Is It Time To Unban Splinter Twin?

Splinter Twin won a lot of games and a lot of tournaments in a way that a lot of players did not like. But is it possible that card and that combo were what was keeping Modern in check? Was Splinter Twin the Force of Will of Modern? Pro Tour Champion Shaun McLaren gives his take!

Izzet time?

It’s been almost a year since Splinter Twin was, quite unexpectedly, banned.

Twin decks were a staple of the Modern metagame until the January 18, 2016 Banned and Restricted Announcement happened, when millions of Faeries cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.

If we were to take a look back at how the Modern metagame looked before these bans happened about a year ago, sometime around November 2015, it still wouldn’t look all that different from how it does now.

Notably absent would be Death’s Shadow, Dredge, and Bant Eldrazi, and you’d see Amulet Bloom and Splinter Twin decks thriving. Perhaps Lantern and Infect weren’t as prominent as they are now, but you’d still see lots of familiar faces.

How has Modern changed from then until now, and should those changes justify a Splinter Twin unbanning a year after it was banned? What might Modern look like if Splinter Twin was unbanned?

I’ll take a stab at trying to answer those questions.

First, let’s take a look at the reasons why Splinter Twin was banned in the first place and if those reasons hold up now with the benefit of being in the future.

The “Speed of the Format” Argument

Let’s look at some reasons why cards get banned using explanations presented in that Banned and Restricted announcement a year ago.

When a format becomes imbalanced, or too many games are not interactive, we examine the cause.

We look for competitively viable decks that frequently win before the fourth turn.

This was originally talking about Amulet Bloom.

So we don’t want non-interactive games or decks that win too often before turn 4 in Modern…

…That’s pretty much the definition of a third of the Modern metagame is at the moment. Infect, Death’s Shadow, Dredge. So we’ve got a bit of banning to do if you want to cull the decks that frequently win before the fourth turn. But maybe that definition needs to be reformed and bumped to turn 2 wins.

Even turn 2 isn’t safe. Death’s Shadow and Temur Battle Rage or Glistener Elf, Mutagenic Growth, and a little more pump can actually get the job done on turn 2 without breaking a sweat.

Many games are already over by turn 2, though, even if they aren’t officially over:

Cathartic Reunion dredging up ten power worth of creatures before you can even cast Rest in Peace to stop them if they’re on the play.

Lantern Control locking out your draws and dropping Ensnaring Bridge.

Simian Spirit Guide accelerating out a Blood Moon.

Don’t get me wrong; this isn’t a knockdown argument against Modern as a whole. We just need to accept that Modern is often sonic-speed fast and Modern is also often not interactive beyond hate cards that outright win the game. That’s only some of the time; some of the time, games can be long and interactive.

I’ve actually even begun to enjoy Modern more lately as I’ve embraced its speed and degeneracy rather than trying to resist the speedy degenerate decks and hold Modern to a standard it used to conform to in the “good ol’ days” where you could rely on Sphinx’s Revelation to get the job done.

Tell people my story.

Is Modern everything I want it to be in my perfect world? No, but it can still be fun.

As more cards get printed, Modern is likely only going to get faster.

The Diversity Argument

We also look for decks that hold a large enough percentage of the competitive field to reduce the diversity of the format.

Is more diversity really what Modern needs? It seems like, no matter what happens, Modern is always the most diverse format, more so now that there isn’t a Modern Pro Tour. There are dozens and dozens of viable or nearly viable different archetypes.

Decks that are this strong can hurt diversity by pushing the decks that it defeats out of competition. They can also reduce diversity by supplanting similar decks. For instance, Shaun McLaren won Pro Tour Born of the Gods playing this Jeskai control deck. Alex Bianchi won our most recent Modern Grand Prix playing a similar deck but adding the Splinter Twin combination. Similarly, Temur Tempo used to see play at high-level events but has been supplanted by Temur Twin.

In the interest of competitive diversity, Splinter Twin is banned from Modern.

Funny seeing your deck used as an example that you don’t agree with. Splinter Twin was one of the good matchups for my Jeskai deck, and especially rewarding if you’d practiced the matchup many times.

Having Twin be part of the format helped the playability of other control decks, not only because Twin was a good matchup but because you wanted the degenerate combo and aggro decks worrying about Splinter Twin, dedicating maindeck and sideboard slots to it.

Playing Modern right now, I wouldn’t want to run Jeskai in a high-level tournament because I wouldn’t feel like I was, ironically enough, in control of my destiny. I’d much rather not fret about dealing with Lantern Control, Dredge, and Death’s Shadow and just play something proactive myself.

The disappearance of Twin has hurt the other blue control decks, and with that, the diversity of decks and strategies. Does control still exist?

Sure, but it’s even more fringe than it was before.

I also think bringing back Twin would have the added bonus of bringing back a splash of more intricate blue-on-blue matches like Jeskai versus Splinter Twin.

I think Twin would slow Modern down and diversify it, the exact opposite of the main reasons it was banned in the first place. It’s also nice that we’ve had a whole year off from getting smacked in the face by Deceiver Exarch, so the staleness of Twin being a top deck for all of Modern’s lifespan is also less of a factor.

There are still plenty reasons you could argue to not unban Splinter Twin.

What if I’m wrong and Twin decks are actually incredibly powerful right now and would warp the metagame in an undesirable way?

Would Twin Even Be a Good Deck Right Now?

When Twin was banned, it was not a widely well-received decision. Twin was often seen as the gatekeeper of the format holding combo in check, much like the dragonfly eating all the pesky mosquitoes. Dragonflies might be ugly bugs you don’t want to face, but surely they’re less annoying than mosquitoes, right?

There are three scenarios:

1. Twin decks are noticeably worse in Modern than they were before.

A world where Splinter Twin sees little play is the best world to unban Splinter Twin.

This would be like when they unbanned Sword of the Meek or Golgari Grave-Troll and no actually ended up playing them…

Er, this would be like when they unbanned Sword of the Meek and no actually ended up playing with it…

Golgari Grave-Troll does make for a good cautionary lesson. If R&D is planning on printing Smuggler’s Exarch, a two-mana blue 3/3 creature with flash that taps or untaps a permanent when it enters the battlefield and loots when it attacks in Aether Revolt, unbanning Splinter Twin is a terrible idea.

Sometimes playing it safe is the best option so you don’t have to ban the same card twice.

I doubt this would be the case for Splinter Twin, but I also think the Twin deck would be highly playable right now.

2. Twin decks are about the same power level in Modern as they were before Splinter Twin was banned.

I think this is the most likely scenario.

There aren’t too many reasons why Twin would be much weaker than it was and there aren’t too many reasons why it would be much stronger either.

There are still plenty of old adversaries like Jund, Infect, Zoo, and Lantern Control to face. These archetypes, which Twin wasn’t crushing anyway, may have actually all improved against Twin as well thanks to cards like Grim Flayer, Collective Brutality, Blossoming Defense, Goblin Bushwhacker, and Inventors’ Fair.

What has Twin gained?

Ancestral Vision is the big question mark and may end up being very good in Twin. That would certainly be part of the risk of Twin being too strong, but I doubt it would upset the balance.

3. Twin decks would be noticeably better and take over Modern.

This is the bad scenario.

Whether or not Twin would dominate would likely depend on how good it was against Dredge, Bant Eldrazi, and Death’s Shadow.

If Twin crushed Dredge, would that be such a bad thing?

Dredge hasn’t been around for long but it already looks to be a dominant force in the metagame is already one of the most-played decks on Magic Online.

Twin would have access to Anger of the Gods, Relic of Progenitus, Surgical Extraction, and a fast combo finish that Dredge has trouble interacting with. Right now Dredge doesn’t really have a natural predator.

It’s ultimately hard to predict what would happen and Dredge is still new, but I’d still say it’s better to have the dragonfly than the mosquito.

Will Splinter Twin Be Unbanned?

Right now we aren’t sure if bans or unbans are going to happen except under extreme circumstances or if the format is going to be left to fend for itself.

The Modern Pro Tour was dissolved, so there isn’t a strong urgency for Modern to be tuned.

Uncertainty and lack of incentives for Wizards to shake things up is a reason not to unban Splinter Twin. Banning and unbanning should not be taken lightly and I think Wizards favors homeostasis.

Are the reasons Splinter Twin is still on the banned list strong enough from my point of view? I don’t think so.

I don’t think Splinter Twin should’ve been banned in the first place, and with everything I know now, I don’t think it should continue to stay banned.

I do think it’s a close decision, though.

What might Modern look like if Splinter Twin was unbanned?

It’s difficult to say for sure, but from a “health of the format” perspective, I think it would be a win.

It’s also easy for me to say and toss out opinions. Let’s all remember that it’s not difficult to play Armchair R&D.

Another option would be to just ban Become Immense and Golgari Grave-Troll, or whatever else.

It seems like the community reacts much more favorably to unbans than bans. People like being given new toys, not having them taken away. Adding Twin back into the mix would mean we get a “new” archetype. It wouldn’t mean you couldn’t play your old deck if you wanted to.

Do I think Splinter Twin will be unbanned soon?

No. Not above 50% this next announcement. I’d say the most likely outcome is no change to the Banned List right now.

Maybe that’s the best way to handle Modern: stop putting speed bumps, let the cars get as fast as they possibly can with no speed limit, and let the winners win and the losers crash.

Sometimes dying on turn 2 and sometimes playing non-interactive games? Yup. Lantern Control is Tier 1? Sure.

Honestly, that isn’t such a bad thing. A format can have flaws and still be fun.

Modern might just be beyond a perfect fix.

For now I’m just going to accept the variance, enjoy it for the huge explosive format it is, toss out my opinion every once in a while, and stop trying to make it perfect.