Metagame’s First Look: SCG Indianapolis Analysis

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With a few weeks of online events and an SCG Team Event, the metagame is finally taking shape. It's nowhere near enough for any real analysis to take place, but it is a good starting point. With SCG Indianapolis in the books it's time to start pulling apart the data and contextualizing it.

Modern has been incredibly volatile this past year: Faithless Looting's ban knocked out a longstanding pillar, Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis warped the format, and we've been spoiled for new cards. So much has changed that I don't think it fair to compare the new metagame to the pre-Modern Horizons one. Therefore, I'm treating the new meta like a blank slate. I don't know what the metagame "should" look like anymore, so I won't judge and will continue to be open minded but skeptical until more data comes in.

Day 2 Meta

As has become tradition, I'll start with the broadest data and then get more specific. Prior to the tournament, the expectation was for Urza, Lord High Artificer-based decks to dominate. The deck appeared to be solid and the addition of Emry, Lurker of the Loch stood to supercharge the deck. Of course, this was all speculation, so let's see what really happened.

Deck NameTotal #
Other 28
Amulet Titan12
Urza Ascendancy12
Mono-Green Tron11
Urza Outcome8
Grixis Death's Shadow6
Eldrazi Tron5
5-C Whirza5
UW Control4
Jund Death's Shadow3
UW Stoneblade3
Bant Stoneblade3
Devoted Devastation2
Abzan Company2

I'll give the prophets partial credit: if you aggregate all the various types of Urza decks, they would be the best represented deck in Indy's Day 2. Even if you only lump the combo versions together, they'd be the most popular deck. They'd still be behind the other category, but this is Modern, so that fact doesn't really count. That I have to aggregate at all is one mark against the predictions. There's also the question of it being a self-fulfilling prophecy; as always, hyped decks show up in great numbers and then do well, so it's hard to say if the result is meaningful.

Jund is tied for first place among individual decks, which is surprising given the quantity of big mana decks (aka Jund's worst matchups). It would be easy to attribute this result to Wrenn and Six, and the ensuing hope all Jund players seem to have, but this may be legit. The power of Jund has always been playing slightly-better cards than the opponent, and more of them. Now Jund never has to miss a land drop end enjoys a consistency upgrade. I hope to see this result sustained.

Top 32 Results

Now to move onto the Top 32. I know I ususally only do the Top 16 in these articles, but I saw the results initially posted as the Top 32, and just rolled with it. (For those curious, the data for all Day 2 decks has now been released.)

Deck NameTotal #
Amulet Titan4
Urza Ascendancy3
Mono-Green Tron3
Grixis Death's Shadow2
Urza Outcome2
Gifts Storm1
Jund Death's Shadow1
GW Eldrazi1
Devoted Devastation1
UW Stoneblade1
Esper Goryos's 1
Four-Color Whirza1
Boaryo's Vengence1
Abzan Company1
Bant Snowblade1

Gifts Storm won the event, though that makes perfect sense given the bracket. The only Top 8 decks with relevant game 1 interaction were GW Eldrazi and Jund Shadow, and the only way Drake Sasser could have hit them was in the finals. Instead, Drake was fed a steady diet of other combo decks and just won the footrace each time. Storm is relatively easy for other decks to disrupt, but it is usually the faster and more reliable combo. From what I saw, Drake benefitted from his opponents' more complicated decks clunking to varying degrees.

The rest of the sample is a host of big mana and combo decks. I count 8 midrange or slower interactive decks, 5 aggro decks, 12 combo decks, and 7 big mana decks. The three most-played decks all fall in the latter categories. Why this happened is hard to say, though the low Humans turnout is likely a factor; Humans was initially built to thrash Storm, and the clock-plus-disruption strategy is the classic way to defeat any combo. It can also race most big mana decks and has considerable sideboard options against them. The lack of control is likely a combination of lots of bad matchups against big mana and uncertainty over how to build the decks. Between a developing metagame and difficulty making Stoneforge Mystic work, I'd wager they're just not ready for the big time yet.

Classic Complication

Finally, it's time to look at the frequently contradictory data, the Modern Classic. The Classic posts very different results from the main event so often that I can't imagine it's a coincidence. My theory has been that the Classic is composed of Day 1 drop-outs, and so reflects the starting population. However, it's been reasonably argued to me that some decks do better in shorter tournaments rather than long. I may never know the reason for the deviation, but it happened again.

Deck NameTotal #
Urza Outcome4
Amulet Titan2
UW Control1
Izzet Kiki1
Abzan Company1
Jund Death's Shadow1
Eldrazi Tron1

Only one version of Urza deck appeared, and it dominates the data. Amulet is alphabetically second, but tied with Dredge and Jund. The only version of Tron is Eldrazi Tron, which appears at copy. This is more in line with the aforementioned predictions and expectations and to an extent defies the Open. Again, I'm not sure what to make of it or how it relates, but it does provide an interesting data point for further investigation.

Bottom Line

Combo decks had a very good week, winning both events. Big mana was the next-biggest category, while the fair decks suffered. Given matchup expectations, I'd argue that players expected fair decks to be out in force and came with their predators. This suggests that in future weeks, anti-combo decks will be the metagame call.

Dangerous Outcome?

Urza, Lord High Artificer decks were clearly the most popular decks last weekend. There has been considerable attention on the deck, and a lot of high-level players claim it's the best deck in Modern. There haven't been many Modern events since Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis was banned, but Urza decks have done very well. Naturally, this has led the internet to start the usual banning speculation, as happens whenever a new deck does well. Normally I'd just ignore the calls, but there's a wrinkle this time.

Last week, Wizards suddenly announced that they were moving up the date of the next banned and restricted announcement from November 18 to October 21. This has naturally led to speculation that the new kid on the block was getting axed. This is almost certainly false. Given the timing of the announcement and the competitive schedule, it's more likely a Standard ban is coming.

The announcement came as decks were being submitted for this weekend's Standard Arena Mythic Championship, and Golos, Tireless Pilgrim decks were overwhelmingly popular. Prior to then, they were widely considered the best deck, and fairly oppressive since Standard lacks answers to Field of the Dead. Given that it looks like Field will dominate this weekend and there's another Standard MC next month, the land itself is the likely target. As a result, it is very unlikely that anything will happen in other formats.

Historical Precedent

That doesn't mean it is impossible for Modern to see another ban, just that it's not why the announcement was changed. If there is to be a ban, the only possible target would be the Urza decks. Nothing else appears to be as successful or (theoretically) dangerous. However unlikely I believe it is, there is a reasonable argument for why another ban could happen: simply put, the Urza combo decks look to be another round of Krark-Clan Ironworks, and can play out similarly to the previously-banned Eggs. These precedents make it more plausible for a ban should Urza cause enough problems.

The main problem is logistical. If observations from the weekend are to be believed, it may not be power or dominance that makes Wizards take action, but the repetitiveness. The linked clip was from Autumn Burchett taking nearly twenty minutes to combo off with Paradoxical Urza. While that is an absurd time to spend on one turn, I'm told Autumn has a reputation as a slow, delibrate player, and that turn was not unusual. The only reason this could translate into a ban is if these lengthy combo turns are universal, which I can't verify.

A linked problem is that the combo isn't deterministic: the combo decks don't necessarily have a combo kill. Singleton Aetherflux Reservoir is the closest I've seen to an immediate combo kill. Whether they're running Jeskai Ascendancy or not, these decks intend to win by making an absurd amount of Thopter or Servo tokens and maybe have Nexus of Fate for a combo kill delayed by one turn (until the tokens can attack). Tokens are fairly easy to interact with, and Plague Engineer can undo a great deal of comboing. All these factors result in dull gameplay for viewers and opponents.

Given that these problem are why Ironworks got banned, it's not impossible that something could get banned from Urza. If that happens, I expect it would be Urza himself, as it's generally preferred to ban engine cards. The Emry combo is less reliable and can also be shortcutted to victory.

Reliably Unreliable

I strongly doubt that anything will happen in Modern next Monday. Wizards just had a major banning, and therefore it's too early to be making proclamations about the metagame. We're just getting the first look at actual metagame data, and the picture is unclear.

Urza is very popular and is getting a lot of hype. This necessarily translates into metagame presence. As previously discussed, the hype says that Urza is busted, and decks featuring him are far better than anything else in Modern. Whether this is actually true hasn't been shown in results, but it's too early to be certain. It would take a very clear tale of Urza decks dominating MTGO, which only Wizards knows, for any action to be taken.

Going beyond the data, I'm also not certain on a qualitative level that anything needs to happen. I've been helping a friend test the Urza decks, and he's described it as the most frustrating deck in the world to test. When the Jeskai Ascendancy or Paradoxical Outcome versions are running well, it's the closest we'll ever come to playing paper Vintage. PO Urza's combo kill is basically a Black Lotus away from Vintage Outcome. However, when it doesn't, it feels like complete garbage. The deck is mainly air and needs a critical mass of artifacts to do anything.

Fearful Commitment

The problem has been that a given hand might be the former or the latter, and there's no way of knowing until you play out the game. On many occasions, we've kept turn-one Emry hands, completely whiffed on the mill, and then drawn only payoff cards without anything to make them good. The exact same hand with a mediocre-or-better Emry mill wins within a couple turns. The Ascendancy version is slightly better in that redundant enchantments stack and trigger each other when cast, so there's a chance to dig into gas; however, a Lightning Bolt on Emry can kill any chance that version has to win.

Testing the combo version has also turned my friend off the more reliable Whirza combo/prison decks. Having a reliable gameplan is great, but it feels anemic in comparison to the combos. The data disagrees, but he says it feels so much worse. Then there's the overarching issue with all these decks: they're very poor if Urza himself never resolves.

Just the Start

SCG Indianapolis is the first data point of this new Modern. As always, it will take quite a bit more data before any determinations or predictions can be made. Still, it is exciting to see Modern's rapid shift from this time last year.

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