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Modern is in a very strange place. UR Murktide has been sitting atop the statistics for 13 months, and by a wide margin. However, despite what the statistics say, Murktide doesn't feel like a Tier 0 deck. I've refused to call it one despite being technically justified by the statistics, and most players agree.
Many would argue that Murktide isn't actually the best deck in Modern, and that Modern isn't remotely unhealthy. Obviously, this is met with pushback.
My take is complicated. The short answer is that Murktide isn't the best deck and Modern is fine. The long answer is that Murktide is unequivocally the best deck, and Modern's health is complicated.
The Short Answer
It is no secret that UR Murktide has been sitting, nearly uncontested, at the top of Modern's metagame statistics since March 2022. It has done so by statistically significant margins on Magic Online (MTGO) every month, and in paper most months. However, it doesn't actually win events. There have been 14 Challenges reported from MTGO and Murktide has won just three of them. That's about 21%, or not great. It hasn't won any of the big Modern events (that I've seen reported, anyway). When Twin was banned for being everywhere, it was also winning everything.
Even beyond the event wins, Murktide doesn't have that great of a winrate. The Grand Open Qualifier Prague reported that Murktide's match win percentage was 50.70%. That's solid, but not exceptional, especially when 4-Color Creativity managed 57.36%. This has been a consistent tale since Murktide's inception, and this evidence and player stories indicate that Murktide isn't too powerful, but just incredibly popular.
As for Modern's health, there's no pressing problem, though things could be better. The card diversity isn't great, and some decks are definitely overrepresented. However, there's nothing overtly oppressive, and whenever Wizards discusses Modern, they mention that win rates aren't concerning and the top decks seem quite even. Thus, Modern is in a good (if not great) spot, so there's no need for concern.
That's all well and good, if we're looking for a simple answer. However, if what we're after is a complete answer, we can do a lot better. The short answer was all hearsay and intuition with some cursory, unquestioned data. But for a deeper and more involved look, more work is needed.
Which means that some definitions are required. I know it sounds unbearably pedantic, but it is actually completely essential to define exactly what is meant by "best deck." Every player can recognize a true Tier 0 deck by its overwhelming impact on a format, but below that level, things become exponentially muddier. What makes a deck "the best?" If it were clear, it'd never be argued over.
The previous section mentioned overall win rate, event wins, and metagame percentage as ways to judge the best deck. Those are good criteria, but they're just criteria. Also, they're not the only criteria for this job. Criteria are used to make the definition; they're not the definition themself.
The Bigger Problem
Event wins, overall win rate, and metagame percentage are all good criteria for judging the best deck in Modern. However, where do you draw the line? Which percentage, what win rate, or how many event wins does it take to become the best deck in Modern? What other criteria should be included, and how should any of it be weighted?
I'm not just being pedantic and rhetorical here. There are indeed an infinite number of ways and means to define something, and choosing one way will necessarily preclude other ways. There is no truly concrete answer that would satisfy everyone. So, disclaimer: I'm going to work with the criteria I can find data for and that make sense to me.
Defining the Best
As they're the ones that most players cite, I will obviously investigate event wins, overall winrate, and metagame percentage as metrics for Modern's best deck. There's no red line for any of this, as everything is contextual. Instead, I'm going to see which deck is leading in each category. The best deck doesn't have to win every one, but it will probably lead most of them. If there was one deck winning every possible category, we'd have an obvious Tier 0 situation on our hands, as with Hogaak Summer. Again, that is not the case, even if we can identify a definite best deck according to our chosen metrics.
Based on how previous best decks were judged, I'm adding two other criteria: longevity and metagame warp. The former is straightforward, measuring how long has a deck been able to hold its position. Any deck can have a good tournament, or a good month. But the best deck should be able to hold that position consistently for a decent run of months, even with the metagame increasingly adapting to reclaim its shares.
Best decks also exert pressure on the metagame, either gradually or immediately forcing everything else to adapt with it in mind. This can be overt, as with decks maindecking graveyard hate against Hogaak, Arisen Necropolis, or subtle, as when players leaned into card advantage to hedge against Grixis Shadow in 2017. Sideboard cards count less than maindeck changes, since that's what a sideboard is for. A true best deck should have some visible effect on the other decks.
As I stated in the introductory paragraph, Murktide is in fact Modern's best deck according to my criteria, and by quite a bit. I was actually surprised when I went through the data investigating the question, but Murktide is going to win a lot more of these categories than I was expecting. When I decided to write this article, I thought I was going to give a hedgier or even ambiguous answer. That is far from the case. Let's explore the criteria point by point.
Murktide wins this category. It has been not only Tier 1, but at the top of Tier 1 since March 2022. The worst it's ever done is fall to #2 in both paper and MTGO. There's no deck that has come close to this run in the current metagame, so Murktide obviously wins if we're talking the best deck of the past year.
However, if we expand further, then things change. Murktide and Temur Rhinos showed up immediately after Modern Horizons 2 released, though Murktide was doing far better than Rhinos for a while, then fell off. Hammer Time found that cute, as it was the #1 deck during the last half of 2021. It had already been in my updates since November 2020, and had first made Tier 1 in January 2021.
When Murktide hasn't been the #1 deck, Hammer Time replaced it all but one time. The other time, Rhinos made it. Hammer Time, too, has never been less than Tier 1 in paper or MTGO since before MH2, while Rhinos has been all over the place.
Thus, there are two answers for the best longevity deck. Murktide wins for any length up to a year ago. Beyond that, Hammer Time has the advantage. Since I'm more interested in the current Modern, I'd pick Murktide for the deck with the most longevity, though Hammer Time is a very close second.
As with longevity, the winner of this category depends on the desired timeframe. As my metagame updates have shown, Murktide is the #1 deck in terms of metagame percentage and has been since March 2022. It really isn't close.
However, if we go back to MH2's release, it again gets much closer. While it's had its ups and downs, Hammer Time has been #2 on the Tier list more often than other decks during Murktide's run. Before that, it was the #1 deck from June 2022 until Lurrus of the Dream-Den was banned in March.
Hammer never achieved the level of dominance that Murktide has enjoyed, but it was solidly on top. Murktide was initially #2, but fell off into Tier 2 prior to the Lurrus ban. Thus, Hammer does gain some ground on Murktide and prevents it being a total runaway win. Murktide still clearly wins, though.
I dislike using winrate to judge decks for two reasons. The first is that, regardless of the deck's power, a more popular deck will have a lower winrate than other decks simply because inexperienced players will gravitate towards just playing the best deck. That inexperience translates into fewer wins. It was said that the only thing keeping Krark-Clan Ironworks from being a metagame monster was that it was too difficult for mass adoption. That's not a problem for Murktide, which is a good deal more forgiving than that now-banned combo deck.
The second is that a deck's true winrate is rarely the one that can be found and reported. Daybreak and Wizards know (or at least could know) the exact win/loss record of every match played on MTGO, but they don't report that data. The best we get are the reported records from the Premier events, and those records are rarely worse than 50%. To get the true win/loss requires all the decks that didn't Top 32, which aren't reported. It's worse in paper, where records often don't get reported at all. Thus, the winrate is reflective of only some decks and incomplete data.
That said, the primary source I use for the metagame update does publish winrates. According to them, Murktide's overall winrate is just under 50%. Their listed matchup percentages average to 49.75%, and they report and overall rate of 49%.
The best winrate among decks with at least 1,000 recorded matches is 4-Color Creativity at 55%. Jeskai Breach comes in at 54% to take the #2 slot. Thus, Creativity would be the winner of this criterion. However, I personally wouldn't weight this category too heavily given my above concerns.
Winner: 4-Color Creativity
A rant: What happened to the "sort by result" feature? I distinctly remember a time when sites that recorded results let me sort through the results easily to see which decks placed where. The only one that has any kind of list anymore is Star City Games, but that's only for their events, and it's not even complete! This made evaluating wins much harder and take far more time than expected. End rant.
While it's true that Murktide doesn't win many events, the real question is which deck does win. Not just random events, but the big ones. As big paper events are rare and inconsistent in scale, I'm not going to evaluate them. The data wouldn't look like anything because there are too few data points, and the ones that exist aren't really fair comparisons. However, there are plenty of MTGO Challenges every month, and they do resemble each other enough to be compared for our purposes.
As the number of events increased in 2023, I'll focus on this year for consistency. Going through the complete data for January, February, and March, plus the 14 posted Challenges as of me writing this article, records the following decks as placing first:
|Deck Name||January Wins||February Wins||March Wins||April Wins||Total|
|Jeskai Value Breach||1||1||1||0||3|
|Izzet Value Breach||0||0||2||0||2|
I wasn't expecting anything about that table. I didn't expect the diversity present, I didn't expect to see many of the decks in the list period, and I definitely didn't expect Murktide to actually win this criterion. I'd bought into the narrative that Murktide doesn't win events and until now, had never bothered to check. But win it does, and by an impressive margin, too: 50% better than the runners-up.
As it turns out, Murktide hasn't won many Challenges/Challenge level events in 2023; just 9/64, or 14%. Which is still better than any other deck. Murktide wins.
I started thinking about this article back in March. At the time, I'd have said that the evidence for Murktide actively warping the metagame is thin at best. There's plenty of evidence that decks are prepared against Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer and graveyards, but that can't be traced to Murktide specifically. In fact, the last time there was an obvious warp was during the Lurrus era, when Chalice of the Void saw far more play in far more decks than any time before or since. That hit Hammer Time more than other decks, but I can't say it targeted at the deck as much as the card, so partial credit at best.
However, April has produced something interesting. Temur Rhinos has started maindecking Mystical Dispute. I thought it was a blip the first time it happened, but over the month it has become increasingly, though not universally, standard on MTGO, and it's working its way into the paper results, too. Dispute is not a dead card outside of blue matchups, but it does specifically shine in those. As the only dedicatedly blue deck at the top of the metagame is Murktide, I'd argue it's a targeted choice against the top deck. It's not the strongest evidence, but it is evidence.
Murktide Is the Best Deck
With clear and expected wins in two categories, a clear and unexpected win in a third, and at minimum partial credit in a fourth, Murktide emerges as the clear best deck in Modern. Its nearest challenger is Hammer Time, with two second place finishes and (maybe) a partial credit. I knew Murktide would get two wins when I started planning this article, but I didn't expect it to get more. Seems like I'm among the many who have been underestimating the deck.
On Metagame Health
As for the overall health of the Modern metagame, I write a yearly article on that subject already, so a more in-depth review isn't necessary. I stand by my evaluation from that article: Modern is okay. It's not great; it's not terrible; it's just okay. However, there is something I want to add to the analysis in that article. I had and still have a problem with Modern's trajectory, but only just realized how to express that problem.
In economics, we teach that a concentrated market is a bad market. Monopolies and oligopolies are bad. An unconcentrated monopolistically competitive market is the best attainable outcome. However, the line between an oligopoly and monopolistic competition is often blurry. Both can have a large number of firms in them, but in the former only a small number of big ones matter. To determine if there's a problem, concentration ratios are used to measure market concentration. There's no red line on concentration, but if an unconcentrated market is moving toward concentration, then there's a problem.
The way that concentration is taught normally focuses on the 5-Firm Concentration Ratio. The more firms are included, the more concentrated the market will necessarily be, so five is a good indicator. The only source I know of that has data going back to Modern's creation is MTGTop8.com, so I'm using their data. Here are the combined metagame percentages of the top five decks in Modern for each year according to MTGTop8.
|Year||5 Deck Concentration Ratio|
As you can see, Modern started off quite concentrated, with the top decks taking up a huge metagame share, and gradually moved towards a non-concentrated state. In 2022, that trend sharply reversed, and if the data for the start of 2023 is any indication, it's getting worse. This is the most concentrated Modern's been since Splinter Twin was legal. Whether the concentration itself is bad is, of course, up for debate. But to me, the fact that concentration is increasing is deeply concerning.
The Numbers Are Unequivocal
There's no doubt that Murktide is Modern's most popular deck. It also appears to win more events than other decks, even if that number is a far cry from winning the vast majority of events (as is more likely in a Tier 0 event). And we've also explored why the deck is so good on a strategic axis.
A deck can be popular for no reason, but it can't sustain that popularity without good reason, or without rewarding its pilots. There's no doubt in my mind that Murktide is Modern's most successful deck over the past year. Whether that's a good or bad thing is something to discuss in the comments. I'll see you there!