Observations from an IQ

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Rejoice Nexites, for the Modern PPTQ season fast approaches! The Modern Pro Tour may be gone but at least we still have an entire season to grind away for our shot at the big stage. While the season doesn't actually kick off for most until the end of the month, I got a taste of what is to come at a Modern IQ last weekend. Frankly, what I saw makes me a little nervous.


Initially I was planning on doing one of my usual tournament reports and going into detail on each game but the IQ didn't go that well for me. More importantly, there were only a few games where there was more to say than "I ran my opponent over" or "I got crushed", which when coupled with my observations of the tournament make me nervous about the upcoming PPTQ season. First though, it's time to update everyone on my Merfolk list.


The Deck

Another tournament, another opportunity to drag out the old warhorse. Not that I haven't been playing around with other decks, but I've had more success over the past month with Merfolk than any of my brews and a few recent additions have been really paying off. I don't know what your local metagame looks like but mine has been increasingly grindy midrange and control decks, which has led me to up my threat count. Since Harbinger of the Tides isn't very effective against Jeskai or Scapeshift I've been running Vendilion Clique and have been very happy with that choice.

Having complete information about your opponent's hand is good. It's even better when you can take away their best card in the process (which is why Thoughtseize is so powerful). Vendilion Clique does that and leaves a body behind, and a three-power flier is surprisingly hard for a lot of decks to deal with. It's been overall better than the Deprives that I ran last time I talked about the deck and I'm surprised it took me this long to figure it out. It is an Vendilion Cliqueexceptional follow-up to Supreme Verdict or as a way to preempt Ad Nauseam and Scapeshift and close out the game. If you find yourself struggling against control or combo, definitely consider Clique.

I moved the Deprives to the sideboard because you do want some catchalls for a number of matchups, and the Burrenton Forge-Tenders weren't seeing a lot of play. Anger of the Gods and Burn don't appear to be too popular anymore so there wasn't much need for them. The final change was to take out Unified Will for another Rest in Peace. Clique has reduced the need for counterspells so I was planning on cutting it when Dredge started showing up. I've advocated for graveyard hate in the past, but it feels especially important right now. Even if you don't see a lot of Dredge there are plenty of decks that rely on their graveyards and throwing a RiP-sized wrench in their plans is shockingly effective. I failed to effectively wield my hate in the tournament, but I was very glad I had it.

The Tournament

The IQ was six rounds long, which is pretty typical for Denver area tournaments. I ended up going 3-3 and finishing out of prizes. I made a questionable mulligan decision that cost me a match and had some bad luck that cost the other two, as well as good luck to win two matches, but I'm also not sure that Merfolk was well positioned to do much better at this IQ (more on that later). I was disappointed with my results but not with my deck and would definitely play that configuration again.

My Results:

Round 1: Matt, Burn (Win 2-1)

I lost the die roll and the first game but multiple Cursecatchers into lords won the other two. In addition to taking out Spreading Seas I shaved an Aether Vial and in game three I Cliqued Matt and found that he had two Destructive Revelry stranded in hand. It's good to out-board your opponent.

Sideboarding: -4 Spreading Seas -1 Aether Vial, +2 Deprive +1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner +1 Rest in Peace +1 Meddling Mage

Round 2: Anthony S., Affinity (Loss 1-2)

Destructive REvelryI get crushed game one, but game two I have Hurkyl's Recall into Stony Silence to buy enough time to get my offense together. In game three I keep a hand that has a very good curve but no interaction or hate, thinking in light of his mulligan that as long as he doesn't have Cranial Plating I can race. Naturally, he has Plating and I lose. On reflection I made the wrong decision and was rightfully punished.

Sideboarding: -4 Aether Vial -1 Cursecatcher, +2 Hurkyl's Recall +3 Stony Silence

Round 3: Anthony W., Death and Taxes (Loss 1-2)

This is my only match of the day that takes longer than 30 minutes. I crushed him game one, but in games two and three he found Sword of Fire and Ice and stomped me. Game three I had an opportunity to win after mostly clearing his board following an intense turn where he finally found colored mana that let him deploy the cards stuck in his hand. All I had to do was draw any Merfolk to tap his last blocker with Merrow Reejerey, a Path, or a Spreading Seas and I win. Instead I drew Vial and Anthony was able to finally play out his hand for the win.

Sideboarding: -1 Cursecatcher, +1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner

Round 4: Kelly, Infect (Loss 0-2, given match afterward)

Infect is already a bad matchup, and double-mulliganing doesn't help. I kept a one-lander game two because it had a lot of interaction and would have been great with another land. I never draw it and get crushed. Should have played the odds and taken the safe play. It ends up not mattering because Kelly wants to go and he gives me the win after we're done playing.

Sideboarding: -2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner, +2 Deprive

Round 5: Ronnie, Jund (Win 2-0)

Ronnie doesn't draw very well this game. He's removal-light in both games while I have rest in peacelord-heavy draws and just smash him. I did make a critical mistake game two that would have cost me if Ronnie had more removal than two Abrupt Decays. I've had pretty good results with Rest in Peace against Jund and was planning to bring in all three this game but got cold feet. This was a mistake because 1) The Deprive I played instead sat uselessly in my hand the whole game and 2) Ronnie's game was Grim Lavamancer, Scavenging Ooze, Tarmogoyf, and Kalitas. If Ronnie had played more than two removal spells or had more than one fetchland I would have been sunk. He didn't so I ran him over easily, but if I'd had RiP instead of Deprive there would never have been any danger. Lesson learned.

Sideboarding: -4 Aether Vial, +2 Deprive +1 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner +1 Rest in Peace

Round 6: David Z., Dredge (Loss 0-2)

Urgh. Dredge is horrible, especially game one. I need a really fast draw with Seas to have a Lightning Axechance and my mulligan is not that. Game two I mulligan three times. I still would have won if I'd seen a white source. David kept a hand full of Lightning Axe and then didn't have very good dredges so I got seven extra draw steps. At one point he had three Prized Amalgams and Bloodghasts in his graveyard and no way to trigger them. RiP at that point would have effectively killed him but it wasn't to be.

Sideboarding: -2 Kira, Great Glass-Spinner -1 Master of Waves, +3 Rest in Peace

I finished outside the prizes. My round 6 opponent finished in 9th place, but never really had a chance at the Top 8 due to his tiebreakers.

Top 8

  • 2 GR Tron
  • 2 Mardu Control
  • 2 Abzan Company
  • 1 Blue Moon
  • 1 Affinity

It's odd to have a Modern Top 8 with only five decks, and this combined with my observations during the tournament have got me wondering about where the metagame is heading.

The Worry

Almost all my matches were fast, usually around 25 minutes. This gave me plenty of time to walk around and scout the field. I was a little concerned by what I saw. On a first pass the meta appeared to be a pretty normal spread, with a few of every deck present without one Urza's Towerbeing overrepresented. However over the tournament there was a trend for the blue decks to bunch together at the bottom tables while Kiki-Chord, Infect, Tron, and Abzan Company rose to the top. By the end only the Blue Moon player who made Top 8 was at the top two tables representing blue, and I was the only one at the middle tables. Stranger, the only two Tron decks present on the day made Top 8, and one of them won the whole thing.

This result is only one datapoint and can't be used to draw any conclusions, but I bring it up because it's part of a trend I've noticed looking at other SCG IQ results. Namely, fair decks are losing ground to the "fair" and unfair decks. We're seeing an increasing number of unfair combo decks like Ad Nauseam and "fair" too-good-at-what-they-do decks like Tron make it into Top 8s while decks like Burn, Jeskai, and Jund fall off---that's concerning. For those of you who don't remember what I mean, I defined fair, "fair", and unfair here.

Fair decks keep things in balance. Their combination of interaction and threats pressure the less fair decks and under normal circumstances keep things from getting degenerate, oppressive, and unfun. This is why we've traditionally relied on good fair decks like Splinter Twin and Jund to keep decks like Infect and Storm down.

What worries me is that we're seeing more Tron, Infect, and Affinity now than a few months ago. We won't know the extent to which this is an overall trend or just a statistical quirk until Jason and Sheridan are ready to release the next metagame update, but I what I'm noticing is the steady march of Tron and Infect up the Metagame charts. Tron currently sits in second place on our chart with 7.6%, up from 3.6% back in April. I cannot say whether this was maintained in June, but given what I've seen in my own tournament play and from IQ results it is certainly possible.

Glistener ElfMore concerning is Infect, which represented 5.6% of the meta in April and 6.3% in June, and according to MTGGoldfish holds 7.65% of the online metagame, with MTGTop8 reporting an 8% share. Now, I hope it isn't actually as bad as those sources make it seem, but if Infect is in fact gaining significant amounts of ground in Modern that is dangerous. Decks that can kill before turn four are dangerous. Infect was a metagame call that you ran when the format was shield's down prior to Splinter Twin's banning, but now it's Tier 1 and gaining market share. I can't imagine that's coincidental.

Ad Nauseam has also been showing up in the standings more than it used to but I'm not too worried about that yet. The deck was always powerful, but not a lot of players knew how powerful it was before it started top-eighting Grand Prix. I suspect the current uptick in results is just the natural result of a growth in popularity rather than a reflection of its true power. It's also an unfair deck and thus more vulnerable to its own variance and will fall apart more readily than fair and "fair" decks. When I worry about deck power, it has to be from a combination of consistency, power, and speed that AN lacks, but Infect (and arguably Tron) possess.

Trouble in the Shadows

Eldritch EvolutionBeyond this nebulous dread is concern over the new set. Specifically I'm worried that [tippy title="Eldritch Evolution" width="330" height="330"]Eldritch Evolution[/tippy] might push some borderline "fair" decks into broken territory. I know I was down on it last week, but that was before I examined its impact on Elves more closely. Elves is a fairly average green aggro deck with a ridiculous mana engine that is kept from being a true player by consistency issues. When it hits its good cards, specifically Elvish Archdruid, Ezuri, Renegade Leader, and sometimes Craterhoof Behemoth, it appears to be utterly broken. When it doesn't it's one of the least impressive decks around. Collected Company and Chord of Calling help, but Chord is expensive and (relatively, in the context of the deck) slow and Company is inconsistent. Evolution fills the gap, and might be the missing piece to make Elves a tiered and possibly broken deck.

Anafenza, Kin-Tree SpiritAbzan Company is another deck I'm eyeing with Evolution. A turn three "kill" is pretty good, and in Denver at least it sees a lot of play. If Evolution has a home there then that "kill" gets a lot more consistent and therefore oppressive. I don't know if that will happen but if it does then Company will become extremely powerful and popular, which will severely harm non-Infect aggro, and pose a burden on Infect as well thanks to Melira, Sylvok Outcast.

If these changes should come to pass, then coupled with the rise of Tron and Infect we could be looking at a very "fair" metagame soon, and that's going to be very frustrating for everyone else to deal with. While it wouldn't be as bad as Eldrazi Winter, it's still not good to have a lot of broken and overpowered decks in Tier 1 squeezing everything else out.

The Sky isn't Falling

I'll be the first to admit that this is mostly me venting my anxieties following a poor showing. Things might not be as bad as I think, and Modern definitely has the tools to keep these decks in check.

The problem is that I don't see them being played enough. Jeskai and Jund were underrepresented at my IQ and I fear they may be falling out of favor for more unfair decks. If this is just a temporary glitch then there's nothing to worry about, but the apparent increase in "fair" decks in IQ Top 8s recently has me worried that they're seeing more play because the fair decks aren't up to policing them effectively. Keep your eyes open, keep watch, and actually run the decks and cards needed to police the format. What's the point of claiming the format can police itself if nobody is playing the police decks?

David Ernenwein

David has been playing Magic since Odyssey block. A dedicated Spike, he's been grinding tournaments for over a decade, including a Pro Tour appearance. A Modern specialist who dabbles in Legacy, his writing is focused on metagame analysis and deck evolution.

View More By David Ernenwein

Posted in Metagame, Modern, TournamentsTagged , , , , , , , ,

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8 thoughts on “Observations from an IQ

  1. The meta does seem to have picked up pace. If MTGO leagues are any indication, the big tournaments of the summer is about to be hit by a host of different aggro and combo decks leaving fair decks scrambling as for what matchups to prepare for. Modern’s “best” “control” deck has even had to include a combo of its own with Nahiri to keep up.

    This is nothing new, historically speaking, though. Modern has always been a dozen different linear and unfair decks and a couple of fair decks succeeding by preparing and facing the right decks. It’s also not going to change much until some better general answers get printed or they produce some miracle creatures that will glove the same hand.

  2. Your conclusion in some ways I agree with. I am from California and play at a large competitive store
    The meta there is increasingly Tron and infect.

    I do t mind infect so much since it heavily rewards being interactive

    But Tron is more and more and more an issue.

    Online I’d say I face about 15% Tron as well.

    Tron is just oppressive in my personal opinion. But a ban wouldn’t be good. Either the entire archetype would die or it wouldn’t affect them.

    The problem is that hard countermagic is basically nonexistent in modern

    Nor is there effective land policing.

    I fear the only solution is to print a hatebear that doesn’t allow multiple mana from a single land and to print some sort of viable hard counter.

    Police decks can’t police without the right equipment to do so

    1. Tron is definitely the deck to watch. I said when Eye was banned that it bought Tron a reprieve, but as long as Wizards keeps printing powerful colorless threats that deck will keep getting better. I think it’s missing a little bit of consistency and resiliency to be really problematic, but it’s definitely moving in that direction. Spreading Seas’ stock continues to rise.

      I think the new Thalia was made with Tron in mind, but she’s too expensive for my taste. We’ll have to wait and see.

      You’re right about any banning killing the deck. Wizards bans enablers, but the Tron enablers aren’t that impressive, nor does that prevent the problem of natural Tron. I suspect that if the deck ends up needing a ban next year the lands will go.

      1. Disagree about the Tron Enablers. You’d ban Ancient Stirrings: It’s brutally powerful and has only gotten moreso with the advent of a million useful colorless cards. You incidentally hit lantern control and bant eldrazi.

        That said, I think what you’re seeing is just a reaction to an overwhelming fair metagame. In an overwhelming “fair” metagame, creature-based aggro decks get suppressed (check!), and strategies which die to faster decks but have excellent game vs. fair decks (Tron, to a lesser extent valakut decks) overperform (check!). Tron is basically just the only deck in this category, so all the people playing this strategy get put into one deck, and it appears over-represented.

  3. Personally I think Karn is the correct ban.

    A T3 karn is essentially a turn three win. If you take karn out of the picture, tron is still a usable deck. Wurmcoil into Ugin is still insanely powerful, but the natural tron into karn is no longer an issue

    1. I’m very confused why we are still talking about these bans given how balanced the format is. The Modern PT was removed in no small part to decelerate the banning process and, ultimately, to create a format with less ban pressure. Based on that, there’s no reason to ban cards from decks just because those decks are beating our pet strategies. Tron is going to beat control. Infect is going to beat Tron. Abzan Company is going to beat Infect. These kinds of cyclical metagames are a part of Modern, and we need to stop advocating for bans on some other part of the cycle. If a deck is legitimately overperforming, we’ll see it and advocate for action. If a deck is just merely “good” and happens to be beating our strategies, however, we need to tone down the ban talk.

  4. I think this is a bit much on the gloom-and-doom point of view, and an overreaction to a typical metagame trend. People will try to attack the established decks in different ways, and when someone finds purchase, others will follow. That trend will continue until someone successfully bucks it, and the cycle begins anew. Given that Merfolk top8’d and outright won other WMCQs lately, I’m not worried about its positioning in the slightest. As I’ve commented time and again, your build is very far from the stock list, and I think that the current state of the metagame is more hostile to the direction you’ve chosen to go (your deck has a lot less of the “goldfish aggro kill on G1, adjust on G2” game going).

    Regarding Eldritch Evolution in Elves… I think it will be rather potent, as it’s basically Natural Order in the canonical Modern shell, but given that it’s essentially forcing out Chord of Calling in order to be played, I don’t think it will be too busted (and getting it countered hurts like hell). It will make them more of a tournament mainstay, but the deck is overall too vulnerable to the likes of Pyroclasm/Anger/Verdict to ever be Tier 1 for long. Abzan Company is also potent, but whether it chooses to incorporate Evolution at all (and what the fallout of that decision is) remains to be seen.

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