Modern and Pioneer Metagame Update

Michael RappModern, Pioneer

As the end of 2019 approaches, we’ve seen a lot in Magic over the year in Modern, and a brand-new format emerge in Pioneer. We were lucky enough to get a bevy of events this last weekend to pull data from: the StarCityGames Invitational, a Modern MTGO PTQ, a Modern MTGO Challenge, two Modern PTQs at GP Sao Paulo, a Pioneer PTQ at the SCG Invitational, a Pioneer MTGO Challenge, and a Pioneer MTGO PTQ. Today, we’re here to sift through all of the deck lists from these events to find out what is succeeding and what that means for both formats going forward.


Players and tournament organizers alike seem to be quite excited for Pioneer — there was a great lineup of four events just this past weekend. We saw Mono-Black Aggro win both the StarCityGames Invitational and the MTGO Pioneer Challenge. Mono-Green Devotion took the trophy in one of the PTQs, while Bant Ramp cruised to a victory in the other. Players will be looking to these tournament results as they select decks for the future, but they don’t tell the whole story. I’ve compiled the results the Top 16 of the Invitational, two PTQ Top 8’s, and the MTGO challenge Top 8 to give us a broader picture of the winners’ metagame.

9 Mono Black Aggro – 2 Wins (Invitational and MTGO challenge)
5 Mono Green Devotion – PTQ win
4 Hardened Scales
3 Bant Field – PTQ win
3 Izzet Ensoul
3 Simic Aggro
2 Temur Midrange
2 Izzet Phoenix
1 Gruul Aggro
1 Golgari Delirium
1 Sultai Midrange
1 Jeskai Ascendancy
1 Soulflayer Combo
1 UW Flash
1 Mono-Black Vampires
1 Rakdos Aggro

Coming into the weekend, Mono-Green Devotion had both an impressive pedigree and the ire of the rest of Pioneer. Surviving bans on Oath of Nissa, Leyline of Abundance, and Veil of Summer is quite the challenge to overcome, but Mono-Green Devotion was up to the task. Once the dust settled, Mono-Green Devotion had the second-most Top 8 finishes, plus a trophy to show for it.

The biggest question that players had to answer was: is there a way to topple Mono-Green Devotion? The answer, it seems, is to play disruptive aggro decks. If Mono-Green can stick a turn-one elf on the play, they’ll be miles ahead of the competition; disrupt this plan and you’ll slow them down significantly. Mono-Black Aggro, Hardened Scales, and Izzet Ensoul all answered the call. Flush with cards like Fatal Push and Wild Slash, these aggressive decks could handle the mana creatures while presenting a sufficiently fast clock to finish off these Green decks when they stumbled.

Midrange has been hard to come by in Pioneer thus far, at least traditional interactive midrange. Leading the charge here are the Field of the Dead decks, both Bant and Golgari. The Bant versions of the deck function as control decks — they lean on Supreme Verdict and Sphinx’s Revelation to generate advantage until they can close out the game with Field of the Dead. Golgari Field, on the other hand, uses cards like Thoughtseize, Fatal Push, and Tireless Tracker to dominate the midgame before Hour of Promise and Field of the Dead take over. For the time being, I would expect that this is likely where midrange players will find the most success and I’m personally excited to watch the Golgari Field deck adapt to the changing metagame.

Going forward, it is tough to know what Pioneer will look like, as Wizards of the Coast is watching the format closely and adjusting things on a weekly basis. However, I expect that Mono-Black Aggro, Mono-Green Devotion, and Field of the Dead decks will have a “Rock-Paper-Scissors” fight ahead of them. Should a good combo deck emerge, it has a fighting chance at taking down the big three.


Modern is eternally a fan favorite and my personal format of choice, so I was excited to see so much of it last weekend. As expected, Urza, Lord High Artificer was the talk of the town. As the weeks go by, Urza decks continue to add to their stacked resume; the only question is: Can Modern adjust to beat Urza, or is it simply too strong? 

Below, I’ve gathered data from the Top 8’s of five PTQs, the Top 8 of an MTGO Challenge, and the Top 16 of the StarCityGames Invitational, all of which happened last weekend.

12 Grixis Death’s Shadow
6 Eldrazi Tron – Win (Challenge)
4 Amulet Titan – Win (PTQ)
4 Infect
3 Humans – Win (Invitational)
2 Mono-Green Tron – Win (PTQ)
2 Dredge
2 Sultai Crabvine
2 Simic Urza
2 Burn
2 Gruul Eldrazi
1 Storm – Win (PTQ)
1 Emry Ascendancy – Win (PTQ)
1 Jund Death’s Shadow – Win (PTQ)
1 Mardu Death’s Shadow
1 Izzet Delver
1 Jund
1 Sultai Urza
1 Gruul Zoo
1 Bant Eldrazi
1 Abzan Company
1 Titanshift
1 Sultai Death’s Shadow
1 Hardened Scales
1 Affinity
1 As Foretold
1 Bant Blade
1 Whirza
1 Azorius Control
1 Bant Control
1 Oko Blade
1 Mono-Red Prowess
1 Azorius Stoneblade

It seems the answer to our question is yes: Urza decks can, in fact, be beaten. Death’s Shadow strategies dismantled tournament after tournament, putting up a staggering 15 Top 8 appearances, with Jund Death’s Shadow winning a PTQ. Grixis Death’s Shadow, the best performing of the Shadow decks, is no stranger to Modern, but it’s been waiting in the wings for an opportunity to strike. Slogging through a field of Urza decks, “big mana” strategies, and creature decks, the one-mana 13/13 came out on top.

Urza decks mostly fell flat this weekend, only posting three relevant results. It’s no surprise to see the deck struggle when Death’s Shadow, Humans, and a smattering of combo decks, as the Urza decks do need time to set up.

Given the popularity of Urza and now Death’s Shadow, it is no surprise to see Humans work its way out of hiding and claim some hardware. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, Meddling Mage, and Reflector Mage are thorns in the side of both Urza and Death’s Shadow decks alike. Expect to see Humans continue to creep back into Modern tournaments over the next couple months.

While Urza may have taken a week off, Urza’s Tower certainly did not, with both Eldrazi Tron and Mono-Green Tron performing admirably. When Chalice of the Void, Blast Zone, and piles of mana are exciting things to be doing, both Tron variants will find success.

Modern is still an incredibly diverse format that often favors mastery over metagaming. If I were a betting man, I’d expect the format to stay largely on course with Urza, Death’s Shadow, Tron, Primeval Titan, and Aether Vial being major players.