Quantifying Fatal Push’s Effectiveness: The Push Index

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Happy new year, Moderners! It's good to be back to the Nexus, even if I expect I'll do far fewer articles in 2017 than I did last year. Between personal and professional developments, it's been a very busy few months for me, but I'm excited to return and plunge into Magic's newest set. No promises about how many articles I'll do or when they'll hit the Nexus feed! That said, I can always promise the articles I can do will offer the same rigorous, data-driven analysis readers have come to expect.

I'm bringing that spirit to a new Aether Revolt staple that needs no introductions. You've dreamed of playing with it since the Masters of Modern preview. You've read about it all week. Soon, your poor creatures will be feeling the "THIS IS KALADESH" kick at a tournament near you. Now all that's left is to break out those metagame statistics and, in true Nexus fashion, quantify just how good Fatal Push really is.

Fatal Push Index banner

It's been a while since a card had this much hype. Eldritch Evolution, the Birthing Pod that never was, wasn't even close. Authors and players across the Modern content-sphere haven't been able to contain their Push praise: see the cheers of Paulo Vitor Damo da Rosa, Sam Black's (premium) writeup, or the measured analysis of our own Ryan Overturf. In anticipation of a dozen more articles on the card's power, and to avoid fitting the Reddit madlibs template, I'm staying away from these theoretical and high-level surveys of Fatal Push's potency. Instead, I'm taking a deeper, data-driven dive into Fatal Push's contextual relevance in Modern.

Today's article continues the Lightning Bolt index tradition I wrote about almost two years ago. In that article, I used metagame prevalences and deck compositions to quantify Bolt's effectiveness in any given period of time. This article will do the same for Modern's newest removal icon through the introduction of the "Push Index." Think of it as the quantified measure behind Jordan's "Push Test" discussed last Friday. By analyzing the top decks in current Modern and cataloging their creature rosters, I'll suggest an objective and quantifiable tool to determine if Fatal Push is pure heat or nothing but hype.


Creature Hits and Creature Misses

We already know why Push is Wizards' glittering holiday prize for our format. It's a one-drop removal spell in a color that has conspicuously lacked quality one-drop removal. Its revolt trigger, a real hoop in Standard, is a fetchland formality in Modern. Furthermore, Modern is dominated by low-cost creatures that die to even an unrevolted Push, with almost everything else getting Pushed overboard after revolt is met. It even kills creature lands, an honor not even venerable Abrupt Decay boasts. You can check out Ryan's, PVDDR's, Jordan's, or Sam's articles for more content on these and other Push merits. Here, I want to shift our attention away from Push itself and over to Push's targets.

Unlike Path to Exile, both the old Bolt and the new Push are conditional removal spells that can't dispatch everything. Their strength in Modern is directly related to how many creatures they can reliably remove. Consider the iconic Lightning Bolt. For Bolt-slingers everywhere, the card is at its strongest in a format where 100% of the decks are playing creatures with exclusively 1, 2, or 3 toughness, and no cards to boost their toughness. Also, no Slippery Bogles. Bogles need not apply to this article. In that theoretical metagame, Bolt would be the optimal removal spell, killing every creature with no drawback for only one mana. By a similar token, Bolt would be horrible in a format where every deck is playing only creatures with 4+ toughness. This spectrum was at the core of my Bolt Index article, which attempted to quantify Bolt utility based on creature weakness or resilience to Bolt.

Push operates in a similar fashion. In a format where every deck is playing only creatures that cost 0-2 mana, Fatal Push is the new Bolt. Especially if some of those 0-2 mana creatures are Bolt-resistant beefcakes named Tarmogoyf or Death's Shadow. By contrast, a format that's all Tron and Breach Valakut all the time is too heavy to Push around. At least it's a flavor win: no one kicks, let alone pushes, Primeval Titan anywhere. As with the Bolt Index accounting for toughness, a so-called "Push Index" would need to account for mana cost. Specifically, for unconditional hits (i.e. creatures costing 0-2 mana), conditional hits (i.e. creatures costing 3-4 mana), and misses (i.e. creatures costing 5+ mana).

The following sections divide the common Tier 1 and Tier 2 creatures into unconditional hits, conditional hits, and misses based on their mana costs. This will give you a comprehensive list of all the relevant targets in (or out) of Push's crosshairs. It's also the foundation for the quantitative analysis later: we can't talk about the metagame showings of various creatures without identifying those creatures first. All sections are nested under spoiler boxes to save you from too much scrolling. Also, hit me up in the comments if you think I missed a major entry.

If you're already a Push believer, skip the "unconditional" and "conditional" sections. Note the distinction between unconditional and conditional hits. Even though Push removes both, it only removes the conditional hits if revolt is online. As this doesn't happen reliably in every deck, we'll need to weigh those conditional hits less than the unconditional hits, which is why we split them up now. Jump ahead to the "misses," which will be the primary hurdles to Push's future Modern success.

Unconditional hits: 54

[su_spoiler title="All 0- to 2-mana creatures" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

Arcbound Ravager (Affinity)
Birds of Paradise (Kiki Chord, Bant Eldrazi, etc.)
Blighted Agent (Infect)
Blinkmoth Nexus (Affinity)
Bloodghast (Dredge)
Celestial Colonade (Jeskai Control)
Cursecatcher (Merfolk)
Dark Confidant (Jund)
Death's Shadow (Death's Shadow Zoo)
Delver of Secrets (Grixis Delver)
Dryad Arbor (Infect)
Dwynen's Elite (Elves)
Eidolon of the Great Revel (Burn)
Elvish Mystic (Elves)
Elvish Visionary (Elves)
Glistener Elf (Infect)
Goblin Guide (Burn)
Grim Flayer (Abzan)
Grim Lavamancer (Burn)
Harbinger of the Tides (Merfolk)
Heritage Druid (Elves)
Inkmoth Nexus (Infect, Affinity)
Insolent Neonate (Dredge)
Kiln Fiend (UR Prowess)
Leonin Arbiter (Eldrazi and Taxes)
Llanowar Elves (Elves)
Lord of Atlantis (Merfolk)
Master of the Pearl Trident (Merfolk)
Memnite (Affinity)
Monastery Swiftspear (Burn, Death's Shadow Zoo, etc.)
Mutavault (Merfolk)
Narcomoeba (Dredge)
Nettle Sentinel (Elves)
Noble Hierarch (Infect, Bant Eldrazi, etc.)
Ornithopter (Affinity)
Phantasmal Image (Merfolk)
Raging Ravine (Jund)
Scavenging Ooze (Jund, Abzan)
Shambling Vent (Abzan)
Signal Pest (Affinity)
Silvergill Adept (Merfolk)
Snapcaster Mage (Grixis Delver, Grixis Midrange, etc.)
Spellskite (Bant Eldrazi)
Steel Overseer (Affinity)
Steppe Lynx (Death's Shadow Zoo)
Tarmogoyf (Jund, Abzan)
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben (Eldrazi and Taxes)
Thing in the Ice (UR Prowess)
Tidehollow Sculler (Eldrazi and Taxes)
Vault Skirge (Affinity)
Wall of Omens (Kiki Chord)
Wall of Roots (Kiki Chord)
Wild Nacatl (Burn, Death's Shadow Zoo)
Young Pyromancer (Grixis Delver)


I've omitted Sakura-Tribe Elder from the count because its purpose is to die and I've never seen a game lost to Steve beatdown. The same is not true of Insolent Neonate, which is why the menacing looter still makes the cut.

Conditional hits: 21

[su_spoiler title="All 3- to 4-mana creatures" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

Anafenza, the Foremost (Abzan)
Blade Splicer (Eldrazi and Taxes)
Eldrazi Displacer (Bant Eldrazi, Eldrazi and Taxes)
Eldrazi Skyspawner (Bant Eldrazi)
Elvish Archdruid (Elves)
Eternal Witness (Kiki Chord, Elves)
Ezuri, Renegade Leader (Elves)
Flickerwisp (Eldrazi and Taxes)
Khalitas, Traitor of Ghet (BGx, Grixis)
Master of Etherium (Affinity)
Master of Waves (Merfolk)
Matter Reshaper (Bant Eldrazi)
Merrow Reejery (Merfolk)
Pia and Kiran Nalaar (Jund, Kiki Chord, etc.)
Prized Amalgam (Dredge)
Restoration Angel (Kiki Chord)
Siege Rhino (Abzan)
Stinkweed Imp (Dredge)
Thought-Knot Seer (Bant Eldrazi, Eldrazi and Taxes)
Vendilion Clique (Jeskai Control, Grixis Control/Midrange, etc.)
Wasteland Strangler (Eldrazi and Taxes)


Kitchen Finks is conspicuously absent because its current metagame prevalence has taken a real dive. Abzan Company's decline is a big player here, although Company is certainly not the only deck to use Finks.

Misses: 11

[su_spoiler title="All 5+ mana creatures" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

Drowner of Hope (Bant Eldrazi)
Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (Jeskai Control, Breach Titan)
Etched Champion (Affinity)
Golgari Grave-Troll (Dredge)
Gurmag Angler (Grixis Delver, Grixis Control/Midrange, etc.)
Primeval Titan (Titan Breach)
Reality Smasher (Bant Eldrazi)
Tasigur, the Golden Fang (Grixis Delver, Grixis Control/Midrange, etc.)
Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger (Gx Tron)
World Breaker (Gx Tron)
Wurmcoil Engine (Gx Tron)


I've included Etched Champion here even though Push can theoretically kill it while metalcraft is inactive. This is a relevant distinction because removal spells like Spatial Contortion and Wasteland Strangler can kill a Champion where Push cannot, so we should acknowledge the opportunity cost of playing Push over something that does hit Champs.

Hits and misses in the metagame context

The purpose of these lists isn't to dazzle readers with their lengths. Yes, between these three lists you'll find basically every mainboarded creature in top-tier Modern. True, Push unconditionally removes 56% of those creatures, and conditionally takes out 15% more. Sure, only 28% of Modern creatures effectively dodge Push on casting cost alone. Despite those impressive-sounding stats, none of this is a true measure of Push's effectiveness because none of those creatures exist in a vacuum. They only matter insofar as a certain metagame is playing certain creatures.

If a disproportionate share of top-tier decks are playing creatures in the "misses" category, who cares if those creatures only make up 28% of Modern's collective creature roster? They might make up 60% of creatures played in Tier 1 decks! This is why our Push analysis can't stop at a list of what it can and cannot remove. We must extend that analysis to how those creatures appear in real metagames.

Calculating a Push Index

As with the old Bolt Index, the new Push Index is just one method of rating Push's effectiveness in any given metagame. We'll calculate it by listing the Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks, determining the mana-cost distribution of their creatures, finding what percentage of creatures in tier decks succumb to Aether Revolt's new toy, and weighting the results based on metagame share. In the end, this will help us decide when Push is good, when Push is better in one metagame than in another, and how heavily to invest valuable removal slots in the card.

Defining the metagame

To calculate the Index, we first need a metagame. At the risk of stealing Jason's metagame update thunder, which I'm told is roaring to a Modern Nexus site near you shortly, here are some rough numbers on Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks from December 2016. These stats might change when Jason does the final metagame update push, but it's a solid starting point for the New Year and for our Index.

Preliminary December 2016 Metagame

Deck NameMetagame %
Bant Eldrazi7.3%
RG Tron3.6%
Jeskai Control2.6%
Grixis Delver2.4%
Death's Shadow Zoo2.4%
Titan Breach2.0%

(Metagame side note: reactive decks didn't really end the year on a good note...)

Now that we know what decks make up our current metagame, we need to go a level deeper and see what creatures make up those decks. The following spoiler boxes list the copies, counts, and costs of the average creatures in representative lists. To capture the essential top-tier creatures, I looked at the highest-finishing lists from high-attendance events. The results are recorded below. Feel free to skip ahead to the end if you don't need the full deck-by-deck breakdown.

[su_spoiler title="Infect (17 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Glistener Elf (CMC 1)
1 Dryad Arbor (CMC 0)
4 Blighted Agent (CMC 2)
4 Inkmoth Nexus (CMC 0)
4 Noble Hierarch (CMC 1)


[su_spoiler title="Burn (17 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Goblin Guide (CMC 1)
1 Grim Lavamancer (CMC 1)
4 Eidolon of the Great Revel (CMC 2)
4 Wild Nacatl (CMC 1)
4 Monastery Swiftspear (CMC 1)


[su_spoiler title="Jund (16 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Dark Confidant (CMC 2)
4 Scavenging Ooze (CMC 2)
4 Tarmogoyf (CMC 2)
4 Raging Ravine (CMC 0)


[su_spoiler title="Bant Eldrazi (28 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

1 Birds of Paradise (CMC 1)
3 Drowner of Hope (CMC 6)
3 Eldrazi Skyspawner (CMC 3)
4 Eldrazi Displacer (CMC 3)
3 Matter Reshaper (CMC 3)
4 Noble Hierarch (CMC 1)
4 Reality Smasher (CMC 5)
2 Spellskite (CMC 2)
4 Thought-Knot Seer (CMC 4)


[su_spoiler title="Dredge (24 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Bloodghast (CMC 2)
4 Golgari Grave-Troll (CMC 5)
4 Insolent Neonate (CMC 1)
4 Narcomoeba (CMC 2)
4 Prized Amalgam (CMC 3)
4 Stinkweed Imp (CMC 3)


[su_spoiler title="Affinity (36 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

3 Memnite (CMC 0)
4 Ornithopter (CMC 0)
4 Signal Pest (CMC 1)
4 Vault Skirge (CMC 2)
3 Etched Champion (CMC 3)
2 Master of Etherium (CMC 3)
4 Blinkmoth Nexus (CMC 0)
4 Inkmoth Nexus (CMC 0)
4 Arcbound Ravager (CMC 2)
4 Steel Overseer (CMC 2)


[su_spoiler title="Abzan (16 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Tarmogoyf (CMC 2)
4 Grim Flayer (CMC 2)
3 Shambling Vent (CMC 0)
2 Scavenging Ooze (CMC 2)
3 Siege Rhino (CMC 4)


[su_spoiler title="Gx Tron (8 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

2 Wurmcoil Engine (CMC 6)
2 Ulamog the Ceaseless Hunger (CMC 11)
2 World Breaker (CMC 7)
2 Spellskite (CMC 2)


[su_spoiler title="Jeskai Control (10 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Snapcaster Mage (CMC 2)
4 Celestial Colonnade (CMC 0)
1 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn (CMC 15)
1 Vendilion Clique (CMC 3)


[su_spoiler title="Grixis Delver (14 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Delver of Secrets (CMC 1)
4 Snapcaster Mage (CMC 2)
2 Young Pyromancer (CMC 2)
3 Tasigur, the Golden Fang (CMC 6)
1 Gurmag Angler (CMC 7)


[su_spoiler title="Death's Shadow Zoo (15 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Death's Shadow (CMC 1)
4 Monastery Swiftspear (CMC 1)
3 Steppe Lynx (CMC 1)
4 Wild Nacatl (CMC 1)


[su_spoiler title="Titan Breach (8 creatures)" style="fancy" icon="arrow"]

4 Primeval Titan (CMC 6)
4 Sakura-Tribe Elder (CMC 2)


With 55 unique creatures and 205 total copies, Modern's Tier 1 and Tier 2 decks cover a lot of creature real estate. This is the current environment Fatal Push is stepping into, and it will be our starting point for calculating Push's initial Index.

Our next step is to add these creatures, and their mana-cost bins, to our metagame prevalence table. We'll add four columns: one for the total count of creatures in a given deck, and one each for the number of unconditional hits (0-2 CMC), conditional hits (3-4 CMC), and misses (5+ CMC) in each deck. This will establish the creature landscape across Modern's current top-tier.

Creature Distribution in the 12/2016 Metagame

Deck NameMetagame %Total CreaturesUnconditional Hits
(0-2 CMC)
Conditional Hits
(3-4 CMC)
(5+ CMC)
Bant Eldrazi7.3%287147
RG Tron3.6%8206
Jeskai Control2.6%10811
Grixis Delver2.4%141004
Death's Shadow Zoo2.4%151500
Titan Breach2.0%4004

Even before "scoring" this table with any formal measure, we can eyeball its vulnerability to Fatal Push. With 205 creatures played across the top-tier decks, a full 148 (72%) are unconditional Push hits. Another 15% are conditional, with only 13% falling in the miss category. From a macro-perspective, that's good news for Push, and we might be tempted to stop there by defining the Push Index as the percentage of creatures in a format which die to the spell (72% or, adding the conditionals, 87%).

Push Index complications

Unfortunately, this misses two key elements of an effective Push Index. First, it's an inaccurate measure of how many creatures Push actually hits in a metagame. Those 205 creatures aren't distributed between 12 decks evenly split with 8.3% shares. Their host decks have shares ranging from 9.4% to 2%. Imagine a world where the 2% deck (pretend it's Gruul Zoo) played around 40 creatures and the 9.4% deck (pretend it's Jeskai Control) played about five. We'd obviously need to weight the 2% deck less than the 9.4% deck. This means we'll need to apply some metagame share-based weighting to these creature counts. Bookmark this: we'll call it the Absolute Push Index later in the article.

Problem number two with this simplified Push Index: it doesn't help us compare Push effectiveness between metagames with more or fewer total creatures throughout the top-tiers. Consider two metagames. In one, it's an aggro-heavy format with 10 top-tier decks, each playing 40 creatures with CMC 0-2. In the second, it's a control-heavy format also with 10 top-tier decks but eight of them are totally creatureless. The remaining two decks are aggro holdouts still running 40 creatures with CMC 0-2. Our rough Push Index would give both metagames a 100% unconditional hit rate, which isn't quite accurate: Fatal Push doesn't do anything against 80% of the decks in that second metagame! Put another bookmark here: this will become our Relative Push Index later on.

To address these problems and get our Absolute/Relative Index calculations, we'll need to dig deeper than just adding the percentages on our table above.

Applying metagame weights

Our first job is to convert the count of creatures in each bin (conditional hits, unconditional hits, misses) into a weighted score. We'll do this by expressing each count as a percentage of the total creatures in its deck, and then multiplying that percentage by the deck's metagame share. For example, Infect has 17 creatures, all of which are unconditional hits. We convert that count of 17 to a score of 1 (i.e. 100% of Infect's 17 total creatures are unconditional hits). We then multiply that score by the deck's share to get its weighted score (i.e. we multiply Infect's score of 1 by its share of 9.4% to get a weighted score of .094). To keep the numbers manageable, we'll also multiply that final number by 100 so we're not stuck in small decimals.

The table below applies this formula to all our decks above, calculating percentages in columns 3, 4, and 5, and then calculating the weighted score in columns 6, 7, and 8.

Push Index Creature Percentages and Weighted Scores

Deck NameMetagame %Unc. Hits
% of Total
Cond. Hits
% of Total
% of Total
Bant Eldrazi7.3%25.0%50.0%25.0%
RG Tron3.6%25.0%0.0%75.0%
Jeskai Control2.6%80.0%10.0%10.0%
Grixis Delver2.4%71.4%0.0%28.6%
Death's Shadow Zoo2.4%100.0%0.0%0.0%
Titan Breach2.0%0.0%0.0%100.0%

As a final calculation step, we need to apply an additional modifier to the unconditional hits category. Even though conditional Fatal Push hits should certainly count towards Push's overall effectiveness, we shouldn't weigh them as heavily as an unconditional hit: you don't need any setup to kill a Tarmogoyf. You need at least a fetchland crack to remove Thought-Knot Seer. This begs the question: in what percentage of turns or games can you reliably trigger revolt and use Fatal Push to remove a 3-4 cost creature?

As a rough measure of revolt consistency, I looked at the average number of fetchlands played in black-based, top-finishing lists of top-tier decks: 8.79, rounded to 9 (because you can't really have fractions of cards). I then used the hypergeometric distribution to determine the chances of having at least two fetchlands by turn three, which is often the earliest you need to kill a CMC 3-4 creature. That chance is about 41%. This is the multiplier we'll apply to the conditional hits to weigh them less heavily than the unconditional ones: in essence, a conditional hit becomes an unconditional hit by turn three in about 41% of games. In reality, it's probably a bit more if we include hands with two non-fetches and one fetch, dead creatures we use to trigger revolt, and games where you don't need to remove the creature until after turn three. But 41% is a good low-end estimate for the share of games where you can voluntarily trigger revolt and kill a 3-4 mana creature.

Push Index Final Weighted Scores

Deck NameUnconditional
Weighted Score
Weighted Score
Weighted Score
Bant Eldrazi1.81.51.8
RG Tron0.90.02.7
Jeskai Control2.10.10.3
Grixis Delver1.70.00.7
Death's Shadow Zoo2.40.00.0
Titan Breach0.00.02.0

If you think the 41% chance under- or overestimates the scenarios in which you can voluntarily trigger revolt, feel free to use a different multiplier for the unconditional hits column! Also, let me know in the comments what alternative you used.

From scores to a finalized Index

Scores? Check. Weights? Check. Now, let's set up the final Index.

Let's start with the bookmarked Absolute Push Index from earlier (the measure of Push effectiveness in a vacuum). We'll express this as the sum of our unconditional and conditional weighted scores, divided by the total possible score in the metagame. In this case, the total possible score is 61.2, i.e. the sum of all the top-tier metagame shares. As another example, if the top-tier decks collectively made up 65% of the format, the total possible score would be 65.

Adding up our scores we get:

Absolute Push Index (score 1): 48.2 (relative to the entire metagame)
Absolute Push Index (score 2): 77.6 (relative to the top-tier metagame)

Stated another way, in a metagame where these top-tier decks make up 61.2% of the format, Push is going to unconditionally kill creatures in at least 48.2% of your total matchups. More importantly, it will unconditionally remove creatures in 77.6% of your top-tier matchups (48.2/61.2).

This is an excellent hit-rate. For reference, the hit-rate in a metagame where every single top-tier deck played exclusively 0-2 mana creatures would be 100%, which is a mere 23% higher than our current rating of 77.6%. A metagame where every single top-tier deck played exclusively 3-4 mana creatures would only have a 41% hit rating (or whatever other multiplier you used for the conditional hits). Our current metagame has a Push Index almost twice that. Push sure looks hot going into 2017.

But what about our Relative Push Index? You'll remember from our earlier bookmarks that the Absolute Push Index is great at telling us how effective Push is in a vacuum, but isn't a strong measure when comparing two distinct metagames. Enter the Relative Push Index. This will be expressed as the Absolute Push Index multiplied by the total number of creatures in the top-tier metagame. For this particular sample, that was 205 total creatures.

Relative Push Index: 161.4

This Index will help us compare Push's effectiveness in any given metagame to Push's historic effectiveness in any other metagame. Here's an example.

Imagine it's September 2017 and you are deciding how many Pushes to run in your Abzan deck. You look back to February 2017 and you see the Relative Push Index was, say, 165. You remember that Push was spectacular in February 2017, and you ran the full playset. Next, you look back to June 2017 where the Relative Push Index (which you would calculate) was only 135. You remember Push was pretty bad in June because Bant Eldrazi, Grixis Control/Midrange, and Gx Tron were everywhere; indeed, you shaved your Push count to just 1 in the maindeck and 1 in the board. Finally, you calculate the Relative Push Index for September 2017 and find that it's a solid 160. Based on this, you would probably include as many Pushes as you used during the February 2017 metagame when the Index was at 165. Or maybe include 3 in the main and 1 in the board, if you're worried about the slight drop. Either way, this would help you guide your Push decision when building decks.

Using and adapting the Push Index

Ultimately, you can use the Push Index as a data-driven tool to determine when Push is good and how many you should (or shouldn't) run. I suggest you calculate the Push Index in every metagame update for 2017, comparing those numbers to your own experience with Push and using that data to make informed deckbuilding and sideboarding decisions. I suspect that a 161.4 Relative Push Index means that most decks that want Push should be running 2-3 copies in the maindeck, but I could easily see that number pushing up to 3-4. I'll keep checking in on the Index as decks adapt to the new card (more Bant Eldrazi and Gx Tron?) and players run more creatures to dodge the spell (Tasigurs and Anglers are looking hotter than ever).

Banlist update thoughts

Our January 2017 Modern banlist update came a week early and it's a stunner: Golgari Grave-Troll and Gitaxian Probe are banned in Modern. To say nothing of Standard's upheaval (farewell, Emrakul, the Promised End, Smuggler's Copter, and Reflector Mage), this update promises to make a sizable impact on competitive Magic. My original draft of this article had some banlist thoughts including a Troll ban prediction, but I'm changing gears to offer quick roundup thoughts on Modern's latest seismic event.

  • Good riddance, Golgari Grave-Troll 
    Dredge is not a turn four rule violator. It also doesn't occupy an objectively oppressive share. Unfortunately, Dredge has reduced Modern diversity by forcing players to run 4-5 or even more graveyard hate cards in their sideboards. In turn, this has had the disgusting effect of pushing out all other graveyard decks from the top-tier. Remember Abzan Company? Living End? Grishoalbrand? All these decks are in Tier 3 or lower, and that's a major loss for format diversity. Given these circumstances, Troll's banning was unsurprising and warranted. I applaud Wizards for depowering the deck without killing it: Dredge should remain at least a Tier 2 deck, with intermittent Tier 1 appearances. Meanwhile, other graveyard decks should return to the format, and the Dredge sideboard subgame should diminish. This ban is an overall win for metagame diversity and Modern.
  • Mixed outcomes after Gitaxian Probe's ban
    I'm less happy about Probe's demise. On the one hand, it's a slick limited-ends ban that depowers a variety of fast, linear, non-interactive decks without gutting any of them: see Infect, Death's Shadow Zoo, and UR Prowess in the top tiers alone. Looking only at that impact, it should slow down Modern while allowing those faster decks to remain somewhat viable. On the other hand, Probe's removal is a big hit for reactive, fair, interactive Delver of Secrets decks, which I imagine is an undesired but foreseen consequence of the ban. Perhaps Wizards is banking on Fatal Push picking up the Delver slack? More likely, they felt it was a necessary cost to push back top-tier fast decks. As a whole, this is a clear issue of addressing the symptom of a disease, not its cause. The cause is a lack of generic answers and policing cards/strategies in Modern. The symptom is fast, top-tier linear decks which fair decks can't restrain. As such, the Probe ban will go down as yet another victim of Wizards' inability to print viable Modern answers and interaction. Push is a good step in the right direction. This kind of ban, however, is not—particularly with all the ensuing ban mania it will promote.
  • Looking ahead, unban Preordain or Stoneforge Mystic by April 2017
    As hinted at above, Modern needs built-in answers for fast, linear, non-interactive decks. Those answers cannot be bans. This format cannot keep enduring bans; it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell new players it's a safe investment when we average one to two bans per year. Wizards must introduce new cards to empower internal answers. Yes, Fatal Push is an excellent step in this direction), but we need more Pushes, as well as reprints (Prohibit, please?) and unbans. The only two unbans which address this standing need are Preordain, for interactive decks to dig for answers, and Stoneforge Mystic, to deploy a Batterskull roadblock against decks that refuse interaction. Jordan has already written extensively on the cantrip, and I agree with most of what he said. I'll also emphasize that Preordain was initially banned because it powered up blue-red combo decks, all of which are now gone. Indeed, the card is safer still with Probe out of the format. As for Mystic, David has been testing the card for months and it seems much safer than many have alleged. Wizards should take a look at both cards and unban one by April.

I'm giving these thoughts at the tail-end of an article, taking the risk of provoking controversy without adequate room to explain these ideas. I'm somewhat bummed that the banlist update came early and will likely divert attention from my Push Index analysis to the ever-polarizing topic of the banlist, but that's Modern as you know it. Welcome back, I guess?

Thanks for reading and, again, it's good to be back writing about Magic's best format. Although I won't write as regularly as in 2015 or most of 2016, I'll do my best to keep some data-driven articles coming as we enjoy what looks to be an exciting 2017 for Modern. Hit me up in the comments with Push questions and ideas, or the inevitable ban and unban conversation, and I'll talk to you all soon!

33 thoughts on “Quantifying Fatal Push’s Effectiveness: The Push Index

  1. What a refreshing and thorough evaluation as well as an incredibly useful meta-tool. Your analysis shines and is a cut above the rest at evaluating this format defining card. I am sure I will revisit this article when it comes time to adjust my Push numbers (as long as those monthly meta-updates keep on coming in… ahem… thank you Jason). This one was another pleasure reading as all your articles are profoundly well reasoned and data-driven. Thank’s for the analysis and insights, Sheridan.

    A small note: In the list of conditional hits, Kalitas, Master of Etherium, and Master of Waves are all attributed to Bant Eldrazi.

    1. Happy to hear you enjoyed it! It’s good to be back and contributing pieces like this, and I’m glad they’re well-received. I also fixed those errors on the conditional hits list. Thanks for the catch!

  2. Great article! I hope the Push Index calculations become a part of future metagame updates. I’d think you’d want to do the same thing for Bolt as well; a historical knowledge of the Bolt Index would help inform players how good Push will be before we have a robust history of Push Indices to compare to. Players will need to take into account Bolt’s other utility (planeswalkers & burn) but it’s better than nothing.

    You can probably drop GGT from the Misses list, but it looks like you’ve kept it around since it is part of the Dredge deck in the December metagame. If we want to speculate on Dredge’s future scores, they will most likely go up. If the Dredge deck adapts, whatever new dredger they substitute in is either not a creature or dies to Push. The next highest dredger of course is Golgari Thug, an unconditional hit if it’s ever cast.

    A couple things I think you might have missed in proofreading:
    Pretty sure Primeval Titan doesn’t show up in Bant Eldrazi lists (mislabeled in the Misses list).
    I think by Spinal Contortion you meant Spatial Contortion.

    1. Glad to hear you enjoyed it! I think I’ll end up revisiting the Bolt Index later; my last stab at it was good but I’ve identified areas of improvement. I’d love to see those appear in regular articles and I’ll see if it’s feasible to make that happen. As for Dredge, you’re right its score will only go up.

      I also fixed those errors on the misses list. Thanks for noticing!

  3. Welcome back Sheridan, it’s great to see you writing for Nexus again, even if it won’t be every week like it used to be. As expected from you, this article is excellent, using hard numbers backed-up by facts to assess Push’s worth, well done! One very small complaint about your push index (though I’m sure it wouldn’t change the numbers much, if any): you labeled Etched Champion as a “miss” in your initial list of creatures, but then slotted it into “conditional hits” in the calculation tables. Your assessment as a miss is definitely the correct one; I’ve been playing Affinity for 3+ years now, and can literally count on one hand the number of times Champ has been in play without metalcraft. In the very rare cases when it does happen, you’re already 90% to lose that game anyway, so dying to Push or anything else is pretty irrelevant at that point.

    As for the ban list update, it’s too bad we didn’t get to see a detailed, stats based prediction from you before the hammer came down, but I’ll be very curious to see the effects (in numbers!) of these shake-ups going forward. I don’t think Infect loses all that much, although “going for it” will be a little scarier in the dark, but UR Prowess/Zooicide are really going to hurt from this ban. I also agree that the current ban model isn’t sustainable in the long term, every year we think “Ok, that was the last of it, they won’t have to ban more stuff next year because xyz” and yet every year more cards are added to the list. Eventually, player’s good will is going to erode completely and they simply won’t want to play Modern anymore. My deck is unscathed yet again, but this definitely puts a damper on buying a new deck (which I was in the process of doing), not because I expect my deck specifically to get hit, but just because I don’t think they can do this to Modern indefinitely without serious consequences on player interest. I really hope they give SFM and/or Preordain a chance in the next update (which is soon, 5 weeks after the Pro Tour!), possibly releasing them one at a time would be viable, especially with 8 updates a year now rather than 4. If anything, if they can unban GGT and then ban it again, it’s only fair to give other cards a fair trial and let the results speak for themselves.

    1. Great catch on the Champion inclusion. I’ve fixed a few tables to account for it as a miss. Some of the numbers might still be a little off in the article itself, but as you said, it doesn’t change much. Happy to hear the Index interested you as a topic though!

      Re: bans
      I would have predicted a GGT ban and nothing else, with no unban until April at earliest. My thoughts were that no single deck was a turn four violator, even if a variety of decks collectively were seeing many decks end before turn four. In that regard, Probe does address a problem I’d thought about, but I wouldn’t have predicted the Probe ban. I would have predicted Wizards would wait to see Push’s impact, unbanning interaction in April if necessary. I strongly agree with your other assessments of the banlist and Wizards’ policy, and hope Wizards shares our opinions too.

  4. Good to have you back, Sheridan. I love the premise of this article – I think the Push index will be very useful as the card’s effectiveness waxes and wanes with meta shifting. I’m not sure what the Revolt activation weight should be, though, given that I expect a handful of deck configuration changes in the ones that do decide to adopt the Push as a bread-and-butter removal spell in their lineup. The 41% estimate is a good place to start, though, and it’s easy enough to tweak those numbers to account for whatever the estimate ends up being.

    On the subject of the bans, I think that Delver won’t be all that sad to see Probe go – Overturf’s version of the deck didn’t even run it, and I think that a 20th land with a couple of extra business spells will paper over the void nicely. I think Preordain was a safe unban before, and it’s an even safer one now, given that Storm’s fledgling chances of becoming a thing were all but undone with a Gitaxian Probe ban. I’m still leery of Stoneforge Mystic, especially in a meta that’s trending more toward fair decks.

    Overall, though, great to have you back, and I hope to see more content from you soon!

    1. It’s great to be back! I agree the 41% number could use some adjustments and would be curious to see what others come up with. That’s a critical calculation step and will have big impact on Push’s usefulness in any given metagame.

      Agree that Preordain looks very safe now. SFM is still riskier, but I think the potential benefits outweigh the potential costs. I’d be happy to start with Preordain and work from there.

  5. Great article, and a great resource moving forward for people to figure out the efficacy of including Push in the 75.

    I can only hope that they will print a reactive blue answer of similar caliber so that midrange decks don’t feel forced into black. As much as it might be accurate to say that Dredge was holding back other graveyard decks, I feel like BGx’s set of efficient and flexible answers is having a similar effect on midrange. With Collective Brutality and Push adding strong answers for black recently, other colours are getting left further behind.

    Push will have many positive effects, but it feels bad for those of us that don’t play black and want to be interactive. I feel like similar arguments that support GGT ban could be made of BGx reducing midrange diversity.

    Do you have any thoughts with regards to midrange diversity, and the effect Push will have on it?

    1. A Prohibit Revolt would have been a great addition from AER. Oh well. Maybe next time.

      Thinking about midrange diversity, I expect it to open up a range of black-based options (straight BG and Esper, notably), reduce Jund’s share a bit, and increase Abzan’s plus Grixis’. This will have a net impact of increasing midrange’s share in the format, even if most will be black-based. Thing is, that’s already true and this just gives the black-based decks more of a shot. Bant Eldrazi will also stick around, although it will be worse than some of the black decks in certain metagames.

  6. You close the article by saying Stoneforge should be unbanned and link to David’s testing article.

    But he closes the article by saying:

    “Based on the results of my testing Stoneforge Mystic in Junk Abzan I recommend against unbanning.”

    1. That needed more context. I actually draw a different conclusion from David’s tests. I would have stopped at this paragraph in his article:
      “So what does all this mean? If my results accurately model real Modern, then it is fair to say that Stoneforge Mystic would not have an absolutely warping effect on the metagame. It is a powerful card but not truly degenerate, and it ultimately advantages fair midrange decks against aggressive decks.”

      I think the numbers show the deck isn’t as nuts as people thought and is probably a reasonable risk to take in Modern.

      1. I assumed that is what you meant, Sheridan. My conclusion was based on extrapolating out from the numbers, yours was looking at the numbers by themselves.

  7. Absolutely impressed by the work you (and others?) put into this! Rather than being yet another opinion piece, or confirmation of something that many people already suspected to be true (or fase), you did actual work and provided the results. Thank you!

    1. Just me responsible for this one, although Jordan had a similar section in breaking down the creatures by cost. I’m hoping it proves to be useful in later metagames as the format evolves this year!

  8. Wow, awesome data-driven article, Sheridan! Glad to have you back here; I think the site has really missed your detailed, data-driven analysis. I look forward to as many of your articles are you can manage. 🙂

    I also happen to agree Preordain would be nice to have back; Blue-based combo decks are pretty non-existent, and I don’t see them taking over the format by one card’s removal from the ban-list. As you say, it could really help the limping-along blue-based control/midrange decks to improve their consistency.

    As for SFM, while I also thought David’s raw data showed an unban as not-necessarily format-warping, I also happen to agree with him on the conclusion he drew that it’d be too dangerous to unban. The reason for that is the suggestion is that turn-3/4 batterskull just hates out a lot of the non-infect aggro decks, or forces them to play lots of hate cards for skull. Coupled with that, he was probably playing with a less-than-optimal build (ie. he just put SFM + batterskull into a pre-existing deck), as I suspect over a few months dedicated people would likely find a better, more broken deck configuration to abuse the SFM/Batterskull combo. SFM unban also prevents Jace TMS from ever being unbanned (I’ve played against both of them in the same Modern deck just to test it out, and it’s scary good), which may be a safer unban than SFM, imo.

    Personally, I’d rather see a pseudo reprint of SFM, one that can only pull out equipment of CMC 3 or less, and maybe make the tap ability sorcery speed. I think that’d still be playable while not risking warping the format around t 3/4 uncounterable batterskulls.

    Anyway, thanks again!

    1. Hopefully many more will follow, even if not necessarily weekly or regularly!

      I’m much more comfortable with an SFM unban if it allows all of those aggro decks to just exist free of bans. It’s the kind of strong (maybe too strong?) answer that many decks can play and that roundly stops fast decks. Modern needs answers like that, not just threat after threat after proactive threat that reactive decks can’t keep pace with. We’ll see what Wizards thinks, but I really believe the power level of the format is more than high enough to handle a turn 3-4 BSkull.

  9. First off, I love your work and am glad you’re back. I stopped visiting the site when you quit writing. That said, I’m about to be pretty hard on you 🙂

    “As a whole, this is a clear issue of addressing the symptom of a disease, not its cause. The cause is a lack of generic answers and policing cards/strategies in Modern. The symptom is fast, top-tier linear decks which fair decks can’t restrain. As such, the Probe ban will go down as yet another victim of Wizards’ inability to print viable Modern answers and interaction.”

    First, this isn’t a clear issue. You need an entire article backing up such an assertion and instead you gave us 3 sentences with no substantiation whatsoever. I don’t get paid for this though so you don’t get an entire article defending my side 🙂

    In my view, it’s crazy to think that the problem is Wizard’s inability to print cards that can police mechanics that are broken in the first place. I get that it’s subjective, but numerous pros (including professional game designers like Patrick Chapin) are on the record saying Phyrexian mana is broken. I don’t see why Wizards should try to print work around cards for a mechanic that shouldn’t exist in the first place when they could just ban it from the format. What am I missing here? Isn’t removal power creep a dangerous bandaid?

    Side note, your insistence that Wizard state “rules” for the modern format and only ban cards to stop decks that break those stated rules is essentially promoting over-legislation. If you don’t trust Wizards to be good stewards of the game they create and curate then don’t play the game. I realize that their decisions have financial impacts on players but if we can’t give them the authority to edit the game as they see fit then they probably don’t deserve our money in the first place.

    Glad you’re back!

    1. I will definitely write an article on that issue at some point. It will also likely be part of the Fixing Modern series I did in 2016. This was a danger (that I acknowledged in the article) of tackling the ban issue at the end of an article actually about Fatal Push, but it was an acceptable danger given the immediacy of the issue.

      Phyrexian Mana is itself broken, but formats like Legacy are able to incorporate those broken cards into a fairer and more self-regulating metagame. Modern also has its fair share of broken cards that are otherwise okay. The common thread here is internal answers (Legacy has FoW, Wasteland, and others), and it’s something I’ll continue to argue that Modern needs. Incidentally, this was also a major problem with Standard; threats are overpacing answers and the bans, particularly Copter, are a result of that trend.

      As for the rules, I don’t want hard cutoffs that prohibit flexibility. It would be bad if Wizards said “T4 violators are decks that win on T1-T3 in 19%+ of games.” I just want them to more clearly communicate with a common language and common definitions. This would also include more check-ins about the state of the format and its direction. Last year’s April article was an awesome addition to the format literature, but it’s been 9+ months since we had a similar update. That’s an unacceptable timeframe.

      1. I think it is fair to say WOTC doesn’t want to print answers. The current trend in standard formats is based around creatures and planeswalkers, artifacts where the block is designed around them, that give the image of big cool things doing cool stuff. The WOTC team, and I’m sure there is a section of the playerbase that agrees, doesn’t want to print some seemingly badass planeswalker that sees no play because of a card like vindicate.

        And until WOTC decides, if they ever do, to print cards that will enter modern but not standard as is already the case with legacy, I don’t see it changing. The economics of the game are currently such that a modern event deck would be very difficult to do, but that’s the only way I could see it happening.

        1. For one, the lack of answers just caused a bunch of Standard bannings, so maybe this is slated to change. More importantly, they just printed Push! That’s a GREAT answer and is exactly what Modern needed. We really just need 1-2 more cards like that and we’ll be in great shape. Push alone keeps me hopeful for Modern’s future: it’s no coincidence I’m writing after Push’s release.

  10. Thank you for an amazing article, and welcome back! It’s good to see you writing for Nexus again.

    As a novice when it comes to statistics, is there a mathematical way to evaluate the mardu three in comparison with one another in ways that account for all of the strengths and weaknesses of push, path, and bolt? Bolt hits the fewest creatures but can go to the face cf push that hits creatures in the middle cf paths exile and unconditional removal in the context of probably ramping the opponent? Perhaps a future piece from you?

    1. Thanks! Great to be back.

      I think there’s some way to merge the Push Index, the Bolt Index, and an as-of-yet unwritten Path Index into one common metric. You’d score it similarly to how this article score the Push Index, but you’d probably have three different measures being scored simultaneously to decide which spells were better relative to others. Metagame weightings would certainly be at play there. Interesting project for another time!

    1. I think people are seriously overestimating ramp’s ability to beat even a depowered Infect, DSZ, and Burn (the latter of which was unaffected by bans). Those aggressive decks should be more than enough to regulate ramp.

      Even if they weren’t, the solution is not bans. The solution is the same today as it was 2 years ago and as it will be in 2 more years: print some powerful answers that decks can use to internally regulate the format. Ban wack-a-mole doesn’t work and just undermines format confidence and longevity.

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