It’s the start of a new month, and that means it’s time for a new metagame update. Yes, I do intend this to be a regular monthly feature. Based on how discussions are going, there’s never been a greater need for clear data. Additionally, I’ve been doing it piecemeal via events for quite some time already. It turns out doing it all as one big update is a lot less work, and provides a better overall picture of what’s happening.
I’ve recorded every deck from every event that happened in August that was posted by noon on Monday, August 31. And it was a strange month data-wise. Early on, there was some kind of bug that prevented new Preliminaries from posting. Instead, the same tournament from August 6 was posted repeatedly. A MOCS season also ended, which meant championships and additional events that boosted the data. Afterwards, there was a week of no Challenges, just lots of Preliminaries.
What I’m saying is that there are some weird holes in the data collection. In spite of this problem, August’s data is very robust, with 64 distinct decks; at 516 total decks, it’s also the largest I’ve analyzed this year. Let’s dive in!
To make the tier list, a deck has to have at least the average number of decks for the whole set. For August, that average was 7.94, meaning that a deck needed 8 results to make Tier 3. Then, we go one standard deviation above average to set the cutoff to Tier 2. The Stdev was 10.80, so Tier 2 starts with 19 results. Then another Stdev above that is Tier 1, meaning 30 decks or more. This is a much higher threshold than was used last month, but July was a smaller data set thanks to a banning. More results means more variance.
The Tier List
As mentioned, there were lot of decks. 64 decks entered into the data, but only 23 made it onto the Tiering. Not all decks are created equal, but it does say a lot that there were 17 singleton decks in the data. Even Mono-Green Stompy had a result (a Preliminary 3-2). If the deck that I use as a joke whipping-boy can do it, so can your brew! (Once.)
Anyway, here’s the August metagame.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
The top three decks from July are now joined by Rakdos Prowess, Bant Control, and Burn. The Bant deck is slightly misnamed. It started August as clearly a traditional control list, but around the 10th, it morphed into a hybrid control-ramp deck. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “Uro Piles,” as MTGGoldfish has taken to, but it’s clear that this deck is being carried by Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath. The actual control elements have been shaved down to facilitate more lands for more Field of the Dead triggers. These decks are banking on Uro’s ramp and lifegain, with some disruption keeping them in the game until Field takes over. It feels like a very fragile strategy, and I’m curious to see if it persists.
Tier 2 only has three decks, all old Modern staples. This certainly suggests things about recent set design. This fact may also seem weird, but that’s just how the math worked out. Had I used the old method‘s confidence intervals, the singleton decks would have fallen out of the data upping the tier thresholds. Tier 2 would have kicked out Jund, but gained Burn and Bant. I don’t think that’s a meaningful change, and using the confidence interval is extra work for me. I’m also more interested in the totality of the data that complete statistical validity.
A Bolt-on-Bolt World
That said, the real story here is red. The top two decks are Prowess variants, the third place is red midrange, and Burn just squeaked in over the line. It’s abundantly clear that Lightning Bolt is still Lightning Bolt. Perhaps even more than it ever was, as there’s Jund in Tier 2 with mono-Red Prowess and Temur Reclamation in Tier 3. Modern’s very much an every-flavor-of-red format at the moment. If Chalice of the Void preys on these decks, Eldrazi Tron must not be hungry enough.
Why it’s this way is a good question. Prowess has been doing well all year, so its continuing to do well is not too surprising. That it is doing this well is slightly concerning, but possibly just a function of Modern being largely online these days. Prowess is really cheap and easily upgradable. For players like me who were driven to MTGO by lockdown and don’t want to sink much money into the platform, it’s a natural choice. And thanks to its explosive speed, Prowess of any stripe just swamps other decks, but especially the slow Uro decks.
Also, I suspect that there’s a self-reinforcing cycle with Uro. Prowess does not do well in the face of a removal wall. However, typical removal-heavy decks (*cough* Jund *cough*) struggle to keep pace with Uro’s card advantage and eventually just get smothered. With the Prowess predators suffering, the prey’s free to run wild.
Also, in a complete turnaround, UGx Uro is back in a huge way. July saw Uro decks virtually disappear from Modern. Now, Bant Control-ish is Tier 1 (just) with Temur Reclamation missing Tier 2 (also just). The nature of these decks hasn’t changed very much, so I’m not sure why they’ve gained so much ground. Temur Reclamation was at the bottom of Tier 3 last time, and Bant didn’t even make the list.
I said that Bant morphed during the month, but lists with the same premise had existed in earlier metas but didn’t make the cut after Arcum’s Astrolabe was banned. Thus, I’m not sure how it happened. The aforementioned cycle with Prowess is possible, but if that was the case, why didn’t it happen in July? This is something to watch.
I mentioned in July‘s update that I was thinking about the point weighting system. The advantage of the system was that it gave precedence to paper over online Magic and was a partial reflection of each deck’s power. That system doesn’t work anymore both due to MTGO changes and the fact that there’s no paper, but using a weighing system to examine deck strength does appeal to me. So I adapted the pointing system.
All MTGO events were treated equally in the old system. I’m not sure how accurate that was in determining deck power, but it made sense in context. It doesn’t anymore, so I’m separating the Prelims from the Challenges. Appearing as a 3-2 in a Preliminary result earns one point. A 4-1 is two, and 5-0 grants three. For a Challenge or other high Premier event, the Top 8 gets 3 points, the Top 16 gets 2, and Top 32 nets one. This is meant to favor decks that do well in larger events over those that merely show up constantly. Once all the points are assigned, I use the same analysis as for the prevalence Tiering above.
Re-Introducing Power Tiers
The total number of points earned in August was 817. The average number of points was 13.27, so it took 14 points to make Tier 3. The Stdev was 17.82, so Tier 2 began at 32 points and Tier 1 at 50. Then I checked to see if anything had actually changed or if it had all been a waste of time. And lucky me: there were notable differences between the two methods.
|Deck Name||Total Points||Total %|
The first thing worth mentioning is that the power metagame is one deck smaller than the prevalence metagame. The missing deck is Goblins, which only mustered 13 points, just under the cut. Its omission suggests that while the deck may be a popular choice, it doesn’t necessarily perform well in practice. Putting 10 results into the data is no small thing, however, as most results were 3-2’s. We could therefore peg Goblins as perhaps overplayed relative to its strength.
The second thing is that Rakdos Prowess absolutely smoked everyone else at point collection. It’s not even close. That’s because Rakdos won more Preliminaries and/or made Top 8 more than any other Tier 1 deck. I have Rakdos with thirteen 3-point entries. The next-closest is five, shared by several decks. The deck is quite clearly a results beast, and merely popular. Given the point spread, it’s clear that the winningest strategies right now are Prowess specifically, and red decks in general. Suddenly, Bant’s decision to maindeck Aether Gust is making sense.
Lots of decks see their positions change when points are considered, but the most dramatic change is in Tier 2. As expected, with a methodology change, Bant and Burn fell into Tier 2. Not by much, but by enough. It’s probably more fair to consider them Tier 1.5 than truly Tier 2 as a result. Also as expected, Jund fell into Tier 3, and I’d also say it’s more accurate to call it a Tier 2.5 deck in August. What is more surprising is Dredge also falling out of Tier 2. At 30 points, Dredge is well below the cutoff. Graveyard hate isn’t at the forefront of player’s minds, and with Silversmote Ghoul‘s adoption, Dredge also has the lifegain to race Prowess. Given that, I’d think Dredge would perform better than it did. Maybe it just isn’t consistent enough.
Reclaiming the Narrative
In place of those decks, Temur Reclamation moves up from Tier 3. It just clears the barrier, much as it just missed on prevalence. This is a bit of a relief for me. Not because I’m invested in the deck (financially or reputationally), but rather because of something that has been bothering me. Various writers and pros have been saying for some time that Wilderness Reclamation decks are the best decks in Modern and/or rating them highly. However, there was no evidence to back that up. Reclamation variants weren’t special during the Companion era or before, and weren’t special in July. That they’d think Reclamation is special in Modern therefore struck me as potential bias from Standard.
Now I have a more likely explanation. Reclamation’s champions have a similar theme of being high level players. I’ve discussed the difference between the winner’s metagame and the overall metagame before, but in short, the decks that make Top 8 and win tournaments don’t always reflect the overall metagame. The deck that wins may be a far more niche deck relying on good positioning, a lack of mirrors, and opponents’ confusion to glide through the mainstream.
Or, and I think this is the explanation, a deck may be better than other decks, but only in the hands of an expert. This accusation has been leveled before at Amulet Titan, and I’ll make it now for Temur Reclamation. The deck is very hard to play, with lots of potential lines and decisions to make. However, the players that are likely to win anyway will get the most from the deck. Thus, the higher level the player, the more likely they are to think Temur Reclamation is good, despite its mediocre prevalence in Modern.
By averaging the point totals against the prevalence total, we get the average points per entry for each deck. This practice seeks to answer the question of which decks earn their tier position based on popularity versus actual strength. I’ve long wondered and speculated at that, and now we have a means to answer the question: decks that win many events without having many results will have averages closer to 3, while decks that simply show up a lot will be closer to 1. It isn’t fair to do this for every deck, as singletons that win an event will have 3 points, but by taking all the Tiered decks and ranking them by points per entry, we see where the power really lies.
|Deck Name||Total Points||Points per Deck|
Rakdos Prowess clearly earns its title as the most powerful deck. It has the highest points per appearance of any deck by a good margin. Izzet Prowess can only manage 1.49 points per entry, strongly indicating that it owes everything to widespread adoption. Mono-Red Prowess did the worst of any deck, which suggests to me that it’s only hanging on as a holdover and that it’s poorly positioned relative to other options.
Humans was second despite only being Tier 3. It might not come out often, but when Humans does, it comes to win. This suggests it’s being underplayed overall. Temur Reclamation came third, which would confirm my earlier speculation: it may win many events, but it struggles to gain adherents. It’s striking to me that most of the top performers lie in Tiers 2-3. Eldrazi Tron is the only other Tier 1 deck in the top 10 with 1.56. There may be no difference practically, but the meta is defined by decks that are popular, not dominant. In other words, we may be due for a meta overhaul!
This month was an experiment with the power rankings, and I’m quite pleased with the results. What do you think of this new method? Also, I’m glad that I was able to get this together at the literal start of the month, as previews for Zendikar Rising start today, and there’s bound to be lots of juicy stuff to discuss coming out of the new expansion. See you then!
David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.