June ’23 Metagame Update: Churn Returns

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We're halfway through the year, and it's a month until Wizards' new Ban Day. In a welcome twist, Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle Earth has managed to give Modern's metagame a shake. It's not enough to disturb the built-up crust at the top of the rankings, but the waters are at least stirring. Whether this is a temporary change or represents a real shift remains to be seen.

An Unusual Month

June's data is odd by the standards Modern has set for itself. Specifically, Magic Online (MTGO) has no outliers. When looking at the data it looks like it should, but no. All the tests came back saying no. The spread in the data is on curve and normal. It's a bit extreme certainly, but once the statistical noise is accounted for, there are no outliers. I was quite surprised.

Paper is another matter. The top two results are outliers, and as always were excluded from the calculations. I think that this has only happened once in the year and a half since Modern started consistently exhibiting outliers. I chalk up this disparity to paper having fewer results. The more data that's available, the more that outliers are drawn into the fold.

June 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.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer

Then we go one standard deviation (STdev) above average to set the limit of Tier 3 and the 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 two standard deviations above the mean result, encompassing the truly exceptional performing decks. 

The MTGO data nearly exclusively comes from official Preliminary and Challenge results. Leagues are excluded, as they are curated lists and thus invalid. The paper data comes from any source I can find, with all reported events being counted.

The MTGO Population Data

In June, the unadjusted average population for MTGO was 11.19, setting the Tier 3 cutoff at seven decks. I always round down if the decimal is less than .20. Tier 3, therefore, begins with decks posting 11 results. The unadjusted STdev was 21.33, so add 22 and that means Tier 3 runs to 33 results. Again, it's the starting point to the cutoff, then the next whole number for the next Tier. Therefore Tier 2 starts with 34 results and runs to 56. Subsequently, to make Tier 1, 57 decks are required.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Fury

June represents a turnaround for the data. January 2023 had 840 decks, February had 876, and March had a staggering 1,003 decks, April fell to 949 decks, May plummeted to 770 decks, but June surged to 918. June had a number of extra events and large Preliminaries to boost its numbers. There's another All-Access event starting today, so I'd expect July to continue the trend.

However, the extra population doesn't mean more diversity. January had 74 unique decks, February had 84, and March mustered 88. April, May, and now June had 82 decks. This seems like it means something, but I have no way to prove anything. Of the 82 decks, only 17 made the population tier, down from April's 29 and even May's 22. This is entirely down to the unadjusted stats.

Deck Name Total #Total %
Tier 1
UR Murktide919.91
Rakdos Scam919.91
Living End849.15
4-Color Creativity717.73
Hammer Time717.73
4-Color Control596.42
Tier 2
Temur Rhinos475.12
Mono-Green Tron384.14
Tier 3
Jeskai Value Breach293.16
UW Control272.94
Amulet Titan192.07
Counter Cat161.74
Hardened Scales121.31
Jund Creativity111.20

The headline stories here are Rakdos Scam tied with UR Murktide for first place, Living End in third, and 4-Color Control jumping from mid-Tier 3 to the bottom of Tier 1 in a month. These stories are actually one story, it's all linked. I'm not going to discuss it today as it's too long a story. Instead, it will be a big focus of Friday's article.

Another big story is Temur Rhinos falling into Tier 2. I don't think there's anything to read into here, as Tier 1 has usually only had room for one cascade deck. Whenever Rhinos has been ascendant, Living End has been down, and vice-versa. I understand that the decks were relatively evenly matched back when Rhinos ran Endurance maindeck. Endurance being moved to the sideboard might be explanatory.

The Paper Population Data

The paper tiers are calculated the same way as the MTGO tiers, just with different data. In most months there are far more reported paper events than online, but paper also tends to report fewer results per event. It's quite annoying, but paper events rarely report more than the Top 8, and far too often for my purposes, only the Top 4. This makes the paper data far more variable than MTGO.

January saw 667 decks, February is up to 807, March hit 962, April plunged to 551, May was up to 581, and now June is down slightly to 547. As I said, paper data is highly variable. It felt like the total number of events were down, but I don't write down the number of events I record.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Sigarda's Aid

Paper events often report the actual records alongside decklists. Thus, I've decided to change how I record decks when win rates are available. For smaller events, I take any winning record which sometimes means I don't include the full Top 8. For larger events, I'm taking the Top 32 and all the decks with the same record as 32nd place. Tiebreakers are a strange and mysterious alchemy, after all, and may benefit or screw players on a whim.

The total number of decks fell considerably in June. January had 101 decks, February 108, March just 103, April down to 89, May was up to 102 and June fell to 79. 23 decks made the tier list, which is down just like the population. The adjusted average population was 5.86, so five decks make Tier 3. The adjusted STDev was 8.37, so the increment is 9. Therefore, Tier 3 runs from 6 to 15, Tier 2 is 16 to 25, and Tier 1 is 26 and over.

Deck NameTotal #Total %
Tier 1
4-Color Creativity539.69
UR Murktide437.86
Temur Rhinos386.95
Rakdos Scam336.03
Hammer Time325.85
Living End305.48
Tier 2
4-Color Control244.39
Amulet Titan173.11
Mono-Green Tron162.93
Tier 3
4-Color Elementals101.83
UW Control101.83
Counter Cat91.65
Grixis Shadow81.46
Hardened Scales81.46
Bring to Light61.10

Living End, 4-Color Control, and Scam are all up in paper, but not to the extent of MTGO. This might be thanks to fewer events obscuring the same effect as on MTGO, but it's also possible that the change is just MTGO being MTGO. That program loves to convince itself things are certain ways and create self-fulfilling prophecies. It's impossible to say.

March 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.

There was an error retrieving a chart for Living End

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 the 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. The enormous Showcase Qualifier was the first online event to award five points in nearly a year, and there were several four-point events too.

Consequently, total points are massively up from 1189 to 1508. The unadjusted average points were 18.39, therefore 19 points made Tier 3. The adjusted STDev was 36.30, so add 37 to the starting point, and Tier 3 runs to 56 points. Tier 2 starts with 57 points and runs to 94. Tier 1 requires at least 95 points.

Jund Creativity fell off the tier list and was not replaced. The MTGO metagame is a narrow and unforgiving place.

Deck Name Total PointsTotal %
Tier 1
Rakdos Scam16510.94
UR Murktide15710.41
Living End1499.88
4-Color Creativity1177.76
Hammer Time1016.70
4-Color Control956.30
Tier 2
Temur Rhinos724.77
Mono-Green Tron644.24
Tier 3
Jeskai Value Breach503.32
UW Control473.12
Amulet Titan362.39
Counter Cat291.92
Hardened Scales201.33

There's been almost no movement inside the tiers and no decks moved tier. This is pretty standard for MTGO.

The Paper Power Tiers

Due to paper reporting being inconsistent compared to MTGO, I have to adapt how the points work. 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.

For events with no reported starting population and those up to 32 players, one point is awarded. Events with 33 players up to 128 players get two points. From 129 players up to 512 players get three. Above 512 is four points, and five points will be reserved for Modern Pro Tours if/when they ever happen again.

There were a lot of four-point events in June, so total points are up. January had 1178 points, February hit 1316, and March shot to 1890, April fell to 964, May hit 1098, and June up to 1208. The adjusted average points were 12.79, setting the cutoff at 13 points. The STDev was 20.23, thus adding 21 to the starting point and Tier 3 runs to 34 points. Tier 2 starts with 35 points and runs to 56. Tier 1 requires at least 57 points. The total decks fell to 21, as neither Bring to Light nor Jund mustered enough points.

Deck NameTotal PointsTotal %
Tier 1
4-Color Creativity12510.35
UR Murktide988.11
Temur Rhinos907.45
Rakdos Scam796.54
Hammer Time796.54
4-Color Control675.55
Living End665.46
Tier 2
Mono-Green Tron473.89
Amulet Titan463.81
Tier 3
UW Control241.99
Grixis Shadow201.66
4-Color Elementals191.57
Hardened Scales191.57
Counter Cat181.49

As usual, paper shows some dynamism with decks changing tiers and a lot of movement inside the tiers themselves. The effect of all the high point events was quite profound and many decks that didn't show up in them fell a lot.

Average Power Rankings

Finally, we come to the average power rankings. These are found by taking the total points earned and dividing them 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. Therefore, the top tier doesn't move much between population and power and obscures whether its decks really earned their position. 

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

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 that place above the baseline average are over-performing, and vice versa.

How far above or below that average a deck sits justifies its position on the power tiers. Decks well above baseline are 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 the 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 averages for MTGO

Deck Name Average PointsPower Tier
Amulet Titan1.893
Rakdos Scam1.811
Counter Cat1.813
Living End1.771
UW Control1.743
UR Murktide1.721
Jeskai Value Breach1.723
Mono-Green Tron1.682
Hardened Scales1.673
4-Color Creativity1.651
4-Color Control1.611
Temur Rhinos1.532
Hammer Time1.421

As the highest-placing Tier 1 deck, Rakdos Scam is the MTGO Deck of June. Great showings in late Challenges will do that.

Now the paper averages:

Deck NameAverage PointsPower Tier
Mono-Green Tron2.942
4-Color Control2.791
Amulet Titan2.712
Grixis Shadow2.503
Hammer Time2.471
UW Control2.403
Rakdos Scam2.391
Temur Rhinos2.371
Hardened Scales2.373
4-Color Creativity2.361
UR Murktide2.281
Living End2.201
4-Color Elementals1.903
Counter Cat1.893

Meanwhile, 4-Color Control blew every other Tier 1 deck away to be paper's Deck of June. The big events right after LoTR was released are responsible for this.

Composite Metagame

That's a lot of data, but what does it all mean? When Modern Nexus was 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. Instead, 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, but 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 Pop TierMTGO Power TierMTGO Average TierPaper Pop TierPaper Power TierPaper Average TierComposite Tier
UR Murktide1111111.00
Rakdos Scam1111111.00
Living End1111111.00
4-Color Creativity1111111.00
Hammer Time1111111.00
4-Color Control111211.51.25
Temur Rhinos2221111.50
Mono-Green Tron2222222.00
Amulet Titan3332222.50
UW Control3333333.00
Counter Cat3333333.00
Hardened Scales3333333.00
Jeskai Value Breach333N/AN/AN/A3.50
Grixis ShadowN/AN/AN/A3333.50
Jund Creativity3N/A3.5N/AN/AN/A3.75
Bring to LightN/AN/AN/A3N/A3.53.75

Again, there's not much that's surprising here as long as you read everything that came before it.

Best Not to Disturb the Water

There's been a disturbance to Modern's status quo. It is not a large disturbance, and it might not last, but it is a disturbance, nonetheless. However, it's primarily down to a new set with an exciting card. Whether that can be sustained is something I'll be discussing on Friday. Join me then!

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