With MagicFest Oakland in the books and a new set releasing soon, eyes now turn to the upcoming B/R announcement, specifically for Modern. My quota is roughly one look at the Modern ban list every year, so let’s get it out of the way early.
KCI is the best deck in the format and I think you’d be hard pressed to argue otherwise. It largely only succeeds in the hands of very knowledgeable pilots, and PVDDR himself ranked it as the most difficult Modern deck to play. If anything, it reminds me of when Pod was the best deck in a field full of other broken decks. While many people picked it up to middling success, Jacob Wilson and Sam Pardee put up some of the most disgusting GP win percentages ever to be seen. KCI with Matt Nass reminds me exactly of that scenario.
Now, you could just get rid of the core of the deck by taking KCI itself out and call it a day. But both Ancient Stirrings and Mox Opal have been brought up as other potential ban targets and for good reason. If you were to rank cards most likely to eat a ban, they would be near the top of the list, along with Faithless Looting.
While KCI has some solid tournament results, Death’s Shadow was all the rage not that long ago and really looked like the new normal. Now it’s yet another blip on the metagame radar. Well, for non-results based reasons, Emma Handy wrote the gold standard on why KCI should get the boot from the format.
Where I differ is that I’m OK with taking a hard look at Stirrings and Opal. Why Ancient Stirrings? Well, taking that out of the format accomplishes two goals. First is consistency. Removing Stirrings takes away a card that’s arguably more powerful than banned blue cantrips like Ponder and Preordain. The second is that it’s a bit of future-proofing by hitting big mana decks (KCI, Tron, and Amulet) along with Hardened Scales. These are all decks that can get better over time whenever a new card is printed. Walking Ballista is a good example of an unassuming card that has made some big waves.
If by removing KCI these decks would rise in popularity to replace it and you wanted to soften a large swath of linear strategies, then removing Stirrings seems like the correct play. It’s one of those cards that’s only going to get better with time and it’s already part of many of the top linear strategies in the format. The best counterargument to this is that it still leaves the actual problem combination in the format to resurface in the future and has a far less predictable impact on the format than just surgically removing something that nukes KCI.
On the other hand, Mox Opal is a 0-mana accelerant that sticks around turn after turn and is the best card in Affinity and Hardened Scales. Removing Mox Opal also has a much more predictable impact on the metagame and is in the bucket of cards Wizards of the Coast fears being legal for a long period of time. Again, for future proofing purposes, this has a higher impact than just removing Scrap Trawler or Krark-Clan Ironworks.
The alternative to bans is to do the exact opposite and unban Splinter Twin. Bringing Twin back into the format is a way to finally admit that trying to corral the limitless horde of linear decks is a fool’s errand and we should just go with the flow. One nice thing about either of the good unbanning options is that both Splinter Twin and Stoneforge Mystic have the best chance of enabling slightly slower interactive decks that can turn the corner quickly. Historically this has been the best way to beat a format full of combo decks: playing a slower combo deck with interaction, or being able to deploy 1-2 high value threats and delay the opponent while you win the game.
Splinter Twin existed in an era of combo decks that make today’s look positively quaint. Yet Twin was still a reasonable choice and that’s because it gave you a real payoff for stalling the game and interacting with your opponent early. While U/W does this and then plays Teferi, we’ve seen that it isn’t quite as effective as blue players would hope. Let’s go back to the classics—let Twin deal with hyper linear and big mana strategies.
If the DCI is unable to appease the masses with a Splinter Twin unbanning, then at least release Stoneforge Mystic, the card that (next to Jace) raises the most incoherent arguments about narrowing of the format. You know, the format with 20+ viable decks and even when dominated by a given archetype, goes back to its usual varied Top 8s within a month or two? God forbid we lose one or two of those while strengthening Jeskai, W/U control, or tempo.
Without Umezawa’s Jitte it loses half of what made it so good to begin with. Batterskull is still a potent option, but for SFM to generate a 4/4 is a significant time investment in a format where turns 3-4 include decks capable of throwing haymakers through countermagic.
Fair decks are more than capable of dealing with Stoneforge. It isn’t any harder on them than a deck using Thing in the Ice and infinite Arclight Phoenixes backed by Gut Shot, Lightning Bolt and sideboard Anger of the Gods. Plenty of others have shared their opinion on an SFM unban.
Of course the final option is to (un)ban nothing in Modern, which is a legitimate option!
Despite its flaws, Modern is easily the most popular paper format and for my money the most exciting. That’s a huge achievement when MTG Arena is making some big waves and helping bolster Standard and Limited. Maintaining that level of fun and ownership may just be worth having the pain of all these linear strategies around. After all, taking one or even four or five out of the equation won’t stop combo or big mana from existing. Heck, new power strategies are created all the time. Just look at Arclight Phoenix and Crackling Drake.
Of all the options, the last is the overall safest choice and new archetypes are still popping up, so there’s no pressing need to make a shakeup in the format. I think it’s the most likely path Wizards will take. Still… if Modern is just the fun format where you can play busted Magic cards, why not bring back Splinter Twin?