Top Stories from Modern at Grand Prix Bilbao

We had a great weekend filled with Modern action at MagicFest Bilbao and MagicFest Tampa. In Bilbao, I was responsible for the text coverage, which refers to updates on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the collection and production of Modern deck lists, player profiles, and metagame breakdowns, as well as more deck lists, the latest standings, bracket updates, photos, deck techs, and event summaries on the coverage website.

A wise man once said, “a mathematician is a device for turning coffee into theorems,” and I dare to claim that the same holds for event coverage content as well. Let’s go over the things that stood out to me over the weekend.

Izzet Phoenix Dominated

If we combine the metagame breakdowns in Bilbao (for 302 Day 2 players) and Tampa (for 174 Day 2 players) then the overall picture looks like this:,

A breakdown of the combined Day 2 metagame at GP Bilbao and GP Tampa.
Click to enlarge.

That’s a lot of Izzet Phoenix decks. And to think, it was only a little over four months ago that the deck appeared for the first time. At Grand Prix Atlanta, Jon Stern explained his addition of Thing in the Ice to the Runaway Red builds that were more prevalent back then, and Andrew Schneider was the first player to put the archetype in the Top 32 of a Grand Prix. The list got perfected over the course of the last few months, but it’s all still a very recent phenomenon. And it takes time to learn how to properly sideboard against Izzet Phoenix, especially since the deck’s win conditions require different answers.

Izzet Phoenix

Guillaume Matignon, 1st at Grand Prix Bilbao

2 Polluted Delta
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Steam Vents
1 Sulfur Falls
3 Island
2 Mountain
4 Arclight Phoenix
2 Crackling Drake
4 Thing in the Ice/Awoken Horror
1 Echoing Truth
4 Faithless Looting
1 Gut Shot
1 Izzet Charm
1 Lightning Axe
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Manamorphose
2 Pyromancer Ascension
4 Serum Visions
2 Surgical Extraction
4 Thought Scour
4 Opt

1 Abrade
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Blood Moon
1 Ceremonious Rejection
2 Dispel
2 Dragon's Claw
1 Flame Slash
1 Hurkyl's Recall
1 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
1 Ravenous Trap
1 Shatterstorm
1 Spell Pierce

When an archetype is more than 1/5th of the Day 2 metagame, natural questions to ask are, “What was its percentage on Day 1?” or “What was the conversion from Day 1 to Day 2?” But no one has the time to sift through literally thousands of deck lists on Day 1, and the conversion rate statistic would muddily count an 8-0 player with 0 byes in the same way as a 6-2 player with 3 byes. It’s more practical and more insightful to look at match win rates instead.

In Bilbao, Izzet Phoenix performed well: It won 55.5% of its non-mirror matches on Day 2. I got this number relatively quickly by combining the full Day 2 deck overview, each round’s result files, and some handy lookup functions in a spreadsheet.

But Izzet Phoenix Wasn’t the Best Deck

Here are the 14 most-played archetypes, sorted by win rate in non-mirror matches in Day 2 of Grand Prix Bilbao.

Deck archetype Win rate (match results)
Whir Prison 66.7% (44-22)
Dredge 60.0% (51-34)
U/W Control 59.0% (36-25)
Affinity 55.6% (40-32)
Izzet Phoenix 55.5% (152-122)
Tron 52.1% (49-45)
Grixis Shadow 50.8% (31-30)
Burn 47.9% (46-50)
Hardened Scales 46.4% (32-37)
Humans 45.3% (53-64)
Spirits 43.8% (21-27)
Ad Nauseam 43.8% (14-18)
R/G Valakut 41.0% (16-23)
The Rock 37.8% (28-46)

To give some idea of statistical significance: If Whir Prison actually had a 50% match win rate against the field, then the probability that the deck would win at least 44 of its 66 matches would be 0.005. For Dredge, the analogous p-value would be 0.041. This means that the impressive performances are unlikely to be the result of “just variance.”

These two decks were great against Izzet Phoenix in particular. On Day 2 of Grand Prix Bilbao, Whir Prison won 76% of its 21 matches against Izzet Phoenix, and Dredge won 71% of its 24 matches against Izzet Phoenix. The probability to see results at least as good as these, if the matchup was actually 50-50, would be smaller than 0.05 in both cases.

These are just some quickly generated stats. They don’t include other matchups, Day 1 matches, card choices, or results from Tampa. Yet my preliminary number-crunching indicates that Izzet Phoenix is beatable. It attracts many players because it’s powerful and fun to play, but both Whir Prison and Dredge are better picks to attack the metagame.

I’m sure that my colleague Tobi Henke can give more in-depth analysis once he has had some time to go over all the data. At this point, I have faith that Modern can adjust, but we’ll see in a few months. The next B&R announcement is on May 20, after Mythic Championship London.

More Offbeat Strategies Found Success Too

Modern remains a brewer’s paradise. At every event, I see multiple decks near the top tables that make me say, “oh sweet, I hadn’t seen that in a while!” Here are the two best-performing archetypes that were piloted by only a single player in Day 2.

Tribal Zoo

David Csente, 20th (12-3) at Grand Prix Bilbao

4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Godless Shrine
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
4 Windswept Heath
4 Wooded Foothills
1 Forest
1 Plains
4 Bloodbraid Elf
2 Ghor-Clan Rampager
2 Knight of Autumn
4 Mantis Rider
4 Noble Hierarch
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
1 Boros Charm
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
1 Path to Exile
4 Tribal Flames

2 Blessed Alliance
1 Cindervines
2 Damping Sphere
2 Knight of Autumn
3 Leyline of the Void
3 Lingering Souls
1 Path to Exile
1 Shalai, Voice of Plenty

Tribal Zoo is not a new archetype by any means, but it’s been kind of fringe as of late. It’s always nice when it performs well, and David Csente had a good run with it.

I like David’s list. Noble Hierarch is more powerful than Narnam Renegade or Kird Ape, and Ghor-Clan Rampager can deal a lot of surprise damage. Additions from the latest two sets include Knight of Autumn and Cindervines, both of which add some nice utility. Finally, Leyline of the Void may look weird in a deck with only two black-producing lands, but it’s worth it against Dredge.


Olivier Consille, 23th (12-3) at Grand Prix Bilbao

4 Spirebluff Canal
2 Tolaria West
2 Steam Vents
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Cascade Bluffs
4 Island
2 Mountain
4 Curator of Mysteries
3 Street Wraith
4 Desert Cerodon
4 Striped Riverwinder
4 Living End
4 Ancestral Vision
4 Remand
4 Cryptic Command
4 As Foretold
4 Electrodominance
1 Tormod’s Crypt

2 Negate
3 Fulminator Mage
2 Ratchet Bomb
2 Tormod’s Crypt
2 Anger of the Gods
4 Chalice of the Void

Electrodominance, newly printed in Ravnica Allegiance, adds a lot of consistency to a strategy that was overly reliant on As Foretold before. In Bilbao, Olivier Consille was the only player who was exploiting Electrodominance in Day 2, and he had a great result to show for it.

A standout card in Olivier’s sideboard was Chalice of the Void. A Chalice on 1 doesn’t hurt this deck at all because it contains zero 1-mana spells, and the artifact helped him beat several Burn decks over the course of the weekend.

An All-French Finals in Bilbao

The two best-known names in the Top 8 were Guillaume Matignon and Luis-Samuel Deltour. For Matignon, a three-time Pro Tour Top 8 competitor, it was actually his first lifetime Grand Prix Top 8, which meant that he finally left an exclusive group. Before this event, there were only three players with over $100,000 lifetime winnings and at least 3 Pro Tour Top 8s who had never made a Grand Prix Top 8. Those players were Gary Wise, Andrea Mengucci, and Guillaume Matignon. Now, only two remain.

An image of Guillaume holding up his trophy.
Click to enlarge.

The two French players met in the finals, where Deltour seemed to have game 3 locked up with Chalice of the Void and Ensnaring Bridge. But he got stuck with three blue cards in hand due to Matignon’s Blood Moon, allowing a pair of Phoenixes to attack for the win.

If it weren’t for that Blood Moon, Deltour might have clinched a winner’s trophy, and the story of the weekend may have been about Whir Prison. Instead, Deltour now holds the sad record of having lost 4 GP finals without having ever won a champion’s trophy.

A picture of a sad Louis-Samuel holding a Grand Prix finalist plaque and holding up four fingers.
Click to enlarge.

Whir Prison

Louis-Samuel Deltour, 2nd at Grand Prix Bilbao

1 Academy Ruins
4 Botanical Sanctum
3 Glimmervoid
1 Inventors' Fair
1 Ipnu Rivulet
4 Spire of Industry
1 Tectonic Edge
4 Tolaria West
2 Island
4 Ancient Stirrings
1 Bottled Cloister
4 Chalice of the Void
1 Crucible of Worlds
1 Damping Sphere
2 Engineered Explosives
4 Ensnaring Bridge
4 Mishra's Bauble
4 Mox Opal
1 Pyrite Spellbomb
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
2 Tormod's Crypt
4 Welding Jar
4 Whir of Invention
1 Witchbane Orb

1 Grafdigger's Cage
2 Sai, Master Thopterist
1 Slaughter Pact
2 Sorcerous Spyglass
4 Spellskite
3 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1 Torpor Orb
1 Unmoored Ego

If I were playing Modern at MagicFest Calgary or MagicFest Sao Paulo, and my favorite Affinity deck was off-limits for some reason, then I would strongly consider Whir Prison. The deck put up impressive results, and it has the right tools to beat Izzet Phoenix.

The best answers to Izzet Phoenix are the ones that deal with its velocity or that shut down both win conditions at the same time. After all, if you bring in spot removal then you lose to Arclight Phoenix, and if you bring in graveyard hate then you lose to Thing in the Ice. But Chalice of the Void for X=1 stops nearly their entire card draw engine, and Ensnaring Bridge makes them unable to win. These two lock pieces form the core of Whir Prison.

Eventually, the deck wins via Pyrite Spellbomb or Ipnu Rivulet recursion, but that’s an afterthought. If you want to learn more about the deck, then you should follow League trophy collector Michael Coyle, who streams as susurrus_mtg. If not, then be prepared with Shatterstorm and/or Hurkyl’s Recall in your sideboard. The deck is real.

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