Full Meta Packet—The 99% of Grand Prix Bilbao

Yes, you read that correctly. I was able to establish which Modern decks upward of 99% of the competitors at Grand Prix Bilbao chose to run. Specifically, I got 1,600 of 1,615.

I write “I,” but I couldn’t have done it without the help of a lot of people who sent me their deck info, their opponents’ deck info, and their encouragement. My biggest thanks go to the European GP coverage team, i.e., Frank Karsten, who stretched the definition of carry-on luggage and scanned essentially all the missing lists for me.

A bag filled with paper deck lists from Grand Prix Bilbao.

In this article, I break down the metagame into tiny pieces, point out news along the way, and share the top decks’ overall win percentages. Next time, I’ll follow up with the most massive data set of Modern matchups ever.

Bilbao Field Composition

I have divided the full breakdown into tiers, following existing cut-off points. For example, you’ll find that some decks made up more than 6% of the field each, while the rest all came in at below 5%. In fact, none of the last three Modern GPs had any decks played by five to six percent of the player base anymore. This is a recent trend toward fewer decks accounting for a larger share of the field.

  • 215 Izzet Phoenix (13.44% of 1,600)
  • 133 Burn (8.31%)

Izzet Phoenix and Burn also were the most represented decks at the parallel GP in the States. I thought Tampa had set a new record with 12.2% of players on Izzet Phoenix. Turns out, the development had progressed even further in Bilbao.

It is a clear progression, too. Back in December, Izzet Phoenix made up less than 5% of the field. The deck climbed to more than 8% in January. But it took until the first week of March before it broke the 10% threshold and became the number one most popular deck for the first time.

People who clamor for a ban should take this into account: Izzet Phoenix has only been the most played deck at Modern GPs for four weeks. Conversely, people who advocate against a ban should note that it’s only been four weeks and already it’s at 13%. Meanwhile, everybody should be aware that Izzet Phoenix increased its metagame share to 22.2% on Day 2 of Grand Prix Bilbao.

  • 100 Rock (6.25%)
  • 98 Tron (6.13%)
  • 98 Shadow (6.13%)

Five of the past six Modern GPs took place in North America. Tron was among the four most played decks. Death’s Shadow was among the seven most popular archetypes at all of them. So far the old information out of the new world matches the new information out of the old world.

The Rock, on the other hand, always accounted for a smaller metagame share than either, usually trailing Tron by three percentage points. The numbers above may not indicate a new development, but they show that players do things differently in Europe.

  • 74 Dredge (4.63%)
  • 72 Humans (4.5%)
  • 65 White-Blue Control (4.06%)
  • 62 Spirits (3.88%)
  • 60 Hardened Scales (3.75%)

Another notable difference concerns Humans and Hardened Scales. These two haven’t been among the nine most popular decks at North American GPs since December. This is weird because they’ve been among the nine most successful decks at almost all of them. Both also improved their metagame share from Day 1 to Day 2 in Bilbao.

  • 53 Red-Green Valakut (3.31%)
  • 42 Affinity (2.63%)
  • 34 Whir Prison (2.13%)

These three have all been on the move in recent months. Before the discovery of Experimental Frenzy, Affinity was scraping by at below 1%. It peaked at GP Los Angeles with more than 3%. Then, following the discovery that Experimental Frenzy doesn’t fix all problems, Affinity’s popularity waned again at the next GPs.

Whir Prison, in contrast, is the hot new deck at the moment, with two finals appearances in the last four GPs. It broke the 2% threshold for the first time on the weekend of Bilbao and Tampa Bay, and it did so at both events simultaneously. Expect further gains.

  • 29 Jund (1.81%)
  • 29 Ad Nauseam (1.81%)
  • 28 Jeskai Control (1.75%)
  • 28 Hollow One (1.75%)
  • 25 Amulet Titan (1.56%)
  • 24 Red Phoenix (1.5%)

Ad Nauseam and Amulet Titan have gained lots of followers in the wake of KCI’s departure. Some people will always gravitate toward fast combo, it appears. At the same time, Modern really has no shortage of decks with a combo facet that are just as fast or faster. Hardened Scales, Affinity, Hollow One, Dredge, Death’s Shadow, Infect, Bogles, Elves, Goblins, 8 Whack, and Bridgevine all have combo kills that can outrace Ad Nauseam.

Admittedly, Ad Nauseam comes with the advantage that Izzet Phoenix’s main deck doesn’t interact with its game plan at all. Amulet Titan, meanwhile, is the true spiritual successor to KCI in that it’s similarly hard to play.

  • 22 Eldrazi (1.38%)
  • 21 Bogles (1.31%)
  • 16 Storm (1%)
  • 15 Red-based Prison (0.94%)
  • 15 Devoted Vizier (0.94%)
  • 14 Eldrazi and Taxes (0.88%)
  • 13 Infect (0.81%)
  • 12 Mill (0.75%)
  • 12 Merfolk (0.75%)
  • 11 Elves (0.69%)
  • 10 Shadow Zoo (0.63%)

Even among the small stuff, there’s big news. Although, in this case, it’s quite the old story. The earliest Death’s Shadow designs, back when Gitaxian Probe was still around, had looked pretty much like Julien Potier’s Top 8 deck in Bilbao. The more aggressive approach never really died out, but it hasn’t been this popular in years—or this successful.

Shadow Zoo

Julien Potier, Top 8 at GP Bilbao

1 Forest
4 Bloodstained Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground
1 Godless Shrine
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Overgrown Tomb
4 Death's Shadow
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Street Wraith
2 Dismember
3 Mutagenic Growth
3 Become Immense
4 Thoughtseize
4 Temur Battle Rage
2 Lightning Bolt
4 Mishra's Bauble

1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Duress
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Fatal Push
3 Collective Brutality
2 Hooting Mandrills
1 Claim/Fame
2 Faith's Shield
2 Assassin's Trophy

Further down we find several Pro Tour winning archetypes of days gone by:

  • 9 Abzan Midrange (0.56%)
  • 8 Blue Valakut (0.50%)
  • 7 Lantern Control (0.44%)
  • 7 Death and Taxes (0.44%)
  • 6 Mardu Pyromancer (0.38%)
  • 6 Electro End (0.38%)
  • 6 Blue Tron (0.38%)
  • 6 8 Rack (0.38%)
  • 5 W/B Tokens (0.31%)
  • 5 Ponza (0.31%)
  • 5 Kiki (0.31%)
  • 5 Grishoalbrand (0.31%)
  • 4 Zoo (0.25%)
  • 4 Sultai Reclamation (0.25%)
  • 4 Martyr of Sands (0.25%)
  • 4 Living End (0.25%)
  • 4 Grixis Control (0.25%)
  • 4 Faeries (0.25%)
  • 4 Esper Control 0.25%)

Less than four players each pinned their hopes on 8 Whack, Bant Company, Bant Turbofog, Bridgevine, Cheerios, Devotion to Black, Devotion to Green, Devotion to White, Dragonstorm, Enchantress, Esper Mentor, Esper Vengeance, Goblins, Jeskai Ascendancy, Jeskai Aggro, Landfall Aggro, Mono-Green Stompy, Polymorph, Scrap Trawler Combo, Slivers, Soulflayer, Sultai Midrange, Taking Turns, Blue-Red Wizards, Green-White Valuetown, and Zombies.

Bilbao’s Best

My previous endeavors of this kind always omitted more than a third of a tournament’s entries. While unlikely, the missing results could have looked completely different from the known records. The following, in contrast, accounts for basically all matches played at Grand Prix Bilbao. The most comprehensive data set yields the most reliable results too.

An image that shows the played versus won numbers and percentages for many matchups.

I limited the above to the most popular archetypes, because it’s unfair to compare large samples with small samples. Some fringe strategies exhibited spectacular percentages at the expense of absolute numbers.

For example, Bant Turbofog won 83.3% of matches, Esper Mentor won 71.4% of matches, Blue Electro End and Zoo both won 60%, and 8 Rack won 56.3%. Unfortunately, the Bant Turbofog player only finished six matches, Esper Mentor finished seven, and the other three win rates are based on 30, 35, and 48 matches, respectively. Even Amulet Titan’s record, for comparison, encompasses 171 matches.

What do we make of Whir Prison’s win rate? It is far above anything with a similar sample, and the sample itself isn’t too shabby either. What we know about Whir Prison’s performance at the GPs in Los Angeles and Tampa doesn’t match 61.4%. But this is the most reliable finding yet and it isn’t even Whir’s highest win rate to date. At GP Toronto, Whir Prison had won 66.7% of 84 recorded matches.

All evidence suggests that Whir Prison is for real and may be the actual best deck in current Modern. In a very literal sense, Whir didn’t win Grand Prix Bilbao. It only placed second. But with regard to overall performance, Whir was the real champion of the tournament.

The strong showing of Dredge, Izzet Phoenix, and Humans should come as a surprise to no one. All have been successful to a similar degree at several GPs now. Similarly, Burn had always had a solid losing record. In Bilbao, Burn somehow managed to do worse, by about one percent, than it ever did before. Why Burn has been among the three most popular archetypes at every Modern GP at least since December remains a mystery.

Tron’s win rate is consistent with previous data only insofar as there’s absolutely no consistency to its results. Tron seems to be a mad driver who often veers across the line into the wrong lane. Tron’s win rates at GPs leading up to this were 52.2%, then 45.6%, then 53,4%, then 49.91%, and then Tron won 56.5% of matches in Tampa at the same time as it won 49.7% in Bilbao.

For a possible sleeper, I’d look at White-Blue Control. It’s been doing reasonably well lately. A metagame solidifying around a few main pillars is generally good news for control players who need to know against what they have to defend themselves. And there’s promising tech here that only begins to catch on, like Runed Halo.


An infographic showing the most popular decks at GP Bilbao and their win rates.
Click to enlarge.
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