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

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
Red-White-Blue Control 66.67% 12
Tempered Steel 61.61% 112
Delver-Go 58.33% 12
White-Blue 58.33% 12
Puresteel 56.67% 30
Tezzeret 54.17% 24
Illusions 53.13% 288
Mono-Red 52.33% 258
Wolf Run 52.31% 216
Esper Control 50.63% 79
Infect 50.00% 24
Solar Flare 49.24% 197
Grixis Control 48.89% 45
White-Blue Humans 48.81% 84
Green-White Tokens 48.60% 321
White-Blue Control 46.58% 73
Birthing Pod 44.62% 65
White-Blue Tokens 44.44% 18
Grand Heart-chitect 40.00% 5
Blue-Black Control 36.28% 113
Blue-Red Delver 29.17% 24
Blue-Red-Green Humans 16.67% 6
Burning Vengeance 0.00% 6
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
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Blue-Red Delver 100.00% 4
Infect 80.00% 5
White-Blue Tokens 75.00% 4
Birthing Pod 71.43% 14
White-Blue Humans 68.75% 16
Blue-Black Control 65.22% 23
Esper Control 57.14% 14
Mono-Red 54.76% 42
Illusions 46.55% 58
White-Blue Control 45.45% 11
Grixis Control 40.00% 10
Tempered Steel 38.10% 21
Tezzeret 37.50% 8
Solar Flare 35.14% 37
Wolf Run 33.33% 42
Red-White-Blue Control 33.33% 3
Puresteel 25.00% 4
Blue-Red-Green Humans 0.00% 1
White-Blue 0.00% 1
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
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
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Infect 100.00% 2
Blue-Red-Green Humans 100.00% 1
Esper Control 75.00% 12
Tezzeret 66.67% 3
Birthing Pod 63.64% 11
White-Blue Humans 62.50% 16
Solar Flare 62.07% 29
Blue-Black Control 61.54% 13
White-Blue Control 56.25% 16
Wolf Run 55.26% 38
Green-White Tokens 53.45% 58
Grand Heart-chitect 50.00% 2
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Delver-Go 50.00% 4
Mono-Red 41.67% 48
Tempered Steel 38.89% 18
Red-White-Blue Control 25.00% 4
Grixis Control 20.00% 5
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 2
Puresteel 0.00% 2
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
Burning Vengeance 100.00% 2
Tezzeret 100.00% 1
Delver-Go 100.00% 1
Grixis Control 83.33% 6
Blue-Black Control 81.25% 16
White-Blue 66.67% 3
Illusions 58.33% 48
Birthing Pod 57.14% 7
White-Blue Humans 53.33% 15
Solar Flare 51.61% 31
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Blue-Red Delver 50.00% 4
Red-White-Blue Control 50.00% 2
Esper Control 50.00% 10
Tempered Steel 47.06% 17
Green-White Tokens 45.24% 42
White-Blue Control 42.86% 7
Wolf Run 36.84% 38
Infect 33.33% 3
Puresteel 33.33% 3
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 Delver 100.00% 2
Blue-Red-Green Humans 100.00% 1
Blue-Black Control 69.23% 13
Green-White Tokens 64.86% 37
Birthing Pod 60.00% 10
Wolf Run 57.89% 19
White-Blue 50.00% 2
White-Blue Humans 50.00% 4
Tezzeret 50.00% 2
Puresteel 50.00% 4
Mono-Red 48.39% 31
White-Blue Control 40.00% 10
Infect 40.00% 5
Illusions 37.93% 29
Grixis Control 33.33% 6
Tempered Steel 20.00% 10
Esper Control 18.18% 11
White-Blue Tokens 0.00% 1
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
White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
Puresteel 66.67% 6
Green-White Tokens 66.67% 42
Mono-Red 63.16% 38
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 8
Tempered Steel 50.00% 14
Esper Control 50.00% 8
Grixis Control 50.00% 6
Birthing Pod 50.00% 6
Illusions 44.74% 38
Solar Flare 42.11% 19
Tezzeret 33.33% 6
White-Blue Humans 27.27% 11
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
White-Blue Tokens 0.00% 1
Red-White-Blue Control 0.00% 1
Infect 0.00% 3
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 1
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
White-Blue Tokens 100.00% 2
Blue-Red Delver 100.00% 1
Blue-Black Control 83.33% 6
White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
Solar Flare 80.00% 10
Green-White Tokens 61.90% 21
Illusions 61.11% 18
Mono-Red 52.94% 17
Grixis Control 50.00% 2
Birthing Pod 50.00% 4
Wolf Run 50.00% 14
White-Blue Humans 50.00% 4
Puresteel 50.00% 2
Esper Control 33.33% 3
Delver-Go 0.00% 1
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
White-Blue Control 75.00% 4
Blue-Red Delver 75.00% 4
Esper Control 66.67% 3
Grixis Control 66.67% 3
Wolf Run 50.00% 8
White-Blue Tokens 50.00% 2
Birthing Pod 50.00% 4
Illusions 38.46% 13
Green-White Tokens 34.78% 23
White-Blue 33.33% 3
Tezzeret 33.33% 3
Solar Flare 30.77% 13
White-Blue Humans 20.00% 5
Mono-Red 18.75% 16
Tempered Steel 16.67% 6
Infect 0.00% 1
Grand Heart-chitect 0.00% 1
Puresteel 0.00% 1
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
Illusions 61.54% 53.45% 41.67% 62.07% 55.26% 38.89% 51.47%
Solar Flare 69.23% 64.86% 48.39% 37.93% 57.89% 20.00% 51.80%
Blue-Black Control 34.78% 18.75% 38.46% 30.77% 50.00% 16.67% 31.65%
Wolf Run 50.00% 66.67% 63.16% 44.74% 42.11% 50.00% 55.35%
Green-White Tokens 65.22% 54.76% 46.55% 35.14% 33.33% 38.10% 44.84%
Mono-Red 81.25% 45.24% 58.33% 51.61% 36.84% 47.06% 51.04%
Tempered Steel 83.33% 61.90% 52.94% 61.11% 80.00% 50.00% 61.63%

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 %
Zoo 92 28.31%
Splinter Twin 49 15.08%
Affinity 29 8.92%
Mystical Teachings 16 4.92%
Gifts Ungiven 13 4.00%
Blue-Red Storm 12 3.69%
Burn 11 3.38%
Death Cloud 11 3.38%
Jund 11 3.38%
Melira Combo 8 2.46%
Next-Level Blue 8 2.46%
Cruel Control 6 1.85%
Ad Nauseam 6 1.85%
Doran 5 1.54%
Grixis Control 5 1.54%
Pyromancer Ascension 5 1.54%
Bant Aggro 4 1.23%
Barely Boros 4 1.23%
Small Pox 4 1.23%
White-Blue Tron 3 0.92%
White-Blue Control 3 0.92%
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%
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%

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
Bant Control 83.33% 6
Red-White-Blue Control 83.33% 6
Blue-Red Faeries 80.00% 5
Blue-Red Delver 75.00% 8
Melira Combo 68.09% 47
Soul Sisters 66.67% 6
Jund 65.38% 52
Martyr of Sands 63.64% 11
Death Cloud 60.94% 64
Small Pox 60.00% 20
White-Blue Control 58.82% 17
Mystical Teachings 58.44% 77
Blue-Black Control 58.33% 12
Living End 57.14% 7
Ad Nauseam 55.88% 34
Bant Aggro 54.17% 24
Burn 53.85% 52
Zoo 51.72% 379
Cruel Control 51.61% 31
Pyromancer Ascension 50.00% 26
Fair-Fight Faeries 50.00% 12
Affinity 48.55% 138
Grixis Control 48.00% 25
White-Blue Tron 47.06% 17
Gifts Ungiven 45.31% 64
Blue-Red Storm 43.08% 65
Splinter Twin 40.43% 235
Snow White 40.00% 5
Next-Level Blue 34.88% 43
Infect 33.33% 6
Through the Breach 33.33% 6
Elves 33.33% 6
Kavu Predator Aggro 33.33% 6
Doran 30.43% 23
Barely Boros 28.57% 21
Junk 25.00% 4
None 0.00% 5
Unknown 0.00% 1
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
Kavu Predator Aggro 100.00% 2
Through the Breach 100.00% 1
None 100.00% 1
White-Blue Tron 100.00% 1
Unknown 100.00% 1
Junk 100.00% 1
Infect 100.00% 2
Next-Level Blue 78.57% 14
Pyromancer Ascension 70.00% 10
Bant Aggro 66.67% 6
Splinter Twin 63.75% 80
Grixis Control 62.50% 8
Doran 60.00% 5
Barely Boros 60.00% 5
Affinity 56.86% 51
Ad Nauseam 54.55% 11
Elves 50.00% 2
Bant Control 50.00% 2
Cruel Control 50.00% 4
Blue-Red Storm 48.00% 25
Mystical Teachings 45.00% 20
White-Blue Control 44.44% 9
Fair-Fight Faeries 42.86% 7
Gifts Ungiven 41.18% 17
Death Cloud 40.00% 25
Burn 38.46% 13
Blue-Red Delver 33.33% 3
Martyr of Sands 33.33% 6
Jund 29.41% 17
Small Pox 28.57% 7
Melira Combo 26.67% 15
Soul Sisters 0.00% 2
Red-White-Blue Control 0.00% 2
Blue-Black Control 0.00% 1
Living End 0.00% 1
Snow White 0.00% 1
Blue-Red Faeries 0.00% 1
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
Basic 56.06% 66
Bant 55.00% 40
Big 100.00% 4
Boom // Bust 42.11% 19
Kavu 42.86% 7
Lightning Angel 61.54% 13
Snapcaster 46.55% 174
tribal 58.93% 56
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
Barely Boros 100.00% 5
Fair-Fight Faeries 100.00% 1
Blue-Red Storm 85.71% 7
Small Pox 75.00% 4
Doran 66.67% 3
Gifts Ungiven 58.33% 12
Cruel Control 55.56% 9
Affinity 53.33% 15
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 6
Elves 50.00% 2
White-Blue Control 50.00% 2
Living End 50.00% 2
Burn 44.44% 9
Melira Combo 44.44% 9
White-Blue Tron 42.86% 7
Next-Level Blue 40.00% 5
Zoo 36.25% 80
Death Cloud 27.27% 11
Jund 23.08% 13
Mystical Teachings 14.29% 14
Blue-Red Faeries 0.00% 3
Blue-Red Delver 0.00% 1
Grixis Control 0.00% 4
Ad Nauseam 0.00% 4
Soul Sisters 0.00% 1
Pyromancer Ascension 0.00% 1
Bant Aggro 0.00% 2
Kavu Predator Aggro 0.00% 1
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
Next-Level Blue 80.00% 5
Cruel Control 66.67% 3
Bant Aggro 66.67% 3
Ad Nauseam 66.67% 3
Doran 66.67% 6
Gifts Ungiven 62.50% 8
Burn 50.00% 6
Blue-Black Control 50.00% 2
Death Cloud 50.00% 6
Mystical Teachings 50.00% 2
Splinter Twin 46.67% 15
Zoo 43.14% 51
Melira Combo 40.00% 5
Pyromancer Ascension 33.33% 3
Blue-Red Storm 33.33% 6
Grixis Control 25.00% 4
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
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
Gifts Ungiven 100.00% 4
White-Blue Control 100.00% 1
Splinter Twin 85.71% 14
Blue-Red Storm 66.67% 3
Jund 60.00% 5
Zoo 55.00% 20
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
Death Cloud 33.33% 3
Cruel Control 33.33% 3
Burn 25.00% 4
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
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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