Modern Developments from Port to Bay

I can’t be doing the same stuff over and over again, week in and week out. I hear that’s the definition of madness. Or maybe not, because the Modern results do in fact differ from one GP to the next.

Either way, this article won’t just list the key numbers for all of Modern’s major players yet again. You’ll still find the top archetypes’ metagame shares and win rates at Grand Prix Tampa Bay below, based on a sample of 57.5% of that tournament’s full field. But I also want to compare them with the corresponding data all the way back to Grand Prix Portland. This should yield an overview of how the format developed over the past four months—at least across the North American continent. I’ll look at the much larger Grand Prix Bilbao next time, and I’ll also be working with a much larger percentage of the total entries then.

Let’s start with a largely historic example:

KCI and the Semblance Band-Aid

You would think that combo decks featuring Scrap Trawler fell from the face of the format following the banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks. And you’d be right—no one ran Scrap Trawler at GP Toronto. But I’m not just trolling here. At least two people were trawling for scraps in Los Angeles and one guy was at GP Tampa Bay.

A graph showing Scrap Trawler Combo's metagame share.

I claimed I wasn’t trolling exclusively, but I am trolling a little. The red line tells you that Scrap Trawler isn’t a real contender anymore. The deck went 0-8 in matches in Tampa, for instance. The blue line shows that it’s no longer a real part of any metagame considerations either.

Much more relevant is where the archetype sat before the banning of Krark-Clan Ironworks. It is notable that the deck only won about 57% of its matches overall. It is even more notable how few people ran the deck. Admittedly, we should view both through the lens of how difficult it was to play KCI. Matt Nass, the most adept expert, sported a win rate of upward of 90% at some point and argued for a ban of Ironworks himself.

But if we’re looking for a reason why this deck got banned into obscurity while Arclight Phoenix remains free to roam the skies, we won’t find it by comparing their numbers on a one-to-one basis. In fact, I believe the key difference between them to be that one deck does have mass appeal, while the other clearly didn’t. Also, watching KCI win was frustrating for more people—not just opponents and spectators, but everyone who didn’t want events delayed by long combo turns.

If you miss Krark-Clan Ironworks, try the following deck. It went 7-2 on Day 1 at GP Los Angeles and serves as a shining example of human ingenuity, not to mention a shining example of human obstinacy. After all, why not replace the banned card with the trifecta of Semblance Anvil, plus imprint, plus a separate sacrifice outlet?

A Semblance of Ironworks

7-6 at Grand Prix Los Angeles

3 Buried Ruin
4 Darksteel Citadel
1 Forest (347)
4 Grove of the Burnwillows
2 Inkmoth Nexus
1 Island (335)
3 Yavimaya Coast
4 Arcbound Ravager
4 Myr Retriever
3 Scrap Trawler
2 Walking Ballista
4 Ancient Stirrings
4 Chromatic Star
1 Engineered Explosives
4 Grinding Station
4 Ichor Wellspring
2 Mind Stone
4 Mox Opal
4 Semblance Anvil
2 Terrarion

4 Galvanic Blast
3 Karn, Scion of Urza
4 Nature's Claim
3 Sai, Master Thopterist
1 Tormod's Crypt

If you miss winning with Krark-Clan Ironworks, on the other hand, maybe don’t try this deck. Its promising start into the tournament ended in a drop after four consecutive losses on Day 2.

Rise Like a Phoenix!

When one door closes, a window opens, and then a bird flies in. Isn’t that how the saying goes?

A graph showing Izzet Phoenix's metagame share.

That the two lines intersect, and where they intersect, is coincidence. The blue metagame shares and the red win rates each operate on their own y-axes in order to improve visibility of the changes. Respectively, 12% and 65% are about as high as it gets for either. As such, the entanglement between the lines isn’t 100% coincidental, because Izzet Phoenix scores pretty highly in both metrics.

12% is big news, by the way. Izzet Phoenix’s metagame share of 12.2% in Tampa is the highest a deck reached at any Grand Prix in recent memory. I won’t judge whether or not this qualifies as oppressive, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that once upon a time Splinter Twin was banned for threatening the format’s diversity.

Equally astonishing is the win rate Izzet maintained even in the face of growing numbers. Usually, a rise in popularity goes hand in wing with a drop-off in performance. Early adopters typically outperform the average player. I thought we’d seen this effect in action with Grand Prix Los Angeles, but no, that was just temporary turbulence. The win rate went back to 57% and a bit for Tampa Bay. Indeed it is higher now than it ever was before, if only by 0.02%.

As you will see, other archetypes managed to do better than Izzet Phoenix at one or two events, but nothing outperformed the deck with comparable consistency. Also, nothing could match Izzet Phoenix’s massive sample size.

An Eternal Flame

The sounds of these Bangles punctuate a dirge. The story of Modern Burn is a sad affair, almost from start to finish, with few lightning flashes of hope in between the darkness.

A graph showing Burn's metagame share.

The deck spiked in popularity following the release of Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage. Its performance spiked at Grand Prix Oakland a month earlier and appears to have been a fluke. Burn bears the dubious distinction of having the highest number of losses relative to recorded matches. Why the deck ever bothered to move from 5.4% of the field to more than 7% is anyone’s guess.

This Land Is a Mine Land, This Land Is a Power Plant …

Are you interested in a deck that promises wildly varying results? If so, consider green-based Tron.

A graph showing Tron's metagame share.

It is unclear why the deck won as little as 45.6% of its matches in Oakland and as many as 56.5% of its matches in Tampa. I suspect Tron’s performance may be more susceptible to lucky and unlucky pairings and draws than is the case for other strategies. Are you interested in a deck that does well with a good hand? The London mulligan can help with that.

It’s a Miracle

With almost 5% of the vote, White-Blue Control was the fourth most popular archetype in Florida. The deck hasn’t mustered this many followers in a while, and we know what it did last summer. Back then White-Blue topped the charts, which shows just how much movement there is in Modern.

A graph showing White-Blue Control's metagame share.

Zombie Boy

After two GPs where Dredge won more than 55% of its matches, the deck’s win rate fell back to 53.2%. Overall, it continues to be way more successful than Burn, Tron, and White-Blue Control, which probably means that, at 4.75% of the field, Dredge is criminally underplayed.

A graph showing Dredge's metagame share.

Spirits in the Material World

The following graph shows a strong correlation between a reduced win rate and a reduced metagame share. The truth, as always, is more complicated. A lot of factors came together to topple the former frontrunner. Spirits lost a positive matchup in Ironworks and had to deal with the influx of Phoenix, for example. More importantly, Spirits hadn’t been performing well enough to justify the numbers at which the deck was played even before it actually fell out of favor. But it lifts my spirits to think that Spirits’ downfall came about because people acted rationally, so I’ll pretend there’s some causality here.

A graph showing Spirits' metagame share.

Shadow on the Wall

It was a good weekend for one Shadow player. It wasn’t a good weekend for Shadow players in general. In fact, it was an excessively middling trimester.

A graph showing Shadow's metagame share.

Fire on the Mountain

Red-Green Valakut decks formed the eighth most popular archetype at GP Tampa Bay. But of all the archetypes that got in more than 200 matches, this one won the fourth largest share, behind Humans, Izzet Phoenix, and Tron, and ahead of Dredge. Simple adaptations in the flex slots—more Flame Slash for instance, or main deck Chalice of the Void in a couple of cases—may have had something to do with it.

A graph showing Red-Green Valakut's metagame share.

We Built This City on Rock—

The Rock was the ninth most popular deck in Tampa, but it wasn’t the ninth most successful.

A graph showing The Rock's metagame share.

Human Behavior

Humans won 123 of 202 recorded matches at GP Tampy Bay, which makes it number one as far as win rate is concerned. Although a lower percentage, I still think Izzet Phoenix’s 320 victories out of 558 matches are more impressive. But either way, it was a great weekend for Humans. Innovations such as Anafenza, the Foremost may have had something to do with it.

A graph showing Humans' metagame share.

Riders in Jeskai

White-Blue Control players overwhelmingly rely on Terminus, whereas Jeskai Control combats creatures with spot removal. In a world of Phoenix, Bloodghast, and Prized Amalgam, one seems better than the other. At least, we can attest that White-Blue won more than 50% of its matches, while Jeskai won less.

A graph showing Jeskai Control's metagame share.

Whir Prison Blues

Finally, Whir Prison broke the 2% threshold. We should disregard its performance in Port- and Oakland, because those win rates are based on fewer than 30 matches. Also, the more ambitious ancients were still stirring their scrap-metal pots on Krark-Clan cast-iron stoves back then.

A graph showing Whir Prison's metagame share.

Subsequent win percentages, in contrast, reflect overall records of 56-28, 47-36, and 61-53. The first of the three is a huge outlier, while the others didn’t live up to the promising start. Nevertheless, Whir is where it’s at, so to say. Winning 53.5% of matches makes Whir the fourth most successful archetype of GP Tampa Bay, and it’s still kind of fresh out of the workshop too. You should expect this one to become more popular.

No further decks accounted for 2% of the field in Tampa. Remarkably, the next five decks in line also failed to post positive records, indicating that there may be some causality at play after all.


The Modern metagame remains in a state flux. Izzet Phoenix is threatening the diversity of the format, but there are avenues of adaption left to explore. We’re only beginning to see tech like Anafenza, the Foremost gain traction now, and Anafenza is hardly the foremost example. White-Blue Control is slowly regaining some of its metagame share on the back of a decent Izzet matchup, and Whir Prison hasn’t grown into a force appropriate to its results yet either.

Izzet Phoenix clearly has the numbers to warrant some action at some point in the future, whether it’s another ban or the addition of something out of Modern Horizons. But the format has the tools to combat the Phoenix menace too.

In the end, this may be the biggest difference between Izzet Phoenix and KCI. Ironworks continued to outperform basically everything even ten months after Matt Nass told the world that it was the best deck in Modern. Izzet Phoenix deserves a little more time.

Infographic on the MTG Modern metagame


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