Splinter Twin was unexpected to me. It was a great deck, but not unfair, and there were tons of hate cards available for any deck. Plus, turn-4 kills were fine—all the aggressive decks in the format can easily beat a goldfish by turn 4. Most can do it a turn faster with a good draw.
I don’t think the deck was a problem, but I don’t mind the ban either. Modern is a very stale format and it’s mostly the same decks doing well. If you wanted to come up with something new, you always had to pass the “can you beat a turn-3 creature that taps a land during your upkeep into a Splinter Twin?” test. A lot of decks failed it.
Banning a card is always bad, since people lose money on it. But it’s good to shake up the format—I would have preferred more bans. Something in the Goryo’s Vengeance deck, for example. I don’t think the deck is good, it requires way too many specific cards in your first 10ish cards to do something explosive. But it does that sometimes. I would hate to play for Top 8 at the PT and get turn 2’d in a format that supposedly doesn’t allow turn-2 kills. I get that my opponent getting a “lucky” draw is about the same as me just getting mana screwed. All of this just happens. But losing after playing just one turn in Modern feels wrong.
Additionally there are a lot of cards that could be unbanned without much effect on the format. There’s a reasonable chance that will happen later, and for now WotC just wants to see what effect the bannings have.
One argument in favor of banning Splinter Twin was that it was too easy to put the Twin combo into any blue deck. As such, all versions of Jeskai, Temur, and straight UR ended up playing the Twin combo, which made the format boring. To me it looks like that line of thought didn’t work out at all. Now that Twin is gone, the blue decks aren’t powerful enough to beat Tron/Eldrazi, which means blue based control decks are in a very weak spot right now.
All of that splits the format into three camps:
Aggro: Burn/Zoo, Robots and Infect
Control/control-combo: Jund, Jeskai, Kiki-Chord, Abzan Company, GR Scapeshift, GUR Scapeshift
Unfair lands: Tron, Eldrazi
There are of course a few dozen other playable decks, but right now I would count those as the decks I expect the most of. Actually we feel that Burn, Robots, and Infect will likely make up about 30-35% of the field. Last year saw Abzan as the most played deck, but without Twin around, Abrupt Decay got a lot worse and our in-house expert on any sort of black/green/X midrange decks feels that Jund is the way to go, as Lightning Bolt is just too good against all the fast creature decks.
Now these decks attack you from a lot of different angles. Creatures, equipment, Burn, discard, 1-to-2-card combos, and lands. Being prepared for such a diversity of threats with a control deck is extremely difficult. In such a format I like to be the deck that’s asking the questions as coming up with the correct answers is almost impossible. Due to work, I only got to our playtesting house five days before the Pro Tour, but I played quite a bit online before and my clear front-runners when I arrived were Infect and Robots.
We played Infect at the last Modern PT and the deck did great. I only played two rounds after a pretty disappointing 1-2 in draft. Both of these were against Zoo, and both times my opponents were pretty well prepared for Infect with Gut Shot and Golgari Charm. Everyone else did well though, and two copies of our deck—which was mostly built by Tom Ross—played for Top 8 in the last round. Both of them lost to Amulet Bloom, which is a pretty favorable matchup. Cuneo played a very similar deck at a recent Modern GP too and was pretty happy with it.
After we decided we weren’t impressed by anything else, most of us are on Infect once again. It’s an incredibly resilient deck that comfortably wins on turn 4 even against some interaction. Plus there are a lot of decks that don’t interact much and those are typically all great matchups. Infect is an even better combo-police than Twin used to be. Decks with Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and more spot removal are tough, but even those are very beatable.
The creatures and lands are almost the same that we played last year. Noble Hierarch serves as color-fixing and acceleration, and pumps your infect guy. The best 12 infect creatures by a large margin are Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, and Inkmoth Nexus. Last year we had 1 Ichorclaw Myr, but that just isn’t very good, and it was by a Viridian Corrupter. Maindeck Spellskite isn’t uncommon and having a 13th infect creature also helps. It even frees up a sideboard slot, as you want 2 of these after sideboard in a lot of matchups, mainly to have more defense against said Spellskite.
The Giant Growth package changed slightly. I still don’t see a reason to play any fewer than 4 copies of Become Immense. Maybe if you expect a lot of maindeck Relic of Progenitus. Might of Old Krosa is the best 1-mana Giant Growth. Our previous version had main-deck Wild Defiance and 4 copies of Mutagenic Growth, but both fell out of favor with us. We kept one Mutagenic Growth as an additional pump effect and added one Groundswell to make up for the loss of the Wild Defiances.
In place of those cards are a few more cards that protect your combo and some more added utility. 2 Spell Pierce, 1 Dismember, and 2 Twisted Image. You ideally want to win on turn 3-4 and do that with 1-2 protection spells up. That means even if your opponent only casts one mana removal, Spell Pierce usually catches the last spell they cast. Plus, sometimes you just counter a Pyroclasm or a Living End and it wins you the game.
We’d love to have 4 copies of Twisted Image against a lot of decks, mainly against every non-Jund green deck and even against Affinity, but we also wanted to be better against Burn and that meant adding a few Kitchen Finks. At first glance that doesn’t make that much sense as having non-infect creatures in the deck feels weird, but people fetch for shocklands very aggressively against infect and it is very possible to do 10-14 damage with a very large and angry Kitchen Finks.
The Dryad Arbor also comes in against Burn, but the main purpose is to have a fetchable creature against Liliana. Our sideboard has a lot more 1- and 2-ofs this time around. That allows us to tune the deck better after sideboard for specific matchups.
I won’t claim that I am super confident this time. Infect is on everyone’s radar now. But the deck is good, our changes are good, and it’s still Modern.
If someone found a new combo deck we missed, we’re likely in a good spot against that. Otherwise, I hope to see a lot of Urza lands and Eldrazi Temples tomorrow.