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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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
Green-White Tokens 65.22% 54.76% 46.55% 35.14% 33.33% 38.10% 44.84%
Blue-Black Control 34.78% 18.75% 38.46% 30.77% 50.00% 16.67% 31.65%
Mono-Red 81.25% 45.24% 58.33% 51.61% 36.84% 47.06% 51.04%
Illusions 61.54% 53.45% 41.67% 62.07% 55.26% 38.89% 51.47%
Tempered Steel 83.33% 61.90% 52.94% 61.11% 80.00% 50.00% 61.63%
Solar Flare 69.23% 64.86% 48.39% 37.93% 57.89% 20.00% 51.80%
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 %
Bant Control 1 0.31%
Elves 1 0.31%
Infect 1 0.31%
Junk 1 0.31%
Kavu Predator Aggro 1 0.31%
Snow White 1 0.31%
Soul Sisters 1 0.31%
Through the Breach 1 0.31%
Blue-Red Faeries 1 0.31%
Red-White-Blue Control 1 0.31%
Living End 2 0.62%
Martyr of Sands 2 0.62%
Blue-Black Control 2 0.62%
Fair-Fight Faeries 2 0.62%
Blue-Red Delver 2 0.62%
White-Blue Tron 3 0.92%
White-Blue Control 3 0.92%
Bant Aggro 4 1.23%
Barely Boros 4 1.23%
Small Pox 4 1.23%
Doran 5 1.54%
Grixis Control 5 1.54%
Pyromancer Ascension 5 1.54%
Cruel Control 6 1.85%
Ad Nauseam 6 1.85%
Splinter Twin 49 15.08%
Melira Combo 8 2.46%
Next-Level Blue 8 2.46%
Zoo 92 28.31%
Burn 11 3.38%
Death Cloud 11 3.38%
Jund 11 3.38%
Blue-Red Storm 12 3.69%
Gifts Ungiven 13 4.00%
Mystical Teachings 16 4.92%
Affinity 29 8.92%

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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