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Feature: Standard and Modern Metagame Analysis

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This was written prior to the Top 8 taking place. Normally when I do these articles I have full information. This time, however, I do not. I do not know who won. In a way that's beneficial, because I'm not clouded in my perception of that deck. In reality, seven more matches aren't going to make a big difference in an archetype's overall performance. Of course, those seven matches carry a little more weight than any of the other ones and will be the matches remembered by history. And they probably mean something to the competitors.

In 1994, Zak Dolan took home the first World Championship trophy for Magic. It's far to say that things have changed since then, wouldn't you say? Back then there were 512 people. In 2011 there were 365. And there were three more Hall of Famers inducted this year than there were in 2004. This year the three formats a Planeswalker must conquer in order to battle for the title are Standard, Innistrad Booster Draft, and Modern. We're going to investigate the constructed portions, digging into things like how many people played each deck, how each archetype did and how they did against each other.

This is going to be kept light. I'm not going to go crazy with inferential statistics; this is going to be almost entirely descriptive. And, of course, there are plenty of variables. Obviously not every deck is built with the same 75, nor do they all sideboard the same way. I'm also quite confident that the play skill of the 365 people slinging these spells varies. (If it didn't, then I'm as good as LSV and I'm just unlucky.) Long story short, this is just showing what happened. So if I tell you that Tempered Steel crushes Green-White Tokens and your testing says otherwise, that's cool. There are plenty of variables involved and reasons why both statements are true.

Let's start with the easy stuff: What did people play? I say easy, because I didn't have to do anything. Rashad Miller did all of the legwork on this one, and in fact already wrote up a nice little summary here. For ease of reference I'm including his chart here.


Archetype Number Win %
Birthing Pod 11 2.93%
Blue-Black Control 19 5.07%
Blue-Red Delver 4 1.07%
Blue-Red-Green Humans 1 0.27%
Burning Vengeance 1 0.27%
Delver-Go 2 0.53%
Esper Control 14 3.73%
Grand Heart-chitect 1 0.27%
Green-White Tokens 63 16.80%
Grixis Control 8 2.13%
Illusions 59 15.73%
Infect 4 1.07%
Mono-Red 50 13.33%
Puresteel 5 1.33%
Red-White-Blue Control 2 0.53%
Solar Flare 38 10.13%
Tempered Steel 19 5.07%
Tezzeret 4 1.07%
White-Blue 2 0.53%
White-Blue Control 13 3.47%
White-Blue Humans 14 3.73%
White-Blue Tokens 3 0.80%
Wolf Run 38 10.13%

What you see here is a diverse metagame. There are no boogeymen in this format (yet, at least) and no dominant you-must-be-able-to-beat-this-deck-or-you-will-never-win-a-tournament decks taking up 25-30% of the metagame. Just good, wholesome, solid decks. For our purposes we're going to focus on the five decks that made up 10% or more of the field. And Tempered Steel, for obvious reasons. OK, we'll do Blue-Black Control too—I'm feeling generous. But first, of course, the summary. Remember, all mirror-matches have been excluded (math fact: all mirror matches are 50%, barring a double DQ).

Deck Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 44.62% 65
Blue-Black Control 36.28% 113
Blue-Red Delver 29.17% 24
Blue-Red-Green Humans 16.67% 6
Burning Vengeance 0.00% 6
Delver-Go 58.33% 12
Esper Control 50.63% 79
Grand Heart-chitect 40.00% 5
Grand Total 50.00% 2024
Green-White Tokens 48.60% 321
Grixis Control 48.89% 45
Illusions 53.13% 288
Infect 50.00% 24
Mono-Red 52.33% 258
Puresteel 56.67% 30
Red-White-Blue Control 66.67% 12
Solar Flare 49.24% 197
Tempered Steel 61.61% 112
Tezzeret 54.17% 24
White-Blue 58.33% 12
White-Blue Control 46.58% 73
White-Blue Humans 48.81% 84
White-Blue Tokens 44.44% 18
Wolf Run 52.31% 216

At first glance, Tempered Steel crushed it. Of the top seven most popular decks, Illusions is closest in performance, and it was 8.5% worse. You could call the deck dominant in that respect. I'd caution, though, since Tempered Steel did have something going for it: about two-thirds of those playing it are on the dominant ChannelFireball.com team. After Tempered Steel there is a grouping of decks in the 52-53% range with Illusions, Mono-Red and Wolf Run all having similar results. Solar Flare and Green-White Tokens ended just under 50%, and Blue-Black Control tanked entirely. Let's look at how all of this happened.


Green-White Tokens


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 71.43% 14
Blue-Black Control 65.22% 23
Blue-Red Delver 100.00% 4
Blue-Red-Green Humans 0.00% 1
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
Esper Control 57.14% 14
Grand Total 48.60% 321
Grixis Control 40.00% 10
Illusions 46.55% 58
Infect 80.00% 5
Mono-Red 54.76% 42
Puresteel 25.00% 4
Red-White-Blue Control 33.33% 3
Solar Flare 35.14% 37
Tempered Steel 38.10% 21
Tezzeret 37.50% 8
White-Blue 0.00% 1
White-Blue Control 45.45% 11
White-Blue Humans 68.75% 16
White-Blue Tokens 75.00% 4
Wolf Run 33.33% 42

The tokens proved problematic for Blue-Black Control and difficult for Mono-Red to power through. Otherwise, though, "Token Town" gave up an unspectacular performance, including three sub-40% matchups against the top seven most popular decks. Given that, getting within 1.4% of breaking even is actually kind of impressive.


Illusions


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 63.64% 11
Blue-Black Control 61.54% 13
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 2
Blue-Red-Green Humans 100.00% 1
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Delver-Go 50.00% 4
Esper Control 75.00% 12
Grand Heart-chitect 50.00% 2
Grand Total 53.13% 288
Green-White Tokens 53.45% 58
Grixis Control 20.00% 5
Infect 100.00% 2
Mono-Red 41.67% 48
Puresteel 0.00% 2
Red-White-Blue Control 25.00% 4
Solar Flare 62.07% 29
Tempered Steel 38.89% 18
Tezzeret 66.67% 3
White-Blue Control 56.25% 16
White-Blue Humans 62.50% 16
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Wolf Run 55.26% 38

It's never bad to have multiple pairings where you can get above 60%, and that's what Illusions did. Their aggression was too fast for the control decks to handle. Green decks, too, had trouble (though to a lesser extent). If it weren't for really rough pairings with Mono-Red and Tempered Steel things would have gone quite well for those illusions.


Mono-Red


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 57.14% 7
Blue-Black Control 81.25% 16
Blue-Red Delver 50.00% 4
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Delver-Go 100.00% 1
Esper Control 50.00% 10
Grand Total 52.33% 258
Green-White Tokens 45.24% 42
Grixis Control 83.33% 6
Illusions 58.33% 48
Infect 33.33% 3
Puresteel 33.33% 3
Red-White-Blue Control 50.00% 2
Solar Flare 51.61% 31
Tempered Steel 47.06% 17
Tezzeret 100.00% 1
White-Blue 66.67% 3
White-Blue Control 42.86% 7
White-Blue Humans 53.33% 15
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Wolf Run 36.84% 38

You should be used to seeing Blue-Black Control as a good matchup by now, so that's not news. But 81% is pretty crazy. With only 16 matches of that, I have to think the number would regress some over a larger amount of matches. But maybe not; it could just be that good. What do I know? Small creatures and a lot of burn easily handled Illusions. Solar Flare was not a great result, but still above average. Tempered Steel and Green-White Tokens weren't disasters but were still very dangerous. Steel, of course, could have gone either way with more matches; 17 is not a lot to go on. Wolf Run, however, was a disaster.


Solar Flare


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 60.00% 10
Blue-Black Control 69.23% 13
Blue-Red Delver 100.00% 2
Blue-Red-Green Humans 100.00% 1
Esper Control 18.18% 11
Grand Total 49.24% 197
Green-White Tokens 64.86% 37
Grixis Control 33.33% 6
Illusions 37.93% 29
Infect 40.00% 5
Mono-Red 48.39% 31
Puresteel 50.00% 4
Tempered Steel 20.00% 10
Tezzeret 50.00% 2
White-Blue 50.00% 2
White-Blue Control 40.00% 10
White-Blue Humans 50.00% 4
White-Blue Tokens 0.00% 1
Wolf Run 57.89% 19

Blue-Black Control at the top again. Weird. Very strong showing against Green-White Tokens too, at least in part due to Day of Judgment. Wolf Run was also very positive—though, again, with only 19 matches there's room for some change there. Mono-Red was near the break-even point but still a negative, and Tempered Steel was 8-2 against Solar Flare. Of course, 10 matches is hardly enough to say anything, but it's a pretty bad start. Illusions were a very negative pairing, and 29 matches is getting pretty close to "statistically relevant."


Wolf Run


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 50.00% 6
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 8
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 1
Blue-Red-Green Humans 100.00% 1
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
Esper Control 50.00% 8
Grand Total 52.31% 216
Green-White Tokens 66.67% 42
Grixis Control 50.00% 6
Illusions 44.74% 38
Infect 0.00% 3
Mono-Red 63.16% 38
Puresteel 66.67% 6
Red-White-Blue Control 0.00% 1
Solar Flare 42.11% 19
Tempered Steel 50.00% 14
Tezzeret 33.33% 6
White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
White-Blue Humans 27.27% 11
White-Blue Tokens 0.00% 1

Two of the three most popular decks were above 63%. Now that's a good sign for a deck. The bad news is that after that there are two coin flips and two bad pairings, resulting in only being slightly above 50%.


Tempered Steel


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 50.00% 4
Blue-Black Control 83.33% 6
Blue-Red Delver 100.00% 1
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
Esper Control 33.33% 3
Grand Total 61.61% 112
Green-White Tokens 61.90% 21
Grixis Control 50.00% 2
Illusions 61.11% 18
Mono-Red 52.94% 17
Puresteel 50.00% 2
Red-White-Blue Control 100.00% 1
Solar Flare 80.00% 10
White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
White-Blue Humans 50.00% 4
White-Blue Tokens 100.00% 2
Wolf Run 50.00% 14

Boom. Dominance. I'm not sure if that's a commentary on Tempered Steel or on the names of the pilots. Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Luis Scott-Vargas, Conley Woods, Brian Kibler, Martin Juza, David Ochoa, Ben Stark, Owen Turtenwald, Josh Utter-Leyton, Matt Nass, Shuhei Nakamura, Eric Froehlich... You've probably heard of some of those names. So, yeah, it is fair to say that the deck had above average play skill. You could give those guys 56 Forests, 3 Mountains, and 1 Devil's Play and they'd probably break even.



Blue-Black Control


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Birthing Pod 50.00% 4
Blue-Red Delver 75.00% 4
Esper Control 66.67% 3
Grand Heart-chitect 0.00% 1
Grand Total 36.28% 113
Green-White Tokens 34.78% 23
Grixis Control 66.67% 3
Illusions 38.46% 13
Infect 0.00% 1
Mono-Red 18.75% 16
Puresteel 0.00% 1
Solar Flare 30.77% 13
Tempered Steel 16.67% 6
Tezzeret 33.33% 3
White-Blue 33.33% 3
White-Blue Control 75.00% 4
White-Blue Humans 20.00% 5
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Wolf Run 50.00% 8

Boom. Anti-dominance. Poor performance all over, nothing really to discuss. Just bad.

Here's a quick summary of the top seven decks and how they did against each other. Opponent deck is across the top:


Deck Blue-Black Control Green-White Tokens Mono-Red Illusions Solar Flare Wolf Run Tempered Steel Grand Total
Blue-Black Control 34.78% 18.75% 38.46% 30.77% 50.00% 16.67% 31.65%
Green-White Tokens 65.22% 54.76% 46.55% 35.14% 33.33% 38.10% 44.84%
Illusions 61.54% 53.45% 41.67% 62.07% 55.26% 38.89% 51.47%
Mono-Red 81.25% 45.24% 58.33% 51.61% 36.84% 47.06% 51.04%
Solar Flare 69.23% 64.86% 48.39% 37.93% 57.89% 20.00% 51.80%
Tempered Steel 83.33% 61.90% 52.94% 61.11% 80.00% 50.00% 61.63%
Wolf Run 50.00% 66.67% 63.16% 44.74% 42.11% 50.00% 55.35%

That's quite a lot to take in. And we're only halfway through! Can you imagine how the competitors felt?! Let's talk about Modern. First, as usual, what as in the field? And, as usual, Rashad Miller has done the hard work on that and even explained himself here. Recent bannings had many people wondering what would happen to the format. Now we know.


Archetype Number %
Ad Nauseam 6 1.85%
Affinity 29 8.92%
Bant Aggro 4 1.23%
Bant Control 1 0.31%
Barely Boros 4 1.23%
Blue-Black Control 2 0.62%
Blue-Red Delver 2 0.62%
Blue-Red Faeries 1 0.31%
Blue-Red Storm 12 3.69%
Burn 11 3.38%
Cruel Control 6 1.85%
Death Cloud 11 3.38%
Doran 5 1.54%
Elves 1 0.31%
Fair-Fight Faeries 2 0.62%
Gifts Ungiven 13 4.00%
Grixis Control 5 1.54%
Infect 1 0.31%
Jund 11 3.38%
Junk 1 0.31%
Kavu Predator Aggro 1 0.31%
Living End 2 0.62%
Martyr of Sands 2 0.62%
Melira Combo 8 2.46%
Mystical Teachings 16 4.92%
Next-Level Blue 8 2.46%
Pyromancer Ascension 5 1.54%
Red-White-Blue Control 1 0.31%
Small Pox 4 1.23%
Snow White 1 0.31%
Soul Sisters 1 0.31%
Splinter Twin 49 15.08%
Through the Breach 1 0.31%
White-Blue Control 3 0.92%
White-Blue Tron 3 0.92%
Zoo 92 28.31%

2 themes are apparent when looking at this. Zoo. Cheap creatures that hit hard backed up with powerful spells across 3, 4 or 5 colors is as tempting as it gets. Zoo is a classic deck, a default fallback for people who either haven't tested or just don't know what to play. And, of course, for those who have tested a lot and found nothing better. The 2nd theme I see is that after Zoo and Twin, the field is about experimentation, pet decks and diversity. There were 36 different archetypes, compared to only 23 in Standard. That's even more impressive when you consider that 89% of the field had dropped out by day 3. So a 57% increase in archetypes when there was an 11% decrease in players. With so many available cards in the Modern format, people want to play with all of them. We'll focus on the top 4, or those that were 5% or higher (or very close to 5%) of the field.


Deck Win Rate Matches
Ad Nauseam 55.88% 34
Affinity 48.55% 138
Bant Aggro 54.17% 24
Bant Control 83.33% 6
Barely Boros 28.57% 21
Blue-Black Control 58.33% 12
Blue-Red Delver 75.00% 8
Blue-Red Faeries 80.00% 5
Blue-Red Storm 43.08% 65
Burn 53.85% 52
Cruel Control 51.61% 31
Death Cloud 60.94% 64
Doran 30.43% 23
Elves 33.33% 6
Fair-Fight Faeries 50.00% 12
Gifts Ungiven 45.31% 64
Grand Total 50.00% 1566
Grixis Control 48.00% 25
Infect 33.33% 6
Jund 65.38% 52
Junk 25.00% 4
Kavu Predator Aggro 33.33% 6
Living End 57.14% 7
Martyr of Sands 63.64% 11
Melira Combo 68.09% 47
Mystical Teachings 58.44% 77
Next-Level Blue 34.88% 43
None 0.00% 5
Pyromancer Ascension 50.00% 26
Red-White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
Small Pox 60.00% 20
Snow White 40.00% 5
Soul Sisters 66.67% 6
Splinter Twin 40.43% 235
Through the Breach 33.33% 6
Unknown 0.00% 1
White-Blue Control 58.82% 17
White-Blue Tron 47.06% 17
Zoo 51.72% 379

The problem with such a diverse field is that it means fewer matches for each archetype. We'll work with what we have though. Melira Combo came out as the leader for Modern, something I expect is aided by its inability to be played online which makes it harder for people to test against it. Death Cloud and Jund both put up good numbers. The top performer from our four most popular decks was the least popular one. This isn't surprising, since fewer people playing means fewer matches which means higher variance. Zoo came out almost 2% better than average, which is pretty impressive when taking in account that just under three out of every ten players ran with it. Affinity was just shy of 50% and Splinter Twin came in at about 40%.


Zoo


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Ad Nauseam 54.55% 11
Affinity 56.86% 51
Bant Aggro 66.67% 6
Bant Control 50.00% 2
Barely Boros 60.00% 5
Blue-Black Control 0.00% 1
Blue-Red Delver 33.33% 3
Blue-Red Faeries 0.00% 1
Blue-Red Storm 48.00% 25
Burn 38.46% 13
Cruel Control 50.00% 4
Death Cloud 40.00% 25
Doran 60.00% 5
Elves 50.00% 2
Fair-Fight Faeries 42.86% 7
Gifts Ungiven 41.18% 17
Grand Total 51.72% 379
Grixis Control 62.50% 8
Infect 100.00% 2
Jund 29.41% 17
Junk 100.00% 1
Kavu Predator Aggro 100.00% 2
Living End 0.00% 1
Martyr of Sands 33.33% 6
Melira Combo 26.67% 15
Mystical Teachings 45.00% 20
Next-Level Blue 78.57% 14
None 100.00% 1
Pyromancer Ascension 70.00% 10
Red-White-Blue Control 0.00% 2
Small Pox 28.57% 7
Snow White 0.00% 1
Soul Sisters 0.00% 2
Splinter Twin 63.75% 80
Through the Breach 100.00% 1
Unknown 100.00% 1
White-Blue Control 44.44% 9
White-Blue Tron 100.00% 1

Zoo's performance was actually a letdown from Philly, where it won 56% of its matches. A lot of that looks like it is because of Snapcaster Mage. Here's how the variants for Zoo did:


Zoo Variant Win Rate Matches
Bant 55.00% 40
Basic 56.06% 66
Big 100.00% 4
Boom // Bust 42.11% 19
Grand Total 51.72% 379
Kavu 42.86% 7
Lightning Angel 61.54% 13
Snapcaster 46.55% 174
tribal 58.93% 56

There's a clear underperformer. Removing Snapcaster variants from the mix brings Zoo back up to 56%. At any rate, Zoo beat up on Splinter Twin and Affinity pretty well. It looks like people's miscellaneous concoctions were the downfall of Zoo. Strangely, the Snapcaster variants had very real issues with Affinity, winning only 39% of those matches. Non-Snapcasters won 71% of their Affinity matches.


Splinter Twin


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Ad Nauseam 0.00% 4
Affinity 53.33% 15
Bant Aggro 0.00% 2
Barely Boros 100.00% 5
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 6
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 1
Blue-Red Faeries 0.00% 3
Blue-Red Storm 85.71% 7
Burn 44.44% 9
Cruel Control 55.56% 9
Death Cloud 27.27% 11
Doran 66.67% 3
Elves 50.00% 2
Fair-Fight Faeries 100.00% 1
Gifts Ungiven 58.33% 12
Grand Total 40.43% 235
Grixis Control 0.00% 4
Jund 23.08% 13
Junk 100.00% 1
Kavu Predator Aggro 0.00% 1
Living End 50.00% 2
Melira Combo 44.44% 9
Mystical Teachings 14.29% 14
Next-Level Blue 40.00% 5
Pyromancer Ascension 0.00% 1
Small Pox 75.00% 4
Snow White 100.00% 1
Soul Sisters 0.00% 1
White-Blue Control 50.00% 2
White-Blue Tron 42.86% 7
Zoo 36.25% 80

Zoo is just hell for Splinter Twin players, and those matches were over a third of their non-mirror matches. Removing Zoo would bring Splinter Twin up to 43%, which is still pretty bad. There are just too many decks with either speed or disruption for the Twin decks, it would seem. Splinter Twin, albeit in a very different form, was significantly better in Philly. It dropped almost 12% from event to event, though you can't really say that was because of how the metagame shifted but rather how the deck had to adapt to the loss of key cards.


Affinity


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Ad Nauseam 66.67% 3
Bant Aggro 66.67% 3
Barely Boros 0.00% 1
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 2
Blue-Red Storm 33.33% 6
Burn 50.00% 6
Cruel Control 66.67% 3
Death Cloud 50.00% 6
Doran 66.67% 6
Fair-Fight Faeries 100.00% 1
Gifts Ungiven 62.50% 8
Grand Total 48.55% 138
Grixis Control 25.00% 4
Infect 100.00% 1
Jund 0.00% 1
Melira Combo 40.00% 5
Mystical Teachings 50.00% 2
Next-Level Blue 80.00% 5
Pyromancer Ascension 33.33% 3
Red-White-Blue Control 0.00% 1
Small Pox 100.00% 1
Snow White 0.00% 1
Splinter Twin 46.67% 15
Through the Breach 100.00% 1
White-Blue Control 0.00% 1
White-Blue Tron 100.00% 1
Zoo 43.14% 51

Affinity had a lot of pairings in the positive, but they constituted a smaller portion of the metagame. Those positive matches didn't help Affinity enough since it was in the red against the two most popular decks. Affinity did better at Philly, winning 52% of the time. Some of that delta is a result of its 56% against Twelve-Post in Philly, an archetype that's no longer viable after the bannings.


Mystical Teachings


Opponent Win Rate Matches
Ad Nauseam 50.00% 2
Affinity 50.00% 2
Barely Boros 50.00% 2
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 1
Blue-Red Storm 66.67% 3
Burn 25.00% 4
Cruel Control 33.33% 3
Death Cloud 33.33% 3
Doran 100.00% 1
Gifts Ungiven 100.00% 4
Grand Total 58.44% 77
Jund 60.00% 5
Junk 100.00% 1
Kavu Predator Aggro 0.00% 1
Martyr of Sands 0.00% 1
Melira Combo 50.00% 2
Next-Level Blue 50.00% 2
None 100.00% 1
Pyromancer Ascension 0.00% 1
Small Pox 0.00% 1
Splinter Twin 85.71% 14
Through the Breach 100.00% 1
White-Blue Control 100.00% 1
White-Blue Tron 0.00% 1
Zoo 55.00% 20

A control deck! With a winning record! In Modern! Progress, indeed. Mystical Teachings decks made a comeback in large part due to a very strong showing against Splinter Twin (in only 14 matches) and Zoo. Their strength, it seems, is in handling many of the various other decks that comprise the metagame. Classic control deck strategy.

I love that Modern is as diverse as it is from a player and fan perspective. From an analysis perspective, however, it is a downer. There simply aren't enough matches for each archetype to do any meaningful analysis on. Really, it's annoying.

See you after the next Pro Tour!

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