Adventures In Magic the Gathering: The Modern Metagame

More than any other year in the last several years, the Modern format was put under an especially harsh scrutiny, owing to the January Banned & Restricted Announcement from Wizards of the Coast. Coming out just before Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, this announcement decreed that two key format staples Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom were banned. Such is the price to pay for having a Modern PT. Unfortunately, during the PT, Eldrazi decks of various builds dominated the tournament, and in the months following, they were everywhere. It was a display of performance almost unmatched in the format’s history, necessitating a ban of the archetype staple Eye of Ugin in the next B&R update, as well as the announcement that Modern would no longer be a PT format.

Now, we are about five months from that day, and the modern meta has shifted considerably since then. There was the brief rise of Abzan CoCo as a powerful deck, but that phase too has passed. Now, the utter dominance of a single deck has given rise to a more diffuse dominance, where no one or two or even three decks are clearly at the top. Various new strategies have come up, challenging the top tier decks for their crown. And this diversity was highlighted this previous weekend in the Grand Prix tournaments held in Guangzho (China), Lille (France) and Indianapolis (USA). Here’s how the meta broke down.

Loxodon Smiter
Art: Loxodon Smiter By: Ryan Barger


The first tournament of the weekend to wrap up was the Grand Prix in Guangzhou in China. Albertus Law took down the event with Grixis Delver, a staple deck of the format, beating Naya Burn in the finals. The Top 8 of the event was as follows:

  1. Grixis Delver
  2. Naya Burn
  3. Death’s Shadow Aggro
  4. Bant Knightfall
  5. Naya Burn
  6. Goryo’s Vengeance
  7. Flayer Jund
  8. Jeskai Pyromancer Ascension

On the face of it, this looks like a pretty diverse top-tier meta, although aggro strategies do look to be a bit over-represented. The key thing perhaps is how many red-based decks we have here, which is indeed very significant, moving forward. In Standard, red-based decks are a rarity at the moment, but in Modern they are definitely alive and well.

Now let’s see the Top 8 of Grand Prix Lille, which was won by Meciek Berger playing Infect, and defeating Death’s Shadow Aggro in the finals.

  1. Infect
  2. Death’s Shadow Aggro
  3. Jund
  4. GW Hatebears
  5. UW Control
  6. Affinity
  7. Bant Eldrazi
  8. Titanshift

Another very diverse top-tier meta, and with a slightly more midrange-style bent to it, but once again the winner was an aggro deck. And that too, an all-in combo-aggro deck like Infect, which is a staple of the format since almost the earliest days.

Moving on, we have the third and final event of the weekend, GP Indianapolis where Brandon Burton won with Naya Burn, defeating RG Breach in one of the most momentous games of magic that I’ve watched. The Top 8 was as follows:

  1. Naya Burn
  2. RG Breach
  3. GW Hatebears
  4. RG Breach
  5. Bant Eldrazi
  6. Death’s Shadow Aggro
  7. Affinity
  8. Affinity

Taking the other two events into context, it is pretty clear that aggro strategies are dominant right now, though there’s no clear differential between them as they are all solidly powerful decks. Affinity in particular seems to have done well all weekend.

If we put all these top 8s together, we get a slightly better picture of how the top-tier meta worked out this weekend, and it definitely offers up some interesting numbers.

Of the 24 decks to make the cutoff for the top prizes, we had three decks each from Naya Burn, Death’s Shadow Aggro and Affinity; two decks each from RG Breach, GW Hatebears, and Bant Eldrazi; and the rest were all singletons. Personally, as GW Hatebears is my personal deck of choice for the format, I’m pretty excited to see it do so well. It is a deck that can occasionally spike a tournament, such as when Craig Wescoe did last year, and while it is not a tier 1 deck for the format, it does have staying power against most of field.


In general, as I said above, aggro strategies were clearly the most represented of the field, and some of them have an overlap with combo strategies. Midrange and control seem to be decently placed but they definitely need to adapt at some level if they want to be able to keep up. The cool thing about the Modern format is that, ultimately, it doesn’t matter which type of strategy you go with, because your deck choice is incredibly diverse. That’s what sets the format apart from Standard, where there is a much narrower field to pick and choose from, where the best decks are as such by a mile when compared to others.

Now, what happens if we take a look at the meta for the Top 64 decks that highlighted all three tournaments? For the purposes of a readable and not-dense chart, I’ve classified any deck with less than 4 decks in the entire 192 deck list as “other”.

chartThere were a clear 57 different decks in the combined Top 64 of the three events. That is huge. If you take a look at any of the Standard Top 64 lists from recent weeks, you’ll see a much different picture altogether, since Bant Company is such a dominating deck right now, the best good-stuff deck to come out of PT Shadows Over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon despite both events having an extremely diverse top-table meta.

So what does all this diversity in Modern right now really mean? It means that the format is wide-open. Gone is the time when Splinter Twin and Summer Bloom or Eye of Ugin decks dominated the format. The first of these wasn’t really all that dominating, but as one of the safest and most consistent strategies with a very high pay-off, it perhaps did oppress the format as much as Wizards claimed that it did. Summer Bloom of course gave rise to a very degenerate deck that combined ramp elements with some combo pieces that could very easily kill on turn 2. Many is a time when I saw Bloom decks kill on turn 2 on camera during streamed Modern events, and while it was thrilling to watch, it also made for a less-fun format. Eye of Ugin was very similar, with the turning point being all the cheap Eldrazi creatures printed in Battle For Zendikar and Oath of the Gatewatch sets.

But now, we are well past that. Do you fancy yourself as a swarm-lord who puts down multiple creatures a turn and turns them sideways? Well, you have options there in the form of tribal decks like Humans and Merfolk, or hard-hitting decks like Affinity and Zoo. Do you fancy yourself as more of an all-in player who piles everything they have on one creature and prays to lady luck? Go with Bogles, or Death’s Shadow Aggro or Infect. Are you someone who likes to cast a lot of spells, keep the board clear of threats and then land a haymaker? Go with UW Control, Grixis Control and the like. Or are you more the kind of player who wants to do something special? Even there you have options like Ad Nauseum, Storm, or Dredge.

There’s something for everyone. And that’s what makes for such a fun experience when I’m watching streams, whether we talk about the Wizards premier-play events like Grand Prix or Pro Tour, or the SCG events such as Opens and Invitationals. Many people would even call the format as it stands right now a “brewer’s paradise”. And what that means isn’t just that you come up with entirely new decks that no one has seen before, but also how you approach the typical stock decks, especially with cards from the latest sets.

For example, there are some Infect decks out there that have been running Nissa, Voice of Zendikar. There are UW decks running Mausoleum Wanderer and Spell Queller. Humans decks have gained Thalia’s Lieutenant and Thraben Inspector. Vampire decks have gained Bloodhall Priest, Stromkirk Condemned and more. There are Jund decks running Grim Flayer. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar has been making his presence felt as well, whether it be in Tokens decks or some other midrange styles. There’s so much that you can be doing right now with the format, and it is all limited to only your imagination.

The Jund decks, which have been around practictally forever and have gone through no less than two bannings in that time, are seeing a lot of new tech of late. There’s the versions with Grim Flayer as I mentioned above, but there’s also the new variant we saw this week which plays 4 maindeck Blood Moons. That’s pretty back-breaking for most decks out there! For Jeskai decks, which route do you go with? The one with Emrakul, the Aeons Turn and Nahiri, the Harbinger, or the pure control variants, or something that seeks to go off with Pyromancer Ascension, which is also a staple card for various Storm decks? The Amulet Bloom decks of yesteryear have given way to Amulet Scout which still looks to cast a Primeval Titan as early as turn 3 and then go off from there.

Of course, all of this means that your sideboard is going to be extremely taxed before an event, but hey, that’s part of the fun aspect of the format. You tailor your deck of choice for each event. You won’t be able to hit everything, that’s just impossible, but if you make the right choices, you can definitely come out ahead.



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