Day Two Metagame Breakdown

Posted in Event Coverage on February 3, 2018

By Frank Karsten

464 players entered the tournament on Friday, but only 293 of them (63%) stayed enrolled after reaching a 4-4 or better record—the requirement to qualify for the second day. Theoretically, someone could have gone 1-4 in Modern and stayed alive on the back of a 3-0 draft record, while another player might have been 3-2 in Modern and eliminated due to an 0-3 draft. Nevertheless, there is an obvious correlation between a good Modern deck and making Day Two.

Yesterday, the four most popular archetypes were Five-Color Humans, Affinity, Burn, and Tron, in that order, although no archetype was able to reach 10% of the metagame. Modern was diverse as always. Today, I'll go over all key archetypes to explain their game plans and analyze their performance!

The key measure of performance that we will consider is the Day Two conversion rate. This statistic describes the percentage of players who made Day Two with a certain type of deck. For example, if eight out of ten pilots make Day Two, then that's an 80% conversion, which is well above the global average of 63%. But if only five out of ten pilots had made Day Two, then that would entail a 50% conversion. Since that's below the global average of 63%, it would indicate a poor performance.

I classified all archetypes registered by at least two players into separate groups (such as the group of aggro decks or the group of combo decks). I'll conclude with all the singleton archetypes.

Aggro Decks

Aggro decks try to get on board quickly with powerful, heavy-hitting early drops and win the game quickly before the opponent has a chance to execute their game plan. Aggro decks are generally poor against decks filled with creature removal spells and sweepers.

The majority of aggro decks in Modern have a bit of a combo feel as well, as they typically rely on powerful synergies or tribal payoffs. Decks like Five-Color Humans and Death & Taxes incorporate several disruption elements as well.

Aggro Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
Five-Color Humans 43 29 67.4%
Affinity 37 24 64.9%
Burn 34 22 64.7%
Bogles 8 3 37.5%
Hollow One 6 5 83.3%
Death & Taxes 3 1 33.3%
Infect 3 2 66.7%
Merfolk 2 0 0.0%
Total 136 86 63.2%

Five-Color Humans was the most popular deck yesterday, and its relative metagame share actually increased after the Day Two cut. But aggro decks performed above average as a whole. Let's take a closer look at their game plans.

Five-Color Humans rose to prominence after Ixalan brought Unclaimed Territory and Kitesail Freebooter. With several five-color lands to fix the mana base, the deck takes advantage of disruptive creatures (Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben) and tribal synergies (Champion of the Parish and Thalia's Lieutenant). Several players, including Willy Edel and Márcio Carvalho, experimented with a Collected Company build. Check out their video deck tech to learn more.

Affinity is named after the affinity mechanic from Mirrodin block. Although some Affinity decks don't include any actual affinity cards anymore, some players still run Thoughtcast, and one enterprising Pro Tour competitor even included Frogmite and Myr Enforcer. Affinity is capable of explosive draws fueled by Mox Opal and abuses its high artifact count via Steel Overseer, Arcbound Ravager, and Cranial Plating.

Burn preys on the fetch land, shock land mana bases that are often seen in Modern. The best way to describe the deck is as follows: turn one Goblin Guide, turn two double Lava Spike, turn three triple Lightning Bolt. That's 21 damage right there.

Bogles aims to win by suiting up Slippery Bogle with a number of auras like Daybreak Coronet and Ethereal Armor, while leaving the opponent unable to interact due to hexproof.

Hollow One is a relatively new deck that takes advantage of discard spells like Faithless Looting, Burning Inquiry, and Goblin Lore. These cards had been around for a while, but in 2017 two new payoff creatures were printed: Flameblade Adept and Hollow One. They made the deck possible. It's not only fun to play, but Hollow One decks also had an excellent conversion rate: All the red-black versions made it to Day Two, and only the single red-green version failed to advance.

Death & Takes tries to make life difficult for the opponent with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, the Leonin Arbiter plus Ghost Quarter combo, or a Flickerwisp that gets Æther Vialed in at instant speed. It's perhaps even closer to a prison deck than an aggro deck, and it didn't have a good performance, with a paltry 33% conversion rate.

Infect wins the game by giving the opponent 10 poison counters; a single Glistener Elf, Blighted Agent, or Inkmoth Nexus plus a dizzying array of pump spells can win the game in short order.

Finally, Merfolk disappointed at this Pro Tour. The gist of the strategy is to play small Merfolk creatures and then boost them with "lords" like Merrow Reejerey, Lord of Atlantis, and Master of the Pearl Trident. Yet there were only two Merfolk players at the Pro Tour, neither of whom played Merfolk Mistbinder or advanced to Day Two.

Big Mana Decks

Big Mana decks try to generate large amounts to cast powerful spells ahead of the curve. They tend to be weak to land destruction or land disruption cards.

Big Mana Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
Tron 32 22 68.8%
Eldrazi Tron 26 20 76.9%
Titan Shift 16 6 37.5%
Titan Breach 6 2 33.3%
Total 80 50 62.5%

Overall, decks with Urza lands had an excellent Day Two conversion rate, whereas decks based around Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle did very poorly.

The name "Tron" refers to assembling all three Urza lands, originally dubbed as the "Urzatron". When Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Mine are all on the battlefield together, they tap for extra mana, allowing Karn Liberated to be cast as early as turn three. Urzatron decks come in two variations.

First, the "pure" Tron decks, all of which were green-based at the Pro Tour. They combine card selection spells like Ancient Stirrings and Sylvan Scrying to assemble the Tron with startling consistency. The best-performing variation was one that splashed for Fatal Push and Collective Brutality. Thirteen out of sixteen pilots made it to Day Two, compared to seven out of twelve for mono-green versions and two out of four for red-green versions.

Eldrazi Tron is the other deck that can cast a turn-three Karn Liberated, but the deck doesn't rely as heavily on the Urza lands. Eldrazi Tron has a lower curve and more creatures, and their Eldrazi Temples can power out turn two Thought-Knot Seers or turn three Reality Smashers. Eldrazi Tron is fully colorless and relies on Chalice of the Void for disruption.

Titan Shift and Titan Breach are red-green decks that aim to ramp with Search for Tomorrow and eventually win with Primeval Titan and/or Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. The Titan Shift variation relies on Scapeshift, which can turn any seven lands into six Mountains and a Valakut, yielding six triggers that will roast an opponent for 18 damage. The Titan Breach variation sacrifices consistency for speed. It can play an early Through the Breach for Primeval Titan, but typically lacks Scapeshift. Neither of these two decks fared well on Day One.

Black Midrange Decks

Black midrange decks can answer anything, as they have access to some of the best one-mana interactive cards in the format. A variety of black midrange decks take advantage of these spells.

Black Midrange Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
Grixis Shadow 30 20 66.7%
Mardu Pyromancer 13 7 53.8%
Traverse Shadow 13 11 84.6%
Abzan 10 6 60.0%
B/G Midrange 9 5 55.6%
Jund 2 1 50.0%
Total 77 50 64.9%

Most frequently, Thoughtseize and Fatal Push are seen along with Death's Shadow. Thanks to a sufficiently painful mana base and the life lost from cycling Street Wraiths, Death's Shadow turns into a hard-hitting creature for a very low cost. It can quickly finish off an opponent who was disrupted by the interactive one-mana spells.

There are two Death's Shadow versions: a Grixis build that exploits Stubborn Denial, Thought Scour, and Snapcaster Mage, and a group of green builds that makes good use of Tarmogoyf and Traverse the Ulvenwald, fueled by Mishra's Bauble. Looking at the Day Two conversion percentage at this Pro Tour, Traverse Shadow builds (usually four-color versions without blue) performed better than Grixis versions.

Mardu Pyromancer is a relatively new addition to Modern that uses Bedlam Reveler and Young Pyromancer, fueled by Faithless Looting, Lingering Souls, and various other instants and sorceries. Given that the deck emerged relatively recently, many Modern fans were curious how this deck would perform at the Pro Tour. Although commentator Riley Knight wrote insightful pieces about the deck and stated that it was a deck to watch, its Day Two conversion percentage was below average.

Rounding out the group of black midrange decks were Abzan, Jund, and B/G Midrange. The game plan of all of these decks is similar to the previous ones: use discard and removal spells to disrupt the opponent, then ride a big threat to victory. It's just the win condition that is different—instead of Death's Shadow, these decks eventually take over with Liliana of the Veil and Scavenging Ooze. From this base, you can go Abzan for Lingering Souls, Jund for Lightning Bolt, or stick to two colors for Field of Ruin. Alas, all these decks performed below average on Day One.

Blue Control Decks

Flashing back Cryptic Command with Snapcaster Mage is still one of the best things to do in Modern, and Blue Control as a group performed well.

Blue Control Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
Jeskai Control 23 17 73.9%
W/U Control 23 14 60.9%
Grixis Control 5 4 80.0%
Madcap Moon 5 4 80.0%
U/R(/W) Breach 5 5 100.0%
U/B Faeries 2 2 100.0%
U/R Pyromancer 2 2 100.0%
Total 65 48 73.8%

Looking at the two most popular blue control decks, the main dividing line was whether a splash for Lightning Helix and Lightning Bolt was worth it, also given that the two-color list gets access to Field of Ruin (which together with Spreading Seas gives a powerful land destruction angle). The Day One conversion rates give a small nod towards Jeskai, but given the sample size, it's far from conclusive. The large majority of Jeskai Control players included Geist of Saint Traft and Spell Queller to gain a bit of a tempo angle, with only a few Jeskai players eschewing these creatures in favor of Supreme Verdict and other control elements.

There were also various other lists, all of whom included a bunch of countermagic, that differed in their main win conditions. Ranging from Through the Breach decks that aimed to sneak an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play to Madcap Experiment decks that put their faith in a discount Platinum Emperion, there were a bunch of valid options. On the whole, the non-white control decks had an even better Day Two conversion rate than their white counterparts.

Combo Decks

Combo decks don't play a lot of interactive spells. Usually, combo players focus all their attention on assembling a game-winning combination of cards.

Combo Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
U/R Gifts Storm 23 13 56.5%
Dredge 17 9 52.9%
Devoted Company 14 8 57.1%
Bant Knightfall 4 2 50.0%
Ad Nauseam 2 2 100.0%
Elves 2 1 50.0%
Ironworks Combo 2 2 100.0%
Total 64 37 57.8%

Combo decks as a group performed slightly below average, which is not surprising in a field where the most-played deck has Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter to disrupt your plans and where many other decks will sideboard in powerful hate cards like Rest in Peace.

The most powerful, most consistent, and most popular combo strategy in the format is U/R Gifts Storm. This deck aims to play Baral, Chief of Compliance on turn two, then Gifts Ungiven for Past in Flames, Manamorphose, Desperate Ritual, and Pyretic Ritual on turn three. Since Past in Flames has flashback, it doesn't matter much which two cards go to the graveyard. A proficient Storm player can almost always combo off and deal 20 damage with Grapeshot on the subsequent turn.

Dredge is the second-most-popular combo deck in the Pro Tour metagame. The game plan of the Dredge deck is to sacrifice Insolent Neonate on turn one, discarding Stinkweed Imp and milling over Prized Amalgam, Narcomoeba, and Bloodghast to assemble a fast clock. Thanks to Conflagrate, it's easy for the deck to secure the last few points of damage.

Devoted Company, next on the list, aims to untap with Devoted Druid on the battlefield, resolve Vizier of Remedies, and then generate an arbitrarily large amount of mana. Victory is achieved via Duskwatch Recruiter and/or Walking Ballista. Since Devoted Druid is an Elf, the combo is also usually adapted in the tribal Elves deck that is also capable of generating ridiculous amounts of mana with Elvish Archdruid and Heritage Druid. Or at least enough for Ezuri, Renegade Leader to set up a lethal attack.

Three combo decks complete the list. To quickly summarize them: Bant Knightfall is a midrange Collected Company deck with a Knight of the Reliquary plus Retreat to Coralhelm combo finish; Ad Nauseam players aim to cast their namesake spell after Angel's Grace, draw their entire deck, and win by exiling three Simian Spirit Guides and casting Lightning Storm; and finally Ironworks Combo aims to sacrifice Chromatic Star and Ichor Wellspring to Krark-Clan Ironworks for value, Scrap Trawler recursion, and enough mana to cast Emrakul, the Aeons Torn for the win.

Prison Decks

Some players have the most fun when they can leave their opponents incapable of playing Magic, either by controlling their draw steps or by relentlessly attacking their mana base.

Prison Deck #Day One #Day Two Conversion
Lantern Control 9 6 66.7%
R/G Land Destruction 2 0 0.0%
G/W TurboLand 2 1 50.0%
Total 13 7 53.8%

Lantern Control is a unique deck that aims to lock the opponent out of relevant draws through Lantern of Insight and Codex Shredder. Meanwhile, Ensnaring Bridge prevents the opponent from attacking, and eventually they get decked. The deck had a good Day Two conversion rate, whereas the land destruction decks failed.

R/G Land Destruction is hoping to land Stone Rain on turn two and Mwonvuli Acid-Moss on turn three. It's a solid plan against Big Mana decks, but still no pilots advanced to Day Two.

G/W TurboLand exploits Ramunap Excavator along with Ghost Quarter to run opponents out of basic lands at first, and then out of lands altogether. The engine, which is sped up via Azusa, Lost but Seeking, is fitted in a Collected Company shell.


29 archetypes were played by only one player each. For these singleton archetypes, the conversion rate is either 0% or 100%, so it will be easier to just list the ones that made it and the ones that didn't.

The pilots of the following 15 decks successfully advanced to Day Two:

  • 4-Color Company
  • Abzan Company
  • Blue Moon
  • Bring to Light Scapeshift
  • Bushwhacker Zoo
  • Eldrazi Spirits
  • Esper Goryo's
  • G/W Hatebears
  • Living End
  • R/G Eldrazi
  • Skred Red
  • U/R Kiki-Jiki
  • U/R Kiln Fiend
  • W/B Eldrazi
  • W/B Zombies

The pilots of the following 14 decks did not advance to Day Two:

  • 5-Color Copycat
  • Bant Company
  • Bant Evolution
  • Domain Zoo
  • Eldrazi & Taxes
  • Esper Control
  • Esper Shadow
  • G/W Company
  • Green Moon
  • Grishoalbrand
  • Jeskai Ascension
  • Kiki Chord
  • R/G Evolution
  • W/U As Foretold

Five more Modern rounds remain on Saturday to determine who would advance to the Top 8 on Sunday!

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