Summer Bloom is banned.
Splinter Twin is banned.
Modern is a format defined by a set of guidelines—a turn-4 format. If a deck too consistently outpaces these guidelines it will very likely get the ax. That’s exactly what happened with Summer Bloom, and the card’s banning didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Amulet Bloom slowly crept up from the position of an obscure oddity to the best deck in the format. Many pros would say it was simply a mistake not to play with it due to its high level of consistency and turn-2 kills. Clearly this deck needed a ban, and the only real question was whether Summer Bloom or Amulet of Vigor would be banned. Now we have our answer.
Splinter Twin was much more of a surprise. It is, however, in keeping with previous bannings like Birthing Pod. Pod was a completely dominant and oppressive archetype that was very resilient to hate and had the numbers to prove that it was number one. Once a Birthing Pod was in play it would take a few turns, but the deck acted like a boa constrictor that absolulety squeezed the life out of the opponent while they helplessly fell further and further behind. The deck felt broken, and then after slow incremental advantages it would just gain infinite life and deal infinite damage. No big deal.
Twin on the other was the good student in class. It followed all the rules of the format, and if the opponent was unprepared it landed a turn-3 creature into a turn-4 win. The problem with the deck was that it created a win/win situation for itself in every game. The opponent didn’t respect the combo to advance their board to try and get ahead? You combo them. The opponent lives in fear of the combo and develops slowly? You kill all their creatures with burn and win via incremental advantages.
On top of this, Twin decks could sideboard into a Keranos control deck to go around board hate from the opponent. But if the opponent was savvy and tried to beat that axis, you could just leave in the combo and kill turn 4 again. Rinse and repeat and you can see the problem, and why Twin needed to go—now the format can create decks that can succeed without the perpetual fear of a turn-4 Twin kill.
Importantly, WotC decided that Amulet of Vigor could stay. In this world a player can play a turn-1 Amulet of Vigor, turn-2 Simic Growth Chamber into Azusa into a turn-3 Primeval Titan with Pact of Negation for a turn-4 kill. That’s way worse than what was possible before, but the point is that the deck isn’t entirely dead and is probably still playable.
The deck can also shift to focus around mana from Amulet to land a quick Hive Mind as an option rather than looking to go for a Titan kill. This would free up some of the lands in the deck which could help it find a new direction. Lastly, Oath of Nissa would be a very good fit here to find a necessary land, or an Azusa or Primeval Titan, increasing consistency. So if you really like Amulet Bloom and just finished building it for FNM, you still have most of a deck on your hands.
Splinter Twin was the key piece to the deck, but it was there to maintain a turn-4 kill. The deck usually ran exactly 4 Twins and occasionally one Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Now you don’t have access to the turn-4 kill but you can run up to 4 Kiki-Jiki and have a realistic chance of a turn-5 kill while still playing the classic Twin game plan. Sure you have to keep your opponent off balance one more turn, but they’ll still feel the stranglehold of the Twin combo a turn later than normal and once again, you don’t even have to have it since you can win through incremental advantages.
One major change with Kiki-Jiki is that you’ll be much more vulnerable to Lightning Bolt since that now stops Kiki-Jiki in response to his activated ability. You are, however, now immune Spellskite, since Kiki-Jiki and Deceiver Exarch only target your own permanents. Perhaps this means a version that goes all-in on the turn-5 combo will develop in the wake of fewer hate cards. Or perhaps an even more value-oriented Jeskai version will become the default:
This deck only ran 3 Twins! Twin already didn’t work with Restoration Angel, and I can imagine this list running another 1-2 Kiki-Jiki alongside a 4th Wall of Omens or interactive spell. The benefits of a deck like this are that it gets to play a strong control game and disrupt opposing game plans. It may be too slow in a world of big Tron decks looking to play a fast Ulamog, the Ceasless Hunger or Karn Liberated, but I’m not convinced that the Twin archetype is entirely dead. It’s just been slowed down to a more appropriate pace.
Winners: Unfair Decks
Modern is a turn-4 format. Except many decks in the format still aren’t. They were left intact because they flew too far under the radar and most people found them totally acceptable to be in the format since they weren’t out winning tournaments every weekend. Sound familiar? In a year’s time I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the following decks get banned because of format dominance and resiliency.
By Tom Ross
Infect can win on turn 2, and it’s not even that outlandish. Turn 1 Glistener Elf off a fetch, turn 2 fetch, Gitaxian Probe, Mutagenic Growth, Mutagenic Growth, Become Immense for 11 poison damage. That’s game! Oh, you had Path to Exile that I knew about from Gitaxian Probe? Well I guess I’ll cast Apostle’s Blessing since I have an extra mana lying around.
The fact that Infect can pull off sequences like this make it very scary, and the deck is quite reliable at killing on turn 3. The reason the deck is acceptable is that it’s some creatures and pump spells, which are the easiest things to interact with. Come prepared or get ready for the poison to take over your body.
By Ari Lax
Bogles gets going very quickly and makes a bigger creature than the opponent can handle by turn 2 or 3. Meanwhile it’s gaining tens of life at a time and punches through chump blockers with Rancor. If you can interact with Bogles’ game plan you’re very likely to win, but Bogles tries to proactively ignore you more than any other deck in the format. The biggest issue with the deck before was Spellskite—one of the few good answers to the deck—but that card keeps getting worse and worse with bannings. Now the best contender is Liliana of the Veil, but Bogles still runs a Dryad Arbor it can fetch to go around Liliana and runs extra 1/1s it can deploy for more insurance. Bonds of Mortality is hot off the presses as a pressure valve if the deck gets too good, but Spellskite is just better and has more applications.
By Bob Huang
This deck can pull off turn-2 kills in a highly uninteractive way. Goryo’s Vengeance is the card I most expected to get banned that didn’t. The only hope I have is that WotC has data on this deck and that its fail rate is high enough that they’re fine keeping it in the format. Goryo’s Vengeance also has other applications, specifically with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, so I do think it’s an interesting card for the format, but also extremely pushed. We’ll see if the Grishoalbrand deck can be tuned to be more consistent, because it certainly breaks the rules of Modern and has one of the highest ceilings of any deck still in the format.
By Jon Finkel
Ah, Storm! Classic Magic and made famous by none other than Johnny Magic himself. Storm is also a turn-3 deck in that it wins with incredibly high frequency after untapping with a Pyromancer’s Ascenscion. Similarly it can win on turn 3 from an empty board by leading with a Goblin Electromancer into a chain of rituals capped off by a lethal Grapeshot. That said, the deck is vulnerable to both discard and removal, specifically Abrupt Decay, but needs to be respected in game. Luckily, if your opponent leads on blue and red mana without doing anything the first two turns, you can more highly pin them on Storm instead of Twin now and be ready for the critical turn 3 instead of turn 4 from Twin.
Winners: Fair Decks
By Dmitry Butakov
Living End was always at the cusp of tier 1, and it gets a real boost with Twin on the downswing. Remand is the single best card to cripple Living End, and there are going to be way fewer Remands than Living End needed to fight through pre-bans. Additionally, Living End gets to play 4 Fulminator Mage in the main deck, which can hose all the mana bases from the new Eldrazi decks and Tron mana bases. Another incentive is that it can stop Infect mid-pump spells due to instant-speed Living Ends off a Violent Outburst, and also crushes Bogles. It seems like a very well positioned metagame deck if the metagame stayed exactly the same except with the removal of Twin and Amulet Bloom.
By Ali Antrazi
We’ve reached the land of turn-3 Karn Liberated and turn-4 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Some of you may say that doesn’t sound very fair, but Tron isn’t the fastest of decks despite its resilience. Once the ball gets rolling Tron is capable of grinding out any deck. It is vulnerable to land destruction and fast clocks from unfair decks. On top of that it’s one of the clear front-runners since Twin was the best deck against Tron, so players are more likely to come equipped with sideboards to fight it. The easiest way to lose post-board though is to play a Blood Moon and think you’ve won the game. Tron has many ways to make green mana for Nature’s Claim and even if it doesn’t do that, eventually it will hit its 6th land and start attacking you with Wurmcoil Engines. Be fast, be disruptive, and you should be able to dispatch the Eldrazi menace.
By Reid Duke
Jund looks to play a fair, balanced game of Magic. It relies on the turn-4 rule of Modern such that it can slowly rip apart the opponent’s game plan through discard and removal. It thrived because it could dismantle Twin and lock up the game with a Liliana of the Veil. Sure, it struggled against Amulet Bloom, but the decks that are going to rise up are quite good against Jund.
Living End wipes out all of Jund’s progress with a single spell. Tron just develops its mana base then plays an unbeatable threat off the top of its deck. Storm is kept in check through the early stages of the game until it has a giant graveyard and wins through Past in Flames. Grishoalbrand wins on turn 2. Infect animates a Blinkmoth Nexus that Abrupt Decay can’t target to deal lethal poison damage. Bogles—okay Bogles is bad versus Jund! The point is that Jund doesn’t have other slow decks to pick apart.
To my mind, Jund is the biggest loser under the new bannings. Burn decks are slower than other unfair decks so I briefly considered adding them to the list, but Eidolon of the Great Revel is going to be better than ever if that is the case. Storm and Infect almost concede to just one copy of it in play, so clearly Burn decks will still be a fine choice. It’s basically a combo deck anyway (that combo requiring you passed 2nd grade and know multiples of 3).
The Modern world lost some degenerate combo decks, but there are still more waiting in the wings to take over. Tron is now a format definer with Twin gone, rather than a niche role-player. Twin made the format a bit stagnant, but it was also a key check on the format, and fewer permission spells from Twin decks might lead to an arms race where decks keep trying to go faster and faster than one another. On the other hand, decks no longer have to live in fear of the Twin combo, and can focus on developing their game plan and interacting through means other than holding up Abrupt Decay from turn 3 on every game.
Something I like about the bannings is that metagaming is even more important. Every deck in Modern has always had a kryptonite and that’s not about to change. Though, if Jund does decline in popularity for the reasons I mention, you can’t lean on it to keep certain decks like Bogles in check. This means sideboard space becomes even more limiting. My advice is to remain proactive and be sure to bring a hate-filled sideboard to stop the top decks you expect to show up to at any given tournament.
I fully expect that this round of bannings was an experiment. Banning Twin is in a way unprecedented. There wasn’t a ton of talk calling for its banning, and yet it did have a unique stranglehold on the format. I’m actually fine seeing it go but it’s unclear yet whether that change will positively or negatively affect the format. Format diversity could increase since players no longer need to live in fear of the combo, but Twin’s presence as a lynchpin of the format could also cause Modern to unravel into a degenerate bowl of combo soup. Which will it be? I’m unsure for now, but luckily we’ll have our answer soon enough since after all, Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch is just a few short weeks away.