Welcome to the new monthly Modern Metagame here at Card Kingdom! Starting this week, and on the second Friday of each month, I’ll be recapping major archetypes and tournament results from the month previous. Let’s get right into the tournament results!
Tournament results give us the data that we need to paint a clear picture of what decks are succeeding and becoming major players in the Modern metagame. Since we have access to only digital Magic at the moment, I’ll be taking data from MTGO Challenges, Preliminaries, and other non-league sources because they tend to be more representative of the top of the metagame than leagues.
Publication qualifications that Wizards of the Coast uses are as follows:
- Preliminary events: 3-2 or better
- Challenge events: top 32
- Showcase events: top 32
Due to the nature in which decklist data is published, and the wide variety of decks in Modern, much of the data has a sample size too small to use. I’ve chosen to put the bar at fifteen or more publications in the last month so that we have some data to actually chew on. While the decks with fewer than fifteen published results are all still valid decks — some of them even winning premier events (I’ll cover that later) — it would simply provide an overload of information.
Decks with 15 or more publications
Here we see a variety of controlling Uro decks and midrange decks such as Jund, Gruul and Eldrazi Tron. Rounding things out we have the disruptive aggro decks represented by Rakdos Shadow, Death & Taxes, and Humans.
The chart above suggests that the best decks are Rakdos Shadow, Four-Color Uro, Humans, and Death & Taxes, in that order. That’s a reasonable assumption given that all of the decks represented had to win over a certain threshold of their matches in each tournament to get published. However, there are some problems with that methodology, mostly that we don’t know the aggregate play rate or win rate of these decks, but simply the number of times they cleared the bar. We can combine the appearance data with what decks won premier events to get a clearer picture.
Premier Event Wins
Across the nine premier level events (Modern Champs, Challenges, and the Modern Showcase) we see seven different decks taking home trophies, with Rakdos Shadow and Death & Taxes being the only decks with two wins. Furthermore, Rakdos Shadow and Death & Taxes are the only decks to make both the cut off for appearances and titles — surely that means they’re the best two decks in Modern?
Unfortunately, again the answer isn’t so cut and dry. Heliod Combo, Four-Color Copycat, Dimir Mill, Orzhov Stoneblade, and Mono-Red Prowess were able to win, but they weren’t able to win consistently. Instead, these decks gained an edge by targeting segments of the popular metagame and using that to their advantage.
It’s nearly impossible to create a rigid ranking system in an ecosystem with so many moving parts. Thankfully, what we can do is group decks with similar power and success levels into tiers to rank them that way. I’ll be using a mix of the appearance data, trophy count, and how well decks perform against the other popular strategies in order to create the rankings.
Tier one consists of decks that consistently perform at a high level, put up a large number of publications, and perform well against other decks on the list.
Rakdos Death’s Shadow
Rakdos Death’s Shadow by Michael Rapp
Rakdos Death’s Shadow seems like a lock for tier one of I’ve ever seen it. The deck has put up 60 results, including taking home two premier-level wins. Its primary strength lies in its ability to win quickly or play like a midrange deck when it needs to.
Rakdos Shadow posts positive win rates against other creature decks thanks to its high density of removal spells. Death’s Shadow and Scourge of the Skyclaves will often dominate the battlefield in creature mirrors. “One card” combo decks like Belcher and Ad Nauseum will struggle against Thoughtseize plus aggression.
The best way to beat Rakdos Death’s Shadow is to go over it. Load up on removal spells and ways to keep your life total high, and you’ll find yourself in a good spot. Five-Color Niv and Sultai Uro are great choices here.
Death & Taxes
Death & Taxes by Metcalf23
Death & Taxes is on the lower end of the appearance metric for tier one decks, but having two trophies goes a long way.
D&T is the model of a well-rounded disruptive aggro deck. Modern is saturated with greedy four- and five-color mana bases, and those are exactly the kinds of decks that Death & Taxes excels against. Sporting Ghost Quarter, Field of Ruin, and Leonin Arbiter means that you’ll cause a lot of problems for opponents trying to develop their mana. Cheap and disruptive utility creatures allow you to play to the board quickly and keep a variety of opponents off balance along the way.
Death & Taxes will excel against decks with complicated mana bases like Five-Color Niv, Four-Color Uro, and Amulet Titan. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Archon of Emeria will make life difficult for combo opponents trying to cast multiple spells in the same turn. Furthermore, decks that care about being as efficient as possible will also tend to struggle against the brand of disruption that Death & Taxes provides.
Death & Taxes tends to struggle against midrange decks packing a lot of removal; they’re equipped to deal with a bevy of small creatures and have value engines to pull them ahead once they’ve worked their way through the lock pieces. Sultai Uro, Temur Uro and Jund are all good picks against Death & Taxes.
Four Color Uro by taruto1212
1 Breeding Pool
2 Field of Ruin
2 Field of the Dead
3 Flooded Strand
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Ketria Triome
1 Lonely Sandbar
4 Misty Rainforest
1 Mystic Sanctuary
1 Raugrin Triome
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Snow-Covered Forest
1 Snow-Covered Island
1 Snow-Covered Plains
1 Steam Vents
1 Stomping Ground
1 Temple Garden
Our final tier one deck is Four-Color Uro, which makes it on appearance rates and card quality. Posting 58 appearances over the last month is a strong showing, but one of the few criticisms that I have of Four-Color Uro is it’s lack of hardware.
Nearly every card in the deck is a midrange powerhouse: it either draws a card or protects you from early creatures. This deck will protect itself early with Lightning Bolt, Path to Exile, and Force of Negation to buy enough time to take over the battlefield with Uro, Omnath, Field of the Dead and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Four-Color Uro looks to prey on slower decks like Jund and Rakdos Shadow. It will often be able to fend off the early rush, and then go significantly over the top of those decks in the late game. Playing decks that aim to one-for-one until the opponent is out of resources won’t work here, as Four-Color Uro will almost never run out of cards; just about every spell they have replaces itself.
Four-Color Uro does have some real weaknesses though, and they’re all related to getting out of the gates fast and early. Mono-Red Prowess will often be able to bust down the door before you can set up, and fast combo decks like Storm, Oops All Spells and Belcher can exploit the deck’s lack of cheap counterspells. Death & Taxes does a great job here, and decks that can support Blood Moon easily (such as Gruul Midrange) will find success in shutting down the four-color menace.
Tier two decks are likely missing something from one of the accolades categories, or have shaky match-ups against some of the other strong decks. However, these decks are certainly competitive, and I’d expect to see them in my next Modern tournament. In the interest of time and space, I’m just going to list decks from here on out.
- Gruul Midrange
- Eldrazi Tron
- Temur/Sultai Uro
- Heliod Combo
- Oops All Spells
- Ad Nauseam
- Amulet Titan
- Selesnya Titan
- Mono-Red Prowess/Izzet Prowess
- Dimir Mill
- Five-Color Niv
- Grixis and Four-Color Death’s Shadow
Tier three decks are decks that I still expect to see from time to time, but either don’t have many good match-ups in the tiers above them, or just don’t have the strength to move up the ladder at the moment.
- Orzhov Stoneblade
- Green Tron
- Devoted Druid
Four-Color Copycat did win one of the Challenges this past weekend, so I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it. However, it has too few appearances for me to be able to rank it accurately, but I will be monitoring it over the coming weeks.
Magic is full of incomplete data sets, and being able to scrape useful information out of what data we have is an important skill. As you can see, it’s important to examine all of the relevant data (if you look at all of it, you’ll never have time!) and do your best to extrapolate ideas. Once you have the ability to do this, you’ll have a clearer picture of which decks are best to play, or even how to tune the deck you play for any given weekend.
If you’re new to Modern and looking for a deck to try, I can recommend any of the tier one decks above with confidence. Tier two decks are totally legitimate choices as well, and can pay off big if you pick the correct weekend for it. Even tier three decks will hit it big on occasion, but it usually requires an incredibly deep understanding of the deck in order to find the winner’s circle.
What do you think of this month’s Modern ranking? Be sure to let me know on Twitter at @RappaciousOne!
Michael Rapp is a Modern specialist who favors Thoughtseize decks. Magic sates his desire for competition and constant improvement.