If Grand Prix Richmond proves just one thing, it's that the best decks in Modern are those that win the game. The Top 8 was composed of three major archetypes: five Birthing Pod decks, one Splinter Twin deck, and two Affinity. Six of those decks contain infinite-loop game-winning combos, and Affinity is a hyper-aggressive, explosive deck that mulligans and plays much like a combo deck itself. These decks rose to the top of over four thousand people playing Modern. That is a ridiculous amount of players to draw a sample from and a significant number of rounds to distill the finest evolutionary products of the metagame. Today I am going to share the top-performing deck archetypes from the Grand Prix and explain how they will shift the metagame going forward.
For my analysis I am using the data from the official Grand Prix coverage, specifically the day-two metagame share breakdown for each archetype. I am also using the Top 8 decks, the gold-standard of tournament lists. GP Richmond was an exceptionally large tournament, and everyone that finished x-2 or better was given a Pro Tour invite. This extended down to Top 18, and the 9-18th decklists have been shared on the coverage, so in my analysis I will also reference those additional 10 decks beyond the Top 8.
Birthing Pod has to be the clear winner of Grand Prix Richmond. Not only did the archetype win the entire event, but it also took the majority of the Top 8 slots. It seems as if Birthing Pod only gained momentum as the event wore on. It made up just over 12% of the day two metagame, but it ate a huge slice of the top prizes by making up 62.5% of the Top 8, vastly over performing on day two. Birthing Pod also seems excellent at winning the most important matches. It is interesting that there were five Birthing Pod decks in the Top 8 but none below the Top 8 in the Top 18, meaning the archetype over performed in the critical elimination matches that define the final rounds. By another metric, three of the twelve undefeated day one decks were Melira Pod.
Birthing Pod comes in two major flavors, four-color Kiki Pod and Melira Pod. Two years ago Kiki-Pod was the dominant take on the archetype in Modern, but it lost metagame share to flexible Deathrite Shaman-based lists after Pro Tour Return to Ravnica. At the time of the bannings, Melira Pod had effectively completely replaced Kiki-Pod in the Modern metagame.
Deathrite Shaman being removed from the format has a few implications for Melira Pod; the downgrade of all-star Deathrite Shaman into Noble Hierarch has hurt the decklist in a vacuum, but it has improved the archetype's metagame position overall because Deathrite Shaman disrupted the graveyard-reliant persist creature / Melira, Sylvok Outcast combo. It was a ubiquitous problem from the other side of the table that has completely disappeared.
I chose McClain's deck because of the lineage of his particular build. It was developed with longtime Birthing Pod specialist Sam Pardee and its history includes the PT BNG finals list played by Jacob Wilson. To adapt to the new metagame, Melira Pod has removed the Deathrite Shaman-dodging Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder combo and reinvented itself as a sleek aggro-combo deck (while four of the Melira Pod decks cut the second combo, Top 8 competitor LSV did choose to play it). There are a minimal number of the combo enablers Melira, Sylvok Outcast and Viscera Seer. The ability to comfortably play four Kitchen Finks is another ramification of the banned list changes.
Notable inclusions for the new metagame are Linvala, Keeper of Silence to shut down the mirror and Splinter Twin combo along with some Affinity creatures. Orzhov Pontiff is a nod to the mirror and to Affinity. Spellskite targets Splinter Twin and Hexproof Auras while protecting the combo from removal. Ranger of Eos provides Birthing Pod fodder and generates much needed card advantage against the removal-heavy decks fighting attrition wars. In this deck Eternal Witness is a powerful cog. This is the gold standard decklist for a broad Modern metagame and the most proven PTQ deck going forward.
With the recent bannings, Kiki Pod has seen a resurgence. This version takes advantage of Deceiver Exarch to speed up the combo by untapping Birthing Pod and accelerating up the chain. Glen-Elendra Archmage acts as an additional powerful persist creature for the Birthing Pod engine that also protects the combo and disrupts unfair decks.
In a world full of other degenerate decks, Kiki-Pod seems like a great choice. It can win faster than Melira Pod, and being four-color it has access to a wider range of sideboard options, including combo hate cards.
Affinity was the most populous deck on day two, comprising 13.54% of the metagame. This translated to 25% of the Top 8, a very strong day-two performance for the deck. Going further down the standings, there were also three Affinity decks in the Top 18. This brings the Top 18 total to five, bringing the number in line with the total number Birthing Pod decks in the Top 18, 27.77% of the Top 18 share.
The success of Affinity is not surprising given the texture of the new Modern metagame. The push away from Jund and towards combo has created a metagame ripe for the Robots. As a linear strategy Affinity is very fast, explosive, and powerful. It very closely resembles a combo deck in how it evaluates opening hands and in gameplay operation. Against opponents with little interaction, the synergistic game plan of Affinity is given free reign, and with aggressive mulliganing it can win as early as turn three, more likely turn four. This puts it into a great position against the combo decks in the format, allowing it to race effectively.
The speed of Affinity makes it deadly after sideboard, when it can bring in disruption like Counterspells, discard, and silver bullet hate cards and function as a fish-like deck. Some Affinity decks have made the jump and are playing some maindeck disruption, typically the flexible Galvanic Blast and sometimes a pair of Spell Pierce. Affinity is a cheap, effective deck that has a proactive game plan that is solid against the broad Modern metagame. While success may wax and wane depending on artifact sideboard hate in the metagame and general awareness, this one is not going anywhere and will be a staple of the PTQ season.
The final member of the big three is Splinter Twin. Lumping all the variations of Splinter Twin together including UR Twin, UWR Twin, and RUG Twin, gives the broad archetype a total of 10.38% of the metagame share, which equals the popularity of Melira Pod. Three additional copies in the Top 18 mean it was a strong day two performer.
Splinter Twin combines its namesake enchantment with Pestermite or Deceiver Exarch to create an infinite swarm of hasted tokens. How the deck supports this plan A depends on the particular version. All three variations had a representative in the Top 18.
The UR version is fully focused on the combo, featuring a full-suite of combo creatures including Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker, and cards like Spellskite and Dispel to protect the combo.
The white splash version is well-positioned against the aggressive decks with Path to Exile and Wall of Omens, while Restoration Angel is a very flexible aggro-control tool that can work the red zone, create value with the Flicker, and Threaten to combo with Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. The UWR version also has access to some powerful white sideboard cards. The deck pays by being slower, less streamlined in focus, and a bit less consistent in mana.
This version was played at PT BNG as an answer to Zoo, but I can see it reinventing itself as an answer to Birthing Pod, Affinity, and the Splinter Twin mirror. The addition of Path to Exile to Lightning Bolt gives the deck a considerable mass of creature disruption against the big three decks. The interaction with Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel ensures a steady flow of card advantage throughout the game that rivals the card advantaged capabilities of traditional UWR control. Path to Exile is quite useful against other Splinter Twin decks, and it makes this deck a nightmare for Birthing Pod. White offers Stony Silence from the sideboard for Affinity.
My favorite variation of Splinter Twin is RUG Twin, which put two copies into the Top 18.
Patrick Dickmann showed this next evolution of the deck at PT BNG, where he reached the Top 8, and it was imitated by many at the Grand Prix. Dickman himself put up a 9-0 day one record with the deck in Richmond, while Todd Anderson finished in 9th place with the deck. This version uses Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze as the base of a flexible aggro-control tempo shell with a Cryptic Command top-end. The deck is just as capable of winning through conventional means as it is with the nuclear combo option. The two parts play well together and form one of the most playable decks in the format.
Those top three archetypes, Birthing Pod, Affinity, and Splinter Twin, over performed on day two of the Grand Prix. These decks rose through the ranks on Sunday, and by the final rounds they were dominating the top tables. When all was said and done, it was these three archetypes taking up 14 of the 18 top slots.
Beyond the top three, the other best-performing decks in Richmond were other forms of combo, or they were dedicated combo-breakers with plenty of interaction. The remaining four decks in the Top 18 fell into either of those two categories.
First off is another combo in the format, Scapeshift.
This deck can operate as a functional control deck with burn and Counterspells, which plays into the game plan of hitting a critical mass of lands and winning with a one-card haymaker. This strategy has its place in the format, and it has kept Scapeshift on the fringes of the tier one ever since Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle was unbanned.
The final three Top 18 decks played the disruption role, piloting control decks full of cheap interaction and undercosted threats.
Most exciting is Alex Sittner's Faerie deck. Alex was one of just two players who put up a winning record with the deck at PT Born of the Gods, and it looks like he updated his Richmond list with inspiration from the other, Shouta Yasooka.
Faeries is notable because it is so effective at dealing with combo decks. The deck combines discard in the form of Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek with cheap Counterspells like Spellstutter Sprite and Spell Snare to dominate combo decks. It is clear that Faeries will exist in this metagame as a combo-breaker, and it should remain a player if aggressive Zoo decks are kept in check.
Also reaching the Top 18 was a Jund representative, the Golgari Midrange deck with Phyrexian Obliterator that was first seen at PT BNG. This deck combines the disruption of discard and Liliana of the Veil with card advantage from Dark Confidant and cheap, powerful threats that seek to close out the game quickly, like Tarmogoyf.
With Deathrite Shaman banned, the core of BG/x has been uprooted and the status quo shaken. It is not yet clear what variation of the Golgari rock base is best, but this is another win in the pure BG camp.
The final Top 18 deck was a pure UW Control build played by control enthusiast Shaheen Soorani. UWR control won the Pro Tour and I am sure Shaheen was all too delighted in that fact. Deeper into the decklists was a pure Azorius control deck piloted by Gabriel Nassif, a deck from which I am sure Shaheen drew inspiration.
Soorani's version of the deck is heavy on the planeswalkers. I am a big fan of Jace Beleren, which provides a stream of card advantage against decks lacking interaction, particularly the combo decks. Elspeth, Knight-Errant provides board presence and acts as a quick clock, while Gideon Jura controls the board before ending the game. Shaheen's deck looks much more like a traditional tap out control deck than what we have seen lately, and it includes three Supreme Verdict and a pair of Detention Sphere to give it broad answers to Modern problems.
UW has an incredible sideboard, which includes Meddling Mage, Aven Mindcensor, Ethersworn Canonist, and Baneslayer Angel. These creatures allow the deck to turn into a much more aggressive and disruptive, fish-like deck against the combo decks of the format. These efficient creatures play well with the cheap disruption in the deck and turn the deck into a truly different animal in post-sideboard games.
Birthing Pod combo had already won consecutive North American Modern Grand Prix before Richmond, but it was never hugely popular. Modern has an enormous list of decks, and people actually play them all. Despite how proven the archetype was, Birthing Pod has never occupied a huge portion of the metagame. As I write this, while Melira Pod is the third most popular and successful archetype online, where it holds approximately a 7% share of the posted Magic Online Modern decklists, Kiki-Pod holds near 1%, In Richmond, Melira Pod occupied 10.38% of the day two metagame, while Kiki-Pod held 2.26%.
I expect the popularity of Birthing Pod to see a huge resurgence. In the past people have been scared away by the complexity or dollar expense, but as players grow more familiar with Birthing Pod and Modern as a whole they will become much more comfortable with the deck. By the time PTQ season comes I think Birthing Pod will be an absolute staple of the metagame and the biggest factor in the tournament metagame. With the Grand Prix win, players are going to be more aware of Kiki-Pod in the future and I expect it to take some percentage of the metagame share from Melira Pod. The exact breakdown will depend on how the metagame evolves, but I expect Melira Pod will remain the dominant Birthing Pod deck into the PTQ season. The two next most popular decks online are Affinity and Splinter Twin, which gives it the same big-three as the day-two Grand Prix metagame. The Grand Prix and affirmed the online results, so I recommend planning for these big three decks leading into future Grand Prix and the upcoming PTQ season.