The Underdogs Rise Up to Meet Major Metagames

The best deck doesn’t always remain the best deck for very long, as players move quickly to implement counter tactics to the known top strategies. Those strategies are common knowledge in each of the major formats:

• In Standard, U/W Control has been king of the hill since week one.
• In Modern, Humans and Hollow Ones have surged in popularity.
• In Legacy, Grixis Delver has been continuing to expand its metagame share.

Is this an issue of certain decks simply being too good, or is it that getting great lists and playing at level 1 of the metagame is easy and continues to fuel a foregone conclusion?

It’s hard to argue that simply playing one of these best decks isn’t a great choice for most players. The decks are tuned. The decks have solid plans. And the information for how to execute these plans is easily accessible via article content. It’s just easier to play Humans, Grixis, or U/W Control than it is to do anything else.

But just because jumping on the bandwagon is easy doesn’t mean there are no other options. I’ve identified a deck in each format that is well positioned against the expected metagame and that has been steadily ticking up in win percentage.

Legacy: 4-Color Control

The hot button issue in Legacy has been the cruel reign of Deathrite Shaman.

Grixis Delver has been growing its market share and putting up borderline ridiculous numbers. The good news is that a natural predator has emerged to combat Grixis Delver. The bad news is that it is 4C Control, which is just another flavor of Deathrite Shaman!

Earlier this week, I wrote about how Deathrite Shaman is the most powerful fair card ever printed. While it does fair things (it doesn’t put Emrakul into play or count storm…), the ridiculous stats-to-converted-mana-cost ratio simply makes the card unfair on principle.

4C Control

HJ KAISER, 1st place in an MTGO Legacy League

While Grixis Control still reigns supreme at 13% of the winner’s metagame, the various flavors of 4C and Czech Pile have risen to 7% in the past few weeks.

The fact is that going a little bit bigger and having a little more card advantage bodes well in the Deathrite Shaman head-to-head.

Cards like Leovold and Snapcaster Mage give the bigger version more options and staying power as the games sprawl on with trading removal. The next level in Legacy may well be shelving those Delvers and bringing in some Baleful Strix!

If everyone is just going to accept that Grixis Delver is golden and play the deck, then Czech Pile becomes a fantastic deck choice, which is why it has been moving up in the world lately.

Modern: Mardu Pyromancer

Modern is a hard format to assess. It gets hate thrown at it like none other. The Modern metagame has become the perennial target for grinders to malign.

To be fair, if everything was peachy keen, people wouldn’t complain. I understand the pitfalls of the format and the complaints about matchups and ridiculous draws. Personally, I don’t love defending certain aspects of Modern (or other Constructed formats for that matter) because I share some of that discontentment. But Magic is what it is and the cards are what they are. Complaining doesn’t accomplish much, and if you want results the key is to work with what you’ve got!

I still think the games are pretty snappy and fun, but it does feel like the number of busted decks is hitting a critical mass.

In particular, one busted deck has been getting a ton of hype, accolades, and play lately:

Humans is up to 9% of the winner’s metagame, which is disturbing in a format with 50 viable decks. It’s hard to say how much that percentage is the result of the hivemind. Content has been loaded with talk and guides for playing Humans and the deck has continued to thrive. Is it a self fulfilling prophecy?

In response, a new deck has begun to thrive once again in opposition to the Humans:

Mardu Pyromancer

Tyler Blum, 3rd place at Grand Prix Toronto

Mardu Midrange is basically the “murder your stuff” deck and stacks up nicely against tribal swarm decks like Humans that rely on having multiple cards in play at the same time to function properly.

Mardu only has a modest 3% of the winner’s metagame at the moment, but I expect this number to start ticking up. It also helps that the deck slaughters other mainstays like Affinity and Collected Company.

If you’re looking for a solid Modern option, take a cue from Nike and Just Mardu It.

Standard: Return of The Scarab God

Standard has been getting a lot of hype with the release of Dominaria, which incidentally has a bunch of absurdly busted cards in it.

The initial weeks of Dominaria Standard have seen U/W take the reigns behind the powerful Teferi planeswalker in a control shell. We’ve seen some fight back from decks like Red Vehicles, but U/W remains a defining force.

My Grand Prix Toronto teammates and I put together a very impressive Sultai Control deck that had solid game against U/W Control and R/B Aggro. Of the three formats, this is perhaps the loosest observation (since it hasn’t been reflected in actual winner’s metagame percentage movement), but it felt very real in playtesting and Grand Prix matches.

Sultai Control

Stuart Parnes

It is ironic that this deck dramatically improves its U/W Control matchup from last season because U/W got an absurd card in Teferi, which has moved them off Approach of the Second Sun.

The deck is just full of good cards and removal, which help craft strong aggro matchups, the same general dynamic as last season when The Scarab God was dominant. I predict that The Scarab God will be exalted and praised after the PT.

The key to this article (aside from simply having a few nice metagame tips for players looking for an angle) is that even in formats where things feel stale or solved, you can identify trends or angles to gain an advantage. I’d rather be the guy playing Mardu than Humans in Modern.

The key is to stay a step ahead of the pack. The advantages are in the margins, and when they are so slim, every little thing makes a big difference, so keep grinding them out.

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