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U.S. and Japan Nationals Metagame Breakdown

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The letter S!huhei. Gindy. Gindy won the only Pro Tour Top 8 he played in. Shuhei has five Sunday appearances, but no titles. Now they can both add National Champion to their respective resumes. Both piloted decks featuring Cruel Ultimatum through 17 rounds of Magic (albeit "only" 11 rounds of Constructed) and came out on top. While they chose the same deck, they were choosing a weapon for significantly different battlefields.


In Japan, there were four decks that accounted for 10% or more of the field (White Aggro, Five-Color Control, Faeries and Elves). Gindy had to deal with a more diverse field, as Jund decks joined the aforementioned 4 decks as a holder of 15% of the metagame. While that sounds pretty similar, the ranking shifted appreciably between tournaments. Here's a full look at the metagames.

  Japan USA Total players Total percent
Archetype Players Percent Players Percent
Five-Color Control 27 17.09% 61 26.52% 88 22.68%
Faeries 27 17.09% 35 15.22% 62 15.98%
White Aggro 29 18.35% 24 10.43% 53 13.66%
Elves 20 12.66% 24 10.43% 44 11.34%
Jund 7 4.43% 34 14.78% 41 10.57%
Black-Red Fast 9 5.70% 13 5.65% 22 5.67%
Other 6 3.80% 12 5.22% 18 4.64%
Doran 10 6.33% 3 1.30% 13 3.35%
Tokens 10 6.33% 3 1.30% 13 3.35%
Cascade 5 3.16% 5 2.17% 10 2.58%
Merfolk 0.00% 5 2.17% 5 1.29%
Time Sieve 0.00% 4 1.74% 4 1.03%
Unknown 1 0.63% 2 0.87% 3 0.77%
Bant 1 0.63% 2 0.87% 3 0.77%
Swans 2 1.27% 1 0.43% 3 0.77%
Black-Green Elves 1 0.63% 2 0.87% 3 0.77%
Reveillark 3 1.90% 0.00% 3 0.77%
Grand Total 158 100.00% 230 100.00% 388 100.00%

The top three decks in Japan were all within 2% of each other for market share, none of which broke the 20% threshold. In the States, though, Five-Color Control had a more than 10% cushion over the next closest deck and accounted for over a quarter of the field. While both countries features approximately the same flavors of deck, though the distribution changed. It is worth noting that the U.S. featured 45% more competitors, which certainly had an impact on the overall numbers.

There were some winners and losers in the minds of the Americans when choosing a deck, with the U.S. players picking up a lot more Jund and Cruel cards, opting against White, Doran and tokens, as seen in the below table showing the change (delta) from Japan Nationals to U.S. Nationals.

Deck Delta
White Aggro -7.92%
Doran -5.02%
Tokens -5.02%
Elves -2.22%
Reveillark -1.90%
Faeries -1.87%
Cascade -0.99%
Swans -0.83%
Black-Red Fast -0.04%
Unknown 0.24%
Bant 0.24%
Black-Green Elves 0.24%
Other 1.42%
Time Sieve 1.74%
Merfolk 2.17%
Five-Color Control 9.43%
Jund 10.35%

With the benefit of hindsight, we can look at the performances of each of those decks in the land of the rising sun and see what made the U.S. players make those choices.

Archetype Win % Matches
Tokens 58.57% 70
Five-Color Control 55.48% 147
White Aggro 41.01% 140
Jund 40.91% 44
Doran 30.65% 62

Looking at this, it would seem that whatever drove the Americans to choose Jund was unfounded, likewise with whatever turned them off from token decks. Digging further into the Jund decision, there were no matchups that were a big enough favorite to warrant the decision. They either had fully different Jund decks, or expected a drastic shift in the metagame. As for tokens, perhaps the U.S. players were familiar with these two problem pairings:

Opponent Archetype Win % Matches
Elves 42.86% 14
Faeries 40.91% 22

The classification of decks certainly is a flawed science—each deck group can have several variations within that group that can change the tenor of the deck while still adhering to a single overarching strategy. It is nearly impossible to fully categorize all of the 388 decks that saw action at these tournaments. The groupings you see here offer a wide-angle view of the decks people used. Further detailing out of the differences, while it would offer some clarity to the exact cards that were shuffled up, would only serve to degrade the quality of the inferences we make. There simply would not be nearly enough matches played for each of the variants for us to make well-reasoned conclusions.

We are going to examine further how each of the five more popular decks performed overall, as well as within the confines of each tournament. It is not very often that we can get this level of detail for premier events a week apart from each other. Hopefully we will be able to see how much impact, if any, the Japanese tournament had on the American. All of the win percentages shown will exclude mirror matches. Wherever possible, I'll show the breakout between events.

Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Black-Red Fast 67.21% 61 50.70% 71 58.33% 132
Elves 57.94% 108 51.35% 111 54.59% 219
Tokens 58.57% 70 40.00% 20 54.44% 90
Cascade 48.15% 27 60.00% 30 54.39% 57
Five-Color Control 55.48% 147 52.21% 254 53.42% 401
Other 42.11% 38 56.16% 74 51.35% 112
Jund 40.91% 44 53.14% 177 50.68% 221
Faeries 51.75% 143 49.12% 172 50.32% 315
Time Sieve N/A 0 47.06% 17 47.06% 17
White Aggro 41.01% 140 46.28% 121 43.46% 261
Merfolk N/A 0 34.78% 24 34.78% 24
Swans 37.50% 8 25.00% 4 33.33% 12
Reveillark 31.58% 20 N/A 0 31.58% 20
Doran 30.65% 62 33.33% 12 31.08% 74
Bant 25.00% 4 33.33% 9 30.77% 13
Black-Green Elves 25.00% 4 25.00% 8 25.00% 12

Immediately, we can see that there is a surprise leader in win percentage, Black-Red Fast. These decks include all aggressive variants of Black-Red, usually with Blightning support. Elves rode strong performances in both events into the number two spot, and the various Token decks only fell to number three due to apparent dislike from the Americans. Our twin champion deck posted a very solid 53.4% over 400 matches, living up to the title. White Aggro decks—various Kithkin ones—performed poorly in both events and Faeries virtually broke even. This of course is only a fraction of the story. Here are the individual deck chapters.


Five-Color Control
Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Doran 75.00% 16 80.00% 5 76.19% 21
Cascade 85.71% 7 57.14% 7 71.43% 14
Bant 100.00% 1 50.00% 2 66.67% 3
Elves 61.90% 22 64.29% 28 63.27% 50
White Aggro 60.00% 30 61.76% 34 60.94% 64
Reveillark 60.00% 5 N/A 0 60.00% 5
Merfolk N/A 0 60.00% 6 60.00% 6
Black-Green Elves N/A 0 50.00% 2 50.00% 2
Jund 62.50% 8 48.39% 64 50.00% 72
Other 62.50% 8 42.11% 20 48.15% 28
Faeries 44.83% 29 43.64% 56 44.05% 85
Tokens 22.22% 9 80.00% 5 42.86% 14
Time Sieve N/A 0 40.00% 5 40.00% 5
Black-Red Fast 30.00% 10 44.44% 18 39.29% 28
Swans 0.00% 1 N/A 0 0.00% 1
Grand Total 55.86% 146 51.82% 252 53.32% 398

We begin with our co-champion. Five-Color Control posted a robust 53% overall, driven by a superb record against Elves and White Aggro. Faeries and Black-Red decks did their best to hold down the eventual champs, though it proved to be not enough. What I find encouraging is that the drill-downs from Japan to the U.S. are pretty close to each other, even within a given matchup. That lends a level of credibility to the classification system, though it does not necessarily prove the system fully accurate.


Elves
Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Swans 100.00% 1 N/A 0 100.00% 1
Reveillark 100.00% 1 N/A 0 100.00% 1
Black-Green Elves N/A 0 100.00% 2 100.00% 2
Merfolk N/A 0 75.00% 4 75.00% 4
Other 85.71% 7 50.00% 8 66.67% 15
White Aggro 66.67% 18 65.00% 20 65.79% 38
Faeries 65.00% 20 60.00% 15 62.86% 35
Cascade 100.00% 1 55.56% 9 60.00% 10
Black-Red Fast 57.14% 7 66.67% 3 60.00% 10
Tokens 57.14% 14 N/A 0 57.14% 14
Doran 60.00% 5 50.00% 2 57.14% 7
Jund 50.00% 8 40.00% 20 42.86% 28
Five-Color Control 38.10% 22 35.71% 28 36.73% 50
Grand Total 59.22% 104 51.35% 111 55.14% 215

The deck that got a lot of people talking suffered some drop-off in performance after Japan successfully proved that the strategy was strong. Americans were still able to take more than half of their matches with Elves, but it was no longer dominant. The bulk of this change came from Jund, with the rest of the difference coming from a number of smaller deltas.


Faeries
Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Swans 100.00% 1 100.00% 1 100.00% 2
Bant 100.00% 1 100.00% 1 100.00% 2
Time Sieve N/A 0 75.00% 4 75.00% 4
Reveillark 66.67% 3 N/A 0 66.67% 3
Other 90.00% 10 45.45% 11 66.67% 21
White Aggro 58.62% 29 66.67% 18 61.70% 47
Tokens 59.09% 22 66.67% 6 60.71% 28
Merfolk N/A 0 60.00% 5 60.00% 5
Five-Color Control 55.17% 29 56.36% 56 55.95% 85
Cascade 66.67% 3 20.00% 5 37.50% 8
Elves 35.00% 20 40.00% 15 37.14% 35
Jund 66.67% 6 31.25% 32 36.84% 38
Black-Red Fast 7.14% 14 37.50% 16 23.33% 30
Doran 25.00% 4 0.00% 1 20.00% 5
Grand Total 52.11% 142 48.82% 171 50.32% 313

Faeries has shown longevity that few Constructed decks have been able to, proving to be a threat in basically every format it has been legal in since its staple cards were printed. These tournaments were no different, as the Fae were still quite formidable. It was not a dominant set of weekends by any stretch, but 50% across 300 matches on top of two Top 8 berths can still be considered successful. There was not much of a change from one weekend to the next, and again the majority of matchups were pretty level throughout. Elves was a tough match and White Aggro was not not. None of this is really news, but at least the numbers bear it out.


Jund
Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Swans N/A 0 100.00% 2 100.00% 2
Merfolk N/A 0 83.33% 6 83.33% 6
Time Sieve N/A 0 75.00% 4 75.00% 4
Doran 80.00% 5 0.00% 1 66.67% 6
Faeries 33.33% 6 68.75% 32 63.16% 38
Elves 50.00% 8 60.00% 20 57.14% 28
Five-Color Control 37.50% 8 51.61% 64 50.00% 72
Other 100.00% 1 38.46% 13 42.86% 14
Tokens 0.00% 1 50.00% 4 40.00% 5
White Aggro 37.50% 8 33.33% 15 34.78% 23
Cascade 33.33% 3 25.00% 4 28.57% 7
Black-Red Fast 0.00% 4 36.36% 11 26.67% 15
Grand Total 40.91% 44 53.45% 176 50.92% 220

Jund variants, including those abusing Makeshift Mannequin, were the real differentiator between tournaments. There were so few matches with the deck in Japan that no true comparisons can be made. Against the field, though, we can say that there was a very healthy jump—both in the number of folks slinging spells as well as in their win rate. Jund posted double-digit deltas in both market share and win percentage, which is a true metagame shift. It will be interesting to see if that trend carries through to some of the other Nationals tournaments that are coming up.


White Aggro
Archetype Japan USA Total Sum of Win % Total Matches
Win % Matches Win % Matches
Time Sieve N/A 0 100.00% 1 100.00% 1
Doran 84.21% 19 100.00% 2 85.71% 21
Bant 0.00% 1 100.00% 3 75.00% 4
Reveillark 66.67% 7 N/A 0 66.67% 7
Black-Red Fast 42.11% 19 72.73% 11 53.33% 30
Black-Green Elves 0.00% 1 66.67% 3 50.00% 4
Five-Color Control 48.72% 39 35.90% 39 42.31% 78
Faeries 41.18% 51 33.33% 24 38.67% 75
Cascade 42.86% 7 0.00% 1 37.50% 8
Elves 37.50% 32 35.00% 20 36.54% 52
Other 14.29% 7 38.46% 13 30.00% 20
Swans 33.33% 3 0.00% 1 25.00% 4
Merfolk N/A 0 0.00% 1 0.00% 1
Grand Total 45.95% 186 42.02% 119 44.41% 305

Mono-white decks of the aggressive variety dropped significantly in popularity, and maintained a poor performance. Some numbers that jump out are the swap with Black-Red and Five-Color Control over weekends. There is a small enough number of matches for Black-Red that we can write it off, but almost 40 matches in each event against Five-Color and a 13% change is indicative of some other change. Unfortunately we do not have the exact lists to see if there were key cards that caused the change. It is also possible that there was a strategy that was developed in the span of a week that lended an assist. Whatever may have happened though, it is clear that even without that jump things were not looking good.

These two tournaments are an example of how a metagame can shift, albeit slightly. It was not as drastic as we may see during a PTQ season, but it is very interesting to me to see how the numbers shift.

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