We don’t get a Modern Grand Prix until September; if you were as pumped about summer Modern as I was, GP Oklahoma City can’t come soon enough. Thankfully, Modern has continued to evolve in the wake of our June GP gauntlet, and the metagame hasn’t looked this open in years. Since our last metagame breakdown covering the 6/1-7/1 period, many top-tier Modern decks held on to their spot including the upstart Grixis Control and Modern staples like Burn, Affinity, Jund, and Twin. This metagame update also sees a few newcomers, including one of Modern’s oldest aggro decks surfacing to the top of the format. In the spirit of Harbinger of the Tides-powered Merfolk, let’s dive into the metagame changes from the 7/1-8/1 period and see how the format has evolved.
Data for this article comes from the Nexus Top Decks page and reflects events that took place between 7/1 and 8/1. Whether you are planning on taking down a PPTQ, heading over to a Modern FNM, or simply interested in how the June Grand Prix tournaments and Magic Origins shaped Modern, this article will give you information you need to know about our developing format.
Tier 1 Decks
You can always count on our metagame breakdowns to start with Modern’s tier 1 decks. As defined on our Top Decks page, tier 1 decks represent the most-played and most-common decks in the format. These are decks you are all but guaranteed to see in events and you would be wise to prepare for them in your own testing. Tier 1 decks are not necessarily the “best” or “winningest” decks in the format. These decks have the most profile and consistently appear at top tables throughout the Modern scene, whether as a function of price, popularity, power level, or a number of other factors. The table below shows the current tier 1 contenders in the Modern metagame, with only one noteworthy shift from our 6/1-7/1 article.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Say goodbye to RG Tron and hello to the fish. Merfolk has always been one of Modern’s most solid tier 2 decks, so it’s always nice to see the Lords make their way into tier 1 in the right metagame. The new Origins Merfolk has played a big part in their rise, as has Przemek Knocinski’s win at GP Copenhagen before Harbinger even hit the Modern scene. The RG Tron drop represents small metagame shifts since June. The deck was a real contender in the early weeks of the GP season, but as players packed in the Fulminator Mages and Spreading Seas, Tron slid back into tier 2. The table below shows some of these month-to-month changes for all of the tier 1 decks, including Tron’s backslide into tier 2.
|Deck name||Meta% change|
(June to July)
Before we get into the numbers, I want to say a quick word on the data itself. From July 1 through July 31, we saw over 150 paper events across the world. That’s about 15%-20% more events than we usually see in a one month period, which reflects both an uptick in format popularity and increased reporting by players and tournament organizers. By contrast, MTGO event coverage has tanked during the same period of time. Although we have recorded enough events during July (just over 30), average event attendance collapsed from its June highs. This is due to a number of factors including the new (and exceptionally controversial) MTGO reward structure, the end of the Modern GP season, the culmination of the Modern Festival, and the buzz around Standard. With crashed event attendance, we have fewer MTGO datapoints to consider, which might skew our numbers away from the “true” MTGO prevalence you might see in your own events.
Turning to the decks themselves, Merfolk is the big winner of our August 1 update, climbing almost two percentage points since the last breakdown and almost doubling its paper share. I’ve written a few times on Merfolk’s strengths in this current format and the deck’s recent rise is a testament to those qualities. Merfolk is linear enough that it doesn’t need to care too much about which deck it faces, but also interactive enough that it can float with the weird combos in Modern. Catchall answers like Cursecatcher, Vapor Snag, Spreading Seas, and others are huge in this regard, allowing the Merfolk player to advance its own gameplan while still keeping cheap interaction options available. This is particularly important in a diverse metagame like we see today, where there are seven decks qualifying for tier 1 status and no single deck exceeds 10% of the overall metagame. Harbinger of the Tides has also been a new allstar in Merfolk, with roughly 60% of recent lists running the conditional Man-o’-War en route to their finishes. As I harped on in two Origins articles, Harbinger gives his fishy team yet another catchall answer to a bunch of important Modern opponents: Infect, Twin, Affinity, Amulet Bloom, and others. Merfolk would have enjoyed success even without the Harbinger, but his addition has pushed the deck into a new level of viability. Expect to see lots of the scaly tribe as the summer closes and we get ready for the fall Grand Prix circuit.
Anyone who is surprised by RG Tron’s fall from tier 1 didn’t understand its rise in the first place. This deck catapulted to early June finishes against a Jund-heavy metagame that was overly-prepared for Amulet Bloom. As authors like Ari Lax have discussed in the past, the best cards against Amulet Bloom (e.g. Blood Moon) aren’t so hot against RG Tron. With Bloom panic at an all-time high in early June, it’s no wonder that Ali Aintrazi and Clair Bigelow piloted RG Tron to such success at the SCG Open in Columbus. Unfortunately for Tron players, once the format caught on to the deck, its fortunes quickly fell. Jund and Grixis decks packed in their Fulminator Mages which, when combined with Kolaghan’s Command, represents a nasty threat to Tron’s mana development. Merfolk’s parallel rise didn’t help either: Spreading Seas is a great bullet in this matchup. Couple this with the continued rise of Affinity and Twin decks, along with small declines in Jund and the floundering Collected Company decks, and the context was not right for the Urzatron. This reflects our general understanding of the deck, which is capable of excelling in the right metagame but sometimes struggles in different ones. I expect we’ll see RG Tron back on top soon, especially if Jund ever pushes past the 10% metagame mark.
Other tier 1 changes were more subtle. Most decks stayed within less than a percentage point of their 6/1-7/1 position, and the order of decks remains similar. It’s notable that the only deck in the entire format with a 10%+ share of anything is Jund, which occupies 10.8% of the paper metagame. Even combining the tier 1 Twin decks (something Splinter Twin ban proponents love to do for rhetorical effect), the collective Twin share is still less than 11%. This suggests an unusually open metagame, especially when considering the continued presence of Grixis Control at a solid 5.5%.
Diverse formats like this are good for Wizards’ marketing efforts and make us feel comfortable about the format, but they can be very unsettling for players looking to optimize a sideboard. With control, combo, midrange, and aggro all represented in tier 1, it’s hard to know how to prepare for events. Although I think this is better than a more solved format (e.g. the Brainstorm-saturated Legacy T8s/T16s), it plays into an ongoing complaint some players have about Modern. I prefer this diversity to the alternative. It’s rare to see four playstyles so evenly represented in a non-rotating format, and I hope we continue to see this going into September.
Tier 2 Decks
When considering tier 2 decks, it’s important to remember these decks aren’t necessarily “worse” than tier 1 alternatives. Due to a combination of factors including power, playstyle preferences, cost, metagame context, popularity, etc., these decks just don’t see as much play as the tier 1 representatives. I like to think of tier 2 decks as the decks which you can use to win a tournament, but not decks you necessarily should expect or prepare for. If you bring one, depending on your matchups and your metagame, you can certainly succeed. If you are going to a tournament, however, you don’t necessarily need to ready yourself to face these decks. The table below shows the tier 2 decks from the 7/1-8/1 period, and although the tier remains relatively open, there was very little movement between this month and our 6/1-7/1 update.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
With the exception of some small percentage shifts, the only changes we see in August relative to early July are the RG Tron and Merfolk swap, along with Ad Nauseam combo falling back into tier 3. Other than these changes, it’s business as usual in tier 2 with familiar faces like Scapeshift and Amulet Bloom joined by relative newcomers such as Grishoalbrand and Elves. Note these “newcomers” were present in the previous period, suggesting they have more staying power beyond initial hype and profile.
Looking over tier 2, I am continually struck by the modest (even mediocre) performance of Collected Company decks. Naya Company, Elves, and Abzan Company all show up in tier 2, but only make up a combined (or should I say, “collective”?) 7%-8% of the format. For a card that was billed as the green Dig Through Time, this might feel like underperformance. Grixis Control and Grixis Twin enjoyed immense benefits from the FRF and DTK staples, rocketing from virtual nonexistence to the pinnacle of Modern off Kolaghan’s Command and Tasigur/Angler. What happened to Company, especially in Elves, a deck that won GP Charlotte and then sort of disappeared in the following months? One problem with Company decks is in the card itself: variance. Birthing Pod was busted precisely because it eliminated variance, tutoring up creatures when needed and altering deckbuilding parameters around it. Company also imposes strict deckbuilding requirements, but the payoff is much lower. You can no longer get what you want when you want it, and although instant-speed has given decks like Zoo a fighting chance in Twin-packed metagames, Company is still no Pod. I do think we’ll eventually see these decks get better with time, eventually comprising a bigger metagame share. For now, however, Company decks don’t have enough firepower to roll with the format’s big boys, especially Grixis decks maindecking Dispel on the backs of their Snapcasters.
Another continued point of curiosity is Abzan. Although the deck is by no means gone, it continues to see lower metagame share than its red-based BGx competitor. This seems odd at first glance, given the strength of Path to Exile against the Tasigurs and Anglers of Grixis decks, the stabilizing power of Siege Rhino in the Jund matchup or against Burn, and the relevance of Lingering Souls against the spot-removal heavy tier 1 decks. One big reason for Abzan’s continual mediocrity is Kolaghan’s Command. Whether you think the card is as good as many others do (hint: it probably is) or if you think the card is overhyped, you can’t deny that other players believe in Command’s power. This belief and the profile surrounding the Command are two big reasons Jund gets more play. Of course, Command is by no means the only reason to play Jund. Huntmaster of the Fells is often better than Rhino in some of the grindier matchups, just as Dark Confidant remains the card-advantage engine of choice for anyone looking to drown an opponent in resources. Barring major metagame shifts, it’s unlikely we will see Abzan supplant Jund in the near future. Souls, Rhino, and Path are good cards, but Command, Confidant, and Bolt are better, not to mention midgame monsters like Huntmaster, Chandra, Pyromaster, and Olivia Voldaren.
When preparing for Modern events, be mindful of tier 2 decks but don’t be afraid of them. Look for overlapping hate which affects multiple decks, not just specific bullets against a few strategies. For instance, a sweeper like Anger of the Gods hits a huge range of decks in both tier 1 and tier 2. Something more narrow like Grafdigger’s Cage might help you in a few niche matchups, but you are going to regret committing its sideboard slots when you are slogging through Twin, Jund, and Grixis decks.
Modern Metagame Predictions
As with previous articles, I always like to check back in with my past predictions and see how we did for the month. I see a lot of authors toss out claims in articles and then never revisit them, particularly if those claims fall flat (basically everyone responsible for Narset Transcendent hype). Metagame predictions are tricky and it’s good for everyone if we look back at old ones and learn from our past successes and failures. Here’s a review of my predictions from the 6/1-7/1 article:
- Affinity and Burn as the most-played decks? Nope.
On the one hand, Jund is clearly still the most-played deck, even if only by a few fractions of a percent over Affinity and Burn (+.5% and +.8% respectively). On the other hand, it is significant that no other deck was able to surpass either Affinity or Burn, and that Jund wasn’t able to surpass it in any significant sense. This doesn’t salvage the prediction, which was grounded in Jund falling to both Affinity and Burn and in the (as of yet unrealized) power of Day’s Undoing. We have seen Undoing put up numbers in Affinity, as in Michael Evans’ second place finish at an SCG IQ in Falls Church, but not in any regular capacity. I still think the card is strong (but not nearly as strong as many predicted), and am looking forward to seeing what it can do in the coming months. For now, however, it wasn’t enough to push the tier 1 aggro decks over the tier 1 Jund policeman.
- Collected Company stays tier 2? YES!
I feel bad capitalizing and exclaiming the “YES!” above, because I genuinely like Company decks and what they represent. They are fairer Pod decks and fairer decks period in a format so often categorized by unfair things. Unfortunately, as I discussed above, Company decks haven’t found stable footing in Modern, or at least haven’t found footing stable enough where they can ascend to tier 1 status. It’s interesting that the metagame numbers predicted this last time, something we can learn from in future predictions: if decks can’t rise to the top during a GP season, they are unlikely to rise in a month thereafter.
- “No Changes” in the banlist update? YES!
Hallelujah. I’ve said all there is to say on this in three articles already, so let’s just continue to be happy about the “No Changes” announcement heard throughout the world (and continue to stick our tongues out at the people who still don’t get it). Also, notice that neither Amulet Bloom nor Grishoalbrand have done anything remotely scary from a metagame-wide context since the ban: they remain tier 2 decks with less than 4% of the metagame each.
We might be in between GPs but we definitely aren’t in an offseason. There are tons of Modern PPTQs happening every weekend, and new event data is pouring in every day. I expect to see lots of exciting tournament finishes in the next month, although I don’t expect them to make too big a difference in the metagame. Even if we only see modest changes, here are the metagame developments I expect to see in our next breakdown:
- Merfolk will rise to a top four deck
Merfolk currently sits at 4.8% of the overall metagame, with Grixis Twin, UR Twin, and Grixis Control all ahead of it. In a (potentially too) bold prediction for August, I think Merfolk is going to surpass these three decks and sit at the top alongside Jund, Affinity, and Burn. Part of this is the deck’s power, which I already discussed earlier in this article: catchall disruption and linear gameplans interact favorably with the Modern metagame. Another part of this is cost. With many decks increasing in price, especially many top-tier decks, Modern players will find themselves looking for cheaper options to compete in the August PPTQs and IQs. Merfolk is a standout in this regard, costing a cool $500 and matching up favorably against many of Modern’s best decks. People also really like tribal decks, even if they can’t get poor Goblin Piledriver to work, and Merfolk will appeal to a large subset of players. All of these factors should combine to make Merfolk a much bigger force in the month to come.
- Kiki Chord will become a tier 2 deck
Speaking of Company decks, here’s another Birthing Pod ex-patriot who wants to make a mark on Modern. Kiki and “company” have put up some isolated results in the so-called Kiki Chord deck and it’s on track to be a contender in August. Jeff Hoogland wrote a primer on the deck here, which you can read for more information on the Chord of Calling-powered successor to the old Kiki Pod of pre-January days. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Modern players, it’s that we love cool new decks and we love cool new uses for old cards. This was the big draw of Abzan Company back in April and I believe we will see a similar draw in Kiki Chord in this upcoming PPTQ month. Not all the Kiki builds actually use Company itself, but the deck style is interesting enough to draw players looking to take something new and exciting to their local Modern scene. It’s also proactive and flexible enough to have favorable matchups in a diverse metagame: cards like Voice of Resurgence are brutal against countermagic heavy Grixis strategies.
What was your experience of the Modern metagame in July? Did you see or expect any changes I didn’t discuss here? Were there any deck movements you disagreed with or supported? I’m excited to see what the PPTQs over the next month hold for Modern and what you all can do with the newly released metagame data. So head on out there, take down a PPTQ, and put the statistics into action! We’ll check back in with the metagame in early September.
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.