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July 2014 Modern Metagame Analysis

Modern PTQ season is upon us, and if you’re as excited as I am about winning a trip to Hawaii, read on.

A lot has changed since my last article in March and it’s safe to say that BG/x, Tempo Twin, Melira Pod, and Affinity have established themselves as the top archetypes of the format. Nonetheless, Modern is still a format full of diversity.

Methodology

For this analysis, I am defining “top-finishing deck” as finishing in the top 5% of tournaments with 129+ players (8 rounds or more). I know that I have been inconsistent in choosing a definition for top-finishing deck, so there are issues with comparing these analyses. However, I decided that I will stick to this definition for this and all future analyses. Furthermore, this methodology means that we are looking at a winner’s metagame, not necessarily a complete metagame. Please note that I consolidated some decks for ease of presentation. In general, I look at the deck and ask if the general philosophy is to play a controlling game or an aggressive game and then place it in its appropriate category. Faeries was a tough deck to categorize as it is a very tempo-oriented deck with control elements. In the end, I decided the other “aggro” decks of the format had a much more proactive, beatdown-focused game plan than Faeries, so I put it under “control.” The percentages are the number of top decks in the archetype divided by the total number of top-finishing decks.

Here are the top-performing archetypes since the release of Journey into Nyx.

1.) BG/x Variants (18.2%)
2.) Tempo Twin Variants (14.7%)
3.) UW/x Control Variants (12.8%)
4.) Affinity (10.7%)
5.) Melira Pod (9.4%)

In addition to the paper metagame, I’d also like to focus on the online metagame this time. A ton of Modern is played online, and I think the online metagame might even be a better indicator of what’s good than the paper metagame because there is more data available. Here are all the decks that have either Top 8’d a Premier Event or gone 4-0.

1.) BG/x Variants 11.6%
2.) Tempo Twin Variants 10.3%
3.) Melira Pod 10.1%
4.) Affinity 9.4%
5.) UR Delver 6.6%
6.) Burn 5.8%

The main difference between the two metagames is the relative lack of UW/x online and the presence of more aggressive strategies (UR Delver and Burn).

Now on to the top performing macro archetypes:

BG/x Variants

The two main variants are Jund (BGR) and Rock (BG). The core of the both decks include a suite of discard, removal, Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyfs and Dark Confidants. Jund gives you Lightning Bolts, Anger of the Gods, and Ancient Grudge while Rock gives you Treetop Village and Tectonic Edge. Rock has been doing better than Jund online, whereas the opposite is true in the paper metagame. In terms of matchups, I think both are favored against Twin and Jund is better than Rock vs. Melira Pod and Affinity. Against UW/x variants and decks like Tron and Scapeshift, I prefer Rock. Tectonic Edge is such a great card against the combo/control decks of the format, and games generally go longer because the BG/x decks run 5-7 maindeck discard spells. Turn 1 discard into turn 2 Dark Confidant is much like the turn 1 Thoughtseize turn 2 Pack Rat play of Standard, and an unanswered Bob is fairly difficult to beat for any deck, fair or foul. Rock is my current pick for best deck in the format, but I’m playing a slight twist. The following list is courtesy of Keith Rong and Nicolas Cuenca:

The addition of Lingering Souls gives a huge edge in the mirror as it neuters Liliana and is also phenomenal against Affinity. Lingering Souls in Jund was once the innovation that won the mirror in the past, and the past is repeating itself here. Spirit Jund had Deathrite Shaman for its shaky mana base, but Rock does not get to play the overpowered one-mana planeswalker. So, the splash is a light one that helps out a lot in the harder matchups with Lingering Souls and Stony Silence. I definitely recommend this deck going forward and both Keith and I have had a lot of success with it.

Tempo Twin Variants

Lightning Bolt + Snapcaster Mage is still the best combo in Modern, and the combination of threatening lethal damage and an infinite combo means that Tempo Twin is a force to be reckoned with. When you’re facing Twin, it’s really difficult to tap out and you often need to play aggressively and fade some topdecks from the Twin side in order to not die to damage. I think Tempo Twin is less well positioned than before due to the rise in BG/x and UWR variants. In addition, Melira Pod has a spin-off called Angel Pod that plays more disruption and has a strong anti-Twin plan. But, Twin still does very well versus the other decks in the format that are lighter on removal and disruption. A recent innovation for the deck has been to play Twisted Images and/or Spreading Seas. Twisted Image is fantastic against decks with 0-power creatures and a great answer to Spellskite, and it comes at a fairly low risk card as it is easy enough to cycle. Spreading Seas is a recent innovation from Patrick Dickmann, and in conjunction with sideboard Blood Moons, Twin has some solid answers against the manlands from BG/x and UW/x. It also fills a convenient place on the curve as Twin decks often have good ways to spend their mana on later turns, but not much other than Remand on turn 2. Often, the post-board plan against these decks is to simply side out 3 Splinter Twins and out-value them with removal and finishers like Batterskull and Keranos, God of Storms. Maindeck Vedalken Shackles is fairly unusual, and it’s interesting to see that his list is moving more toward Blue Moon. Here’s Patrick’s latest list that he and his friend Valentin Mackl played at GP Minneapolis:

Melira Pod

There are now two primary variants of Melira Pod. There is the traditional version that plays the Melira combo and a new version called Angel Pod that doesn’t play the Melira combo but instead relies on Spike Feeder and Archangel of Thune to combo. According to LSV, the new version has a better matchup vs. Twin, the mirror, and control decks. In return, the Affinity matchup is a bit worse. In general, I think I like a lot of the changes from Angel Pod, but I’m not sure that it needs to play Abrupt Decay. Decay is excellent against Twin, but a lot worse than it is in Legacy (where it’s often a 2-mana, uncounterable, instant-speed Vindicate). Manlands are very important in this format, and I’ve found Dismember to be better than Decay in a lot of situations.

I also think Archangel of Thune is a fairly strong card in the deck by itself, although it does have the disadvantage of costing 5 mana and requiring set-up. Still, Kitchen Finks has gotten a lot worse due to the increased play of Anger of the Gods, so I think overall this list is a pretty good innovation on traditional Melira Pod.

My favorite part about Melira Pod is the amount of tutoring that it has. Legacy has blue cantrips for great consistency (sorry, Serum Visions), and the most consistent deck in Modern is likely Pod because it plays both Chord of Calling and Birthing Pod. Post-sideboard, you have great silver bullet targets, and it’s able to find those silver bullets with more consistency than any other deck in the format. Gavony Township is also bonkers with its slew of mana dorks, and I definitely think Melira Pod will remain one of the premier decks in the format unless something gets banned.

Affinity

Affinity’s performance generally oscillates with the flow and ebb of the number of hate cards being played at any given tournament and is also extremely skill-testing for the pilot. Sideboarding with the deck is difficult, and you need to know what hate cards to expect in each matchup. In particular, Stony Silence is almost impossible to beat if it comes down early. Affinity players are forced to play cards like Wear // Tear, Thoughtseize, or Spell Pierce in order to hedge against it. Still, Affinity is a great choice if you want to play one of the most powerful decks in the format. No other deck gets to play Vintage-power-level cards (Mox Opal). Sometimes people won’t draw the hate, and sometimes you can just play through a Kataki or an Ancient Grudge.

The manlands in Affinity are also strong, letting it really cheat on the land count while having a huge supply of threats for Arcbound Ravager and Cranial Plating. The deck is not for the faint of heart as it’s full of options at every stage, making it very difficult to pilot optimally. Right now, Galvanic Blast and Thoughtcast are both very strong, and I think playing a split makes sense. As for the sideboard, I’d probably avoid playing Blood Moon as it shuts down your manlands and can be very hit or miss. I do like playing 4 Etched Champion in the 75 though as that card is the closest thing to True-Name Nemesis in this format.

UW/x Control Variants

UW/x control variants are definitely a viable option, and Shaun McLaren’s recent innovation of playing Kiki-Jiki added another dimension to the deck. Restoration Angel is also quite difficult to deal with for many decks, and it’s hard to tell what variant of control you are playing against as the early turns generally play out the same way. If you see Wall of Omens, they are definitely playing Restoration Angel which means Kiki-Jiki is more likely. I’ll focus on covering the UWR variant as I’m not very familiar with UW Control. UW Control generally has better mana and uses Gideon as a finisher, as well as Ghost Quarter/Tectonic Edge to disrupt their opponents.

UWR Control gets to play Lightning Bolt and Electrolyze. Removal is pretty strong right now, and I definitely like the fact that UWR gets to play all of the best removal spells in the format (with the exception of Abrupt Decay). In general, UWR Control gets better post-sideboard as it plays more wraths for the aggro decks and more counterspells for the combo/control decks. It also gets to play Stony Silence, which is great against Tron and Affinity. Unlike other control variants, there is a fair amount of reach in UWR Control, and it’s not unheard of to quickly kill someone with burn and Celestial Colonnades once the game is locked up. I think UWR is a decent choice going forward, but it isn’t heavily favored against any particular deck in the format. If you decide to play it, be ready to grind for your wins. Most control players prefer winning that way anyway. Besides, once Sphinx’s Revelation rotates out of Standard, people need to get their card-drawing fix somehow.

Looking Ahead

In general, I think the BG/x decks are fairly well positioned going forward as they have game against combo and control. They are slightly soft to really fast aggro, but right now only a few decks fit that bill. Of those, Affinity can be hated out. Merfolk and UR Delver are probably a bit underplayed though, as they are good at putting pressure on. However, they are both soft to Affinity.

I think the format has slowed down as a whole, which makes mana disruption strong as the grindy decks (BG/x and UW/x) rely on their manlands to close out games. Cards like Tectonic Edge, Fulminator Mage, Spreading Seas, and Blood Moon are very strong right now. It’s difficult for combo decks to close out games quickly against the top decks of the format, so I would recommend having a decent back-up plan like Tempo Twin does.

You do have other options of getting them dead if you’re a combo player though.

Maindeck Boseiju means business. If you’re looking for a fun deck full of free wins, Glass Cannon Griselbrand is a great option. You’ll also get to enjoy the disgusted look on your opponent’s face when you draw 28 cards on the turn you kill them.

There is definitely still room for innovation in Modern, as Shaun McLaren proved back in GP Minneapolis. Good luck to the brewers and those innovating on old archetypes, and I hope you can find yourself with a free plane ticket to Hawaii by the end of the summer!

Bob

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