I'm normally one of Modern's biggest fans, but I can't say I'm too thrilled with the results from this weekend. Grand Prix Porto Alegre and the SCG Open in Dallas are over and done, leaving behind a mess of linear decks and so-called unfair strategies.
This means new buying and selling opportunities across the format, and also a proliferation of (un)critical opinions about the format's state.
Although these cards and their home decks were the biggest winners this weekend, it wasn't all small creatures and fast games.
For instance, on Day 2 at GP Porto Alegre, Jund was the most-played deck by a 5% margin over Affinity. This suggests the Modern metagame is a lot more nuanced than we might admit at first glance, forcing us to be cautious before jumping to any conclusions or financial decisions.
Today, I want to check in with Modern and see how the GP and Open will affect the metagame and the Magic economy. The weekend opened up a number of hot buying and selling targets, and it's important to understand these trends if you want to stay ahead of the Modern market.
I also want to give you a more context-driven and evidence-based analysis of the weekend. You're bound to read a lot of ban mania and Modern vitriol with all the Lightning Bolts electrifying the top tables--hopefully this article provides a refreshing alternative.
Profiting From a Linear Weekend
Let's start with the giant Nacatl in the room: linear and non-interactive decks had a great weekend at Dallas and Porto Alegre.
Ten of the Top 16 decks at Dallas were damage-based aggro strategies, with about 40% of the Day 2 metagame falling into the same category. Porto Alegre saw six damage-based aggro decks in its own Top 8, although only about 35% of the GP's Day 2 followed that Top 8 trend.
That's a far cry from previous metagames, where we've seen aggro at a more reasonable ~20% of the format, with similar representation at top tables.
I don't see these developments as isolated events. SCG States also saw an uptick in these kinds of aggressive, linear decks, a trajectory I reported on in my SCG States review on Modern Nexus. Gruul Zoo was a huge winner at SCG States, and its recent Dallas performance at second and third only solidifies its Modern profile.
As I'm writing this article, I'm already seeing the foil Experiment One stock dwindle across the internet, so I hope some are remaining by the time I go to press.
E1 is an integral part of these Gruul/Fast Zoo strategies, and it's one of the biggest uncommon winners of the weekend. Price memory will not forget this weekend and the human ooze is likely to remain high in the future.
Gruul Zoo might have been the most exciting winner, but the reward for "most solid" goes to Burn. We've seen Burn variants melting the competition since Monastery Swiftspear arrived in Modern (even before that, but not with the same efficiency), and this weekend only continues the trend.
Gruul Zoo is not a Tier 1 deck. Burn hasn't fallen out of Tier 1 since last October. This makes its core cards more valuable because they are unlikely to lose value from period to period, even independent of price memory.
From a metagame perspective, Burn benefits from a diverse field that doesn't really know what answers to run. Focusing too much on Affinity, Grixis, and BGx? Burn is going to shred your life total faster than you can say "Should've brought those Feed the Clans." Even then, Burn has the Atarka's Commands and Skullcracks to retain a fighting chance, so preparation is no guarantee for victory.
For the most part, you want to buy into these successes as much as possible. Cheap Eidolons? Swipe those up fast. Discounted foil Swiftspears? Sold.
There's one card, however, which we need to be more careful about.
Guide is a runaway winner from this weekend, seeing play in both Burn and Gruul Zoo alike. This suggests it's only going up from here, even if "here" is already over $30.
If you have deep pockets, you can expect to buy this soon and make a good short-term profit. But you'll need to be very careful about Guide's long-term prospects, because this is a perfect candidate for a reprint.
Guide's exclusion from both Battle for Zendikar and Modern Masters 2015 was glaring, to me as it was to many other Modern players. This points to a near-future reprint.
Goblin Guide would be a dangerous card in Standard (I can't even imagine a Standard with Guide and Become Immense), but is a great card for a Commander, Duel Deck, or Modern Event deck reprint. I don't see us getting through the year without this happening, so be conservative when buying Guides.
Using this same logic, you can separate other buys and sells out of the linear aggro craze. Newcomers to the top tier (e.g. Experiment One, Kird Ape) are great buys. Something like Atarka's Command with a lot of Standard supply is a little riskier. Be judicious!
Upcoming Metagame Changes
It doesn't take too much analysis to see the success of linear decks over the weekend. The important question is much harder to answer: what comes next?
If we've learned anything from the last year of Modern, it's that the format is surprisingly resilient to disruptive forces.
Back in May and June, everyone (myself included!) feared that decks like Amulet Bloom and R/G Tron would rampage across the format and slay all the major summer Grand Prix Top 8's. What happened? Both decks floundered, the format self-policed, and Modern's balance was restored.
I've talked about this self-policing effect in previous Modern Nexus articles, and I believe we could see a similar effect following this weekend.
It's tempting to look at these results and be disheartened by Modern's linear decks. Although there is reason to worry about these trends continuing in the winter, there is also room for hope. Modern has many decks that can rock out in this metagame, and it's just up to players to identify and learn them for GP Pittsburgh and other winter events.
I talked about Verdict and other U/W Control staples in an article earlier this fall, and these are the kinds of strategies which could be big following this weekend.
Between the sweeping Verdict, lifegain in Kitchen Finks, blockers in Finks and Wall of Omens, and a relatively painless manabase, U/W Control is an excellent deck to combat the aggro menace we're seeing these days. You can even maindeck Timely Reinforcements and not feel bad about it!
Verdict remains one of the best U/W Control investment targets, and that's where I'd put my money. Both the Sun Titan and Dragonlord Ojutai variants rely on it, so you have a better chance of making money regardless of which U/W Control list comes out on top.
Abzan Company lists were huge winners at SCG States, and these decks are excellent against Burn and damage-based aggro. They have maindeck lifegain, lots of blockers, passable removal, and a combo win condition.
Gruul Zoo, Naya Company, and Burn decks (especially Burn decks) derive a lot of power from early creature attacks. Abzan Company can stymie those attacks and then recover into the midgame, especially in games 2-3 when you add tech like Burrenton Forge-Tender to the mix.
If Abzan Company was doing well at SCG States before this weekend, I expect it only to do better after. Last week, I suggested the eponymous card (and its related staples) as good buy-ins. That's still true today, especially if you believe in Modern's self-policing nature.
As for other decks, Twin continues to lag in Modern. This recent weekend also saw Twin drop to the back of the top-tier pack, but I think this is actually good news for the deck.
Twin decks can exploit this lack of attention to return to the big leagues, and most linear decks will struggle to interact with their win condition. I also expect we'll see fewer BGx decks (both Jund and Abzan are struggling with Burn these days), which bodes well for the return of Twin.
As a final gamble, don't forget the historic Jeskai Control lists with the best of Snapcaster, Bolt and Lightning Helix. Modern's pool of decks is very deep and something is likely to emerge to check the linear ascension.
Buying Into a January Unban
As readers both here and on Modern Nexus might have noticed, I don't like talking too much about format bans/unbans. A lot of authors talk about nothing but bans/unbans when they discuss Modern, and I know our format has enough rich content without resorting to these tired and hyperbolic references.
That said, we're coming up on January 2016 in the next few months, which has historically been an important time for Modern banlist changes.
Last year it was the death of Pod, Cruise, and Dig. The year before, it was Deathrite Shaman. Before that it was Seething Song and Bloodbraid. All of those announcements paired the bannings with an unban.
In the months leading up to next Janaury, the Grand Prix and Open metagames will be decisive in influencing Wizards' ban and unban decisions.
Porto Alegre and Dallas are just two data points in that equation, but they suggest changes might be coming. Modern has always had a lot of linear decks, but they've gradually attained supremacy since the summer. They've also maintained that dominance for months.
It's basically impossible to ban your way out of this situation without banning a half dozen cards, changing the Modern cutoff date, or a variety of other outlandish and unrealistic scenarios. Given Wizards' conservative approach to Modern over the past three years, not to mention their approach to other formats, you can safely bet against all of this.
We need to start thinking about more realistic and effective solutions to this issue.
Wizards banned Sword before players played a single sanctioned game of Modern. As Tom LaPille explained in Modern's inaugural A Modern Proposal article in May 2011, Wizards axed Sword to prevent the Thopter Foundry and Sword combination from dominating Modern and shifting the format too heavily towards control decks.
If Modern events continue the trend projected by Porto Alegre and Dallas, Sword is a perfect unbanning to both revitalize control and blunt aggro's advance.
Current aggro decks would struggle to punch through a Sword/Foundry lock on turns 3-4, which gives control decks a fighting chance without cutting aggro out of the format.
Sword also doesn't directly slot into any of the top-tier decks without some major changes. Sword Twin and Sword Grixis Control could be real things, but they are unlikely to be the format-crushing monsters many are worried about.
Speaking of top-tier Sword decks, how can we be sure the card doesn't break the format? Sword decks should themselves be easily policed by BGx decks, whether through discard, Scavenging Ooze, or Abrupt Decay.
All of this make it an impactful, relatively safe, and (most importantly) realistic unbanning in January.
Financially speaking, both Sword and Thopter Foundry are excellent buys if the format's speed stays where it is.
The foil versions of these cards are always hovering in the $6.00 range just waiting for the announcement, and these make great buys whether you plan to flip them or play them. It's not even entirely clear if Sword will be a good answer to a linear Modern! But it certainly won't be a bad one, and it will certainly gain value following an unbanning.
Word of warning on Foundry: we saw a reprint in Commander 2013, so this is going to be the weaker of the speculation targets. You'll still want to keep it in mind but I'd keep my dollars more in Sword than in its combo partner.
As I said earlier, you are going to read a lot of panicked Modern articles after this weekend. Those articles are going to be light on metagame context and heavy on alarmism.
I strongly encourage you to consider the Top 16 numbers, the Day 2 stats, and the overall metagame picture before boarding the mania train. Make sure you buy and sell accordingly! Misreading the metagame is a recipe for big financial losses or missed opportunities.
What else did you notice this last weekend? Any Modern cards you expect to rise or fall based on the results? We'll keep following the Modern action and I'll check back in next week as we get the full October metagame picture.