The MODERN metagame in 2011

Written by derflippi on December 17, 2011

Players always want to figure out how to win. They want to maximize their chances of winning. One important choice along the way to improving those chances is what deck you chose. However, you cannot chose a deck in a vacuum. The optimal deck depends on the metagame. To reiterate: it's a bad idea to bring a knife to a gunfight.

1. What makes MODERN the most interesting format at the moment?
2. The MODERN metagame on magic-league
3. A look at the most played decks
4. Innovation from magic-league
5. The moral of the story

1. What makes MODERN the most interesting format at the moment?
The next PTQ season is MODERN. Since Worlds day 3, where Modern was played, almost a month has passed. Until the first PTQs, it's only two to three weeks. The first MODERN Grand Prix in 2012, GP Lincoln, is in the middle of February already. The Pro Tour (Honolulu is Standard/Draft) being turned into a much more private event with much fewer average players makes MODERN the format of choice at the moment. Magic-League announced an Invitational played in that format with several MODERN trials in the qualifying season. Since the most recent bannings (September 20th), magic-league hosted more than 150 MODERN tournaments which produces a sample size of 1332 decks. With data of all matches played by these decks, I am able to analyze the current MODERN metagame.

2. The MODERN metagame on magic-league
Until worlds on November 19th, MODERN was not very relevant to any competitive player. This made Worlds show few to no innovations. The top 3 decks made more than 50% of the metagame, with Aggro decks all over the place, less Control decks and only few Combo decks. Zoo was the one deck to beat. Beat it and your deck is good, lose to it and your deck is a pile.
..Meanwhile on magic-league, MODERN proved to be a diverse format. Users try many new ideas on a daily basis. Although only a few of them succeed, good decks quickly make it to the average players' mind. With Martyr Proclamation, Past in Flames, Loam Control and more recently Caw Wrath, at least four decks climbed up in the metagame statistics since Worlds. Over the course of three months, the metagame on magic-league looks as follows:

Metagame Sep 20 – Dec 15
Deckname Total %
Deckname Total % Project Y 32 2
Jund 79 6 NLU 31 2
GB Cloud 70 5 Merfolk 30 2
Teachings 66 5 Past in Flames 29 2
Tribal Zoo 65 5 Solar Flare 28 2
Affinity 59 4 Bant 24 2
Big Zoo 51 4 Reanimator 24 2
RDW 50 4 Ad Nauseam 23 2
Martyr Proc 48 4 CawWrath 23 2
RG Eldrazi Tron 45 3 Gifts Aggro 17 1
Moon Zoo 39 3 Living End 16 1
URG Junk 39 3 Pyromancer 16 1
DeceiverTwin 38 3 Swans Assault 16 1
Loam Control 38 3 UW Tron 14 1
UW Control 37 3
Gifts Control 36 3 All other decks 249 19

New to modern? Here's example decklists of the three most popular decks.

Jund by bludwurk
Main Deck Sideboard
2 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
2 Forest
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Mountain
2 Overgrown Tomb
1 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
3 Swamp
4 Treetop Village
1 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Dark Confidant
2 Eternal Witness
2 Kitchen Finks
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Bloodbraid Elf
3 Go for the Throat
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Punishing Fire
1 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Kitchen Finks
3 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Dismember
2 Deathmark
2 Duress

GB Death Cloud by Nico Bohny
Main Deck Sideboard
3 Forest
1 Golgari Rot Farm
2 Marsh Flats
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
3 Overgrown Tomb
4 Swamp
3 Treetop Village
2 Twilight Mire
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Verdant Catacombs
3 Garruk Wildspeaker
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Damnation
2 Death Cloud
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Slaughter Pact
2 Smother
4 Thoughtseize
2 Eternal Witness
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Dark Confidant
2 Deathmark
1 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Nature's Claim
3 Nihil Spellbomb
2 Obstinate Baloth
1 Smother

Tribal Zoo by ovmlcabrera
Main Deck Sideboard
4 Arid Mesa
1 Blood Crypt
1 Breeding Pool
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Marsh Flats
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Sacred Foundry
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
1 Forest
1 Plains
2 Kird Ape
4 Steppe Lynx
4 Tarmogoyf
4 Wild Nacatl
3 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Snapcaster Mage
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Lightning Helix
2 Spell Pierce
4 Tribal Flames
4 Path to Exile
2 Combust
2 Deathmark
1 Kitchen Finks
2 Mindbreak Trap
2 Negate
2 Ranger of Eos
2 Seal of Primordium
2 Ancient Grudge

Counting only recent tournaments pictures a metagame more prone to variance, yet more up to date:

Metagame Dec 01 – Dec 15
Deckname Total %
Deckname Total % CawWrath 16 2
Tribal Zoo 46 7 RDW 15 2
Jund 40 6 DeceiverTwin 15 2
Teachings 39 6 Merfolk 15 2
Martyr Proc 38 6 Project Y 14 2
RG Eldrazi Tron 32 5 Bant 12 2
URG Junk 28 4 Moon Zoo 10 2
Affinity 26 4 UW Tron 10 2
Gifts Control 26 4 Reanimator 8 1
GB Cloud 21 3 Living End 8 1
UW Control 21 3 Swans Assault 8 1
Past in Flames 21 3 Gifts Aggro 7 1
Big Zoo 19 3 Pyromancer 4 1
Loam Control 19 3 NLU 3 0
Ad Nauseam 19 3
Solar Flare 17 3 All other decks 105 16

The decks that lost most popularity recently are marked red. The decks with recent increase in popularity are marked green.

3. A look at the most popular decks

Winning chances
Deck Wins
Deck Wins Gifts Control 52%
UW Control 68% GB Cloud 51%
URG Junk 67% Reanimator 51%
Martyr Proc 66% UW Tron 50%
Loam Control 65% Gifts Aggro 50%
Past in Flames 64% CawWrath 46%
Big Zoo 63% Teachings 45%
DeceiverTwin 61% Living End 44%
Affinity 60% NLU 44%
Merfolk 57% Project Y 43%
RG Eldrazi Tron 56% Solar Flare 40%
Moon Zoo 56% Bant 38%
Swans Assault 56% RDW 35%
Ad Nauseam 55% Pyromancer 32%
Jund 53%
Tribal Zoo 52% All other decks 46%

Due to the nature of the decks, homebrew decks rarely become competitive. This explains why decks in the category "all other decks" (decks that were played by less than 1% of the metagame) have a bad winning chance. That's also why most decks listed by name have a positive record. Winning 51% of its matches does not make a deck good however! In a comparison "overall <-> recent" metagame, a decrease of popularity of GB Death Cloud, RDW, Project Y, DeceiverTwin and Next Level Blue (NLU) is clearly visible. Reasoning this change is easy: Of corse if you lose much with a deck, you stop playing it. Death Cloud scratches the 50% mark, RDW, Project Y and NLU don't even reach 45%. In 100 matches, they each win at most 45 matches.
There's two unexpected numbers in the winning chances however.
DeceiverTwin reaches a remarkable 61% winning chance, yet lost popularity. At the same time, Teachings continues to be one of the top played decks, yet one of the worst!
Here's example decklits of some of the best decks of the current metagame:

UW Control by tarat
Main Deck Sideboard
4 Celestial Colonnade
3 Hallowed Fountain
3 Plains
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Glacial Fortress
4 Tectonic Edge
3 Mystic Gate
1 Arid Mesa
3 Island
1 Phantasmal Image
3 Snapcaster Mage
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Sun Titan
3 Vendilion Clique
1 Gideon Jura
3 Spell Snare
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Path to Exile
4 Mana Leak
3 Cryptic Command
1 Oblivion Ring
2 Wrath of God
2 Jace Beleren
1 Dismember
1 Gideon Jura
2 Wrath of God
1 Jace Beleren
1 Kitchen Finks
3 Disenchant
2 Flashfreeze
3 Leyline of Sanctity
2 Surgical Extraction

URG Tempo by infernuz
Main Deck Sideboard
2 Breeding Pool
1 Mountain
2 Cascade Bluffs
1 Forest
1 Hinterland Harbor
5 Island
3 Misty Rainforest
4 Scalding Tarn
2 Steam Vents
3 Vendilion Clique
4 Delver of Secrets
4 Snapcaster Mage
2 Spellstutter Sprite
4 Tarmogoyf
2 Sleight of Hand
2 Cryptic Command
2 Deprive
2 Flame Slash
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Mana Leak
4 Serum Visions
2 Burst Lightning
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Mindbreak Trap
2 Spell Pierce
2 Surgical Extraction
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Threads of Disloyalty

Past in Flames by darkwizard42
Main Deck Sideboard
2 Halimar Depths
4 Scalding Tarn
4 Misty Rainforest
2 Island
1 Mountain
2 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
2 Cascade Bluffs
4 Past in Flames
4 Gitaxian Probe
4 Remand
4 Grapeshot
4 Serum Visions
4 Manamorphose
4 Seething Song
4 Pyretic Ritual
4 Desperate Ritual
3 Pact of Negation
3 Peer Through Depths
1 Pact of Negation
1 Peer Through Depths
3 Firespout
3 Echoing Truth
4 Empty the Warrens
1 Burst of Speed
2 Ancient Grudge

4. Innovation on magic-league
Loam Control and Martyr Proclamation saw play in late September already, although they were not successful. In early October then, Loam Control won its first mini while Martyr disappeared again to come back in November along with URG Tempo. November was the month all three decks quickly became popular.
A turning point of the triumphal procession of the three decks probably was the November 22th MODERN Trial, the first Trial with the Worlds metagame known brought new devastating metagame answers. Only two Zoo decks (2-1, 1-1) made it past round 1 in the tournament. The same happened to Affinity. Worlds showed a metagame full of Wild Nacatls and Lightning Bolts. Magic-league once again provides the solution.
Especially in its early stages, Martyr Proclamation glanced: It won 76% of its matches in November, URG Tempo even won 80%. Loam Control needed some time to evolve and became great not until December: 50% Matchwin in November, 75% in Devember. Overall, they still show excellent results

Deck Wins
Martyr Proclamation 66%
URG Junk 67%
Loam Control 65%

Martyr Proclamation by DSD-Steve
Main Deck Sideboard
12 Plains
4 Flagstones of Trokair
4 Ghost Quarter
2 Emeria, the Sky Ruin
2 Mistveil Plains
4 Squadron Hawk
4 Serra Ascendant
4 Martyr of Sands
4 Ranger of Eos
2 Kitchen Finks
1 Sun Titan
1 Weathered Wayfarer
1 Figure of Destiny
3 Wrath of God
3 Proclamation of Rebirth
3 Oblivion Ring
4 Path to Exile
2 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
1 Kami of False Hope
4 Leyline of Sanctity
4 Mana Tithe
3 Suppression Field
3 Ghostly Prison

Burning Loam by Truth-
Main Deck Sideboard
1 Blood Crypt
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
2 Forest
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Misty Rainforest
1 Mountain
3 Overgrown Tomb
2 Stomping Ground
1 Swamp
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Eternal Witness
4 Kitchen Finks
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Burning Vengeance
2 Dismember
2 Flame Jab
1 Go for the Throat
4 Life from the Loam
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Maelstrom Pulse
3 Punishing Fire
3 Raven's Crime
1 Go for the Throat
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Raven's Crime
2 Grave Titan
3 Obstinate Baloth
1 Thoughtseize
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Duress

5. The moral of the story
Modern is a format that is still changing on weekly basis. MartyrProclamation gives the eminent Zoo decks a hard time, but might disappear again when Aggro becomes less popular. No superordinate archetype is superior in the format. There's good Aggro, Control and Combodecks, as well es mixtures of the deck types. In soon future, I believe Teachings decks will lose its player base, while DeceiverTwin will have a comeback. There has been some discussion on a "necessary ban" of Wild Nacatl or Punishing Fire in MODERN on other magic strategy sites. I explain my opinion of the topic with a drawing of Martyr of Sands and Wild Nacatl:

Martyr > Wild Nacatl

Until next time, there will be a next time, become a better player by playing on, the home of tomorrow's mtg-stars.

Back to Magic: the Gathering Articles

by Djinn on 2011-12-17 01:37 CET

Great article!

by RiQuSP on 2011-12-17 02:03 CET

The Nacatl looks like a flying piggy! Nevertheless, nice article!

by derflippi on 2011-12-17 02:10 CET

If you're interested in the complete data compilation, contact me via mail or on IRC and I send it to you.

by Terri on 2011-12-17 06:53 CET

lol why refering to tarats uw control when he just copy pasted it from me.

by cloysterd on 2011-12-17 07:07 CET

I thought that thing was a bat.

by Atreties on 2011-12-17 07:13 CET

Oh look Martyr Proc has one of the highest win %s

Havent been saying that forever.

And i'm super interested in complete data compilation

by Ashmatan on 2011-12-17 17:30 CET

Suppression Field in the SB of DSDs list is horrible. Only reason they used his list is cuz he's a Jx. He shoulda used The_Youth's list. :p

by derflippi on 2011-12-17 17:34 CET

The reason why I used DSD-Steve's list as reference is because he Top4ed two trials with the same archetype. This makes me believe he knows what he's doing in modern.

by tchiseen on 2011-12-17 18:34 CET

Great article!~

by cabof on 2011-12-17 18:52 CET

nice drawings. Thought the nacatl was a bat too

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