Metagame Mentor: Modern Metagame Roundup – August 2022

Posted in News on August 18, 2022

By Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat in Constructed on the path to the Pro Tour. Last week, I introduced this new article series and brought you up to speed on the Pioneer metagame. Today, I'll go over Modern.

Over the past weeks, there have been numerous Modern tournaments around the world that awarded Regional Championship invitations. Some of them drew hundreds of players. For example, in Southeast Asia, 253 players battled in the Philippine Open. In Canada, 152 players competed at the F2F Tour Stop in Montreal. And in the USA, there were 272 players at the NRG Series Modern $10k and 157 players at the Modern $10k at Card Monster Con Knoxville. It's great to see large tabletop events happening again every weekend.

Congratulations to the top finishers from these and other events for earning an invitation to their Regional Championship! As a reminder, Regional Championships will be held in late November or early December of this year, depending on the region, and the best performing players at these Regional Championships will earn a coveted invitation to the first Pro Tour in February 2023.

But what decks are winning right now in Modern?

Modern Metagame Snapshot

Modern, one of the possible Constructed formats for Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs), was created in 2011. It is a nonrotating, 60-card format that allows expansion sets, core sets, and Modern Horizons sets from Eight Edition forward, save for cards on the banned list.

To distill a useful ranking of archetypes based on top-performing decklists from a variety of sources, I use a metric that assigns points to each deck equal to its number of match wins minus its number of match losses in its tournament. Swiss rounds are handled in the same way as Top 8 rounds. For unknown Swiss records, I impute my best guess based on the number of players.

For example, a deck that went 3–2 in a Magic Online Preliminary was assigned one point, and a deck that most likely went 5–1 in the Swiss in an RCQ followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype is then used to determine its record-weighted metagame share.

This metric can be axiomatically characterized using various appealing properties, and it's an elegant way to combine popularity and performance when round-by-round results or decklists with negative records are not available.

To construct a Modern breakdown, I used top decklists from large competitive events over roughly the past three weeks:

From this data set, which contains 661 decks in total, with archetype labels algorithmically assigned by me, the record-weighted metagame breaks down as follows.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Izzet Murktide 18.6%
2. Four-Color Omnath 12.1%
3. Hammer Time 7.9%
4. Amulet Titan 6.1%
5. Burn 6.0%
6. Living End 5.9%
7. Indomitable Creativity 4.7%
8. Yawgmoth 4.4%
9. Grixis Shadow 3.1%
10. Mono-Green Tron 3.0%
11. Azorius Control 2.6%
12. Rakdos Undying 2.4%
13. Affinity 2.1%
14. Temur Rhinos 1.8%
15. Glimpse of Tomorrow 1.7%
16. Grinding Breach 1.5%
17. Mill 1.2%
18. Belcher 1.1%
19. Asmo Turns 1.0%
20. Domain Zoo 0.7%
21. Rakdos Discard 0.6%
22. Merfolk 0.6%
23. Prison Tron 0.6%
24. Urza ThopterSword 0.5%
25. Red-Green Valakut 0.5%
26. Humans 0.5%
27. Jund 0.4%
28. Devoted Druid 0.4%
29. Ponza 0.4%
30. Calibrated Blast 0.4%
31. Bant Soulherder 0.4%
32. Bant Control 0.4%
33. Azorius Blink 0.3%
34. Jeskai Midrange 0.3%
35. Esper Reanimator 0.3%
36. Eldrazi Tron 0.3%
37. Temur Scapeshift 0.3%
38. Izzet Prowess 0.3%
39. Mono-Blue Flash 0.2%
40. Blue Moon 0.2%
41. Boros Obosh 0.2%
42. Golgari Midrange 0.2%
43. Goblins 0.2%
44. Mono-Red Wizards 0.2%
45. Hardened Scales 0.2%
46. Oops, All Spells 0.2%
47. HollowVine 0.2%
Other 2.6%

This breakdown could be interpreted as a winner's metagame, i.e., a distribution of the types of decks that you can expect to face if you make a deep run in Modern events. In the table above, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist that is closest to the aggregate of the archetype. These hyperlinks can act as a treasure trove of inspiration if you're looking for a new deck to pick up.

Modern—when I was still actively playing Pro Tours—was my favorite format. I loved the competitive deck diversity, the history behind the archetypes, and the mastery that one could attain. I took my trusty Affinity deck to events for years. Due to the Premier Play schedule and sorrow caused by the ban of Mox Opal, I hadn't really kept up with the format over the last three years, but last week I immersed myself into Modern again. What stood out to me was how interactive it had become.

Back in the days, Modern used to be largely comprised of linear decks with synergistic game plans and relatively few answers. Decks like Phoenix, Dredge, Storm, Humans, Scales, Infect, and so on. The phrase "two ships passing in the night" was often used to describe Modern matchups. But right now, the two most-played decks—Izzet Murktide and Four-Color Omnath—are interactive.

What happened?

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After reviewing the most-played cards across all Modern decks in my data set, my conclusion is that Modern Horizons 2 has been largely responsible for increasing interactivity. The set not only added efficient all-round answers like Unholy Heat, Prismatic Ending, and Counterspell but also introduced the "pitch" evoke Elementals.

In fact, across the 60 most-played cards overall, I found only two complete five-card cycles:

In my view, these two cycles of cards now define the Modern format. While the fetch-shock mana bases have been around since the format's inception, the "pitch" evoke Elementals are still relatively young. The most-played one by far is Endurance, which helps explain why we're not seeing graveyard-reliant decks like Phoenix, Dredge, or Storm anymore. Meanwhile, Solitude and Fury made life more difficult for tribal decks and creature-combo decks, which explains the death of Humans, Scales, and Infect.

You can still play linear decks with synergistic game plans in Modern, but you'll need more resiliency than before. For resiliency, Modern Horizon 2 added value-generating early drops (such as Urza's Saga; Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer; and Esper Sentinel) and hard-to-answer threats (such as Murktide Regent and Archon of Cruelty). From the perspective of a player returning to Modern after a multi-year hiatus, these cards have enabled all kinds of new archetypes.

Eight Modern Decks to Beat

So what are the decks that you can expect to see most often at the top tables in tournaments? To figure out what a good, typical list looks like for top-tier archetypes, I used a proprietary aggregation method that combines popularity and performance. The core of the method was explained in an article, but I have since extended it by considering win rates, sideboards, companions, land counts, and other relevant aspects, inspired by the theory behind artificial neural networks. I once made the Top 8 of a Pro Tour with a pure average Faeries list, and today's method is far more sophisticated. In short, it aims to produce a decklist for every archetype that, based on the data, contains the best possible cards in the right quantities.

This aggregation method provides a systematic way to pinpoint the top ten "Decks to Beat" in Modern right now. Let's start with number one.

Aggregate Izzet Murktide

Download Arena Decklist

Izzet Murktide was largely enabled by Modern Horizons 2 and has remained at or near the top of the Modern metagame over the past year. Over the past few weeks, it made up a whopping 18.6% of the record-weighted metagame. For a large part, this is due to the raw power of its creatures.

If you start the game with a mix of cheap cantrips and interactive spells, then the eponymous Murktide Regent can become an 8/8 flier for two mana. Spot removal spells like Lightning bolt, Unholy Heat, Prismatic Ending, or Fatal Push won't touch it at that point. Blocking with Ice-Fang Coatl works, as does bouncing with Teferi, Time Raveler, exiling it with Solitude, and preemptively removing the graveyard with Endurance. But against most of the field, Murktide Regent will win the game in a few attacks. Alternatively, an unanswered Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer can run away with the game just as well.

The archetype has been one of the biggest benefactors of Streets of New Capenna. Unlicensed Hearse slotted into the sideboard and, more importantly, Ledger Shredder fit the main deck perfectly. In most lists, it has replaced Dragon's Rage Channeler. Ledger Shredder provides a slower clock against combo decks, but it's less vulnerable to Endurance or Wrenn and Six pings. When each threat in your deck is weak to a different set of answers, then that's a great position to be in because it makes it hard for opponents to target you.

When playing against this deck, if your opponent leaves up three blue mana, be ready to expect Counterspell or Archmage's Charm. Remember that Archmage's Charm can steal your permanents as well.

Izzet Murktide has game against everything and tends to crush untuned brews. Yet it is at a disadvantage against Four-Color Omnath, whose removal spells line up well against your threats and whose value engines will bury you in a long game. Moreover, I believe Izzet Murktide is at a disadvantage against Hammer Time because its removal is damage-based, which means that it is incapable of answering a creature equipped with Colossus Hammer. As it turns out, these are the second and third archetypes in the winner's metagame.

Aggregate Four-Color Omnath

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Everyone has a different name or grouping for this archetype, and there is no consensus on the proper nomenclature. For the purpose of this metagame breakdown, I decided to lump together all four-color decks with main deck Omnath, Locus of Creation; Solitude; Prismatic Ending; Teferi, Time Raveler; and Wrenn and Six, but without Glimpse of Tomorrow, as "Four-Color Omnath." In total, these decks comprised 12.1% of the winner's metagame.

Yet there is a lot of variations across builds. Perhaps a consensus will eventually be reached, but I wouldn't be surprised if builds keep changing from week to week. Out of this 12.1%:

No matter the exact build, this archetype leans on some of the best interactive spells from Modern Horizons 2, the most powerful early-game planeswalkers in all four colors, and on the namesake Omnath, Locus of Creation to win long, grindy games. A large number of fetch lands fix your four-color mana requirements, and they enable Wrenn and Six and Omnath to boot. Nearly everyone has Yorion, Sky Nomad as their companion, which can accrue considerable value by blinking all the permanents with enters-the-battlefield abilities. All in all, there's a lot of late-game power in this four-color, 80-card, good stuff pile.

Aggregate Hammer Time

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Hammer Time treats the metagame like a nail. The main goal of the deck is to cheat the equip cost on Colossus Hammer with Sigarda's Aid or Puresteel Paladin. A turn-two kill is even possible with the right opening hand: Sigarda's Aid and Ornithopter on turn one, followed by double Colossus Hammer on turn two. Kills on turn three or turn four are more realistic, especially when you need Urza's Saga and Stoneforge Mystic to find the Hammer, but the dream is there.

A fraction of Hammer Time versions are mono-white, and there's also the occasional black splash for Thoughtseize. But the most common version splashes blue for The Reality Chip. This equipment complements card-advantage generators such as Puresteel Paladin, Urza's Saga, and Esper Sentinel and makes it possible to grind out opponents in long games. Yet knowing how to win when they answer your combo takes some experience. Also, when playing this deck, you need to optimize your spell sequencing and play around removal. So, it's not the easiest to pick up and play proficiently.

Hammer Time is well-equipped to defeat decks reliant on damage-based removal, such as Izzet Murktide. Yet it can struggle against cards like Solitude or Fatal Push that can take down an equipped creature mid-combat or against spells like Kolaghan's Command, Prismari Command, or Fury that answer multiple of your permanents. After sideboard, you're never happy to face Force of Vigor or Engineered Explosives either.

Aggregate Amulet Titan

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While Izzet Murktide, Four-Color Omnath, and Hammer Time sit on top of the Modern metagame in a clear one-two-three order, archetypes four through six are extremely close to each other: Amulet Titan, Burn, and Living End are all hovering around a 6% record-weighted metagame share.

Starting with Amulet Titan, it's a ramp deck that exploits the synergy between Amulet of Vigor and bounce lands like Simic Growth Chamber to power out Primeval Titan. How you win the game from there depends on the state of the game. If you control Amulet of Vigor, then Primeval Titan can grab Slayers' Stronghold and Boros Garrison and attack right away. If you control Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, then you can fetch Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and burn your opponent to a crisp. If your opponent has a spot removal spell, then you can pick up Tolaria West and Simic Growth Chamber and transmute into Summoner's Pact for a replacement Titan next turn.

The lines of play with this deck are numerous and intricate, making this a difficult deck to master. Unlike the previous three decks, which were largely enabled by Modern Horizons 2, Amulet Titan has been around for a decade, and there are archetype experts who have stuck with Amulet Titan throughout. While the core of the deck has remained the same, Urza's Saga from Modern Horizons 2 has been a welcome consistency boost: It acts as Amulet of Vigor numbers five through eight.

Amulet Titan is fast and resilient enough to go over the top of decks like Four-Color Omnath and Burn, but it struggles against Magus of the Moon or Blood Moon. These cards are often included in the sideboard of Izzet Murktide, which also features the deadly combination of countermagic and a fast clock. So that can be a difficult matchup. Nevertheless, many Amulet Titan sideboards contain Inferno Titan to beat Blood Moon and Hydroid Krasis to sidestep Counterspell, so there's plenty of counterplay.

Aggregate Burn

Download Arena Decklist

Burn's game plan is to combine cheap, hasty creatures and direct damage spells to win the game quickly. As such, it's Modern's premier aggro deck, and it has been around since the inception of the format largely unchanged. It didn't even gain anything of significance from Modern Horizons 2!

Burn loves to play against painful fetch-shock mana bases, such as the ones from Four-Color Omnath. In the burn player's mindset, if an opponent starts the game at 18 life, then you only need 6 Lightning Bolts to finish them off. With such a straightforward game plan, Burn is a fine entry point for a new or returning player.

However, it has little in the way of interacting with combo decks, and it struggles against high-toughness blockers like Arboreal Grazer and life gain cards like Radiant Fountain. Accordingly, the matchup against Amulet Titan can be rough.

Aggregate Living End

Download Arena Decklist

Living End is a combo deck that seeks to cycle several creatures and then cascade into Living End, killing all creatures on the battlefield while getting back your own. Violent Outburst and Shardless Agent are guaranteed to cascade into Living End, so you effectively have eight one-card combo pieces, along with 20 cyclers to draw them consistently.

Living End crushes creature-based decks with little to no interaction, but it is susceptible to graveyard hate such as Unlicensed Hearse, Dauthi Voidwalker, Relic of Progenitus, and Endurance. It's also vulnerable to permanents like Teferi, Time Raveler; Lavinia, Azorius Renegade; Meddling Mage; and Chalice of the Void that prevent you from casting or resolving Living End. Flusterstorm, a popular sideboard card, is also a nightmare to play against.

You do have resiliency against all these hate cards in the form of Grief, Subtlety, and Force of Negation. Foundation Breaker from the sideboard can destroy the graveyard hate artifacts too. But you need to draw the right answer in time, and if there's too much hate in the metagame, then Living End players will have a hard time. Accordingly, Living End will rarely dominate for a prolonged period. It's at its best when it's been under the radar and opponents have shaved their sideboard hate. At the moment, the amount of sideboard hate and the metagame share of Living End seems to be in equilibrium.

Aggregate Indomitable Creativity

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Indomitable Creativity, with a 4.7% share of the winner's metagame, is a combo deck that uses the namesake card in combination with tokens to cheat out Archon of Creativity. Between Hard Evidence, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Dwarven Mine, and Prismari Command, there are plenty of ways to create tokens, so Indomitable Creativity acts like a one-card combo.

To bridge to a turn-four Creativity, the deck has several interactive spells such as Lightning Bolt and Spell Pierce. Wrenn and Six can ping 1-toughness creatures, and Prismari Command doubles as an unfair answer against Hammer Time.

The current builds with Explore and Fable of the Mirror-Breaker are relatively novel. These spells make it easier to ramp into a turn-three Creativity for X=1 or a turn-four Creativity for X=2, which is almost always good enough to win the game. Even if the opponent manages to destroy an Archon, its enters-the-battlefield trigger(s) will provide a decisive advantage.

Aggregate Yawgmoth

Download Arena Decklist

Yawgmoth combines undying creatures and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to generate tons of card advantage and to eventually set up an infinite combo. Thanks to four Eldritch Evolution and Chord of Calling, you have reliable access to Yawgmoth.

To start the loop, you need Yawgmoth and two undying creatures, one with a +1/+1 counter and another without. You then sacrifice the counterless creature and target the other one. The sacrificed creature returns via undying with a +1/+1 counter, and the other ends up with a -1/-1 counter and a +1/+1 counter that cancel each other out. If one of the undying creatures is Geralf's Messenger or if you control Blood Artist, then this loop can win the game on the spot.

Yawgmoth struggles against decks heavy on exile removal, as Prismatic Ending is the perfect answer to an undying creature. Yet I like its matchups against Izzet Murktide and Hammer Time. Ragavan players don't like to attack into undying creatures like Young Wolf, and creatures like Esper Sentinel and Puresteel Paladin players are easy prey for Yawgmoth, Thran Physician's activated ability. Recently, Yawgmoth won the Modern Showcase Qualifier, one of the highest-profile events on Magic Online, so it's definitely a deck to keep your eye on.

Looking Ahead

There are still many more archetypes available in the competitive Modern metagame, and I hope to highlight some of the spicier ones in later weeks. But knowledge of the above-mentioned eight decks to beat is a good first step towards success at your local RCQ. To find RCQs around you, you can use the store and event locator with the filter "Regional Championship Qualifier" and/or visit your regional organizer's website.

My general advice for Modern has always been to master your favorite deck over time. With enough experience, you can deeply understand the key interactions, matchups, and sideboard plans. A player who knows their deck extremely well usually has an edge over a player who is constantly switching to different archetypes every single week. Yet there's always the dream of one-upping the metagame and "breaking it."

If I would have to pinpoint one promising angle to attack the present Modern metagame, then I would draw inspiration from the current popularity of anti-creature spells such as Unholy Heat and Solitude, anti-graveyard spells such as Endurance and Unlicensed Hearse, and anti-cascade tools such as Teferi, Time Raveler and Chalice of the Void. When there's a focus on these types of effects, it creates an opportunity for combo decks that do not rely on creatures, graveyards, or cascades. Perhaps it's time for Calibrated Blast, Belcher, or Temur Scapeshift to shine? I don't know if these decks have enough resiliency to beat Counterspell, so don't take this as advice on what to play. But I wanted to share this as an example of a thought process that might identify exploitable gaps in the metagame.

Looking ahead, there are several larger events this weekend, August 20–21, that feature Modern and award Regional Championship invitations: For example, the Modern Open at the F2F Tour Stop Grande Prairie, the Team Constructed $25k at SCG Con Baltimore, and the Grand Open Qualifier at the Magic Showdown in Copenhagen. The last-mentioned event will be live streamed both days starting at 09:30 Central European Time. More champions will be crowned as the Modern metagame marches ever onwards!

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