Izzet Summer Yet?: May ’22 Metagame Update

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It has been a full month since Streets of New Capenna released and Modern has adjusted. Not by much, but there have been changes. Though you’d be forgiven for thinking otherwise. So today it’s time to reveal how those changes have affected the I can’t keep up the pretense. This metagame update will look very similar to the previous one. Those adjustments that have taken place are frankly rather concerning, and I don’t like what the data is saying.

Another Set of Outliers

Starting with the fact that for the third month in a row, May has outliers. And quite a few in both paper and online, unlike in April, where it was only MTGO that showed outliers. And yes, UR Murktide is once again an outlier. In fact, it is an outlier among the outliers. Which is deeply concerning. Murktide is joined by 4-Color Blink as in outlier and paper has a third one in Cascade Crashers. All these outliers were confirmed by several tests and frankly when you see the data I think it will be fairly obvious. 

As always, the outliers are excluded from the actual statistical analysis. They’re reported in their correct place on the metagame chart. 

A Tier 0 Situation?

Given that Murktide has been a consistent outlier since Lurrus of the Dream-Den was banned, the data makes it look like this is a Tier 0 situation. I understand and don’t fault anyone for thinking so. However, I can’t say that because this is completely unlike Eldrazi Winter or Hogaak Summer. Consequently, I don’t think that Murktide is a true Tier 0 deck. 

graph name="Eye of Ugin"]

The problem is that Eye of Ugin Eldrazi and Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis were winning everything during their runs. It was quite literally play Eldrazi/Hogaak or lose. Conversely, Murktide doesn’t actually win many events. It makes the Top 32 in large numbers but rapidly dwindles as we cut towards Top 8. Not playing Murktide is a perfectly fine and arguably correct call. If you just want to place, Murktide is a great choice; less so if you want to win the event. 

Thus, on the numbers, Murktide looks very, very Tier 0. On the actual gameplay front, I’d say no. But it nonetheless isn't a great look health-wise. 

May MTGO 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.” Every deck that posts at least the average number of results is "good enough" and makes the tier list. Then we go one standard deviation (STdev) above average to set the limit of Tier 3 and cutoff for Tier 2. This mathematically defines Tier 3 as those decks clustered near the average. Tier 2 goes from the cutoff to the next standard deviation. These are decks which perform well above average. Tier 1 consists of those decks at least 2 standard deviations above the mean result, encompassing the truly exceptional performing decks. 

The MTGO Population Data

In May the adjusted average population was 4.82 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 5 decks, which is well below the average for the previous year. This is the consequence of removing the outliers from the data. Tier 3 therefore begins with decks posting 5 results. The STdev was 7.13, which means that means Tier 3 runs to 13 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then next whole number for the next Tier. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 14 results and runs to 23. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 23 decks are required. Which is all below the norm for pre-Lurrus-ban Modern. 

May’s numbers are down relative to April. To recap, January had 502 decks, February had 436 decks, and March only hit 356, April was up to 437, but May only managed 419 total decks on MTGO. It’s not too surprising considering that Commander was the main Wizards focus this month. There were also a number of preliminaries that didn’t fire and non-Wizards entities appear to have stopped using MTGO for events now, so there are fewer results to work with. That said, the total number of decks making the tier list is up to 19 out of 68 total unique decks. 

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide5613.37
4-Color Blink4510.74
Hammer Time307.16
Living End286.68
Cascade Crashers235.49
Tier 2
Amulet Titan194.53
4-Color Control153.58
UW Control153.58
Tier 3
UW Urza92.15
Calibrated Blast81.91
Rakdos Rock71.67
Mono-Green Tron71.68
Grixis Shadow71.68
Coffers Control51.19
Manufactor Combo51.19

The outliers are quite noticeable. 4-Color Blink is significantly outside the normal range as is, but then Murktide is an outlier to the outlier. Again, that’s a pretty bad look even if Murktide isn’t actually dominating events.  

Were I willing to differentiate between the versions of 4-C Blink that play Risen Reef versus those that don’t, it would not have been an outlier, and might not have been Tier 1 at all. I don’t think there’s enough practical distinction for that, and also feel that trying to make one is disingenuously misleading about the actual metagame. It’d be like separating Murktide into Ledger Shredder versus non-Shredder lists: technically correct, but missing the point. 

The Paper Population Data

The paper tiers are calculated the same way as the MTGO tiers, just with different data. More paper events are reported each month, but they rarely report more than the Top 8 (sometimes less). However, that doesn't mean that the overall population is lower. Indeed, paper Modern is far more popular than online and the data reflects this fact. There were 698 decks in the data, representing 95 unique decks. Paper is consistently more popular and more diverse than the online metagame. 

Paper's adjusted average decks were 5.52, meaning the starting point is 6 decks. It increasingly looks like paper will always have a higher average than MTGO. The STDev is 7.70, 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. It will take most of the year to know whether these are indicative of what paper Modern "should" look like. 28 decks made the paper population tier, and again, it's looking like paper's size should always be higher than online's. 

Deck NameTotal # Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide8912.75
4-Color Blink517.31
Cascade Crashers507.16
Hammer Time375.30
Grixis Shadow294.15
UW Control273.87
Amulet Titan243.44
Tier 2
4-Color Control192.72
Living End182.58
Mono-Green Tron172.44
Tier 3
Coffers Control101.43
Jund Saga101.43
Izzet Breach Combo81.14
Rakdos Rock81.14
Izzet Prowess71.00
Tribal Elementals71.00
Mono-Red Prowess71.00
Glimpse Combo60.86
Tameshi Combo60.86
UW Urza60.86
4-Color Creativity60.86

So, yeah. Murktide just stomped everything else here. Not even remotely close. Crashers and 4-Color Blink tried but just couldn’t make it. They were actually fairly borderline in terms of being outliers, and had the trendline looked a little different, I would have left them in.

For those wondering why I remove the outliers from the analysis, May’s paper results are indicative. If I left them in, Tier 3 would compose the decks from Affinity to 4-Color Control, with just Hammer Time joining the outliers as Tier 1. Which doesn’t feel correct even if it’s technically right. 

May Power Metagame

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. 

The MTGO Power Tiers

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 was only one 4 point event in May and no 5 pointers. 

Unlike the population numbers, points in May were up fromApril, from 729 to 738. I'm not entirely sure how that happened, but it did. 

The adjusted average points were 8.45. Therefore 9 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 13.53, which is relatively normal. And remarkably similar to April’s stats. Thus add 14 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 23 points. Tier 2 starts with 24 points and runs to 38. Tier 1 requires at least 39 points. There’s a good deal of reshuffling within tiers but no changes between them. However, there are only 16 decks in the power tier with Grixis Shadow, Coffers Control, and Wishshift all failing to make the cutoff. 

Deck NameTotal PointsTotal %
Tier 1
UR Murktide10113.69
4-Color Blink7910.70
Living End597.99
Hammer Time527.04
Cascade Crashers405.42
Tier 2
Amulet Titan364.87
UW Control354.74
4-Color Control283.79
Tier 3
UW Urza141.90
Calibrated Blast131.76
Rakdos Rock131.76
Mono-Green Tron131.76
Manufactor Combo91.22

The point spread makes the outliers look particularly outlierish. Again, I don’t like the implications. 

The Paper Power Tiers

Unlike with population, the paper power data works differently than the equivalent MTGO data. 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. Applying the MTGO point system just doesn't work when I don't know how many points to award and there may be data gaps. 

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 it would qualify for 3 points, as would Grand Prix or whatever the GP equivalent will be. Star City Modern Opens and similar events also award 3 points. SCG 5k-10k and similar events award 2 points. Side events are evaluated based on the number of players and type of event. The purely local events get 1 point. There were a number of events awarding 2 points in April, but no 3-point events. There was a team event that would have qualified, but team events never count. I awarded at total of 832 points in May. 

The adjusted average points were 6.41. This sets the cutoff at 7 decks. The STDev was 9.36, thus add 10 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 17 points. Tier 2 starts with 18 points and runs to 28. Tier 1 requires at least 29 points. If that seems low, it is. But that’s what happens with three outliers. There was a lot less movement between the tiers compared to previous months, but UW Urza did fall off Tier 3 to be replaced by Esper Control. 

Deck NameTotal Points Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide10712.86
4-Color Blink718.53
Cascade Crashers637.57
Hammer Time425.05
Amulet Titan344.09
Grixis Shadow333.97
UW Control333.97
Tier 2
4-Color Control232.76
Living End232.76
Mono-Green Tron182.16
Tier 3
Coffers Control111.32
Jund Saga101.20
Izzet Breach Combo101.20
Rakdos Rock80.96
Mono-Red Prowess80.96
Tribal Elementals80.96
Tameshi Combo80.96
Izzet Prowess70.84
Glimpse Combo70.84
Esper Control70.84
4-Color Creativity70.84

It’s interesting but irrelevant to note that Murktide and Blink had very close to the same point totals in paper and online. That’s only possible due to the differences in the point system between the two. 

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 PointsTier
UW Control2.332
Living End2.111
Amulet Titan1.892
4-Color Control1.872
Mono-Green Tron1.873
Rakdos Rock1.863
UR Murktide1.801
Manufactor Combo1.803
4-Color Blink1.761
Cascade Crashers1.741
Calibrated Blast1.743
Hammer Time1.731
UW Urza1.563

Congratulations to Living End for being the highest placing Tier 1 deck! And by quite a margin over the baseline. When everyone’s watching for Rhinos, the undead skate by, apparantly. 

Onto the paper averages: 

Deck NameTotal Points Total %
Amulet Titan1.421
Esper Control1.403
4-Color Blink1.391
Tameshi Combo1.333
Living End1.282
Cascade Crashers1.261
Izzet Breach Combo1.253
UW Control1.221
4-Color Control1.212
UR Murktide1.201
Glimpse Combo1.173
4-Color Creativity1.173
Grixis Shadow1.141
Mono-Red Prowess1.143
Tribal Elementals1.143
Hammer Time1.131
Coffers Control1.103
Mono-Green Tron1.062
Jund Saga1.003
Rakdos Rock1.003
Izzet Prowess1.003

Well done Amulet Titan for being not only the highest placing Tier 1 deck, but also the top deck overall. And unlike previous times that happened, it wasn’t entirely thanks to an SCG event. 

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 together for final tier 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 Murktide1111111.0
Cascade Crashers1111111.0
Hammer Time1111111.0
4-Color Blink1111111.0
Amulet Titan1112221.5
Living End2221111.5
UW Control1112221.5
Grixis Shadow1113332.0
4-Color Control2222222.0
Mono-Green Tron2223332.5
Rakdos Rock3333333.0
UW Urza3N/A3.53333.25
Coffers Control3333N/A3.53.25
Jund Saga333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Izzet Breach Combo333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Izzet Prowess333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Tribal Elementals333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Mono-Red Prowess333N/AN/AN/A3.5
4-Color Creativity333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Tameshi combo333N/AN/AN/A3.5
Maufacturer ComboN/AN/AN/A3333.5
Calibrated BlastN/AN/AN/A3333.5
Esper ControlN/A33.5N/AN/AN/A3.75

For first time, Murktide and Cascade Crashers aren’t the only purely Tier 1 decks. This happens when everything is remarkably stable across the play mediums. 

Concerning Signs

It is starting to appear that Modern’s churn is settling down. That isn’t necessarily a good thing considering how it is settling. There will always be a best deck in Modern, but for it to be one that is putting up the kind of numbers that Murktide is doesn’t bode well. And even if Murktide is knocked off, the 4-Color piles are on its heels. Hopefully, this will calm down, because I’d take continued churn over an arguable Tier 0 deck. 

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