The January 2015 bannings of Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, and Birthing Pod changed Modern as we knew it; Delver was sure to fade away; BGx attrition strategies were likely to return; Burn would have to stop splashing blue, and blue-based combo was going to suffer. Oh, and Pod was dead. Whether you loved the bannings, burned your Modern collection because of them, or were somewhere in the middle, you had to admit Modern was going to look a lot different by February than it had at the beginning of January.
Pro Tour Fate Reforged set the stage for the new Modern, one without the Delver and Pod decks of Fall 2014, but one where both Siege Rhino and Monastery Swiftspear were still defining forces. Splinter Twin returned from its Delver-induced vacation; Blighted Agent reminded us that if you can’t beat fast decks, just race them, and Cryptic Command looked sad without its old friend DTT. In short, it was a new Modern world.
Below is the Modern metagame from 2/16 through 3/16, including data from almost 30 MTGO Dailies and 85 paper events.
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Surprising absolutely no one who saw the results at PT FRF, Abzan is still public enemy number one. But perhaps much more surprising is the relatively small lead it has over the next top decks. PT FRF saw a day 2 metagame that was almost 25% Abzan (with another 3-4% on the Abzan Liege variant). GP Vancouver saw that share drop to 18%, and SCG Baltimore saw the same. But expanding our scope to include MTGO and smaller paper events, Abzan falls off even further to just over 13% of the overall metagame. This probably came as a relief to anyone who was looking at those scary PT statistics. True, Abzan is still the top deck in the format, but it doesn’t have the Modern-wide dominance that we saw in decks like Pod, Delver, and Burn between October and January.
After Abzan comes the usual Modern suspects: Twin and Affinity. Although other Twin builds have been making an impact in the format (RUG Twin at about 1.5%, Grixis Twin at .75%, Jeskai Twin just below at .6%), good old UR Twin still remains the premiere combo/control deck of Modern. Its victory at PT FRF and GP Vancouver, not to mention 2nd at SCG Baltimore, has solidified its status as a great deck, and the rest of the format reflects those successes. The same is also true of Affinity, a deck that has been around since Modern’s beginning and has continued to put up results. Have Stony Silence-powered Abzan decks tried to stop this? Absolutely, but Affinity has soldiered on and remained a top 4 deck in Modern.
But wait: What about Burn, which is actually ahead of Affinity in the overall metagame? Both Burn and the #5 deck, Infect, represent a kind of metagame adaptation to all the Abzan and, to a lesser extent, Twin. Both decks feature fast, linear, and hyper-redundant strategies that are very resilient against the efficient one-for-one removal of Abzan. Abrupt Decay that Goblin Guide? Have a Swiftspear in return! Thoughtseize the Might of Old Krosa? Thanks for fueling my Become Immense! If you can’t play fair against the Abzan triumvirate of Goyf/Tas/Rhino, then just race it. As the metagame stats show, this has been a fairly successful game plan over the last month.
Rounding out the overall metagame is Abzan Liege (the anti-Abzan Abzan deck), along with a bunch of old-school Modern staples: RG Tron, Scapeshift, Merfolk, and Jund. You can look more closely at the numbers to see that some of these decks have an even distribution between MTGO and paper (Merfolk and Scapeshift), and others that were carried based on their performance in one venue (Jund with day 2 performances, RG Tron with paper).
Here are some key takeaways from the overall metagame apart from those listed above:
- Modern has a lot of aggro. Burn, Infect, Affinity, and Merfolk represent just under 30% of the overall metagame. There is a bit of disagreement about whether to consider Infect as aggro, combo, or an aggro/combo hybrid (I tend to lean towards the latter). Even if you don’t count Infect, aggro is still about 20% of the format. And that’s just the top decks! Adding in Zoo variants, Bogles, BW Tokens, and a variety of other decks, it’s still at least 25-30%.
- “Traditional” control is nowhere to be seen. I’ll leave the debate about “true” control versus combo/control hybrids for another article, but those classic draw-go strategies are not making waves in Modern. Sultai Control may have won SCG Baltimore, but looking over the metagame as a whole, control is not replicating that success. UWR Control is about 1.4% of the metagame with Mono U Tron at 1.1% and Blue Moon at .8%. UW Control has enjoyed some MTGO success recently with 1.75% of that metagame, but its lack of paper performances still shows that traditional control is struggling. As a whole, the archetype is at about 5% of the overall metagame by even the most generous definitions.
- Lightning Bolt is more matchup dependent than ever. Metagame analysis is only as good as the deck and card choices it informs. And when I look at this metagame, I see one where Bolt is highly variable from matchup to matchup. Why focus on Bolt? For one, Modern players always discuss the “Bolt test” as a metric for creature playability. Bolt has also defined Modern since PT Philly back in 2011, and many Modern players build their deck with Bolt in mind. But this current metagame is not always a Bolt-friendly one. Abzan’s main critters have too much toughness for Bolt to handle, and zapping Spirit tokens isn’t exactly profitable; Twin has been favoring Deceiver Exarch over Pestermite; Infect maindecks Spellskite, not to mention their pump and protection. And RG Tron and Scapeshift are about as Bolt-proof as they get. So these are matchups where Bolt is a lot worse now than it was a while ago. But then again, Bolt remains an excellent choice against Burn, Merfolk, Affinity, Abzan Liege, and even against Infect if used properly. It’s cost-effective, catch-all removal that will get you through the early turns until you can get better stuff. In fact, one reason for the success of these aggro decks recently is the lack of Bolt in some of the top decks. So when you are preparing for this metagame, take a hard look at your use of Bolt and your vulnerability to Bolt. There was a time where you couldn’t leave home without 4+ toughness or your playset of Bolts, but that time is not necessarily today. Then again, if you decide not to pack your Bolts, prepare for some rough turns 1-3 against some of the format’s fastest decks.
Predictions for the next update (3/1 – 4/1)
With a second metagame update around the corner in just a few weeks, it’s hard to make meaningful, long-running predictions. There aren’t even any major events in that time period, although there is a banlist update on 3/22. Even so, that update won’t actually go live until after that banlist update, which means the metagame isn’t likely to change much in that time. But if you still want to get ahead of the curve, here are some predictions for that next update.
- Abzan, Twin, and Burn aren’t going anywhere. If your deck can’t beat these decks, you are in big trouble. The Big Three are here to stay for the foreseeable future. In fact, expect Burn to go up a bit (and Abzan to drop proportionately) with the upcoming Atarka’s Command hitting Modern at the end of March.
- Merfolk and Affinity will be on the rise. These are linear, fast, and resilient aggro decks that also have solid Burn matchups. Decks like Zoo, Abzan, and even Infect can struggle against Burn because of their painful manabase and/or their Phyrexian mana spells like Mutagenic Growth and others. Affinity loses at most 2 life from Vault Skirge…right before Skirge gains most of that back next turn (or more). And Merfolk loses no life period. This keeps these decks well-positioned in this current metagame.
- ROGUE DECK ALERT – Esper Midrange! Modern players have been trying to find a home for Monastery Mentor since he came out a few months ago. Then came the 214 player Japanese tournament on 2/22 that saw Esper Midrange take the gold. That should have been it for Esper Midrange, but the deck has been appearing day-after-day in MTGO events since that time. It already has 10 showings in the last few weeks alone, and is sure to just get better with time. Expect this to become a real contender by the beginning of April, with a metagame share of at least 1.5%.
We’ll check back in with these predictions next time and see how the metagame looks then. Until 4/1, keep up the great finishes and keep pushing the metagame forward!
About the metagame project
When I first started playing Modern, I was always asking what the overall metagame looked like. There was no shortage of sites to look at for these metagame statistics, but all of them were saying something different. Some would only do 4-0 MTGO dailies but not 3-1 finishes. Others would have events from one part of the world but none from another. Decks were misclassified, events were double counted or missed, and I never got that clear metagame picture I was looking everywhere for.
To get you the most accurate picture of the Modern metagame, we tally up decks and events from across the Magic community. This includes MTGO finishes, Top 8s, and Top 16s from local and regional events, and data from major events like Pro Tours and Grand Prix tournaments. We then summarize all those results in a monthly article on the Modern metagame. This article is our first installment in the series.
Look forward to a Metagame Update article on the first Tuesday of every month (we are launching this one early just to kick off our new site). You can also check out the homepage for the “Current Metagame Statistics” sidebar, which will give a metagame snapshot that is updated every two weeks. Finally, you can always check in on the Top Decks Page itself, which is where we tabulate all the data and calculate the different metagames. Feel free to browse the spreadsheet and all of its different events, decks, and metagame statistics.
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.