Modern Banned And Restricted Announcement Debate!

With Ironworks gone, we’re looking at a new Modern format! But how much will change now that the best combo deck is gone? Three of our brightest minds think it over!

Welcome to another edition of

Fact or Fiction
Today, Sam Black, Emma Handy, and Ari Lax are here to render their
verdicts on five statements about
the latest
Banned and Restricted
announcement by Wizards of the Coast. Don’t forget to vote for the winner at the end!

1. Banning Krark-Clan Ironworks was a good

Sam Black: Fact.
It was a good decision, but it might not have been the best decision. I
agree with

Ian Duke’s stated reasoning for taking action

against Ironworks. The deck is legitimately too good and the other concerns
are real. The deck definitely should have been banned and they did that.

The question is whether they did it the right way. Personally, as someone
who only considers playing Modern decks with at least one of Thoughtseize,
Ancient Stirrings, Mox Opal, and Faithless Looting, I think Mox Opal is too
strong for Modern. I agree with their reasoning that it increases
diversity, and I actually think not banning it right now was correct.

I worry that banning Krark-Clan Ironworks without banning Mox Opal will
lead to a format that’s too good for prison decks and that people will
complain about prison a lot, but WotC correctly doesn’t like to take action
speculatively and that hasn’t happened yet. Currently, Mox Opal makes the
format more diverse, so while it’s scary, it gets a pass. I think they
should ban it before banning another artifact, but I think Ensnaring Bridge
is about as likely to be the next artifact banned.

Given that they want to ban Ironworks and not something that hurts other
decks, the question – that I’m frustrated they say they didn’t even
consider – is whether to ban Krark-Clan Ironworks or Scrap Trawler.
Krark-Clan Ironworks is the broken card, but Scrap Trawler is actually the
card that leads to the experience they’re trying to avoid. The strength and
problems with the deck come from Scrap Trawler loops. To me, the question
is whether it’s better to leave Krark-Clarn Ironworks so that weaker
Ironworks decks can continue to exist (this wouldn’t be a problem, this is
often the goal, as it was with Amulet Titan), or whether it’s better to
leave Scrap Trawler as a possible value card for artifact creature decks.

If Scrap Trawler had no utility outside of Ironworks, I’d think it would be
the better ban, but I actually think Scrap Trawler is a fun card when it
shows up in other decks, so I think there’s value in protecting it;
Krark-Clan Ironworks was probably the best ban.

Emma Handy: Fact. Banning Krark-Clan Ironworks was a great decision!

For the long form version of my thoughts, here’s my article:
It’s Time to Kill Ironworks.

The tl;dr: Ironworks is too consistent for how fast it is, and the only
hate card that actually works is Stony Silence, but also it doesn’t work
sometimes. A combo deck that can use an interactive piece as
multi-functional as Engineered Explosives isn’t reasonable.

Ari Lax: Whatever, Fact.
My experience with Ironworks is largely in arenas the deck was mitigated.
Not just by the Magic Online chess clock, but by Pro Tour or Invitational
players really knowing how to approach the matchup. Proactive and
disruptive, not just one of the two. Ironworks did overwhelmingly average
in these events. The deck had a real bottleneck as its namesake card was
vulnerable to typical Modern hate cards and wasn’t egregiously faster than
the format.

On the flip side, Ironworks was pretty miserable to face for players less
prepared for it. It was the worst kind of linear deck: convoluted,
resilient, and outside of normal interaction. Grand Prix and SCG Tour Opens
were probably the pinnacle of this, with Grand Prix Oakland and all the
aggregated data showing it. The format is certainly not actively better
with it existing either, but you can say that about a lot of decks in a lot
of formats.

I’m not going to miss Ironworks and have no issue with a ban, but if it
wasn’t banned I also wouldn’t care. This probably helps Inquisition of
Kozilek a lot because it has one less extreme angle to cover in the format.
Again, whatever, Modern isn’t changing much.

2. Ancient Stirrings should have been banned in today’s
B&R announcement.

Sam Black: Fiction.
This basically gets back to what I mentioned before. As Ian said in the
announcement, only Azorius Control has even as many as half of Ironworks’
GP top 8s, and Ironworks hasn’t even been an especially popular deck.
Action was taken because of an absolutely dominant performance by a deck,
not because they think a card is broadly too powerful in Modern.

The format has gotten to a place where there are several pillars, and
almost all of them cost one mana-there are the cards I listed above: Mox
Opal, Ancient Stirrings, Faithless Looting, and Thoughtseize, plus Noble
Hierarch and Lightning Bolt. It would be reasonable to ban any or all of
those. There was once a time when WotC wanted people to be able to retire
Standard decks into Modern. For that to be the case, you’d need to ban all
those to drop the power level down. They don’t want to do that now because
it would feel like a completely different format, and the current format is
healthy; no one wants them to suddenly ban every deck.

There’s really no reason to ban Ancient Stirrings over any of those other
cards. Ironworks was too good, but that’s gone now, so that argument is
meaningless. Maybe the format would be better without Ancient Stirrings
because maybe Tron and Prison are too good, but I like WotC’s approach of
making the decks prove that they’re too good rather than preemptively
banning them.

Emma Handy: Fiction.
Ancient Stirrings is a card that too many people like to use in their
decks. Whenever we compare it to things like Ponder and Preordain, it
misses the point a little bit. Tron, for example, doesn’t have anything
that it can replace Ancient Stirrings with. Serum Visions does the same
thing as Ponder but a little bit worse; Oath of Nissa does a worse thing
than Ancient Stirrings, and also does that weaker thing worse.

Not-Stirrings green cantrips being unable to hit things like Expedition Map
and Oblivion Stone is a large enough downgrade that we’d see a serious
decline in decks that are propped up by Ancient Stirrings, and that isn’t a
good enough reason to take it out of the format.

Ari Lax: Fiction. Of all the cards you could possibly have banned to hurt Ironworks,
Ancient Stirrings is absolutely the wrong one. Note I said “possibly,” so
not Chromatic Star.

Ancient Stirrings is extremely powerful, but it largely amplifies other
egregious cards. Unlike Preordain and Ponder, it has extreme limitations on
that set of cards. It also doesn’t bridge well to lighter graveyard
synergies like delve, and doesn’t chain to more Ancient Stirrings. It’s
easier to say “Krark-Clan Ironworks is too broken and would be that way
regardless” once every three years than keep hitting a relevant card across
all five colors every year with Ponder.

The thing that might have me change my tune in a couple years is if people
figure out the cantrip redundancy issue with Ancient Stirrings. Currently,
all the Ancient Stirrings decks just have it as a good one-cost card
filterer. Either their core colorless engine takes up too much space, or a
more expensive direct tutor is more important to assemble everything, or
their colorless mana makes other good cantrips inaccessible. If someone
cracks the code and makes a deck where the Ancient Stirrings shell blends
into more traditional combo cantrip nonsense, that’s the beginning of the
end for the card.

3. Mox Opal should have been banned in today’s B&R

Sam Black: Fiction.
Literally everything I said for Stirrings applies here except that it
doesn’t get played in Tron.

Emma Handy: Fiction.
In a lot of ways, Mox Opal has a similar spot as Ancient Stirrings when
looking at how difficult it is to replace with any other card, but also is
incredibly expensive to acquire. The latter point puts WotC in a position
where, even without acknowledging the price of the card, they can be
cognizant of how difficult it is to obtain the card.

Mox Opal is a card that breathes life into strategies that have been
fixtures in Modern since the beginning. On top of that, the strongest
argument for Mox Opal’s legality, in my mind, is that it’s reached a sort
of “sacred cow” status. What I mean by that is that even though it’s a
little too powerful for the format, as long as it isn’t completely ruining
the format on its own, it’s reasonable for it to still exist.

In older formats, particularly Legacy, there are cards that are
historically too powerful or break the rules that WotC sets aside for cards
that would be “ban-worthy.” Brainstorm is the easiest offender to look to
at this point, as it has almost single-handedly made blue the best color in
Legacy by a comical amount, for an incredibly low deckbuilding cost. The
“problem” is that Legacy players love casting Brainstorm, and at this
point, it’s part of the format’s identity and isn’t the card actually doing
the broken things – it’s just enabling them. Wasteland, Dark Depths, and
fetchlands are other cards that fit this paradigm.

There are some cards in Modern that are likely too powerful for the format
as well, but have been around forever and shape Modern’s identity as a
long-term format. Snapcaster Mage, Lightning Bolt, Mox Opal–I’m sure there
are more cards you can think of. Banning the cards that break them is fine;
banning the cards that people have fallen in love with in the last several
years isn’t.

Ari Lax: Fiction.
Affinity, Hardened Scales, and Puresteel Paladin aren’t issues. Ironworks
might have still been one without Mox Opal, even if it would be much worse.
Mox Opal isn’t Modern’s problem right now.

But wow, does Mox Opal still top the list of cards that deserved an earlier
ban in the format. In the long run nothing good comes out of Mox Opal being
a part of the format. It’s free mana conditioned on you playing cheap
cantrips or other free cards. It’s even fixing for archetypes that should
be limited by colorless mana.

Modern has been a format for over seven years now. If in another seven
years, the format is still thriving and Mox Opal hasn’t been banned, I
would be stunned.

4. Stoneforge Mystic should have been unbanned in today’s
B&R announcement.

Sam Black: Fiction.
I think the power level is too high and the play experience is too bad,
but I’m becoming sympathetic to the complaint that white creature decks are
getting outclassed by tribal decks, and that this would create tension
between tribal and non-tribal white creature decks.

I think the format is better off without it, but if Humans or Spirits
become too good, that problem is hard to deal with through banning because
it’s not clear which single card you could ban that would matter (probably
Noble Hierarch), and just letting Stoneforge Mystic in might be the best
path to diversity among creature decks.

I just think the risk is too high if there isn’t a specific problem it’s
trying to solve.

Emma Handy:
Stoneforge Mystic is a card that is likely fine to unban on power level,
but the way that it stifles creativity would be pretty miserable. It’s
likely the epitome of cards that would be good in too many places for it to
be anything but miserable trying to find them for the first few months of
her legality, and then when everybody did have them, all of a sudden,
Goblin Guide wouldn’t see nearly as much play as it does today, Jeskai
Control would be able to pressure you with Stoneforge Mystic draws and Cryptic Command/Teferi draws.

That just… that just sounds like miserable Magic to be playing.

I said Fact because she could be unbanned. But honestly? I hope
she rots on that list.

Ari Lax: Fiction.
I’m getting more convinced over the years by the Stoneforge Mystic crowd
that the card wouldn’t be too strong for Modern; at the same time, Modern
looks like a format very soft to the exact brand of garbage Stoneforge
Mystic provides.

People always look at Stoneforge Mystic in Legacy. Combo there is faster,
white disruption is worse relative to the other options, and Stoneforge
Mystic is still a real player. It has legs on raw power alone and not just
because Umezawa’s Jitte exists.

The problem is that Stoneforge Mystic is so much power in such a small
package. It would play a similar role to Ironworks adding Sai, Master
Thopterist in a lot of shells, where a small slot concession gives you a
powerful second angle of attack. Unlike Tarmogoyf, the exchange with Fatal
Push leaves you up a card, and with more decks adding Faithless Looting, we
have the Legacy-style card exchange to make up for it. Batterskull is also
a much more restrictive threat for aggro to face than Tarmogoyf.

This is almost the reverse of the Ironworks debate. If they unbanned
Stoneforge Mystic I don’t think it would demolish the format, but lots of
interesting decks would disappear overnight in favor of 69 nice cards, 4
Stoneforge Mystic, 2 Batterskull.

5. Splinter Twin should have been unbanned into today’s
B&R announcement.

Sam Black: Fiction.
Hard pass. I legitimately think Modern entered a golden age as a result
of Twin’s banning, and I think the deck creates a miserable play
experience. The best arguments for leaving the deck in the format were
based on the way that having a strong Izzet deck in the format influenced
the metagame, basically that Twin was an interactive deck that kept less
interactive decks in check; but we already have that with Izzet Phoenix,
and I think the format is strictly better if Izzet Phoenix is the Steam
Vents deck rather than Splinter Twin. They’re a home for similar kinds of
cards and interactions, and similar answers are good against both decks
(like Rending Volley because of Deceiver Exarch and Thing in the Ice), but
Izzet Phoenix is a deck you can play Magic against. Too often with Splinter
Twin the game just feels stupid because nothing you did mattered.

The deckbuilding restrictions Splinter Twin effectively places of the rest
of the format are simply too high a cost for the card to possibly improve

Emma Handy: Fiction.
As someone who played Temur Twin for almost as long as it was legal,
Splinter Twin just doesn’t create fun gameplay. Sure, it might be fun for
the person playing Splinter Twin, but for everybody else, never quite
knowing whether you were playing against a control deck or a combo deck was
absolutely miserable. Having to lose two mana a turn against a deck that
played Snapcaster Mage and Cryptic Command isn’t fun. Having to sometimes
tap out against the control deck to slip a threat through, only for them to
flash in a combo piece and put the nail in the coffin after they untap
isn’t fun.

Splinter Twin is another card like Stoneforge Mystic: there are answers to
it, and there may even be more broken things running around Modern today,
but it doesn’t create good gameplay. Not to watch, not to sideboard
against. Not to play against.

Ari Lax: Quit It With This Garbage, Fiction. Banning Splinter Twin is one of the most important things to happen to
Modern. I’m just going to make the same fundamental arguments as with
Stoneforge Mystic, only Splinter Twin is even worse.

Modern now is limiting on game time, but not in deck diversity. Every
linear deck is interactive, but it must be on each decks’ terms. Your
Arclight Phoenix deck must go through Lightning Bolt, your Hardened Scales
deck through Walking Ballista, and so on.

Splinter Twin doesn’t have to do that. You play some Deceiver Exarch, some
Splinter Twin, then flex like a normal Steam Vents control deck. You get to
be as fast as the rest of the format, as punishing to the wrong
interaction, but you aren’t limited in interaction. The format stops
churning under Splinter Twin, with every unique, linear deck falling into
the same lump “dies to Twin” category and every midrange deck falling into
“tries to grind out Twin.”

Modern now is fine. None of the issues you have with it were removed under
Splinter Twin. Stop making things worse in known ways to solve problems you
know they won’t solve.