Brace yourself: the Modern Pro Tour is coming. Between the Oath of the Gatewatch exposition, StarCityGames’ Regional blowout, and Super Bowl Sunday, I’m going to be glued to a screen for every waking weekend hour. Will Affinity, Burn, and Grishoalbrand run riot in Atlanta? Can Von MIller’s defense stuff Cam Newton’s offense on the Levi’s Stadium turf? Is Wizards’ Splinter Twin ban gambit going to save or sink the Modern metagame? What new insane Modern speculation target will spike into orbit? By the time you check back in on Monday morning, we’ll still be recovering from Saturday’s and Sunday’s festivities, but at least we’ll know the answers to those questions. Today, we’ll make a final survey of the Twinless metagame to see how Modern is taking shape on the eve of Pro Tour Oath.
While professing my love for Shape Anew on Monday, I also promised a return to the metagame numbers used to inform last week’s “Early Snapshot” article. I’m delivering on that pledge today, having more than doubled our dataset on both the paper and MTGO fronts. On the MTGO end, we’re up to 16 events and about 200 decks. Paper brings just over 30 tournaments and 280 lists to the analysis. As Blake Rasmussen quipped in today’s Daily Magic Update, the community is obsessively “studying Modern results like they’re the Rosetta Stone.” Guilty as charged, Mr. Rasmussen! Our readers would expect nothing less, which is why we’re bringing you one final evidence-based look at the format before everything gets confirmed or upended over the weekend.
Pre-Pro Tour Metagame Summary
Although I’m stoked to report our hoarded data, I can’t ignore the sample’s limitations. It’s relatively small (about a third as many datapoints as in our usual breakdowns) doesn’t cover many days (11 instead of 30-31), and hasn’t included any truly major events like the upcoming Pro Tour or even an SCG Open. All of these factors exert degrees of bias, and we’ll want to account for that influence as best as possible before digging through the data. To emphasize a point I made last time, and in my recent Quiet Speculation article on the same topic, we shouldn’t trash the entire sample just because of these complications. As long as we proceed cautiously and limit our inferences to match the sample’s limitations, we can still extract a lot of value from this kind of evaluation. I’ll take a 480 deck sample over a purely hypothetical population in any analysis!
Mindful of these constraints, I’m laying out all three tables for all three tiers, offering preliminary projections of where decks are settling in the new Modern. Unlike in our previous, more standardized metagame article, I’ll be replacing the Day 2 prevalence column with Round 0 metagame shares. These numbers draw from three tournaments that were kind enough to share what decks got registered before the action began. Final note: I’m tweaking the weighted average method we usually use to account for an overall reduced sample, which will play out in the “Overall Metagame %” column. As usual, you can check out the raw dataset on the Top Decks page.
Less stats babble, more Modern! Here’s an early look at where things are shaping up in Modern. We start with Tier 1, the Modern decks you can expect to play against at major tournaments. Tier 1 comprises about 44% of the format.
Tier 1: Pre-Pro Tour
|MTGO %||Paper %||Round 0 %|
Tier 2 is up next, showcasing tournament-viable decks you might not necessarily encounter at any given event. They still show competitive teeth, however, which makes them fine choices for your upcoming SCG Regionals. Making up 31% of the format, Tier 2 combines with the Tier 1 picture to showcase just over 75% of Modern.
Tier 2: Pre-Pro Tour
|MTGO %||Paper %||Round 0 %|
|Death and Taxes||1.8%||1.5%||1.8%||1.9%|
Finally, we end with Tier 3, a new classification bracket I’m introducing in 2016. These fringe decks are neither regular tournament highlights nor necessarily viable strategies at every event. Despite their outsider status, they remain strong metagame calls depending on specific Tier 1 and Tier 2 options you encounter en route to the top tables. I’m still refining Tier 3’s statistical criteria, so pardon our dust while we sharpen the system. Today, Tier 3 adds another 8.4% to the Tier 1 and Tier 2 shares, bringing us to about 83% of the format represented in these three tables.
Tier 3: Pre-Pro Tour
|Deck||Overall Metagame %||MTGO %||Paper %||Round 0 %|
|Grixis Control /|
|Jeskai Kiki Control||0.7%||1.0%||1.1%||0.0%|
There’s a lot to digest in these almost 30 rows of decks and data, so take a Moment’s Peace to Absorb all of the numbers again. While you’re at it, send positive vibes towards Wizards to reprint both those cards in 2016 Modern-legal sets.
Admitting our earlier limitations, I’m not going to say much about Tier 3 other than a) all of these decks could be more or less viable depending on how the weekend shakes out, and b) it’s probably much wider than the table suggests. If you’ve boxed up Goblin Electromancer, Intangible Virtue, or Delver of Secrets for Regionals or the Pro Tour, don’t start emptying sleeves yet! Wide-open Modern fields like the one we see today benefit players who know their decks and who make smart metagame calls. If Sun Titan control fits that profile for you, then bring your Mortarpods and Pilgrim’s Eyes with confidence. At this stage more than usual, the data speaks more heavily to deck popularity and visibility than to performance and viability. Keep that in mind when parsing any of today’s results.
Now that we’ve oriented ourselves to the dataset, I’m going to turn to the Tier 1 standings. These decks offer us the least ambiguous and most actionable marching orders as we head into Saturday. Once we’ve picked the Tier 1 data-tree clean, we’ll move on to Tier 2 for some more general takeaways.
Early Tier 1 Observations
I know you’ve memorized all the metagame shares listed above (quick: which deck had the highest MTGO share? No Peeking!), but for those with more important facts to memorize, here’s the table again before we dive into the data. Pay close attention not only to the individual decks and their discrete shares, but also how those decks line up with other Tier 1 players and how those individual shares compare with one another.
Tier 1: Pre-Pro Tour
|MTGO %||Paper %||Round 0 %|
For me, the keys to understanding the current Tier 1 are grouping similar archetypes, looking at relative magnitudes, and checking numbers against theory. We’ll leverage all three of those analytical lenses as we identify a few overall themes in today’s Tier 1 showings.
Collectively, the Tier 1 table gives a lot of credence to linear characterizations of Modern. The big three decks are the same overall as in paper: Affinity, Burn, and Tron, all in an identical order. Everyone from Pascal Maynard to the average Redditor expected this scenario, and it’s largely played out in the paper scene. Although MTGO shuffles the decks around and mixes in a few curveballs, Tron is still king and Burn and Affinity are less than 2% behind. Eldrazi joins the ramp party, and although Blight Herder is more midrange muscleman than a turn three Karn Liberated, this deck’s rise was another widely held expectation for post-ban Modern. Not to be outdone by the main linear three, Infect sneaks aboard the standings to add another lightning fast contender into the Modern big leagues. In sum, these expected Tier 1 players make up 34% of the whole format.
We saw many of these linear forces at play in last week’s article, and it’s statistically encouraging that our observed trends held stable after doubling our previous dataset. This suggests the default Level 0 belief really was a good one: players flocked to many of the decks we believed they would. Because this theorized scenario played out so cleanly in the early data, we can be more comfortable trying to “Next Level” out of this particular baseline. Found a deck with capable Tron, Affinity, and Burn matchups? Those qualifications alone might make it tournament-viable. Can’t figure out your sideboard? You can do a lot worse than tailoring your board for these five expected decks (the big three plus Infect and Eldrazi). Our Level 0 point of departure is one reason I’m catching the Jeskai bug: between Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze, and Ghost Quarter, I’m feeling very secure against this field. Still feeling week in your main 60? Don’t forget your sideboard! A pinch of Crumble to Dust and a dash of Kitchen Finks go a long way towards shoring up Game 1 weaknesses.
As David cautioned last Tuesday, be careful trying to craft the anti-deck, lest you end up Next Leveling yourself into wielding scissors in a field of rock. Words of wisdom notwithstanding, the Level 0 expectation was a safe one, and you can feel just as safe brewing or metagaming your way through it. Prioritize Tron, Affinity, and Burn, stay mindful of Eldrazi and Infect, and you’ll be off to a great start for the weekend.
…and Challenging Assumptions
Many Modern personalities and players were so committed to prophesying the linear apocalypse that they discounted interaction altogether. Last week’s data exposed some latent strengths for two much more interactive decks. This week’s analysis all but confirms it. Community members counted them down and out, but trusty Merfolk and trustier Jund have shown enough early promise in the new Modern to get them preliminary Tier 1 status. Our job is to understand how they got there and assess whether they are likely to stay.
Swimming in last for MTGO (4.5%), but a much more respectable fourth in paper (6.5%), Merfolk is surfing the change in true Master of the Pearl Trident style. Merfolk has always been Tier 1 or Tier 2 in our 2015 Nexus breakdowns, so it shouldn’t come as a shocker that the fish returned in an unknown metagame. Or maybe it should. After all, Merfolk lost its favorable Twin matchup and now needs to navigate Affinity and Infect-ridden seas. At first pass, these pressures might appear to be too much for the mermen to handle. Fortunately for King Trident’s team, other metagame factors more than compensate for these weaknesses. Look back to the Level 0 decks above. Affinity and Infect are rough, but Tron and Eldrazi are a day at the beach. Burn is a close 50-50 that plays out both ways, but you have more flexibility in taking the control reins or buckling into the driver’s seat to race. Comparing shares for those opposing decks, you’re at least breaking even on matchups in Tier 1. Add all the random pickups you get against Tier 2 or lower strategies and it’s no wonder Merfolk has distinguished itself in post-Twin Modern.
Jund is a much more fascinating case deserving more analysis. Writing in the ban’s immediate aftermath, Neal Oliver proclaimed Jund “the biggest loser under the new bannings.” Willy Edel made a similar, although more measured, appraisal in his BGx article today, warning “that Jund is poorly positioned” in the current metagame and to “try stock Jund at your own risk.” The overall community also agreed. In the almost two weeks between those articles, numerous Modern players have taken to forums, Reddit, and comment sections to agree with these statements, decrying the inevitable Eldrazi and linear takeover which would surely Terminate Jund’s, and BGx’s, chances to regulate a new Modern.
Preliminary numbers suggest the exact opposite has happened. Jund has thrived on MTGO, where it is the third most-played deck behind the two strategies that should have killed it: RG Tron and Bx Eldrazi. In paper, Jund lags behind the big linear three and Merfolk, but has actually picked up metagame share above Ulamog’s minions and the Infectious swarm. I know what some of the more skeptical Modern analysts are thinking: in the two weeks following a big banning, players (especially in paper) lack time and resources to ditch one deck and play another. If true, this would mean Jund’s 6.6% metagame share from December would naturally contribute to January’s 5.1%, representing a loss of about 1.4% between the months. I don’t buy this for a second and you shouldn’t either. Another BGx deck, Abzan, was pre-trending to overtake Jund at the end of December after leaping 2.3% from its November high. Where is Abzan today? Sputtering in Tier 2 at 2.4%, practically its lowest share since we started tracking metagame numbers and well below its 5.2% December prevalence. Assuming both BGx pilots had invested comparable capital into both strategies, it is exceedingly unlikely that Jund mages were too steeped in the sunk cost fallacy to switch decks, while Abzan mages nimbly jumped ship. That is, unless the metagame dictated which one was better positioned.
Given this metagame context and the numbers, we can comfortably challenge the myth of Jund’s death. I’m personally unsurprised. Jund boasts an impressive battery of answers to the Level 0 decks. Lightning Bolt trumps Abzan’s Path to Exile against Affinity, Infect, and Burn. Blackcleave Cliffs saves you at least a Shock in matches that come down to the wire. Dark Confidant reloads against decks that can’t reliably remove him on turn two. Although both BGx options bring Fulminator Mage and Ghost Quarter to the ramp fray, Jund picks up a major edge by allying Mage with Kolaghan’s Command in the maindeck and Crumble to Dust/Blood Moon in the board.
Abzan supporters are going to point to the relative strengths of Lingering Souls, Siege Rhino, and sideboard bullets like Stony Silence as a reason for their deck’s superiority, but this has not played out in the numbers. It doesn’t even play out in theory. Kitchen Finks/Huntmaster of the Fells/Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet do a passable Rhino imitation in key matchups and Jund’s board has as many (if not more) strengths than Abzan’s can claim. White’s Path is undeniably strong, but red’s Bolt is better in most matchups. Terminate can pick up the pieces. The statistical context makes these comparisons even more favorable to Jund. As a whole, all of this suggests an early edge for Jund which I expect Bob and Tarmogoyf to maintain. It also makes a convincing case for which cards you should be playing if you aren’t sure what else to do. Brian DeMars is on the same page too!
Projecting past the weekend, I see different futures for both Merfolk and Jund. If 2015 is any indication, Merfolk’s share is likely to drip back into Tier 2, and the deck will bounce between the two brackets for much of the New Year. The fishies pick up a lot of metagame relevance due to the Eldrazi and Tron matchups where Spreading Seas can dominate, but as these decks ebb (and Affinity/Infect flow), Merfolk’s fortunes will see parallel ups and downs. Jund is going to experience similar movement, but always in the context of whether it’s better to sling Bolts and Commands or pack Paths and Souls. Perhaps the bigger takeaway is not necessarily Jund’s superior metagame position now, even though early numbers do suggest this conclusion. Rather, it’s that BGx as an archetype has yet again proven its resilience and adaptability in new metagames, and you can continue to expect the midrange presence in Tier 1.
Early Tier 2 Observations
Between our quantitative datapoints and the qualitative narratives, it’s much easier to tell the Tier 1 story going into the weekend despite our limited sample. Tier 2 defies this analysis. There’s almost too much format volatility to settle on the topmost decks, let alone pin down the metagame periphery in Tier 2. This makes it hard to articulate meaningful conclusions about Tier 2, other than to agree that Modern is unusually open.
Tier 2: Pre-Pro Tour
|MTGO %||Paper %||Round 0 %|
|Death and Taxes||1.8%||1.5%||1.8%||1.9%|
The more we look at these decks, the messier Modern starts to seem. Scapeshift and Jeskai Control take a 5.6% share for reactive strategies. Grishoalbrand and Ad Nauseam carve out 4.7% for goldfish combo. We get traditional midrange in Abzan’s 2.4%, which we can line up alongside Abzan Company’s and Kiki Chord’s net 5.4% for fair strategies with a combo finish. Death and Taxes can join that party too, which brings the total for nonlinear and interactive Tier 2 decks to around 15%. Not to be outdone, Bogles, Naya Company, Elves, Gruul Zoo, and others team up at 16.4% for the less interactive, more linear alternatives.
Many of us will feel a strong impulse to tease out every statistical relationship and nuance in these Tier 2 numbers. I’m certainly tempted! At this juncture, however, we need to resist that urge. At best, our sample limitations introduce too many variables and disclaimers into this kind of examination for it to be meaningful. At worst, they prohibit the analysis outright. Instead of getting bogged down in comparing Abzan’s 2.4% share to Abzan Company’s 3.1% (hint: a .6% difference in Tier 2 is meaningless when there are seven decks spanning that gap), I’m just going to reel out three quick-hit takeaways for Moderners who want to pioneer new terrain in Tier 2.
- All Tier 2 decks are about equally viable
Because the relative magnitudes between different Tier 2 decks are so tiny, and because the overall sample is smaller than usual, you can comfortably take any of these strategies to a tournament and expect some measure of success. Remember not to trap yourself into getting ahead of people who are themselves getting ahead of the metagame. This Next Level thinking ends with you going 0-3 drop on UW Control in a series of Eldrazi, Infect, and Tron matchups. If your Tier 2 baby is Jeskai Control, Abzan, or Living End, box that bad boy up on Friday night. That said, if you know something about your local metagame that we don’t (e.g. the two sisters who both bring Soul Sisters to every event), adjust your Tier 2 preferences accordingly.
- Don’t try building your deck to beat every individual Tier 2 opponent
It’s hard enough to prepare for the three Level 0 matchups. You saw the chaos that is Modern’s current Tier 2! Do you really want to try and fix all of your bad matchups in a mere 75 slots? It’s not worth the effort, the testing, the frustration, and the eventual disappointment. Instead of throwing in bullets for every matchup, group the decks and look for overlap. For instance, Death and Taxes, Elves, Gruul Zoo, and the Company decks loathe sweepers. Anger of the Gods is ready and waiting in your trade binder. That said, unless you can include at least three decks into one set, don’t worry about every feasible grouping. This isn’t Worlds, so don’t run Hallowed Burial just to ruin the Bogles pilot’s day (as fun as that feels).
- Learn what every Tier 2 deck does
You can’t sideboard for every Tier 2 deck. You can know what they do. Learn core synergies, general strategy lines, and standard sideboards. Death and Taxes has Flickerwisp. Gruul Zoo has Atarka’s Command. Bogles and Ad Nauseam will sideboard in Leyline of Sanctity playsets. Chord of Calling decks will create all sorts of problems with instant-speed Burrenton Forge-Tender, Spellskite, Eidolon of Rhetoric, etc. Grishoalbrand is going to splice Through the Breach and Goryo’s Vengeance onto other cards and will win with Pact of Negation triggers on the stack. This isn’t an exhaustive list of scenarios you may encounter, but if you had to mouse-over any of those cards or scratch your head about any of those decks, do some research before wading into this current field.
Anything Can Happen!
Peyton Manning might throw more interceptions than Jay Cutler, or Derek Wolfe might smash every one of Cam Newton’s runs. The Pro Tour Top 8 might be nothing but Urza’s lands and Inkmoths, or Jeskai and Jund might Lightning Bolt their way to a win. In both cases, we have some early indicators of how these major showdowns will reach their riveting conclusions, and in both cases, anything can happen. With the Iowa caucus defying pollsters and predictions, it’s already a week to crunch numbers and challenge takeaways. As long as Super Bowl 50 has solid football and palatable commercials, and as long as I see at least one ramp player get Ghost Quartered out of the match, I’ll have a happy weekend.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed our last-minute look at the metagame stats before the big weekend rolls around. Got questions? Got predictions? Got a bone to pick with the numbers, explanations, or metagame picture? I’ll see you in the comments and see you next week as we sift through the post-Pro Tour and Regionals debris.