The Cycle Continues: February `22 Metagame Update

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Here's something I haven't done in a long time: the February metagame update! Given that I do one of these articles every month, that statement might seem disingenuous, but it's true. Last February there was no metagame update because Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor and Tibalt's Trickery were so egregious it was obvious that a ban was incoming. Which ultimately rendered the data meaningless. Here we are a year later with no new bans, and that calls for a new metagame article!

And as part of the celebration, the scope of the update is expanding. Last month, I brought in paper results for the first time since 2020. However, it was only population data. There weren't big events for me to award extra points for anything. There have been bigger events in February, and they even reported enough data so that I can do a points system! It's not quite the same as the MTGO system, but I'll get to that. For now though, simply rejoice that I can fully report on the overall metagame rather than a slice.

February Population Metagame

To make the tier list, a given deck has to beat the overall average population for the month. The average is my estimate for how many results a given deck “should” produce on MTGO. Being a tiered deck requires being better than “good enough.” In February the average population was 5.32 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 6 decks, which is lower than typical but does make sense in context.

Tier 3 begins with decks posting 6 results. Then we go one standard deviation above average to set the limit of Tier 3 and cutoff for Tier 2. The STdev was 9.78, which means that means Tier 3 runs to 16 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then one above for the next Tier. The STdev was much lower this month, and is one of the lower ones I've ever had. There were fewer singleton decks proportionately than most months, which shrunk the range and lowered the deviation. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 17 results and runs to 27. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 28 decks are required. This, again, is quite low for post-MH2 Modern, however it didn't substantially alter the usual outcome.

The MTGO Tier Data

February being a short month, one would expect that the population represented would be lower. Fewer days means fewer posted events to include. And one would be right. January had 502 decks, which is slightly below average. February only musters 436 decks, which is low for typical months but again, February is a shorter month. For all I know, this is high for a normal February.

However, beyond that the data is highly unusual. Total decks were down, but unique decks were up, with 82 compared to January's 73. That isn't unexpected as Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty did come out with lots of Modern playables. Players were quite eager to brew as a result. However, less than a quarter of those decks were singletons. That's very low and helps explain why the STDev was so low. What it doesn't explain is why the Tiered decks are down to 15 from January's 18.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
Hammer Time5412.39
Grixis Shadow4710.78
UR Murktide409.17
Amulet Titan327.34
Tier 2
4-Color Control214.82
Blue Living End204.58
Tier 3
UW Control153.44
Cascade Crashers122.75
4-Color Blink112.52
Jund Saga81.83
Mono-Red Prowess71.60
4-Color Creativity71.60

Hammer Time is back on top of the metagame after taking a month off. Interestingly, the margin between Hammer and Grixis Shadow is the same this month as it was in January, just reversed. Just odd how that worked out. Amulet Titan also shot up the standings, but I'm guessing that was player enthusiasm after it got Boseiju, Who Endures. We'll see if that enthusiasm sustains it.

4-Color Blink cratered out of Tier 1, and that might surprise players. However, it doesn't surprise me because, for some reason, the Omnath players decided to branch out this month. There was far more variation in A-Omnath, Locus of Creation decks this month that were sufficiently different to be listed separately. As such, if I were to lump all the variations together they'd be Tier 1 with 39 results. Most of that is from the Control and Blink variations which made the tier list, but there was also a Bring to Light version which put up numbers early then disappeared.

The Paper Tier Data

The paper tiers are calculated the same way as the MTGO tier, just with different data. While more paper events are represented in the data, they rarely report more than the Top 8 (sometimes less). Consequently, the population is much lower at 363 recorded decks, which is still significantly higher than January's 293. Meanwhile, the number of unique decks is lower than MTGO's with 79, but far more decks made the Tier list (22 vs 15). I have no idea why this is the case except that the data says that it is so.

Paper's average decks were 4.59, meaning the starting point is 5 decks. The STDev is 6.41, so Tier 3 runs from 5 to 12 decks. Tier 2 begins with 13 decks and runs to 20, and Tier 1 requires 21 decks. I have no idea how representative of "normal" paper Magic these stats are.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
Grixis Shadow339.09
Hammer Time287.71
Cascade Crashers215.78
Tier 2
UR Murktide195.23
Amulet Titan195.23
UW Control143.85
4-Color Control133.58
Tier 3
4-Color Blink123.31
Rakdos Rock113.03
Mono-Green Tron82.20
4-Color Creativity71.93
Heliod Company71.93
Blue Living End61.65
UW Urzablade61.65
Izzet Prowess51.38
Hardened Scales51.38
Eldrazi Tron51.38

I do know that the paper data is a little behind the MTGO results as Grixis Shadow performed better than Hammer Time this month. Burn continues to be a Tier 1 deck in paper despite not doing as well online. I suspect that both Burn and Shadow are doing so well in paper because players have owned these decks for years. Since the cost of switching decks is greater in paper than online, there's a bias against buying the deck of the month, with players more often sticking with the old standby. Hammer Time is not a cheap deck anymore, so it makes sense for the older but updated decks to outperform newcomers in paper.

February Power Rankings

Tracking the metagame in terms of population is standard practice. But how do results actually factor in? Better decks should also have better results. In an effort to measure this, I use a power ranking system in addition to the prevalence list. By doing so, I measure the relative strengths of each deck within the metagame. The population method gives a deck that consistently just squeaks into Top 32 the same weight as one that Top 8’s. Using a power ranking rewards good results and moves the winningest decks to the top of the pile and better reflects their metagame potential.

For the MTGO data, points are awarded based on the population of the event. Preliminaries award points for record (1 for 3 wins, 2 for 4 wins, 3 for 5) and Challenges are scored 3 points for Top 8, 2 for Top 16, 1 for Top 32. If I can find them, non-Wizards events will be awarded points the same as Challenges or Preliminaries depending on what the event in question reports/behaves like. Super Qualifiers and similar higher-level events get an extra point and so do other events if they’re over 200 players, with a fifth point for going over 400 players. There were three 4 points events in February and no 5 pointers.

The MTGO Power Tier

As with the population numbers, points in February were down from January, from 872 to 779. Fewer events, fewer points. The only reason the drop off wasn't more dramatic was that there were more extra point events in February. The Preliminaries were also smaller on average.

The average points were 9.50. Therefore 10 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 17.65, which again is on the lower end of normal. Thus add 18 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 28 points. Tier 2 starts with 29 points and runs to 47. Tier 1 requires at least 48 points. The composition of the Tier list did not change, though the position of a number of decks did.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
Hammer Time9712.45
Grixis Shadow8911.42
UR Murktide658.34
Amulet Titan567.19
Tier 2
4-Color Control435.52
Blue Living End415.26
Tier 3
UW Control232.95
Cascade Crashers222.82
4-Color Blink222.82
Jund Saga151.93
4-Color Creativity141.80
Mono-Red Prowess131.67

As is typical, Tier 2 shrunk as Burn didn't get enough points to stay. That was the only movement between tiers, thought there was some reshuffling in Tier 3. Not much though.

The Paper Power Tiers

Unlike with population, the paper power data works differently than the equivalent MTGO data. Again, the data is usually limited to Top 8 lists, even for big events. Not that I know how big most events are, that doesn't always get reported. In other cases, decks are missing. SCG Con Philidelphia had two Modern 10ks, but neither event reported a full Top 32. And other similar (though smaller) events had similar problems. Applying the MTGO point system just doesn't work when I don't know how many points to award.

Thus, I went back to the older system of just awarding an extra point for placement in a bigger tournament. That way I'm being internally consistent with the paper results. If we ever get Grand Prix and Pro Tours back, they (and any similar event) would get another point but for now, most events only award one point per result and a few give two. However, the calculations are the same.

The average points were 5.67. Therefore 6 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 8.70, thus add 9 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 15 points. Tier 2 starts with 16 points and runs to 25. Tier 1 requires at least 26 points. The upper Tiers didn't change but Izzet Prowess fell out of Tier 3. It was replaced by Jund Shadow, which didn't put up results outside of big events.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
Grixis Shadow4810.71
Hammer Time398.70
Cascade Crashers296.47
Tier 2
UR Murktide245.35
Amulet Titan224.91
4-Color Control184.02
UW Control163.85
Tier 3
4-Color Blink143.13
Rakdos Rock122.68
Heliod Company92.01
Mono-Green Tron81.79
Blue Living End81.79
Hardened Scales81.79
4-Color Creativity71.56
UW Urzablade61.34
Jund Shadow61.34
Eldrazi Tron61.34

Average Power Rankings

Finally, we come to the average power rankings. These are found by taking total points earned and dividing it by total decks, which measures points per deck. I use this to measure strength vs. popularity. Measuring deck strength is hard. There is no Wins-Above-Replacement metric for Magic, and I'm not certain that one could be credibly devised. The game is too complex, and even then, power is very contextual. Using the power rankings certainly helps and serves to show how justified a deck’s popularity is. However, more popular decks will still necessarily earn a lot of points. Which tracks, but also means that the top tier doesn't move much between population and power, and obscures whether they really earned their position.

This is where the averaging comes in. Decks that earn a lot of points because they get a lot of results will do worse than decks that win more events, indicating which deck actually performs better. A higher average indicates lots of high finishes, where low averages result from mediocre performances and high population. Lower-tier decks typically do very well here, likely due to their pilots being enthusiasts. So be careful about reading too much into the results. However, as a general rule decks which place above the baseline average are overperforming and vice versa. How far above or below that average determines how "justified" a decks position on the power tiers are. Decks well above baseline are therefore undervalued while decks well below baseline are very popular but aren't necessarily good.

The Real Story

When considering the average points, the key is looking at how far-off a deck is from the Baseline stat (the overall average of points/population). The closer a deck’s performance to the Baseline, the more likely it is to be performing close to its “true” potential. A deck that is exactly average would therefore perform exactly as well as expected. The greater the deviation from average, the more a deck under- or over-performs. On the low end, a deck’s placing was mainly due to population rather than power, which suggests it’s overrated. A high-scoring deck is the opposite.

I'll begin with the average for MTGO:

Deck NameTotal #Power Tier
4-Color Control2.052
Blue Living End2.052
4-Color Blink2.003
4-Color Creativity2.003
Grixis Shadow1.891
Jund Saga1.883
Mono-Red Prowess1.863
Cascade Crashers1.833
Hammer Time1.801
Amulet Titan1.751
UR Murktide1.631
UW Control1.533

Grixis Shadow is the highest placing Tier 1 deck, and therefore February's MTGO deck of the month. However, both Tier 2 decks outperformed everyone, which strongly suggests that they were far better positioned than players thought. The baseline stat was fairly high but there were a lot of high point earning non-Tiered decks thanks to rogues performing well in Super Qualifiers and PTQs.

Onto the paper averages:

Deck NameAverage PointsPower Tier
Jund Shadow2.003
Hardened Scales1.603
Grixis Shadow1.451
Hammer Time1.401
Cascade Crashers1.391
4-Color Control1.382
Blue Living End1.333
Heliod Company1.293
UR Murktide1.262
Eldrazi Tron1.203
4-Color Blink1.173
Amulet Titan1.162
UW Control1.142
Rakdos Rock1.093
Mono-Green Tron1.003
4-Color Creativity1.003
UW Urzablade1.003

Again, Grixis Shadow is the best performing Tier 1 deck, but it's by a smaller margin than for MTGO. What's interesting is how many decks made the Power Tier with the same points as their population. That's impossible in the MTGO data.

Composite Metagame

That's a lot of data, but what does it all mean? When Modern Nexus first started, we had a statistical method to combine the MTGO and paper data, but the math of that system doesn't work without the big paper events. I tried. So, I'm using an averaging system to combine the data. I take the MTGO results and average the tier, then separately average the paper results, then average the paper and MTGO results for the final placement.

This generates a lot of partial Tiers. That's not a bug; it's a feature. The nuance separates the solidly Tiered decks from the more flexible ones and shows the true relative power differences between the decks. Every deck in the paper and MTGO results is on the table, and when they don't appear in a given category they're marked N/A. This is treated as a 4 for averaging purposes.

Deck NamePaper Population TierPaper Power TierAverage Paper TierMTGO Population TierMTGO Power TierAverage MTGO TierOverall Tier
Grixis Shadow1111111
Hammer Time1111111
UR Murktide2221111.5
Amulet Titan2221111.5
Cascade Crashers1113332
4-Color Control2222222
UW Control2223332.5
Blue Living End3332222.5
4-Color Blink3333333
4-Color Creativity3333333
Rakdos Rock333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Heliod Company333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Mono-Green Tron333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Hardened Scales333N/AN/AN/A3.5
UW Urzablade333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Eldrazi Tron333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Jund SagaN/AN/AN/A3333.5
Mono-Red ProwessN/AN/AN/A3333.5
Jund ShadowN/A33.5N/AN/AN/A3.75
Izzet Prowess3N/A3.5N/AN/AN/A3.75

To the surprise of nobody, Hammer Time and Grixis Shadow are the only purely Tier 1 decks in Modern for February. There are a number of partial Tier 1 decks as well, but the strongest have definitely been separated. The huge number of paper decks compared to MTGO decks means that most decks are considered Tier 3.5 or lower, but that does makes logical sense. If a deck can't get traction in all forms of Modern, how good is it really?

A More Complete Picture

So that was February's metagame. Now, if everyone could completely forget about all that data, it is utterly irrelevant. I wrote this article on Sunday, and then on Monday Wizards made the surprise announcement that Lurrus of the Dream-Den is banned. Which means that March's metagame will look nothing like February's. But, such is Magic. Now we wait and see how this plays out.

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