July ’22 Metagame Update: Izzet Over Yet?

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Welcome to August. While those of us in the education field look with a mix of trepidation and anticipation toward the upcoming return of school, the Magic world is looking forward to the remaining RCQs of the season. This is having a substantial impact on my metagame update as paper Magic is having its best month by far. In fact, paper Magic has been steadily increasing across platforms since January and it is looking like the old times are back. Now if only there were Grands Prix again.

Guess What?

Yes, there are still outliers in the data. UR Murktide is still an absurdly overrepresented deck despite an overall mediocre win rate without many high-level wins. I still say it isn't Tier 0 as a result.

I saw a Twitter thread a week or so ago of players complaining about the deck and not for the reason I expected. They weren't upset to be playing against it, they were frustrated Murktide players. Turns out the ostensible best deck in Modern is quite hard to actually win with and they weren't having much success. I wish I'd archived the thread, I found their complaining hilarious.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Murktide Regent

The overall outlier situation is both better and worse. It's better since there are fewer outliers. Hammer Time continues to be a Magic: Online (MTGO) only outlier, but it is also the only other outlier. 4-Color Blink crashed rather hard this month. It's worse in that the scale of Murktide's outlier status is getting more extreme, as will become clear from the data tables. Particularly on MTGO.

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

July 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 that 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 July the adjusted average population was 6.38 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 7 decks. It's trending back towards the average in the Lurrus of the Dream-Den era. Tier 3, therefore, begins with decks posting 7 results. The STdev was 8.58, which means that Tier 3 runs to 16 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then the next whole number for the next Tier. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 17 results and runs to 26. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 27 decks are required.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Ledger Shredder

To recap, January had 502 decks, February had 436 decks, March only hit 356, April was up to 437, May had 419, and June had 481 total decks on MTGO, a local high. July nearly matched June with 478 decks, which is statistically tied. That's clearly within the margin of error and down to natural fluctuations. I also didn't find any non-Wizards online events to include. There may have been some, but I didn't see them.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide9319.46
Hammer Time5311.09
Grixis Shadow347.11
Living end306.28
Tier 2
Amulet Titan255.23
4-Color Blink183.77
Tier 3
Glimpse Combo163.35
Temur Creativity163.35
4-Color Control122.51
Mono-Green Tron112.30
Cascade Crashers102.09
UW Urza102.09
UW Control102.09
4-Color Creativity71.46

So, yeah. Murktide is nearly 20% of the MTGO metagame, up 5% from June. Again, I have no idea why except that players want to play Murktide. It can't be for strategic advantage or it being clearly better than other decks.

A consequence of this appears to be that the field is shrinking. I only recorded 54 unique decks in July compared to June's 66. Similarly, there are only 16 decks on the Tier list compared to 23. That's a substantial fall-off and may be the biggest problem with current Modern. There's just no physical room for innovation to thrive.

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 are 783 decks in July compared to June's 640 decks. I recorded 105 unique decks, up from 89 in June. The RCQs and SCG Cons helped, but it is clear that paper Magic is far more open and engaging than MTGO.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Omnath, Locus of Creation

Paper's adjusted average decks were 6.95, meaning the starting point is 7 decks. It increasingly looks like paper will always have a higher average than MTGO. The STDev is 11.98, so Tier 3 runs from 7 to 19 decks. Tier 2 begins with 20 decks and runs to 32, and Tier 1 requires 33 decks. It will take most of the year to know whether these are indicative of what paper Modern "should" look like. 22 decks made the paper population tier, which is down from June's total. The reason this happened is clear in the data, but not why.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide10213.02
4-Color Blink506.39
Cascade Crashers496,26
Hammer Time486.13
Amulet Titan394.98
Living end354.47
Tier 2
Grixis Shadow324.09
UW Control303.83
4-Color Control253.19
Tier 3
Mono-Green Tron182.30
Rakdos Rock172.17
Temur Creativity151.92
Glimpse Combo131.66
Eldrazi Tron91.15
Manufactor Combo91.15
UW Urza70.89

Murktide is still absurdly overrepresented, but the overall picture is better. The gap between Murktide and Blink is much smaller and Murktide represents far less of the overall metagame. However, there is a massive gap in the middle of the metagame. The data is clustered near the top and bottom of the scale with only one deck getting results in the 20s. This is a sign (but not proof of) polarization in the Modern metagame.

July 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 the 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, and 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 one 5-pointer. Both were Showcase Challenges. 

There was an error retrieving a chart for Death's Shadow

Thanks to the larger Showcase, total points are up to 871 from 787. The adjusted average points were 11.60. Therefore 12 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 16.47, which is relatively normal. Thus add 17 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 29 points. Tier 2 starts with 30 points and runs to 47. Tier 1 requires at least 48 points. There was some movement between tiers, but the composition is the same as for the population.

Deck NameTotal PointsTotal %
Tier 1
UR Murktide17019.52
Hammer Time9811.25
Living end606.89
Grixis Shadow525.97
Amulet Titan485.51
Tier 2
4-Color Blink424.82
Tier 3
Temur Creativity273.10
Glimpse Combo262.99
4-Color Control262.99
Cascade Crashers232.64
Mono-Green Tron222.53
UW Urza182.07
UW Control151.72
4-Color Creativity141.61

In a twist, the outlier gap is basically the same in paper as MTGO. For once, Murktide and Hammer showed up more in Preliminaries than they did in the Challenge data. They were still heavily involved in the Challenges, but not quite as much as in previous months. Whether this means anything is unclear.

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 number 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. 

There was an error retrieving a chart for Living End

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 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 get 2 points. 301 and above will get 3 points. I chose 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 as paper Magic play evolves.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Fury

There were a huge number of events awarding 2 points in July and several 3-point events as well. All together there's a total of 1122 points in July. 

The adjusted average points were 9.99. This sets the cutoff at 10 decks. The STDev was 17.83, thus adding 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. This is quite high, but then again there's never been this many points awarded.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide14212.66
4-Color Blink817.22
Hammer Time716.33
Cascade Crashers706,24
Amulet Titan625.53
Living end504.46
Tier 2
UW Control464.10
Grixis Shadow413.65
4-Color Control373.30
Tier 3
Mono-Green Tron242.14
Temur Creativity242.14
Rakdos Rock211.87
Glimpse Combo191.69
Eldrazi Tron141.25
Manufactor Combo131.16
UW Urza131.16

Again, there are weird gaps all over the place. I don't know why they keep happening, but it is what it is.

Average Power Rankings

Finally, we come to the average power rankings. These are found by taking the total points earned and dividing it by total decks, to measure 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. 

There was an error retrieving a chart for Goblin Guide

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, whereas low averages result from mediocre performances and a high population. Lower-tier decks typically do very well here, likely due to their pilots being enthusiasts. Bear this in mind, and be careful about reading too much into these 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 deck's position is on the power tiers. 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 of this. 

I'll begin with the average for MTGO

Deck NameAverage PointsPower Tier
4-Color Blink2.332
Cascade Crashers2.303
4-Color Control2.173
Living end2.001
Mono-Green Tron2.003
4-Color Creativity2.003
Amulet Titan1.921
Hammer Time1.851
UR Murktide1.831
UW Urza1.803
Temur Creativity1.693
Glimpse Combo1.633
Grixis Shadow1.531
UW Control1.503

Congratulations to Yawgmoth pile and Living End, you're tied for the best-performing deck online. Worth noting that Murktide's performance was on the relatively low end of the scale.

Then the average for paper:

Deck NameTotal #Power Tier
UW Urza1.863
4-Color Blink1.621
Temur Creativity1.603
Amulet Titan1.591
Eldrazi Tron1.553
UW Control1.532
Hammer Time1.481
4-Color Control1.482
Glimpse Combo1.463
Manufactor Combo1.443
Cascade Crashers1.431
Living end1.431
UR Murktide1.391
Mono-Green Tron1.333
Grixis Shadow1.282
Rakdos Rock1.243

4-Color Blink is the deck of the month for the second month in a row in paper. It's an easier pill to swallow now that it's not an outlier.

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 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. 

There was an error retrieving a chart for Colossus Hammer

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 NameMTGO Pop TierMTGO Power TierMTGO Average TierPaper Pop TierPaper Power TierPaper Average TierComposite Tier
UR Murktide1111111.00
Hammer Time1111111.00
Living end1111111.00
Amulet Titan211.51111.25
Grixis Shadow1112221.50
4-Color Blink2221111.50
Cascade Crashers3331112.00
4-Color Control3332222.50
UW Control3332222.50
Glimpse Combo3333333.00
Temur Creativity3333333.00
Mono-Green Tron3333333.00
UW Urza3333333.00
4-Color Creativity333N/AN/AN/A3.50
Rakdos RockN/AN/AN/A3333.50
Eldrazi TronN/AN/AN/A3333.50
Manufactor ComboN/AN/AN/A3333.50
UW UrzaN/AN/AN/A3333.50

Tier 1 does get slightly shaken up in July with Blink falling into Tier 1.5. However, the overall stability of Modern is maintained.

It Continues

Modern remains relatively stable. Th format appears quite a diverse, and people seem to enjoy it. On the other hand though, when one deck represents about 20% of the metagame, that indicates something is clearly wrong. We'll have to wait and see if Wizards thinks the same.

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