Star Wars comes out this week. It’s been hard to think of anything else. If you’re coming for more deep insights then you should probably close the browser now. I was planning on another deep analysis piece like the last two weeks but, well…I couldn’t focus because Star Wars comes out this week. I couldn’t get it off my mind and really do anything Modern related. This realization kind of brought things into perspective for me. You don’t need me to tell you to stay true to your perspective, so I won’t. This article isn’t about that. It isn’t really about anything actually. Can an outpouring of thoughts and opinions cobbled together loosely under an umbrella topic constitute an article? I’ve been doing that every week, so I might as well call a spade a spade. I want to try something different. I want to be 100% transparent about my views and opinions, even if they are unfounded, illogical, and taboo. These are my thoughts no longer held in reserve. I realize that this is pretty unusual for Modern Nexus and for me, and if you like it/don’t then feel free to let me know, but then it’s kind of a weird week. Onward!
Part 1 – What Do You Want From Modern?
Tuesday I dropped by the LGS and hung out with my dad for a while before he proceeded to crush with his foiled out Esper Control deck and I skipped home to study for my last exam. While we discussed many topics (which we’ll get to soon) another friend and I had an interesting discussion regarding Splinter Twin in Modern. With my recent article on bannings fresh on my mind, we were bouncing around the idea of Ponder/Preordain (one, but not both) being unbanned in Modern as a possible enabler for a true control deck to rise to prominence. I’ve long been of the opinion that U/W Control and Jeskai Control are barely “good enough” to compete in the format. I feel they will remain Tier 2 to Fringe until either a Counterspell-esque or Ponder-esque card becomes available to help reactive strategies fight all the nonsense in Modern. As most Modern conversations naturally go, this led us to the banning and unbanning discussion, and what the format would look like should Ponder/Preordain be reintroduced to the wild.
While I could make numerous analogies like saber-toothed tigers slaughtering herds of buffalo while petrified Neanderthal children run screaming, it’s fair to assume that the results would not be good. Just look at the Top 8 of the only Pro Tour where Ponder/Preordain were legal: 20 copies among five decks, three of which were different archetypes. Could we really introduce that back into the format? I think it’s at least worth an entertaining discussion, even though it probably won’t happen. Here’s what could happen and what is preventing it, in my mind.
- Level 0 would see a format-wide power increase in the color blue, specifically for decks that can take the most advantage of the dig/card selection utility of cantrips. This means combo and control, but not necessarily Infect. More on this below.
- As far as blue combo goes, Splinter Twin is currently the only archetype that qualifies. This would absolutely elevate Twin to “probably” overpowered levels, as we saw at Pro Tour Philadelphia in 2011. Amulet Bloom, Ad Nauseum, Scapeshift, and Storm all use blue and would appreciate the extra power provided by the cantrip upgrade, but probably wouldn’t be too powerful as a result. Ad Nauseum hasn’t been above fringe in a while. Nor has Storm. In addition, Seething Song being banned means Storm could probably safely see a power bump without getting too powerful. Let’s take a closer look at Scapeshift.
- Scapeshift’s power level is proven and a better cantrip could definitely shift its balance in the format. Unlike Splinter Twin, which can combo quickly and needs to find two separate combo pieces, Scapeshift just needs Scapeshift and seven lands to win normally. Extra protection helps and Ponder/Preordain would definitely be of big benefit, but not to the extent that it would improve a deck like Twin. Twin can more easily take advantage of the powerful filtering to set up a quick kill, while Ponder on Turn 1 for Scapeshift isn’t nearly as powerful.
- Giving the blue decks a little more power to fight the linear decks could slow the format down a little. When control can reliably find Timely Reinforcements, Stony Silence, or Blood Moon, that puts the pressure on decks like Affinity and Burn and Amulet to slow down their “goldfish draws” in favor of interactivity. This seems better for all involved, I think. Less nut draws, more “gameplay”. Plus, I’m a little biased and want to play Sphinx’s Revelation in Modern. Sue me.
So, Splinter Twin. Since Modern’s inception Twin has been Tier 1, and the four Modern Pro Tour’s we’ve had so far have seen Twin winning both the first and the last (Pro Tour Fate Reforged in the hands of Antonio Del Moral Leon). Ponder/Preordain coming back would make Twin “OP” as the kids say. So why don’t we just ban Splinter Twin? Stick with me here.
For four years Splinter Twin has been Modern’s de facto “King of the Hill”. In more ways than we can count, Splinter Twin has been manipulating the format, placing little pressures on every decision we make regarding deckbuilding and gameplay. We’ve been living under the Twin shadow for so long that we’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be free of its presence. Spellskite? Rending Volley? Seal of Primordium? Abrupt Decay? Half the sideboard cards in the format (and much of the maindeck removal) are in place primarily because of their effectiveness at killing that stupid Deceiver Exarch or its Splintery brethren enabler. With Splinter Twin no longer in the picture, we might see some interesting cascades start to happen.
First of all, removal could become specialized to fight decks’ actual weaknesses, rather than “hedging” to hit Twin as well. Tron could stop playing Rending Volley and start playing something that gives it an actual advantage against Gruul Zoo. Tokens decks and do-nothing Midrange durdlers like Dredgevine might actually have a fighting chance. I don’t know for sure what would happen, but the possibilities are there. Look, this is obviously my opinion, and an unorganized one at that. But the truth is, I LOVE conversations like this. One idea leads to another leads to another and 30 minutes later we’re down a rabbit hole that started from one singularity. Twenty decisions combined to lead us to this point, and an hour later we can start the conversation over again from the same point and come to a different conclusion.
In the end, it really comes down to perspective. I constantly get slaughtered by Twin opponents that CAN’T be that much better than me (read: they are) yet I can’t win with Twin when I pick it up myself. A player that has poured his life and soul into grinding Twin matches and knows every line and can plan ten turns ahead would hate to see the carpet ripped out from under him. There’s also the “Modern Is Great Right Now” argument, which I 100% agree with. I love Modern. There’s 20 decks I can think of right now to play (my Modern Video series demonstrates this) and 30 more under the surface when I start digging. Maybe it’s the designer in me that can’t take anything for what it is, and constantly has to wonder “what would happen if we shifted this…” that has me looking for a change, but again, perspective. It’s not like Splinter Twin is full of cards that don’t go in other decks, like Amulet Bloom or Affinity. Ban Splinter Twin and you still have 67 cards that see play in other archetypes. Worth some thought at least.
Part Two – The Future
Who knows what the world will look like ten years from now? A little over ten years ago nobody texted. Smartphones were called PDA’s before the iPhone, and now we’ve got things like Snapchat and Tinder. I don’t know what the world looks like anymore. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace came out in 1999, when I was eight years old, and it remained my favorite movie of all time until I watched it again ten years later and wondered why George Lucas hates humanity. For 18 years of my life, however, I was under the belief that the movie was actually good, because that was MY perspective. Today, I find myself hesitating to bring up in conversation that I still enjoy watching that movie. Every stupid line Jar Jar says brings me back to eight-year-old me, and I have to remind myself it doesn’t matter that other people hate the movie. The Podrace and Duel of the Fates is still awesome. I get frustrated when viewers ask me in my chat why I’m playing a certain deck that’s “bad”, or scoff at me when I say I feel I’m favored in an unfavorable matchup. I sideboard incorrectly 100% of the time (clearly), but I’m doing what I feel is best and will learn what to do and what not to do faster than someone who just follows the line set before him. Maybe ten years from now you’ll find out you were just vastly ahead of your time (Kermit the Frog).
Part Three – The Past
Star Wars CCG was the greatest game I never played. Too young at eight to learn the complicated rules that I still can’t grasp at 24, I watched my dad battle at the kitchen table for most of the late 90’s. Every single card was full of gametext, and while most Magic turns have 3, maybe four, decisions involved, SWCCG contained literally hundreds of decisions at every stage of the game. Resource management, planning ahead, deck construction, bluffing, concentration (tracking a card through your circulating deck so you can find it later) and more combined to make a game that was more intricate that Magic will EVER be, and I’m just talking about its base set of 324 cards.
As we discussed Star Wars: The Force Awakens (“There’s no way this movie can be bad!” –famous last words), we broke out the old decks and played a quick hour-long game, in which I was promptly slaughtered. I remember discovering my dad’s collection in the basement, thinking I was man enough to compete, and challenging him to play. He told me, “We start with Premiere (Alpha) and add a set to the pool every time you beat me”. In three months of playing multiple times a week we never got past the third set. Regardless of how you got into Magic, regardless of what happens to you along the way, if you maintain your interest in similar hobbies throughout your life you will always remember your origin story. Talking to a viewer on the stream about having to sell collections to pay for card troubles, rent payments, engagement rings, etc. always brings up this memory. For over 20 years I’ve been around card games and Star Wars, and that will absolutely never change.
Twenty years ago, liking Star Wars or comic books made you a “nerd”. I lugged around a binder full of every collectible card I owned through school for the first five years of my education. I spent more time staring at the pictures, and eventually reading and strategizing with the cards, than I did interacting with the outside world or learning about whatever they teach in third grade. Doesn’t matter: my world is better. Now, everyone has seen Avengers and knows who Iron Man is. What was once Comic-Con culture is now real world culture. All the nerds grew up and started creating, and all the jerks are still getting wasted on the weekends and work dead-end jobs. I play Magic with these nerds daily, and work as a server on the weekends with a completely different social class. Explaining to them what I do for fun when they invite me to waste my hard-earned disposable income on alcohol will never get old. We are dreaming, we are designing, and twenty years from now the world will be what we want it to be. I’ll be back next week with something more normal. If you don’t like this kind of article do let me know, I’ll try to be more on topic in the future. When it’s not the week when Star Wars comes out.
The_Architect on MTGO
Trevor started playing Magic in 2011. He plays primarily online and studies Architecture at UNCC. Recent paper Magic accomplishments include a 2015 Regional PTQ win qualifying for Pro Tour: Magic Origins and a Day Two performance at GP Charlotte. He also streams weekdays at twitch.tv/Architect_Gaming! Follow him at twitter.com/7he4rchitect and architectgaming.wordpress.com!