I've been tracking all the 4-0 Daily Event decks posted for the past month (between 5/20 and 6/17): a total of 29 Daily Events and approximately 230 4-0 decks. Today I am going to analyze the data, draw some meaningful conclusions from it, and ultimately provide you with some new insight on how to exploit the current metagame (and in general, how to exploit metagames).
Tom Ross saw an opening last weekend at the SCG Invitational, claiming that decks were not adequately prepared for extreme strategies such as the super-fast aggro red deck he won the tournament with . Are there other exploitable holes? In my opinion, yes! And today I'd like to share some of those holes with you.
Before we begin, I'd like to address one thing. There are a few factors that make the MTGO metagame different from a Grand Prix metagame, most notably deck price, but for the most part the MTGO metagame is a close mirror to what one should expect to face at a Grand Prix. So for our purposes today, we will assume a close approximation between the MTGO metagame and the expected Grand Prix metagame.Organizing the Data by Likeness in Strategy
To start off, there are several different meaningful ways to organize the data. The first way is to simply divide the decks according to likeness in overall strategy. This is helpful for getting an initial impression, but of course has some question marks as to which groupings certain borderline cases belong (e.g. Black Aggro and Red Devotion?). Here is how the data looks from this perspective, with the corresponding number of times and it was present among the 4-0 decks, as well as its overall percentage of the metagame among winning decks:
70 Black Control (31%)
37 Monoblack18 Black/Green14 Black/White1 Black/Blue49 Green Midrange (22%)
21 Jund Monsters9 Monogreen Devotion (some splash black)8 Golgari Dredge5 Junk Midrange3 Junk/Golgari Constellation2 Naya Midrange1 Red/Green Monsters35 Mostly Monored (14%)
18 Boros Burn7 Red/White Devotion6 Monored Aggro1 Boss Red1 Boros Aggro1 Red/Blue Devotion1 Red/Black Devotion28 Blue/White Control (12%)
14 Blue/White10 Esper3 Bant1 UWR21 Blue Devotion (9%)
19 Monoblue Devotion2 Blue/White Devotion15 Green and/or White Aggro (7%)
5 Naya Auras4 Selesnya Aggro2 Green/White Auras1 Green/White Heroic1 Brave Naya1 Gruul Aggro1 Monogreen Aggro1 White/Blue Aggro1 Monowhite Aggro9 Monoblack Aggro (4%)
Some of these groupings are not particular helpful. For instance, "Mostly Monored" includes a Boros Burn deck running only eight creatures, yet it also includes various devotion strategies running more than 30 creatures. Short of "Master of Waves (pro red) is good against both," not much can be gained from grouping them together in this way.Organizing the Data by Common Strengths and Weaknesses
If our goal instead, however, is to find a point at which to exploit the metagame, I find the most instructive way to organize the data would be to group decks according to their similarities in strengths and weaknesses. This would provide us some data on how useful cards are that exploit those weaknesses or counteract those strengths. For instance:
Heavy Removal Spell Decks (43%)
37 Monoblack Devotion18 Black/Green Devotion14 Black/White Control14 Blue/White Control10 Esper Control3 Bant Control1 UWR Control1 Black/Blue DevotionAggressive Creature Swarm Decks (25%)
19 Monoblue Devotion9 Monoblack Aggro7 Red/White Devotion6 Monored Aggro4 Selesnya Aggro2 Blue/White Devotion1 Boss Red1 Boros Aggro1 Red/Blue Devotion1 Red/Black Devotion1 Green/White Heroic1 Brave Naya1 Gruul Aggro1 Monogreen Aggro1 White/Blue Aggro1 Monowhite AggroDecks ramping into late game engines (18%)
21 Jund Monsters9 Green Devotion (some splash black)5 Junk Midrange3 Junk/Golgari Constellation2 Naya Midrange1 Red/Green MonstersOther (14%)
18 Boros Burn8 Golgari Dredge7 G/W/x Auras
Grouped in this way we can start to notice some patterns that will be helpful for our deck choice and construction. For instance, if nearly half the field is playing a strategy involving lots of creature removal spells, our strategy must have a strong plan in game one to combat this opposing strategy. One example of such a strategy is Naya Auras.
Hexproof is good against all the point removal but needs a plan against Supreme Verdict. Hence we see the versions splashing for Boros Charm performing better than those that are not. Yes, giving your enchanted monster double strike fits with the deck's theme, but the real reason Naya is performing better than straight GW, despite having worse mana, is likely that it is able to answer Supreme Verdict, a card that is in 12% of the decks right now.
All those Supreme Verdicts are not only useful against the aggressive swarm decks but also against a lot of the ramp strategies since the ramp spells of the format also happen to be creatures (Elvish Mystic and Sylvan Caryatid). So letting them ramp out a fatty and then sweeping everything up is a legitimate game plan, except for one problem: the ramp strategies know how good that plan is against them. So the most successful ramp strategies run counter-measures for the verdict plan, namely: planeswalkers! If you ramp into planeswalkers as your end game instead of just large creatures, you hedge against Supreme Verdict. Sure, verdict is still very good against you, but you force them to have other answers as well.
This line of reasoning of course also explains why the successful control decks of late are moving away from Detention Sphere and toward Planar Cleansing, a card that takes out your mana dorks, the creatures you ramped into, as well as your planeswalkers! The problem with this plan, of course, is that the aggressive decks you were using those Detention Spheres to combat get stronger against you. Hence the resurgence of Monoblue Devotion, a deck that is happiest when never ever having to face a Detention Sphere.
As you can start to see from the analysis thus far, metagame shifts tend to hinge on how the successful decks adapt to each other, week to week. This makes staying on top of things that much more important.The "Combo" Decks of the Format
If we look at the outlier decks, we see Boros Burn, Auras, and Dredge. These would be considered, in my opinion, the pseudo "combo" decks of the format, for lack of an actual combo deck in Standard. Each has interchangeable parts, making it resilient to Thoughtseize, and takes advantage of a linear set of mechanics that are different enough from what everyone else is doing that it is often mathematically correct to simply ignore that they exist instead of employing cards that are only good against one deck (at least when that one deck is only barely represented in the metagame).
Boros Burn just wants to count to 20, ignoring all those removal spells the control decks are using to combat the aggro decks. As long as it is able to do this faster than the aggro decks and the ramp decks, it will win the tournament. That is, of course, unless people are prepared to beat you, whether intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, Nyx-Fleece Ram and Fiendslayer Paladin are great against the Boss Red and Fanatic of Mogis decks but also happen to be your worst enemy. Hence the Supreme Verdict decks that survive the current field tend to have some combination of these two cards in their sideboard, given the prevalence of the red decks recently.
We already talked about why Auras has been successful and why the versions splashing for Boros Charm (in addition to Ghor-Clan Rampager and Madcap Skills) outperform those that are not. So now let's talk about Golgari "Dredge," a deck made popular in large part by my teammates Ari Lax and Conley Woods. Since Dredge utilizes the graveyard instead of the board to "ramp" into fatties, it doesn't lose its setup to a Supreme Verdict. Quite the opposite – it barely cares about the card! What happens when you cast Supreme Verdict to kill a Satyr Wayfinder wearing a Nighthowler? Exactly, basically nothing happens.
So then what happens when the "monsters" in the monster decks are too small to stack up against those relying on the graveyard? Well, Scavenging Ooze is what happens, especially when all these red decks are also floating around. And how do control decks adapt? Outside of Rest in Peace, they are also running more enchantment kill such as Deicide. Even the weenie decks are incorporating things like main deck Keening Apparition now. Hence the Constellation decks, which have a more powerful midgame engine than many of the Ramp decks, are getting incidentally hated out due to other factors (e.g. presence of enchantment hate targeted at other decks but incidentally keeping Constellations in check). As the metagame continues to shift, if an opportunity opens up where enchantment hate is low yet graveyard hate and aggro strategies are high, expect Doomwake Giant to make its move.
Green Devotion is another interesting deck I'd like to talk about. It is actually the rampiest (I'm a writer, I'm allowed to make up new words) of the ramp decks. It takes the Elvish Mystic + Sylvan Caryatid strategy and one-ups it with Voyaging Satyr, whose primary purpose is to untap Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. It ramps into Polukranos, World Eater just like Jund Monsters, and relies on Eidolon of Blossoms just like Constellation, but its primary engine is Garruk, Caller of the Beasts. Garruk is an especially powerful late game engine because
his milkshake calls all the beasts to the yard he not only survives Supreme Verdict but he can also outdraw Underworld Connections or Sphinx's Revelation! Hence the over-reliance on extra mana accelerants that die to verdict is compensated by the extra strength of the planeswalker to Recoup such card disadvantage. The savviest versions also splash black for Pharika, God of Affliction and some useful utility spells (Abrupt Decay and Golgari Charm).
DECKID=1203467Organizing the Data by a Specific Weakness: Slow Setup
Ok, so we looked at a couple different ways of organizing the data so far, namely: according to similar builds, and according to correlated strengths and weaknesses. Now let's consider yet another perspective, one that highlights a specific weakness Tom Ross preyed on this past weekend:
Decks slow to set up what they're doing (66%)
37 Monoblack Devotion21 Jund Monsters18 Black/Green Devotion14 Black/White Control14 Blue/White Control10 Esper Control9 Green Devotion (some splash black)8 Golgari Dredge5 Junk Midrange3 Junk/Golgari Constellation3 Bant Control2 Naya Midrange1 Red/Green Monsters1 UWR Control1 Black/Blue DevotionOther (34%)
19 Monoblue Devotion18 Boros Burn9 Monoblack Aggro7 G/W/x Auras7 Red/White Devotion6 Monored Aggro4 Selesnya Aggro2 Blue/White Devotion1 Boss Red1 Boros Aggro1 Red/Blue Devotion1 Red/Black Devotion1 Green/White Heroic1 Brave Naya1 Gruul Aggro1 Monogreen Aggro1 White/Blue Aggro1 Monowhite Aggro
Tom's deck was especially good at capitalizing on this weakness that is present in literally two-thirds of the metagame. It efficiently produces threats that were far faster than the clunky removal spells people were running. Hero's Downfall is great against Stormbreath Dragon but not so much against Akroan Crusader and Foundry Street Denizen. Those require much cheaper removal spells. I expect the metagame to adapt by shifting toward more efficient sweepers such as Golgari Charm and Electrickery. I also expect to see more copies of Nyx-Fleece Ram and Fiendslayer Paladin floating around.
The other interesting point of observation is how most of the "other" decks (and also, incidentally, several of the not-"other" decks) are weak to cards like Searing Blood and Magma Spray. I expect these cards to see more play out of this deck as they help to improve the matchups the deck was not designed specifically to prey on (i.e. most of the other 34% of the metagame). Skullcrack is of course already the premier sideboard card of choice against the common sideboard plan opposing decks will utilize, namely lifegain, and this will probably never change for red-aggro decks.
Something else that is worth noting is that Boss Red is not the only deck capable of exploiting this current weakness found in 66% of the metagame. Super-fast White Weenie decks running 20 one-drops also exploit this same hole, and not surprisingly, are also weak to the same types of cards (Golgari Charm, Electrickery, etc). Unlike the red decks, however, they can fly over Fiendslayer Paladins and Nyx-Fleece Rams. Also unlike the red decks, however, they do not have efficient one- and two-mana removal spells and/or burn spells to finish off an opponent. There is of course no set-in-stone reason why these white weenie decks can't also splash red for some Lightning Strikes and such, though it can only be a light splash off Mana Confluence and Sacred Foundry since adding Temple of Triumph would start to slow the deck down too much and consequently lose the edge it was designed around, namely its raw speed.Organizing the Data by a Specific Weakness: Reliance on Ground Blockers
Let's look at one more way of organizing the data, a way that reveals a weakness in the metagame I just alluded to, namely the format's weakness to evasion:
Decks relying heavily on ground blockers (70%)
37 Monoblack Devotion ( Nightveil Specter)21 Jund Monsters ( Stormbreath Dragon)18 Black/Green Devotion14 Black/White Control14 Blue/White Control (Elspeth)10 Esper Control9 Green Devotion (some splash black)8 Golgari Dredge5 Junk Midrange4 Selesnya Aggro3 Junk/Golgari Constellation3 Bant Control2 Naya Midrange1 Red/Green Monsters1 UWR Control1 Black/Blue Devotion1 Red/Blue Devotion1 Red/Black Devotion1 Green/White Heroic1 Brave Naya1 Monogreen AggroOther (30%)
19 Monoblue Devotion18 Boros Burn9 Monoblack Aggro7 G/W/x Auras7 Red/White Devotion6 Monored Aggro2 Blue/White Devotion1 Boss Red1 Boros Aggro1 Gruul Aggro1 White/Blue Aggro1 Monowhite Aggro
Flying has rarely ever been as good as it currently is in Standard. The ramp decks all rely on Sylvan Caryatid and Courser of Kruphix to clog up the ground and buy time to set up for their bigger spells, and their only flyer is a five-mana dragon. The Blue/White Control decks tend to rely on Elspeth, Sun's Champion to block the post-verdict threats. The Black Devotion decks have Nightveil Specter and Desecration Demon, but as long as you are a swarm type deck, the demon has a built-in answer to itself at the beginning of each combat step. Furthermore, as people branch out into Black/Green and Black/White in order to gain access to cards like Abrupt Decay and Detention Sphere, they are cutting Nightveil Specter for Lifebane Zombie, thus making themselves even weaker to flyers, especially non-white flyers (read: blue flyers).
So basically as long as you have a single removal spell for their lone flyer (if they even have any), your flying creatures can attack past the defenses of most decks in the format. This of course opens the door even further for decks like Monoblue Devotion which rely on Cloudfin Raptor, Judge's Familiar, and Nightveil Specter, but also for white weenie strategies involving Loyal Pegasus, Cavalry Pegasus, Judge's Familiar, Daring Skyjek, and/or Ajani, Caller of the Pride. A single Banishing Light or Banisher Priest for the opponent's lone way to block a flyer (unless it is a dragon with protection from white) can make all your creatures unblockable for the entire game! Likewise, a single Rapid Hybridization (since frog lizards can't fly) out of the blue deck would do the trick.
It is also worth noting that most of the decks that fall into the "other" category from this perspective do so mainly because they do not rely on blocking at all but instead on racing. Several of them also rely on burning out the opponent in varying capacities, which again makes a card like Fiendslayer Paladin shine, or in the blue deck's case, Master of Waves. Hence the two decks poised to take advantage of this particular weakness in the metagame right now are Monoblue Devotion and White Weenie. The problem, at least for the white weenie deck, is that you'll also have to come up with a plan to combat all the Golgari Charms and Electrickeries that are on the horizon in response to the rise of Boss Red. You may have a week or two where that window remains open, so if you want to run with it, now is the time to do so. Otherwise, I would recommend just jamming the stock Monoblue Devotion list, a deck that is also well-positioned due to control decks replacing Detention Sphere with Planar Cleansing. Hence it has two metagame strengths going for it!Conclusions
Data can be organized in a number of different ways. The data I gathered over the past month of MTGO Daily Events paints a fairly accurate picture of the Standard landscape, and various trending weaknesses can be observed if we organize it in various ways. There are undoubtedly many other ways to organize the data that would highlight similar weakness in the metagame. Identifying those weaknesses and exploiting them right away before the window closes are what make decks like Boss Red the perfect deck for a given tournament.
Will White Weenie be the perfect deck for Grand Prix Chicago? Will Monoblue Devotion fly over the competition? Or will Golgari Charm steal the show? Alternatively, perhaps the metagame will not adequately adjust and red aggro decks will have yet another week of dominance? This last scenario seems the most unlikely of the four, but certainly stranger things have happened. The deck with the most wins right now is Monoblack Devotion, but in my opinion the best positioned of the top decks is Monoblue Devotion. Unless you have good reason to play something else, that's what I would recommend.
Next week I plan to write about White Weenie.
Craig Wescoe@Nacatls4Life on twitter