Pro Tour–Amsterdam Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Feature on September 14, 2010

By Paul Jordan

Paul Rietzl's third Top 8 and first PT win. Brad Nelson's continued status as a Pro Tour superstar. Kai Budde's return to Sunday Magic. BrianKibler playing in elimination rounds on the day he is announced as a Hall of Famer. White Weenie going 9-0 for the title?! To say that Pro Tour–Amsterdam had some storylines is an understatement of gargantuan stature.

While these big storylines dominated the weekend, none of them could have happened without the aid of different assortments of 75 cards cobbled together. The metagame turned out to be incredibly healthy, with seven different decks accounting for at least 5% of the field, and no deck coming close to 20%. This is a big change from some formats we've seen recently where a single deck could be a quarter or more of the population.

Rashad Miller has done the dirty work of identifying each deck by archetype and given us the breakdown. I've taken the archetype information and appended it to the round-by-round results to tell us which archetypes were more (or less) successful. This is especially handy when judging deck performance in a multi-format tournament, since a deck in the Top 8 could be deceiving. For example, Marijn Lybaert's Merfolk deck went 9-5-2 on the weekend, which, while certainly a very strong performance, was bolstered by his 6-0 in draft. Merfolk, overall, only won 35% of its matches.

The numbers you're about to see represent the percentage of matches won out of matches that had a win or loss (draws are excluded). I've also left out any mirror matches, as they are 50% by definition. Now, of course, these are not meant to be anything more than an indication of what happened at the Pro Tour. As soon as these results happened and became public, they became a historical record and nothing more. Metagames shift. So while Merfolk may have only won 35% of its matches, it is entirely possible that Marijn's decklist was significantly different enough from the others and its 64% win rate is more along the lines of what one should expect from Merfolk going forward. And, of course, the metagame is going to change based on these results, so Merfolk could end up no longer being viable at all. And, yes, not all players have the same play skill. Perhaps Marijn and other Merfolk players had the exact same 75 cards, but Marijn is just that much better than the other Merfolk players. Or perhaps he managed to mise into much better pairings. All of this is entirely possible and even likely. We're dealing with a lot of variables here, so this shouldn't be viewed as an indictment of any deck (or as a proclamation of best deck ever, either). What this should be seen as is a pretty good representation of how decks fared against each other—in particular, for those with a lot of matches played.

So here you go:

DeckWin %Matches
White Weenie64.12%170
Cruel Control60.00%5
Restore Balance58.14%43
Pyromancer Ascension57.32%239
Cascade Swans53.33%15
Hive Mind52.63%19
Ad Nauseam51.28%234
Black-White Tokens50.00%8
Blue-Red-Green Junk47.37%38
Green-White Mana Ramp47.27%55
Living End46.15%104
Five-Color Control42.25%71
Red-Green Mana Ramp40.00%5
Fauna Shaman39.13%23
Seismic Swans33.33%6
White-Black-Red Control20.00%5
White-Blue Control20.00%5
Black-Green-White Summoning Trap0.00%5

As you can see, there were 11 decks that managed to get at least 100 matches played. Unfortunately for us, a healthy metagame makes it much harder to get a lot of matches for all of the significant pairings. If there are only four major players, you really only care about six matches (A vs. B, A vs. C, A vs. D, B vs. C, B vs. D and C vs. D). If you have 11, you care about 55 matches. So we're going to take a look somewhere in the middle, at the seven decks that held at least 5% of the metagame. Hopefully we'll see some significance in the numbers. Generally, you'd like to have at least 30 matches played before you start drawing conclusions.

Before we do that, though, honorable mention goes to the Bant players (Conley Woods at 8-2 and Gael Bailey Maitre at 2-3) for taking a rogue deck to the top official win percentage. Of course, at only two players and 15 matches we can only file this under "interesting—needs more information" instead of "OMG you guys, look at this deck!"

DeckWin %Matches
Blue-Red-Green Junk100%2
Hive Mind100%1
Black-Green-White Summoning Trap100%1
White-Black-Red Control100%1
Living End83%6
Five-Color Control80%5
Ad Nauseam79%14
Fauna Shaman67%3
Pyromancer Ascension60%15
Green-White Mana Ramp50%6
Restore Balance50%4
Seismic Swans0%1
Grand Total64%170

Where else to start than at the top? White Weenie, often maligned by pros but with a rich tournament history nonetheless, added to that history at Amsterdam. Not only did it take home the title, but it also managed to nab the moniker of "best deck for the tournament." It is surprisingly rare that the tournament's best deck also gets the big W, especially in the current multi-format era. Those efficient white Soldiers, Knights, and Kithkin would not be held back this time, though, posting only one match-up that looks scary. Paul Rietzl employed an unconventional sideboarding strategy against Jund in the Top 8, attacking its graveyard to limit the effectiveness of both Tarmogoyf and Punishing Fire. Perhaps this strategy will begin to tip the balance here, further pushing White Weenie to the forefront. I suspect that the metagame will begin to feature people playing around Mana Tithe, though, which could drop the win percentage for White Weenie. Time will tell if the deck can stick around, but it certainly accomplished what was asked of it.

Pyromancer Ascension

Pyromancer Ascension, ported over from Standard, managed to make a name for itself in "new Extended." Winning 59% against the field's most popular deck is a great way to do that. And 82% against the seemingly ever-present Jund helps. Throw in a helping of 71% against even-more-omnipresent Faeries and you have the makings of a deck that could be around for quite a while. Of course, bad showings against two of the darling decks of the tournament (White Weenie and Doran, both of which should expect to see gains in popularity) may hurt Ascension as the metagame develops. I foresee this deck being one of those decks that doesn't dominate an entire metagame, but becomes dominant for a week or two at a time as people forget about it.

Doran ("Treehouse")Win %Matches
Black-Green-White Summoning Trap100%1
Hive Mind100%2
Ad Nauseam92%25
Restore Balance67%6
Five-Color Control60%5
Pyromancer Ascension56%34
Blue-Red-Green Junk33%3
Green-White Mana Ramp33%6
Living End18%11
White Weenie15%20
Fauna Shaman0%1
Grand Total53%296

Who doesn't like attaching with allegedly 0/5 creatures? Well, at least 10% of the field wanted to, and they were rewarded with wins in 53% of their matches. Take a look at those numbers against Ad Nauseam and Scapeshift. Two of our top seven, each with a good helping of matches played, and both at two-thirds or better. Throw in Faeries and Ascension and you have a deck that had a favorable matchup against four of the top six most played decks. All that considered, it is a little surprising the numbers aren't better than 53%. Some terrible matches in small samples of less popular decks seem to have really hurt the Ents, making me think that in a random field this may not be the best deck to choose.

Ad NauseamWin %Matches
White-Black-Red Control100%1
Hive Mind100%1
Black-White Tokens100%1
Seismic Swans100%1
Black-Green-White Summoning Trap100%1
Restore Balance83%6
Five-Color Control63%8
Green-White Mana Ramp57%7
Pyromancer Ascension50%18
White Weenie25%16
Blue-Red-Green Junk20%5
Living End0%6
Grand Total51%234

The second combo deck in our top seven, Ad Nauseam was slightly more popular (three more players) and a lot less successful (6% worse) than Ascension. My gut tells me that the insane number of cantrips in Ascension would allow it to dig its way out of more bad hands that Ad Nauseam may need to mulligan. I could be wrong. At any rate, Scapeshift again got rolled and this time so did Mono-Red. White Weenie and Doran were again very bad match-ups here, so unless something strange happens or there is a shift in strategy this deck does not seem like a good plan for the next couple of tournaments.

ScapeshiftWin %Matches
White-Blue Control100%1
White-Black-Red Control100%1
Black-Green-White Summoning Trap100%1
Blue-Red-Green Junk83%6
Five-Color Control63%8
Living End57%23
Black-White Tokens50%2
Green-White Mana Ramp50%6
White Weenie50%22
Fauna Shaman50%2
Cruel Control50%2
Pyromancer Ascension41%41
Hive Mind40%5
Cascade Swans33%3
Ad Nauseam21%39
Restore Balance14%7
Grand Total49%395

Going into the tournament this was the de facto popular deck. Coming out I do not think that will any longer be the case. A win rate of 49% isn't overtly bad, per se, but it doesn't really invoke any kind of supreme confidence either. Looking at the details makes us see that this is a deck that can handle a good many strategies, but has some real trouble with disruption and combo. Pyromancer Ascension and Ad Nauseam both gave Scapeshift fits. Removing those two from the metagame would have moved the deck up to 53% against the field. Of course, this doesn't work, but perhaps looking at this could lead to some die-hard Scapeshift magicians to innovate some combo-defense that will tip the scales. Knowing the problem is, as we all know, half the battle.

FaeriesWin %Matches
Green-White Mana Ramp100%4
Seismic Swans100%1
White-Blue Control100%1
Fauna Shaman100%1
Ad Nauseam82%17
Living End71%7
Five-Color Control63%8
Cruel Control50%2
White Weenie38%13
Pyromancer Ascension29%21
Red-Green Mana Ramp0%1
Blue-Red-Green Junk0%3
Black-White Tokens0%1
Hive Mind0%1
Restore Balance0%1
Grand Total47%212

Remember when Faeries as the boogeyman of every format it was legal in? It looks like those days may finally be gone (for now, at least). Five of the six most popular decks won better than 50% against the Fae, which is pretty astounding. Considering that, it is actually quite an accomplishment to be at only 47% by and large. But that's one of those accomplishments that you really try to avoid—a Miss Congeniality, if you will. If your deck was winning more, you wouldn't have to call out how well you did overall despite a losing record to the most common decks.

Mono-RedWin %Matches
Living End83%6
Fauna Shaman50%2
Blue-Red-Green Junk50%4
Pyromancer Ascension36%11
White Weenie31%16
Ad Nauseam27%15
Cascade Swans25%4
Five-Color Control25%4
Restore Balance20%5
Green-White Mana Ramp17%6
Black-White Tokens0%1
White-Black-Red Control0%1
Grand Total41%184

Dave Price, Pat Sullivan, and many others out there, skip the next sentence. Sometimes red is not the answer. There are those out there who will, at all costs, try to get a lightning bolt into their deck. There are those who will, in an undefined metagame, look to punish untuned decks with brutal efficiency and flaming instants (or sorceries, or even hasted animals) pointed at their opponents' heads. Burn turned out to be a bad idea this go-round. I know that won't always be the case, but it certainly can and will happen.

The storylines of the tournament certainly carried the narrative throughout the weekend, and I'm sure they will go further as history brings their impacts into focus. What may get lost with time, though, is that this was a tournament where the true best deck in the field came home with a trophy. Where perennial bogeymen for multiple years saw little success. Where one of the oldest archetypes known came back to add another notch to its belt. And where no single deck was viewed as dominant going into the tournament.

Postscript: I've added the full breakdown of deck vs. deck as an Excel spreadsheet (47 KB Download) for those who are interested.

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