It hasn’t even been a full week since Twin got buried on the Modern banlist, and although Exarch is still mourning, it’s time for players to buck up and dive into the new metagame. If you play paper Modern, the controversial January 18th announcement went into effect last Friday the 22nd. MTGO folks had to wait until today, January 27, to wave farewell (or good riddance) to the URx Twin pillar. Although we can’t run a proper metagame update without major paper event Day 2 and Top 8 data, not to mention the missing MTGO Dailies and Leagues, I’ve amassed enough finishes from last weekend to offer an enticing preview of what is to come. In today’s article, we’ll get our first data-driven snapshot of the Twinless Modern metagame.
Modern players, professionals, and pundits have been theorizing about the post-Splinter Twin metagame since the update went live. Writing mere hours after Wizards posted the announcement (they expedited its release due to a MTGO Beta leak), ChannelFireball’s Neal Oliver predicted a swell in Infect, Affinity, Bogles, and other unfair decks. He also identified Jund as a possible loser. Since then, other authors have sparred over whether the ban would open space for other decks or lead to a linear coup, with most agreeing on David’s “Assumption 1” from yesterday’s article: decks with bad Twin matchups get better. It’s all been (mostly) educated guesswork so far.
Thankfully, I’m finally armed with a new batch of Saturday and Sunday finishes and ready to unpack the metagame with numbers and not just theory. Read on to see where the speculation went right, where it missed the mark, and overall how the new Modern metagame is taking form!
Event Data Collection
Our Top Decks spreadsheet has been pining for data since the Twin banning: I’ve ignored it, knowing there was no reason to enter anything until we had post-ban statistics. Last weekend saw our first batch of 14 new events covering 126 Top 8 and Top 16 decks, all representing a Modern sans Twin. Sadly, we won’t have MTGO data until Thursday, so the spreadsheet is going to have some gaping holes until then, but 14 events is more than enough to stake out early projections.
I’m filling in the gaps with some sweet field-wide data from two events. The first comes out of an 80-player Modern 2k hosted by MTG Card Market, an impressive Magic shop in my hometown of Chicago. Big shoutout to the folks at the Market for responding to my request for their data; you are Modern heroes! The second dataset is from the Dutch 4 Your Games Invitational circuit, which saw 44 participants on Sunday. These tournaments not only added Top 8s to the broader paper dataset, but also contributed complete Round 0 listings of who played what deck. By looking at both the paper field in Top 8 and Top 16 performances, along with the Round 0 metagame ledger, we’ll get a holistic picture of how the format is shaping out. Naturally, all cautions about small samples apply, but it is much better to analyze an N=14 dataset than debate in an N=0 theoretical whiteroom.
Round 0 Metagame and Expectations
I consider us lucky if tournaments even give us a Day 2 metagame, although I’ve taken it for granted with Grand Prix events, Pro Tours, and Opens for much of 2015. Most of the time we’re stuck on Top 8s. Top 16s too, if we’re lucky. The fabled Day 1 metagame is unheard of in Grand Prix coverage: I think the last time we saw one at that tournament level was during Yokohama in June 2012. Pro Tours have featured them in the past but 2015’s Fate Reforged event only gave us Day 2 data. Today’s article breaks that mold, showcasing Round 0 metagames for two post-Twin paper scenes. Because these were single-day events, we don’t have anything fancy like a Day 1 to Day 2 conversion breakdown. I also don’t have final standings for all players and decks to track overall success rates by strategy. That said, this type of data is still incredibly valuable because it shows what average Modern players decided to bring to their first post-Twin tournament.
The table below identifies decks with 2+ showings at one individual event, or 2+ appearances total between both. This accounts for 87% of the combined fields. The remaining 13% made only singleton appearances at one tournament or the other, and they are displayed in a spoiler box underneath the table. Columns two and three separate the table data by event. Column four gives a merged share as a percentage of all strategies played in both tournaments combined. Examining all three of these divisions will help us notice variations between combined metagames and individual ones.
|Affinity||4 (9.1%)||4 (5.6%)||7.0%|
|Burn||3 (6.8%)||5 (7%)||7.0%|
|RG Tron||4 (9.1%)||4 (5.6%)||7.0%|
|Jeskai Control||0 (0%)||7 (9.9%)||6.1%|
|Hatebears||3 (6.8%)||3 (4.2%)||5.2%|
|Abzan Company||3 (6.8%)||3 (4.2%)||5.2%|
|Grixis Midrange||2 (4.5%)||4 (5.6%)||5.2%|
|Bogles||1 (2.3%)||4 (5.6%)||4.3%|
|Eldrazi||0 (0%)||5 (7%)||4.3%|
|Living End||3 (6.8%)||1 (1.4%)||3.5%|
|Gruul Zoo||3 (6.8%)||1 (1.4%)||3.5%|
|Griselbrand||3 (6.8%)||1 (1.4%)||3.5%|
|Jund||2 (4.5%)||2 (2.8%)||3.5%|
|Infect||1 (2.3%)||3 (4.2%)||3.5%|
|Naya Company||1 (2.3%)||3 (4.2%)||3.5%|
|Scapeshift||1 (2.3%)||2 (2.8%)||2.6%|
|Merfolk||2 (4.5%)||0 (0%)||1.7%|
|Ad Nauseam||0 (0%)||2 (2.8%)||1.7%|
|Abzan||0 (0%)||2 (2.8%)||1.7%|
|4C Gifts||0 (0%)||2 (2.8%)||1.7%|
|BW Tokens||0 (0%)||2 (2.8%)||1.7%|
|Soul Sisters||0 (0%)||2 (2.8%)||1.7%|
|Dredgevine||1 (2.3%)||1 (1.4%)||1.7%|
As promised, here are the 15 decks that only managed a single appearance at only one of the two tournaments last weekend. Of the lot, only UW Control and Kiki Chord cracked the Nexus Tier 2 listings in 2015. The rest loitered around Tier 3 or lower (plus an unimportant tournament win here and there).
Again, I emphasize the need for caution in drawing conclusions from only two relatively isolated (and entirely independent) fields. We can mitigate these dataset limitations by treating the tournaments as case studies to illustrate overarching format narratives, not just small N datasets to cycle through some T Tests. Following this approach, there are a few broader themes we can identify that will help you navigate the post-Twin world.
Theme 1: Overwhelming Diversity
Do you get lost scrolling through the table above? Feeling adrift in this diffuse new field? Excellent! You understand our first finding: the new Modern is staggeringly diverse at a local level. This doesn’t even count the additional decks comprising the Rogue 13% that poked up last weekend. You’re playing a perilous game if you try to Next Level and metagame in such an environment. There are simply too many potential opponents. Even if you wrangled together 75 cards with a positive Affinity, Tron, and Burn matchup, you still might hit nothing but Ad Nauseam, Abzan, Bogles, Eldrazi, and Scapeshift all day long. And that assumes you dodge oddballs like Tooth and Nail (hopefully with original Mirrodin art), Mardu Midrange, and RW Land Destruction. Don’t fall into this trap.
Theme 2: Popular Theory Can Fall Flat
Before this weekend, common wisdom suggested new URx strategies might surface to assume Twin’s old shares. Jeskai Control rose to that challenge in Chicago, Cryptic Commanding 9.9% of the MTG Card Market field. Across the Atlantic, however, the URx successor made literally 0 showings. Jeskai also petered out in Chicago, sending none of its pilots to the Top 8. Popular theory also suggested Bx Eldrazi would wreak so much havoc on Modern that Wizards needed to emergency ban Eye of Ugin before January 22nd came around. Although Eldrazi slithered to a 7% share in the Windy City, the Dutch Great Old Ones put up a fat 0%. Part of the gulf is undoubtedly due to player differences between MTG Card Market (80) and 4 Your Games (44). But that’s precisely the point: many of us attend smaller tournaments where this variance plays a huge and underappreciated role.
As we’ll see in the more comprehensive metagame analysis, a deck like Eldrazi is still putting up respectable numbers across the amorphous, Modern-wide board (Restoration Angel, not so much). Broader metagame aside, be very careful in making these assumptions at the local, 30-60 player level many of us are a part of. Not every field looks like a Grand Prix Day 2 (let alone a Pro Tour Day 2)! This caution is something we don’t talk about a lot in our metagame breakdowns but is more pressing than ever in this unusually open Modern.
Theme 3: Differences Aside, there is Common Ground
For skeptical analysts, experienced Modern players, and cynical readers, it comes as no surprise that relatively small events like these will produce yawning differences. It might come as a much larger surprise, however, that their fields actually have a lot in common. Using this data, I want to highlight shared strategies between tournaments, suggesting a Modern-wide core we’ll need to expect in subsequent weekends.
To account for regional differences, a small sample size, and variance between given events, I’ve filtered the above table to only include the more consistent appearances. I’ve defined these contenders as decks meeting two criteria. First, they must have 1+ showing at both events, not just 2+ overall. Secondly, their share at any given event cannot be lower than the average share among decks at all events. These parameters halved the Round 0 list to 12 strategies down from 24. I’ve pulled them out of the above table to highlight below:
|Affinity||4 (5.6%)||4 (9.1%)||7.0%|
|RG Tron||4 (5.6%)||4 (9.1%)||7.0%|
|Burn||3 (4.2%)||5 (11.4%)||7.0%|
|Hatebears||3 (4.2%)||3 (6.8%)||5.2%|
|Abzan Company||3 (4.2%)||3 (6.8%)||5.2%|
|Grixis Midrange||2 (2.8%)||4 (9.1%)||5.2%
|Living End||3 (4.2%)||1 (2.3%)||3.5%|
|Gruul Zoo||3 (4.2%)||1 (2.3%)||3.5%|
|Griselbrand||3 (4.2%)||1 (2.3%)||3.5%|
|Jund||2 (2.8%)||2 (4.5%)||3.5%|
|Infect||1 (1.4%)||3 (6.8%)||3.5%|
|Naya Company||1 (1.4%)||3 (6.8%)||3.5%|
Looking solely at what decks people brought to the tournament, these are the 12 strategies I would be prepared to face. Put in reps against these and you’ll be ready to rock against about 60% of the field on a given day. That said, and to steal my own thunder from the following section, these aren’t the consistent winners in the current Modern field. These are only Round 0 strategies. These are the decks players sleeved up and registered, with no consideration given to their eventual clawing into the Top 8. Although you’ll certainly want to brace yourself for those high-profile Top 8 and Top 16 challengers, you’ll also need to expect these 12 decks en route to the big leagues. In essence, these are strategies people thought would be well-positioned going into the event. Moderners on both sides of the globe agreed these were smart places to be, and you can bet other pilots will follow that logic in selecting decks at smaller and mid-size tournaments.
From a deck perspective, this field heavily reflects the so-called Assumption 1 everyone has made as they enter into the new Modern. Affinity feels very safe. RG Tron too, although competing metagame forces might work against it at higher tables. Some players made tight metagame calls with trusty Jund and old school Hatebears (which is probably a misclassified Death and Taxes, but I don’t have lists to check), although most just went linear. Indeed, the overwhelming majority (~67%) of these 12 decks fall somewhere on the linear gameplan spectrum, with only Jund, Hatebears, Grixis Midrange, and Abzan Company moving into more interactive territory. Even if you migrate Living End and Naya Company into the linear camp, you’re still looking at an expected Round 0 field where 53%+ of your decks are solidly linear. We’ll explore this linear tendency more in the next section.
Early Round vs. Top Tables
As a whole, the notion of a Round 0 metagame can be very helpful if managed carefully in testing and deck selection, but deeply harmful if misread. Given the nature of this species of data, which Wizards generally doesn’t make public, we can’t draw too many quantitative conclusions from these numbers. It would be foolish to look at these two tournaments and expect Affinity to be a flat 7% of all other events too. That said, in assessing relative magnitudes between deck shares, and in remembering the overarching themes mentioned above, we can use this data to help us know what to expect (and what not to expect) at all stages of a tournament. As Modern develops more, these Round 0, Assumption 1-style metagame pictures become less helpful. But in this more open phase of Modern realignment, they help anchor us in what the everyman Moderner is up to.
Early Top 8 and Top 16 Picture
Now that we know what people are bringing to tournaments, we can figure out what is actually winning. This next section draws from the 14 events and 126 finishers gathered over last weekend. Like previous metagame breakdowns, I’m aggregating those finishes to create a descriptive, prevalence-based estimate of what decks are appearing in tournament Top 8s. Unlike in your conventional Modern Nexus metagame analysis, I won’t be worrying too much about tiering. Although the spreadsheet is hard-coded to tier decks based on their metagame share, it’s too early to generalize those rankings into actual Tier 1 and Tier 2 divisions.
The table below shows all the decks currently passing either Tier 1 or Tier 2 benchmarks with our limited sample size. In addition to their metagame-wide share, I also add their Round 0 prevalence as a point of comparison. The final column checks whether any given deck also showed up as a regular Round 0 decks in the “Theme 3” section’s table. We can use this binary variable to see which decks are truly common in the new Modern, which decks might be overrepresenting in Top 8s, and which decks could be underperforming relative to theoretical Round 0 presence.
|Deck||Meta %||Round 0 %||Round 0
|Death and Taxes||2.3%||5.2%||Yes|
In keeping with the spirit of spotlighting rogue finishes, here are the decks currently scoring a Tier 3 rating on our Top Decks page. I’m not including them on the table above due to lower shares, but don’t count them out of the Modern fight yet! Any of these decks could still make waves in the weeks to come.
Reviewing the above decks and situating them alongside the Round 0 field, we notice a few consistent performers and overall Modern motifs. We’ll continue the theme list we started in our first section: even though we’ve added data to the Modern narrative, all our earlier takeaways are still at play.
Theme 4: Yes, Linear Decks are Strong
The Top 8 field points to an unsurprising confirmation: linear decks are roughly as strong as many suspected they would be. This is clearest in the fourth column of the table where we track the overlap between Top 8 and Round 0 datasets (for instance, here’s the Top 8 at MTG Card Market). RG Tron, Burn, Infect, Grishoalbrand, Naya Company (depending on how linear you make that deck out to be), and Affinity all emerge as commanding frontrunners in the new Modern. Especially Affinity, which was tied for first in the Round 0 dataset and is about 4% ahead of the next competitor (Burn) in the Top 8/Top 16 metagame. This undoubtedly reflects both the actual strength of Affinity in a Twinless metagame, and also its perceived strength by players whipped into a panic by the robots’ theoretical power in the new Modern. Because the format is still evolving, and because the upcoming Theme 5 is very much present, don’t be too nervous about this linear uptick, but do prepare to face it in the approaching weeks.
Theme 5: No, Interaction is not Dead
Despite a surge in decks trying to goldfish their way to victory, some of the more midrangey, interactive strategies are still alive and kicking. Jund saw as much play as RG Tron over the weekend. Abzan Company, a deck some will erroneously argue as combo, took the Modern bronze as the third most-played deck across all 14 tournaments (at least, using Top 8s as an indicator). Death and Taxes (not Hatebears) brought up the rear in the 2%-3% range, right around Grishoalbrand and Naya Company. These datapoints suggest the tales of interaction’s demise have been mightily exaggerated. Don’t commit headlong to linear decks just because Reddit tells you to. Today’s numbers suggest a number of interactive strategies are much more viable than originally appraised.
Although we’ll certainly need more data to fully confirm or reject Theme 5’s longevity, it’s a promising trend in this new format.
Theme 6: Beware the Outliers!
Discerning readers will notice Merfolk’s and Eldrazi’s absence from Themes 4 and 5. If you played at the MTG Card Market tournament, however, you might have seen at least five of Cthulhu’s Bx brood stomping around the tables. A BW version even made it into the Top 8 before succumbing to Ad Nauseam in the quarterfinals. Similarly, although Merfolk was relatively unseen in our earlier Round 0 listings, the fish performed much better at a metagame-wide level. Both decks sit at 5.5% alongside Jund and RG Tron and are sure to define the format going ahead. Similarly, Elves had a 0% goose egg in the Round 0 sample, but Lead the Stampede to a 3.1% share overall.
Although today’s data analysis does not find sufficient evidence to rank these decks alongside Jund, Burn, Affinity, and RG Tron, we have more than enough datapoints to suggest they can get there. You should expect these strategies at tournaments and prepare for them in your tests. You should also be on the lookout for similar decks to worm out of the woodwork as the field continues to emerge. For example, Ad Nauseam and Storm could be very well positioned in the format.
Where is URx?
Speaking of the discerning readers, many of you will have noticed a potentially alarming, possibly relieving, lack of URx decks in these listings. Indeed, a quick glance at the table earlier in this section shows not a single URx deck in those Top 8/Top 16 fields. We do see many more of them in the “Fringe” spoiler breakout, but this is hardly the URx renaissance Wizards hoped for in banning Splinter Twin. Given that this was explicitly cited as a reason to ban Twin in the first place, this might be cause for worry. Or panic! Or RAAGE!
For now, let’s make a collective Feat of Resistance to stay positive. Many players are still looking for the optimal URx configuration. Many more have bought into the narrative of a URx downfall and packed away their Snapcaster Mages. Once we smooth over these early format shocks, I’m confident we’ll see more URx decks fill in the gaps. Last weekend already saw early indicators of a blue-red comeback! This included Nicholas Bruno’s Jeskai Control list seizing first at an SCG IQ in Columbus, a Top 8 Kiki Control finish Nikolin Lasku in a 116-player Italian Magic League tournament, and, of course, Todd Anderson’s Temur Delver win at the Atlanta Classic. Keep testing, stay optimistic like these players, and don’t buy into popular frenzies until we get more data.
More Metagame Evolutions to Come!
The focused data analysis in today’s article should give you firm footing into the coming weeks, at least until those Pro Tour players gum up the works. That said, we need to exercise caution in viewing today’s metagame evaluation like we view the regular Nexus updates during more stable periods. Fluctuations are inevitable in this dynamic Modern context. Perception becomes reality, changing formats from weekend to weekend or even day to day. As an example of this, URx Delver enjoyed very modest success at the weekend-wide tournament level, holding down a mere 3% of the format in all its combined iterations. And yet, Anderson’s well-publicized Temur Delver finish at last weekend’s Classic might suddenly shift everyone to Hooting Mandrills and the deck’s namesake bugman. I’m sure Jordan will do everything in his power to make that a reality! This isn’t to say Anderson’s finish is an anomaly or that URx Delver is good or bad. It’s simply to point out that public reaction to his win will influence next weekend’s field as much or more than what decks are actually tested in the metgame. We are going to lack that information for some time, but this is a helpful start.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed our preview of the unfolding Twinless Modern metagame. We’ll keep checking in on how things play out in the following weekend, and I’ll be back next week to make some projections about how the Pro Tour field might evolve out of this ever-shifting metagame. What do you think of the different themes and takeaways from today’s analysis? Do you have any observations of your own from last weekend? Want to share any tech or ideas as we head into Saturday? As Trevor is going to talk about tomorrow, it’s a brave new Modern world, and we should all be excited to see where things lead.
Correction (1/27): An earlier version of this article incorrectly calculated percentages for decks. This has since been adjusted.
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.