Magic Math – The New Modern by the Numbers

With Grand Prix Charlotte and Grand Prix Copenhagen coming up, it’s time to delve into the Modern format once again.

At the Pro Tour Fate Reforged, Junk, Burn, and Splinter Twin dominated. However, Modern players have had several months to adjust to the new metagame since then and have also gained a new set in Dragons of Tarkir.

Today, I’ll bring you back up to speed. Not just with deck lists—with plenty of numbers as well! Statistics on over 28,000 Modern games (collected by scraping Magic Online replays in the past few weeks) were provided to me by Rolle, for which I’m very thankful.

General Format Metrics

The average Modern game on Magic Online takes 6.7 turns, and the average number of lands player per player per game is 4.6. Being on the play is a small advantage, as it corresponds to a game win percentage of 51.5%.

Mulligans happen frequently (even more so than in Standard) and reduce your chances of winning (but not by as much as in Standard). A 6-card hand was kept in 33.5% of games, and a 5-card hand was kept in 6.8% of games. On average, 6-card hands won 40.2% and 5-card hands won 24.7% of the time.

The Metagame and Performance

In the following table, I provide for each of the top 20 archetypes the percentage of games it was played in, the percentage of games (not matches) that it won, and the expected record-based metagame percentage according to my metric that weights both popularity and performance (via expected 3-1 and 4-0 appearances) to represent the winner’s circle metagame.

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There is some uncertainty regarding these numbers, as sometimes not enough cards are played in a match to connect them to a deck. For instance, a mana-screwed UBR deck could be either Splinter Twin or Delver. But the numbers in the table, which are based on tens of thousands of games on Magic Online, are still a good indication.

It’s notable that the game win percentage of the decks are all fairly close together. In my estimation, experience can give you a larger edge than deck choice, so I recommend sticking with a deck that you like and can play well. However, I would avoid Mono-Blue Tron and UR Storm for now.

The Two Decks to Beat

So, Burn and Grixis Delver are on top. Here are sample lists:

Aleksa Telarov’s Burn, Top 4 at the Magic Online Championship

Red mages are still roasting their opponents in fiery infernos online. The main new addition is Atarka’s Command. It necessitates Stomping Ground in the mana base, but it’s an upgrade to Skullcrack. The other addition is Rending Volley in the sideboard which has replaced Combust as a way to disrupt Splinter Twin combo. It cannot kill Siege Rhino, but mana efficiency is more important.

Martin Dang’s Grixis Delver from the Magic Online Championship

Delver of Secrets along with Thought Scour is still a good combination, but the cantrip also fuels the graveyard for Tasigur and Gurmag Angler. Although Tasigur is also splashable in Splinter Twin, the delve creatures excel in Grixis Delver.

One key Dragons of Tarkir addition is Kologhan’s Command. Against Affinity, it is akin to Ancient Grudge. Against other decks, it’s easy to set up a 2-for-1. And if you return Snapcaster Mage then you can flashback Kolaghan’s Command for even more value down the road.

The Other Top Decks

Affinity, Twin, Junk, Jund, Gr Tron, Bloom Titan, and Infect are all pretty much the same as before. I didn’t see huge new upgrades, except for the addition of Kolaghan’s Command to Jund.

I don’t have an updated Affinity list yet as I literally haven’t had time to play a game of Modern since the Pro Tour, but I intend to remedy that as soon as possible: I promise to stream and/or record a video before the GPs.

The New Collected Company Decks

The Dragons of Tarkir card with arguably the largest impact on Modern is Collected Company. It has heralded the rejuvenation of two creature combo decks:

Magnus Lantto’s Elf Company, Top 4 at the Magic Online Championships

Turn one: Nettle Sentinel. Turn two: Nettle Sentinel, Heritage Druid, Elvish Archdruid, Elvish Archdruid. Turn three: Ezuri, more Elves, attack for a million. This deck can overwhelm opponents with ridiculous amounts of mana early on. With 33 hittable creatures in the deck, Collected Company will hit 1.94 creatures on average.

Lantto’s deck, which is a typical build for this archetype, splashes white for Burrenton Forge-Tender and Kataki, War’s Wage from the sideboard. These creatures are mainly included as silver bullets for Chord of Calling, but Razorverge Thicket helps cast them if you draw them.

Jasper De Jong’s Melira Company, Top 4 at the Magic Online Championships

Birthing Pod has been banned, but the combo of Viscera Seer, Anafenza/Melira, and Kitchen Finks/Murderous Redcap is still around. With 28 hittable creatures in the deck, Collected Company will “only” yield 1.86 creatures on average, but many of them cost 3 mana, and sometimes you can get two of the missing combo pieces at instant speed.

Jasper’s build goes heavier on the combo than most versions, with extra copies of Viscera Seer, Eternal Witness, and Fauna Shaman. I like the toolbox aspect of the deck, although I would suggest Kor Firewalker instead of Burrenton Forge-Tender and Intrepid Hero instead of Aven Mindcensor in the sideboard. Just seems better against Lava Spike and Primeval Titan, respectively.

The Matchups

The following table provides game win percentages (match win percentages are not yet available) between the seven most popular decks. All numbers in this table are based on at least 50 games, with some based on over 200 games.

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The way to read this table is that Affinity smashed Burn in 63% of the games and lost to Twin in 72% of the games. Another lopsided matchup is Gr Tron vs. Junk, which greatly favors Gr Tron.

All things considered, Modern is filled with a lot of viable decks and new ones are born with each new set. What’s your favorite?

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