[Welcome back to Fact or Fiction! Today, SCG Tour commentators Patrick Sullivan and Cedric Phillips give their takes on five statements inspired by their thoughts on SCG Milwaukee this weekend. Read their responses and vote for the winner at the end!]
1. Even though Five-Color Humans is back to being a dominant Modern deck, U/R Gifts Storm is still a viable choice at SCG Milwaukee.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. I think people tend to overstate the case of how frequently someone will play against the perceived “best deck” throughout the course of a tournament. Even if you want to give Humans that type of billing (I wouldn’t), I’d be surprised if it comprised over 20% of the Day 2 field. That prices out to about two or three matches over fifteen rounds—definitely not a trivial amount, and maybe a reason not to Storm if you think that matchup is an actual zero-percenter, but not in itself a deal-breaker.
Hollow One can be fast, but isn’t terribly interactive. Most Jund builds I see seem too cumbersome and have too many inefficient Game 1 cards to be batting over 50% against Storm. The deck was considered by many to be one of Modern’s top decks not that long ago, and not every metagame shift has been negative. I’m not sure it would be my choice for the weekend, but I wouldn’t try to talk an experienced pilot off it.
Cedric Phillips: Fact. I was somewhat surprised by Storm’s dominance at SCG Cincinnati. With only two copies making Day 2 of competition of the Team Constructed Open, you’d think low numbers like that wouldn’t matter much. But when Storm got first (Matt Hoey) and third (Mitchell Sachs) at the event, it certainly made me take notice, especially because Humans just won Grand Prix Phoenix the week prior.
One of the things to keep in mind when it comes to Modern is that, because the format is so diverse, the chances that you play against your worst matchup multiple times in the same tournament are relatively low. Looking at those same Day 2 numbers of SCG Cincinnati, only two copies of Humans made Day 2 as well. Therefore, the chances that Hoey and Sachs would run into Humans in Cincinnati on Day 2 was rather low.
If Storm isn’t running into Humans often, it’s a great deck to play. And because Humans is unlikely to be more than 5% of the metagame because Modern is such a diverse format, I believe Storm is a great choice not only for SCG Milwaukee but Modern in general.
2. B/R Hollow One as a top-tier Modern deck is healthy for the format.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. Many of the people I see defending Hollow One from the “randomness” critique make the case that Magic is loaded with randomness (you draw a random card a turn, after all), so why is this anything different? I think that defense has two blind spots.
1) Backloaded versus frontloaded randomness. Rosewater and others have discussed this at length. The experience of all the randomness being loaded up front (for example, drawing an opening hand, but then all your cards are deterministic in their functionality) is much more emotionally satisfying than the other way (as a hypothetical, you choose the seven cards you want to start with, but they all involve rolling dice and flipping coins to determine their effect). Even people playing games with heavy random elements want a degree of agency once they are actually making decisions inside the game, and Hollow One involves a lot of what amounts to flipping coins inside of the game.
2) Invasiveness. If you want to flip a bunch of coins, I guess that’s fine. Foisting that experience onto me with Burning Inquiry is incredibly obnoxious if that’s not the kind of thing I want to sign up for.
The deck isn’t the worst thing—it just puts a bunch of numbers on the table, and the games that aren’t obscenely explosive tend to play pretty well. But I think it violates the experience of randomness that a lot of tournament Magic players are seeking, and I don’t think it’s the best thing for Modern if players feel obligated to play the deck due to power level.
Cedric Phillips: Fact. When I played in Grand Prix Phoenix a few weeks ago, I came prepared for the Hollow One matchup with TitanShift. I had a bunch of Obstinate Baloths, Ancient Grudges, and Thragtusks after sideboarding to give me a good shot at victory while also attempting to make Burning Inquiry mostly obsolete.
In Game 1, I got destroyed by Flameblade Adept and Flamewake Phoenix. In Game 2, Primeval Titan did its thing and we quickly moved on to Game 3. In that third game, I resolved two Obstinate Baloths, a Thragtusk, and we played a really long game. And guess what. I lost.
And it was easily the most fun match of the tournament for me.
Hollow One is a wild deck to play against. It feels like anything can happen in the games. I can lose my ability to play if Burning Inquiry goes poorly, but so can they. The same can be said about Goblin Lore. And then there are games where multiple Hollow Ones show up on the first turn of the game and I’m hopeless.
And yet I love all of it! I wouldn’t want to play against the deck every round, but once or twice a tournament sounds like a lot of fun.
3. Blue Moon is the best Jace, the Mind Sculptor deck in Modern.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. Many of the decks that can either overpower (Tron) or grind with (Jund) Jace, the Mind Sculptor have serious vulnerabilities to Blood Moon, a card I think is well-positioned right now anyway. Alternative shells for Jace involve three-color strategies like Grixis and Jeskai, and I don’t see the splash cards as particularly attractive right now, to say nothing of losing out on Blood Moon as a Game 1 option. I love Young Pyromancer as a sideboard card and I think Blue Moon facilitates it much better than the alternative decks with more lands that enter the battlefield untapped and, as a function of that, more cantrips.
I’m not sure I dig Madcap Experiment / Platinum Emperion right now—if you play it alongside Jace, you are really loading up on four-drops, and Emperion itself has serious issues with opposing Jaces and the rise of Jund, which has a plethora of answers in the maindeck. But I could be talked into Thing in the Ice—it seems great against Humans and Hollow One if protected with enough removal, andit isn’t a trivial card even in its more modest matchups.
Cedric Phillips: Fact…For Now. I think Blue Moon is the kind of control deck that is good for a finite amount of time. Once players catch on that the deck matters, they’ll fetch the correct lands with their fetchlands, they’ll build their manabases with more basics, and they’ll attack the deck as necessary, since it’s relatively fragile.
Make no mistake that Jace, the Mind Sculptor is a great addition for Blue Moon, as it used to have to win with various mediocre two-cards combos like Through the Breach / Emrakul, the Aeons Torn or Pestermite / Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Now that Jace can clean up games on its own, things have gotten easier for Blue Moon fans. That said, don’t expect this run of dominance from Blue Moon to last terribly long.
4. You expect an unexpected deck to win SCG Milwaukee a la SCG Dallas.
Patrick Sullivan: Fiction. Modern has many reasonable options, and most of them have had some measure of high-profile success over the last few years. Would it be a bit weird if something like Burn or G/R Land Destruction won the tournament? Sure. But I wouldn’t call it “unexpected” by any means, and if we’re using that as our rough definition, I would strongly bet against.
I wouldn’t completely write it off, however. Modern has a slew of busted cards that no one plays with for various reasons, and as the recent success of Krak-Clan Ironworks shows, all it takes is the right weekend and a well-tuned list to run over a field. But those examples live as exceptions, not rules, and the smart money is on something you’ve seen win a Modern tournament before.
Cedric Phillips: Fiction. I just don’t see it. I know G/R Land Destruction just won at SCG Dallas and we saw Ironworks Combo break out at GP Phoenix, but Modern is starting to get a little more stable. Humans, Hollow One, Storm, and Jund just seem like a cut above the rest right now. And then there are always format mainstays like Affinity, Burn, and Tron that always manage to walk away with a title every now and again.
Maybe I’m wrong, though. Modern has a lot of wild decks and many of them have been doing well on Magic Online. If you read GerryT’s 10 Things this week (and you should, because that article series is fantastic), you’ll find that decks like R/G Vengevine, G/U Tempo, Esper Control, and Five-Color Bring to Light have managed to go 5-0 in Competitive Modern Leagues.
Anything really is possible in Modern, but I’ll play the role of the fun police this time around.
5. It’s safe to take Splinter Twin off the Modern banned list.
Patrick Sullivan: Fact. “Safe” and “wise” are not the same thing, and I think unbanning Splinter Twin is one but not the other. In terms of raw metagame balance, Splinter Twin is probably acceptable. As more cards have been printed, Modern has gotten more powerful, and even at its absolute height it wasn’t like Splinter Twin was 40% of the room. Were Splinter Twin to come off the list, I would expect it to be a fixture of the format, but not necessarily the best thing going on month over month.
But since the shell of the deck is so powerful and comes at a relatively low opportunity cost, it has the habit of collapsing all the “blue control” decks into Splinter Twin strategies (Izzet or three colors), and that’s why I think removing it from the banned list would be unwise. People play Jeskai, Temur, Grixis, and other sorts of Snapcaster Mage / Cryptic Command decks right now, each with a distinct set of advantages and costs. I think those decks become significantly more homogenous when Splinter Twin is an option, and I would rather players have a variety of good blue control options rather than a single great one.
Cedric Phillips: Fiction. I think having Splinter Twin being a deck while Jace, the Mind Sculptor is legal is a pretty bad idea. Not only were Splinter Twin decks able to always threaten the idea of a Turn 4 kill, but they were also able to play longer games and oftentimes sideboarded in a way to be able to do just that.
Jace, the Mind Sculptor is the ultimate tool for a long game.
The idea of a Splinter Twin deck existing with access to Jace is actually pretty frightening to me. The deck was already the best deck since Modern’s inception and it never had access to the best planeswalker of all time. Had it had access to Jace, I’m not sure anyone would have ever beaten it.
Sorry, Splinter Twin fans. Jace ruined everything for you.