The last time I had such an exciting month of Modern was March 2014, back during GP Richmond. And that was just a single GP without any major set releases co-occurring. June saw not one, not two, but three Grand Prix tournaments, along with the Magic Origins spoiler, the MTGO Modern Festival, an SCG Modern Open, and more smaller Modern events in the entire month than 2014 saw in the first part of the year. Naturally, all of this had a huge effect on the Modern metagame, and the format today has a lot of interesting differences and new decks since last we checked in back on June 1.
Data for this article comes from the Nexus Top Decks page and reflects events that took place between 6/1 and 7/1. Our Modern metagame breakdown will give you all the information and data you need to be prepared for the rest of the summer Modern season!
Tier 1 Decks
As in past Modern metagame updates, we are starting with the tier 1 decks of the format. These decks represent the most-played decks in Modern and the decks you are most likely to face at an event. Tier 1 decks might not have the highest win-rate or be the best decks in the entire format, but because of their popularity, profile, and some degree of power, they remain the decks with the highest metagame shares. The table below shows the tier 1 decks from the 6/1 – 7/1 period, and as regular readers will see right away there are some big changes to what we saw from 5/1 – 6/1.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Before we dive into these exciting changes, here are the same decks tracked over the past four metagame update periods. In the interest of space, this table only tracks their metagame-wide prevalence and not the individual paper, MTGO, or major paper event shares. The first column indicates the change in each deck’s prevalence between this current period and the previous one.
|Deck name||Meta% change|
(May to June)
There’s a lot to talk about in this dataset, both with respect to what’s here (Jund on top! Grixis Control!) and what’s not (Oh Abzan, where art thou?). Let’s start with the most obvious winner in June even if I don’t believe it’s the biggest winner of the month. Jund finished our GP extravaganza with the second-highest GP metagame share and the highest paper metagame share of all the other tier 1 decks. It also had the most Top 8 showings in both GPs and the major SCG events that kicked off the month. Although Jund never converted those performances into a GP win (so close, Reid Duke!), the deck solidified its status as the best BGx deck in the format for June. This is significant for three reasons. For one, Jund is the rare case of a deck that has a ton of hype and actually lives up to it. Numerous articles, both on this site and authors, extolled Jund as either the best BGx deck in Modern or even the best deck period. That was a high bar to set and many decks don’t live up to that kind of hype. For example, Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand couldn’t have been more hyped going into the summer events, but that hype either put huge target signs on those decks or just overstated the decks’ strengths. Either way, those decks floundered (more on that later) while Jund excelled. Other hyped decks include Elves and Abzan Company, both of which had tons of coverage but never converted that hype into big metagame-wide results. Jund succeeded on all those counts, suggesting this deck is as much the real deal as the initial hype suggested.
The second reason Jund’s success is so significant is because the format had a lot of linear combo or combo-esque decks added to the format during June. This also relates to Abzan’s failure. Historically, Abzan struggled against these linear decks, as we’ve seen in every event since (and including) PT Fate Reforged. By contrast, Jund seems to thrive in such a metagame, despite its staple removal spell of Lightning Bolt not interacting favorably with some of the scarier linear threats like Deceiver Exarch, Primeval Titan, Griselbrand, and Death’s Shadow. That said, it is the combination of Bolt along with Terminate and Kolaghan’s Command which allowed Jund to succeed. Abzan was stuck on Path to Exile and Abrupt Decay. Jund got to diversify its removal profile while Abzan lacked the removal/card advantage engine of Kolaghan’s and the early interaction of Bolt. This served Jund well in the highly diverse (or, if you prefer, too diverse) June metagame. As I said in an article on GP Kobe last week, I don’t think we’ve seen the end of Abzan as we know it. But I do think that Jund is a better choice when there is a wild mix of fair and unfair decks and you want options in all those matchups. Abzan is geared more heavily to a fair metagame, and our current metagame is just too diverse to be classifiable as “fair”.
June’s next winner (still not the big winner though) is RG Tron. If this surprises you, then I suggest you revisit your Jund vs. RG Tron matchup: anytime Jund is the most-played deck in Modern, RG Tron will likely be tier 1 right behind it. To some extent, this was reflected, and even addressed, by Jund’s inclusion of maindeck Fulminator Mage in lists throughout the month. But Mage can only do so much, and Tron is still successful when facing that kind of removal.Kolaghan’s Command also plays a part in the Tron/Jund story, although Commanding away a Wurmcoil Engine isn’t nearly as effective as Pathing one. One reason we actually saw a little less Tron than we probably would have otherwise was the timing of Ali Aintrazi’s RG Tron win at SCG Columbus back in early June. Between Tron’s success at Columbus and Amulet Bloom’s success everywhere, Modern players were extremely well-prepared for both ramp decks for the rest of the month. It is a testament to Tron’s power that, despite things like maindeck Fulminator Mage, the deck was still able to enjoy such success. But it probably would have been more successful if its pilots had taken GP Charlotte by surprise, something Aintrazi (and Clair Bigelow on the Open side of that same event) prevented them from doing.
Finally, we get to the big winners we’ve all been waiting for. Or should I say big winner singular: Grixis. Not just Grixis Twin or Grixis Control as distinct decks, although we’ll give both those builds their due in a moment. I mean Grixis as a color pairing. I remember the days where Modern players were happy to have tier 3 wins with Cruel Ultimatum, and we have come a long way since then. Before Fate Reforged, if you wanted to play Snapcaster Mage and friends like Cryptic Command, then you had to play UR or UWR. Fate Reforged changed that forever with a shirtless dude and his bananas (keep it PG, everyone) and an unassuming common fish. Tasigur, the Golden Fang gets my award for most-impactful Modern card of 2015 (so far, at least…), and he is likely to remain one of the most format-defining cards for years to come. Kolaghan’s Command is really just gravy when you already have Tasigur and his friend Gurmag Angler in the mix, and even there, it’s mostly the Human Shaman who’s putting in the work. June was Tasigur’s best month yet, with the delve creature and his fishy friend catapulting two new decks into tier 1 status. These Grixis variants have both impressive metagame numbers from a raw perspective, but also demonstrate exceptional growth in the past few months.
Now let’s look at the individual decks and address the giant Zombie Fish in the room: is Grixis Control really a control deck? Yes. Grixis Control is still fundamentally a control deck that looks to answer opposing threats and stop an opponent’s gameplan. The moment these Grixis decks start cutting their Cryptic Commands and other countermagic, then we can revisit this and start calling it Grixis Midrange. But until then, we need to start acknowledging Tasigur and Angler as the new faces of control, much like how UWR used Restoration Angel and/or Vendilion Clique as both control elements and offensive/defensive ones. Grixis Control’s rise to the top is huge for Modern because it puts another fair, interactive, nonlinear deck at the upper echelons of our format. This is excellent from a self-regulation perspective, because Grixis Control is capable of running some major police cards like Spell Snare, Dispel, Terminate, Blood Moon, and a variety of other answers/threats to keep other decks honest. On the other side of the Grixis coin, I’m less excited about Grixis Twin. In fact, I’d be willing to guess that most people are less excited about Grixis Twin. “Oh how exciting, another Twin deck!”… said no Modern player ever. Twin is not really a problem in any metagame-wide sense (just look at the stats on the table above), but we also aren’t advancing format diversity by adding a Tempo Twin archetype into tier 1. But if that’s the price we have to pay to get Grixis Control into tier 1, then it’s well worth it. I welcome our new Grixis masters and am eager to see how they play a role in format regulation and diversity.
Tier 2 Decks
Modern’s tier 2 decks represent the tournament-viable decks in Modern, strategies you might run into at a large enough event and can reasonably expect to succeed with if you bring them yourself. Unlike the tier 1 decks, you don’t need to have sideboard cards and strategies against every tier 2 deck in Modern. You don’t even need to have good matchups against most of them. Whenever Wizards talks about Modern’s diversity, they are likely referring to the tier 2 decks that branch out from all the tier 1 format pillars. The table below shows all the tier 2 decks from the 6/1 – 7/1 period. We are down to 12 tier 2 decks from 13 in the previous breakdown, with some new entrants on the list and some new exits to lower tiers.
|Deck name||Overall |
|MTGO %||Paper %||Major Event
Day 2 %
Abzan came up in the Jund discussion above, but I want to say a few more words on the deck just to emphasize some points. Was Jund the better BGx deck for June? Absolutely! We could confirm this theoretically (Bolt was better than Path in metagames clogged with 1-2 CMC creatures), qualitatively (we had tons of anecdotal evidence from pro authors about how good the deck was), and quantitatively (Jund crushed Abzan on the metagame charts). Does this mean that Jund will always be better than Abzan? Or even that Abzan’s 3.6% metagame share will stay that low all summer? Not necessarily on both of those counts. Abzan is a highly contextual deck, perhaps moreso than Jund. Lingering Souls and Siege Rhino thrive in a certain kind of metagame, one full of fair decks trying to play the one-for-one removal game, and one full of tempo or midrangey decks trying to win games with creatures. We aren’t in that metagame now, but we could definitely go back to that metagame if the policing forces of Jund and Grixis Control are strong enough to rein in some of the less fair decks floating around Modern right now. I expect Abzan to shift back to around a 5%-6% share by September, although Jund will still probably remain on top for a bit longer.
Enough talk about fair decks. Let’s go to the unfair ones. The really, really unfair ones of Amulet Bloom and Grishoalbrand. Earlier this month and at the end of May, we had a lot of datapoints to suggest that Amulet Bloom was easily the best deck in the format. This included two internal analyses of MTGO matchup data, matchup results from PT Fate Reforged, and countless articles and stories from the community about the deck’s strengths. By basically every quantitative and qualitative metric, the deck was looking pretty busted. Indeed, the only people who were defending it appeared to be Amulet Bloom players, but every busted deck in Modern has historically been defended by its pilots and investors, so this was a datapoint we couldn’t give much weight. Then came GP Charlotte. Or should I say, then came Blood Moon. As I discussed in my GP Charlotte retrospective, this was event proved to the Modern community that the format can self-police if given sufficient warning about a deck. Amulet Bloom may currently be the most-played tier 2 deck in Modern, but that’s only in the aggregate and not universal across all three categories (it’s much more middling with respect to GP Day 2 performance). This is because Modern was able to regulate the deck through sideboard and maindeck choices. Does that mean other players were wrong in describing Amulet Bloom as broken? Absolutely not: all available data pointed so strongly towards the deck’s strength. But the datapoint we lacked was what would happen if the metagame was ready for the deck, and GP Charlotte showed Modern is capable of handling this threat.
And then there was Grishoalbrand. It felt like everyone who was on the Amulet Bloom ban-train immediately jumped cars over to the Grishoalbrand ban-train, practically in mid-transit. But unlike the fear around Amulet Bloom, which was amply justifiable in the data, the Grishoalbrand hype was much less grounded. Nourishing Shoal certainly made the deck better, but Griselbrand and friends just didn’t up results for the entire month. I’m not even talking about GP T8s either, which are not good indicators of deck success. I’m talking about Grishoalbrand’s appearances (or lack thereof) in MTGO dailies, SCG IQs, and other smaller events across the Modern scene. This deck had an unbelievable amount of hype and profile after GP Charlotte, so it’s not like players weren’t bringing the deck for lack of knowledge. Rather, the deck was seeing play but wasn’t putting up results. The Modern Festival results are particularly telling in that regard. Grishoalbrand was surprisingly absent in both the Preliminaries and the Finals. The deck didn’t even place anyone into the Top 32 at the MOCS Finals. All of this suggests that Grishoalbrand is just another combo deck in Modern. There is some combination of maindeck and sideboard hatred keeping this deck down, and that is likely going to be true for the foreseeable future.
There were other small fluctuations in Modern’s tier 2, including an uptick in Naya Zoo/Company, some renewed Ad Nauseam viability, and the continued relevance of Company decks like Abzan Company and Elves. Meanwhile, both UWR Control and UWR Midrange fell out of tier 2, likely as a result of all the control players switching to Grixis options. We also saw a drop in Bogles (lots of Twin and BGx tends to do that) and a similar drop in Abzan Liege (less Abzan will lead to less Abzan Liege). Tier 2 mainstays like Infect, Merfolk, Scapeshift, and Temur Twin stuck around for another update, although Grixis Delver has seen falling popularity as players shift more deeply into Grixis Control.
Modern Metagame Predictions
In my last metagame breakdown, I made two bolder predictions about some big changes that June could see for Modern. I’m a big fan of reviewing past predictions, both to improve our understanding of making future predictions, and to be transparent about the way we analyze data. It’s not fair to our readers to just highlight the hits and ignore the misses, so here’s a quick checkin on the predictions from last time.
- Jund will surpass Abzan? YES!
Although there was a lot of hype around Jund at the end of May, there were also many players denouncing that hype and claiming Abzan was still where you wanted to be. Some datapoints even supported this, with cards like Bolt appearing to lose relevance in metagames packed with Twin combo and delve-powered creatures. This was not an open-and-shut prediction, and it definitely looked like Abzan could stay relevant, or at least keep pace with Jund. With June over, we can safely say that Jund is the clear winner of the BGx contest. Although I expect Abzan to make a resurgence by the end of the year, Jund will remain the frontrunner for at least the rest of the summer.
- Abzan Company will become tier 1? NOPE!
We might have knocked the ball out of the park with Jund, but we totally struck out on the Abzan Company prediction. Despite some promising T16 performances at GP Charlotte, Abzan Company never really took off throughout the summer. Elves even won Charlotte and is now the least-played Company list across the metagame. If anything, the big Collected Company winner was Naya Zoo, which enjoyed a big boost in popularity following Paul Rietzl’s 10th place GP Charlotte finish with his own Naya Company list. All of this just underscores the point that Company is a good card but we still haven’t figured out the best way to use it. Company decks now make up about 9% of the format, all within tier 2. But no single deck exceeds a 4% share. We need more time to understand this card and build around it, and maybe the rest of the summer will see it start to shine.
Time for some new predictions to get us through July. Although we won’t have any more GP/MOCS/Festival extravaganzas, we will still have lots of PPTQs and other events to keep us engaged with Modern. We also have a ban announcement coming up next Monday (7/13), and even if nothing happens, this will convince some players to invest in decks they may have avoided (potentially Bloom or Grishoalbrand, although I doubt this effect is a real one), and generally signal the format’s health to others who are just interest in buying into Modern. Based on the current metagame trends and what we are seeing in reports across the Modern community, here are two predictions for July.
- Affinity and Burn will become the most-played decks
Which is also to say, people are going to lose their mind over Day’s Undoing and jam it into the two tier 1 decks that best fit the card. I do not think Undoing is a broken Magic card and I do not think its effect on Burn and Affinity will last longer than 1-2 months. But I do think people are going to flock to this card and try to make it work, and other players are going to be ill-prepared to handle this new style of Affinity and Burn gameplay. Eventually, the metagame will adjust, and we will see a little less Jund and a little more Twin to take charge of the Undoing-powered lists. Until that time, however, there is going to be a lot of hype around Undoing and hype tends to drive increased metagame shares. In many respects, this is a tricky prediction to make because I’m not making it solely on the strength of the card or its decks. I’m making it based on the hype mechanism and how that affects deck-decisions in Modern. Although I do believe Burn and Affinity gain something from Undoing, I also don’t think this is so format-warping as to be a problem. It will just be a short-term gain.
- Collected Company will remain a tier 2 player
The only thing that will create consensus around a Company list is a major event. And, as we saw in June, it really needs to be a string of major events and not just one. We aren’t going to have this kind of exposure next month, so there is no way all the Company players are suddenly going to figure out where their card has a home. If anything, the question will only be more muddled as July unfolds. We’ll see more Elves variants as the Gilt-Leaf Palace speculators drum up their BG Elves lists in Modern (and, to be honest, there are legitimate reasons to run it). We’ll see Company Goblins with Goblin Piledriver, and more Hatebears variants in the tradition of Bozhi White’s list from GP Singapore. Company will remain a big player in Modern, but there should be no clear victor between the different Company decks.
- BONUS: There will be “No Changes” in next Monday’s banlist announcement
I’m going to go into more depth on this in tomorrow’s article, but just to get people thinking about the announcement, I’m going on record here saying that Monday will see “No Changes”. The format is healthy enough that no bans are needed, and diverse/stable enough that no unbans are needed either. Tune in tomorrow for more details.
What do you all think about the metagame changes? How is Modern looking in your local area compared to the overall scene? Any predictions you would make? Things you agree/disagree with? Let me know in the comments as we reflect on this awesome month of Modern and look forward to the rest of the summer.
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.