Modern Metagame Overview

Posted in Event Coverage on September 4, 2016

By Frank Karsten

Modern was the last format played during the Swiss rounds by 24 players in the 2016 Magic World Championship.

Last weekend, Grand Prix events in Indianapolis, Lille, and Guangzhou set the stage. There, Affinity, Jund, and Bant Eldrazi put up the best numbers.

That was last weekend. This week, we have the most prestigious tournament of the year—the 2016 Magic World Championship—and the metagame couldn't be more different. All Modern decklists can be found here, and they are as follows:

Archetype Number of Players Combined Record

Abzan

8

14-17-1 (45%)

Jund

2

6-2 (75%)

Bant Eldrazi

2

5-2-1 (71%)

Living End

2

2-6 (25%)

TitanShift

2

7-1 (88%)

Scapeshift

1

2-2 (50%)

Affinity

1

1-3 (25%)

Infect

1

1-3 (25%)

Dredge

1

3-1 (75%)

Abzan Company

1

2-2 (50%)

White-Black Tokens

1

1-3 (25%)

Goryo's Vengeance

1

2-2 (50%)

Thing Ascension

1

1-3 (25%)

Abzan and Jund

The big story is the sea of Abzan decks. It was the deck registered by No. 2-ranked Seth Manfield, No. 4-ranked Luis Scott-Vargas, No. 11-ranked Andrea Mengucci, No. 13-ranked Mike Sigrist, No. 13-ranked Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Sam Pardee, Márcio Carvalho, and Thiago Saporito, making up one-third of the metagame.

On top of that, No. 6-ranked Reid Duke and No. 18-ranked Brad Nelson took their trusty Jund decks to battle, essentially falling back on the decks they knew inside out when they didn't feel comfortable with anything else. "Reid and I can't fight who we are," Brad Nelson told me in typically jovial fashion.

I have heard one World Championship competitor describe these Inquisition of Kozilek/Tarmogoyf decks as "comfort food." They are fair, interactive, decision-heavy, and have game against everything—exactly the style of deck that the best players in the world are comfortable with.

Another factor that influenced these players' deck choices was their metagame expectation. Reid Duke and Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, for instance, told me that they expected several people to play unfair creature decks, such as Affinity, Infect, Burn, and Death's Shadow Zoo—all good matchups for Abzan. They weren't expecting many bad matchups like Scapeshift or Tron.

Several new cards from Eldritch Moon have been slipping their way into the decks. Collective Brutality is brutal versus burn; Liliana, the Last Hope can kill off Glistener Elf, Steel Overseer, Dark Confidant, or Lingering Souls tokens; and Grim Flayer is one of the reasons many players favor Abzan over Jund, as hitting Lingering Souls with that card feels so good.

Besides that, white offers better sideboard hate cards such as Stony Silence, and Path to Exile is better than Lightning Bolt against Death's Shadow and Primeval Titan. So even though Jund was by far the most popular deck at Grand Prix Guangzhou and Grand Prix Lille, the majority of the World Championship competitors spoke out in favor of Abzan.

There were still plenty of small differences across the lists, though. The testing group of Damo da Rosa, Scott-Vargas, Pardee, and Sigrist registered a list with 3 Noble Hierarchs. "It's surprisingly relevant with Shambling Vent and sometimes helps push Grim Flayer through. In practice it over-performs," Damo Da Rosa told me. "Traverse the Ulvenwald, the card I played at Grand Prix Indianapolis instead of Noble Hierarch, was really bad." The quartet also put an Anafenza, the Foremost in the main deck because they felt they were a bit creature-light, and they wanted to shave some graveyard hate from the sideboard.

Seth Manfield's version also had Noble Hierarch, but with more three-drops instead of Dark Confidant or Grim Flayer. "I just played Noble Hierarch to accelerate my game plan." With the option to ramp into a turn-two Liliana, the Last Hope or Tireless Tracker, he could have pretty strong starts.

Finally, Andrea Mengucci brought his own version without Grim Flayer, and Márcio Carvalho and Thiago Saporito basically copied Willy Edel's list. When in doubt, trust the Abzan master when he tells you he has a good list.

Living End

At last year's World Championship, No. 9-ranked Joel Larsson and No. 7-ranked Martin Müller showed up with Living End. This year, despite playing Death's Shadow Zoo at the Modern Pro Tour, the Scandinavian duo stuck with their Living End deck for the World Championship metagame.

Their game plan is to cycle creatures on the first two turns and then cascade into Living End with Violent Outburst or Demonic Dread, clearing the board and creating an army of Street Wraith, Architects of Will, Deadshot Minotaur, and/or Monstrous Carabid.

As they explained, Larsson and Müller felt that proactive aggro decks like Affinity, Burn, Infect, and Suicide Zoo were level 1, but they expected that not many people would play them. Instead, they expected that everyone would be trying to beat those decks with a reactive level 2 deck, most notably Abzan or Jund. With that metagame expectation in mind, they went to level 3: a deck that might be poor against the proactive aggro decks, but that would be good against level 2.

"Living End is really good versus Bant Eldrazi and favored versus Abzan," Müller said about his choice. Although the metagame worked out in their favor, their games did not, as the pair went a combined 2-6 in Modern.

Bant Eldrazi

Bant Eldrazi is the best remaining home for Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher after the banning of Eye of Ugin. Grand Prix Master Brian Braun-Duin and No. 5-ranked Steve Rubin are both playing the deck, hoping to ramp into a turn-two Thought-Knot Seer via Noble Hierarch and Eldrazi Temple. Ancient Stirrings adds consistency, and Eldrazi Displacer yields a mana sink for the late game.

"It's just one of the best decks, and it fits my style," Rubin said. "It's favored against all of the fair decks, and the good draws beat everybody. I was scared that people would be prepared with Ensnaring Bridge and Blood Moon, so I have Natural State and World Breaker in my sideboard as a hedge."

Speaking of peculiar choices, Rubin has a sweet singleton Eternal Witness in his list. "It's extremely powerful because you play 4 Eldrazi Displacers, and in the late game you win if you assemble Drowner of Hope plus Eldrazi Displacer. Eternal Witness is like my fifth Drowner of Hope."

Braun-Duin also had some spicy inclusions in his list. He started testing with 1 Elspeth, Sun's Champion, but quickly added the second copy after discovering how powerful it was in the grindy games against Abzan. Against combo, he has Chalice of the Void instead of Stubborn Denial, opting to spend mana on turn two rather than being forced to keep open mana in the late game.

TitanShift

No. 18-ranked Oliver Tiu and No. 12-ranked Ondřej Stráský prepared together and found TitanShift to be the best deck. With a combined 7-1 record, their deck choice worked out very well.

Their list is different from the Through the Breach versions that put two people in the Top 8 of GP Indianapolis last weekend. Tiu and Stráský don't even run Through the Breach, instead ramping harder with Khalni Heart Expedition. "Through the Breach is too high variance. It's more explosive, but less consistent," Tiu explained.

"We chose the deck because it has a good sideboard versus Affinity and because it's good versus Abzan," Tiu said when asked about his deck choice. "Abzan doesn't have enough pressure, and your late game is much stronger. Even if [your opponent] Thoughtseizes your threats, you can topdeck for the win or just kill with Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle naturally. Bad matchups were Death's Shadow Zoo and Infect, but we thought those wouldn't be popular," echoing further how important leveling the expected metagame was to these competitors.

Scapeshift

No. 3-ranked Lukas Blohon also ran a Scapeshift deck, albeit a more controlling, blue-heavy list with four copies of Cryptic Command and four copies of Bring to Light. This setup gives him plenty of silver bullets, such as Damnation in the main deck or Slaughter Games in the sideboard.

His reasoning for choosing the deck echoed Tiu's assessment. "I wanted something that was good against Jund and Abzan, and I was having decent results with Scapeshift. I didn't want to play Abzan mirrors all day long against players who are better than me. Fast decks like Infect, Death's Shadow Zoo, and Affinity are not great matchups, but they are still beatable."

Blohon's list was fairly typical for a Bring to Light version. The only choice that stood out to me was Repeal over Izzet Charm. "Repeal is great against Death's Shadow Zoo, gives time, and cycles through your deck."

Affinity and Infect

Only two players registered proactive aggro decks. No. 1-ranked Owen Turtenwald chose Infect because he wanted to just play a deck he knew well. Magic Online Champion Niels Noorlander tried a bunch of decks in preparation for the event, but in the end he chose the deck that he felt the best about: Affinity. Both players' lists were typical, unsurprising, but solid all around, and turn-three kills with Inkmoth Nexus wouldn't be out of the question.

No one showed up with Burn or Death's Shadow Zoo. Also, no Red-Green Tron, no Jeskai, no Ad Nauseam, no Elves, and no Merfolk. So it was definitely a different metagame than the one that was set by the three Grand Prix tournaments last weekend. Players on level 3 (Living End, Scapeshift) were happy to hear this, whereas players on level 2 were disappointed that they had few decks to prey upon. Such are the metagame guesses.

Abzan Company

No. 8-ranked Shota Yasooka chose Abzan Company, aiming to piece together Viscera Seer, Melira, Sylvok Outcast, and Kitchen Finks for a googolplex life and infinite scry, leaving him with a Murderous Redcap on top for unlimited amounts of damage.

His sideboard featured a new addition in 2 Distended Mindbenders, which could lead to a devastating sequence of turn-one Birds of Paradise, turn-two Kitchen Finks, turn-three Mindbender that would cripple any opposing combo deck. His main deck also had a peculiar inclusion: 2 Anafenza, the Foremosts, which would work well as graveyard hate against two of his compatriots.

Dredge

One player was brave enough to select Dredge for the Modern rounds: Kazuyuki Takimura. His deck aims to sacrifice Insolent Neonate on turn one, discarding Golgari Grave-Troll and milling over Prized Amalgam, Narcomoeba, and Bloodghast to assemble a fast clock. Thanks to Conflagrate, securing the last points of damage would be easy as well.

While the deck is powerful, it is susceptible to graveyard hate. Several players had Anafenza, the Foremost in their main deck, and Rest in Peace and Grafdigger's Cage were featured prominently in sideboards. But Takimura was not afraid: "It's my favorite deck! No fear!" he said with a smile that made obvious how much he enjoyed the game.

Goryo's Vengeance

]

No. 22-ranked Yuuya Watanabe registred a Grixis deck that aimed to sneak Griselbrand or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn on the battlefield via Through the Breach or Goryo's Vengeance. His list was pretty much the same as Kentaro Yamamoto's Top 8 list from Grand Prix Guangzhou, who had shared his build and experience with Watanabe before the event.

A key addition from Eldritch Moon was Collective Brutality—an interactive card that offered another discard outlet for Goryo's Vengeance next to Faithless Looting and Izzet Charm. Besides that, the sideboard was just as sweet, featuring two copies of Quicksilver Amulet and four copies of Leyline of Sanctity to improve against discard spells and graveyard hate. As Watanabe explained to me, "Against Abzan, if I play turn-one Leyline of Sanctity and turn-four Amulet, it's an easy win."

White-Black Tokens

Jiachen Tao had one of the most unexpected deck choices going into the event. "I was hoping for more Affinity and Infect, but Abzan is a great matchup as well, depending on how much they are prepared against tokens."

Unusually, Tao's list has Liliana of the Veil main deck instead of Spectral Procession. "I'm more comfortable playing a more disruptive game plan over something more aggressive. Spectral Procession on turn 3 is actually not that impressive in Modern." Another surprise was 4 Asylum Visitor in the sideboard: "It's better than Dark Confidant in grindy matchups. It has 3 power, you don't lose life from your expensive spells, and it also draws on the opponent's upkeep. It's great when I have Liliana of the Veil going."

Thing Ascension

The final deck choice from our group of 24, and one that wouldn't be out of place at the Inventor's Fair on the plane of Kaladesh, was Ryoichi Tamada's Thing Ascension deck. Just last weekend, he made Top 8 at Grand Prix Guangzhou, and he only changed one card in the sideboard before the World Championship. He credits Okada Naoya as the inventor of the deck.

Essentially, it's a bunch of cheap spells, with 4 Pyromancer Ascensions and 4 Thing in the Ices to exploit them. "Thing in the Ice is very strong in the deck!" he told me. As for the Abzan matchup, he claimed that it would largely come down to the amount of Abrupt Decays that could destroy his key two-drops at instant speed. "Abzan with 4 Abrupt Decays is difficult to beat, but Abzan with 2 Abrupt Decays is good for me."

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