27 days left. April 4 is literally highlighted on my desk calendar, with a big red X drawn through a little Eldrazi caricature in the “Appointments” space. I’m not playing a single turn of sanctioned Modern until then, a resolution I believe many Modern players share. Who wants to even be at the same table as an Eye or Temple when we could be testing Shadows Over Innistrad spoilers instead? Of course, there are some brave souls who will still sleeve up decks and venture into Modern’s ruins. There will also be Eldrazi co-conspirators looking to profit from Modern’s best deck before the banhammer falls. For these players, and for Modern aficionados who are as fascinated (i.e. horrified) with this metagame as I am, I’m publishing this breakdown to commemorate the past month. Don’t think of it as a monument to Eldrazi glory. Consider it a cautionary tale of a Tier 0 nightmare.
The last time we did a formal metagame breakdown was on January 6, covering the 12/1 through 12/31 period of the previous month. Since then, I’ve written more than half-a-dozen pieces on the Eldrazi, chronicling their march from format upstarts to Modern tyrants. With the rubble still smoking from Grand Prix weekend, we now have enough events and datapoints to do our full breakdown in the spirit of that December update. As I’ve said before, the metagame isn’t literally 100% Eldrazi, even if it feels that way at every turn. If you do play Modern between now and the effective date of the April 4 banlist announcement, you’ll need this breakdown to understand the different Tier 1, Tier 2, and Tier 3 contenders still prowling around Modern’s wreckage. Also, to rubberneck at the disaster area left in the Tier 0 Eldrazi’s wake.
Tier 0 Deck
I have no idea how long I’ll be writing Magic articles, but I hope this is the first and last time I ever have to include a “Tier 0” section in a metagame breakdown. I’d like to think I’m a reasonable fellow who is wary of hype, avoids overstatement, and develops opinions based on careful consideration of multiple sources. I’ll let this site and my articles testify to that. So if Modern Nexus is putting the Editor In Chief Stamp of Approval on a Tier 0 classification, you know it’s gotta be bad. We’re not just talking Deathrite Shaman bad. I don’t even know if I would have classified that one as a Tier 0 deck at the time. But the Eldrazi aren’t just “bad.” They’re Caw Blade bad. 2005 Affinity bad. Meta Knight in Super Smash Bros. Brawl bad.
Thanks to these Eldrazi jerks, I’ve temporarily updated our Top Decks page to include a Tier 0 category. It’s an inclusion I don’t take lightly. Quantitatively, I’m defining a Tier 0 deck as a strategy whose metagame share exceeds the metagame share of all the Tier 1 decks combined. We’re way over that today, with Eldrazi roaring into Tier Broken on a 34.9% share as compared to the collective 25.4% of Tier 1. We’re at just under 90 paper events and 55 on MTGO, comprising over 1,200 decklists and including five major events (the Pro Tour, StarCityGames’ Louisville Open, and the Grand Prix Three). If a deck can sustain those kind of numbers in a dataset that large, call me impressed and call that baby Tier 0. Eldrazi Temple‘s flavor text has never seemed more prophetic.
Qualitatively speaking, a Tier 0 isn’t just a deck you should beat, a strategy you can take to a Top 8, or an opponent you must prepare for. It’s a deck you must beat if you want to be competitive. It’s a strategy that will show up in the Top 8, often in multiples. It’s the opponent you are preparing for. It’s everywhere, it’s everything, and it’s the nightmare of every serious Constructed player (except the grinders who now know exactly what to play as they rake in those Pro Points) and Wizards staff member. AKA, it’s Eldrazi in a nutshell.
Eldrazi hardly needed the introduction, but I wanted to present that reasoning to honor the evidence-driven approach you have come to expect from Modern Nexus. So, without further ado, here’s the monster, the monopoly, and the monolithic Modern force itself: Eldrazi.
Tier 0: 2/5/16 - 3/6/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Don’t lie. You’re just a little bit awed by those numbers, and I don’t blame you. Not even Modern’s most historically broken decks reached these levels, and it’s hard to not be impressed at a deck that is 40% of MTGO and Grand Prix Day 2s. It even hit 47% at Detroit! With 75% representation in the Top 8! For the most part, I’ve said all there is to say on this comically broken deck, so I’ll just leave these stats here for readers to gawk at.
If you’re foraying into hostile Eldrazi lands this next month, you’re braver (or more unscrupulous, you Eldrazi allies you) than I am. You’ll also need to know exactly which Eldrazi variants are on top and what you need to prepare for. Don’t want to read another line of Eldrazi statistics? Here’s the summary: UW is tentacles ahead of the rest, with RG and Colorless next in line. Curious about where the rest of them fall? Here’s the breakdown from the last month to help you figure out which Eldrazi variants you need to try beating and/or which Eldrazi deck you should play yourself (none: just say no). All the numbers are expressed as percentages of the total Eldrazi share, and the Day 2 numbers are adjusted according to each event’s attendance.
Top Eldrazi Color Pairings
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
In case you haven’t gotten your fill of zany Eldrazi iterations, here are those with less than a 1% overall share in the Eldrazi metagame.
Takeaway: you can play all kinds of colors in Modern… as long as they come in Eldrazi. They even represent those fabled blue decks Moderners and Wizards have been hunting for all this time. More seriously, with UW variants at the front of the Eldrazi pack, you can expect a healthy degree of Worship, Path to Exile, Stony Silence, and Disenchant in most contests against the Tier 0 deck. Not to mention late-game grind via Eldrazi Displacer. This affects what answers you play (don’t bank too heavily on Ensnaring Bridge and Worship yourself), and what threats you deploy (between Path and Dismember, the deck has substantial removal). RG offers similar issues, with Ancient Grudge and World Breaker to clean up the most problematic permanents you’ll encounter, and Lightning Bolt and Kozilek’s Return to augment your interaction suite.
I guarantee you I’m as Eldrazied out as you are (honestly, probably more), so I’m calling it quits on Tier 0. Have fun wielding the deck while you can, and good luck to those trying to beat this monstrosity in the next few weeks. You can do it (see Tier 1 for viable options), but even the anti-decks aren’t awesome and you’re likely to still encounter players who missed the Eldrazi memo and are playing Modern screwballs like Jund, RG Tron, and Naya Company. Weirdos. Goodbye and good riddance to Tier 0, and may it be the last time we see it in these articles.
Tier 1 Decks
As Eldrazi winter nears its inevitable conclusion, we pause to reflect on the remnants of the once glorious Tier 1. All that remains are metagame calls which can either win under the Eldrazi or try to fight them head on, while also maintaining some semblance of viability against the rest of Modern. We can add this to our list of Tier 0 format characteristics: most of the Tier 1 decks, or in this case, all of them, have bent to the Tier 0 deck’s inescapable gravity. Don’t get me wrong: I love cascading into Living End as much as the next fellow (although I prefer me some Restore Balance action). But this deck has no business being a Tier 1 strategy and, when it is, the metagame is horribly out of balance.
Here’s what’s left of Tier 1 following the Eldrazi apocalypse. Tier 1 decks normally represent the format’s decks-to-beat, ones you need to sideboard against and ones you can reasonably expect to triumph at the top tables. That’s still true today, but all warped around the Tier 0 deck and still barely managing to claw their way into contention at the metagame level.
Tier 1: 2/5/16 - 3/6/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
No Jund and no Abzan. No Snapcaster Mage. No Tron. Not even Merfolk held on in the end. Astute metagame analysts like our readers would be able to see this Tier 1 table alone with zero context and know the rest of the metagame was horribly busted. Jordan and I have been writing about proverbial canaries in the coal mine, and Tier 1 is full of them, both in what’s not there and what remains.
Of the decks still clinging to their Tier 1 footholds, Abzan Company is the one I would play if I absolutely had to compete in Modern this next month. It’s enjoyed a huge surge in popularity across all Magic venues, winning Grand Prix Detroit and seeing a consistent increase from week to week since February 5. I identified Abzan Company as an excellent anti-Eldrazi option in the immediate aftermath of Pro Tour Oath, and although it wasn’t nearly enough to stop Eldrazi at the format-wide level, Collected Company has flipped many players into respectable finishes. Abzan Company is proactive enough to punish oddball decks, is preboarded against two of the three linear Tier options, and accommodates a toolbox approach which guarantees bullets in any local metagame. Of course, the deck also has natural game against Eldrazi, which further cements it as my deck-of-choice for the next month. That is, if I’d be playing competitive Modern which I sure won’t.
Affinity, Burn, and Infect linger around Tier 1 because they have the best ratio of speed to consistency to resilience of the format’s linear decks. Even Eldrazi stumbles against certain starts for Modern’s fastest decks! Affinity really suffers against the UW and RG Eldrazi frontrunners, as do Burn and Infect against Abzan Company. That said, these decks have enough raw power to overcome any strategic and contextual shortcomings, which has kept them in Tier 1 even during Eldrazi Winter and keeps them viable through March. As for Living End, it’s a clear metagame call that numerous players and pros identified as a strong Eldrazi-slayer following Pro Tour Oath. It’s also only strong against these current Eldrazi versions, and only because those decks mostly choose to ignore it; Chalice of the Void and Rest In Peace change the math in the matchup. Also, we saw Living End lose multiple times in high-stakes finals over the Grand Prix Weekend, so it’s clearly the case of an anti-deck which is still losing to the big bad Tier 0 guy.
Again, don’t be too intimidated by Tier 0 to avoid Tier 1 decks altogether. Just because these decks can’t stop Eldrazi at the format level, doesn’t mean experienced pilots can’t wield them to strong, personal finishes. It also doesn’t mean you can’t pick them up to exploit unprepared players in the next month. Just remember the Eldrazi (as if you could forget) and remember the anti-Eldrazi splash damage (much easier to forget: don’t play decks soft to Eldrazi hate!), and the Tier 1 decks can be excellent choices as we hunker down for April 4.
Tier 2 Decks
If Tier 0 and Tier 1 have you feeling down, then worry no longer, because Tier 2 is here to give you a healthy dose of optimism. We’re up to 12 Tier 2 decks again, a healthy number that suggests a much wider format than we are actually in. There are still a lot of canaries in our Tier 2 mine: Lantern Control has greater share than Abzan, Jund/Abzan/Tron/Merfolk are all in Tier 2, and every blue-based, Snapcaster Mage strategy is down here as well. These red flags aside, Tier 2 actually appears quite diverse, with a healthy mix of archetypes, colors, strategies, and even some less familiar faces we don’t often see in the Tier 2 ranks: look at UW Control sitting pretty atop the tier!
As per the Top Decks definitions, Tier 2 decks are competitive options with reasonable chances of tournament success, but not ones you need to sideboard or test against. You’ll definitely want to know how they work (e.g. see turn one Blackcleave Cliffs into Faithless Looting discarding Desperate Ritual? Keep up countermagic/removal mana), but you don’t need to expect to play these decks in every round.
Tier 2: 2/5/16 - 3/6/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
We’ve already touched on some broader themes in Tier 2. It’s full of decks that should probably be Tier 1, and it includes a few decks that should probably be Tier 3. As much as I love Lantern Control (fun fact: I did a ton of Lantern testing about 2-3 years ago on the MTGSalvation thread that started the strategy), this deck shouldn’t be Tier 2 material in a normal metagame. BGx Midrange, and other matchups, should keep it down. Its presence here, along with the decline of the Tier 1 mainstays, further point to fundamental metagame imbalance throughout Modern. More positively, I’m excited to see UW Control, Scapeshift, and Blue Moon getting by in this Eldrazified format. UW Control is clearly benefiting from a decent Eldrazi matchup, but this still points to broader relevance we might not have expected from Modern’s remaining blue decks.
Under normal circumstances, I’d vouch for any Tier 2 deck in a competitive setting. We are far from normal today, folks, so we need to approach Tier 2 with a bit of caution. I’ve seen most of these decks get wrecked by the Eldrazi at one time or another, and for every example of a Tier 2 success story we can find two more Tier 2 failures. None of these decks made the transition to Tier 1 in this volatile time period, despite Living End and Abzan Company making the jump. This all suggests these decks struggle with either bad Eldrazi matchups, bad matchups against the anti-Eldrazi decks and technology, and/or some internal barrier to their Modern success in any metagame. Tron is an example of decks in the first category: UW Eldrazi’s aggressive starts and Path to Exiles are basically unbeatable. Merfolk is a great example of the second, one that both David and Michael Majors have already written about at length. As for the third, we might find Elves or Griselbrand decks, which have been around for months but still struggle with removal/sweeper vulnerabilities and internal inconsistency.
Keep these warnings in mind when considering Tier 2 decks. In general, stick with decks you’ve already mastered (or at least have experience with), and emphasize improving your Eldrazi matchup.
Tier 3 Deck
We’ll close our February metagame breakdown with Tier 3, the fringe decks that have become even more fringe in the polarized, Tier 0 Modern environment. We might be hesitant to even use our Top Decks definition here, because these decks feel even less viable today than they are in normal metagame circumstances. On the other hand, for a deck to stay Tier 3 in this current climate, I suspect there’s something there which have allowed at least a few players to shine. Use good judgment when picking these context-dependent decks and remember to choose your venue wisely. Some of these are exploiting weaknesses on MTGO. Others are better in paper. Check the deck percentages by column to try to identify where a Tier 3 deck is likely to succeed.
Tier 3: 2/5/16 - 3/6/16
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
|Death and Taxes||0.5%||0.4%||1.1%||0.0%|
When I look at Tier 3, I see two categories of decks. I see Modern hallmarks like Naya Company, Bogles, Jeskai Control, Death and Taxes, Abzan Liege, all of them regulars which have been Tier 2 at one time or another. These decks are just waiting in line to return to the spotlight, clinging to a history of previous success as a promise of better futures to come. As such, they have some baseline viability, and are the safer options in Tier 3. Then we have the Goblins, Dredges, and Allies of Modern. These strategies maintain a tenuous position, at best, in Tier 3. At worst, they’re running hot today and are likely to be gone tomorrow. Don’t take these finishes as a sign of the next Goblin Piledriver renaissance, or a signal to buy up Vengeful Pharaohs before the next big event. Rather, consider these fringe-of-the-fringe decks as indicators of what kinds of strategies might break through in the current Modern context. In this case, we see linear decks that go wide, and we see graveyard decks (Storm is here too) that circumvent Eldrazi’s gameplan.
All that said, I’d stay away from Tier 3 decks in a Tier 0 format. You can probably win them if you play enough events, but your chances of success at any given tournament are very low and heavily dependent on matchups, luck, opponent skill, and a lot of small-picture factors I wouldn’t encourage you to gamble on. Be my guest to do so in a Tier 1 format, but it’s just too dangerous when a Tier 0 horror has plunged Modern into chaos.
Weathering the March Metagame
Two Eldrazi articles down, only one more to go. April is looking closer by the hour! If nothing else, this last look at the Eldrazi-centric format can serve as a reference point to any future Moderners who don’t believe how bad it got. It will also serve as a point of comparison if Modern metagames slip into imbalance in the future. Finally, it helps players who are trying to navigate this twisted wasteland throughout March, either steering them towards a non-Eldrazi deck, or helping them decide which Eldrazi beast to tame before R&D swings the ban axe.
Thanks for reading and for all your great comments and feedback on yesterday’s Grand Prix breakdown article. Feel free to ask all your Modern questions in the comment section again, especially all things Eldrazi. I don’t even want to type that ugly-looking word again until my third and final Eldrazi piece (the oh-so-satisfying banlist article), but I’m happy to discuss them here while the Grand Prix carnage is fresh in our minds. See you all soon and keep your heads up as we get closer to April. Just 27 more days to go!