The Last Stand at Grand Prix Weekend

Detroit. Bologna. Melbourne. It is in these three cities that Modern players across the world will unite for a last stand against the Eldrazi apocalypse. From March 4 through March 6, all eyes in the Modern community will be fixed on the much-anticipated Grand Prix weekend. It has been one month since teams at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch unleashed the Eldrazi on our unprepared world, and if the eldritch brood can be stopped, it will need to happen at these three Grand Prix events. Can Abzan Company, UW Control, and Living End unite to quell the rampaging colorless hordes? Will 30%+ of Grand Prix entrants swear fealty to Kozilek and Ulamog en route to dominating the Top 8 and Day 2 standings? Today, we’ll take a last look at the current metagame numbers before making some predictions about the Grand Prix fight for Modern’s future.

Modern Last Stand Banner

Many Modern players have resigned themselves to an April banlist announcement featuring at least one Eldrazi card. In that spirit, it is possible the Grand Prix weekend doesn’t matter, and the colorless menace remains as format-warping as many, myself included, have claimed. Both Jordan and David have already offfered a theory-driven accounting of the deck’s fundamental brokenness. Magic personalities such as Patrick Chapin, Shaun McLaren, Ari Lax, and Michael Majors echoed this assessment in varying degrees. That said, we’ve also watched authors such as Melissa DeTora and Craig Wescoe, not to mention our own Trevor, fend off the Eldrazi invaders.

All this content is situated alongside the April banlist update, and no datapoint(s) will be more important on April 4 than Grand Prix weekend. Whether from an attendance, Day 2, coverage, or Top 8-32 perspective, the Eldrazi presence during the Grand Prix Three will seal both their own fate and determine Modern’s trajectory for months to come. Final note before we get started: I’ll continue to group all Eldrazi iterations under the “Eldrazi” supertype. Historically, this follows Wizards’ classification methods for Deathrite BGx, Cruise URx Delver, BGx Pod, and URx Twin. Strategically, with a core of 20-24 cards shared between all Eldrazi decks, this grouping reflects the Eldrazi’s engine. We should be justifiably skeptical, or outright suspicious, of anyone who argues for separating Eldrazi decks against these historical and strategic precedents.

Data Collection to Date

Today’s article is the third in a series of Pro Tour Oath aftermath metagame analyses. You can check out the others below (metagame date-ranges shown too) if you want to see how we got to this point. Quick summary: the Eldrazi came, the Eldrazi saw, and the Eldrazi kept on conquering.

Today, we’re covering February 5 through February 29, adding dozens of new decks and events to shore up our existing dataset. Last time we visited the Eldrazi Wastes, we evaluated a landscape of 46 paper events and 350 paper decks, on top of 32 MTGO tournaments and 320 online lists. Both of those samples have grown since then. On the paper side, we’ve jumped to 77 tournaments spanning 610 actual Eldrazi Templedecklists. MTGO is up to 43 Dailies and Leagues representing just over 400 individual finishes. This is almost what we would expect of a normal end-of-month metagame update (you remember, the ones we did before Modern started worshiping at the Eldrazi Temple), and we’ll certainly reach that N value once the Grand Prix dust has cleared. For more information on data collection, check out our Top Decks page.

Following past metagame updates, today’s article is about deck shares across paper, MTGO, Day 2 standings, and the overall metagame picture. Paper encompasses all 77 of those paper tournaments we talked about above, with MTGO covering its 43 events. Day 2 numbers include fields at Pro Tour Oath and SCG’s Louisville Open. As for metagame-wide figures, these are weighted averages of paper, MTGO, and Day 2. The weighting is determined by the number of events in the current sample relative to the average N in previous metagame periods. Because N has increased substantially since our first Eldrazi survey, MTGO and paper are now factored about equally, with a slightly lower weight placed on the Day 2 percentages. This methodology will be familiar to Nexus veterans, but it’s good to review in case you’re joining us for the first time (or forgot where all those mystifying numbers come from).

Modern on the Grand Prix Eve

Let’s start with some good news! Eldrazi’s MTGO share decreased by a few percentage points since our last article! Meanwhile, Abzan Company, one of Eldrazi’s most effective regulators, has advanced in paper and MTGO alike. We even saw a 194-player SCG Classic in Philadelphia with “only” two Eldrazi in the Top 8! If those facts don’t excite you, you’re either one of those doomsaying Modern-haters people keep bashing on the internet, or you’ve already read my mind about the bad news. Bad news time: Eldrazi’s retreating MTGO share was exceeded by its advancing paper share for a net gain in the overall metagame. Abzan Company may have gone up, but almost every other Tier 1 deck went down (except Eldrazi!). As for the 194 players at the SCG Classic, a) there were four Eldrazi from 9th-16th, and b) Japan saw a 263-player event with five Eldrazi decks in just the Top 8… plus another four from 9-16.

Nervous about the Grand Prix weekend yet?

Molder SlugNumbers like these, and the tables I’m about to show, fill me with an overwhelming sense of dread for the upcoming tournaments. They also make me doubt the Craig Wescoes and Melissa DeTorras of the world, who sound increasingly like the people playing maindeck Oxidize and Molder Slug in 2005 to “exploit” Affinity’s weaknesses. People keep claiming Eldrazi is a beatable strategy. They aren’t (quite) wrong! As the numbers below show, the colorless monsters can be beaten, but not in a way that pushes them out of the format and not in a way that doesn’t warp the metagame. We’ve tried to explain the Eldrazi away as a function of hype, lack of innovation, small sample sizes, natural format shifts, and other factors. I wasn’t buying this two weeks ago and I’m really not buying it today when we’ve had more than enough data and time to dismiss all those excuses.

Maybe Grand Prix Weekend turns things around, but there is no way to spin the pre-Grand Prix metagame as anything other than a writhing, colorless nightmare. The chances of a Grand Prix turnaround are also appearing increasingly remote, similar to a Trump stoppage after Super Tuesday. We’ll start our last pre-Grand Prix update in Tier 1, the most played decks of the format. As defined on our Top Decks page, these are the must-beat strategies you are likely to encounter at a tournament. They also have the highest chance of competitive success. In addition to giving deck shares in this date range, I’ll give the change from last week’s update to today’s.

Tier 1: 2/6/16 - 2/29/16

DeckOverall
Metagame %
Meta% Change
(2/22 - 2/29)
MTGO%Paper%Day 2%
Eldrazi31.7%+1.4%40.7%25.5%29.6%
Affinity9.5%-0.8%9.1%9.2%10.7%
Burn5.3%-0.3%3%5.7%7.7%
Infect4.7%+0.2%3.2%3.8%8.3%
Abzan Company4.3%+0.7%3.5%5.1%4.2%
Merfolk3.7%-0.1%2.2%4.6%4.2%
Jund3.6%-0.5%2.2%3.8%5%

Ladies and gentlemen, it’s official: Eldrazi’s overall metagame share (31.7%) is now higher than that of all the other Tier 1 decks combined (31.1%). Is it time to bust out the Tier 0 table yet? Despite dipping almost 2% on MTGO, Eldrazi gained it all back in its +2% paper share. This translated to an overall 1.4% metagame uptick: the paper gains, spanning almost 30 events, were weighted heavier than the MTGO losses, which covered only 11 tournaments. Everything else in Tier 1 (which is really just Tier 0 Eldrazi collected companyand Tier 1 Everything-Else) had mostly negligible increases or decreases. Affinity and Abzan Company offered more meaningful stories, with the robots losing out in the face of additional RG (Ancient Grudge/Kozilek’s Return) and UW (Stony Silence) Eldrazi hate, and Abzan Company continuing to prove itself one of the most reliable Eldrazi-slayers around.

As a final thought on Tier 1, we’re still seeing zero Snapcaster Mages or blue-based control decks in the tier, yet another sure sign of an unwell metagame that never happened once in 2015. Not that we need any signs beyond Eldrazi’s 31.7% share which, as I’ll say again because it can’t be overstated, is more than the combined shares of literally all remaining Tier 1 decks. This couldn’t be further from the Modern we grew accustomed to, when the most-played deck always had at least 2-3 other strategies within only 2-3% points of the frontrunner. Guess that’s what a Tier 0 format looks like!

Modern looks better in Tier 2, which boasts more archetype diversity and significantly smaller gaps between the most and least-played decks. We consider Tier 2 decks to be competitively viable strategies which can win tournaments but aren’t necessarily represented in every event. You should know how to beat these decks, even if you aren’t specifically sideboarding cards against them.

Tier 2: 2/5/16 - 2/29/16

DeckOverall
Metagame%
Meta% Change
(2/22 - 2/29)
MTGO%Paper%Day 2%
RG Tron2.4%+0.1%1.2%3.6%2.2%
Living End2.3%+1%4%1.3%1.6%
Abzan1.9%-0.2%1.2%1.5%3.7%
UW Control1.9%-0.1%2.5%1.6%1.6%
Grishoalbrand1.8%-0.4%0.5%1.8%3.7%
Blue Moon1.5%+0.1%1.5%1%2.2%
Kiki Chord1.4%-0.1%1.2%2%0.8%

For all intents and purposes, today’s Tier 2 field is identical to the Tier 2 scene we saw last week. Grishoalbrand saw the biggest drop at .4%, with every other deck Living Endfluctuating by no more than .2% and most at .1%. That is, every other deck except the punchy Living End. The cascade combo is leading the anti-Eldrazi charge going into the Grand Prix weekend: its 1% increase in the standings was the second biggest jump of any Tier 1 or Tier 2 deck, almost matching Eldrazi’s own +1.4% jump. Paolo Vitor Damo da Rosa vouched for Living End in a ChannelFireball article yesterday, and we’ve seen numerous pilots across the forums and online communities also champion the redundant Wrath effects represented by Living End‘s namesake sorcery. Bonus points for maindecking Ingot Chewer to smelt Affinity and Eldrazi artifacts, and Shriekmaw to terrorize all the Eldrazi sluggers (without even triggering Reality Smasher!).

Tier 2 is missing major aggro strategies, but there are enough of those in Tier 1 (Affinity, Burn, Merfolk) that I’m not too dismayed. Moreover, I’m pumped to see two hardcore, old-school blue control decks (UW Control and Blue Moon) scraping by in the Eldrazified world, as well as interactive policemen in Abzan and Kiki Chord. Grishoalbrand is scary, but its low metagame share, both in this update and in all previous ones since June 2015, suggests the deck is much less dominant than many Modern alarmists believe. As a whole, Tier 2 showcases smart and focused adaptation to the Eldrazi overlords, but also huge gaps between those anti-Eldrazi strategies and the 31.7% monster they are trying to bring down.

Finally, we end with Tier 3, the metagame-specific decks which might be competitive in certain venues depending on tournament circumstances, personal preferences, player experience, and other factors. No promises you’ll either run into these decks or necessarily do well with them, but we shouldn’t be surprised to see them in the right metagame context or, as we’ll likely encounter this weekend, at massive tournaments like a Grand Prix.

Tier 3: 2/5/16 - 2/29/16

DeckOverall
Metagame%
MTGO%Paper%Day 2%
Ad Nauseam1.3%1.5%1.3%1.2%
Gruul Zoo1.3%0.7%1%2.5%
Suicide Zoo1.3%0.2%0.3%4.5%
Scapeshift1.3%0.7%1%2.4%
Lantern Control1.2%1.2%1.3%1.0%
Elves1.1%0.2%2.1%0.4%
Abzan Chord1%0.5%0.7%2.1%
Jeskai Control1%0.7%0.7%2.1%
Naya Company1%1.2%1%0.8%
Titan Shift0.8%0.2%0.7%1.6%
Death and Taxes0.7%0.5%1.3%0%
Abzan Liege0.7%0.5%1.1%0.4%
Martyr Proc0.5%1.2%0.2%0%
Allies0.5%1.2%0.2%0%

Lantern of InsightI can see any of these decks cracking a Grand Prix Day 2. I can also see any of these decks going 0-4 drop in the first few hours, so don’t get too excited to see Allies at the bottom of that list. Same caution goes for Martyr Proc (Martyr of Sands plus Proclamation of Rebirth control; like Soul Sisters but with more Wrath of God elements). Big movers here include Lantern Control, probably the best deck to sit behind an Ensnaring Bridge, and Abzan Chord, a breakout Chord of Calling toolbox deck from Pro Tour Oath that eschews Collected Company for a different curve and combo. We will continue to see such Tier 3 decks placing both in Grand Prix standings and in smaller venues.

Whether you plan on beating the Eldrazi, joining them, or playing Cube and/or Hearthstone until April, it’s impossible to deny how dismal Modern looks on the eve of these three Grand Prix tournaments. Eldrazi is comically ahead of other decks. Its tentacles creep down through every tier to warp their maindecks and sideboards while still lounging at the top on a 31.7% share. I’d be much happier if Eldrazi prompted a metagame-wide response that saw the deck unseated from its cyclopean throne. Instead, we observe everyone trying to beat Eldrazi and the deck is still towering over all the rest. It’s 2011 Caw Blade and 2005 Affinity all over again, and we are unlikely to see this shift during the Grand Prix scenes in Detroit, Bologna, and Melbourne.

Grand Prix Metagame Predictions

I’m hesitant to talk about all three Grand Prix venues as one collective metagame. There are real regional differences within countries themselves, let alone across continents, and those are likely to play out in each individual event. That said, a Grand Prix is large enough, both in players and in profile, that regional differences are minimized as players comb the internet and their local results to gain metagame edges. We’re also more likely to reach some notion of a normalized metagame as we add more players to the mix. All of this makes me relatively comfortable with grouping the three events together and talking about them as a unit. It’s also almost certainly how Wizards and the broader Modern community will react to the tournaments, and with an issue as sweeping as the Eldrazi, it’s important to stay in dialogue with that popular reception.

We’ve seen the overall metagame picture. Now it’s time to translate those broader takeaways into specific Grand Prix predictions for the weekend.

  • Reality SmasherEldrazi will average 25%-30% of the events.
    We’re going to see a lot of Eldrazi, but it’s unlikely to exceed the 25%-30% range. This would put it in line with Bloodbraid Jund during Winter 2013, Cruise URx Delver during Winter 2014, and Abzan during Pro Tour Fate Reforged. Some will view this as a sign of Eldrazi’s weakness (at least it ain’t 40%, AMIRITE??) but they are historically misguided. Even a 20% average share would put the deck alongside Deathrite BGx and Siege Rhino Birthing Pod. Any higher would be either the worst of the Modern worst, or (if exceeding 30%) an unprecedented new standard of oppression.
  • Eldrazi will underperform from Day 2 into the Top 32.
    Numerous players, including David in yesterday’s article, have observed what happens in polarized Deck and Anti-Deck metagames. In Day 1, the deck-to-beat smashes the competition and claims a Day 2 plurality. Then comes Day 2, where all the anti-decks with the best deck-to-beat matchup get more rounds against the strategy they are designed to clobber. This phenomenon will likely result in low Eldrazi conversions into the Top 32. It also won’t matter much for overall metagame health because a) the deck already brutalized its way to a 25%-30% Day 2 share, and b) there will still be at least 6+ Eldrazi swarming around the Top 32.
  • Chord of CallingAbzan Company, Abzan Chord, and Blue Moon will excel.
    Non-Eldrazi decks are going to make Day 2. Indeed, if my predictions are to be believed, at least 65%-70% of the remaining field will be on familiar (but sorely missed) Modern faces such as Jund, Merfolk, Infect, and others. All these decks are sure to suceed in some measure, with a few maybe even reaching Top 8/16, but I’d bet on Abzan Company, Abzan Chord, and Blue Moon as the most competitive anti-Eldrazi decks of the day. All three strategies are proven Eldrazi-busters, and also have game against the decks/technology which will amass to beat Eldrazi. They had excellent Pro Tour performances, an event where the Eldrazi were totally unknown and still dominant, and have enough room for improvement to further enhance their matchup (e.g. the uptick in Roast/Flame Slash in Blue Moon).
  • There will still be two (or more?) Eldrazi decks in each of the Top 8s. 
    The hallmark of a truly broken deck is its continued presence at all tournament levels despite concentrated hate along the way. Eldrazi has repeatedly shown it can meet that benchmark, and I don’t expect it to disappoint now. The real question is, will UW, UR, GR, or some other variant represent the deck’s next broken evolution?

Wizards’ Grand Prix coverage won’t be all doom and gloom. We’ll watch cool deck spotlights, hopefully for something that is either Tier 3 or totally unmentioned in this article. We’ll cheer for Eldrazi getting righteously beaten up by something like Living End. We’ll see at least one player make a Pithing Needle joke. And, of course, we’ll be thoroughly entertained by commentators trying to spin Modern as a diverse format where you can play anything (so long as it comes in colorless…). I’ll watch when I can and post any and all Day 2 updates, plus other metagame-related stats, as I hear them. I’ll also be back next week to either congratulate the victorious rebels or pluck through the rubble.

The Eldrazi are Coming…

I’m not going to Grand Prix Detroit this weekend. Chalk it up to a combination of personal and professional life, an inability to find a deck that is both viable and exciting, and overall lack of interest in this current format. I’d love to sit down with Aaron Forsythe and talk all things Modern, but that 15-30 minute conversation doesn’t justify the entire weekend and all the travel, especially if I wouldn’t be enjoying the Grand Prix anyway. Oh well. At least David and Jordan will be there to chat up Forsythe. As for my janky awesome brews, there’s always Grand Prix Indianapolis in August!

No matter how the Grand Prix tournaments end, there’s no denying how warped the metagame has become. This is true with respect both to Eldrazi’s almost comical metagame share, and to the other decks flailing around the sub-5% mark trying to challenge the beast. I’ll be posting Tweets throughout the weekend to track the progress of all three scenes, and although I’m sure things won’t be quite as bad as many fear, they are likely to be twisted enough to demand April action. It will be quite the comeback story if I’m wrong, but I’ve already got my feature art lined up for Monday and it’s not a positive picture for the anti-Eldrazi resistance. Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all in the comments with feedback on the article, thoughts on the analysis, projections for the weekend, and any burning questions you think our team needs to consider for Aaron Forsythe.

 

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.

10 thoughts on “The Last Stand at Grand Prix Weekend

    1. I’m hoping we at least see some interesting technology come out of the events. Maybe even technology and strategies that lasts beyond the Eldrazi! I’ll watch as much of GP Detroit as I can and hope for a Day 2 that isn’t completely ruined by Eldrazi, but I’m pessimistic enough to not be attending myself.

  1. I believe Modern needs to ban both engine lands for Eldrazi. If you compare them to their Legacy counterparts you find that Ancient Tomb and City of Traitors have very decent drawbacks: The former deals 2 damage to you, while the latter forces you to sacrifice it if you want to develop your land board state. In other words: they punish you for wanting their speed. Now Eldrazi Temple’s drawback is that it only adds 2 for Eldrazi spells and Eye of Ugin doesn’t tap for mana, which was ‘drawback enough’ (not really, Modern has ALWAYS complained about Tron’s Eye lock), an it wasn’t a real problem until BFZ and OGW: Now there is a huge pool of Eldrazi to cast, and far chepear than 15/11/10 CMC. In other words, in Modern Sol lands REWARD you for playing them, instead of punishing you. The eye in particular gets even more broken with the addition of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to the deck. Many people claim that it works as a Mishra’s Workshop, but it gets worse: it’s better than the good old Workshop, as it can provide even 5 or 7 the same turn, and yet even more too, if you get to live to see that happening.
    Eldrazi doesn’t need Ramp to be a successful FAIR deck, and Modern certainly doesn’t need an UNFAIR Eldrazi deck. Let’s just accept that everyone was happy without having an Eldrazi deck in Modern, so we can live without Eldrazi being a Tier 1 deck. Wizards isn’t supposed to ban/design to make Tiered decks, but to give us players fair deck-building tools. There is a lot people claiming that it wouldn’t be good to ‘kill’ the archetype by banning both lands, but guess what? Modern had always fair ramp decks that aren’t Tier 1 successful (Tier 2/2.5) and people aren’t asking for Green Sun’s Zenith, Deathrite Shaman, Seething Song, Rite of Flame, Cloudpost, Summer Bloom unbans. Why should we ask to keep an engine land in the format so the deck can still stand as the best Midrange deck? I mean, there are other decks that have been in the format for years, with thousands of supporters around the world and were never given a single card to make their decks Tier 1, because ‘it wouldn’t be a good thing for the format’, or it would become ‘too dominant’ or ‘too powerful’. If it’s not a good thing for the format for Elves, Mono G Devoton or Tooth and Nail, it is not a good thing even it says Eldrazi. The reason is that those kind of cards are banned because they make unfair things happen. Same goes for Eye and Temple in Modern. It is unfair that the cards see play alongside the new pool of ‘cheap’ Eldrazi cards printed. They make the format more than un-fun and unfair, and they have warped the metagame even harder than Treasure Cruise + Dig Through Time, and we all know what a dark era it was. We don’t need to wait 9 months or a year to realize that.
    Ever since the realese of OGW, around 65% of all Top 8s of big events have been Eldrazi and/or Affinity decks. The Color Pie says hi, by the way.
    The reality is that Eldrazi (all variants included) is the best Stompy deck, the best Midrange deck and the Best control deck. And that is a HUGE fail.
    This is not hate/hatred for WOTC for failing like they did. But banning Birthing Pod and Splinter Twin (around 5 months after re-printing it in the Modern Masters 2015 set, really?) for being too consistent and popular (15/20% Metagame/25% of Top 8s) and then doing this is simply ridiculous, and we -the players- need to make our stand about this and openly tell Wizards that we don’t care if they fail by banning to ‘make the format more interesting’ -and sell more sealed product, I mean com on, you’re gonna sell anyway- or by printing ridiculously cards that make the formats go bonkers. We don’t care that those things happen, as long as they can shout out a mea culpa and make things right. We know they can do it.

    Whoa, that was quite a lot more than I expected to write when I started.

    Cheers guys, keep up the good work on the site!

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful and detailed response! I largely agree with your comments and think a dual Eye/Temple ban is likely in April. The GPs would have to be totally different Modern worlds for the bans to be less severe. Otherwise, it’s Caw Blade and Affinity all over again, and we know when Wizards bans a deck they ban it decisively. This will also hopefully work to repair the trust and confidence issues player have with the format, like those you point to in your own post.

    2. Any credible commentator would agree with this sentiment and I applaud Sheridan for his voice on this topic. Although I personally would have preferred the Eldrazi issue dealt with much earlier – hopefully we can all get back to modern after April 4..

  2. It’s a tough time to be a website that that focuses on modern right now, but you guys still do a great job. Have you thought about doing anymore of the articles where you test out things like Stoneforge Mystic and see if they are safe for the format? Obviously, you would have to ignore the elephant(eldrazi?) in the room, but I would still be interested in the series.

    As for questions for Mr. Forsythe, I would ask him, “Do you think that Modern should be a format where threats are better than answers?” I think his answer would tell us a lot about what direction Wizards wants to take the format in.

    1. Thanks for the props! We’ll eventually reexamine some of the banned cards, but I think we need to get out of this current Eldrazi situation before then. I’ll be doing a series of articles on addressing major Modern policy/management issues in the future, and you can expect to see lots of those after the GPs. We’ll try and intersperse this with our usual strategy, metagame, and tech pieces.

      Interesting question about threats and answers. We’ll see what we can do with Mr. Forsythe at the GP!

  3. I would like to ask aaron Forsythe mainly if because of the recent eldrazi problem they will finally start in-house modern testing, I believe as their premier eternal format and a format with good chance of abusing overpowered cards they need to start testing it as to make sure things like this don’t happen as much. I understand the main focus being on standard but even marginal testing would have shown the eldrazi to be too pushed. I just can’t think of a good reason not to test this format if it’s important enough for them to support this way

    1. I totally agree with this and think you can expect us to ask something similar over the weekend. You can also expect to see some kind of article talking about these issues in the future.

  4. Sheridan,

    Would you be able to do a piece (perhaps even just a few paragraphs) analyzing Eldrazi’s recent performances in context of all the Modern Ban announcements? There are some interesting comparisons we can draw from past statements and present metrics. (Sounds almost like investigating some clues….)

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