It’s a great time to be a Modern player, and as the summer starts, there’s a lot to look forward to. The offseason is almost over! Modern Masters 2015 is driving down prices! GPs, IQs, and PPTQs are coming! New decks are everywhere! With all these factors at play, it’s more important than ever to check the metagame and see which decks are rising and falling. Although I won’t be attending any major events throughout June, I know a lot of our readers will, or at least are interested in trying their hand at smaller Modern venues. Drawing from our Top Decks page, this May metagame update gives you the tools you need to understand the metagame going into June, arming you with important knowledge about what decks are looking strong and what decks you will need to beat.
Tier 1 Decks
In previous metagame updates, I’ve started with a discussion of the Top 10 decks before moving into individual tiers. To make metagame developments even clearer and to emphasize the most important changes, I’m switching the format to highlight different tiers instead of just most-played decks. All data can be found on the Top Decks page, including collection and analysis methods for determining tiers.
First, let’s look at Modern’s tier 1 decks. These are the most-played decks in the format, decks you can reasonably expect to face or win at big events. They may not always be the “best” decks from a win-rate perspective (see my most recent Matchups and Win Rate article for more on that), but they see a ton of play and are the “safe bet” decks in Modern. This first table gives a snapshot of the current tier 1 metagame in the 5/1-6/1 period, broken down by MTGO, paper, and an adjusted major paper event score.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
The second table tracks changes in these tier 1 decks over the past four upates. This gives you a sense of how decks are shifting since February. Note Infect’s inclusion in this table even though it’s no longer a tier 1 deck as of May.
(April to May)
In this update, Infect falls out of tier 1 after weeks of underperformance. Meanwhile, Jund keeps climbing the tier ladder, despite all the other metagame changes around it. Other tier 1 decks remained on top, seeing some small fluctuations in their overall prevalence.
Back in early May, we were (to my knowledge) the first site tracking Jund as a tier 1 deck based on raw data. True, other players and authors had identified it as a strong contender, but that was all based on theoretical assessments and personal experience. Many players and writers now believe Jund is an even better choice than Abzan going into June, and this was something our metagame articles and data were pointing to over a month ago. This is great news for the dataset and our analysis strategy, because it suggests our statistical methods are accurate at both describing current metagames and predicting metagame trends. Jund is a great datapoint in that respect, and it increases my confidence in the data’s ability to inform Modern decisions and metagame changes.
From both a results and a theory-based perspective, Jund has a lot going for it. Its cards are extremely well-positioned in this metagame, especially Bolt, Bob, and the unassuming Blackcleave Cliffs. I discussed these points, and a few other Jund nuances, in an article last week. Jund is also rocking the insane Kolaghan’s Command, which has given the deck a lot of new capabilities. The modes are just so versatile across the format: Shattering random artifacts like Vedalken Shackles, Inkmoth Nexus, and Batterskull, blowing up Elvish Archdruid, Young Pyromancer, or Anafenza, Kin-Tree Spirit, locking out a draw step, or recurring threats for value. As an example, Fulminator Mage is particularly nasty with Command, which has given Jund increased viability against its archnemesis, RG Tron. And of course, Jund still packs the BGx staple core of Decay, TS/IoK, Lily, Goyf, and Ooze. Abzan is packing it too, but Abzan is stuck with Path, Rhino, and Souls in a metagame that wants you to be playing Bolt, Huntmaster, and Command/Terminate. Looking to the results, Jund has yet to straight up win any huge events, but it consistently places at events across the world. Notable recent showings include T8 finishes at SCG Worcester and SCG Dallas. I expect to see a lot of this deck in June, especially given the hype surrounding it.
Then there’s Infect: poor Infect. Blighted Agent, Glistener Elf, and Inkmoth are just not where you want to be in a Bolt-heavy metagame. With Jund and Grixis Delver enjoying so much recent success, Infect’s creatures are increasingly falling prey to Bolt. Abzan Company’s rise has made things even worse for Infect. The deck runs not only Melira, but also maindeck Spellskite: it’s the days of Pod all over again. Finally, the format has shifted away from Infect’s best matchups. This includes Abzan, which remains a tier 1 deck but is not nearly as prevalent as it was back in February, and durdly decks like Scapeshift. Infect is still solidly tier 2, so it’s not like the deck has disappeared from Modern entirely, but you no longer need to fear it nearly as much as you did back around the PT and GPs of late winter. In the broader metagame perspectve, Infect was never really a tier 1 deck in the same sense as Affinity, Burn, or Twin. But from a month-to-month basis, which is what our dataset tracks, it was an important inclusion for its relatively brief reign: players needed to prepare for this deck over the past few months.
The rest of the tier 1 changes are smaller shifts, but still very interesting in the broader Modern context. Burn has dropped a lot since the last update, in large part due to its paper share. In April, Burn’s paper presence was 8.7%. Today, it’s crashed to 5.1%, a huge percentage point drop for a tier 1 deck. Burn remains an MTGO powerhouse (9% a month ago, 9.4% today), but this has been true since even before Burn’s initial rise in August 2014. A big piece of this paper decline is the rise of Abzan Company (see the next section) and Jund, both of which are strong against Burn. Or, if not outright “strong” in the case of Jund, much stronger than its Abzan predecessor. UR Twin has seen an opposite effect as Burn, with its paper share growing between the two periods (9.1% to 9.8%) and its MTGO share shrinking (8.1% to 5.7%). I don’t think this has much to do with Twin’s viability. Rather, it’s because many Twin players are trying the Grixis build. As we’ll see in the next section, Grixis Twin has a solid 2.8% of the MTGO metagame, and many of those players are probably UR Twin migrants who are just experimenting with something new. So in the case of Burn, the deck may have dropped due to viability. But in the case of Twin, the decline happened because of player preference and experimentation. As a final tier 1 note, don’t count Abzan out of the picture altogether. Jund may be rising and Abzan may be falling, but the deck is still present. Expect to see more than a few Siege Rhinos throughout June.
Tier 2 Decks
In general, tier 2 can be understood as “tournament viable” decks, ones you might face at a large enough tournament but not ones you are guaranteed to encounter. Tier 2 decks are often as successful, or more in the case of decks like Amulet Bloom, as tier 1 decks, but their win rates tend to be more dependent on the metagame than the eternal Modern staples in tier 1.
In our last metagame update, we saw 13 decks in tier 2. Today, we still see 13 tier 2 decks , but there have been some changes since April. Temur Twin, Esper Mentor, and Blue/Temur Moon have all fallen out of the tier, replaced by Abzan Company, Elves, and Infect (the latter falling down from tier 1). The Grixis color pairing is a formative factor in this tier, both directly affecting decks (Grixis Delver and Twin) and indirectly affecting others (the fall of Temur Twin and the Moon decks).
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
No one doubted Collected Company could succeed in Modern, but I think many players underestimated just how much progress it could make in a GP-less month. Based largely on grassroots deck development online and in paper, Elves and Abzan Company have risen from total obscurity to Modern staples with respectable metagame shares. In that regard, Abzan Company’s rise was less surprising. The deck had paper success even back in April, which suggested that MTGO success (and further paper finishes) weren’t far behind. Sure enough, the deck basically tripled its share from about 2.75% in April to 7.2% in May. A big part of this was probably hype around the deck, but it also speaks to the deck’s strengths in Modern. Elves was a bit more uncertain, because MTGO decks don’t always translate their success into paper. Grixis Delver is a great example of this: the deck has been the second most-played MTGO deck for two months now, but isn’t even top 10 for paper. Elves could have repeated that. But, due in no small part to its high profile performance at the Modern MOCS event, the deck ended up making a big impression on the community. Today, Elves has tripled its MTGO share from 1.8% to 5.2%, although its paper performance (2.1%) still lags behind. Both decks are sure to see play in June, where we will get more context on which of the two decks is better in what circumstances. I am excited to see these decks enjoy so much success despite no single pro really touting or developing them. This is community-level Magic at its finest (as with Grixis Delver), and I hope that metagame trend continues.
Looking away from Company, May sees Twin deck movement. Temur Twin’s fall is not so much a strike against Goyf as it is a nod in favor of Tasigur, the Golden Fang and the overall Grixis color pairing. As with Bolt, Tasigur/Terminate/Command are where you want to be in Modern these days. We see this in UR Twin’s and Temur Twin’s decline, a drop that has occurred alongside Grixis Twin’s continual rise. This Twin preference shift is shared in both MTGO and paper metagames. A similar dynamic is also at play in the decline of Blue and Temur Moon, two decks that have fallen out of favor in preference for Grixis Moon decks (i.e. No-Ultimatum Grixis Control). These metagame changes should come as no surprise to anyone who has followed Grixis Delver’s meteoric rise online. Although Delver itself hasn’t made the strongest transition to paper (3.4% paper share is still respectable), the deck’s success has proven the viability of Grixis colors. It was just a matter of time before other URx decks started shifting towards Grixis away from options like Jeskai or Temur. As a related point, this is exactly why Esper Mentor has struggled to find a firm metagame footing: the lack of red cards like Bolt, Command, Terminate, etc. makes the deck weak in this metagame, or at least unpopular as compared to the proven Grixis option. Hype is also a factor here (never underestimate the effect of the hype train), with many players and authors seeing early Grixis success and hopping on board.
Other tier 2 fluctuations are even smaller than those in tier 1, so it’s hard to read too much into them. Some decks are slightly up (Amulet Bloom, Grixis Delver, Merfolk), others slightly down (Abzan Liege, Scapeshift), and others right where they were in April (UWR Control, UWR Midrange). All those changes are within expected variance, however, so I don’t think they indicate real changes in deck frequency. The general population of tier 2 decks is much more interesting. Tier 2 consists of a diverse range of combo, tempo, aggro, control, midrange, and hybrid strategies. This is important going into the June GPs because it suggests an open metagame with lots of viable strategies. It also makes sideboarding and deck selection much harder (sorry PV), because you can’t just hedge bets against a certain subset of strategies. To some extent, this is expected metagame behavior in an offseason, where players try new things and don’t have big events to guide their selections. But our current offseason is unusually open and diverse, which reflects both general uncertainty around what to play but also true diversity in the format.
Modern Metagame Predictions
Last update, I thought the 5/1-6/1 period would be less eventful than the 4/1-5/1 range. If nothing else, this current metagame has taught me to never underestimate how awesome and exciting an offseason can be. We saw lots of movement in the past month, much of which I correctly predicted in the last article and other articles around the site. Let’s check back in on some of those predictions to see how we did.
- Grixis Delver still a top 2 MTGO deck? Yes!
Right now, there are only two certainties on MTGO: Burn and Grixis Delver. There’s a 3 percentage point gap between second-place Delver and the third-place deck (UR Twin), and that gap only widened over the course of April through May. I actually expect Delver’s share to go down in June as the format gets more definition out of GPs and major events, but the deck will easily remain an MTGO top 5 for the foreseeable future.
- Abzan Company will become tier 2? Yes!
If I’ve learned anything from looking at MTGO and paper data for the past few years, it’s that paper decks almost always make the transition to MTGO. The reverse, however, is not always true. This made Abzan Company an easy bet for tier 2 status, especially given the internal and theoretical strengths of the deck.
- Jund is still awesome? Yes!
Technically, this wasn’t a prediction from the metagame article itself, but it was a tier move that was met with a bit of resistance from some members of the community. Some felt it was too early to call, or that Jund just didn’t have what it takes. But Jund’s continual rise suggests these predictions and metagame trends were not misplaced, and I’m excited to see what Jund can do in June.
This is a good track record going into this next month, but it’s hard to convert these metagame-wide predictions into GP forecasting. GPs are hard to predict. Sometimes, metagame data is good at indicating what will happen at a GP (e.g. never bet against decks like BGx or Twin). Other times, you need to read a few steps ahead of the data to predict the outcome (e.g. when Infect and Burn are too linear for more prevalent decks to handle) . And sometimes, decks appear out of nowhere and define the whole event (stuff like Abzan Liege and Amulet Bloom). Despite these dangers, and in the spirit of the exciting June events, here are two bold and exciting predictions (that I might regret in July). Don’t worry: there will be a GP-specific prediction article sometime next week.
- Jund will surpass Abzan
There are two dynamics at play in this prediction. The first is Jund’s theoretical power in Modern, which gives it a lot of comparative advantages over Abzan. Abzan will remain a strong deck in the abstract, and will probably even stay tier 1. But Jund will be much stronger, largely on the backs of the Burn matchup, and on the strength of Bolt and Command (and Confidant, to a lesser extent). The second reason, which is often understated when discussing deck choices, is hype. Everyone, this site definitely included, is on the Jund hype train. I don’t think there’s anything necessarily bad about a hype train, especially if it’s carrying players towards a legitimately strong deck. But the hype effect can complicate our understanding of a deck’s prevalence. Jund’s natural metagame share is probably somewhere between 6% and 8%. But on the hype train, Jund’s share is probably boosted to the 8%-12% range. This will be even more pronounced when the other BGx deck is routinely dismissed in this format, which moves even more players into Jund. Between the hype and the natural Jund strengths, this deck has all the building blocks to become the format’s BGx deck of choice.
- Abzan Company will become tier 1
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: never bet against Pod and never bet against BGx. Abzan Company has both of those qualities going for it, which is the perfect foundation for a breakthrough into tier 1. On the one hand, Abzan Company does not have an optimal list yet (less true of Jund), and players will be expecting the deck with some degree of hate. Don’t be surprised to see all kinds of graveyard hate at the GPs, including Relic, Leyline, Spellbomb, etc. But on the other hand, Abzan Company is riding shotgun on the hype train alongside Jund, with many players and articles (again, this site included) drumming up its viability. As with Jund, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Abzan Company has a lot of internal strengths that really do make it a good deck. But also as with Jund, this hype factor is likely to push Abzan Company beyond its more “natural” prevalence point and into a higher tier. I also genuinely believe that Abzan Company has great tools to reach tier 1 in this format, so the hype is just an added bonus. The paper prevalence is telling, with the deck already enjoying a 7%+ share of the metagame even before the season starts. That’s a promising pre-trend for any deck, let alone one with so much going for it.
Whether you are participating in the June Modern events, watching the content online, or just keeping your Modern experience at the local level, these metagame developments will be critical for understanding the action. Even if my predictions and metagame picture gets blown out of the water, I’m still excited to see how the format grows and develops throughout the month. And as long as Amulet Bloom doesn’t win all 3 events, the month promises to be an enjoyable one for Modern players everywhere.
Sheridan is the former Editor in Chief of Modern Nexus and a current Staff Author. He comes from a background in social science data analysis, database administration, and academia. He has been playing Magic since 1998 and Modern since 2011.