Pro Tour–Austin Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Feature on October 26, 2009

By Paul Jordan

Pro Tour–Austin gave us enough story lines to keep the casual fan talking all week, or Brian David-Marshall talking all month. The Player of the Year race is hotly contested, with the top names not backing down. Several Hall of Famers were seen at the top tables, as well as playing the role of evil mastermind behind some of the event's most successful decks. Speeding tickets were avoided, cowboys were seen, and in the end Brian Kibler proclaimed to all who would listen (or who would read his Facebook profile, or follow him on Twitter) that he is back for good. While Kibler is busy trying to make a case for the Hall of Fame following this Pro Tour win, we will content ourselves with examining the deck he used to get there.

The split-format nature of the Pro Tour can lead to decks making the Top 8 that maybe did not quite earn that honor. In this case, the Rubin Zoo deck piloted by Kibler and others was a clear earner. Kibler went 12-1 in Constructed, supporting his 0-3 in the second draft. While his deck was designed to demolish other Zoo variants, he didn't only stop on those all weekend. Brian faced a number of decks that were fairly representative of the general metagame.

Brian Kibler's Rubin Zoo (12-1)
Opposing Deck Matches
Affinity 1
Bant 1
Burn 1
Dark Depths 2
Dredge 1
Hypergenesis* 2
Next Level Blue 1
Tron 1
Zoo 3
Grand Total 13

*Brian's 1 loss came to Hypergenesis in Round 15

While the deck was designed to flourish in a field anticipated to be heavily Zoo-oriented, it still took into consideration the rest of the metagame.

Speaking of the metagame, Bill Stark already broke it down for us here. I've condensed some of the similar decks into groupings for ease of viewing.

Top Archetypes by Number of Players
Archetype Players Win %
Zoo 96 22.91%
Other 55 13.13%
Dredge 51 12.17%
Next Level Blue 38 9.07%
Dark Depths 31 7.40%
Affinity 23 5.49%
Bant 18 4.30%
Hypergenesis 16 3.82%
Martyr 14 3.34%
Doran 13 3.10%
Death Cloud 13 3.10%
Burn 9 2.15%
Tron 9 2.15%
Thopter Combo 9 2.15%
Trinket Control 8 1.91%
Blue-Red-Green Scapeshift 5 1.19%
All-In Red 4 0.95%
Tezzerator 4 0.95%
Elves! 3 0.72%
Grand Total 419 100.00%

An expectation of Zoo certainly came true, with just under one in four players packing Stomping Grounds and little critters in some form or another. After the predictability of people playing Zoo, things got a little less formulaic. The next-most-used deck had basically half the players, indicating that outside of Zoo, the metagame was pretty wide open. Dredge took the runner-up honors, followed by Next Level Blue, Dark Depths variants, Affinity, Bant and Hypergenesis. The only real surprise was the Punishing Fire / Grove of the Burnwillows combo that, while not quite being its own archetype, certainly helped push Rubin Zoo over the top.

If history has taught us anything, it is that the most popular deck is not necessarily the best performing deck. In Kyoto the most played deck was Red-White Boat Brew, but Red-White Kithkin was the best performing. In Hollywood, Faeries were 28% of the field, but Quick 'n Toast was the darling of the tournament. Honolulu saw Naya-Jund decks everywhere, but green-white aggro decks winning the most. It is actually pretty rare that the most-played deck is the most successful overall. It may win the tournament out of sheer force of numbers, but that doesn't mean it was performing the best across the field. Austin did not break from tradition, with Zoo overall posting a 237-238-12 win-loss-draw record against the field, almost exactly 50%. This is, of course, lumping all Zoo variants into one convenient package. Different Zoo groups, as you might expect, did differently. Here's the breakdown for the different Zoo configurations:

Zoo Breakdown
Archetype Win % Matches
Rubin Zoo 71.15% 54
Meddling Zoo 56.36% 56
Landfall Zoo 56.00% 53
Naya Zoo 48.45% 332
Dark Zoo 45.45% 45
Scepter Zoo 44.00% 25
Domain Zoo 32.08% 54
Grand Total 49.92% 619

The top deck on this list should really no surprise anyone. With only 42 non-mirror matches (and we know 13 of them are from Mr. Kibler), it would be hard to drag the win rate down very far. Of course, it didn't go down very far at all, thanks to the superb performance of its other pilots. Taking the Dragonmaster out of the equation, we are left with a deck that won 63% of the time over 32 matches, which is a pretty solid showing.

The "which Zoo beats which Zoo" question is difficult to answer on paper, as there were so few matches within the grouping, but the easy answer would simply be that Rubin Zoo beats all others. The small sample of numbers bears that out, with a 7-1 record against other Zoo decks.

While Zoo decks as a whole were performing their mediocre best, there was three quarters of the field still fighting the good fight.

Top Archetypes by Win %
Archetype Win % Matches
Thopter Combo 63.46% 60
Dark Depths 57.35% 208
Blue-Red-Green Scapeshift 55.56% 45
Burn 55.17% 59
Dredge 53.10% 353
Tezzerator 52.63% 20
Death Cloud 52.63% 80
Next Level Blue 50.47% 227
Zoo 49.92% 619
Other 48.19% 349
Doran 48.15% 83
Bant 47.97% 128
Elves! 47.37% 19
Tron 46.77% 65
Hypergenesis 46.73% 109
Martyr 46.15% 85
Trinket Control 40.48% 43
All-In Red 40.00% 25
Affinity 39.16% 143

At the top of our bracket we see a number of decks featuring powerful two-card combinations. Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek was the less talked-about deck, but it caused fits for 60 of mages on the weekend. The other powerhouse combo revolved around a land that was previously unplayable and a standout from Zendikar: Dark Depths + Vampire Hexmage. Dark Depths decks posted the best record of any deck that was more than 2.5% of the field. Past that is yet another combo, this time with Zendikar's Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle which, when combined with Scapeshift, is capable of throwing a whole lot of damage at someone in a hurry.

Dredge, which seems like it has been around forever, is still around. It was the second most popular deck, and put up extremely good numbers considering how many people were playing it. There were another 26 matches featuring some Dredge-on-Dredge love, but that only drops the overall rate by less than a full percent.

The biggest underperformers were perhaps Hypergenesis and Affinity. Hypergenesis, another combo deck, was quite a story coming into the event. Many people feared facing down a Progenitus on turn one, but somehow the deck did not live up to expectations. As Kibler showed us, even going off with Hypergenesis does not secure victory (even if it was through a missed trigger in that particular case). Affinity, around even longer than Dredge, looks to be on life support. Enough people thought well enough of it to register their Arcbound Ravagers, but with so many combo decks it simply did not endure.

We now have a working understanding of what decks were played, and how each one fared at PT–Austin. Let us take a look at the next layer of the onion and examine specific match-ups. We have already covered Zoo in detail, and we will continue on down the popularity chain. The usual disclaimer applies here regarding small sample sizes, player ability, mirror matches, and being paired against someone who just 6-0d a draft in the 9-3 bracket.


I would love to get a glimpse at a card count in sideboards to see how many Ravenous Traps, Tormod's Crypts, Yixlid Jailers, and their ilk were present. Dredge as a whole tends not to be good or bad against a specific deck, but rather it is good or bad against a specific set of sideboard cards that are readily available to most players. Rather than infer that Dredge dominates Bant and has trouble with Dark Depths, I feel a lot safer inferring that more Dark Depths players came packing graveyard hate than did Bant players. I'm sure there is some correlation to the actual deck an opponent has, but I suspect that sideboard configurations play as big a role in determining the winner, if not bigger.

Next Level Blue
Opposing Deck Win % Matches
Tron 100.00% 1
Elves! 100.00% 1
Doran 75.00% 5
Hypergenesis 60.00% 5
Death Cloud 60.00% 11
Zoo 56.36% 55
Affinity 55.00% 20
Blue-Red-Green Scapeshift 50.00% 2
Other 50.00% 20
Martyr 50.00% 6
Dredge 45.16% 35
Dark Depths 42.86% 21
Bant 37.50% 8
Burn 33.33% 3
Trinket Control 33.33% 3
Thopter Combo 20.00% 7
Tezzerator 0.00% 2
Grand Total 50.52% 205

Folks on the Next Level seem to be very good at handling the lesser-played decks, but fell short when it came to the second and fourth most-played decks, putting them at basically 50% against the overall field. Obviously, a strong showing against Zoo was one of the big reasons people chose to play Next Level Blue, with virtually everyone in the room having expected Zoo to be the most played.

Dark Depths

It should be noted that while blue-black was the most popular version of this deck, there were six players who chose green as the color to complement their 20/20 fliers. Both decks had similar numbers, albeit over a different sampling. Looking over these numbers, it is clear that there is really only 1 threat for this deck. The unfortunate part, of course, is that one of the deck's worst match-ups happens to be a quarter of the metagame. Posting a 57% against the field when one quarter of the field beats you over 60% of the time is pretty impressive, so something should be said for that. Taking out the Zoo decks, Dark Depths managed a hearty 62%, which is simply outstanding. If they can find an answer to Path to Exile, Otherwordly Journey, and Ghost Quarter then the deck could be truly imposing.

None of the other deck pairings had even as many as 20 matches of data to investigate. I'll post the entire breakdown at the end for anyone looking for a specific piece of information I may have neglected in my commentary.

As with any split-format tournament, there are bound to be people who excel in one format and earn that format's unofficial crown. This tournament was a little different, though. There was one person who went undefeated in Extended. Helmut Summersberger managed as 4-0-1 record with his Next Level Blue deck prior to his 0-3 in the draft. So while he didn't get a chance to perform on Day Two, he was the only person to navigate the field without a loss in Constructed. I can see how you wouldn't want to give him the title, though, since it was only half of the Extended rounds. In that case, we have to move on to those who only had one loss and played through (at least) Day Two. This brings us to two Top 8 competitors, Brian Kibler and Hunter Burton, and a Hall of Famer, Ben Rubin. We already know what Kibler and Burton did, with Burton's only loss coming on Sunday. Rubin went 8-1 in Extended but dropped all of his draft matches.

I have wondered exactly how relevant someone's Limited skills were to their Constructed, so I decided to run a quick F-test* on these numbers. It turns out there is basically no correlation in this tournament. I suspect that if we looked at a larger sampling over a bigger period of time this would not be the case.

Overall, this was a very interesting Pro Tour, and certainly one of the most exciting ones. I know I enjoyed watching the Top 8 (while playing an online PTQ and watching football—what a perfect Sunday). I'll be back at the end of the year to go over Worlds.

* An F-Test is a statistical test that determines how relevant one piece of information is to another—that is, if one changes, how much will it impact (or fail to impact) the other?

You can download a full breakdown of Extended match-ups at Pro Tour–Austin by archetype and variant in Excel format (197 KB)

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