When asked “how is Modern these days?” I hesitate to answer. While I can see the point made by players like Brennan Decandio regarding the detriments of a highly diverse format, I don’t necessarily agree that this is the “worst its ever been”. In fact, I don’t know that I would even say that Modern is in a bad place. I’m personally, quite satisfied with the diversity that Modern provides and am happily challenged by the strategic flexibility that is needed to combat the wide variety of strategies that you may encounter in an event. It is fresh and interesting and truly demands a thorough knowledge of this wide format.
Players are often quite vocal about a LACK of diversity in formats and we spend so much energy hypothesizing the best way to maintain diversity when results are posted and lists are copied based on what is proven effective in a given meta. In WoTC’s latest efforts to do this, published decklist from MTGO 5-0 competitive event finishes are shown with just one of each deck per archetype (at least of similar design). While many players are skeptical of what this would do to the format, Modern has remained extremely diverse since this has begun (standard not so much). The argument remains that with that specific data concealed to players, we’d find another way to find out rendering the efforts ineffective. This previous weekend’s events, The Star City Games Modern Regionals brings 11 events of competitive modern play in 11 different regions of the country and, as a result, we’ve got 88 top 8 finishing decklists to data mine. This one’s for real Modern geeks. Prepare for “data-palooza”…
This first one is not nearly as exciting but it’s worth noting that the 11 Regionals events that this data comes from are the following:
- San Diego
Of those 11 locations, there were 29 different deck archetypes represented in the top 8s. Decks such as 4C Grixis Death’s Shadow were simplified to “Jund Death’s Shadow” and Hatebears (both WG and WB) was simplified to “Death & Taxes” to represent similarities. “Bant Company” includes Knightfall (1 deck) and value-based Bant decks playing Collected Company.
Here are the most represented deck archetypes in SCG Regionals Top 8s:
- Jeskai Control (played by 10.23% of top 8 finishers)
- Affinity (9.09%)
- Counters Company (6.82%) AND Grixis Death’s Shadow (6.82%)
- Bant Company (5.68%) AND Storm (5.68%)
- Eldrazi Tron (4.55%) AND Humans (4.55%) AND UW Control (4.55%)
Beyond the number of appearances, here are the decks that won their event:
- Counters Company (2 wins, represented 18.18% of winning decks)
- Storm (2, 18.18%)
- Jeskai Control (1, 9.09%)
- Affinity (1, 9.09%)
- Grixis Death’s Shadow (1, 9.09%)
- Burn (1, 9.09%)
- Humans (1, 9.09%)
- Abzan (1, 9.09%)
- Jund Death’s Shadow (1, 9.09%)
I would argue that Jund Death’s Shadow and Grixis Death’s Shadow are different enough to be represented separately in this data, however, if combined to simply be “Death’s Shadow”, this would be the deck with the most wins (3) and the third highest appearance rate in top 8 (9.09%).
While a 10.23% representation for Jeskai Control decks may seem hefty at first glance, this is a far cry from the days of Eldrazi Winter and quite a bit different than what we’re used to seeing in Standard top 8 finishes. Remember that 10.23% represents fewer than 1 deck per top 8. This is far from a dominant performance and demonstrates no clear “strongest strategy” at this point in time. As far as wins go, the most successful decks have just two! Again, this is by no means a majority…or even close.
Here the rest of the data on decks for those who are curious:
In Decandio’s article (previously mentioned), he argues that the vast diversity in Modern puts too much demand on a fifteen card sideboard. In some respects I agree. It’s tough to account for everything that’s out there. With 29 different decks with significantly different game plans, fifteen cards represents just 1/2 a card per deck. That doesn’t even account for decks that did not finish in top 8. Of course, there are plenty of cards that pull double, triple and quadruple-duty in sideboards. Abrupt Decay is not JUST a way to destroy Tarmogoyf, for example, but can function as removal for many commonly-played permanents. This highlights the importance of utility sideboard inclusions over pinpointed answers for specific decks.
Let’s take a look at what top 8 finishing players chose to include in their sideboards.
Here are the top 26 (due to ties) most played sideboard cards:
- Stony Silence (43 cards, included in represented 3.26% of sideboard inclusions)
- Relic of Progenitus (40, 3.03%)
- Collective Brutality (35, 2.65%)
- Dispel (34, 2.58%)
- Grafdigger’s Cage (32, 2.42%)
- Path to Exile (32, 2.42%)
- Ceremonious Rejection (30, 2.27%)
- Rest in Peace (30, 2.27%)
- Disdainful Stroke (28, 2.12%)
- Blood Moon (25, 1.89%)
- Izzet Staticaster (25, 1.89%)
- Surgical Extraction (24, 1.82%)
- Leyline of Sanctity (23, 1.74%)
- Ancient Grudge (22, 1.67%)
- Thoughtseize (20, 1.52%)
- Eidolon of Rhetoric (17, 1.29%)
- Ghirapur Aether Grid (17, 1.29%)
- Lightning Bolt (17, 1.29%)
- Negate (17, 1.29%)
- Etched Champion (16, 1.21%)
- Wear // Tear (15, 1.14%)
- Nature’s Claim (14, 1.06%)
- Pieces of the Puzzle (14, 1.06%)
- Burrenton Forge-Tender (13, .098%)
- Kozilek’s Return (13, .098%)
- Unified Will (13, .098%)
As expected, there is A LOT of anti-graveyard and anti-artifact/enchantment technology here. At first glance, this may suggest a meta that is harsh to decks like Affinity or Death’s Shadow (as these strategies seem to be most commonly accounted for with sideboards) but based on the results, many of these decks managed to make strong finishes anyways. This could either speak to the explosiveness of these two strategies OR could mean that a disproportional number of these types of decks showed up to the events in the first place. While the latter is the data that I don’t have access to, I’m guessing that this is not the case based on what we’ve seen in Modern lately.
Affinity is a very strong strategy that has significant weakness to cards like Stony Silence. Choosing to play this type of deck means that you’ve accepted that the risk of facing Stony Silence and similar cards is worth the ability to be fast, aggressive, and consistent when it doesn’t appear.
As an aside, some of my favorite sideboard technologies that I’ve stumbled upon in this experience were 1 Scarab God in the sideboard of Counters Company, 1 Riders of Gavony in the sideboard of a Humans deck, and 1 Bribery in a UW Control sideboard. Nice!
Here is the rest of the data on the 1,320 sideboard cards that were played at SCG Regionals.
First, here are sideboard inclusions by the total numbers played:
Here is the data on sideboard cards by appearance:
Modern is diverse. This data certainly reinforces that claim. I feel for the players who feel the need to metagame and focus decklists to find the highest odds of winning based on prior results BUT I am quite a bit more interested in the format remaining interesting to watch and fun to play as a result of this diversity.
Modern is in a GREAT place. If your goal as a player is to make decisions based on trends in data, I might recommend Standard. In a game of chess where are all pieces of known and the pieces in any match-up remain constant, a very different experience is achieved. Standard provides this. If you’d like to prepare a deck for the inevitability of Energy Aggro match-ups, play Standard. If you’d like to hone your skills on beating Approach Control, play Standard. If you’re interested in a highly complex field full of significantly different match-ups (and thus each game seems to unfold quite differently), Modern is for you.
Again, we’ve asked for diversity. We got it. The difference in these two formats is…diversity. If both provide a clear ‘best deck’ at all times, the choice in which to play or specialize in is diminished. These differences highlight the beauty of a game that’s been around for 25 years.
I am a bit hesitant of the large quantities of competitive Modern events on the horizon, especially the Pro Tour, that may threaten this diversity but am cautiously optimistic that this format which has tens of thousands of tournament legal cards, provides enough options to evolve and adapt to new challenges. I look forward to seeing this trend continue and hope for highly diverse tournament play in the coming months of Modern Opens and Pro Tours.