Insider: Modern Finance After the SCG Milwaukee Open

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As I'm writing this, we're still wrapping up the Top 8 portion of the Star City Games Milwaukee Modern Open. Whether Abzan Company triumphs, or one of the faster, aggressive decks claws its way to gold, the Open was an exciting event that showcased Modern's considerable diversity in a post-April 4 world. I was particularly excited to see the Open's Day 2 standings---nothing says "open format" more than a breakdown with no single deck over a 10% share.

Add in all the results from SCG States and Modern is shaping up to be the post-Eldrazi, post-Twin utopia many hoped it would become.

Top Day 2 decks at SCG Milwaukee

We have about 20 days between today and all the Modern action of Modern Grand Prix Weekend (#GPLA, #GPCHARLOTTE, #Modern4life), which is enough time to innovate outside of the current metagame but not enough time for it to shift substantially. If you're serious about winning tournaments at Grand Prix Weekend, or winning the market in May, you'll need to pay attention to this current metagame climate.

It's the first time we're really seeing a Twinless world without the interfering influence of the Eldrazi menace, and the findings are huge for where Modern goes from here. You've heard all the myths of this new environment: Tron is dead, BGx is no longer viable, blue is still weak, combo and aggro is the only place to be. As today's results show, the format is much more favorable to all these strategies (and many more!) than the detractors would have you believe.

Today, we'll identify some high-level financial themes in the Modern metagame before turning to the deck-specific takeaways. All these changes might be upended during the approaching Grand Prix Weekend, but this is where you need to start to prepare yourself for the Modern mayhem.

Markets in the New Metagame

Soon after this article goes to press, I'll be updating the Modern Nexus Top Decks standings to reflect both the results from SCG Champs and from SCG Milwaukee. A full metagame breakdown article will follow on Modern Nexus on Wednesday morning. My Monday Quiet Speculation articles often risk stealing my own thunder, and I'm taking that gamble again today to show a quick cross-section of the format.

It's easy to make reactive investments in spikes as you see them arise. It's much harder to really know a metagame and get ahead of price jumps through format knowledge. In reviewing the format-wide numbers, we'll take a shot at the latter. How else are you supposed to buy those foil Reckless Bushwhackers before they're out of stock?

Here are the Top 12 decks in Modern right now, using adjusted metagame shares aggregating paper, Magic: The Gathering Online, and Open Day 2 numbers to predict a metagame-wide percentage. We're looking at the Top 12 because these decks represent all the strategies with a 3%+ prevalence. Tune into Modern Nexus on Wednesday for the full tier-by-tier breakdown of at least 30 Modern decks!

Top 12 Modern Decks (4/8/16 - 5/1/16)

  1. Jund (9.4%)
  2. Burn (7%)
  3. Affinity (6%)
  4. Abzan Company (5.7%)
  5. Infect (5.5%)
  6. Jeskai Control (3.7%)
  7. Gruul Zoo (3.7%)
  8. Scapeshift (3.6%)
  9. Merfolk (3.6%)
  10. Abzan (3.5%)
  11. R/G Tron (3.3%)
  12. Kiki Chord (3%)

Because these percentages reflect an adjusted, metagame-wide share across different Magic platforms, you're likely to see some variation at the local and even regional level. For instance, that crazy dude who brings Norin the Wary Soul Sisters to your Friday Night Magic every week is still going to bring his Norins even though he's not cracking the Modern Top 50.

You'll also want to be careful about differences between MTGO and paper. Eldrazi Death & Taxes and Gruul Zoo have a huge MTGO presence that gets halved once you look at paper.

These differences are important at your game store's Sunday afternoon Modern 15-man, but negligible at the Grand Prix or Magic market level. If you're preparing for Modern Weekend or looking to move product on the Magic-wide economy scale, these Top 12 numbers are an excellent guide to ensuring smart decisions.

Three Metagame Themes

Following from that, here are the metagame-level themes you'll want to focus on and how those affect your financial moves throughout May:

1. Jund, Abzan Company, and the Big Aggro Three are the decks to beat.

With one notable exception, these five decks have enjoyed consistent success from April 8 all the way to May 1, including at the SCG States and SCG Open levels. Do not bet against these decks going into the May Grand Prix. As a player, you'll need a gameplan against all of them. As an investor, any staples in these decks should hold value well past May as these decks stay relevant.

That said, keep an eye on Affinity. Despite having a great SCG Champs showing, Affinity sent a piddly two players to Milwaukee's Day 2. This could be a one-time anomaly, or it could indicate a major shift against Affinity.

I'm leaning more towards the latter---as players expect Thopter decks and Affinity in equal measure, they pack Ancient Grudges and Stony Silences in spades. Once this Dredge/Affinity-effect subsides, expect Affinity to be waiting to capitalize.

2. Blue-based control is promising but still needs work.

Before SCG Champs Sunday, Grixis Control and Midrange variants looked like they were taking Ancestral Vision all the way to the Modern Top 5. Fast forward to the end of SCG Milwaukee where these decks were present but by no means established.

Looking at the metagame-wide numbers, we see blue-based control decks (i.e. the Vision, Cryptic, and/or Snapcaster decks) at around 13% of the format. This includes the vaunted Sword of the Meek decks which are still looking for a foothold. SCG Milwaukee saw similar numbers in the 12%-13% range.

All of this means you can expect blue-based control to stick around in Modern, but also that it has a long way to go. Top-dollar staples such as Ancestral Vision are likely to fall in the coming months unless they get a breakout performance at the Grand Prix. Same goes for all the optimistic spiking around Thopter Foundry, Gifts Ungiven, Muddle the Mixture and others---the metagame just hasn't taken to these cards the same way speculators have.

3. Linear and aggressive upstarts always surprise.

When Wizards R&D crumbled that evil Eye of Ugin to dust on April 4, many players predicted the death of both R/G Tron and Eldrazi decks with it. Similarly, when Thopter Foundry and Sword of the Meek came online in the same announcement, skeptical Moderners decried it as the death knell for aggressive decks. Both SCG States and the SCG Open blew these naysaying predictions out of the water, which should have surprised absolutely no one who paid serious attention to Modern metagame cycles.

Over the last weekend alone, we saw Joe Lossett go to the finals with his R/G Tron deck and Gerry Thompson just miss out on the top tables with his R/G Eldrazi. We also saw a number of inspired performances by the Reckless Bushwhackered Gruul Zoo strategies, and a renegade Top 8 bid by Will Drescher's Suicide Zoo. SCG States offered similar results the weekend before.

All of this shows that these strategies are alive and well. From a metagame perspective, you'll want to pack all the sweepers, removal and land interaction to handle these menaces---don't forget your Fulminator Mages, Crumble to Dusts and Anger of the Gods in the sideboard! Financially speaking, look to move into these strategies as they continue to carve out a niche in Modern, or maintain the one they already had.

Getting Ahead of Trends

It's hard to enjoy big profit margins if you're reacting to everyone else. The big bucks lie in getting ahead of metagame trends, and small datasets like this are a great way to achieve that financial grail. Thinking about Modern's current state, there are a number of ways this might pan out in May.

One of the biggest areas for development is in blue-based control. Abzan Company is huge right now, and the deck has historically struggled with Snapcaster-Bolt decks. Although those decks are still struggling to solidify Tier 1 status, it doesn't mean they can't get there by the Grand Prix Weekend.

If you can figure out the breakout blue-based deck, you might be able to secure a sizable profit. For instance, Michael Majors ran three Kalitas this weekend in his Grixis deck. If Kalitas Grixis catches on, the Modern and Standard crossover is going to get even pricier.

Another excellent example is Fulminator Mage, an already expensive staple that is going to get even pricier if the Abzan Company players start adopting it to combat R/G Tron. Grixis Control decks, if blue mages go in that direction, will also run their Mages alongside Kolaghan's Command. So will Jund! The sky is the limit on a card like this, and the only reason we're seeing Mage at a more stable $25-$30 range is the supposed drop in Tron and big mana decks.

SCG Milwaukee showed that drop was mightily exaggerated, so we're likely to see Mage return to sideboards and maindecks everywhere starting in May.

These are just two examples of where you can sneak ahead of a metagame trend to ramp up your bottom line. The key isn't just to invest in the top decks, but rather to invest in the decks which beat those decks, or the cards which help the current top-tier decks maintain that status. Hit me up in the comments if you have specific cards in mind!

Cards and Decks to Watch

In the lead-up to Grand Prix Weekend, Modern-wide themes are more important than individual strategies. Most Grand Prix induce changes to the Modern landscape, but although decks may come and go, the bigger context is unlikely to change substantially. This makes the themes safer investment guidelines than individual spotlights.

That said, there are a few important speculation targets savvy buyers will want to know about going into May. We saw some of these on camera during SCG Milwaukee, we saw others over SCG States, and others still are lurking in the background ready for a breakout day in May.

Ancient Stirrings

The only reason Ancient Stirrings hasn't hit $5.00 yet is because people thought Tron and Eldrazi were dead. Both R/G Tron and R/G Eldrazi used the immensely powerful Stirrings, and that's on top of its staple status in Lantern Control decks.

I expect we'll see all three of these decks succeed in May, luring more players back to their ramp roots as they realize these decks were much more viable than many predicted. Even if the bubble bursts over Grand Prix Weekend, Stirrings is still a safe bet just on its Tron and Eldrazi finishes. If the ramp bug catches, however, then its integral cantrip will keep stirring up dollars.

Jeskai Control

Although Michael Majors and many online Modern communities gravitated towards Grixis in the past weeks, Jeskai is where I see the most control potential. Potent removal options line up nicely against Abzan Company and the aggressive hordes. Although ramp decks are still an issue for Jeskai decks, Crumble to Dust out of the board is a decisive answer, and the loss of Eye of Ugin means the long game goes to Snapcaster decks and not just Tron inevitability.

Angel is the big winner here due to her joint viability in both the Jeskai decks, which are still battling their way to the top, and the Kiki Chord decks, which enjoyed some strong successes in the past two weeks. Her supply is low relative to her possible demand, and I wouldn't be surprised to see her fly past $20 or $25 if either of these decks enjoy success in May.

Noble Hierarch

It's always dangerous to invest in expensive cards like Noble Hierarch. Unless you have a lot of dollars behind your purchases, it's hard to accumulate stock on these cards without putting your bank account in the hole. That said, if you have Hierarchs lying around, have the money to back a big purchase, or are just a player who wants to play a Hierarch deck, this is a great time to buy.

Between Abzan Company and Infect, Noble Hierarch continues to make a splash in Modern's Tier 1 decks. May is likely to see those Tier 1 decks stay Tier 1, which means Hierarch will only go up from here as more players hop on the Infect and Abzan Company trains.

Barring an Eternal Masters reprint (and Hierarch is hardly a Vintage and Legacy all-star), the dork is on her way to Snapcaster-status in a hurry. Even if you can't get the capital together to move a huge quantity of Hierarchs, you should still buy this card now if you want to play a Hierarch deck. The ceiling is much higher than Hierarch's current price tag, and you don't want to be left behind if Abzan Company takes off any more.

Gearing Up for Modern MAY-hem

Get used to that pun because there are four more Mondays in May and I got plenty of Modern to write about. Modern Nexus readers will have to expect it doubly. Bad wordplay aside, I'm very excited to play Modern right now and heartened by an incredibly diverse and interesting metagame. Remember to stay in dialogue with the metagame standings when confronted with deck, financial, or format decisions.

This is especially true when busting some of Modern's most persistent and annoying myths. General rule: if someone says a strategy is dead, you just have to wait a few weeks for it to rear its head again. I'm happy to decry Modern as unhealthy when it's warranted, but this time around Modern doesn't deserve the flak it's gotten online and in articles. The format is very open and the May Grand Prix should reflect that.

Thanks to all of you for joining me and I look forward to seeing how the format keeps developing over the month. I'll be conducting a fuller metagame breakdown on Modern Nexus for my Wednesday piece, but until then, feel free to jump down to the comments with any Modern questions, observations or ideas you have. See you all soon!

2 thoughts on “Insider: Modern Finance After the SCG Milwaukee Open

  1. Modern gps are in May, and modern pPTQs are in July, correct? You seem to be bullish on modern cards for the upcoming gps… Do you think May will be the time to sell modern cards, or will the upcoming pPTQs buoy the price even more and they’ll peak this summer?

    1. Prices should peak AFTER the GPs when there is considerable hype around certain cards or decks. People generally don’t go too crazy about Open and States results (the ones we have seen so far) because it’s hard to tell if those results will hold in the overall metagame. GP finishes are much more commanding. If you wait to jump on board a hot card until after Modern Weekend, the price might be too high. If you move early, however, people might not realize just how good the investment is.

      After GP Weekend, prices should stay stable or go up a little into PPTQ/RPTQ season over the summer. Then they will fall again.

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