Once again, I mined all available information from the most recent Modern Grand Prix for all that it’s worth. With a tinier turnout and access to only a little over 60% of players’ deck info, the results may not be as impressive this time as the ones for Bilbao. But there is news to note and previously unpublished lists to share. Here are the top stories.
Izzet Phoenix May Not Have Been the Most Popular Deck
Izzet Phoenix had been the most played deck at each of the previous three Modern GPs. The deck’s metagame share even increased from 10% in Los Angeles to 12.2% in Tampa and 13.4% in Bilbao. Calgary painted a different picture.
It is possible that the rest of the field included a disproportionate number of Izzet Phoenix followers, and that the deck pulled even with or ahead of Burn. But either way, this marks a break from the trend of ever-growing numbers of Izzet players flooding the format.
On the flip side, we can’t read a metagame development into the fact that Burn won the popularity contest. After all, Burn consistently placed among the worst performers at previous events. We should rather chalk it up to local preferences. Burn had also been the most played deck at Grand Prix Toronto in February, red and white are the colors of Canada’s national flag, and people in colder climates may simply like to burn stuff.
But Izzet Phoenix Was the Most Represented Deck on Day 2
Izzet pilots converted Day 1 into Day 2 appearances at a stellar rate.
But Hardened Scales did even better, at least within our sample. Overall, 113 of 577 known decks advanced to the second day, making for an average conversion rate of 19.6%. Scales, Izzet Phoenix, Death’s Shadow, and White-Blue Control outperformed this average, whereas Spirits, Amulet Titan, Jund, Red Phoenix, Jeskai Control, and Red-Green Valakut fared notably worse than average. Of course, the sample’s one remaining Valakut player did pretty well for himself on Sunday, winning the whole thing.
All in all, the above warrants a bit of skepticism. Any issues with the original sample find themselves naturally exacerbated down the line when looking at fractions of factions.
Scales, W/U, and Dredge Performed Best
I looked for some larger—and thus more reliable—numbers among the decks’ records across the whole tournament’s 15 rounds of Swiss plus Top 8 playoffs. Most went about even, even Burn for once.
None of the major archetypes’ performances stood a simple test of statistical significance: a deck that wins 50% of its matches would generate records at least as extreme as the ones observed with a probability above 5%. That same probability remained below 10% only for the following five:
Dana Fischer ended up the highest finishing Elves player I could find, and not for the first time either. Just imagine how well she’d do if Elves were in a stronger position in today’s Modern.
I’m not going to get into matchups, because the samples didn’t allow for meaningful inferences.
The Top 8 Featured Eight Different Archetypes
The Top 8 decks exhibited some of the old diversity again for which the format had once been famous/feared.
Six of them largely followed the familiar recipes for their respective archetype. Two stood out: The champion’s Primeval Titan/Through the Breach deck splashed a bit of black for minor upgrades to the main deck’s removal suite as well as major upgrades to the sideboard. And the second blue-red deck in the Top 8 eschewed Arclight Phoenix in favor of more control elements, but retained Thing in the Ice for at least some potential explosiveness.
And the Top 16 Added Another Five Archetypes
The next eight players in line, all of whom went 12-3, added Tron, Affinity, Shadow Zoo, Burn, and Hardened Scales to the mix. The Rock, Izzet Phoenix, and White-Blue Control remained the only repeats among the full Top 16.
Most of them looked pretty much like the stockiest of stock lists, complete with the now-standard Experimental Frenzy in Affinity. For example, the following must be just about the quintessential Burn version:
Adam Barnett’s, 15th place (12-3) at Grand Prix Calgary
1 Arid Mesa 4 Inspiring Vantage 2 Sacred Foundry 3 Scalding Tarn 4 Wooded Foothills 5 Mountain 4 Eidolon of the Great Revel 4 Goblin Guide 4 Monastery Swiftspear 4 Boros Charm 4 Lava Spike 1 Light Up the Stage 4 Lightning Bolt 4 Lightning Helix 4 Rift Bolt 4 Searing Blaze 4 Skewer the Critics Sideboard 1 Deflecting Palm 1 Exquisite Firecraft 1 Molten Rain 3 Path to Exile 3 Rest in Peace 4 Skullcrack 2 Smash to Smithereens
Two of the Top 16 decks, on the other hand, deserve further attention.
Shadow Zoo already enjoyed success recently. At Grand Prix Bilbao, one such deck had placed within the Top 8. Now another one made it to the Top 16 in Calgary. Or rather, the same did. The two lists differed in a grand total of four sideboard cards.
Nathaniel Knox, 14th place (12-3) at Grand Prix Calgary
1 Blood Crypt 4 Bloodstained Mire 1 Godless Shrine 1 Overgrown Tomb 1 Sacred Foundry 1 Stomping Ground 4 Verdant Catacombs 4 Wooded Foothills 1 Forest 4 Death's Shadow 4 Monastery Swiftspear 4 Street Wraith 4 Tarmogoyf 4 Wild Nacatl 3 Become Immense 2 Dismember 2 Lightning Bolt 4 Mishra's Bauble 3 Mutagenic Growth 4 Temur Battle Rage 4 Thoughtseize Sideboard 1 Ancient Grudge 2 Assassin's Trophy 1 Claim/Fame 1 Collective Brutality 2 Faith's Shield 2 Fatal Push 2 Hooting Mandrills 1 Liliana of the Veil 1 Ravenous Trap 2 Surgical Extraction
It’s hardly more than anecdotal evidence at this point. Shadow Zoo had ten players in the running in Bilbao, and the Calgary sample included just the one. Nevertheless this suffices for Shadow Zoo to reestablish itself as the second most successful Shadow build behind the overwhelmingly more popular Grixis.
There also are lessons to be learned from Calgary’s second most successful White-Blue Control build:
Simon Tubello, 13th place (12-3) at Grand Prix Calgary
4 Celestial Colonnade 4 Field of Ruin 4 Flooded Strand 1 Glacial Fortress 2 Hallowed Fountain 1 Mystic Gate 6 Island 2 Plains 2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor 2 Teferi, Hero of Dominaria 3 Ancestral Vision 1 Condemn 3 Cryptic Command 1 Detention Sphere 2 Mana Leak 4 Path to Exile 1 Remand 3 Rest in Peace 1 Revitalize 1 Runed Halo 1 Secure the Wastes 4 Serum Visions 1 Settle the Wreckage 1 Spell Snare 1 Supreme Verdict 3 Terminus 1 Timely Reinforcements Sideboard 1 Cataclysmic Gearhulk 1 Celestial Purge 2 Dispel 2 Geist of Saint Traft 3 Leyline of Sanctity 1 Negate 2 Snapcaster Mage 2 Stony Silence 1 Vendilion Clique
Some people don’t like to use Terminus to do the heavy lifting of lifting creatures from the battlefield. Even notable control experts could be seen recently giving a nod to Supreme Verdict. But both White-Blue players in Calgary’s Top 16 went with the miracle solution. Both also ran one Settle the Wreckage, four Path to Exile, and one Condemn. More permanent answers to threats like Arclight Phoenix and Bloodghast and Prized Amalgam seem to be at a premium.
Tubello included a couple of more innovative tech components as well. Runed Halo is one piece of technology that’s been getting a bit of traction lately. More extreme, Tubello ran main deck Rest in Peace instead of the more common Snapcaster Mage. The reward was a 2-0 in recorded matches against Izzet Phoenix and a 2-0 in games in Tubello’s single recorded run-in with Dredge.
A single encounter isn’t enough to speak of a trend, but for comparison we can look at another trend—this one quite clear: At Grand Prix Bilbao, White-Blue Control only won 28% of its 25 matches versus Dredge, making Dredge by far White-Blue’s weakest matchup.
In the End
Finally, I’d like to draw attention again to one fringe strategy that has remained firmly under the radar so far despite somewhat promising early results. It all began with the release of Electrodominance…
I only know of two players who ran Blue-Red Electro End at Grand Prix Toronto. One of them went 10-5. I only know of two players who ran Blue-Red Electro End at Grand Prix Calgary, and again one of them went 10-5. (All different people by the way.) At Grand Prix Bilbao, one of the four Electro End players in attendance even posted a 12-3 record.
Richard Neal, 64th place (10-5) at Grand Prix Calgary
2 Cascade Bluffs 4 Scalding Tarn 4 Spirebluff Canal 2 Steam Vents 2 Tolaria West 4 Island 1 Mountain 4 Curator of Mysteries 4 Desert Cerodon 2 Faerie Macabre 3 Street Wraith 4 Striped Riverwinder 4 Ancestral Vision 4 As Foretold 4 Cryptic Command 4 Electrodominance 4 Living End 4 Remand Sideboard 2 Abrade 3 Chalice of the Void 3 Fulminator Mage 4 Leyline of Sanctity 2 Negate 1 Tormod's Crypt
It’s hard to say whether or not the deck is for real. In contrast, it’s super easy to note that the deck is criminally underplayed compared to the results it’s been getting. I’d love to see more data, so maybe give it a try at your next Modern GP and let me know via Twitter.