To Metagame or Not to Metagame

Posted in Event Coverage on May 21, 2016

By Meghan Wolff

Meghan is one half of the Good Luck High Five podcast and an adjunct professor at Tolarian Community College. She loves Limited, likes Modern, and dips her toes into each Standard season. She's decidedly blue and is the #1 hater of Siege Rhino in the Multiverse.

The Modern metagame is a temperamental thing. Because cards don't rotate out of Modern, format archetypes and favorites have a much longer lifespan. New rotations provide Standard with a continuous series of big bang moments, while Modern experiences something more akin to continental drift.

That doesn't mean, however, that the same Modern decks are favored from one weekend or event to the next. A deck may disappear due to an unfavorable metagame (or Eldrazi) only to resurface weeks, months, or even years later, mutated to fit the slowly changing landscape (or lack of Eldrazi).

The longevity of Modern decks means players have time to develop a relationship with a deck more meaningful than the fleeting attachments formed to Standard staples that are here and gone in the blink of an eye.

So what informs a player's deck choice for a Modern tournament?

Andrew Elenbogen has been practicing and playing R/G Tron for years. He earned his first Pro Tour invite at Grand Prix Boston-Worcester 2014 and made the Top Eight of Grand Prix Omaha in 2015, both times playing R/G Tron. This weekend, however, he's playing R/G Valakut.

Andrew Elenbogen

Elenbogen's decision to change decks was a response to the anticipated tournament metagame. No matter how well-versed a player is in a deck, if it's bad against most of the field they're going to struggle to succeed.

“I felt that way about Tron right now,” Elenbogen said. “I felt like there were a lot of red decks and I was going to lose to red every round and it just wasn't okay to do that. What I really liked about [R/G Valakut] was that I was beating all of the red decks. The games were definitely close, but it felt favorable and Tron has never been favored against any red deck regardless of the sideboard hate you have.”

In switching decks Elenbogen saw the opportunity to improve his bad match-ups without sacrificing the any games in which he was already favored.

“Most of [R/G Valakut's] match-ups are pretty similar to Tron's,” he said. “Both decks really beat up on the fair decks, they're great against U/W/R, they're great against Jund, both decks lose to Infect pretty hard. But this deck is good against all the red decks Tron isn't and you don't pay a lot for this privilege; you don't really lose that much in other match-ups. Overall it felt like a free upgrade.”

While Greg Orange doesn't have as pronounced a deck preference as Elenbogen, he certainly prefers a certain 2/5 of the color pie. Orange made the Top Four of Grand Prix Minneapolis 2014 playing Jeskai Control and followed it up with placing 18th at Pro Tour Magic 2015 with U/W Control and 9th at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir with Esper Planeswalkers.

Greg Orange

This weekend Orange is playing “Mom Spaghetti,” so named because the deck has four Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, along with a set of Through the Breach to get the notorious Eldrazi titan into play. Outside of this potent combo, the deck mirrors older Splinter Twin shells. For Orange, the recent Modern bannings were an opportunity to explore a different angle on a style of play he was already comfortable with.

Splinter Twin got banned, so I built it similar to an old Twin deck but with a different combo thrown in. It doesn't make that huge of a difference, you still have a similar game plan.”

Orange and Elenbogen agree that the Modern metagame is both more stable and more open than Standard's.

“There's a lot more decks and they're similar in power level,” Orange said. “You have a bit more freedom to pick what you'd like to play. Standard you have to move towards what deck is winning at the moment.”

“Modern, you do have to think about what's popular at the moment, but things change pretty slowly,” Elenbogen said. “There's not as much of a sense of worrying about what's good right now or what's good against the popular decks right now. Playing something that's good in general is more important, and playing the “it” deck right now or beating the “it” deck is just not as important.”

Though responding to the metagame is important, familiarity with a deck can still mean the difference between success and failure. Elenbogen ran R/G Valakut through several leagues on MTGO before bringing it to this weekend's tournament.

“I definitely don't try to play any deck that's way outside my comfort zone or that I haven't played a bunch,” he said. “In Modern you'll often play against a smattering of everything and you have to know your deck inside and out. That's certainly the most important thing. But if you don't respond to the metagame trends at all you could end up playing something that's totally unplayable.”

Modern's unique continental drift gives players a wide array of decks to choose from and allows for both playing the metagame and player preference to play a role in deck selection. Stay tuned for more Grand Prix Charlotte coverage to see just what today's top players have chosen to do with this freedom.

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