It's a new month, and that means a new Modern metagame update. As per the usual, the metagame has not moved much. I've tipped my hand quite expertly with the title, but I'd say that Modern is now in its most stable period since Splinter Twin was banned. Whether or not that's a good thing is a matter of opinion, but it is a considerable change from what Modern was pre-pandemic. Which also means that it is getting more complicated to assess Modern's health.
As has been the case since Lurrus of the Dream-Den was banned, there are statistical outliers this month. And yes, UR Murktide is the headline outlier. To the extent that it continues to be an outlier above the other outliers. This is getting rather tedious. And concerning.
As I say every month, Murktide doesn't feel like a Tier 0 deck. It doesn't win events yet remains insanely popular. That Modern has a clear most popular deck isn't a problem. One deck taking up so much room that no innovation or churn is possible is problematic. Hard to say if that's the case, yet.
Murktide is joined by some familiar faces this month. 4-Color Blink once again is an outlier in both paper and MTGO. Modern is quickly becoming predictable this way. Hammer Time was an outlier on MTGO as well, though not in paper. The fact that the non-Murktide outliers change month to month is encouraging but only by proximity to the giant dragon in the room.
As always, the outliers are excluded from the actual statistical analysis. They’re reported in their correct place on the metagame chart.
June 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 in a given month. 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 June the adjusted average population was 5.08 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 5 decks, because that's too close to 5 to round up to 6. It also continues the trend of very low averages thanks to the removal of the outliers from the calculations. Tier 3 therefore begins with decks posting 5 results. The STdev was 7.00, which means that means Tier 3 runs to 12 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then next whole number for the next Tier. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 13 results and runs to 20. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 21 decks are required. Which is all below the norm for pre-Lurrus-ban Modern.
To recap, January had 502 decks, February had 436 decks, and March only hit 356, April was up to 437, May had 419 total decks on MTGO. June has the highest population since January with 481 decks. That is almost certainly down to the MTGO 20th Anniversary event. That said, it should have been higher. Wizards did not report decklists from the event qualifier tournaments. I don't know why, but it ensured that June merely approached January. 23 unique decks out of 66 total made the June tier list.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
|4-Color Bring to Light||5||1.04|
The way that Murktide outstrips the field is just absurd. 38 results separate it and Burn, the highest scoring non-outlier deck. However, once past the troubling decks, interesting things are brewing. Grixis Shadow has rocketed out of Tier 3 to being right on Burn's heels. Prison Tron, a Karn, the Great Creator lockpiece-toolbox deck, exploded onto the scene. I don't expect it to last as decks like this never do, but it is reassuring for unknown decks to make the tier list.
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 640 decks in the data, representing 89 unique decks. Paper is consistently more popular and more diverse than the online metagame, though it was down this month. There weren't any Star City events in June, which is a major reason.
Paper's adjusted average decks were 5.87, meaning the starting point is 6 decks. It increasingly looks like paper will always have a higher average than MTGO. The STDev is 8.27, so Tier 3 runs from 6 to 15 decks. Tier 2 begins with 16 decks and runs to 25, and Tier 1 requires 26 decks. It will take most of the year to know whether these are indicative of what paper Modern "should" look like. 26 decks made the paper population tier, and again, it's looking like paper's size should always be higher than online's especially since it always represents a larger and more diverse metagame.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
|Death and Taxes||8||1.25|
Murktide's outlier status is negligibly better in paper than online. It outstrips the first non-outlier by only 36 results not 38. I can tell myself that it's fine, Murktide's win rate is mediocre, but this still doesn't feel good.
In a change from previous months, paper's Tier 1 is only one deck different than MTGO's. Usually, paper has far more decks than online. I assume that this is a sign of the overall metagame falling into line and agreeing on the state of Modern, but there's no way to know for certain.
Also, to all the paper Merfolk players: I see you. I appreciate you. Swim strong.
June 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.
As with the population numbers, points in June were up from May, from 738 to 787. I'd have thought they'd be much higher than they ended up being, but that's Wizards' reporting policies for you. There were some non-Wizards MTGO events that happened in June but as of when I did the stats work they hadn't reported the events as closed.
The adjusted average points were 8.14. Therefore 9 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 11.62, which is relatively normal. And remarkably similar to April’s stats. Thus add 12 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 20 points. Tier 2 starts with 21 points and runs to 33. Tier 1 requires at least 34 points. There was some movement between tiers, but the composition is the same as for population.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
|4-Color Bring to Light||9||1.14|
The outlier gap always gets worse when I move to the point totals. The decks that end up in outlier country tend to show up in absurd numbers in the Challenges and larger events that award the most points. Which is ironic considering they don't actually win the things but cutting through the field to put large numbers in contention is the mark of a very strong deck.
The Paper Power Tiers
Unlike with population, the paper power data works differently than the equivalent MTGO data. The data reported 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 are 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. Based on what I've seen actually being reported and what I can expect to be reported in the foreseeable future, I'm updating how points are awarded. For events that don't report their starting populations or are under 50 players, I'm giving out 1 point. 51-300 players gets 2 points. 301 and above will get 3 points. I choose these levels based on the rarity of events over 300 compared to 100-200 and the fact that events under 300 tend to be local events in large cities. It feels like it should be 300 for truly unique events, despite there being no Grand Prix yet. I am open to reevaluating the point awards.
There were a number of events awarding 2 points in April, and one 3-point event. I awarded at total of 832 points in May.
The adjusted average points were 7.65. This sets the cutoff at 8 decks. The STDev was 11.40, thus add 12 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 20 points. Tier 2 starts with 21 points and runs to 33. Tier 1 requires at least 34 points. The limits are a bit higher than in May but not by much. There was a lot of movement between tiers this time, and three decks fell off Tier 3: Ponza, Domain Zoo, and Humans. Two decks rose to take their place: 4-Color Bring to Light and UW Urza.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
|Death and Taxes||10||1.17|
|4-Color Bring to Light||9||1.06|
Another month, another odd conincidence: Paper and MTGO have the same tier-cutoffs. That's never happened before. It means nothing, but it's interesting.
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 Name||Average Points||Power Tier|
|4-Color Bring to Light||1.80||3|
Well done, Living End; you're the best performing Tier 1 deck on MTGO. For the second month in a row. Though not by as much as you were in May. Are people slowly learning to pack more hate?
Onto the paper averages:
|Deck Name||Average Power||Power Tier|
|4-Color Bring to Light||1.80||3|
|Death and Taxes||1.25||3|
At least there's some change in paper. 4-Color Blink replaced Amulet Titan as the best performing Tier 1 deck in paper Modern this June. Which isn't really a good thing since it's an outlier and the performance metrics suggest it's being underplayed. We'll see how it plays out.
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 Name||Paper Population Tier||Paper Power Tier||Paper Average Tier||MTGO Population Tier||MTGO Power Tier||MTGO Average Tier||Overall Tier|
|Death and Taxes||3||3||3.00||N/A||N/A||N/A||3.50|
|4-Color Bring to Light||N/A||3||3.50||3||3||3.00||3.75|
In a continuation on the theme of metagame stability, the five Overall Tier 1 decks of June are exactly the same as from May. Again, this is neither a bad nor a good thing. It just means that Modern has achieved a stability it hasn't known in years.
Time to Settle Down
I know that there are players who will love the news that Modern's perpetual churn appears to have subsided. There are also players that will lament it. What matters is what Wizards thinks of it all. So far, they've been unwilling to act. This is not a true Splinter Twin or Birthing Pod situation because the top decks don't win events unlike the aforementioned banned cards, and their topping events was the primary factor listed for their respective bannings. Maybe that's fine, maybe that's not. We'll have to wait and see.