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 decision.
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.
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.
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 announcement.
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: Fac/tion? 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 anything.
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.