GP Denver Matchup Matrix: What Beats What in Standard?

It takes either large samples or an overwhelming tendency to determine which deck is favored in a matchup. As far as GPs go, Grand Prix Denver was somewhat on the smaller side and did not provide large samples. So I didn’t expect to find any results worth reporting. Fortunately I checked anyway, because several pairings in Denver in fact showed an overwhelming tendency to swing one way.

Here are the notable findings. As usual, the listed p value marks significance: p=0.03, for example, means there’d only be a 3% chance to get the observed result or something more extreme if the winning deck didn’t have an actual edge. A smaller p suggests a bigger edge.

What Beats What in Standard?

Mono-Red Aggro …

  • won 0% of 5 matches versus Jeskai Superfriends (p=0.031)
  • won 33.3% of 39 matches versus Feather (p=0.027)
  • won 27.3% of 22 matches versus Dinosaurs (p=0.026)

You would expect the archetype with the highest match count to also have the longest list of significant results. But while Mono-Red completed the most matches, most of its encounters went about even. The three that didn’t all went badly for the deck.

Notable is the sheer number of pairings where Mono-Red posted losing records: Blue Tempo (17-19), Esper Hero (15-21), Grixis (1-5), Gruul (3-7), Scapeshift (6-13), Steel Leaf Stompy (0-3), and White Weenie (1-4). None of these are significant by themselves, though I do have one more statistic that is: Mono-Red won 33.3% of 36 matches versus sideboards with two to three Cerulean Drake.

People have proposed Mono-Red as a countermeasure to combat Vampires. Indeed, the deck achieved its most favorable record versus Vampires and Simic Flash, going 18-12 against both. But a pair of presumed 60% matchups shouldn’t make up for all of the disadvantages. Unless you’re sure about a practically preposterous preponderance of Vampires, I would not recommend Mono-Red.

Feather …

  • won 66.7% of 39 matches versus Mono-Red (p=0.027)
  • won 80% of 10 matches versus W/U Skies (p=0.055)
  • won 70% of 20 matches versus Blue Tempo (p=0.058)
  • won 29.7% of 37 matches versus Scapeshift (p=0.01)
Feather, the Redeemed

The outcome of Feather’s battle against Blue Tempo makes for the least reliable result here, so it makes sense to consult seemingly similar matchups. On one hand, the deck also defeated the little fliers of white and blue. On the other hand, Flash beat Feather 14 to 10.

Esper Hero …


  • won 66.7% of 27 matches versus Dinosaurs (p=0.061)
  • won 28.6% of 21 matches versus Elementals (p=0.039)
  • won 23.1% of 26 matches versus Scapeshift (p=0.005)
Hero of Precinct One

The more interesting statistic may be that Esper Hero completed less matches than Feather, despite having been more popular. The deck only won 49% of 382 matches overall, which serves as the sad explanation. It’s more the hero you deserve than the hero anyone needs.

Vampires …

  • won 100% of 5 matches versus Selesnya (p=0.031)
  • won 78.6% of 14 matches versus Nexus (p=0.029)

The bloodsuckers weren’t huge favorites in many matchups, but they weren’t huge underdogs in any. In fact, Vampires posted winning records against seven of the other 12 most played decks and even records against four of them. The only stain on their rap sheet remained mono-red, although it bears repeating that 12-18 isn’t much of a stain at all. Bringing up Mono-Red as a possible solution looks like grasping for straws.

Scapeshift …

  • won 72.9% of 26 matches versus Esper Hero (p=0.005)
  • won 90.9% of 11 matches versus Flash (p=0.006)
  • won 70.3% of 37 matches versus Feather (p=0.01)
  • won 88.9% of 9 matches versus Gruul (p=0.02)
  • won 75% of 16 matches versus Elementals (p=0.038)
  • won 76.9% of 13 matches versus Simic/Bant Ramp (p=0.046)
  • won 76.9% of 13 matches versus White Weenie (p=0.046)

This list constitutes more of a historic document, though the sheer glory of it all makes for history well worth preserving. Rarely did a new deck achieve numbers so high and wide. Scapeshift was the tenth-most popular deck in Denver, but fifth in the ranking for total match counts.

The field at large came criminally underprepared for Field of the Dead, and largely ended up dead to the strategy because of it. Things have changed since then, whether it’s the incorporation of some big statement card such as Ashiok, Unmoored Ego, Blood Sun, Alpine Moon, or a simple Legion’s End. Modern developments may differ, but the standards of Play Design are pretty high.

Blue Tempo …

  • won 100% of 5 matches versus Sultai+ Dreadhorde (p=0.031)
  • won 27.8% of 18 matches versus Dinosaurs (p=0.048)

In total, Blue Tempo won 53.4% of 294 matches. As you can see, this win rate didn’t result from positive performances in any specific matchup. The deck rather proved itself as a solid all-rounder.

Dinosaurs …

  • won 83.3% of 12 matches versus Flash (p=0.019)
  • won 72.7% of 22 matches versus Mono-Red (p=0.026)
  • won 72.2% of 18 matches versus Blue Tempo (p=0.048)
  • won 33.3% of 27 matches versus Esper Hero (p=0.061)
  • won 18.8% of 16 matches versus Nexus (p=0.011)

In contrast, lopsided matchups played a much larger role in the Dinosaurs’ 140-126 run. Except for Scapeshift, none other of the major decks enjoyed so many.

Simic/Bant Ramp …

  • won 23.1% of 13 matches versus Scapeshift (p=0.046)

None other of the major decks enjoyed as few significant results as Ramp, and no other deck went exactly 50-50 against so many others: 13-13 versus Mono-Red, 10-10 versus Feather, 8-8 versus Dinosaurs, 4-4 versus White Weenie …  It would be interesting to see how often Ramp won when playing first and when on the draw. Alas, no tournament software tracks this information.

Elementals …

  • won 71.4% of 21 matches versus Esper Hero (p=0.039)
  • won 25% of 16 matches versus Scapeshift (p=0.038)
Risen Reef

It almost looks as if we’ve reached the point where going through further archetypes only repeats matchups already listed above…

Flash …

  • won 85.7% of 7 matches versus Grixis (p=0.063)
  • won 16.7% of 12 matches versus Dinosaurs (p=0.019)
  • won 9.1% of 11 matches versus Scapeshift (p=0.006)

Usually, lesser-played archetypes have meaningful results against fewer opponents. Both Flash as well as Nexus again sported longer lists, in part because they ran into enough Grixis or Gruul players.

Nexus …

  • won 81.2% of 16 matches versus Dinosaurs (p=0.011)
  • won 100% of 5 matches versus Gruul (p=0.031)
  • won 21.4% of 14 matches versus Vampires (p=0.029)
Nexus of Fate - Foil - Buy-a-Box Promo

This marks the end. No more decks won or lost against any other in any significant fashion. Angels going 0-3 against Elementals, Esper Control going 3-8 against Flash, or Reanimator going 3-0 against Scapeshift might mean something, but probably doesn’t.


GP Denver Metagame

Scapeshift’s numbers from Denver likely don’t hold up now. Mono-Red didn’t excel in any matchup and lost badly to Feather, Dinosaurs, and Cerulean Drake. Dinosaurs defeated Mono-Red, Mono-Blue, and Flash, but lost to Nexus and Esper Hero. Other than that, Blue Tempo didn’t have many clear matchups. Neither did Vampires, except for a sizeable lead over Nexus. Overall, Vampires went basically even or slightly positive against everything but Mono-Red. It remains unclear how to attack this metagame. If anyone knows of a deck that beats Vampires and isn’t Mono-Red, please leave a comment below.

If you believe any of these records not to reflect the actual power dynamic of a matchup, please leave a comment too. All in all, 22 pairings displayed a notable advantage for one party. There are bound to be some false positives among them.


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