We thought that prerelease would be the talk of the town today, but there’s apparently a bigger elephant in the room:

Announcement Date: January 18, 2016

Effective Date: January 22, 2016

Magic Online Effective Date: January 27, 2016


Summer Bloom is banned.

Splinter Twin is banned.

While Amulet Bloom getting the Eggs treatment was surprising to few, many were caught off guard by Twin’s banning. It’s been one of the pillars of the format for as long as Modern’s existed. It won the first Modern Pro Tour. It’s always been good and always been beatable (it’s even become more beatable, now that folks have access to Rending Volley instead of Combust). Now, Splinter Twin parties in Modern Valhalla with Birthing Pod and Bloodbraid Elf, all victims of their own success, all part of ‘fair’ decks (whatever that term means to you). Why did this happen?

Conjurer's Ban

I’m not shocked by Twin’s disappearance. I think it’s exactly what we asked for a year and a half ago, even if we didn’t know that that’s what we’d be getting with the continuation of the Modern Pro Tour.

On August 4th, 2014, Wizards announced that all four Pro Tours for 2015 would be StandardWizards was concerned about having a Modern Pro Tour; Modern is a format that they don’t test for (unlike Standard, Limited, and Block). Modern doesn’t change nearly as dramatically as does Standard, making tournaments in successive years feature many of the same decks (often relatively unchanged). However, Modern is also a widely popular format, one which people are excited to play and watch (and is supported by dedicated formats like Modern Masters). The loss of the Modern PT created a large enough public outcry that Wizards swiftly canceled the cancellation of the Modern Pro Tour. (No such tears were shed for the Block Pro Tour.)

Fresh Meat

Wizards has an interest in keeping Modern fresh and in flux. This will make each Modern PT different and keep the format from seeming or actually being stale. These are noble goals. However, Wizards has only two tools with which to achieve these goals (barring sweeping changes like banning or adding entire sets): printing Standard cards that hopefully see Modern play without breaking Standard (something which cannot quickly impact the format, since cards are designed one to two years in advance) or and bans/unbans.

Bans have no lag time, are easy to implement, and are the most effective way to immediately and drastically change the format. If Wizards wants to keep Modern changing every year, particularly for the Pro Tour, we should expect to see a key component of a major deck banned every yearThis ban will not necessarily be to maintain the health of the format (which is what we tend to expect bans to for). This ban will be to ‘shake up Modern.’ Its goal will be to keep Modern in flux, not to necessarily make or keep Modern balanced.

Aaron Forsythe, director of Magic R&D, points out that we’re reaping what we’ve unknowingly sown a year and a half ago. I was one of the many who argued for the continuation of the Modern Pro Tour. I loved and still love Modern and thoroughly enjoy watching the best players in the world play it at the highest level of competition. I wanted to see them in action and be inspired by their deck designs.

I can’t say whether folks will feel the Modern PT is worth a Modern where any Tier 1 deck can be banned, even if it isn’t widely considered oppressive, and even if it doesn’t violate Modern’s No-Wins-Before-Turn-Four Rule. Modern decks are expensive, and finding out that your thousand-plus dollar deck has been gutted isn’t enjoyable for anyone. The current status quo places a lot of uncertainty into Modern; should one invest in Mox Opal, Karn Liberated, Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, or Goryo’s Vengeance if they might be unplayable around this time next year? It’s not like Splinter Twin, Second Sunrise, or Blazing Shoal are played in Legacy; some cards, when banned in Modern, have no home and lose some or all of their value.

Grim Return

This weekend, Jacob Wilson (former Modern Pod Pro) asked for a return to the original, intended status quo: four Standard Pro Tours. He raised an interesting point.

When Wizards announced the intended change to all-Standard Pro Tours, it was August 2014. We’d seen a Standard defined by essentially three cards: Master of Waves, Courser of Kruphix, and Thoughtseize (though you could also consider Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Pack Rat the exemplar of Mono Black Devotion). Standard felt stale. Years with Large-Small-Small blocks had Limited and Standard formats which seemed to change only slightly after the Large set came out. A winter Standard Pro Tour seemed boring, as it would always feature a small set, one which typically contributed only one or two key cards to Standard. It was expected to closely resemble the Standard Autumn Pro Tour, something which seemed far less exciting than a Modern Pro Tour.

Three weeks after the All-Standard Pro Tour was announced and quickly undone, on August 25th, 2014, Mark Rosewater announced the two-block paradigm. Standard would rotate twice a year, rather than once. Cards would be in Standard for 25% less time and the format would drastically change twice as often. Such a Standard format sounds substantially more interesting and watchable. Imagine if Wizards had announced the two block paradigm before they announced all-Standard Pro Tours. I’m not saying that there wouldn’t have been a similar outcry (I certainly would have lobbied for maintaining Modern), but those concerned about format variety would have had fewer concerns.


That’s my take on why Splinter Twin was banned. I think we shouldn’t be shocked if, this same week next year, we’re saying that same things about Cranial Plating. In the future, we shouldn’t just talk about what bans we need to keep Modern healthy, but we should also consider what deck’s disappearance would most change the format in anticipation of the Pro Tour.

I’m not certain what our brave new Modern will be. Robots will still be around, as will Burn, Merfolk, Grixis, Abzan, and Jund, decks that play ‘fair’ Magic. Tron will remain an elephant in the room, alongside the new, potentially insane Eldrazi deck. Infect and Grishoalbrand will continue to win before Turn 4, but whether they do so consistently enough to warrant a ban is up to the numbers and Wizards. Twin players will experiment with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. Hatebears and Blood Moon decks will try to prey upon the land-based combo/control decks. Perhaps Sam Black will come up with something no one has ever expected. Perhaps Lantern Control will win the PT. There will still almost certainly be well over thirty distinct archetypes at the PT. I’m excited to see what the best players in the world do in our brand new Modern. I wish we didn’t have to pay this price for the Modern Pro Tour, but I’m happier with a Modern PT than I am without it and bannings. For me, the cost is justified by what we gain.

Then again, I’m not a Twin player. I’m not a Pod player. When Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time were banned, I was neither out a lot of money nor surprised. Perhaps if they ban Snapcaster Mage I’ll be singing a different tune. Only time will tell.

And as always, thanks for reading.

—Zachary Barash


Zachary Barash has been playing Magic on and off since 1994. He loves Limited and drafts every available format (including several that aren’t entirely meant to be drafted). He’s a proud Cube owner, improviser, and game designer (currently going for an MFA in Game Design at NYU). He has an obsession with Indian food that borders on being unhealthy.

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