MODERN METAGAME OF THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP

Posted in 2014 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP - COVERAGE on December 2, 2014

By Adam Styborski

Stybs has played Magic the world over, writing and drafting as part of the event coverage team and slinging Commander everywhere his decks will fit.

When you're preparing for something like a Modern Grand Prix or Pro Tour you can reasonably expect to see some of the core decks of the format: The constant nemesis that is Jund, the resilient depth of Birthing Pod, the "infinity" Faeries (or Angels) of Splinter Twin, every flavor of deck that plays Tarmogoyf, the seismic hits of Scapeshift, the march of Affinity, and dozens of more archetypes that canvass the spread of more than ten years of Magic.

That changes when it's just twenty-four of the best players in the world.

Last year, Reid Duke took Hexproof Auras to a finals showdown against Shahar Shenhar. It was a metagame choice that mitigated the ability of the game's greats to interfere and forced immense pressure onto the battlefield. In 2012, it was Shota Yasooka that mauled the Modern rounds with a Temur-colored concoction of his own that controlled the battlefield as it pressured opponents with creatures.

The ability to take measure of the opposition and bring a deck built to pick them apart is a history that may repeat again. This is a breakdown of the field of for Modern:

Player Modern Archetype
(11) Sam Black Birthing Pod
(19) Patrick Chapin Blue-Red Delver
(13) Stanislav Cifka Blue-Red Delver
Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa Jeskai Ascendancy
Lars Dam Jeskai Ascendancy
(2) Jeremy Dezani Scapeshift
(3) Reid Duke Pyromancer Ascension
Willy Edel Abzan
(5) Ivan Floch Jeskai Delver
(25) Yuuki Ichikawa Temur Delver
(7) William Jensen Pyromancer Ascension
Raphael Levy Scapeshift
(17) Tom Martell Jeskai Ascendancy
(4) Shaun McLaren Jeskai
Raymond Perez, Jr. Birthing Pod
(16) Paul Pietzl Blue-Red Delver
(14) Shahar Shenhar Burn
(10) Lee Shi Tian Scapeshift
Nam Sung-Wook Burn
(1) Owen Turtenwald Pyromancer Ascension
(20 Josh Utter-Leyton Jeskai Ascendancy
(9) Yuuya Watanabe Temur Delver
(12) Jacob Wilson Birthing Pod
Kentaro Yamamoto Temur Delver

Summarizing by archetype revealed the clusters of choices:

Archetype Percentage Count
Jeskai Ascendancy 17% 4
Blue-Red Delver 17% 4
Birthing Pod 13% 3
Pyromancer Ascension 13% 3
Scapeshift 13% 3
Temur Delver 8% 2
Burn 8% 2
Abzan 4% 1
Jeskai 4% 1
Jeskai Delver 4% 1

The allure of a powerful combo was strong across the players, with Jeskai Ascendancy almost taking the most slots. While it didn't break through to the Top 8 of Grand Prix Madrid a few weeks ago, here it won't have nearly 2,000 players to fight through. Other combo decks with multiple players include the ever-popular-yet-powerful Birthing Pod, Scapeshift, and a surprising trio on Pyromancer Ascension: The Peach Garden Oath trio of top-ranked Owen Turtenwald, Reid Duke, and William Jensen.

Delver of Secrets-types decks, the Blue-Red and Jeskai versions as well as the Tarmogoyf-packing Temur flavor, were as popular as Jeskai Ascendancy, with the balance of the field falling to familiar faces in Abzan—an updated Rock-type deck featuring Siege RhinoBurn, and Pro Tour Born of the Gods winner Shaun McLaren with his venerable Jeskai deck.

So how did these different players and teams arrive at different decisions? Seventh-ranked William Jensen explained the team's thoughts on the Pyromancer Ascension—Storm—deck they brought.

"We just thought it was a pretty fast combo deck that matched up against Birthing Pod and other decks," Jensen explained. "Treasure Cruise improved the deck somewhat, and that card is unfair. We all had experience with the deck and when we talked to some people we thought it was well-positioned."

How much did the Peach Garden Oath prepare for the Modern portion of this week? "We tested for a long period of time—a lot of hours," Jensen said, but went on to add that Grand Prix Madrid wasn't a factor. "We certainly looked at it but it didn't heavily influence our decisions."

One player that was adamantly excited about the format was the twentieth-ranked 2012-13 Player of the Year Josh Utter-Leyton. "I think the deck I'm playing it really good," he said. "I think Modern is a lot of fun right now, just playing a lot and testing. Brand new formats are fun, and this one is really interesting. In Modern, decks have real identities and do different things. Matches play out different deck to deck and you get a difference experience. Modern usually changes very slowly but Khans of Tarkir changed Modern quickly with the delve cards," referring to Treasure Cruise and Dig Through Time, "and Jeskai Ascendancy."

So why did hey and so many of his teammates end up playing Jeskai Ascendancy? "I tried everything and I definitely spent a lot of time with different Ascendancy decks," Utter-Leyton explained. "It's the most new deck and is incredibly powerful. It's super fast and an obvious thing to want to try. I did, and I was really impressed with the deck. I was also impressed with the different directions you could take it. Builds with all the green creatures felt like the wrong way to go. Having an unexpected build is important. People testing against the green version of the deck are going to have a very skewed version of Ascendancy versus the all-spell version."

What's the key behind Utter-Leyton's build? "Fatestitcher is the key: That's the best creature by far for Ascendancy. Basically, Fatesticher is enough that you can no play green: You don't need other creatures. Getting away from green gets you a pain-free mana base. Removal's not blank against us, but Lightning Bolt just isn't effective. It doesn't blank removal, just makes it bad. It also gets to play a control game because the combo kill is so compact—four Jeskai Ascendancy and 4 Fatestitcher—the rest of your deck can be Treasure Cruises and such. It's like Sprinter Twin in a combo control deck: You have a combo to threaten with and water down their deck trying to keep mana up to answer you. You can get through anything as long as you're not dying."

The pairing the dreaded Ascendancy was waiting for, and the pairing that drove twentieth-ranked player Josh Utter-Leyton to play the archetype.

At that you might have thought Utter-Leyton was done but he offered even more. "We also have a Gifts Ungiven sideboard," he said. "It's a new angle: They can't only hate on Ascendancy."

With that confident of a recommendation from Utter-Leyton why would a teammate choose differently? 2013 World Champion and No. 14-ranked Shahar Shenhar had his burning reasons.

"I don't have much to say about Modern," Shenhar blunted. "That's the truth. I'm playing Burn and I'm the only one playing Burn on my team. [Utter-Leyton] built Jeskai Ascendancy that wins with Fatesticher and Faerie Conclave – once you start you can dig until you go for the win. Willy [Edel] is playing a green-black Rock type deck," referring to the Abzan build he brought to the tournament.

"I chose to play Burn because I wasn't really sure what the format would look like," Shenhar continued. "Jeskai Ascendancy is very powerful and if nobody is prepared they can just crush the next several rounds. I felt comfortable with my Limited rounds and wanted a Modern deck that would guarantee me a few wins. I just wanted to take the safer choice, and I think burn is one of the better decks."

True to his words, Shenhar didn't have much to say aside from the most succinct reason of all: "I just didn't like the Jeskai deck."

Another player with a confidence for Modern is fourth-ranked Shaun McLaren. Claiming his Pro Tour Born of the Gods victory with that format, he put up further impressive results at Modern Grand Prix throughout the year. Known for his preference to play Jeskai, a deck with both aggressive and control elements built in to be played reactive to what opponents present, some might have expected him to eschew his favored tool for something new given the shift in the format.

McLaren, however, had other ideas. "I actually thought at first it wouldn't be a viable strategy," he said, "and that Blue-Red Delver would obsolete it. It turns out the format didn't shift as much as I thought it would. You can just play good cards and Dig Through Time, and it just works."

So is that the secret behind McLaren's Modern sauce: constant evolution of his Jeskai deck? "It's slowly evolved over time," McLaren admitted, "every iteration of blue-white-red. At first it went to basically only Snapcaster Mage as the creatures, then a Kiki-Jiki and control kind of thing, and now it's just Wall of Omens and Restoration Angels for value. I'm sure it'll evolve further for future events."

Did he tune his deck for what he expected the rest of the players in the World Championship to play? "I definitely tuned it for the expected metagame," McLaren said. "The deck is pretty good against everything. You can beat anything with the right sideboard cards and tight play. With the experience I have I just have to run with it if it's a viable deck. Pretty much all the matchups I expect I have a decent game against: Birthing Pod, Blue-Red Delver, or combo decks."

Of course, proof is in the pudding when it comes to deck choice and metagame calls.

For players and by archetype, these are the points and records from the four rounds of Modern today:

Player Modern Archetype Points Record

(19) Patrick Chapin

Blue-Red Delver

12

4-0

Lars Dam

Jeskai Ascendancy

9

3-1

Willy Edel

Abzan

9

3-1

(5) Ivan Floch

Jeskai Delver

9

3-1

(17) Tom Martell

Jeskai Ascendancy

9

3-1

(20) Josh Utter-Leyton

Jeskai Ascendancy

9

3-1

(9) Yuuya Watanabe

Temur Delver

9

3-1

Kentaro Yamamoto

Temur Delver

9

3-1

(11) Sam Black

Birthing Pod

6

2-2

Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa

Jeskai Ascendancy

6

2-2

(25) Yuuki Ichikawa

Temur Delver

6

2-2

(7) William Jensen

Pyromancer Ascension

6

2-2

Raymond Perez, Jr.

Birthing Pod

6

2-2

(16) Paul Pietzl

Blue-Red Delver

6

2-2

(14) Shahar Shenhar

Burn

6

2-2

Nam Sung Wook

Burn

6

2-2

(1) Owen Turtenwald

Pyromancer Ascension

6

2-2

(2) Jeremy Dezani

Scapeshift

3

1-3

(3) Reid Duke

Pyromancer Ascension

3

1-3

Raphael Levy

Scapeshift

3

1-3

(4) Shaun Mclaren

Jeskai

3

1-3

(12) Jacob Wilson

Birthing Pod

3

1-3

(13) Stanislav Cifka

Blue-Red Delver

0

0-4

(10) Lee Shi Tian

Scapeshift

0

0-4

Modern Archetype Players Points Total Record Win Rate

Abzan

1

9

3-1

75%

Jeskai Delver

1

9

3-1

75%

Jeskai Ascendancy

4

33

11-5

69%

Temur Delver

3

24

8-4

67%

Blue-Red Delver

3

18

6-6

50%

Burn

2

12

4-4

50%

Birthing Pod

3

15

5-7

42%

Pyromancer Ascension

3

15

5-7

42%

Jeskai

1

3

1-3

25%

Scapeshift

3

6

2-10

17%

On the Rise:

  • Jeskai Ascendancy: With the greatest number of players on a single archetype (four) the group put up an impressive 69% win rate. Black conceded to the deck's power when he lost playing against Utter-Leyton.
  • Temur Delver: Close behind with three players and a 67% win rate, the Japanese trio of Ichikawa, Yamamoto, and Watanabe combined easily cleared the 50% mark thanks to 2-2, 3-1, and 3-1 records respectively.
  • Edel and Floch each went 3-1 with their respective takes on Modern, an Abzan deck built on the Black-Green Rock history in Modern as well as a resilient Jeskai Delver deck respectively.

What Faltered:

  • Scapeshift: Typically a powerful deck in the format, the matchups Levy and Lee had to face imply it was poorly positioned against others' choices.
  • Jeskai: McLaren's tuned update fell flat, and unexpected turn for the typical Modern master.
  • Pyromancer Ascension: The top-ranked trio of Turtenwald, Duke, and Jensen were the only players with the deck, and the mediocre 42% win rate looks awful. However, only Duke went 1-3 in the Modern rounds: Jensen and Turtenwald are positioned in the middle of the Day 1 pack ready to make up lost ground on Day 2.

With Modern rounds in the books for the World Champion, tomorrow's Standard run will determine not just the Top 4 selection but the decks that determine the winner of the 2014 World Championship.

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