I’m deeply ambivalent about Modern these days. We’re seeing both one of the most open fields in the format’s history (Hulk Combo got T16 at an Open!), but also one of its most linear (Hulk Combo got T16 at an Open…). Whether at SCG States, the big events, or the smaller regional venues, aggressive decks shaped October’s metagame, even if those decks weren’t always individually the most-played strategies in Modern. This puts players in an awkward position where they have almost two dozen tier 1 and tier 2 decks to choose between, but where most of those options are soft to a broad segment of linear strategies. As someone who loved the deck and archetype diversity in June 2015, I can’t say I’m too excited to see all the Burn, Affinity, combo, and Zoo hybrids rampaging across top tables.
Grand Prix Porto Alegre and SCG’s Dallas Open were a fitting capstone to October, showcasing not only Modern’s diversity, but also its trend towards linear decks. Today’s metagame update reflects all the events from 10/1 through 10/31, and although there is plenty to celebrate, the update also exhibits the same linear forces which defined GP Porto Alegre and SCG Dallas. To get a better understanding of this evolving format, we’ll unpack October’s tier 1 and tier 2 decks, as well as check in on predictions I made in last month’s article.
Tier 1 Decks
It’s rare that any month has major events (even if they fell at the very end of the month), a tournament circuit like SCG States, and many smaller events interspersed between. October was that rare month, which means we have a lot of data to sift through and a lot of forces shaping the metagame. I already analyzed the SCG States results last week, and my findings there were only a preview of what is to come today. States is a small subset of the overall Modern world, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that today’s analysis looks different than what we saw at the SCG scene in mid-October.
This month, I’ve adjusted our Top Decks formulas to account for a dramatically reduced sample size and data quality from MTGO. Earlier this year, at the height of MTGO attendance, we averaged about 1,100 decks per month from January through July. In October, we were at a measly 210. Our margins of error for MTGO metagame shares are larger than almost all the actual shares themselves! With events averaging 6-7 players at 4-0/3-1, we can no longer rely on MTGO data as a metagame indicator. That said, we also don’t want to totally ignore the data. To account for this, I’ve applied an adjustment based on the relative number of decks between this month and MTGO’s high-attendance period. In essence, I’ll be weighing the MTGO shares at only 30% of their actuals and putting proportionately more emphasis on the paper and Day 2 numbers.
The table below shows tier 1 decks from 10/1 through 10/31, incorporating results from the recent Open and GP. As always, tier 1 represents decks you are all but guaranteed to face over a long tournament. You are also likely to enjoy success with these decks. The “MTGO” column reports the observed deck shares in the time period, whereas the “Overall Metagame” column includes the MTGO adjustments.
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
TWIN RETURNS!! If you’ve been paying attention to recent metagame updates, you’ll have noticed Twin’s gradual decline since July, and I’m thrilled Twin pilots finally reversed their fortunes. October’s tier 1 also sees Amulet Bloom rejoining the upper echelons, a testament both to its own strength and the general power of linear strategies in this Modern. Here’s another table showing the tier 1 changes over the past few months.
|Deck name||Meta% change|
(Sept. to Oct.)
I liked the metagame breakdown format I used in the SCG States article (more bullet points, fewer paragraphs), and I’m going to use it again this week. Let me know in the comments if it’s better or worse than the more long-form writing style we’ve seen in previous metagame analyses.
- The Linear Decks: Affinity, Burn, RG Tron, Merfolk, Infect, and Amulet Bloom
Between these six decks, we’re looking at about 37% of the format and a whopping 68% of tier 1. With tier 1 decks making up about 55% of the format in this update, that’s an unusual degree of linearity in both Modern’s best decks and the format more generally. To some extent, Modern has always been characterized by these aggressive, linear strategies, but we haven’t seen quite this many since February, following PT Fate Reforged. We also haven’t seen so many linear decks increase their individual shares in a single update: with the exception of Affinity, every single linear deck increased its prevalence from September to October. It’s telling that the collective increase among non-Affinity linear decks, +2.4%, actually exceeds Affinity’s own decrease of -1.7%. Some of the +2.4% undoubtedly originates among Affinity pilots who swapped decks to beat the hate. The rest? Those players are coming from far and wide to switch into the linear role: everyone wants to the aggressor in today’s Modern.
- We’re seeing these performances at both the metagame-wide and tournament level. Linear decks dominated at GP Porto Alegre and SCG Dallas, although there were enough other midrange and control successes to suggest the format isn’t all Goblin Guide swings. This has huge implications going into November. Looking at the six biggest linear players, it’s hard to find hate cards that effectively address all their attack angles while still leaving you room for other matchups. Between artifact hate for Affinity, life-gain for Burn, two different kinds of mana-hate for Tron and Bloom, and varied removal (spot and sweeper) for Infect and Merfolk, what are you supposed to do against other decks in Modern? Many players have complained about this before, but this is the first metagame update where the data really supports the (often hyperbolic) pessimism. Consider June, my favorite Modern period of the year, where we saw tier 1 linear decks only comprise 22% of the format and 48% of tier 1 itself. People complained about linear decks then but the data didn’t support them. Their fears are more founded today.
- The linear uprising puts the metagame in a pernicious loop: if you can’t beat ’em, race ’em. It’s hard to play the reactive game against linear decks normally. Playing it against such a diverse range of linear decks? Might as well flip some coins. For many players, it’s easier to pick a linear build and try to win fast than it is to metagame against all six. How do we get out of this, both as a playerbase and individually? We’ll need to return to our roots. BGx has all the tools to combat this metagame but many players are either tired of the deck, can’t afford it, or doubt its power. Same goes for the URx Twin strategies (which are excellent against the linear masses). I’ll talk about this more in the next two sections, but Jund and URx Twin are where we’ll see an out to this issue, if indeed an “out” is possible. We might also see an exit in decks like UW Control or Abzan Company, but the power-level might not quite be there.
- The Policeman: Jund
So far, I’ve been more measured (even uncertain) about Modern’s health in this article than in previous updates. Jund, to the rescue! Ever since Modern parted ways with Deathrite Shaman, BGx decks have been a healthy and necessary policing force in Modern. That’s never been truer than in October. Despite all the Bolts, Blooms, Blasts, and Become Immenses, Jund still managed to be the second most-played deck in Modern, actually increasing its metagame share from September to October. This suggests that Jund is not just alive and well in Modern, but also that Jund is thriving and ready to fill its role as format policeman.
- Remember all those linear decks and their varied angles of attack? Jund is easily the best deck to address all of them, and one of the few strategies with access to overlapping cards for handling each deck individually. In the maindeck alone, we could see Jund lists with Huntmaster of the Fells and/or Kitchen Finks, on top of the brutal removal suite of Bolt, Terminate, and Decay. Looking to the board, Jund gets artifact destruction in Ancient Grudge, lifegain in Feed the Clan, and creature hate in Night of Souls’ Betrayal and Anger of the Gods. Yes, all of this might necessitate a shift away from traditional Jund powerhouses like Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil, or at least trimming their numbers. But that’s okay! Jund is at its best when adapting to new threats, and October’s metagame data already shows that in action.
- Going into November, many Jund players are going to believe they don’t have the tools to beat every deck in the format. This kind of despair is a trap. You don’t actually need to beat every deck in the format to succeed in Modern, and it’s easy to tailor Jund to beat the linear decks while preserving a 50-50 or, at worst, 45-55 matchup against fairer decks in the format. As long as Jund players continue to embrace their adaptive, policing role, we’ll continue to see Jund regulating Modern. I expect to see a lot of this throughout November.
- The Prodigal Sons: UR Twin and Grixis Twin
I’ve tracked Twin’s decline since August, and I’m both excited and completely unsurprised to see these decks return today. With the exception of Merfolk, the linear tier 1 decks struggle in the Twin matchup, and it was about time Twin returned to exploit this. That’s especially true of Affinity which remains the most-played linear deck in Modern. With BGx decks shifting to more anti-aggro options, away from the combo-busting power of Thoughtseize and the card advantage of Bob, Twin becomes even better. I never thought I’d see the day where I lamented Twin’s absence, but seeing the format without Twin has changed my tune: welcome back, Deceiver Exarch overlords.
- In many respects, Twin’s decline wasn’t quite as pronounced as I made it out to be. You were still likely to see Twin at tournaments and still likely to win events with your Twin list. That said, Twin was absolutely at historic lows in Modern, which itself had huge repercussions throughout the format. If anyone doubts the reality of this decline, I encourage you to just look at Affinity’s shares in metagames since August and compare those with Twin’s. Then look at today’s shares and their differences. I know someone is going to hit me with the old “correlation vs. causation” argument, but this is about as clear a relationship as we can observe in a metagame. Affinity’s meteoric rise would never have happened if Twin’s shares hadn’t been so low.
- Twin’s return, especially if sustained into November, could herald a format-wide rebalancing around Twin and BGx. In turn, this would mean the decline of linear strategies that are too slow to hang with Twin and too vulnerable to roll with Jund. On the other hand, if Twin fell out of tier 1 again, it would undoubtedly lead to more linear decks prowling around the format’s upper ranks: Jund can’t manage Modern alone. I am optimistic Twin’s return in October is a sign of things to come, but we’ll need to wait until November to know for sure.
When considering the metagame numbers, it’s important to place those quantitative figures in Modern’s historic context. That’s how we move from a set of unrelated statistics to coherent (and actionable!) narratives. Linear decks may be the most formative force in Modern’s tier 1, but between Twin and Jund, the signs are pointing towards a showdown in November, a showdown that is likely to favor the Exarchs and Goyfs.
Tier 2 Decks
In some updates, the big stories are in tier 2 and it’s business as usual in tier 1. That’s not the case today, where the majority of format movement is happening in tier 1 and not in these lower-ranked decks. We still see some interesting changes in tier 2, but they aren’t nearly as dramatic or impactful a those we saw with decks like Jund, Twin, and the linear players. This suggests the biggest takeaway from tier 2 isn’t any single deck’s movement, but rather the sheer range of decks in this bracket. With 12 decks represented, Modern’s tier 2 is more open than usual, especially considering how many decks (an impressive nine in total) are sitting in tier 1.
The table below shows these tier 2 decks, broken out by discrete metagame percentages (and also accounting for that MTGO adjustment). As a reminder, tier 2 decks won’t necessarily show up at every tournament, but you’ll still need to know how to play against them. You can also bring a tier 2 deck to an event with a reasonable chance of success, although you might have better luck with a tier 1 build depending on your matchups.
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Comparing this table to September’s tier 2 listing, we see a lot of familiar faces and a few jumps up to and down from tier 1. Both Twin decks are back in tier 1, with Abzan falling down in their place. Ad Nauseam sinks out of our tier 2 standings, replaced by the aggressive Gruul Zoo strategy and Dickmann’s favorite, Temur Twin. Following from this, here are some of the most important changes within the tier.
- Fear the Zoo: Naya Company, Gruul Zoo, and Naya Hybrids
In addition to Naya Company’s and Gruul Zoo’s 2% shares each, we also see an untiered 2.1% share of Naya Zoo hybrids, ranging between no-Company Zoo decks and more Burn-oriented blitz builds. These aren’t showing up in the tierings because the majority of their finishes are in the skewed MTGO dataset, so we’ll need to allow more time to see if they can fit into the rest of the metagame. This also doesn’t include the Burn decks that are running Wild Nacatl in their main 60: those are still Burn decks, even if they borrow Zoo’s workhorse (workcat?). As we go into November, you need to be prepared to handle these ultra-aggressive, creature-oriented strategies. Although they don’t yet have the metagame shares to hit tier 1, they are definitely pre-trending in that direction, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get there by December 1st. Pack sweepers, lifegain, and plenty of removal that kills things at parity or better.
- The Control Struggle: Scapeshift, Grixis Control, and UW Control
Cryptic Command is a great card in certain metagames and a wretched one in others. You know what isn’t going to save you against the stream of turn 3-4 decks in Modern? A four-mana, cantripping counterspell. This is the problem decks like Scapeshift, Grixis Control, and UW Control all find themselves in, struggling to adapt to linear metagames with tools more suited to fair/midrange ones. We are already seeing Grixis mages make the shift to a more midrangey build with Liliana and Inquisition instead of the more traditional countermagic lineup. UW Control hasn’t quite made the transition yet, even if Scapeshift is already experimenting with Bring to Light as a way to bring more firepower to their linear matchups. We should see these decks make changes by November, but it remains to be seen whether those changes will be enough.
Most of the other tier 2 changes don’t need much explanation. Abzan finds itself in the exact same position it was in back in February 2015, battling linear decks with overly-fair cards like Path and Souls. We’ll see more Abzan if the metagame shifts back to fairer strategies, but until then, Jund is definitely where you want to be. As for the Company decks, especially Abzan Company, expect to see more of these as we move into November. Abzan Company is well-equipped to handle a variety of linear aggro strategies, which makes it an obvious choice in an overly aggressive format.
Modern Metagame Predictions for 11/1 – 11/30
Despite my cautious optimism, I’m really not sure what November’s metagame update is going to look like. We’re either going to see a shift back to a familiar BGx, Twin, and Affinity/Burn balance, or we’re going to tip into a pit of linear turn 3-4 games. Pre-trends from October suggest the former is more likely, with Twin returning to the top tables and Jund weathering the aggressive onslaught, so I’m staying optimistic for now. I’m also feeling good about my metagame predictions because we’ve been spot-on in the past few articles. September was no exception:
- UR Twin returns to tier 1? Yes!
Back when I made this prediction, I couldn’t imagine a Modern where players blithely allowed Affinity to enjoy an 11% metagame share while Twin floundered at 2%-4%. The community agreed and struck back with a vengeance, propelling Twin back into tier 1 off a +1.1% increase from September to October. Grixis Twin followed UR Twin’s return to glory, but its own increase (+.1%) was far less meaningful than UR Twin’s massive jump. Extending last months’ prediction into November, both Twin decks should be able to maintain these shares through next month, with the potential for a UR Twin or Temur Twin increase depending on other factors. Grixis Twin, with a more painful manabase and inefficient removal, is unlikely to get much better in a metagame clogged with linear decks that can blast through a cute Snapcaster/Kolaghan’s interaction.
We’re on a prediction streak and I want to keep that going as we move into the next month. At the risk of misreading metagame evolutions, I’m going to stay positive and predict a best-case scenario for November. We could also see a slide into a sea of Goblins, Nacatls, and Swiftspears, but I’m banking on a healthier outcome.
- Amulet Bloom and Infect move to tier 2. Zoo decks stay in tier 2
This is technically two predictions in one, but they are related enough that I’m comfortable discussing them together. The premise of this prediction is that linear decks will decline. The question is, which ones? Affinity and Burn are Modern mainstays that are unlikely to ever leave tier 1, even if their shares ebb and flow by a few percentage points from month to month. What about RG Tron? A natural Jund predator, this deck is unlikely to go anywhere, especially if BGx remains the format policeman that I hope it will. As for Merfolk, with Twin back we aren’t likely to see Merfolk decline any time soon. This means the linear downshift needs to happen among the weirder, outlying decks like Amulet Bloom and Infect. Both of these decks struggle against Twin, so the Twin uptick should have the biggest impact on these two strategies. By a similar token, we shouldn’t see Zoo’s share drive the deck into tier 1, at least if Twin and Jund are doing their jobs.
This was a pretty titanic metagame update, and I hope you enjoyed the mix of data and narrative in describing our format. Were there other metagame developments I missed? Any decks you want me to speak on? Bring it down to the comments and I’ll see you all there!