A Last Word on the Splinter Twin Banning

I made a New Year’s resolution to minimize participation in ban discussions throughout 2016. Modern has more than enough banlist din in Twitch chat, Reddit threads, and article comment sections across the content-sphere. Then the Splinter Twin banning happened. Wizards’ announcement has made it impossible to discuss any aspect of 2016 Modern without some reference to their controversial decision. Everything from sideboard calls to metagame context, deck choices to format direction, and countless other Modern elements in between has been affected. Despite this upheaval, or perhaps with respect to it, I’m ready to depart ban discussion and return to strategies and metagame analysis, but not before giving a personal Last Word on the ban.

Last-Word-on-Twin-Banner

Starting tomorrow, I’m back on my resolution wagon and steering clear of ban discussion. I’ll be revisiting banlist issues when we either receive new information about Wizards’ policies (please, Sam Stoddard?) or approach the next announcement in April. Today, however, I want to raise two points about the recent decision, digging into some unexplored statistics, and drawing a line on where I stand with regard to the January 18th update. In the past, I have analyzed many of Wizards’ decisions and ultimately accepted them at face value. The Twin update did not withstand this scrutiny. There is a body of quantitative and qualitative evidence that exposes two major unanswered and under-addressed elements of the announcement. This article presents those factors as open questions demanding acknowledgment, and I will certainly revisit them as the new Modern evolves.

Missing Metagame Context

Many ban proponents believe Wizards’ justification in the January 18 announcement, centered on Top 8 finishes, was sufficient to explain Splinter Twin‘s removal. Neither previous updates nor broader metagame statistics support that position. As old banlist changes from Bloodbraid Elf to Birthing Pod have shown, the Twin update is missing a key factor at play in all those preceding format-diversity bans: a significant, metagame-wide format share. This notable absence suggests either Wizards has changed their criteria to emphasize Top 8s at the expense of the broader Modern metagame picture, or that there were other reasons for Twin’s ban beyond those mentioned in the update.

Note: this section excludes 2011 bans made before Modern was a Grand Prix format. The addition of a Grand Prix Day 2 metagame dramatically increases our population size and thus changes how we conduct metagame analysis.

The Metagame Factor in Old Banlist Updates

summer bloomThe January 2016 Twin announcement did make a passing nod to metagame shares. In that article, Wizards transitioned from Summer Bloom‘s ban to Twin’s, outlining how they “also look for decks that hold a large enough percentage of the competitive field to reduce the diversity of the format.” In his article last Friday, Jordan treated this sentence as a bridge from Bloom discussion to Twin, not an actual statistical summary. He concluded Twin’s metagame share did not seem to be a major factor in its eventual ban. Others have been comfortable with the article focusing solely on Top 8s, even if metagame numbers are left by the wayside.

Having reviewed past announcements and crunched the numbers, I view this is a major inconsistency with past bans which we need to recognize.

Deathrite ShamanAlthough Wizards regularly presented Top 8 performances in many ban announcements, they also referred directly to metagame-wide shares in most of those pre-Twin updates. Justifying Deathrite Shaman‘s removal in a February 2014 article, Wizards explained “Having a strong attrition-based deck as a large portion of the metagame makes it difficult for decks that are based on synergies between cards instead of individually powerful cards.” Although Wizards does not use the same tiering definitions as used on the Nexus, we share their concept of a wider metagame beyond mere Top 8s, something seen in countless Day 2 Metagame Breakdowns and other metagame pieces on the Wizards site. The quoted reference points beyond Deathrite’s Top 8 wins to a broader format violation.

Wizards echoed this metagame concern in the January 2015 announcement. First up were Treasure Cruise and its “replacement”, Dig Through Time, both of which Wizards struck down to free up format space: “…as these decks have occupied a large portion of the competitive metagame, the overall variety of successful decks has been suppressed.” Birthing Pod came next, drawing not just one but two indictments of its oppressive Modern prevalence (emphases added):

“Over the past year, Birthing Pod decks have won significantly more Grand Prix than any other Modern decks and compose the largest percentage of the field.”

The high percentage of the field playing Pod suppresses decks, especially other creature decks, that have an unfavorable matchup.”

In all four of these 2014 and 2015 cases, we see Wizards definitively connecting format-diversity bans to both Top 8 performances and metagame shares. This comprehensive definition of format diversity fits Wizards’ overarching aim of maintaining Modern diversity. It’s one of the reasons these previous ban decisions were so justifiable.

Bloodbraid elfAdmittedly, Bloodbraid Elf’s 2013 ban article did not explicitly mention a metagame connection in these same unambiguous terms. It only provided two vague allusions in “Jund has been the most successful deck at high-level tournaments” and “While the rest of the format is quite diverse, the dominance of Jund is making it less so overall.” As we’ll see below, this omission does not mean broader metagame data was not considered. In fact, Bloodbraid Jund was by far the most offensive metagame violator of all. This strongly suggests its metagame statistics were indeed present in the unclear references quoted above, and in Bloodbraid’s eventual ban. More importantly, if Pod, Deathrite, and Cruise were banned for metagame reasons with lower shares, it stands to reason Bloodbraid Jund would certainly have come under fire for significantly higher ones.

Now that we’ve seen the metagame theme repeated in ban announcement language, we can turn to the actual numbers to see how Wizards’ rhetoric corresponds to hard data.

Banned Decks and Metagame Shares

The following data comes from Day 2 summaries for Grand Prix and Pro Tour tournaments. A few events (Grand Prix Kobe, Portland, Chicago, and Brisbane) are omitted for lack of publicly available Day 2 data. I am also excluding broader Paper and MTGO data, both because we don’t have the same numbers Wizards does (we have samples, they have the true population), and because I only started tracking such data from April 2014 onward. By contrast, Day 2 metagame numbers are available to anyone with an internet connection.

We start with Jund in the Bloodbraid Elf era. Although its corresponding banlist update made only indirect references to Bloodbraid Jund’s prevalence, the deck has the dubious honor of claiming the most lopsided shares of any strategy we’ll talk about today.

Bloodbraid Jund (4/2012 – 1/2013): 19.4%

  • Grand Prix Turin: 19%
  • Grand Prix Yokohama: 8.9%
  • Grand Prix Columbus: 6.6%
  • Grand Prix Lyon: 21.3%
  • Pro Tour Return to Ravnica: 29.1%
  • Grand Prix Toronto: 24.6%
  • Grand Prix Bilbao: 26%

During its 2012 reign, the BGx Midrange monster commanded an average 19.4% of all Day 2 fields, with outrageous highs over 24% after Return to Ravnica added Abrupt Decay and Deathrite Shaman to its arsenal. By contrast, the next most-played decks in Modern averaged around the 9%-10% range for the entire year (Affinity and Pod variants). Jund’s average doubled those share. Its highs more than doubled the peaks of the runner-ups. As players active during 2012 remember, Bloodbraid Jund set the dominance standard for years to come.

Deathrite BGx wasn’t much better, even if the one-mana planeswalker spread his good fortune around many BGx players and not just Jund. The numbers below include all “different flavors of black-green decks”, specifically the one-for-one attrition strategies cited in the February 2014 update.

Deathrite BGx (2/2013 – 1/2014): 18.1%

  • Grand Prix San Diego: 18.7%
  • Grand Prix Kansas City: 13.2%
  • Grand Prix Detroit: 20.9%
  • Grand Prix Antwerp: 19.8%
  • Grand Prix Prague: 17.8%

Averaging 18.1% over that post-Bloodbraind ban year, Deathrite Shaman BGx Midrange did its predecessor proud. Non-BGx decks lagged far behind the midrange players: Pod at 11.2%, Affinity at 9.8%, and URx Twin at 7.9%. Although the Shaman never quite reached the Bloodbraid heights of Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, where Jund was literally doubling the next most-represented strategy, the gulf between viable competitive strategies was still huge over 2013. Wizards justifiably axed Deathrite to restore format balance.

Of course, 2014 saw two decks rise to Jund’s old 2012 and 2013 levels. Everyone remembers Birthing Pod and Treasure Cruise, and as the metagame statistics below indicate, it’s no wonder Wizards cited metagame concerns three separate times in their joint banning article.

Birthing Pod (2/2014 – 1/2015): 16.1%

  • Pro Tour Born of the Gods11.2%
  • Grand Prix Richmond: 12.6%
  • Grand Prix Minnesota: 18.7%
  • Grand Prix Boston-Worcester: 23%
  • Grand Prix Madrid: 9.1%
  • Grand Prix Milan: 14.8%
  • Grand Prix Omaha: 23.3%

Cruise Delver (9/2014 – 1/2015): 17.5% (20.6% with Jeskai Ascendancy)

  • Grand Prix Madrid: 16.4% (18.2% with Ascendancy)
  • Grand Prix Milan: 18.7% (22.5% with Ascendancy)
  • Grand Prix Omaha: 17.3% (21.1% with Ascendancy)

The Pod and Cruise metagames emerged over two distinct but overlapping time periods. For its part, Pod was a multi-year phenomena that tipped past a breaking point in 2014. On the other hand, Cruise decks only became an issue after Khans of Tarkir, which accounts for Pod’s shares spanning seven events but Delver’s only covering three. As a quick note, I’ve added Ascendancy decks as a parenthetical, as Wizards mentioned the combo engine in their announcement.

Treasure CruiseWithin those periods, we see the same pattern as observed in Jund. Delver occupied a monstrous 17.5% share during Treasure Cruise‘s brief stint in Modern. Adding in the Ascendancy and Burn statistics, both of which Wizards called out in their banlist update, would put the share well over 20.6% (a number including Ascendancy but excluding Burn). Trusty Pod took up 16.1% of the format. As in earlier updates, the competing strategies lagged far behind. Every BGx Midrange deck combined only maintained 12% of 2014 Modern, with Affinity at 10.9%, and URx Twin at 9.5%. This fit the same trend as seen in the Bloodbraid and Deathrite bannings, where decks reducing format diversity maintained multiple percentage point leads over competing strategies.

Thinking back to URx Twin’s 2015 performances, we might think the combo deck enjoyed the same metagame success as it did in Top 8s. The numbers show a different story.

A Splintered Metagame Picture

Let’s repeat the same analysis for Splinter Twin decks over 2015. I’ll add in StarCityGames Day 2 statistics to create a separate average, but won’t list them out individually to save space. In summary, the varied SCG Premier IQs, Classics, and Opens had a Twin high of 18.8% in February before dropping back to the 10%-11% range for the rest of the year. Incidentally, this fits the Grand Prix and Pro Tour pattern as well.

URx Twin (2/2015 – 1/2016): 12.8% (also 12.8% with SCG)

  • Pro Tour Fate Reforged7.8%
  • Grand Prix Vancouver: 18.5%
  • Grand Prix Charlotte: 18.2%
  • Grand Prix Copenhagen: 16.6%
  • Grand Prix Singapore: 10.7%
  • Grand Prix Oklahoma City: 9%
  • Grand Prix Porto Alegre: 9.5%
  • Grand Prix Pittsburgh: 12.1%

Comparing only raw values without metagame context, URx Twin’s average Day 2 share of 12.8% is well underneath the next lowest of the format-diversity ban targets (Pod at 16.1%). Additionally, although Pod’s share was increasing in the last months of 2014 after Siege Rhino‘s printing (which was itself explicitly cited in the update), Twin’s had fallen to the 10% range from June onward, normalizing in that band. Naturally, these statistics are also far lower than those enjoyed by Bloodbraid, Deathrite, and Cruise decks.

The broader metagame context makes Twin’s position even more puzzling. Throughout 2015, Affinity was right below Twin’s 12% at a flat 10%, but BGx Midrange actually surpassed URx Twin at 16.5% for the entire Grand Prix and Pro Tour Day 2 dataset. No previous format-diversity bans took place when another archetype was so close to the so-called offender, let alone when a separate strategy had a higher net share altogether. These similarities also hold if we draw on past Modern Nexus metagame updates as a triangulation source, showing URx Twin at around 11.5% for the entire year across both Paper and MTGO, with Affinity behind at 8% and BGx still ahead at 12.5%.

The Lost Metagame Element

This leaves Twin’s banning in an awkward spot. All previous format-diversity bans were justified due to both Top 8 offenses and metagame share violations. They also all targeted decks that were well ahead of the next most-played options. By contrast, Twin only struck out on Top 8 performances. Its metagame stake was well beneath previous diversity violators and trending down instead of up. URx Twin was also much closer to rival decks than were the format problems of earlier eras. This makes Wizards claim that URx Twin was “hold[ing] a large enough percentage of the competitive field to reduce the diversity of the format” much harder to believe.

Splinter TwinBased on these missing metagame dimensions, we find ourselves asking a few potentially uncomfortable questions. Going forward, does Wizards no longer emphasize the metagame-wide shares for bannable decks? Or has the metagame bar dropped to a lower level than seen in any previous announcement? If so, will we find ourselves in a “race to the bottom” scenario, where the topmost deck could face ban scrutiny every year? Will that attention be more acute if the deck has a high-profile Top 8 record irrespective of its format presence? Are there other metagame numbers behind Twin’s dominance the public can’t access? If so, what are those figures? If not, what factors took their place in justifying the ban?

We may not know the answers to those questions for some time (if ever). I’m also confident there are many other questions worth addressing I didn’t list above. Until Wizards weighs in or we obtain more information, this is a good starting point for us to continue our skeptical but constructive challenges on these issues. Based on the information we do have, however, this appears to be a striking gap.

The Pro Tour Factor

Ad NauseamNow that we’ve identified a major numeric inconsistency between Twin’s banning and previous format-diversity ban decisions, we can turn to a second possible influence behind recent announcement: the Modern Pro Tour.

This component has already been discussed Ad Nauseam by writers and readers on this site, authors across the internet, and everyone with a keyboard throughout the general Modern community. SaffronOlive made the case on MTG Goldfish, Will Fancher offered a similar assessment on The Meadery, and Corbin Hosler discussed the Pro Tour/banning dynamic on the MTGPrice.com blog. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa also criticized the ban decision, concluding Modern should probably be removed from the Pro Tour altogether. To follow up on those positions, and on ones I’ve articulated in my own ban responses on the Nexus, I want to show where the Pro Tour might influence Modern bannings and talk about why this is problematic.

Timing, Correlation, and Causation

One of the more salient rebuttals to the Pro Tour and banning connection is about their scheduling. This standpoint, which Corbin Hosler articulated in his “Splinter Twin: The Ban, the Reaction, and the Fallout” article, holds that Modern follows an annual banning update cycle in January. Modern Pro Tours have just been added to that existing cycle to make it easier; as Hosler clarifies, “if your plan is to update the banlist once a year, why not time it right before the Pro Tour?” In making their case, Hosler and others alert us to a classic correlation and causation trap, where ban detractors believe the Pro Tour’s proximity to the banlist update means it is also the cause of that update. Rather, because the 12-month banlist cycle preceded the Modern Pro Tour’s February scheduling, it must be considered an independent event.

Unfortunately, those who hold this viewpoint have made a questionable assumption. They believe that because the banlist schedule was set before the Pro Tour that the Pro Tour thus has no influence on subsequent updates. This may well have been true back in 2013, when Bloodbraid Elf and Seething Song got cut on a January-based update calendar before a Standard (not Modern) Pro Tour in February. I do not think it is true today. As statements by numerous Wizards stakeholders show, there is strong evidence Pro Tour demands have co-opted a possibly independent ban schedule, changing its parameters to suit the Pro Tour’s unique needs.

Changed Pro Tours, Changed Bans

The history of Modern bans and Pro Tours inevitably returns to Helene Bergeot’s August 2, 2014 announcement about 2015 Premier Play. In the update, the original of which is linked here instead of the edited version, Bergeot revealed all four Pro Tours in the coming year would follow a Standard and Booster Draft format. Modern would instead receive support at the Grand Prix and World Championship level.

There was an immediate outcry across social media, game stores, and content sites. The public overwhelmingly denounced the change, accusing Wizards of trying to “kill Modern” among other charges. This rebuke prompted Wizards to backpedal. A mere eight days later, Bergeot returned with a revision to their original decision: “After evaluating all feedback and after further discussion, we have decided to add Modern to the 2015 Pro Tour schedule.” This seemed like a triumph for the format and its players, and everyone was pleased with the community’s collective victory.

There were two early signs that should have dampened our enthusiasm, or at least given us pause when we vouched for a Modern Pro Tour in the first place. The first was a Tweet from Aaron Forsythe explaining why Modern had been removed from the Pro Tour circuit in the first place:

In his comment, Forsythe pointed to a possible conflict between the nonrotating Modern and a promotional aspect central to Pro Tours. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Pro Tours have always been, in part, advertising vehicles for new sets. This was present whether in 1996, when Wizards instituted deckbuilding requirements to showcase Homelands, or in the 2011 decision to name future tournaments after their proximal set release. Despite this longstanding emphasis, this rationale never actually appeared in Bergeot’s original article, her retraction, or the edited update. This suggests both that there is more going on in these press releases than is just being written, while also pointing to a larger incompatibility between Modern and Pro Tours.

The second warning came from Magic R&D member Tom LaPille, Tweeting the same day as Forsythe made his own observation. Although LaPille’s Twitter account is no longer functional, the screenshot of his message still exists online.

Tom-LaPille-Modern-Tweet

Not only was Forsythe suggesting Modern was a bad Pro Tour format. Now we also had LaPille explaining that Modern Pro Tours would lead to more bans for the format. Sadly, Twitter’s character requirements don’t allow for much context here, which is a reason many Magic authors lament Wizards’ use of the platform to communicate such important statements. Even without added explanation, both Tweets suggest a pair of related reasons explaining why Modern was inappropriate for the Pro Tour, neither of which appeared in the Pro Tour scheduling announcement. LaPille’s also draws out a troubling linkage between bans and Pro Tours, although we wouldn’t hear more on this for months.

We know what happened next: Birthing Pod, Treasure Cruise, and Dig Through Time got jettisoned from Modern on the cusp of Pro Tour Fate Reforged. As we talked about in an earlier section, those bans were probably justifiable whether or not the Modern Pro Tour was just around the bend. But had the Pro Tour provided an additional incentive, as LaPille suggested? And would that pressure resurface in later updates?

Pro Tours and Bans Today

In a rare moment for internet sleuths, LaPille provided all the additional context we could want to his August 2014 Tweet in an April 2015 interview for the Masters of Modern podcast. I remember listening to that episode back in May and bookmarking his remarks for a later time, and if you haven’t heard the whole conversation, take 45 minutes sometime this week to do that. Or read the transcript of the most relevant segment on Reddit, courtesy of user RedThragtusk.

Whether you’ve taken in the whole episode, reviewed the r/ModernMagic thread, or only heard it mentioned in passing, here is the critical excerpt from LaPille’s remarks on Modern Pro Tours:

“I’ve been in the room several times when we had this conversation, which is “Do we run a boring Pro Tour, or do we ban cards out of a lot of people’s decks in stores?” And so far, the answer has usually gone, ‘We don’t have a boring Pro Tour: we have to ban things.’ “

Returning to the earlier discussion about overlapping Pro Tour and ban update timing, this is where we start to see how the tournament comes to influence an otherwise independent schedule. LaPille’s remark, which Forsythe’s later 2016 comments support, showed that Pro Tours create pressure to ban cards to jumpstart an interesting Modern format. This is what I have referred to as the “shakeup ban.” Earlier in the interview, LaPille made the connection even more obvious, observing on bans “I think that’s the cost of having a Modern Pro Tour every year, basically.” The schedule may well have existed before the Pro Tour, and the Pro Tour may well have been tacked onto the existing schedule for pure convenience. But once the two were linked, regardless of why that linkage initially occurred, LaPille explained how the Pro Tour inevitably steers those future announcements. Are other factors still at play in the decisions? Yes. Is the Pro Tour itself now one of them and, if LaPille is to be believed, a decisive one? Yes again.

In light of LaPille’s April comments, Forsythe’s more recent remarks on the Splinter Twin banning are much clearer. Forsythe also emphasized the steering role Pro Tours play with Modern bans. Here’s a brief rundown of the most important Tweets from the Twin banning weekend. I’ll offer some commentary on each to situate them in the broader Pro Tour and banning context.

Between LaPille’s original Tweet, his later Masters of Modern interview, and Forsythe’s reply above, it becomes very hard to deny the additional “pressure” Pro Tours place on Modern bans. Modern would undoubtedly have “occasional bans” if it followed the schedule of other Eternal and nonrotating formats, but the Pro Tour exerts a secondary influence which those other formats don’t feel. This influence affects both the timing and the content of those bans.

Forsythe’s use of the word “predicates” is telling, further asserting a link between Modern’s bans and the Modern Pro Tours which prompt them. It is important to not read too much into the specific term, however. We do not know if Forsythe is suggesting a direct causal link (unlikely) or simply a direct relationship between the two (much more likely, given the other evidence). Accounting for the statistical picture in the first section, along with the more qualitative elements in this second one, we can infer that Pro Tour demands are just one of many considerations in the ban. Of course, given LaPille’s discussion about stagnant formats and bans shaking those up, this consideration seems much weightier than others, especially the metagame share component that is absent in the Twin ban.

Speaking of correlations and causations, the Tweet above most clearly challenges a direct causal connection between Pro Tours and bans. But again, this should not be surprising to anyone. We’ve already seen that bans have additional factors at play beyond the Pro Tour, whether the many dimensions cited in Jordan’s Friday article, Sam Black’s and Adrian Sullivan’s defenses from last week, or the metagame statistics at the beginning of this piece. Even admitting those other determinants, however, the fact that the Pro Tour dictates timing is itself a major factor.

Birthing PodIn previous format-diversity bans, offending decks were either trending upward (e.g. Pod) or staying flat at obscene levels (e.g. Deathrite BGx) when the January ban hammer came down. In those cases, the Pro Tour’s timing was unlikely to play too big an influence on the eventual ban: the numbers were already there regardless of upcoming tournaments. URx Twin was another matter entirely. Twin had fallen significantly from its early 2015 highs into the end of 2016, with no indication of an impending spike. Moreover, Oath of the Gatewatch promised to provide even more tools to Bx Eldrazi, a deck with an even-to-favorable URx Twin matchup. Amulet Bloom would also take a hit after Summer Bloom‘s banning, cutting one of Twin’s best matchups from circulation.

Considering the Twin numbers and the overall Modern context, Splinter Twin‘s ban seems  premature. It feels particularly early when compared with the other format-diversity bans, which belonged to decks with massive metagame leads compared with Twin’s much more modest shares. Unfortunately, because the Pro Tour dictates ban timing, Wizards had strong incentive to act in January 2016 instead of waiting to see how things played out at the Pro Tour. Modern enjoyed unprecedented deck diversity and tournament attendance throughout 2015, and that wasn’t going to suddenly diminish in 2016 if Twin remained a 12%-13% format player. The Pro Tour made this more measured approach impossible.

We end with this quote because it encapsulates a number of core issues around Modern, bans, and the Pro Tour. Again, I make all these statements with the disclaimer that Twitter’s 140 character constraints are very limiting, and I’d love to see Forsythe and others speak more fully on these topics in a proper article. Until that happens, however, we aren’t just going to discount the Tweets entirely because of their shorter word-count. We can also use other sources to help zero in on Forsythe’s implications.

The main takeaway is, of course, an umpteenth acknowledgment of Modern Pro Tours leading to Modern bans. By this time, there should be no doubt that such a connection exists and that this connection may have taken precedent over other metagame factors (namely, the missing metagame factor described earlier). The Tweet also teases out a much deeper communication gap in that relationship. Forsythe sounds surprised that Moderners in 2014 didn’t consider this ban relationship when they advocated for a Modern Pro Tour in 2015. This should not come as a shock to anyone, because Modern players did not know this connection in August 2014. Bergeot only offered the following to explain why Standard, not Modern, would be 2015’s regularized Pro Tour format.

“The first thing you may notice about this schedule is the format, which is consistent among all Pro Tours next year. Standard is the most commonly sanctioned event by a large margin, and it rewards players who are both good deck builders as well as skilled players. While Modern is not a Constructed format that will be used in 2015’s Pro Tours, it will still see Premier Play support.”

Even by the most generous reading, this passage makes neither a direct nor an indirect reference to Modern Pro Tours necessitating bans. There’s also no inkling of the objections Forsythe or LaPille Tweeted the day of the announcement. On the one hand, I respect Wizards’ (and, likely, Hasbro’s) preferences for a mixed open-and-closed decision-making model. That’s common practice in many businesses, and we certainly don’t need to know every last justification for every single Magic decision. That said, there’s a middle ground between a fully opaque model and a completely transparent one, and the intersection of Bergeot’s, LaPille’s, and Forsythe’s statements show we are very far from that happy medium.

I suspect we wouldn’t have pushed so hard for a 2015 Modern Pro Tour if we knew it would lead to bans. Maybe the community would have proven me wrong and stumped for it anyway. Either way, we should have known this information before taking a stand, and Wizards should make these considerations more widely available as we move forward beyond the Splinter Twin ban.

The Future of Modern Pro Tours

Forsythe’s last Tweet’s offers a final implication, which is also the open question I’ll leave us with today: should Modern be a Pro Tour format? LaPille and Forsythe seem to think not, even though the overall community is divided. I have personally not decided, and my eventual argument one way or the other will hinge on the answer to a few final questions. What would Modern’s ban schedule look like without Pro Tours in the picture? How else could Modern be supported at the pro player level if not at this tournament?

Taking all this evidence into account, I believe the Pro Tour factor took the place of the metagame dominance factor in this ban update. Twin didn’t have the format-wide numbers but the Pro Tour definitely did need a shakeup: the absence of one and the presence of the other is strongly suggestive to me, especially in the context of the statistics and quotes presented today. Even if this connection is more circumstantial than real, this does not obviate the need for better communication from Wizards on Modern, Pro Tours, bans, and format policy. We don’t need to know everything that goes on behind their closed doors in Seattle. We do need to know more information about the issues presented today.

Silver Linings

If I look beyond these two pressing objections, I’m still comfortable with the same ban elements I praised last week. Here’s a brief list of banning benefits I didn’t talk about today but are still worth remembering as we process the announcement:

  • Lightning BoltModern is likely to correct short-term trends towards linear decks.
    We play a powerful format with lots of strategies and synergies. Even if Affinity, Infect, Burn, Zoo, and others dominate for a time, they are unlikely to do so for longer than a few months. Expect BGx and other mainstays to return: Lightning Bolt and Inquisition of Kozilek are still potent regulators!
  • URx strategies will probably diversify.
    Although URx decks have enjoyed sporadic bouts of diversity throughout 2015 (Grixis Delver and Control in spring and summer, UW Control in early fall, etc.), Twin often reasserted itself as the leader of the URx pack. With Twin gone, we have a chance for other URx strategies to shine which could be a net gain for format health. As a related point, it shouldn’t be too hard to find new policing strategies to take Twin’s place.
  • Modern overall will probably diversify
    Short-term linear tendencies notwithstanding, Modern is likely to move towards more three and four-drops which were otherwise unplayable in a Twin environment. This could make Modern more interactive, as long as decks adapt to rein in any initial slides towards aggro and noninteractive combo.
  • Ancestral VisionUnban opportunities abound
    Ancestral Vision, Preordain, and Jace, the Mind Sculptor were all indefensible unbans with Twin in the picture. All three of those cards are now on the table to bolster blue strategies, if they eventually need help. Stoneforge Mystic also becomes increasingly possible, now that a hybrid Twinblade strategy is dead on arrival.
  • Reprint and new card possibilities are opened
    Cards like Counterspell could never happen in a Modern with Twin. They might still never happen in Modern period, but at least the blue design space is opened. I for one would love to see generic answers like Force of Will (or similar variants) to help regulate linear decks.

All told, I am happy with these five possibilities, and have been happy with them since Wizards announced Splinter Twin‘s death two weeks ago. That said, I am still very dissatisfied with the absent metagame component and the mysterious Pro Tour factor, particularly with the intersection between the two. Even if all five of my banning hopes come true, I would still be deeply uneasy with these elements because they can rear up again in future situations with worse results. Wizards needs to speak to these issues, not for me but for the Modern community as a whole.

This is my Final Stand on the Twin issue for the near future, but you can be certain I’ll return to these problems as we gather more information. What do you think about the missing metagame numbers and the Pro Tour/banning relationship? Are there any sources you think I missed or other pieces of evidence you wanted me to discuss more? Do you have any questions about the arguments, cases of your own to make, or objections I should hear? I’ll catch all of you in the comments and join me for the rest of the week as we stop talking about bans and start diving into the new Modern and its exciting possibilities!

Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.

59 thoughts on “A Last Word on the Splinter Twin Banning

  1. Amazing article. Thank you for the hard work, I will continue to support this website! You guys have the most well founded arguments on the web. Between all of the ban articles over the last week you all have published, I feel like every possible angle of the ban has been covered, and I learned something from each.

    I agree with the points in your article, and I would still say that the “end justifies the means” even though the means is highly controversial. I prefer modern with a PT over one without, even if it does invite an occasional ban. Perhaps they will feel more pressure to make modern playable cards in the two sets prior to PTs in order to rely less on bans? It seems that the eldrazi did a fine job of that, and this PT would have been very entertaining regardless of the ban. No we will never know though.

    +1 for generic answers in modern.
    +1 for all of your silver linings.
    +1 for Modern Nexus!

    1. Glad you enjoyed it! I also think we’ve done a good job of comprehensively covering all the ban viewpoints, and it’s time to leave those up and move on to other things. Metagame analysis, here we come!

      I will say that even if the ends justify the means, it doesn’t imply we should enact those means in the future. We can envision a lot of scenarios where this method will lead to worse Modern outcomes, especially if implemented against decks with even less offensive shares and performances than URx Twin. We’ll have to see how Wizards plants its foot on the issue.

      +1000 for generic answers in Modern!

  2. I definitely do not see the PT being somehow more exciting because one of the only interesting ubiquitous decks got banned. Yay! Tron, BGx, Bx eldrazi, Infect, Goryo’s combo and affinity! What an exciting PT. Modern is a boring PT format because a lot of the decks are boring because they are basically optimized and impossible to deal with.

    PV’s recent article outlines the biggest reason to be pessimistic about the banning’s long term effects…an annoying rock-paper-scissors format where matches will always be hinged on drawing sideboard cards. Pretty annoying. I didn’t even play twin or like it and I am feeling the burn with the resurgence of idiotic tron decks.

    1. PVDR’s article raised some good points, although I think it’s premature for him or anyone to wholly condemn the future metagame. Modern has a strong tendency to self-correct most of its core decks and Tier 2/Tier 3 players. It takes a truly broken Tier 1 behemoth to throw the format out of sync, and I don’t think any of those linear decks you mentioned fit that. Still, we’ll need to see how the linear metagame pans out in both the Pro Tour and the months that follow. Will be interesting to see it evolve!

    1. Removing the Modern PT is certainly on the table, but we should wait and see if Wizards makes any official statements about it before acting. It would be great if they clarified their position on the banning, Modern, and Pro Tour connection, and I’m sure that clarification could help inform our discussion. Of course, more SCG support would definitely be nice, regardless of how the PT shakes out! More Modern events please!

    1. I’d rather see a Pro Tour or similar level event for Modern held separately from the current release schedule to mimic the feel of the Extended Pro Tours years ago, where the pros can show off their mastery of the game rather than their ability to find new decks. However, given Hasbro’s rather shaky financial state for the past half decade it seems unlikely that new events will be added.

    2. As Treebeard would say, let’s not be hasty. Although the Pro Tour might not be appropriate for Modern, it might be harmful to the format to remove it entirely without a replacement lined up. I’d love to see more thoughts and ideas about this. As David replied, the Hasbro financial side is also at play here, and that could be a driving factor that has so far gone underappreciated in all the ban analysis and Pro Tour discussion.

  3. I’m really happy that you decided to stop writing articles about the ban. I’ve been so sick of hearing about it. There’s all these angles, interpretation, and reading into specific word usage that reading this article felt very much like reading a dissenting opinion from a Supreme Court case. It’s not that the content is bad or anything, it’s that you’ve already articulated all of these points in previous articles. Many others have said them as well.

    I’m looking for insights into how to proceed from here. I’ve had so many ideas on how to tune Jund that I don’t have the time to test it them all. Tron doesn’t need Rending Volley, so do a couple extra SB slots improve the infect and burn matchups? Did anyone bring an older control deck or a new blue brew to a weekend IQ? Does Thought-Knot Seer live up to the hype? We have data from an 8 round tournament (Temur Delver?!), so it would be nice to see some analysis in the coming days.

    1. This is definitely the last time we dive into this decision for a while. Although I’d made some of these points in previous articles, it was important to unpack them in full here. This was particularly true of the data-driven metagame analysis and the quote-backed Pro Tour section. That said, I agree it’s time to move on and you can expect lots of nifty metagame analysis in the coming days.

      I have gathered a number of results from different sources and will be publishing an analysis soon. Expect to see a few brews discussed. Here’s a nice Jeskai Control winner from one of the SCG events to tide everyone over:
      http://sales.starcitygames.com//deckdatabase/displaydeck.php?DeckID=98055

  4. Great article! I love how it is supported with so much data and not merely another opinion article. I will continue reading Modern Nexus for the great analysis of everything. On the Pro Tour, I think I would prefer for it to be removed, however, I also think that Wizards should still host an annual/twice yearly Modern tournament with good coverage that is INDEPENDENT of the Pro Tours.

    1. We’ll keep trying to dig into the data and evidence to give you the best content we can! I’m still ambivalent about the Modern Pro Tour and I’ll need to gather more information before weighing in on it. I admit there are decent arguments for ditching it, but I can also see the advantages in keeping the event around. An independent Modern tournament would rock though. Maybe something to advocate for later this year!

  5. this site has had the best ban commentary out there… incredibly detailed and nothing else has come close…

    WotC is either sending an inconsistent message or it’s sending a message that the most popular deck will get lopped off… both don’t bode well for the format… and that’s probably the most damaging thing to come out of the twin ban… WotC’s Modern player base is one of it’s most loyal but if you keep taking away their decks then they will probably just leave… if they wanted to keep switching decks they would play standard… that’s really the main selling point behind this format…

    that’s what happens when you regulate a game for business reasons instead of curating the game itself…. and whether it’s the Pro Tour or other reasons when it’s stops being about the game.. the players notice.. and then they leave….

    1. Totally agree that these are the dangers at stake, and I hope Wizards addresses them in the months to come. Although Modern is likely to succeed even with such bans, I do not believe this success will be as pronounced as if Wizards toned down the bans and amped up the transparency. I’m optimistic we’ll see more information about this in 2016, and I for one will keep pushing for it until it’s a reality. Even if Wizards doesn’t revise its ban approach, they still need to be up front about it.

  6. I’m not going to lie – I saw the title of this article, and I was planning to skip it. I’m tired of hearing about the ban, reading about the ban, talking about the ban, or really anything to do with the ban. I’d much rather get to work on what is the new Modern metagame, especially because it seems like Merfolk is getting quite a bit of run (3 T16 and 2 T8s in last weekend’s SCG). However, because I do respect your opinions, I gave it a shot. I’m glad I did – this was an informative, objectively presented piece that expounds on the predictions you had made last week. I’m particularly excited about the unban possibilities, especially because my 2nd-favorite deck type (Delver) would greatly benefit from the likes of Preordain. Good stuff.

    1. I almost skipped writing it halfway through! I ended up pushing ahead because we didn’t have enough metagame data on Sunday night (we do now, however), and because it was important for me to articulate these specific arguments that I was still gathering data for last week. Hopefully we’ll see some of those silver linings pan out over the next year! And I promise this will be the last ban piece for a while.

  7. While I do agree if anything positive came from Twin’s banning is the possible unbanning of things like preordain/ponder, ancestral vision… but I hardly think it’s gonna happen.
    Any powerful card selection/draw will only bolster other currently existing combo decks and possibly “forcing” then to splash blue if they currently don’t.
    I would love to see something like a FoW to regulate the format (Disrupting Shoal doesn’t count, right?), or even decent reprints like counterspell, There’s also the problem that only way for a card to be legal in Modern is through Standard.
    WotC doesn’t seems inclined to release “new” modern cards in Modern Masters and certainly doesn’t want to reprint a few things in Standard.
    Honestly I feel more pessimistic than ever for modern’s future and I’ll likely stay away from (playing) it for some time.

    1. I empathize with your worry for Modern’s future. Many players feel similarly after the ban, and with good reason. I think you should still hang in there because Wizards is likely to do something different after this ban. Either they will double down on an aggressive, shakeup ban schedule and make that clear, or they will move away from it altogether. If they did the former, you would be justified in staying away. If they did the latter, you could probably stick around with a newfound sense of safety.

      Here’s hoping for more generic answers in Modern in 2016, and some nice unbans! If Wizards can be so aggressive with the bans, maybe they can also be a little less hyper-conservative on unbans too.

    2. FWIW Modern Masters can’t introduce new cards to the format since it’s a supplementary set and as such not itself legal in Modern. The only way for cards to enter the modern card pool(unless they redefine included sets), is through standard.

  8. Cool article, athough I agree more with Jordan’s take on the ban. Thanks for the data breakdown though! You mentioned Twin struck out on Top 8 performances, what are those? An anlysis like the Day 2 one would be interesting. Do you think the “While the rest of the format is quite diverse, the dominance of Jund is making it less so overall” is applicable to Twin, in terms of the sucess they talk about?

    1. I actually think Twin is fine on the Top 8 performances. Did I have a sentence that suggested otherwise? Was trying to make it clear that Twin did meet half of the format-diversity ban criteria on those Top 8 wins, but then failed to put up the metagame numbers. Let me know because I’d change that to eliminate ambiguity!

      As for the Jund and Twin comparison piece, I think there are arguments both ways. On the one hand, Twin was probably keeping other less viable URx decks out of contention. On the other hand, Twin was also keeping down linear decks that themselves reduce diversity. So from a theoretical perspective, it’s a wash. I think we’ll need more metagame data to know with certainty. I’m leaning towards it being a good ban for the format, even if the methods used to achieve it are problematic and could lead to larger issues down the road.

      1. Oh, there’s no ambiguity. I was just pointing out that, while you mentioned both Top 8 and Day 2 numbers as criteria, you only compared the Day 2 ones. As for the BBE/Twin, I do think it would make sense. The meta was diverse indeed, and Twin could have been making it less diverse overall, if the Top 8 dominance numbers are there.

        I wonder why they didn’t cut it at “Decks that are this strong can hurt diversity by pushing the decks that it defeats out of competition. ” in the Twin announcement. I mean, who would disagree? Perhaps they think policing linear aggro is bad for diversity…

        I really like the silver linings too! I have hope for this format 🙂

  9. So is this the way to understand the relation between bans, PT and modern?

    WOTC: Ok guys, dont freak out but we want to take down the modern PTs, as it is not selling packs.
    Players: NO!
    WOTC: Mmmm ok then. Instead, we will keep having modern pro tour, but we will ban a random deck that is popular once every year, until you beg us to remove the PTs.

    1. Although it’s probably a bit more complicated than that, you have the gist of it. I am particularly unhappy with Wizards’ failure to disclose the reason Modern was removed from the PT and how its reinstatement might lead to bans. That should have been discussed in the 2014 articles and not just over Twitter. I’m hoping Wizards fixes these transparency issues, at least with regard to this particular problem, in 2016.

    1. My confidence in the format has been shaken after the ban, but I think Affinity remains a safe investment. Barring some totally insane reinterpretation of their ban policies, it’s almost impossible for Affinity to sustain the metagame numbers warranting a format-diversity ban. Even if we ignore the metagame-wide shares and focus only on Top 8s (as in Twin’s case), it’s never going to get there. The deck is much weaker to hate than Twin and, although it’s a Tier 1 powerhouse, won’t put up oppressive numbers. I’d stick in Affinity and stay with Modern. The deck should be very safe going ahead.

  10. I would like to see a pro tour style event but focused on modern and the Modern Masters releases. 3 rounds of MM drafts followed by 5 rounds of constructed modern for two days then cut to top 8 sounds like a great tournament to me and would be an awesome way to show off a premium product.

    1. Sounds like a sweet event structure. Maybe Wizards has some Modern-themed extravaganza in the works for later years. Would be a great way to drum up format interest while maybe removing the Pro Tour incentive structure. Money might still be an issue, as I’m not sure how Hasbro and Wizards have these sorts of purses and costs covered.

  11. Sheridan, I feel like I must commend you on what has got to be one of the best articles I’ve read on this site. Great job. You summed up what a lot of people were trying to say but didn’t have the time or resources to back up with data. Using the tweets from forsythe and lapille should open up people to to the true underlying reason why the twin ban happened the way it did.

    I feel that saying twin suppressed other URx strategies is a bit of a headscratcher to me. I think it’s possible but couldn’t we say that GR tron is suppressing other tron strategies? The current take on affinity is suppressing other robot aggro strategies. Jund and Junk suppress other GBx strategies.

    I feel that going forward, we as a community need to accept our mistake in making wizards keep the modern pro-tour. I know I feel that from Forscythe’s tweets and Lapille’s comments that in order for modern to be the format they want it to be for us, that it needs to leave the pro-tour stage, at least on a yearly basis. Sheridan if you end up feeling this way I hope we can figure out a way to reach out to wizards and acquire enough of the communities thoughts to convince them to remove the yearly modern pro-tour…again.

    I feel that one cool idea would be to have a modern pro-tour or some high level event after the release of a modern masters set. At this rate, it would be 1 every two years and they could use modern masters to insert new cards or reprints like a force of will or counterspell or gamble or price of progress into the set and shake up the high level event that way. That way the timing of the event wouldn’t dictate bans and they could instead introduce cards right before the event and people would want to tune in to see if anyone could break that card. Also we would only be introducing new and powerful or older and powerful cards every two years and whatever standard gives us. Also I like the idea of commander products going forward doing the same.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed the piece. It took a while to write this one to properly address all the issues at stake, but I’m happy with how it turned out and hope the community can draw on it in the future when trying to articulate these arguments. Like you, I feel a mix of betrayal and confusion about the Pro Tour and our support for it in 2014. Better communication on Wizards’ part would have gone a long way towards preempting this, and I’d like to see them tackle this in 2016.

      A non-Pro Tour Modern event could be a great idea and a solid replacement for a potentially problematic tournament. Of course, there’s also the idea that Wizards keep the Pro Tour but we indicate to them that we are totally fine with more “stagnant” formats. They don’t call it a nonrotating format for nothing, and stable (not “stagnant”) metagames come with that terrain. Hopefully Wizards addresses all this in the next year, as well as introducing the staples and unbans we all are pining for.

  12. I think you should feel safe in your investment of affinity, mostly because I truly feel that wizards and the community will come together sometime this year and make the best decision for modern going forward.
    The people at R and D didn’t create modern so that they could kill our decks. They wanted it off the pro-tour and the community responded very harsh. The fact that wizards came back and put modern on the pro-tour again proves they listen and want to please the modern community. Now that we have more insight as to what pro-tours are about, and what the implications for a non-rotating format to have one is we just need to let wizards go back and again, take modern off the pro-tour stage so that we can truly feel safe in our investments.
    Then if a card or deck gets banned it will have been only in the best interest of the format.

  13. It worries me tremendously (via Lapille’s comments) that WotC thinks of Modern as a “solved” format, when it very clearly is not. New viable decks emerge regularly (like Kiki-Chord and Bx Eldrazis). Unknown deck like Lantern Control become mainstays once they see tournament success. New relases also shake things up. Modern is in no way “figured out” and thus stagnant or boring. I mean, the card pool is huge!

    If they really need to “spice it up” for the PT it’d much rather see stuff unbanned than banned.

    1. I’m also puzzled and annoyed that Pro Tour shakeups come in the form of bans and not unbans/reprints/new cards. One of those is significantly more exciting than the other, even if I’m sure the other still garners strong ratings. Additionally, I too am worried about Wizards feeling that Modern is “solved.” This does not align with metagame data at even Grand Prix events, let alone smaller tournaments, and suggests a broader disconnect with metagame data. Alternatively, maybe they have data that suggests things are more solved than we know, in which case that should be shared with us. Either way, we need more and better communication from Wizards around these issues in 2016.

  14. Nice article.

    With regards to pro tours and banning, I do wonder if we might see a reverse trend in the absence of the pro tour. Would Birthing Pod have been banned without a pro tour? How about Summer Bloom? Bannings like Twin might be the lumps we take to ensure wotc bans the really dangerous stuff. Then again, they seem to be doing a decent job keeping legacy in check, so maybe it would be fine.

    Even though I don’t think Twin was really hurting the format, I do wonder if maybe it’s a good thing IF (and that’s a big if) it results in a more diverse format. I know the pros don’t like it, but it would be cool if modern ended up in a spot with as many decks as possible in the 3-8% metagame “sweet spot” where you have some idea of what to expect, but you’re likely to face a lot of different archetypes at a tournament.

    1. I think Summer Bloom was a goner regardless of the Pro Tour. As long as Wizards upholds the turn four rule, decks like Bloom gotta go. It was just too offensive on too many grounds. I also think Pod, DRS, and Bloodbraid also would have gone regardless of the PT. The only ones I am less sure about are DTT (which could have survived on metagame stats but likely would have been banned later, as in Legacy) and Twin (which didn’t have half of the justification to begin with). We’ll see how the post-Twin world shapes out, and I have some interesting numbers coming out on Wednesday to talk about this. Of course, even if the new metagame is more diverse than the old one, that still doesn’t mean the methods to get there were good ones. These means might lead us somewhere much worse in the future and Wizards needs to address that.

  15. I always find myself waiting for 12:01 am to hit, so I can read your articles. Articles here are very informative and always relevant. This is the only site i bother to go to for modern. Thank you so much Sheridan, for taking the time to put together amazing articles like this!

    1. Great to hear you are enjoying the Modern content! We started the site with a data-driven mission, and I’m glad users think we are sticking to our roots.

  16. I think out of all of this your point about URx strategies will diversify is the most important. It seems to me that foot a long time now in modern if my opponent played an island on turn 1 then it was either grixis non twin, or twin. That’s it. The rest of the strategies were far too fringe to ever see. I don’t think the meta game context was as wide as we’ve been looking. Regardless it’s all over and I’m very glad to get back to reading articles on this site that aren’t about the ban.

    1. It will be interesting to see what URx strategies evolve out of the change. We’re not seeing this in the early metagame indicators, but I expect they’ll start to emerge more concretely after the Pro Tour and SCG Regionals!

  17. So basically wizards doesn’t want a boring PT. Thus banning twin, printing eldrazis, making tron big and other 3 colours untouched. Blood moon or other land destruction for the win. What an interesting metagame! Oh, i forgot the aggro part, because who doesn’t want to play versus burn/naya aggro all day long?

    1. Although there are certainly reasons to be nervous about the new metagame, we should stay optimistic for a while. Remember that PT FRF had 25%-30% of the field on straight Abzan last year, and that metagame quickly changed to something less offensive and warped. We’ll probably see something similar this year. If the linear masses are still on top into June, however, that will be another issue entirely.

  18. I would not want the Modern Pro Tour to go away forever! Do you think that it is reasonable that WOTC would be willing to have a 5th Pro Tour every other year after the release of Modern Masters. This would allow them to promote their latest set, and allow us to have a Modern Pro Tour without unreasonable pressure to ban non-deserving cards.

    Would you consider this a Win-Win situation as I do?

    1. I don’t know if there’s the monetary support available for a 5th PT. Hasbro might not be interested in that kind of event, and they might have a big hand in writing those kinds of checks. That said, I do think Modern would benefit from lots of GPs, a Worlds format, and more extensive SCG support. A PT is supposed to showcase new cards and Modern isn’t going to consistently accomplish that goal. I love Modern and want it to succeed, but the longterm format picture might demand losing the Modern PT entirely.

  19. I think that is the price to pay for the pro-tour. From a fan standpoint we want to see our favorite players playing “our” decks to success and I think a lot of people would be fine with seeing the same decks vsing each other on the big stage.
    But wizards from a marketing perspective doesn’t or can’t allow the same deck to keep winning a pro-tour. If twin were to win again this year, that would be 3 for 5 in the pro-tour stage. Regardless of anything else people would complain about it.
    That is why wizards banned blitterblossom right away. I think fairies had won an extended pro level event and they knew it wouldn’t be that great but they didn’t want the first modern pro-tour to be won by the same deck according to LaPille.

    So I really believe that from what we have seen and whats been said by forscythe and others is that we really have to choose between watching pro players play our favorite format for 2 days and having decks get banned in the process for years to come or do we take modern off the pro-tour and keep our format more secure.
    I really don’t think it’s possible for us to tell wizards we are fine having the same decks be there year after year. I think it is probably closer to one or the other at this point.

    1. I agree that this is a decision we as players need to make. We also need to make it clear to Wizards. If Wizards knows we are fine watching PTs with the same old Modern decks, they’ll probably be less likely to ban cards to shake things up. It’s very possible Wizards is operating from a place of ignorance about what viewers want to see. Alternately, maybe some audience members did express disinterest in watching a stagnant Modern format, and Wizards is just responding to that. The key in all this, no matter what mechanisms are at play, is communication. Wizards needs to be more transparent about these issues and better at soliciting feedback from Modern players.

  20. I feel like Wizard/Hasbro is missing the big ball. Modern is the reason, I keep buying in new sets. Why would I keep buying new sets to watch cards become banned in Standard every couple of years. So that they sit in binders collecting dust? Yes, I know that magic is a collectible card game. The joy of cards for me is to play with them. Personally, I started playing again in Return to Ravnica/Theros Standard after many years away. This was great, but after a Khans, I noticed my favorite Ravinca cards were sitting in a binder doing nothing. Kinda sucks as a new player. Almost quit again, but my friends turned me to modern which started my first deck of B/W Control.

    With each set they can print a few reprints here or there, and all of a sudden, people will want to buy the set in hopes to get something good. I loved how awesome Khans was for the fetchlands. Ravinca and the shocklands, Theros with Thoughtseize. These chase modern cards, makes people want to buy the set. That’s a great thing.

    1. This seems like a great way to drive Modern interest. New cards, reprints, and unbans seem WAY more exciting to me than bans. The latter leaves a bad taste in the mouth and alienates at least as many players as it appeases. The former is sure to make some people unhappy, but they should be in a relative minority to those who were pissed off at bans. This marketing approach would do wonders for Modern as a whole.

  21. although the ban announcement explanations frequently cite general metagame analysis, it seems looking specifically at top 8 decks or only winning decks does a better job of predicting their actual ban decisions. each of the seasons below is from february to february, i.e. between the annual ban announcements. i only included decks that had more than one win or more than five top 8 appearances.

    2012 season (1 PT, 8 GP’s):
    wins — 3 jund
    top 8’s — 16 jund, 11 pod, 9 affinity
    banned: bloodbraid elf, seething song

    2013 season (7 GP’s):
    wins — 3 pod
    top 8’s — 10 jund, 7 affinity, 7 pod
    banned: deathrite shaman, second sunrise

    2014 season (1 PT, 7 GP’s):
    wins — 3 pod
    top 8’s — 14 pod, 7 affinity, 7 twin
    banned: birthing pod, dig through time, treasure cruise

    2015 season (1 PT, 7 GP’s):
    wins — 3 twin
    top 8’s — 12 twin, 7 affinity
    banned: splinter twin, summer bloom

    every season, they banned a card from both the deck with the most wins and the deck with the most top 8’s. three of these seasons that was the same deck, and in 2013 they banned a card (deathrite shaman) that was present in both. i also think this is rational from wotc’s point of view. although day 2 metagame is a far more meaningful sample than top 8’s, the vast majority of modern players only look at top 8 lists or possibly winners only. further evidence is the timing of the second sunrise ban. it was the only ban announcement since 2011 that did not occur in jan/feb. although eggs first won the pro tour in october of 2012, it wasn’t banned until it won a second tournament, a GP in march of 2013.

    1. These are interesting numbers but they don’t really speak to my main argument here. In all the format-diversity ban cases (except, of course, Twin), either the metagame share OR the Top 8 prevalence would have been a good predictor. Twin is the first one where the Day 2 data is misaligned with past examples. Decks like Eggs, Storm, and Amulet don’t count here because they were banned for different reasons, so the standards are going to change relative to the format-diversity bans. But among format-diversity bans, all the previous ones had both the Top 8 piece and the metagame element, and either of those would have been predictive of the ban. Twin changed that which is likely either a new policy by Wizards (in which case, I strongly disagree with it), or a willful diversion from the old policy to fulfill a secondary goal.

      1. my point is simply that wizards may have been making decision based solely on top 8 all along. their diversity bans (bbe, deathrite, pod, twin) are all exactly explained by top 8, and the fact that the first three were also justified by broader metagame shares is possibly just a coincidence. the ban announcements do mention the broader metagame, but i’m pretty sure those are written after the decision is already made. so the language doesn’t necessarily reflect that exact reasoning that went into the decision. if nothing else, the twin ban has showed us that when the broader metagame and the top 8 metagame differ, wizards bases ban decisions on the latter.

  22. Damn good artticle. Thorough analysis, and that LaPille interview really says it all: the bans are done for their big marketing event. Well, then, fuck the pro tours and fuck wizards for pretending they’re anything more than a goddamn comercial for their overpriced cardboard. They can have it, just stop screwing modern.

    1. I hope Wizards addresses concerns like this soon. Although Modern does need lots of high-level support to stay strong, it’s very possible the Pro Tour is not what’s best for the format. Improved communication would give everyone a better sense about Wizards’ priorities in PT events and with the format.

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