Since I restarted my Modern metagame updates series, August has typically been a weird month. It's the end of summer, AND right before the fall release. For many players it's the last hoorah before returning to school and/or their deck is invalidated or updated. I've gotten used to seeing oddities, but this year's data has just generally been odd, so that's really nothing new.
By this, I mean that the outlier issue that I've mentioned in every update since March continues unabated. Given that the nexus of said problem has primarily been that players just really want to play Izzet Murktide rather than it being an actually superior deck on win-rate, I expect it to continue continuing for the foreseeable future.
That said, the scale of the problem is changing. Izzet Murktide is an outlier in both paper and Magic: Online (MTGO) and the margin is absurd on MTGO. However, it is narrowing in paper. Murktide was on track for outlier status pretty much from the start of August on MTGO, it wasn't until August 20th and the large events that weekend that Murktide finally pulled away in paper. Whether that is indicative of a shift in player attitudes or pure chance is unknown, but it is something.
Meanwhile, Hammer Time continues to be an outlier on MTGO but not in paper. I've never been clear why it's so popular online, though its turn three wins have been suspected. Hammer Time usually does perform better than Murktide, so it makes more sense. However, the divergence between paper and MTGO indicates that, again, it's mostly due to personal preference than an actual metagame advantage.
As always, the outliers are excluded from the actual statistical analysis. They’re reported in their correct place on the metagame chart
August 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 August the adjusted average population was 5.81 setting the Tier 3 cutoff at 6 decks. The average is down relative to previous months. Tier 3, therefore, begins with decks posting 6 results. The STdev was 8.00, which means that Tier 3 runs to 14 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then the next whole number for the next Tier. The STdev wasn't exactly 8.00, but it rounded down to that. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 15 results and runs to 23. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 24 decks are required.
To recap, January had 502 decks, February had 436 decks, March only hit 356, April was up to 437, May had 419, June had 481, and July was 478 decks. Based on what I've seen in other years, I didn't expect January's total to be surpassed until late fall. Thus, I was quite surprised when August's total decks came out to 507. This was accompanied by an increase in total decks to 64. Which is still down from June but significantly up from July. This was thanks to more non-Wizards events and very large Preliminaries. Of those 64 decks, 18 made the population tier. Which is again, up from July but down from June.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
Murktide and Hammer Time's numbers are statistically tied with July's, indicating no real change for the top decks. However, the rest of Tier 1 has been severely shaken, with only Living End making it between months. It even has the exact same population, which is very strange.
Even stranger is how full Tier 2 is. Because of the way I set the tiers, Tier 2 is rarely more than three decks. This time, MTGO has seven. This is thanks to the decks being tightly clumped together. This indicates that Modern is fairly even, power-wise, which is good. If only the outliers were under control, then I could say Modern is statistically healthy.
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, or at least that was true in previous months. July had 783 decks, while June had 640, but August only recorded 594. This decline can be heavily attributed to many of the larger events being team events that have never counted. There's no way to know if an individual deck actually performed or was backpacked through the event by teammates.
Consequently, the number of unique decks is also down. There were 105 unique decks in July, but August only managed 83. There are still lots of paper events, but team events crowded out individual Modern events.
|Deck Name||Total #||Total %|
|4-Color Vivien Combo||8||1.35|
|Death and Taxes||7||1.18|
Just as in July, the overall picture is better in paper concerning Murktide's outlier status. The gap is much smaller and has actually shrunk over the past month. There's still a weird polarization between Tiers 1 and 3 which crowds out Tier 2, but that is typical of the whole system.
August 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 based on 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. No events crossed the threshold to earn four points in August.
That said, total points are only down slightly, to 831 from 871. The adjusted average points were 9.55. Therefore 10 points makes Tier 3. The STDev was 13.44, which is a bit low, but understandable in context. Thus add 14 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 24 points. Tier 2 starts with 25 points and runs to 39. Tier 1 requires at least 40 points.
Belcher and Mill failed to make the power tier. They were replaced by Grixis Creativity and Izzet Breach Combo, keeping the total MTGO tiered decks at 18.
|Deck Name||Total Points||Total %|
|Izzet Breach Combo||10||1.20|
The gap between the two outliers improved slightly, but the gap from the outliers to normal decks got slightly worse. This is probably statistical noise, but it does speak to Murktide's relatively average power compared to Hammer Time's explosive potential.
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.
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 were a huge number of events awarding 2 points in July and several 3-point events as well. Altogether August has a total of 861 points, which is considerably down from July. Again, there were a lot of uncounted team events.
The adjusted average points were 9.08. This sets the cutoff at 9 decks. I do not round up to the next number for averages with decimals less than .20—though it's technically correct to do so—because the feel of it for the really small decimals is off and can be deceptive. The STDev was 14.97, thus adding 15 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 24 points. Tier 2 starts with 25 points and runs to 40. Tier 1 requires at least 41 points. These totals are more in line with previous months compared to July. The total decks are up from population to 21, with Death and Taxes failing to make the power tier. Grixis and 4-Color Creativity replaced it along with Esper Reanimator and Primeval Titan Creativity.
|Deck Name||Total Points||Total %|
|4-Color Vivien Combo||14||1.63|
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.
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 Name||Average Points||Power Tier|
|Izzet Breach Combo||2.00||3|
Yawgmoth has emerged as the best-performing Tier 1 deck for the second month in a row, likely thanks to its good Murktide matchup. Worth noting that Murktide was just below the Baseline.
Then the average for paper:
|Deck Name||Average Points||Power Tier|
|4-Color Vivien Combo||1.75||3|
Hammer Time is paper's deck of the month. Murktide performed far better in paper than online, interestingly enough.
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.
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||MTGO Population Tier||MTGO Population Tier||MTGO Average Tier||Paper Population Tier||Paper Power Tier||Paper Average Tier||Composite Tier|
|4-Color Vivien Combo||N/A||N/A||N/A||3||3||3||3.50|
|Death and Taxes||N/A||N/A||N/A||3||N/A||3.5||3.75|
|Izzet Breach Combo||N/A||3||3.50||N/A||N/A||N/A||3.75|
There's some actual movement in August, with Yawgmoth falling out of pure Tier 1 and being replaced by Burn. It is also worth noting that there were far more and far more disparate, divergences between paper and online performances than in other months, with Cascade Crashers being the widest.
A Possible Shakeup?
Modern has been remarkably stable since February. Dominaria United enters the format in September bringing cards certain to find homes in the format. It's possible this will cause sufficient churn to disturb the status quo. However, we will all have to wait and see.
QS Insiders can tune in this Friday when I unpack some of this month's data and share my thoughts on its implications. If you're not an Insider, consider subscribing today!