Titanic Whimper: The Meta Develops

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Last week, we made a forecast about Modern in 2020. And with a starting point established, we can now begin tracking developments!

I previously concluded that the SCG circuit was overplaying Amulet Titan, and that Modern players were forgetting to pack their graveyard hate. This week, I will be adding to the data with additional events. There's another SCG Classic to tackle, and an unexpected new source of data. The meta is still in its early stages, but it appears that the lessons from last week were at least heard. Whether they're actually going to be internalized for the long run remains to be seen.

SCG Philadelphia

SCG Philadelphia was another team event, so everything I said last week about the problems of such events analytically still applies. However, Philly's data is more useful than Richmond's was because it was a follow-up event. Richmond was the first major Modern tournament since the bannings (even if it was only partially Modern), and so it happened in a vacuum: there was no other data to draw on, so Richmond reflected player assumptions rather than reality. Amulet Titan's absurd population demonstrated this succinctly. The teams in Philly appear to have learned from Richmond, and the Day 2 metagame has adjusted.

Deck NameTotal #
Amulet Titan7
Heliod Company5
Dimir Whirza2
Gifts Storm2
Azorius Control2
Golgari Yagmoth1
Grixis Death's Shadow1
Mono-Red Prowess1
Azorius Stoneblade1

Amulet Titan is down to half its Richmond total, and Mono-Red Prowess has also dropped. Heliod Company sees a slight increase over last week, while Gifts Storm holds steady. This suggests that players shied away from the big two.

Of course, the overall field is much narrower than Richmond's, so the starting population may be a factor. However, I've been told before that larger SCG events often yield smaller Day 2's due to cleaner tiebreakers. If the former scenario is true, the results aren't necessarily indicative of much. This is possibly true regardless, given how team events work, but I would still expect Day 2 data to reflect the relative population from Day 1, thus indicating not necessarily deck strength but at least player choices.

If the latter is true, then this is a watershed moment. It would indicate that players abandoned Titan, which had been their mainstay, in droves from one event to the next. As I noted last week, Titan had an outsized presence in Day 2, but that didn't translate into better results. The same is true here. If players picked up on this fact, they may have switched to something they think is better-positioned. Or at least less overhyped, in hopes of dodging sideboard hate.

The Classic

The real data is as always from individual open events, and so the real test of my hypothesis is the Modern Classic's Top 16. It's not as large a starting population as an Open or GP, so it's not as random (and thus valid) as I'd like. However, it is an individual event, and large enough to be instructive. I'll be using the Philly Classic to study changes from Richmond. Philly should provide a more refined take on the new Modern and is more likely to be accurate to the hypothetical real metagame.

Deck NameTotal #
Mono-Red Prowess4
Ad Nauseam1
Mardu Pyromancer1
Heliod Company1
Dimir Whirza1
Mono-Green Tron1
Azorius Stoneblade1
Dimir Mill1
Mono-Green Devotion1
Amulet Titan1

Prowess continues to be the most popular deck, even putting up the same numbers as in Richmond. However, no other deck managed more than one copy.

Prowess also won again, though it's far more surprising this time. Traditionally, Ad Nauseam laughs at red decks. Besides its own goldfish speed, Phyrexian Unlife is 10+ life, and like many combo decks Ad Nauseam always packs Leyline of Sanctity. William Moody's deck doesn't look atypical, and Lucas Molho isn't playing any anti-combo cards, so Ad Nauseam losing is a bit of a mystery to me; that said, no deck is 100% favored against anything. The best guess I have is Moody got very unlucky, while Molho curved perfectly.

If Titan was the menace that it's made out to be, it should have at least put more decks into the Top 16. It didn't, and was instead just another member of the pack. This is consistent with what non-SCG data I've had suggests. Titan didn't appear in last week's PTQ data, and while it's a top deck in the online data, it isn't The Deck in absolute or relative terms. Outside of the most blitzy aggro deck doing well, the data is indicating a wide-open and non-polarized metagame that is trying to figure itself out. The Philly classic runs the gamut from old standby Tron to fringe players Dimir Mill and Neobrand. It's an open metagame, and players should be ready for anything.

SCG's Tail Chasing

If the data consistently fails to back the hype, why does the hype persist? Star City is so convinced that Amulet Titan is the best deck in Modern they asked the Philly Top 4 how to beat it. The responses indicated that, despite not all of them playing Titan, they did all agree that Titan as the best deck and that beating it is a struggle.

Again, there's no evidence that Amulet is any better than any other deck, and diving both the Open and Classic deckists failed to produce an inordinate amount of anti-Titan hate. Titan just isn't living up to the hype that the SCG Tour keeps building, which indicates that SCG is chasing its own tail. They think Amulet Titan is best because of their own Amulet Titan hype, regardless of whether that hype checks out.

I can't definitively say how this happened, but I believe two scenarios are plausible. The first, I call The Wannabe. Titan has never been an especially popular deck, but it has remained a solid one since 2015. Thus, it has a very dedicated fanbase and a long list of players that have been impressed by the deck, even if they don't actually play it. That core of admirers has been boosted by recent developments, specifically the adoption of Castle Garenbrig, Field of the Dead, and Dryad of the Ilysian Grove. It makes sense that a very solid deck that receives a boost would be better. Given that Amulet did well before Oko was banned, folks are loudly proclaiming it to be best; in lieu of convincing arguments in the face of Amulet Titan appearing more powerful, everyone is going along with the narrative.

The second is The Self-Defeating Prophecy. Again, Amulet was a good deck even under Oko's reign. It was boosted, and so the prophets declared it the New Best Deck. It had been good before, and a major threat had been eliminated, so what could be left to stop it? However, by proclaiming it the New Best Deck, pundits reminded players of the threat. Either through better playtesting and strategic play or changing their sideboarding strategy, players adapted to a more powerful Amulet Titan. The deck now finds itself in a prepared metagame, which means it no longer has any special advantage, and so never actually becomes the New Best Deck.

Cardmarket Paris Series

I thought that Star City was unique in having its own Magic tour, completely ignorant that Cardmarket was doing exactly that but for Europe until I saw a reddit post about the Top 8. They get no coverage in the States, so I only knew Cardmarket as a PT team. Another source of Open events for the data set is a godsend with the advantage of wider geography for more diverse data. And that data paints a very different picture of Modern than SCG's.

Deck NameTotal #
Azorius Stoneblade2
Amulet Titan1
Eldrazi & Taxes1
Bant Stoneblade1
Abzan Ephemerate1

Where SCG is overrun by Prowess and Titan, MKM appears to be all about Stoneblade, both UW and Bant. This is shocking to me, as Stoneblade hasn't done anything notable stateside. I've played almost the exactly same list as winner Arnaud Hocquemiller many times, and mostly been frustrated. I have no idea if it's a case of a very different, and ostensibly more favorable, metagame in Europe than America, or if Arnaud simply knows the deck better, but at minimum it means I'll be reexamining the deck again soon.

Again, Amulet Titan is just another deck in this Top 8, but everyone is aware of the deck. Ashiok, Dream Render is in most sideboards, and while Ashiok does remove graveyards, its main draw nowadays is stopping deck searches. Primeval Titan isn't a Modern card when reduced to just a 6/6 with trample.

A more interesting adoption is Magus of the Moon in Humans. Initially, Blood Moon was game-ending against Amulet Bloom, but over the years players adapted and ran more basics to compensate. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove gives Amulet an out, but it isn't perfect. The main draw of new Amulet is the value from Field of the Dead and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. Even if Moon effects can't lock Amulet out anymore, Moon still guts Amulet's gameplan. Dropping Magus hurts Humans too, but Aether Vial and Ignoble Hierarch help a lot, and Magus only needs to buy a turn or two for Humans to win.

A Counterpoint

By itself, the MKM Paris Top 8 provides a strong counterpoint to everything from the SCG Tours. Midrange decks are the power in Europe while Prowess is ruling in America. I don't have enough information about either metagame to guess as to why, but the discrepancy does further support that the SCG Tour is not the definitive word on the Modern metagame.

More interesting to me are the views of Amulet Titan. It's obvious that SCG simply accepts that Amulet is best and will happily live in that reality, but MKM is actively fighting Titan, and apparently winning. To listen to SCG players and commentary is to believe that it's "play Amulet or be wrong." MKM seems to argue that while Amulet is a rising deck, it's just something else to prepare for. They're more concerned with the red decks, specifically Prowess; but again, not in terms of it being The Best Deck, but as something to be wary of and prepare for. Frankly, I find the latter a more healthy and productive attitude.

Alternative Metagame

Another advantage of looking at the MKM data is that they released the metagame data for their Modern event. It appears that this is the overall starting metagame. Either way, this is the first look at true open event data we have, and further reinforces the metagame I've been building with the Classic and PTQ data.

Deck NameTotal %
Mono-Red Prowess6.6
WUx Control6.1
Death's Shadow4.6
Amulet Titan4.6
Devoted Company4.1

Red decks are the top decks here, with Prowess continuing to beat out Burn, though not by much. Amulet Titan continues to be in the middle of the pack, beaten very handily by Stoneblade variants. This fact makes me wonder just how badly wrong I've been playing Stoneblade, as again I'd never have put it as that strong a contender. The Other category continues to be the highest by quite a margin, which I've long considered a sign of overall health in Modern. Given the usual trends for post-ban metagames, my conclusion is that Modern is still settling and the format is wide open.

Titan's Fall?

It is tempting at this point to say that Titan has fallen from grace. However, I think that a bit premature. The deck hasn't fallen from anything; it hadn't risen in the first place! Amulet Titan was assumed to be the best deck in Modern. That the assumption hasn't been demonstrated true says more about the assumptions themselves than the deck.

The metagame is still young, and there is time for Titan to rise as high as the hype machine claims it will (or has). However, the data from open individual events argues that being prepared is sufficient to beat Amulet. The data indicates that Amulet Titan is a strong deck and may be highly tiered. But, it's much too early to be proclaiming metagame winners. More data is still necessary.

2 thoughts on “Titanic Whimper: The Meta Develops

  1. The MKM Paris Series were really diverse indeed, even in the top tables. I faced 7 different decks in 8 rounds and it was refreshing.
    I was expecting Amulet everywhere but it was ok. Players mostly adapted with technology like Magus of the Moon in Humans sideboard, Blood Moon in most Astrolabe decks. Metagame sounds promising.

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