The Post-Lurrus World: March ’22 Metagame Update

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While banning Lurrus wasn't exactly burdensome for any deck, the rules of engagement in Modern have been changed sufficiently that it still represents a clean break from the old metagame. No infinite grinding with Mishra's Bauble means decks have to compete on more traditional card advantage axes. For better or worse, depending on the deck.

The ban also means that I had to throw out the first week of data. Again, the pre-ban metagame is an entirely different reality to the current one and isn't comparable. Thus, the data set is smaller than February's, and rather significantly so; consequently, there are some oddities that might not have made it through otherwise.

Outlier Alert!

March's data is further affected by an outlier. UR Murktide outstripped the rest of the field by a significant margin. It was larger online than in paper, but not by much. When I did my statistical tests, online was very clearly over the line in outlier territory. Paper Murktide was closer to the line thanks to the spread of the paper data. Regardless, both results were not used when I was making the tiers. Their data is still reported and they're in their correct place on the tiers but didn't impact the overall analysis.

I also feel compelled to remind everyone that this is not a Tier 0 situation. Outliers never qualify for that distinction just for being statistical outliers. True Tier 0 decks like Hogaak or Eldrazi Winter blow the rest of the competition by far wider margins and do so month after month. March 2022 is just a blip that will most likely subside. Remain calm!

March 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 March the average population was 4.63 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 5 decks, which is well below the yearly average but makes sense given the short month and the outlier.

Tier 3 begins with decks posting 5 results. Then we go one standard deviation above average to set the limit of Tier 3 and cutoff for Tier 2. The STdev was 6.40, which means that means Tier 3 runs to 12 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then one above for the next Tier. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 13 results and runs to 20. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 21 decks are required. This, again, is quite low for post-MH2 Modern, but given the everything about March it's nothing to read into.

The MTGO Tier Data

I mentioned that March's data was down significantly thanks to all the data that got thrown out. January had 502 decks, February had 436 decks, and March only hit 356. But for the ban, March would have at least surpassed February between the Wizards and independent events that closed on or before March 7. I had to throw out a few more league-type events because they began before the ban and didn't change their decks before finishing.

Despite that, there was still a high amount of diversity present. The overall amount of unique decks were down to 68, February's 82 but that's not too shabby under the circumstances. Normally, a banning will bring out the brews and Modern will get pretty wild the following month. It's a little subdued this time since Lurrus wasn't as fundamentally integral as Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath was. That said, more decks made the tier list this time, 16 compared to February's 15, which is good given the low population.

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide4612.92
Cascade Crashers277.58
Hammer Time246.74
4-Color Blink236.46
Living End226.18
Tier 2
Amulet Titan174.78
UW Control133.65
Tier 3
MG Tron123.37
Grixis Shadow123.37
4-Color Control113.09
Tribal Elementals82.25

Despite taking a hit, Hammer Time is still a Tier 1 deck. Just not format-definingly so, and I think that's good. Hopefully it lasts. What's particularly interesting this month is both cascade decks making Tier 1. Living End and Cascade Crashers have not been in the same tier since...(checks through the archive)...I don't think ever. Odd that they suddenly would right after Lurrus is banned.

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). However, that doesn't mean that the population is lower. Thanks to a deluge of events in March, the paper population is much higher than online with 506 recorded decks, beating January's online numbers. Paper really is back. The number of unique decks is also much higher with 83. I don't have many months of data to draw from, but I hypothesize that paper should always be more diverse than online.

Paper's average decks were 5.55, meaning the starting point is 6 decks. The STDev is 7.81, so Tier 3 runs from 6 to 14 decks. Tier 2 begins with 15 decks and runs to 23, and Tier 1 requires 24 decks. I still have no idea how representative of "normal" paper Magic these stats are.

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide5110.08
UW Control346.72
Cascade Crashers336.52
Amulet Titan326.32
Grixis Shadow244.74
Tier 2
Hammer Time214.15
Living End203.95
4-Color Control193.75
Tier 3
Tribal Elementals132.57
MG Tron91.78
Esper Reanimator91.78
4-Color Creativity81.58
Mono-Red Moon71.38
Hardened Scales71.38
Izzet Prowess61.19
Eldrazi Tron61.19

It continues to perplex me how different the paper results are from MTGO. The difference in playerbase size as well the regional effect certainly play in, but I'd expect that any regional inclinations would balance out and produce a result more similar to MTGO. That has consistently not happened so far. I have some theories, but they're just theories. I'll be investigating this difference further.

March 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 March were down from February, from 779 to 668. Fewer events, fewer points. The points drop-off follows the population decrease well enough that it is explanatory. Despite some very large Preliminaries trying to make up the differential

The average points were 8.66. Therefore 9 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 12.46, which again is on the lower end of normal. Thus add 13 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 22 points. Tier 2 starts with 23 points and runs to 36. Tier 1 requires at least 37 points. There was a lot of adjustment from population inside the tiers this month. Also, Goblins fell off the power charts, replaced with Mono-Red Prowess and Eldrazi Tron.

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide8813.17
Cascade Crashers588.68
4-Color Blink487.19
Hammer Time446.59
Living End446.59
Tier 2
Amulet Titan324.79
Grixis Shadow243.59
UW Control233.65
Tier 3
MG Tron213.14
Tribal Elementals213.14
4-Color Control182.69
Mono-Red Prowess101.50
Eldrazi Tron91.35

In an unusual move, no tier shrunk this month. Usually Tier 2 gets squeezed by the brackets, but not this time. There's no explanation.

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 Indianapolis had a Modern 5ks and numerous smaller events, but decks were missing from the Top 32 and the smaller events reported anywhere from 5 to 21 decks for no obvious reason. Applying the MTGO point system just doesn't work when I don't know how many points to award.

Thus, I award points based on the size of the tournament rather than placement. That way I'm being internally consistent with the paper results. When there's a Modern Pro Tour again (THEY'RE BACK!!!) it would qualify for 3 points, as would Grand Prix or whatever the GP equivalent will be. The calculations are the same as with online results. The SCG 5k and one of the side events awarded 2 points. The Hunter Burton Memorial Open was this month, and it has always been treated like an SCG Open or GP, so it awarded 3 points. A side event from the HBMO awarded 2.

The average points were 7.41. Therefore 8 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 10.62, thus add 11 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 19 points. Tier 2 starts with 20 points and runs to 31. Tier 1 requires at least 32 points. There was actually quite a bit of movement in and out of Tier 2 with paper.

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide679.93
Amulet Titan507.41
UW Control436.37
Cascade Crashers405.93
Living End324.74
Tier 2
Grixis Shadow314.59
Hammer Time263.85
4-Color Control263.85
Tier 3
Tribal Elementals152.22
Esper Reanimator121.78
4-Color Creativity101.48
MG Tron91.33
Izzet Breach Combo81.19
Hardened Scales81.19
UW Urzablade81.19
Eldrazi Tron81.19

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 NameAverage PointsPower Tier
Tribal Elementals2.633
Mono-Red Prowess2.503
Eldrazi Tron2.503
Cascade Crashers2.151
4-Color Blink2.091
Living End2.001
Grixis Shadow2.002
UR Murktide1.911
Amulet Titan1.882
Hammer Time1.831
UW Control1.772
MG Tron1.753
4-Color Control1.643

Cascade Crashers is the highest performing Tier 1 deck and therefore the March 2022 MTGO deck of the month. The averages are extremely high thanks to the effect of the big events. Most of the decks at the top of the chart only appeared in the Challenges, Super Qualifiers, and Showcase Challenge. They didn't have many Preliminary results to temper their numbers.

Onto the paper averages:

Deck NameAverage PowerPower Tier
Living End1.601
Izzet Breach Combo1.603
UW Urzablade1.603
Amulet Titan1.561
4-Color Control1.372
Esper Reanimator1.333
Eldrazi Tron1.333
UR Murktide1.311
Grixis Shadow1.292
UW Control1.261
4-Color Creativity1.253
Hammer Time1.242
Cascade Crashers1.211
Tribal Elementals1.153
Hardened Scales1.143
MG Tron1.003

I think it's significant that both the paper and online metagames have a cascade deck as the best performer. The fact that Living End beat Cascade Crashers in paper is surprising. The metagame doesn't look more favorable on its face, suggesting that this preferences at work. That Crashers didn't perform well in paper may be instructive, but it's worth saying that it didn't show up at SCG Indianapolis.

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
UR Murktide1111111
Cascade Crashers1111111
Hammer Time2221111.5
Amulet Titan1112221.5
UW Control1112221.5
Living End2221111.5
Grixis Shadow121.5322.52
4-Color BlinkN/AN/AN/A1112.5
4-Color Control2223332.5
Tribal Elementals3333333
Mono-Green Tron3333333
Eldrazi Tron333N/A33.53.25
Mono-Red Moon3N/A3.53333.25
4-Color Creativity333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Esper Reanimator333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Hardened Scales333N/AN/AN/A3.5
UW UrzabladeN/A33.5N/AN/AN/A3.75
Izzet Prowess3N/A3.5N/AN/AN/A3.75
Mono-Red ProwessN/AN/AN/AN/A33.53.75
Izzet Breach ComboN/A33.5N/AN/AN/A3.75

Murktide and Crashers are the only fully Tier 1 decks in March to the surprise of no-one who's been paying attention so far. 4-Color Blink not appearing at all on the paper standings drops its aggregate place significantly, but that happened Online last month, so maybe it's just lagging behind. We'll see.

An Evolving Modern

The format's composition looks broadly similar to the old one. It doesn't appear that Lurrus decks were uniquely keeping any decks out, though it was unequivocally key to many decks' strategies. Grixis Shadow will attest to that. However, the question of what it all means and where this is heading is a question for another time. Specifically, this Friday when I'll do exactly that for all Quiet Speculation Insiders. Stay tuned!

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