Welcome to week three of the Eldrazi Apocalypse! On Monday, I tried to distract us with promises of greener April pastures, but even the most indefatigable Modern optimist struggled to forget the weekend’s horrors. StarCityGames’ Louisville Classic was one of the ugliest Modern events I’ve ever seen. I described it as a “twisted, tentically nightmare” on Monday and that characterization is as true today as it was after we set eyes on that Day 2 metagame breakdown. The overall Modern field isn’t quite as bad as Louisville, but it’s the most warped I’ve seen in any three-week period of our format’s history. Today, I’ll be revisiting the Modern-wide breakdown I presented last week, adding in over a dozen new events and unpacking the SCG Louisville stats as we trudge through the Wastes of our twisted format.
Most Modern players have resigned themselves to the Eldrazi’s (hopefully temporary) dominance, either joining forces to create hundreds of Eldrazi Scion tokens or fighting back with increasingly esoteric sideboard technology and fringe deck choices. There also remains a small but stubborn cadre of Eldrazi defenders. On the one hand, I admire their confidence in Modern’s ability to self-regulate, and agree with their pleas for banning patience. On the other hand, I am deeply suspicious of anyone who can look at these metagame numbers and see anything other than a real Modern horror story. As today’s Louisville-specific and format-wide numbers show, the Eldrazi have dominated Modern at all points since the Pro Tour. They have adapted to win the mirror, grown to beat the hate, and evolved to stay leaps and bounds ahead of the competition. The question is no longer “Can Eldrazi be beaten?” It’s “How much worse can the Eldrazi get?”
SCG Louisville Debrief
Before we get to our metagame-wide breakdown, we need to make a painful stopover at the devastation that was SCG Louisville. Louisville was a critical, pre-Grand Prix datapoint for a few reasons. First, it would show if Modern players were willing to pick up Eldrazi in paper at the same rate they had done so online. Second, with 725 players, it would be the largest proving ground for Eldrazi pilots and Eldrazi slayers yet. Finally, with practically every single Modern article since Pro Tour Oath covering the Eldrazi crisis, it was the first big event where players knew what they were up against and could come prepared. Turnaround was possible! I’m reminded of the October 26, 2014 SCG Premier IQ in Minneapolis, which saw a good deal of Treasure Cruise, but also plenty of decks that weren’t packing the offensive new toy from Khans.
Did SCG Louisville reverse the narrative or challenge the Eldrazi’s offense? Was our format reality unsmashed after the decisive Modern stand? The Top 32 numbers tell the tale of the tape!
- Top 4 Eldrazi: 75% (3/4)
- Top 8 Eldrazi: 50% (4/8)
- Top 9-16 Eldrazi: 88% (7/8)
- Top 16 Eldrazi: 69% (11/16)
- Top 17-32 Eldrazi: 57% (9/16)
- Top 32 Eldrazi: 63% (20/32)
Gatewatch save us… Maybe the Day 2 numbers are better?
- Day 2 Eldrazi: 48% (31/64)
- Day 2 to Top 32 Eldrazi conversion: 65% (20/31)
- Day 2 to Top 16 Eldrazi conversion: 35% (11/31)
- Day 2 to Top 8 Eldrazi conversion: 13% (4/31)
If your reaction consists of just KappaHD and/or MiniK, we’re basically on the same page.
Twitch humor aside (and who doesn’t love a dose of Twitch humor, channel mods excluded?), this is the exact opposite of what we wanted to see at SCG Louisville. We’ve seen the popular narrative of an unbeatable deck before: Amulet Bloom, Burn, Tron, and Affinity all come to mind from last year alone. In all those cases, the metagame resisted, whether through the Blood Moons at Grand Prix Charlotte or the Fulminator Mages of late 2015. Amulet Bloom eventually ate the ban, but that was for violating the turn four rule, not for warping the metagame and reducing format diversity. In all those cases, Modern players resisted the myth of an unstoppable deck through smart deckbuilding and nimble metagaming. Even when a card or deck was truly broken, as in the Treasure Cruise and Birthing Pod case of 2014-2015, players still gravitated towards other strategies and metagame numbers never looked like those at Louisville.
SCG Louisville is a convincing case study that Eldrazi is immune to this kind of regulation. Modern has never recorded a 500+ player event with a single deck claiming 50% of Day 2 and 63% of the Top 32, let alone with a 65% conversion rate that parallels the deck’s Pro Tour conversion rates. Some Eldrazi sympathizers will point to the deck’s overwhelming hype as a confounding variable in this analysis. They will allege the deck is still beatable but players aren’t trying to beat Eldrazi because, in the short-term, it’s easier to play it than defeat it. We should reject this argument for two reasons. First, the numbers actually exceed those of all previously broken decks over any single event in their reigns. This includes Bloodbraid Jund, which peaked around 30% in a Pro Tour, Deathrite BGx at 20%-25%, and Pod and Delver in the low 20% each. 48% is utterly unprecedented. Second, even ignoring those numbers, the mass player unwillingness to switch decks on its own is a problem. No other deck in Modern’s history has commanded this blind obedience, which points to a singular monster and not just another Modern hype train.
Careful analysts of the Louisville data will note Affinity’s performance as a possible upset to Eldrazi’s success. Although the robots did not appear in nearly the same raw magnitude as Eldrazi, they nonetheless boasted impressive finish rates.
- Day 2 Affinity: 8% (5/64)
- Day 2 to Top 32 Affinity conversion: 100% (5/5)
- Day 2 to Top 16 Affinity conversion: 60% (3/5)
- Day 2 to Top 8 Affinity conversion: 40% (2/5)
Austin Holcomb won Louisville with his heavily metagamed Affinity list, packing maindecked Dispatch and sideboarded Ensnaring Bridge, even if he forgot to Bolt/Galvanic Blast the Bird en route to his victory. Do Affinity’s numbers, which exceed Eldrazi’s, suggest players have overestimated the format’s problems? It’s a trap! Do not mistake Affinity’s performance as a sign of Eldrazi’s weakness or impending downfall at Grand Prix Detroit. If anything, the two-story Modern town of 50% Eldrazi and 10% Affinity is one the most damning signs of metagame imbalance yet.
For one, numerous pros have already attested to the lopsided Affinity vs. Eldrazi matchup. Between this qualitative knowledge and the quantitative indicators (from the Pro Tour to MTGO and subsequent paper events), everyone knew Affinity was where you wanted to be against Eldrazi. That or UW Eldrazi, but we’ll ignore those colluders for now. Despite this prevailing wisdom, a measly five players made Day 2 on the deck. We know Affinity is a Modern-regular. We also know Affinity reliably shows up in the 10%-12% range at events and format-wide. For it to only appear at 7.8% suggests the common wisdom of Affinity being the best anti-Eldrazi option is either not being believed or not actually holding up in practice. Either way, the format is not correcting like it should, which suggests a deeper issue with the imbalance.
Two, the Eldrazi decks themselves have adapted (and keep adapting) to the Affinity challenge. Kent Ketter’s UW Eldrazi may have lost to Holcomb in the Louisville finals, but his three Stony Silences and two Disenchants represent a strategy-wide shift to Affinity-busting technology. We also see this in RG Eldrazi lists, as exemplified by Alex Zurawski’s fifth place build. Between three each of Ancient Grudge, Natural State, and Lightning Bolt in the sideboard (plus four Kozilek’s Return in the main 60), RG Eldrazi is more than prepared for Affinity. This is likely reflected in the Day 2 numbers, with UW Eldrazi picking up percentage points for both the mirror and an improved Affinity matchup. When your best police deck is so easily counter-policed, the format is in trouble.
As a final point on the Louisville disaster, consider the non-Affinity and non-Eldrazi decks that made Day 2. I haven’t said much about them so far because, well, there’s not much to say. Infect, Merfolk, and Abzan Company all posted decent 4%-6% shares, with a scattering of other strategies represented throughout the breakdown. Of those, we saw lone showings by Kiki Chord, Jund, Merfolk, Skred Red, UW Control, Blue Moon, and Scapeshift in the Top 32. Only Merfolk got Top 8 or Top 16 and Infect didn’t even crack Top 32.
Calling this an anemic performance by the Modern traditionalists would be like lauding Ben Carson’s Nevada run as a comeback: it dramatically overstates just how poorly these decks performed. This illustrates two further problems with Louisville. First, that outside of Affinity there is no deck which can put up a meaningful fight against Eldrazi, and second, that a host of historical Modern decks are nowhere to be seen. Zoo, Tron, Grixis, Abzan, Living End, and others are conspicuously absent or diminished in Day 2, and outright gone from the Top 32. That’s a startling lack of diversity which we haven’t seen in even the most warped eras of Modern to-date.
Taken both on its own and in the format’s broader context (which we are about to revisit in all its otherworldly splendor), SCG Louisville was Modern at its worst. Eldrazi obliterated the competition, Affinity showed itself to be the only legitimate alternative, and everyone else floundered in obscurity. I’d be less forceful in my Louisville analysis if this were the first time we’d seen this story play out. But having watched it in the Pro Tour and in the two weeks following, the narrative was just too consistent and compelling to ignore as it played out in Louisville. Moreover, as we will see soon, it has also continued to govern Modern as a whole.
In most Modern metagames, additional data often means a more normalized format. We’ve increased our 2/5 to present dataset and will see if this normalization holds true today (spoiler alert: prepare to have your hopes drowned). In last week’s metagame check-in, we had about 20 MTGO events with around 210 decks, on top of 34 paper tournaments contributing 270 extra lists. Today, we’re up to 32 MTGO Leagues and Dailies and 316 decks. The paper dataset grew to 46 events and just under 350 deck-entries, not to mention all the SCG Louisville action joining with the existing Pro Tour stats to flesh out our “major paper” and Day 2 side of the numbers. Taken as a whole, that’s about half the datapoints we’d normally expect for a proper metagame update, although I fully expect we’ll get there by the March Grand Prix weekend.
As with all previous metagame breakdowns, we’re using an adjusted metagame averages to account for both the smaller N between different categories in the dataset (e.g. MTGO has fewer events than does paper), and the smaller N relative to our usual monthly breakdowns (e.g. we’d expect paper to have about 100 events, not 50, for an update). When our sample size increases, as it did this week, we can be more confident the sample itself is representative. Weights will change to reflect that. Even if you care as much about statistics as World Breaker does about Worship, it’s enough to know our weekly Eldrazi updates are getting more accurate by the day. Given how warped the numbers are, that’s bad news for Moderners everywhere.
Post-Louisville Metagame Summary
If SCG Louisville is the focused, case study illustration of Eldrazi dominance, the metagame-wide figures represent the broader scoop. Deck shares are even more imbalanced than they were last week, which both reflects the increased sample size (which removes some uncertainty around our estimations) and the Eldrazi solidifying their Modern foothold. I’ll spend a little time in each tier to reexamine the statuses of certain decks and metagame forces, but for the most part, I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves.
Here’s Tier 1, aka Eldrazi plus everything else. As per our Top Decks definitions, these are the decks you are likely to play against at tournaments and need to test against if you are serious about winning. I’m adding a column to show the change in metagame share relative to last week’s update.
Tier 1: 2/5/16 - 2/22/16
|Meta% Change||MTGO %||Paper %||Day 2%|
Get ’em Merfolk! Show those Eldrazi who rules these waves! Just kidding: those are Drowner of Hope‘s seas. Outside of Merfolk’s paltry .5% rise from Tier 2 into Tier 1, the Eldrazi have absolutely suffocated the tier of most other meaningful options. Our format Engima is up an astounding 5.3% with literally every single Tier 1 strategy down or flat. How does a deck already at 25% of the format jump up yet another 5%? Ask Eldrazi Displacer and its Louisville pals, who cemented Eldrazi’s Tier 0 status just as they secured the Eldrazi mirror. Affinity’s share retreated in MTGO and Day 2 while picking up .4% in paper, an overall loss for the deck supposedly keeping us safe.
Are these non-Eldrazi Tier 1 decks still viable at a competitive level? Yes, but to a much lesser degree today than we witnessed in early January. With proper sideboard and maindeck adjustments, any of the Tier 1 decks are probably capable of combating, even defeating, Modern’s Eldrazi tyrants in individual games. At the metagame-wide level, however, the Tier 1 decks continue to prove unequal to the 30% monstrosity. Expect to see more Eldrazi decks dabbling in increasingly niche splashes and technology to gain edges in the mirror while also preserving their broken core.
Tier 2 is up next, representing competitive decks in the current metagame, but not ones you need to prepare against in the maindeck or the sideboard. That said, you’ll still need to know the fundamental strategies behind each deck, even if you’re not necessarily angling towards decks with positive Tier 2 matchups. Thankfully, although Tier 1 got worse this week relative to our previous update, Tier 2 enjoyed some tiny improvements.
Tier 2: 2/5/16-2/22/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Day 2%|
First, the bad news: we still only have six decks in Tier 2. As I talked about last week, that’s a major problem for a format that averaged 13 Tier 2 decks throughout 2015, with no update ever featuring fewer than 11. As we saw at SCG Louisville, the Eldrazi have pushed these decks out of competitive viability, narrowing the format in an unprecedented fashion. For those of you who have held out for good news, Tier 2 does offer some small consolations. Naya Company may have fallen out of Tier 2 contention, but it has been replaced by a pair of blue-based control decks with considerable anti-Eldrazi game: Blue Moon and UW Control. We all remember Blue Moon master Jason Chung and his memorable Pro Tour Oath run from a few weeks ago. Chung’s and his team’s Blue Moon core of Blood Moon, Batterskull, Pia and Kiran Nalaar, and Snapcaster Mage may have fallen short of Top 8 glory at the Pro Tour, but its making a respectable comeback into Tier 2 for this week.
It’s joined by UW Control, a highly reactive and deeply traditional control strategy not even the most old-school Counterspell mages can reject. In the immediate aftermath of the Pro Tour, I identified UW Control as one of the best anti-Eldrazi strategies with past Tier 1 or Tier 2 showings, and players across both paper and MTGO venues have proven this prediction to be an accurate one. Notable online UW Control finishes include IwalkAlone’s and manaflood’s 2nd and 3rd place respectively at a 2/14 and 2/6 Pro Tour Qualifier respectively. Both pilots used powerful countermagic and removal (even a pair of my pet Flickerwisps!) to overcome a field that was disproportionately Eldrazi. For paper, we applaud Riccardo Biava’s win at a 2/14 StarCityGames Qualifier in Milan. Biava beat not one but two Eldrazi decks in the Top 8 alone, preferring a Dragonlord Ojutai and Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy addition to UW Control’s conventional three Cryptic Commands and three Supreme Verdicts.
It’s good to see more color and card diversity in Tier 2, even if the overall Tier 2 picture is still bleak, and even if Gruul Zoo is a Tier 2 deck when the much more enduring Naya Company can’t cut it. Talk about a canary in the Modern coal mine! Blue’s return to Tier 2 viability suggest the tier as a whole might open up as we near the Grand Prix, which would be a small victory for Modern diversity in a string of metagame defeats.
Finally, we end with Tier 3, the metagame calls and fringe-viable decks you should consider for specific events. As with last week’s Tier 3 options, you’ll want to pay special attention to metagame shares within each column. A deck might enjoy unusual viability on MTGO while seeing no paper presence at all. Martyr Proc fits this mold perfectly. You’ll also see decks with a 0% MTGO share and a sizable paper following, such as Elves and some URx Delver variants.
Tier 3: 2/5/16 - 2/22/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Day 2%|
|Grixis Control /|
|Death and Taxes||0.7%||0.6%||1.1%||0%|
Tier 3 is always going to be relatively open, even if Tier 1 is burning above. That said, Tier 3 remains unusual in this time period with its concentration of historically Tier 2 decks. For instance, Living End, Elves, Naya Company, Scapeshift, and the Grixis Control/Midrange players are all relegated to Tier 3 despite their typical presence in Tier 2. Metagame change and shifts are good for Modern, but the abrupt and simultaneous downfall of these strategies suggests a bigger problem. The 30% Eldrazi specter looming over the format doesn’t make this narrative any prettier. As a player, consider the Tier 3 decks as niche options depending on your playstyle and preference. All of these decks have beaten Eldrazi opponents to even reach this point, which might make them feasible choices for upcoming events. Brave enough to rally your Reckless Bushwacker Goblins through a Grand Prix field? Hit me up for a feature piece, especially if you piledrive into Day 2.
In all three tiers, especially the Dismembered Tier 1 listings, we see the direct and indirect effects of the Eldrazi invasion. These forces are so overpowering that it is hard to imagine a Grand Prix weekend that isn’t as twisted as the format we see today. Lower attendance, fear of bans, and genuine innovation might mitigate the Eldrazi’s advances on the Grand Prix stage, but I suspect the overall image will still be all Eldrazi all the time. The pre-trends are too dominant to suggest anything else.
More Eldrazi to Come?
I can’t promise we’ll see the end of the Eldrazi any time soon, either in the overall metagame or on Modern Nexus. I’ve had some people ask me why we keep posting about Eldrazi, which is a fair question given how much we’ve written on them, how much others have already discussed the topic, and how much most Moderners hate our new colorless masters. Quite frankly, it’s disingenuous to do otherwise on a site dedicated to Modern. Modern is the Eldrazi right now; it’s impossible for a deck with a 30% share to not affect every element of the format. That said, we’ll keep up the pattern we held last week, with at least 1-2 articles per five-day period deviating from the Eldrazi hegemony and discussing awesome Modern possibilities like Enduring Ideal prison decks and post-April metagame optimism. I also have a series of Modern management and policy-themed pieces planned for March, which I’m very excited to share once the Grand Prix weekend is in the books.
Modern is a mess right now, but with the possibility of an emergency ban seemingly (and rightfully) off the table, we’ll have to endure the takeover for a little over a month. I’ll check back in with the metagame next Wednesday and will have something more Eldrazi-free on Monday for all of us to enjoy. Until then, I look forward to seeing all of you in our newly moderated comment section and to talking about the format, the numbers, where we go from here, and how the heck we are supposed to salvage our Grand Prix plans. See you all soon!
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.