Metagame Developments: The Regionals Update

So, here it is, the big update. After today, we will definitely have enough data to make actual conclusions about the metagame. I won’t go as far to say that it is the definitive metagame—it’s not that big. However, this will show what you can expect going into Grand Prix Oklahoma City. The online metagame has always been weird compared to paper (which is one reason it was weighted differently in the old updates), but paper results tend to model future events well. When a deck starts doing well, players see this and will adopt or adapt to that deck. Then the metagame as a whole adapts. Therefore, players will see these results, and if you’re metagaming you need to react to their reaction.

Star City Games Regionals is important from a statistical standpoint as it constitutes a large random sample when put together. For the Eastern United States, anyway. Each result represents hundreds of players from a wide geographic area. As a result, the likelihood that it represents the “real” metagame is very high. Not perfect, but better than anything else we have. Had there been more events out west, it would have been an actual random sample of the entire US metagame. I’m not bitter at all that I didn’t have one within reasonable travel distance. Just for the record.

Before we move on, a public service announcement. Alex Bertoncini won the San Diego Regionals. Yes, that Alex Bertoncini. His suspension is over. For those who may not know, he’s a notorious, repeat cheater from the Star City circuit. I’m not going to go into the whole saga here, but former teammates publicly accused him of cheating in various ways. He was banned for 18 months back in 2011, got six months added to that suspension for some streaming incident, and then got caught again and banned for three more years.

If you’re sitting across from him, consider preemptively calling a judge and asking them to watch him. Once may be forgiven, but twice is a pattern. It’s not worth the risk to yourself. He’s got too much history and has been too unrepentant too often for me to believe he’s changed his ways. Watch him like hawk. And Get. A. Judge.

Regionals Results

The fact that SCG runs lots of big events and sponsors events like Regionals is great. It’s important to the growth of the game. The fact that it’s SCG doing it is very frustrating because you never know when, or if, the event results will be posted. I held this article up for a day in hope that all of the results would be available. It was in vain. Only nine results are currently available on the Star City site. I found the Worcester results online, but there’s still no sign of Redmond’s results. I’ve also heard that there were actually 12 and one wasn’t listed, but I can’t verify.

In any case, I’m not waiting anymore. And it’s honestly not that big of a problem—we have 80 new data points already. That’s more than enough to increase our total data set to sufficient levels. If the missing results ever show up, I will revisit this table. And even without the outstanding result(s?), we have a very interesting metagame developing.

DeckTotal
Affinity8
Jeskai Control7
Grixis Death's Shadow7
Gifts Storm5
Burn4
UW Control4
Humans4
Counters Company4
Elves3
Eldrazi Tron3
Bant Company3
Abzan3
UG Merfolk2
Infect2
Jund2
Death and Taxes1
GB Tron1
Bant Eldrazi1
Mono-Green Tron1
GW Company1
Abzan Company1
Grixis Control1
Living End1
Skred Red1
Bogles1
Four-Color Company1
RG Vengevine1
GR Tron1
Naya Company1
Titan Shift1
GR Ponza1
WB Eldrazi1
4c Knightfall1
GW Hatebears1

Making Sense of It All

The first thing I notice is Storm. It has sat at parity with Jeskai and Affinity for weeks but here it slipped. Not by much, but it is noticeable. Exactly what this signifies is hard to say, but considering how many writers have been banging the “Watch out for Storm” drum for weeks, I wouldn’t be surprised if the message finally got through. Storm is potent, but very linear and vulnerable to attack. I wouldn’t be surprised if a metagame adjustment was in progress, though I don’t have the evidence to say that it’s actually happening.

What I can be more definitive about is Affinity’s result. Yes, I do consider Bertoncini’s win suspect because of his reputation, but the rest of the results show that the robots are thriving. A random sampling of decklists suggests why: there’s not a lot of dedicated Affinity hate out there. Rather than Stony Silence, Hurkyl’s Recall, or Creeping Corrosion, players are sideboarding more general cards like Natural State and Wear // Tear. And fair enough, those effects are more versatile and therefore valuable in an open meta. However, most decks can’t race Affinity and struggle to win without dedicated hate. I keep yelling about this, but when you leave hate at home, Affinty just wins. The evidence is clear: Affinity is very good, bring the hate.

Looking beyond the top slots, the striking thing of this set is the spread. Out of 34 unique decks, only 15 have more than one representative. That is enormous diversity. The most plausible explanation to me is specialization. I imagine that many of these pilots have been on their deck for years now and can win regardless of the metagame hostility. Even when this is not the case, surprise is definitely a factor. How many of you have seen RG Vengevine enough to know how to react? Rogue decks, whether driven by a master or a newbie, will do better than expected because they are unexpected.

Aggregated Metagame

Alright, now it’s time for the real reason everyone is here. This is our aggregated paper metagame. 160 data points from high-level Magic over the past month, providing a reasonably accurate picture of the format. Take a look.

DeckTotal
Affinity17
Jeskai Control16
Gifts Storm14
Grixis Death's Shadow11
Eldrazi Tron8
Counters Company8
Infect7
Humans7
UW Control6
Abzan5
Burn5
UG Merfolk4
Bant Company4
GB Tron3
Jund3
Elves3
Mardu2
Ad Nauseam2
UR Breach2
BW Eldrazi2
Titan Shift2
GW Company2
GR Ponza2
Death and Taxes2
Mono-G Tron2
Titan Breach1
Saheeli Evolution1
8-Rack1
Temur Aggro1
Knightfall1
BW Eldrazi and Taxes1
5-Color Death's Shadow1
GR Devotion1
RW Prison1
Bant Eldrazi1
Abzan Company1
Grixis Control1
Living End1
Skred Red1
Bogles1
4-Color Company1
RG Vengevine1
GR Tron1
Naya Company1
4-Color Knightfall1
GW Hatebears1

I know I said I would be cutting down the table, but then Jason showed me that you can break it up into pages. My main reason for proposing cuts in the first place was the unreasonable size of the thing, so now cuts are unnecessary. Problem solved. This also leaves me with far more to talk about, mostly about how this compares to last week’s table.

A few things really stand out. First and foremost, the top three are still top three. I believe it’s reasonable to abandon any doubts that Jeskai Control, Gifts Storm, and Affinity are solid Tier 1 decks. They’ve been on top since I started this series. To some extent this isn’t surprising. Storm is the fastest combo deck that is reasonably consistent, Affinity is the same for aggressive creature decks. This makes them the best there is at what they do, which is effectively the definition of Tier 1. Why Jeskai is on top is harder to pin down. It is a very consistent control deck with good matchups against the Storm and Affinity, but that’s not really the full story. I’ll be going into more detail in the next section.

The second thing is Grixis Death’s Shadow’s rise. It was just barely a presence in the Open listings, but Regionals gave it a massive shot in the arm. This is interesting, and provokes a lot of questions that don’t have answers. The deck is not easy to pilot and is known to fail without outside assistance in a way that few other decks can. The influx might be a function being advantaged in shorter tournaments. It is also possible that a lot of players bought into the deck over the summer and stuck with it where the Open players made changes. This is one to watch—odd spikes are where the interesting research is done.

The final thing is that, despite everything, Eldrazi Tron continues to lag behind. All summer it sat at the top of metagame standings and everyone saw it as GDS’s equal—and arguably, its foil. Now it struggles. Why is hard to determine, but I suspect the answer is Storm. During my Preordain testing I found that Eldrazi Tron didn’t perform well against Storm. My results were exactly 50/50. The problem was that Storm requires quite a bit of interaction over several turns to defeat, and Eldrazi really only has Thought-Knot Seer early. Chalice of the Void can be lights out if you get it on two quickly, but most of the time it’s too slow. Being mostly non-interactive was fine when you’re against a lot of decks that need to interact to win, like BGx or Jeskai, but against other non-interactives you have to be faster to win. Etron is fairly slow, so when it can’t just overwhelm its opponent with powerful monsters, it doesn’t work as a deck.

Tier 1

The next step, naturally, is to arbitrarily divide up the table! I don’t think that my decision on Tier 1 is too controversial, but the line between Tier 2 and 3 is rather blurry. I went with the less-than-scientific measure of what felt correct. Generating a quantitative calculation of the tiers involves a lot of extra data entry that I unfortunately didn’t have time for. However, we can still make a solid qualitative assessment of where the tiers separate, even if it is inexact.

Deck
Affinity
Jeskai Control
Gifts Storm
Grixis Death's Shadow

As a reminder, here’s what we’ve always said about Tier 1:

Tier 1 represents the most-played strategies in Modern. You are likely to play against such a deck in a tournament and need to prepare to face all of them over the course of a day. Your testing gauntlet should include all the Tier 1 representatives and your sideboard plan should account for facing them. Tier 1 decks will regularly top-eight events and you can expect to see at least a handful of them in any given winner’s bracket.

Sounds right for these four decks. We have the two best goldfish decks and the two most interactive, and as I said above there is a good reason for this. Jeskai’s place is almost certainly the result of the pivot to being more of a tempo deck than true control. Jeskai has always had a lot of interaction between counters and creature removal, and while that’s great against Affinity, it’s not enough to beat Storm. You have to win before they recover. The tempo versions with Spell Queller and maindeck Geist of Saint Traft are actually able to pressure Storm, so they’re rising over the true control decks.

GDS is similar, but with more impressive threats and discard. My experience says that GDS has the advantage versus Jeskai and is a little better against Storm, but is very vulnerable to Affinity thanks to all the damage it does to itself. I wildly speculate that this is why they’re ranked as they are.

Tier 2

Now the second tier. Once again, here’s what that means:

Tier 2 represents current tournament-viable strategies that you may or may not face from event to event. Although you should know how all these decks work in case you face them, you don’t necessarily need to have dedicated sideboard plans and testing aimed at Tier 2 decks. Tier 2 decks won’t always top-eight events but they are certainly capable of doing so.

Tier 2 is where the strategies that are close dwell. Traditionally this has been filled with metagame decks, poorly positioned Tier 1 contenders, and decks that are missing something.

Deck
Eldrazi Tron
Counters Company
Infect
Humans
UW Control
Abzan
Burn
UG Merfolk
Bant Company

And in this case, a lot of formerly Tier 1 decks. All of these decks have their strengths, but (for the most part) are slower than the Tier 1 offerings. Counters Company is slightly less consistent and slightly slower than Storm, and much slower than Affinity as a creature deck. UW Control has no measurable clock compared to Jeskai.

The decks in this tier are doing something similar to Tier 1—though they’re less vulnerable to hate, interestingly enough. Graveyard hate cripples half of Tier 1 and seriously hurts Jeskai. On the other hand, Affinity is Affinity and can always be hated out. The only deck in Tier 2 that really has any hate is Company with Grafdigger’s Cage. The notable exceptions are Infect, an aggro/combo deck, and Humans, which is very much a tempo/fish/aggro-control deck depending on how you define them. I’m not sure if Infect is actually playable or if players just aren’t ready for it, but Humans is very much a metagame deck. It’s designed to prey on Storm and GDS and race anything else. Its matchup against Jeskai is pretty bad, so I don’t see it breaking through, but I would expect it to remain a solid Tier 2 deck.

Tier 3

Finally, those who are lingering on the edge of viability, Tier 3.

Tier 3 represents fringe strategies that might succeed at tournaments under the right circumstances. You are unlikely to encounter these decks at any given event and don’t need to prepare for them. If you want to take an off-the-radar strategy to your next tournament, Tier 3 decks give you unexpected options which might excel in certain metagames.

This is where the enthusiasts and hopefuls live, decks that players love despite their flaws or bad matchups. And sometimes, that faith is rewarded.

Deck
GB Tron
Jund
Elves
Mardu
Ad Nauseam
UR Breach
BW Eldrazi
Titan Shift
GW Company
GR Ponza
Death and Taxes
Mono-G Tron

Oh, how the mighty Jund has fallen. Perhaps it is for the best; it sat on top for so long, a little humility will be good for it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the deck, it’s just that GDS does a similar thing faster. That’s been a theme of this article. Ad Nauseam was once the only true combo deck in Modern, but the faster Storm has eclipsed it. To me, Tier 3 has a lot of decks that suffer too much from clunk and awkwardness to consider. But then a lot of players won’t go anywhere near my decks either, so Pot-to-Kettle.

The Singletons

There are a lot of these. So many that I’m not making a table. These decks are statistical outliers, so keep in mind their ostensible representation here is likely exaggerated. Arguably a lot of Tier 3 is too, but at least they have a friend. What’s important about these decks is that there are a lot of them, indicating just how open the metagame truly is. You don’t need to prepare for any of these decks specifically, but you do need to be ready for any deck.

Prepare

So that’s the successful, paper, tournament metagame. I would not say this is the metagame you should expect if you’re grinding Leagues on MTGO. However, if you’re going to GP Oklahoma City or an RPTQ, this is what you need to be ready to face. How you do that is up to you. You could prepare for this exact metagame, you could go deep and try to prepare for player’s reactions, or you can just do what you were going to do anyway because you love your deck the way it is. Either way, you have a month to prepare. See you next week!

David began playing Magic during Odyssey block, quit playing Magic when Caw Blade ruled the world, and returned to Modern shortly before Deathrite was banned. He’s made an appearance at the Pro Tour, made money at GP Denver, and is constantly grinding and brewing in Modern.

4 thoughts on “Metagame Developments: The Regionals Update

  1. Thanks for this write up, it’s most useful. My only quibble would be that I feel it’s a more accurate representation and helps tournament prep if one lumps the Gx Tron variants together.

    The hate cards you want to sideboard don’t change regardless of which version sits across from you, none of the versions are changing how they play based off their splash, and while the splash color is obviously a sign of which decks an individual Tron pilot is trying to beat, the good and bad matchups remain mostly static across all variants; it’s more a game of percentages than actually flipping a bad matchup to good.

    I guess what I’m saying is if one took a glance at this tiering, they would feel like they could leave their GX Tron hate home because it’s fringe, even though as an aggregate GX Tron is as popular as any tier 2 deck, and still warrants heavy sb consideration.

    1. I agree. I started lumping them together in the Metagame Updates back when, and I still feel they represent one unified archetype. We’ll probably be classifying them as such moving forward.

    2. Ah, this takes me back to the discussions about the Splinter Twin results. Good times. /nostaliga

      The reason that we don’t do that is the variations may have strong similarities but they’re strategically positioned differently to the point that they’re not really the same deck. Yes, the Tron variants share the same core strategy, but playing against GB you have to worry about far more interaction than against GR and that substantially affects the matchup, meaning you’d only aggregate the results if you really want to make a point about the deck and that’s not what I was going for. Even if I did do that, it would still be in the middle of Tier 2 and I don’t think it’s worth it.

      As for players ignoring Tron, I think that Eldrazi Tron is more of a factor here. Dedicated Tron hate isn’t too effective against Etron, but there is Etron hate that is at least somewhat effective against Tron, so it was disappearing anyway.

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