of discarded, generating hand disadvantage. Its usefulness is limited to what you have available to exile with it. The card has a pretty beastly disadvantage with all the “Processing” Eldrazi floating around. The downside of the card is it can enable easier turn 3 wins with Affinity and various combo decks in Modern. Remember that WOTC does not like this.
Third on this list is Sword of the Meek. Sword of the Meek with Thopter Foundry and Krark-Clan Ironworks enables an infinite life and mana combo which realistically lets you do anything you want. This is why it is banned. Given the amount of artifact removal in Modern the deck could be manageable. I feel the card should at the least be given a chance but it also makes me worried that it will, god forbid, bring back eggs.
Finally, the last card on this list is Stoneforge Mystic. White is extremely underpowered in Modern and needs a power up for the colour. Stoneblade decks are a staple in Legacy and aren’t all that hard to handle. Given the amount of artifact removal in Modern Stoneforge Mystic is an easily manageable card and should be given a chance. I see no real downside to its unbanning. Although WOTC seems to dislike tutor effects.
Exarch Combo decks and Bloom are both far from dead. Exarch can sub in Kiki-Jiki instead of Splinter Twin and Bloom Titan can use Explore instead of Summer Bloom. I can a see a new deck being formed using Presence of Gond and Midnight Guard perhaps. I can also see the return of some decks that were suppressed out of the format by Splinter Twin. Only time will tell. Maybe after this banning being seen as largely “based on deck popularity” more people will get into building brews in favour of not getting punished for netdecking “the best decks in the format.” Until next time, when life gives you salt ask for lemons and make margaritas.