It's time for another edition of Fact or Fiction! In this column, two Select writers will decide whether or not the following statements are fact… (wait for it…) or fiction! After it's all said and done, you, the reader, will get a chance to vote for the winner of the debate! Today we have pro superstar Ross Merriam taking on Shaheen Soorani, patron saint of Modern bannings and occasional control deck hobbyist.
1. Banning Splinter Twin was a good decision.
Ross Merriam – Fact
This has been hotly debated over the weekend with many people expressing their dissatisfaction with the decision. However, what many fail to keep in mind is that the Modern ban list uses a significantly different set of criteria than Standard and Legacy. Unlike Legacy, Modern needs to have a dynamic metagame, especially around the time of the Modern Pro Tour, while unlike Standard, Modern does not get the same influx of new cards or biyearly rotation to help it achieve that dynamism. Therefore, the ban list needs to be used more aggressively and creatively to ensure not only the overall health of the format, but also its freshness.
Once viewed in that context, the banning of Splinter Twin makes sense. Twin decks have been around in various forms since the inception of Modern, and they are often among the best choices. Without Twin in the format, we as players are now free to explore different possibilities for blue, perhaps yielding a more diverse format. And if it turns out that the format is worse off without Twin, the card can always be reinstated like Wild Nacatl.
The only downside to using the ban list aggressively in this way is the blow to consumer confidence, and while I am sympathetic to those people who built Pod two years ago and Splinter Twin last year (I'll see you at the support group), I would rather have a more interesting and dynamic format than more valuable cards. And don't worry, I'm sure your Scalding Tarns and Snapcaster Mages will find good homes.
Shaheen Soorani - Fiction
The Splinter Twin ban did nothing to further the diversity of the format, promote format health, or improve general gameplay in Modern. The viable blue decks that rested on the top tier were U/R Twin and Infect, one of which is about as loose of a blue deck you can possibly craft. There are Grixis Control decks that can barely make a Top 16 spot, because in Modern the cards are far too powerful for you to attempt a draw-go strategy.
With the banning of Splinter Twin, decks like G/R Tron and Eldrazi variants are going to have a scary, unchecked power level. G/R Tron has been gifted with Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, which can nuke two of your three lands on turn 4 and effectively end the game against any foe. To top it all off, Kozilek's Return gives G/R Tron the renewable sweeper to handle problematic matchups like Infect, Elves, or other aggressive decks that try to flood the board or have a high number of fragile creatures. If you aren't swarming, then Ugin, the Spirit Dragon; Oblivion Stone; or a rapid Karn Liberated will push the dagger in.
What kept these decks in check? A consistent turn 4 combo deck that had blue disruption to interact with prior was the answer. I will never be a Twin player, but I am against the banning. I'll never touch Zoo with a ten-foot pole, but I was happy for Wild Nacatl to get unbanned. I am an advocate for format health, which puts me at odds with my own self-interest on the topic of bannings and unbannings.
2. Ancestral Vision should have been unbanned in Modern.
Ross Merriam – Fact
This one is much closer of a decision in my opinion. Ancestral Vision is an incredibly powerful card and one that could lead to a broken format. However, there are a few reasons why I think a test unban would be a worthwhile risk to take.
First, this gives the color blue a power boost after the loss of Splinter Twin, and interestingly, it does so with a card that does not play well with Snapcaster Mage. While I think most Ancestral Vision decks would also play Snapcaster Mage, since they both incentivize you to play with cheap interaction, it is not clear to me that such a deck would be overpowered in a format that requires you to answer threats as diverse as Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, and Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
Second, I think the interaction between Suspend and Processors would have encouraged players to explore the Eldrazi from Battle for Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch, which is great for the Pro Tour. Being able to accomplish this while also possibly improving the Modern format is the best possible result from an unbanning since it makes the format interesting for players and provides good marketing for the game.
Shaheen Soorani - Fiction
No one enjoyed casting Ancestral Vision more than this blue mage. My solo Nationals Top 8 in 2008 was on the back of a ramp/control strategy that was one of the few decks to utilize its power. I also played four copies in Blink Riders and got some looks for playing the slowest card draw spell to rip late in the game. Needless to say, I love that card and it would go in every control deck I build in Modern.
The sad reality is that it is actually too good, would empower a deck like Ad Nauseam too heavily, and would put a heavy burden on the ability of midrange decks to defeat the new wave of control decks. Control is usually primed to defeat midrange, but a card like Ancestral Vision would make the matchup atrocious for the poor Jund/Abzan players everywhere. This goes back to format health and even though I believe Stoneforge Mystic, Sword of the Meek, or Jace, the Mind Sculptor should have been unbanned, Ancestral Visions would be far too powerful.
3. Stoneforge Mystic should have been unbanned in Modern.
Ross Merriam – Fiction
Short Answer: That card is busted.
Long Answer: Stoneforge Mystic represents a threat whose combination of versatility and efficiency is unmatched in Magic's history. The only reason the card is not dominant in Legacy is because that format is so fast you can reasonably die on turn 2. In a turn 4 format like Modern, letting Stoneforge Mystic provide blue decks with such an incredible threat is far too dangerous, even if some reasonable answers to the card like Kolaghan's Command now exist.
Shaheen Soorani - Fact
Stoneforge Mystic is the old boogeyman of Standard's past. During the Caw-Blade era, people were forced to play one of two or three decks in order to remain competitive. During this format, Standard was quite unpopular and had record low PTQs and local tournaments, which resulted in the banning of the Kor Artificer at the tail end of her legality.
In Modern she would not be nearly as powerful as she was in Standard and Legacy. Most competitive players agree that Stoneforge Mystic strategies in Legacy are for fools, but I hope that I and others who support the equipment have proved the naysayers wrong. Unlike in Legacy, Stoneforge Mystic in Modern faces a large population of artifact hate that isn't popular in the older formats, four Lightning Bolts in almost every deck, hand disruption that has every black player salivating as we tutor up our Batterskull, aggressive decks that kill with Infect or have a ton of spot removal to remove the Squire before the game-ending equipment lands, early turn kills that prevent us from setting up our win condition early on, and the list goes on and on.
Legacy is a more streamlined format, and with the power of Force of Will, we can tap out on turn 2 confidently most of the time. WotC fears the cards that tormented Standard, so it removed them preemptively, but it fails to realize that the game is much different. Stoneforge Mystic decks would come out of the woodwork everywhere and finally create a powerful control archetype, but they wouldn't dominate like they did in Standard.
Ross Merriam – Fact, then Fiction
I do believe that an Eldrazi-oriented deck will make the Top 8 of #PTOGW, and it is the power of those lands that will carry the deck that far, but a single Top 8 is far from compelling evidence for a ban, even in Modern.
What we will see instead is the emergence of an interesting new class of fair decks in Modern, an influx that the format desperately needed after years of revolving around Jund and Twin variants. Any time you have a deck with lands that consistently tap for two or more mana without sacrificing much in the power level of your spells, you are going to win a lot of games. Eldrazi decks get to supplement powerful creatures with discard and good removal spells while having maindeck graveyard hate for Snapaster Mage and decks like Living End and Goryo's Vengeance, so there is a lot to like.
We have yet to see the deck break out and that has caused many to dismiss the deck, but I believe we have not seen a well-tuned list and the Pro Tour will cause the best players in the world to come together and figure it out, at which point we will see the true power of the Eldrazi.
Shaheen Soorani - Fact
Those who don't play a heck of a lot of MTGO do not realize the floodgates that are about to open. I'm not saying that Eldrazi Temple decks will dominate and rule the world, but they have effectively shrunk the viable decks in the metagame. G/R Tron and Eldrazi-oriented decks have the ability to pump out threats for half the cost as early as turn 2, which stops any fair midrange, aggro, or flailing control deck from even getting started.
I have had the "pleasure" of playing a ton of matches against the B/W, Mono-Black, and B/U Eldrazi decks, and I have not been crushed by any sense of the imagination. I lose about 60% of the time, but part of being a good ambassador for the competitive world of the game we love is looking out for the overall longevity of the format. Modern is super popular right now and is fueled by a casual player base that WotC is well aware of, but if you are sleeving up for your first fifteen-round Modern Grand Prix with your sweet Merfolk deck and you think the world is as safe and fair as it is at your local game store, then you will be let down.
Modern needs top-tier aggressive, midrange, control, and combo decks, and until that happens, you can expect to regularly hear out of this ranting old man. Help me make Modern great and get on social media with your suggestions. We may not agree on everything, but the conversation is what is most important.