From Port to Oak and Beyond—Modern Matchups, Bans, and Ravnica Allegiances

At long last, we come to the final chapter in the saga of Modern as it existed before Ravnica Allegiance and before the banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks. In this article, I want to take one last look at the data generated by the two most recent GPs in Portland and Oakland, but I also want to take a look ahead at the things to come.

Note: All data originates from a sample of about 55% of Grand Prix Portland’s decks and 61% of Grand Prix Oakland’s decks. I mention total matches played, starting field composition, overall records, and such below. In all of these cases, I am talking about the known subset of the whole, albeit while working under the assumption that the whole didn’t depart from these samples in any major way.

The Lay of the Lands

I, for one, am sad to see Krark-Clan Ironworks leave the format, but the deck did consistently win 55+ percent of its Grand Prix matches. In fact, it was one of only two decks to do so in both Port- and Oakland …

For each of the major archetypes, the table first shows what percent of its matches it won in Portland (with the total number of matches this is based on in parentheses) followed by the same for Oakland, and finally the win percentage based on all of the matches added up.

What this means is that, for example, Hardened Scales’ record in Portland has way more sway over the overall percentage than the deck’s record in Oakland, because playing a Modern GP and playing Hardened Scales were both way less popular in January than in December. I considered alternative approaches to account for the difference in turnouts, but they would have been more misleading than informative.

For the most part, I don’t believe that differences in archetype performance between the two events signify a hostile metagame turned friendly, or vice versa. I can’t imagine, for instance, that Bogles was a much better metagame choice for Oak than it was for Portland. The bigger swings in particular likely just signify that a deck is more prone to big up and downswings. Bogles seems to be the perfect poster child for such a bold claim. If I were Brian DeMars, you’d now see something like this:

There are possible exceptions. As previously discussed, Tron may have suffered in the wake of Black-Green Midrange’s rise. Not quite the advertised millions, but The Rock more than tripled its metagame share from one Grand Prix to the next, meaning more Assassin’s Trophies and fewer Urzatrons completed on turn 3.

Most decks didn’t do much differently at one GP than at the other, which is great, because that suggests they’ll keep doing just as well in the future. The obvious caveat is that Ironworks has been removed from the metagame, but the equally obvious counter to that is that Ironworks never made up more than 4.5% of the field.

This leaves us with Izzet Phoenix as by far the most consistently well performing deck in the format. During prerelease weekend, I worked on the coverage for a smaller event in Italy—178 players in Modern—where for the first time I saw Izzet Phoenix take the pole position with a 10% metagame share. I’d expect to find similar stats at upcoming Modern tournaments. Note also that Izzet’s 503-880 match record listed above includes results against KCI. One of Oakland’s big story arcs was that Arclight Phoenix beat three Ironworks players in the Top 8. But over the course of the full Grand Prix, Izzet Phoenix went 9-17 against the deck. So, if anything, this bird should be even more on fire now.

In other news, Faeries’ overall win rate puts it as the most successful tribal deck, ahead of Spirits and farther and farther ahead of Humans, Elves, and Merfolk. Though, I’d advise human readers not to get ahead of themselves. The 56.1% may look exciting, but the more important number may be the 82 matches. A record of 46-36 deserves attention, and additional testing, but it isn’t as reliable as Spirits’ 714 wins to 639 losses.

Another archetype I want to talk about is Hardened Scales, which somehow went from more than 5% of the field in Portland to 2.7% in Oakland. As far as I can tell, the drop in popularity didn’t coincide with any development that could explain it. The deck had performed above average in Portland and it did even better in Oakland. Because of this and because all the Mox Opal and Ancient Stirrings from Ironworks need to go somewhere, I expect Hardened Scales’ representation likely to increase again.

Finally, I want to point out the astonishing fact that two-thirds of the table above shows positive overall records. This is because there’s a whole tail of the metagame that I had to cut off. Going alphabetically from 8-Rack to Zoo, I could have listed three times as many archetypes, although their performance mostly serves to explain how the decks above could do so well. But this isn’t even the reason for the omission. I simply excluded every archetype that didn’t submit a sample of at least 30 matches at GP Oakland.

There hardly could be better evidence for the health of Modern than 20—now 19—archetypes winning between 50.1% and 57.2% of their matches across two GPs.

Matchup Map of Oakland

When compiling data for the win percentage table, I only needed to know which deck one player in any given pairing ran. But for a number of Grand Prix Oakland’s matches, 3,284 of them, I know both players’ decks.

As I did before for Grand Prix Portland, I’ve once again condensed the most notable results from Grand Prix Oakland into a map. Here it is:

The results of a lot of pairings didn’t meet the criteria for clear matchups. In addition, or rather subtraction, I’ve decided to exclude all match results involving Krark-Clan Ironworks. If I hadn’t, the map would show one additional arrow going from Death’s Shadow to KCI (Shadow went 8-3 against the deck), as well as three arrows from KCI: to Hardened Scales (6-0), to Valakut (6-2), and to Izzet Phoenix (17-9). So it appears that Death’s Shadow is down one favorable matchup, whereas Hardened Scales, TitanShift/Breach, and Izzet Phoenix players can all rejoice in the demise of one feared former foe.

Of course, the decommissioning of the Ironworks—and all of those members of the Krark clan losing their jobs—isn’t the only incoming change to Modern…

Light Up the Incubation Skewers for Electrical Domination!

Most Standard sets are full of basic effects that have been done before, and done better or done cheaper. They are uninteresting for Modern. We want effects never seen before. Or we seek effects seen before once, to fulfill the basic requirements for consistency, the rule of eight. Cards such as Sphinx of Foresight, Guardian Project, Biomancer’s Familiar, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Simic Ascendancy, or Teysa Karlov could find a place in some deck some day.

Electrodominance is another example. Same as As Foretold, it enables a player to cast spells that don’t have a casting cost. If that player happens to be Pascal Vieren and is famous for his expertise in all things blue and red, the end result may look like this:

Izzet Living End

Pascal Vieren

A turn-1 kill is a remote, academic possibility. The odds for that particular dream to come true prove abysmal, but beating a gold fish on turn 3 should be very doable, with the occasional turn 2 as an aspirational goal. Another dream I want to chase is to add a couple of Wheel of Fate to this deck, but I guess that’s more than it can support and too risky as well.

In Ravnica Allegiance, there are a couple of cards that do a basic effect just as efficiently as the best options currently available in Modern. Three spells for “1” mana stands out.

If you’ve ever wondered about the somewhat uncommon label of “Devoted Vizier” in my tables and graphics, here’s why I’ve taken to using that: Chasing ever greater speed, many players on the Devoted Druid/Vizier of Remedies combo plan have stopped running Collected Company. So while it’s still the same archetype, the name “Devoted Company” or “Counters Company” is a shoe of a size that no longer fits all. Why do I bring it up now? Well, a card that has replaced Collected Company in a lot of lists is the infinitely less powerful but cheaper Commune with Nature. Weird flex, huh? But if Commune with Nature is a Modern-worthy spell, Incubation // Incongruity certainly can be an addition or an improvement.

And then there’s the duo of Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage

Light Up the Burn

Jason Chung

Skewer the Critics is just another burn spell at going rate, with additional upside versus Chalice of the Void. Light Up the Stage also is essentially a card that has been done before. It’s Thoughtcast with different hoops to jump through.

Now, granted, Thoughtcast hasn’t seen play in a while, but that’s because modern Affinity is more of a combo deck than a critical-mass deck. Affinity aims to combine a board full of artifacts with something that multiplies the board’s damage output, and the rate of enablers to payoff works out so that Thoughtcast is rarely more than a fringe inclusion.

Burn, on the other hand, doesn’t do complicated math such as multiplication. It just adds up, one burn spell after the other. Drawing two in this context is an entirely different animal. I submitted my previous article about a TurboFog variant in Standard before Ravnica Allegiance came to Arena, and ever since it did I’ve been skewered and lit on fire more times than I care to admit. It remains to be seen whether or not the card is good enough to improve Burn’s lackluster performance in Modern, but Light Up the Stage looked impressive in Standard.

I’m excited to see what new allegiances will be forged at MagicFest Toronto next month, and I hope I’ll be able to report back then.


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