It’s finally here, folks! I know everyone has been waiting patiently for the June metagame report, and I’m extremely happy to bring it to you today. I’ve undergone something of a crash course over these last few weeks familiarizing myself with Sheridan’s methods (and mammoth Google Docs spreadsheet) that allow us to operationalize the tiers in the metagame and track them month to month. Let’s just say I’m truly impressed by what he’s been able to put together, and I hope I can do his work justice with today’s write-up.
Since the Eye of Ugin ban that ended the Eldrazi’s reign of terror Modern has been in an excellent place, posting an archetype and deck diversity rivaling any other period in the format’s history. We’re truly in the midst of one of Modern’s heydays, which was on display again in the month of June. Diversity is at an all-time high, and between all the Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks, virtually every type of play style is represented.
The large tournaments from this period are less numerous than May, consisting of no Grand Prix and just the one Star City Games Open in Dallas. As Sheridan predicted in the last metagame report, the Tier 1 decks haven’t changed much from the pace set in May, as players turn to the results of those prominent events to inform their deck selection choices. As we’ll see, the more interesting shake-ups took place in the Tier 2 standings, which may portend some things to come in July and onward.
Data Collection Methods
Sheridan has outlined elsewhere the methods behind his tiering system, and if you haven’t read the Top Decks page linked above, I highly recommend it. I’m sure I’ll have some more intelligent and/or interesting contributions to make to this dimension of Modern Nexus as I get acquainted with the process, but for now I’m frankly still a little green in that area. I’ll limit my comments here to cover the numbers of decks and events that form our data set.
There were only three major events during this period, two SCG Classics and the Open in Dallas, which provided 47 decks. When added to the remaining Top 16 decks and all the minor tournaments, that gives us 633 paper decks across 87 events. MTGO contributed 292 decks from 31 different tournaments—one of these was the PTQ from June 18th and the rest were Leagues. As per usual, these finishes are weighted according to Sheridan’s algorithm (thanks to his wondrous spreadsheet) to give us the respective tiers.
Tier 1 Decks
Tier 1 decks are those you can realistically expect to see in decent numbers at any mid-sized event. You absolutely must be prepared to face each of these decks, whether that means testing your matchup, dedicating sideboard space to combat them, or simply selecting a deck that matches up well. If your pet deck or brew is soft to a large number of these decks, you’re probably better off leaving it on the sidelines for a sunnier day. On the other hand, picking up any one of these decks is likely to yield success on any given day—if your goal is simply to crush the tournament or finish in the Top 8, each of these decks is an excellent choice.
Keep in mind that our tiering system is predicated on concrete results rather than theoretical constructs about a deck’s viability or strength. There’s certainly room for these discussions in Magic, but here at Modern Nexus we want to provide some empirical basis to such claims—while the tiers inevitably reflect “outside” factors such as deck prevalence and variance, it’s also fairly unlikely that anything squeaks into Tier 1 without having a legitimate claim to serious contender.
Tier 1: 6/1/16 - 6/30/16
|Paper %||MTGO %||Major Event
Tier 1 consists of the same seven decks from the May metagame report, plus newcomer Merfolk. After taking down GP Las Vegas during the previous month, Merfolk has proven its staying power. I imagine there was an uptick in players looking to try out the fishies after their momentous GP win, but it looks like those who did were rewarded with strong finishes overall.
Within the tier, changes in relative percentages seem to indicate a movement away from reactive, controlling strategies towards aggressive, linear ones. That said, this shift is a minor one, and all of these decks look to be well positioned for the foreseeable future. Here are the changes in metagame percentage from May to June:
Tier 1 Changes: May to June
May to June
|Overall Meta %|
6/1 - 6/30
|Overall Meta %
5/1 - 5/31
The biggest changes we see are the mirrored 2.2% shifts in Infect’s and Tron’s metagame shares, in favor of the former. It makes sense that Tron would decline as Infect is on the rise, as the ponderous big mana deck is rather soft to the Phyrexian menace. That said, it looks as if Infect hasn’t had too much trouble fighting through the Jund and Jeskai decks that likewise occupy a significant part of the meta. A pile of cheap removal capped off with Lightning Bolt may be the deck’s weakness, but Infect is too powerful and resilient to just fold in the face of reactive decks. Likewise, we see Affinity beginning to reclaim some of its lost ground, coming up a full 1%. The only deck out of the aggro trifecta to suffer this month is Burn, down 1%.
In fact, if we take the aggressive, linear decks as a whole (Infect, Affinity, Merfolk, and Burn) we see they’re up 2.9% in metagame share. In contrast the more controlling and midrange decks (Jeskai, Jund, GR Tron, and Abzan Company) are down a total of 3.7%. It would seem that linear strategies are on the rise, to the detriment of those trying to play fair.
The loss of metagame share for the fair Tier 1 decks is even more pronounced on MTGO. I suspect this has something to do with the rise of Dredge and Death’s Shadow Zoo. These two decks have experienced a massive surge in MTGO results, which doesn’t bode well for people trying to durdle. While Jund and Jeskai should post positive results against Death’s Shadow Zoo due to their interminable removal suites, their Dredge matchup looks to be downright abysmal. GR Tron in particular seems ill-suited to fight through the developing environment—it posted a flat 0% of the MTGO metagame share, and indeed may be on the way out. As I’ll elaborate on below, I think the MTGO results may be something of a canary in the coalmine regarding proximate metagame developments.
As for Merfolk, you’ll note that it jumped less than a full percentage point to reach its new Tier 1 status. This indicates the archetype was on the rise during the prior month, and further cements the narrative that the deck is here to stay.
Tier 2 Decks
In a certain sense, the Tier 2 decks are the heart of Modern. These are the decks that can succeed on any given day, even if they aren’t posting truly dominant results. Pilots deeply invested in these archetypes, or those who carefully read their local metagame, can deploy them to devastating success. And we often see these decks cycle in and out of Tier 1 status as the metagame shifts, proving that Modern really is about playing what you know and love.
You won’t require an encyclopedic knowledge of these decks and their strategies to compete in a Modern tournament, but you can’t be surprised to face them either. You’ll want to formulate a general plan for each, or at minimum understand the basics of what the deck’s trying to accomplish and how it interacts with your chosen archetype.
Tier 2: 6/1/16 - 6/30/16
|Paper %||MTGO %||Major Event
|Death's Shadow Zoo||3.1%||1.4%||12.9%||1.2%|
Sheridan explained in May’s metagame update that a large gap between the lowest Tier 1 deck and the highest Tier 2 deck might represent a settled metagame. Here we see that same phenomenon present, with Death’s Shadow at 3.1% clocking in a full percentage point below Abzan Company’s 4.1%. It would appear the Tier 1 is relatively ossified for the time being, but we know that any of the Tier 2 decks can shift upwards, and they’re all viable. As with past months, diversity is on display. From grindy two-for-one control strategies (Grixis Control), to full-on combo (Ad Nauseam), to combo-aggro hybrid (Death’s Shadow Zoo, Dredge), to combo-control hybrid (Scapeshift), to traditional aggro and midrange decks of all stripes (Delver, Eldrazi and Taxes, Gruul Zoo, Abzan), you can truly play whatever suits your fancy. Remember how I said we’re in a Modern heyday?
As alluded to above, the biggest story this month in Tier 2 territory is the rise of Dredge and Death’s Shadow Zoo. Death’s Shadow has cycled between Tier 2 and Tier 3 in the past, and looks to be benefiting from the same trend pushing the other linear strategies up. Dredge, for its part, is a relative newcomer, at least in its Prized Amalgam iteration, and early indications show that it may be a true monster. Nowhere are these trends more clear than in the MTGO data, where we see a whopping 8.4% and 12.9% metagame share for Dredge and Death’s Shadow respectively.
More on the notable movements that took place during this month:
- Scapeshift and Prime Time dosey-doe
In May the Valakut decks seemed to be doing rather well. Both RG Primeval Titan and Temur Scapeshift variants were represented on the Tier 2 standings, and taken together as one archetype they would have made Tier 1 at a combined 6.5%. Now it seems Titan Shift has fallen down to Tier 3 and Temur builds are suffering slightly too—together they make up 3.6% of the metagame, almost half their collective presence the month before.
However, this change runs parallel to the appearance of Through the Breach in the Tier 3 standings. If we fold that into a single category comprising decks built to kill with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, it comes closer to the May shares at 5.9%. If slow and reactive decks are losing ground in the current metagame, it stands to reason that Valakut players would pivot towards the more explosive and non-interactive Titan Breach builds that elect to eschew Scapeshift entirely. For next month’s update I intend to delve a little more into this question and see if our Valakut archetype categories are yielding distorted results.
- Eldrazi builds settle into a pattern
You can’t see this just looking at the data above, but the community at large seems to have found the optimal Eldrazi builds for the post-Eye world. The category labeled “Eldrazi” incorporates a few errant Abzan and RG builds, but the lion’s share are in Bant colors. This makes sense given the strength of the blue and white Eldrazi creatures (especially the Drowner of Hope/Eldrazi Displacer interaction)—but I believe the real reason for Bant’s predominance is the presence of Noble Hierarch. After losing (most of) its busted mana base, the post-ban Eldrazi deck is really hankering for a mana dork, and Noble delivers in spectacular fashion. Exalted fits in nicely with the deck’s stompy-like beatdown plan, and conveniently taps for all the colors of the best Eldrazi. Noble increases the number of turn two Thought-Knot Seers and turn three Reality Smashers, and gets the edge over signets for coming online a turn faster.
- Dredge rears its ugly head
The old Legacy player in me feels a slight shudder as I write these words. Dredge has arrived, and the deck is no joke. It has gone from fringe pet deck, to promising newcomer, to legitimate scourge of the MTGO queues (where it shares the Tier 1 limelight with Jund, Infect, and Death’s Shadow) over the course of a few short months. June was when the deck really started to get press too, and we may see this phenomenon become even more pronounced in July.
The performance of Dredge is especially striking when you look at its paltry 0.6% paper shares. MTGO has long been ahead of the rest of the Magic world in its metagame iterations due to the high level of competition and near-constant grinding, and the online playerbase seems to have discovered the power of Dredge before everyone else. As word gets out and IRL tournaments adopt the MTGO tech, we may indeed see the deck take off. I certainly couldn’t help but notice the steady stream of 5-0 League finishes as I entered the June data—I doubt the paper scene is far behind.
Finally, we come to the Tier 3 decks. These decks are ones with potential, or perhaps past track records of success, but which came up short for a variety of reasons. It may be that they’re poorly positioned in the current metagame. It may be that they’re “glass cannon” type decks that can thrive in small local metas but crumble under pressure from unexpected and diverse metagames. Or, simply, it may be that not enough players chose to sleeve up these decks in a given month, but the ones who did enjoyed success.
Either way, these decks aren’t recommended choices for battle unless you know what you’re getting into. Archetype familiarity is probably pretty key to justifying playing one of these decks. At minimum, make sure you have an understanding of why their star hasn’t been on the rise, and if you think you have a solid read on the metagame or have identified an underrated gem, go ahead and pull the trigger.
Tier 3: 6/1/16 - 6/30/16
|Paper %||MTGO %||Major Event
|Through the Breach||2.3%||1.7%||1.9%||3.5%|
|Mono U Tron||1.3%||1.4%||1.3%||1.2%|
|Death and Taxes||1.1%||0.9%||1.3%||1.2%|
There aren’t too many exciting developments here, really. We see Hatebears, Storm, and Naya Company fall off the tierings, while Jeskai Midrange (featuring Geist of Saint Traft), Blue Moon, and Elves make an appearance. Of course Death’s Shadow (and Grixis Delver) got to jump up the tierings, but beyond that the only other notable change is Death and Taxes and Valakut variants letting slip their Tier 2 claim.
As I explained above in the section on Scapeshift and Titan Shift, I think our naming convention right now might be obfuscating the role of Valakut in the current metagame. Here you see that combining Through the Breach and Titan Shift into one category would squarely place the resulting archetype in Tier 2 territory, at 3.7%. These archetypes in many ways form a spectrum of decks that focus more or less on a finite number of interactions involving Valakut. On their own each build seems to be a niche player, but taken as a whole Valakut is a force in Modern today.
Death and Taxes, for its part, may soon warrant a naming update as well. Literally every single deck I found under this name included the full Eldrazi package of Displacer, Thought-Knot and Wasteland Strangler. As with Bant Eldrazi in the Tier 2 standings, it appears that the community has solved the riddle of how to build Eldrazi and Taxes—and that sacrificing the explosiveness of Eldrazi Temple and the utility of the multiverse’s newest undercosted villains for a more traditional build yields a worse version.
And then, you have the plucky Zur the Enchanter embodying the true definition of “flash in the pan.” Poor Zur is showing a big old zero percent across all categories (having made Tier 3 on the back of his Top 8 finish at one of the Classics). Perhaps his time to shine will come one day?
Metagame Predictions for July
It’s wearing on late for me, so I’ll try to wrap up. The main prediction I have for July is that Dredge will rise to true Tier 1 status. It may be joined by Death’s Shadow at the top, and I expect we’ll see the more reactive strategies shed some metagame share. If the MTGO results are to be believed, principle in this loss of standing will be RG Tron, which seems particularly poorly equipped to thrive in this linear meta. Jeskai Control might slip a bit too, but if I’m being honest I don’t expect Jund to follow the same pattern—it’s always been the premier fair deck capable of surviving even the most hostile broken nonsense, and I see no reason why that would change.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for your patience as I figured out how this whole tiering system and data collection worked. July’s update will be on time, and hopefully with some more and better insights on my part. For now, go play some Modern and get brewing, but don’t forget to keep it linear(ish) and proactive.