May is here and that means we are a few weeks closer to Modern Masters 2015, a month closer to the sweet GP blitz of June, and ready for another metagame update from Modern Nexus. My last metagame update, covering the 3/1-4/1 period, saw subtle metagame changes including downticks in Abzan, Twin, and Burn, the beginning of Grixis Delver’s rise to glory, and a few predictions about what was coming on the Modern horizon.
Although we still haven’t had any GP-style Modern events since then, this metagame update is much more significant than my last one. Looking at the Top Decks page, we see a new tier 1 deck, an explosion in a tier 2 deck’s popularity, and some major drops in some of the format’s longtime tier 1 staples. This is about as exciting as it gets for a metagame update in a month without a Grand Prix.
Top 10 Decks and Trends
We’ve had some big movement in our top 10 decks over the past month. TCG States and SCG States both happened in early April, as did the Dragons of Tarkir legalization. The end result was about as big a Modern metagame shakeup as we could expect for a nonrotating format during the offseason. Here are the top 10 decks as of this update.
rank (3/1 - 4/1)
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Quick data note: you will notice the major paper event prevalences have changed. This is because we are now 2+ months out from the last major event in February. As a result of this, I have started to apply an adjustment to those numbers based on the deck’s prevalence in the metagame. The new major event column reflects an average between the old value and the new MTGO/Paper share.
It’s Modern as we always knew it… plus Grixis Delver. Grixis Delver’s rise, which I discuss in greater depth in another article, is one of the most interesting trends I have seen in Modern since the format started in 2011. It is not that rare for a new deck to explode on the scene because a new card was printed. One need only look to Treasure Cruise to see that in action. It’s also not that rare for a deck to explode in popularity after winning a GP or getting some high-profile pro coverage. But Grixis Delver has exploded without either of those preconditions. It’s not like this card even got anything new in DTK. And it wasn’t as if any pros picked up the deck and started trumpeting its power. This was a pretty bottom-up, independently-innovated, MTGO “crowdsourced” deck that went from zero to hero in just 1-2 months. It’s now over 8% of the MTGO metagame and the second most-played deck behind Burn. This is a testament to how strong the deck is. Cards like Terminate, Tasigur, and Gurmag Angler have made a big difference in this current metagame, and Grixis Delver has really taken advantage of its positioning in the past months.
The other big Modern decks are basically the same, although Infect continues to decline from its earlier glory. This shift makes perfect sense: more players understand the deck’s weaknesses, and more players are moving to decks like Grixis Delver (and decks with Bolt) that have stronger Infect matchups. In fact, ALL of the big decks declined from their 3/1-4/1 prevalences to now. This movement is made clearer when we look at the different data periods side by side and how metagame shares have changed from period to period.
The last article showcased a relatively stable metagame. This time, we see a metagame that is pretty far from stable. All three of the biggest decks in Modern took a pretty serious hit to their shares, with Abzan falling a massive 4.2% in the dataset. Although this makes sense as more players try to metagame against the format’s well-known best decks, it’s still interesting to see these kings dethroned. I didn’t think I would ever see Twin fall below 10% in any period of time barring some insane new cards (poor TC). On that note, we actually don’t see a single deck here with >10% of the metagame. That’s extremely rare in Modern. Rarer still is that the only deck in the top 10 to see any sizable gains was Grixis Delver. Basically every other deck fell a few points or stayed right where it was in March-April. Abzan Liege is the big loser here, falling out of the top 10 for the first time since the deck debuted. Given the fall of the deck this deck was designed to beat, this trend makes a lot of sense.
All of that said, there’s a very important metagame condition underlying these changes that we need to be aware of. We are going on month two without a major Modern paper event, and that has big implications for the Modern metagame. In short, no one knows what’s “good” anymore. We haven’t had big events to “prove” it, or at least to steer people to certain decks. There also isn’t a lot of incentive to just stick with some top-tier “best deck” like Abzan and Twin because the events have much lower-stakes. There’s a lot of incentive, however, to jump around archetypes and try to figure out new ideas and play new decks. As a result of this, the metagame distribution is normalizing more than we would ordinarily see from metagame period to metagame period. In the last two updates, the top 10-11 decks made up about 66% of the format both times. Today, they only make up 59%, with that remaining 7% distributed across a bunch of new decks in lower tiers. This is only surprising when you forget about the lack of major Modern events.
Tier 1 and Tier 2 Decks
Tier 1 decks represent the most-played decks in the format. Although these decks are not necessarily those with the highest win rates (see my most recent article on win rates here), they are definitely decks with above-average win rates in a large sample of games. These decks always perform and have fairly low variance in how well they can do at events. You can safely expect these decks to show up at tournaments, and safely expect do pretty well with them at events, even in unknown metagames. In this most recent update, we have made one addition to tier 1 based on data from the past month. You can see more about how decks get tiered on our Top Decks page.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
The biggest things happening in tier 1 are the return of Jund (yay!) and the absence of Grixis Delver (whaaat?). We’ll talk about why Grixis Delver doesn’t make the cut in a moment, but first let’s focus on Jund. From a purely quantitative perspective, Jund sneaks into tier 1 not on any single metric, but rather on its consistent showings. Of all the decks that weren’t already tier 1, Jund was the only deck to have success at our last major paper event (SCG Baltimore), and to enjoy consistent metagame gains since then. If Jund was showing up at events like SCG Baltimore before it started getting bigger online and in paper, it should be an even better choice today now that it has proven itself a bit more. I admit that if we had one of those June GPs tomorrow, Jund might not be there. But in the absence of those major paper events, our adjusted “major event day 2 %” column shows that Jund is still doing quite well in the format. This makes sense from a more experience-based perspective too. Abzan is falling and it stands to reason that another BGx deck will rise to takes its place. Jund has a better Burn matchup than Abzan, as well as a better Infect matchup. In a Burn dominated metagame, this is one reason we are seeing more Jund today than before, and I expect that number to rise as long as Burn keeps where it is.
Now let’s talk about Grixis Delver. It might come as a surprise that a deck with a higher overall metagame share than Jund is not yet tier 1, especially given how much I personally love the deck and have been playing up its potential for week. But a closer look at those numbers gives some sense as to why the deck isn’t quite tier 1 yet. For one, Grixis Delver is disproportionately driven by MTGO success. It’s 2.5% of the paper metagame and…8.4% (!!) of the MTGO metagame. That’s a six percentage point difference between the two, or an almost 300%-400% difference as a percent. When a deck has that kind of wild imbalance between MTGO and paper, we need to pause and ask why. It’s not like Grixis Delver hasn’t had a chance to shine in paper. TCG and SCG States saw basically 100 events in early April, and although Grixis Delver definitely made showings, it wasn’t the same kind of commanding performance we saw on MTGO. So it’s too early to responsibly call the deck tier 1, even though I still think it is going to get there by the summer. The second reason Grixis Delver I don’t want to take the risk and call the deck tier 1 is because the imbalance is on the MTGO side of its numbers, not the paper side. When a deck has a lot of paper success, it’s often just a matter of time before that translates to MTGO. But the reverse is not always true. With 4 round structures, different gameplay, and a different economy, MTGO has enough unique characteristics that we can easily envision a deck succeeding there and not translating that to a GP. So we need to play the tiering conservatively and keep Grixis Delver in tier 2 for now.
Speaking of which, here’s our current tier 2 over the 4/1-5/1 period. Some interesting new faces show up in this update, along with many old ones.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Comparing the table to last month’s update, we see Living End falling out of tier 2 and Esper Mentor and Grixis Twin taking its place. Living End just had a very disappointing showing at the TCG/SCG states events, and wasn’t making a lot of headway in MTGO either. That said, some players (about .2%-.3% of both metagames) have shifted over to Living Twin/Twinning End, a hybrid Splinter Twin/Living End deck that started making some showings in late March and early April (thank Gerry T and LSV for the boost). So it’s not as if the deck has totally disappeared. Meanwhile, Esper Mentor continues to be a strong deck, although Grixis Delver has definitely surpassed it as the neat new strategy of choice. Esper Mentor is more midrangey anyway, and would be better suited to a metagame with more Abzan than we currently see (Souls does serious work in that matchup). Grixis Twin also made a number of high profile appearances over the States events, further solidifying Grixis colors as strong choices for Modern and looking to compete with Temur Twin for the tempo Twin deck of choice. Also note the return of UWR Midrange after a brief trip out of tier 2 last month.
Most of the other decks in tier 2 retained their position from the previous update. Apart from Grixis Delver, the only deck worth special notice is Amulet Bloom, which enjoyed some additional paper success during TCG/SCG States. That said, it still isn’t quite the top-tier monster where you would start to worry about undue banning attention (I’m sure people will worry anyway). If that prevalence keeps rising, however, its win rate is going to start looking even scarier than it is already.
The 5/1 – 6/1 period promises to be much less eventful than 4/1 – 5/1, with Modern Masters 2015 Limited taking the spotlight over Constructed. It’s still more than 5-6 weeks until our next big Modern GP, so don’t expect to see that many changes in our next update. That doesn’t mean we can’t make some predictions about what might or might not happen, nor does it mean we can’t check back in on predictions I made in the last article.
- Jund on the rise? Yes!
Here’s the thing: It wasn’t so much that Jund rose during the update. Rather, a bunch of other tier 1 decks fell while Jund stayed about the same. This made room for Jund to rise into tier 1 based on its past performance. I expect this deck to stay there for a while because Bolt is just really dang good, people are over-metagamed against Abzan, and there will always be room for some kind of BGx deck to succeed.
- Affinity replacing Burn? Nope.
This was a sad one for me. We had some promising pre-trends that suggested Affinity would replace Burn as the format’s premier aggro deck, but this was not to be. There were two problems here. The first was Atarka’s Command, which is now a staple of most Burn strategies and has made up for some of its weaknesses that Burn suffered in March. Meanwhile, Affinity didn’t gain much, and although it has maintained a strong paper metagame share, its MTGO share has really dropped. This leads to the second problem which is Grixis Delver. Burn has a great Grixis Delver matchup. Affinity? Not so much. With Grixis Delver all over MTGO, it makes sense that Affinity has taken an online hit while Burn has soldiered on.
- Collected Company homeless? Sort of…
On the one hand, Company has found a home in the so-called Podless Pod style deck that recently won SCG Portland. We have seen this deck in a number of other paper events over the past few months and it’s already at about 2.5% of the paper metagame, and I expect this to be Company’s eventual home. So why isn’t it tier 2? For some reason, none of this has migrated to MTGO. On MTGO, the Company home of choice is Elves, a deck that absolutely exploded from about 0% for years to 1.8% in the past month. I think Podless Pod will probably win this out in the end, with the GPs sealing the deal, but right now, we are in a situation where MTGO and paper are split on which deck is better. It’s going to take a major event to sort that out.
So we were 1.5 for 3 last time, which really isn’t that great. I’m bummed by the Affinity situation, but totally see where I went wrong with that one. And as they say, hindsight is always 20/20. Let’s try again with two new predictions. I’m only doing two this time around because I honestly think this next month will be a bit slow (that’s a prediction in itself!) and don’t want to overstate a case.
- Grixis Delver will still be a top 2 MTGO deck
This deck needs a bit more time to attain tier 1 status, but it’s position on MTGO is all but assured at this point. The only thing that’s going to kick Grixis Delver down a few notches is an underwhelming GP performance, and the deck is just one T8 away from totally exploding. I expect to see Grixis Delver’s numbers remain steady or even rise in the next month as more people try out the deck and see what all the noise is about. Hint: that Twin matchup is just as awesome in practice as it sounds on paper. This might seem like a “safe” prediction, but sometimes Modern players can get caught up in a craze that overrepresents the true viability of a deck. This happened a lot during the early days of KTK Modern, when Burn was about 20% of the metagame for a month before crashing back down to where it belonged. I don’t think this is the case with Grixis Delver and I think Modern players are going to realize this deck is the real deal.
- Podless Pod will become tier 2
I still think we need a GP to really decide the Collected Company issue, but it’s much easier for decks to transition from paper to MTGO than MTGO to paper. We have seen this before and I think we will see it again with Podless Pod. The deck is definitely there with its paper prevalence. All it needs are a few sustained showings on MTGO to get to that 1%-2% threshold needed for tier 2 status. I also think this is the “best” of the different Company-based decks, and MTGO players are going to figure this out sooner or later. Expect to see this deck follow Esper Mentor in its transition from paper to MTGO, at which point it will have enough showings to justify tier 2 status. Besides, this deck is basically a Birthing Pod[/mtg_deck], or at least the fairer version thereof. Never bet against a Birthing Pod deck, even if it is a less broken variation.
As a final metagame note before we end today, you can now find the metagame tables in this article presented on the Top Decks page. I love the Google spreadsheet we have embedded, but acknowledge that it displays badly on mobile screens and can be a bit complicated. So these new tables should help people access the metagame information and overall make it more useful.
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.