Surprise Banning

Today’s article is a hot take on the most compelling and impactful moment in Constructed Magic of the past year: last weekend’s Modern Banned & Restricted list announcement.

I have not always been the biggest fan of WotC’s ban and unban decisions, but I respect their decision to make a big change to Modern by banning both Bloom and Twin.

I don’t think anybody is surprised to see Summer Bloom go (in fact, I think there would have been widespread bedlam if it hadn’t) but killing Splinter Twin was shocking and unexpected to most competitive players. Not so much as shocking because it isn’t something that people had considered or discussed, but shocking because it simply didn’t seem like something the DCI would do.

Did Twin Really Need To Go?

On one hand, Twin has often been the “best performing” deck in Modern. It is no surprise to see 2 or 3 Twin decks in a premier-level Top 8.

I never thought Twin would be banned because as far as “unfair” combo decks go, the fragility of the combo allows commonly played cards to interact with it. The results don’t lie, however, and despite the fact that the deck has an inherent vulnerability to creature removal, this weakness hasn’t impeded the deck from being a super consistent performer and format warper since the genesis of Modern.

The reason the banning was so shocking and surprising for me was that I’d always considered the Twin combo to be one of the unspoken hallmarks of the Modern format.

Everybody knows that Brainstorm is the best card in Legacy and it is allowed to continue on because it is popular and has become part of the fabric of the format. My assumption was that the Twin combo operated on a similar wavelength, where it is the best archetype but far from unbeatable, and thus acceptable.

While I do believe that Twin being out of the format will ultimately open up room for new decks and strategies to shine (which was the DCI’s rationale behind the ban), this banning will be unsavory for a lot of players.

I have multiple players at my local game store who have bought into Modern in the past year that play Twin and I imagine it must be very frustrating for them to have their deck banned after investing $1,000+ to play.

I can’t even imagine the frustration of the person who had to scrap their foiled out Birthing Pod deck and bought a Twin deck thinking: “Well, at least this deck will be around forever…” The Birthing Pod deck is similar to Twin in a lot of ways.

Neither of these decks were capable of the kind of “broken” fast draws of Amulet Bloom or UR Storm with Rite of Flame, but were both pretty quick and put up lots of finishes. These are not necessarily the kinds of decks that players would traditionally expect to need to be banned.

I know for a fact that many people intentionally avoided playing Amulet Bloom despite the fact they believed it was the best deck in the format, because they expected that something would be banned. But decks like Twin or Pod don’t exactly shout “Needs to be banned!”

While I do like the idea that Wizards is being bold and making changes to a nonrotating format, the thing I don’t like about the banning was that it was so sudden and completely unexpected.

The B&R Announcement asserted that the banning of Twin was meant to foster diversity in Modern, but it’s unclear exactly what that even means. Modern, by most accounts, is already a very diverse format.

MTG Top 8 shows that Twin decks (UR and Grixis combined) are the most played archetype in Modern and constitute approximately 11% of the metagame. Three other decks (Affinity, Red Deck Wins, and Tron) also make up 8% of the metagame each. In addition, 22 other decks each hold at least 2% shares of the meta.

For comparison to other formats, Abzan sits atop the Standard metagame at 25% and UW Miracles at 14% in Legacy. And while Legacy has a much larger card pool than Modern, it only has 17 decks with a 2% share.

It would seem that Miracles is more oppressive in Legacy (larger metagame share and fewer 2% decks) than Twin is in Modern, and yet Twin is banned and there are no changes to the Legacy banned list.

Suggestions For Less “Feel Bads”

People like different elements of Magic for different reasons. There is something great about having a format turned on its head and getting to figure it out but there is also something great about having a chance to become entrenched in a complex format overtime. Part of what makes Modern great is that it is so big and so dynamic that it can afford both of these experiences at the same time.

My suggestion (and tell me if you agree or disagree with me here) is that I’d really like to see Wizards of the Coast be more vocal about what they are thinking about when it comes to issues of the Banned List. I really enjoy reading the explanations they give with regard to why a card was banned or restricted and would like to see more of this kind of analysis in the form of updates on the mothership in between B&R announcements.

I would love to read a monthly article by the individuals who are actually in charge of banning cards discussing what they think about the format and what they do and don’t like about tournament play. It would at least provide some insight into how the powers that govern the Banned List are actually thinking about the format and where the metagame is going.

I would also love to see some sort of a Wizard’s sanctioned “Watch List” so that new players could at least have some idea that certain decks or strategies are being considered for banning. I mean, this is the second time that a major archetype has gotten the banhammer to the complete surprise of most people!

I would also love to see some images of the most “blinged out” foil, expensive Twin decks that you guys have crafted before you unsleeve them and put them into retirement. Feel free to post them in the comments or on my Twitter. It was a great run, Splinter Twin and we’ll miss you.

Amulet Bloom, on the other hand, I will not miss in the slightest. I was a combined 0-6 against the deck in Grand Prix and Opens!

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