Approximate Win Percentages for the Best Modern Decks

Last weekend’s Pro Tour was amazing. The Modern metagame, where no deck made up more than 9.3% of the field, looked much like the highly diverse metagame previously seen on Magic Online. What’s more, the matches were memorable, several players hit personal milestones, and seven different decks made Top 8.

I spent the weekend at the text coverage tables. I classified hundreds of decks, weaved statistics and deck descriptions into the Day 1 and Day 2 metagame breakdowns, and compiled a historical overview of Modern’s evolution based on the most-played cards from the last four blocks.

I was also glad to witness Pascal Vieren’s rise to the Top 8. Along the way, I wrote a deck tech on his U/R Pyromancer deck and recorded his quarterfinals and semifinals. His compatriot Marijn Lybaert said it best.

While the tournament was filled with great stories—our Top Stories article gives a nice summary—the competitive Modern crowd will naturally ask: Which decks overperformed at the Pro Tour, and which decks did poorly?

The most insightful statistic is an archetype’s match win percentage. Given the available information (the Day 1 metagame breakdown, the Day 2 metagame breakdowns, and the deck lists of all players with a 6-4 or better Modern record), this win percentage can be approximated closely. Love Janse shared the best analysis I’ve seen on this subject.

His spreadsheet determined an approximate match win percentage for every Modern archetype at the Pro Tour. Here are the results for the decks with at least five pilots.

Archetype Day 1 Players Win Percentage
Five-Color Humans 43 51.73%
Affinity 37 48.20%
Burn 34 49.20%
Green-based Tron 32 50.73%
Grixis Shadow 30 51.86%
Eldrazi Tron 26 50.47%
Jeskai Control 23 47.54%
W/U Control 23 48.51%
Storm 23 45.54%
Dredge 17 44.23%
Titan Shift 16 43.28%
Devoted Company 14 44.89%
Traverse Shadow 13 58.72%
Mardu Pyromancer 13 53.70%
Abzan 10 54.48%
Lantern Control 9 56.03%
B/G Midrange 9 42.27%
Bogles 8 47.52%
B/R or G/R Hollow One 6 61.03%
Titan Breach 6 41.44%
Madcap Moon 5 59.76%
Grixis Control 5 62.00%
U/R or Jeskai Breach 5 43.39%

Although no Arcbound Ravager, Goblin Guide, Urza’s Tower, or Celestial Colonnade advanced to the Top 8, the win percentages of their corresponding decks were, according to this analysis, close to average. (So I see no reason to move away from Affinity, especially when Modern rewards you for sticking with what you know.)

By contrast, combo decks like Storm, TitanShift, Dredge, and Devoted Company all performed poorly in the Pro Tour. This makes sense since these decks have trouble beating the disruption package of Kitesail Freebooter, Meddling Mage, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, and 5-Color Humans was the most popular deck at the Pro Tour.

This Analysis Gets My Stamp of Approval

The numbers Love Janse based this analysis on are sound.

Indeed, if you assume that any player has a 50% chance to win a match, then for the resulting group of players who do not reach Day 2, their average number of match wins over the 5 Modern rounds (assuming no draws and no drops) is indeed 1.56 (or, exactly, 145/93), as used in his spreadsheet.

Likewise, if any player is still 50% to win a match, then for the resulting group of players who reach Day 2 but get fewer than 6 wins in Modern, their average number of match wins over the 10 Modern rounds (assuming no draws and no drops) is indeed 4.34 (or, exactly, 11120/2563), as used in his spreadsheet. The determination of this number requires some proficiency with conditional probabilities, but I was able to verify it.

The underlying assumption that players who are not among the published deck lists have a 50% win rate in Modern is not completely accurate—in reality, it will be slightly lower since this group is made up of players who had a poor tournament performance. But a more accurate approximation would require a population distribution of match win rates, correlations between Limited and Modern performance, and a correction for draws and drops. Such adjustments would substantially complicate the analysis, yet they wouldn’t noticeably improve the model’s usefulness as they would affect all decks in a similar way.

In conclusion, the model is useful in pinpointing the best-performing and worst-performing decks, and that’s what matters. As a final verification—since the model’s total approximated win rate of all competitors together, 49.46%, is so close to 50%, I see no need to complicate the analysis further. Hence, the methodology is suitable, and I recommend acceptance. You may consider this the Magic equivalent of peer review.

5 Decks with at Least 5 Pilots and a Win Rate of 55% or Higher

The decks that performed way above average and that were played by enough players for a reasonable sample size were Traverse Shadow, B/R Hollow One, Madcap Moon, Grixis Control, and Lantern Control. Let’s take a closer look at an exemplar list for each.

Traverse Shadow

Andrew Baeckstrom, 8-2 in Modern at PT Rivals of Ixalan

Traverse the Ulvenwald doubles as Death’s Shadow number 5 through 8 and, judging from the results of this Pro Tour, is worth adding. Between Mishra’s Bauble, Street Wraith, fetchlands, and a variety of sorceries and instants, delirium can be achieved consistently and rapidly enough.

Several players did well with Traverse Shadow builds, including Immanuel Gerschenson (9-1 in Modern) and Jean-Emmanuel Depraz (Top 8). Both ran a Stubborn Denial version, but several members of Team ChannelFireball ran a non-blue version with Manamorphose instead. Andrew Baeckstrom had the best Modern record from that group.

I selected his Manamorphose version as the exemplar Traverse Shadow deck because I like the innovation. Manamorphose helps achieve delirium more reliably, laughs in the face of Blood Moon, and may be underrated in non-Storm decks overall. Finalist Gerry Thompson told me after the event that he wished he had played more Manamorphose in his Mardu Pyromancer deck to improve his Bedlam Revelers, and I expect that his assessment translates to 4-color Traverse the Ulvenwald decks as well.

B/R Hollow One

Ken Yukuhiro, 8-2-2 in Modern at PT Rivals of Ixalan

I was sitting backstage with some of the Top 8 competitors and their guests when the Top 8 started. When we saw how Ken Yukuhiro cast Burning Inquiry, didn’t accidentally discard Hollow One, and then cast two of them for free on the very first turn of the Top 8, everyone exploded with excitement.

His red-black deck is one of the most fun and explosive decks in the format, as its creature base takes maximum advantages of the mostly random discard effects from Faithless Looting, Burning Inquiry, and Goblin Lore. Two of the payoff creatures—Flameblade Adept and Hollow One—are relatively new additions, and this deck would not have been possible without Amonkhet block.

Three of Yukuhiro’s comrades from Team Musashi (Shota Yasooka, Teruya Kakumae, and Kentaro Yamamoto) also played the deck, and all of them finished 10-6 or better. That’s an impressive result for sure, but honestly these players could have clinched a good Pro Tour finish with a ham sandwich. Musashi won last season’s Team Series for a reason.

So the deck’s win percentage should be evaluated with the Magic skill of its pilots in mind, but it’s one of the decks I’m most excited to watch in the future. Just remember: if you accidentally discard Hollow One, don’t let it break your heart.

Madcap Moon

Radek Kaczmarczyk, 7-3 in Modern at PT Rivals of Ixalan

Blood Moon is a nightmare for TitanShift decks, and Platinum Emperion is very difficult to beat for decks such as Burn. If either of these aspects are not good enough, then Kaczmarczyk’s deck has the capability of shifting into a Through the Breach deck after sideboard.

Yet when it comes to blue-red control decks with Lightning Bolt, Serum Visions, Snapcaster Mage, and Cryptic Command, I have to say that I like the Vieren brothers’ U/R Pyromancer build better. Excluding draws and including Top 8 matches, their brew had a combined record of 11-5, corresponding to a dominant 68.8% match win percentage.

As they explained to me, Field of Ruin is superior to Blood Moon when everyone expects the enchantment, and 2-mana win conditions are superior to 4- or 5-mana ones. Finally, their deck does not come with the risk of drawing Platinum Emperion in your opening hand. And how could you pass up the flavor win of Thing in the Ice plus Snow-Covered Island? In my view, U/R Pyromancer is the best blue-red control deck.

Grixis Control

Corey Burkhart, 8-2 in Modern at PT Rivals of Ixalan

It was hard to get Corey Burkhart off of his trusty Kolaghan’s Command, Cryptic Command, and Snapcaster Mage. Together, they can answer almost every threat that the opponent might play, and by bouncing or returning Snapcaster Mage you can keep the card advantage train rolling.

Adding two of the best 1-mana removal spells in Modern—Lightning Bolt and Fatal Push—his signature deck is one of the fairest and most interactive in the format, and has the tools to efficiently deal with the variety of 2-mana creatures in 5-Color Humans.

Two new Ixalan additions are Search for Azcanta and Field of Ruin. The enchantment allows you to durdle beyond belief, while Field of Ruin allows you to improve your matchup against Big Mana decks while not putting you down a land.

Lantern Control

Luis Salvatto, 11-2 in Modern at PT Rivals of Ixalan

The champion’s build exploits the 2017 addition of Whir of Invention to set up the “lock” (Ensnaring Bridge along with Codex Shredder and Lantern of Insight) with great reliability. The deck, one of the most unique brews to evolve in recent years, came a long way since its inception on a message board several years ago. It’s a brewer’s dream and a wondrous ode to creativity and the thousands of hours of collaborative testing and tuning that led up to this.

Now, Lantern Control is a polarizing deck, and I recognize that it can be frustrating to play against. Yet personally, I enjoy Magic more when cards like Ensnaring Bridge, Stasis, Blood Moon, and Lantern of Insight are available. They offer intriguing deck building challenges and change the rules of the game completely, adding a unique angle that asks both players to re-evaluate cards and strategies on the fly. To me, these cards show how complex, nuanced, and deep Magic can be, and I love having prison strategies around, at least in small doses.

I don’t harbor a fear of seeing hundreds of Lantern-induced draws at upcoming Modern Grand Prix. Lantern Control was not a big offender for draws at the Pro Tour, and it requires you to have an encyclopedic amount of metagame knowledge on every deck in the format for cards like Pithing Needle and to know what to mill. There are few players who can pilot Lantern well enough.

Should Anything be Banned or Unbanned?

The February 12 Banned and Restricted Announcement is coming up. In the previous announcement, R&D member Ian Duke reminded everyone that it’s “ideal to consider changes based on the results of Pro Tour Rivals of Ixalan, and thus will more than likely focus on Modern.”

If I was in charge, I wouldn’t ban anything. Modern is healthier than ever, there is no card or strategy that feels oppressive, there’s a deck that appeals to any style of player, and games are interactive. Moreover, there’s a huge cost to banning cards, especially ones that make or break an archetype. A ban comes at a huge blow to players who have poured time, money, and effort into a deck. There may be a small chance that Ancient Stirrings gets banned, given that Ponder and Preordain have gotten the axe previously, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

In terms of unbanning, Bloodbraid Elf is arguably the safest one on power level alone, but there is a risk that it could unify all the midrange decks. As Eduardo Sajgalik told me after he streamed 30 Modern decks for 30 days, “there would be no reason to run Abzan, there would be no reason to play Death’s Shadow without Bloodbraid Elf, and that would be too oppressive. It would block a lot of decks out and reduce diversity.” Because of how good Modern is right now, I wouldn’t advocate a change to the B&R list. It might ruin a good thing.


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