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Metagame Mentor: Everything to Know About Modern to Win Your RCQ

January 19, 2023
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, your weekly guide to the top decks and latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Today, we'll take a look at the top 15 archetypes in the current Modern metagame and discuss what happened in last weekend's events. Modern is one of the possible Constructed formats for Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) and this article can act as your one-stop shop to acquaint yourself with the format.

The Modern Metagame

Modern, created in 2011, is a nonrotating, 60-card format that allows expansion sets, core sets, and Modern Horizons sets from Eight Edition forward, save for cards on the banned list. Compared to Standard and Pioneer, it has a deeper card pool, features more complex card interactions, and enables a larger diversity of strategies.

To grasp the latest Modern developments, I analyzed over 1,000 decklists from large competitive events over the past few weeks. Specifically, I used all available Magic Online decklists from scheduled Modern events held from December 26, 2022 through January 17, 2023. In addition, I used Top 8 decklists from the RCQ at Card Monster Games and the RCQ at Checkpoint Gallarate, as well as all MTG Melee decklists with positive net wins from the Grand Open Qualifier and Classic Qualifier at LMS Trieste and the Modern $20K RCQ, and Modern $5K RCQ at SCG CON New Jersey. These tabletop events provided dozens of Regional Championship invites, with the biggest events drawing hundreds of players to compete for large prizes.

To provide a metagame snapshot that combines popularity and performance, I assigned an archetype label to each deck and awarded a number of points equal to the deck's net wins, i.e., its number of match wins minus losses. For example, a deck that went 5–1 in the Swiss followed by a loss in the quarterfinals was assigned three points. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins. It may be interpreted as a winner's metagame that you can expect to see at the top tables.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Izzet Murktide 13.9%
2. Hammer Time 11.6%
3. Indomitable Creativity 8.4% ↑↑
4. Rakdos Undying 7.8% ↓↓
5. Jeskai Breach 7.5%
6. Rhinos 6.4%
7. Yawgmoth 4.0%
8. Amulet Titan 4.0%
9. Four-Color Omnath 3.7%
10. Living End 3.2%
11. Azorius Control 3.1%
12. Burn 2.9%
13. Domain Zoo 2.6%
14. Mono-Green Tron 1.9%
15. Merfolk 1.8%
16. Grixis Shadow 1.8%
17. Jund Reanimator 1.6%
18. Shift to Light 1.5%
19. Izzet Prowess 1.3%
20. Jund Midrange 1.0%
21. Hardened Scales 0.8%
22. Other 9.2%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows represent the biggest changes compared to my metagame roundup from early December. Despite small fluctuations, the metagame has remained relatively stable and diverse. The diversity is evidenced by the Top 8 at the Grand Open Qualifier at LMS Trieste, which featured eight different archetypes.

The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, includes Dredge, Urza ThopterSword, Eldrazi Tron, Temur Midrange, Ponza, Rakdos Midrange, Steelseeker Food, Four-Color Control, Belcher, Tameshi Bloom, Devoted Druid combo, Golgari Midrange, Mill, Izzet Breach, Asmo Food, Infect, Affinity, Goblins, CopyCat, Gruul Storm, Grixis Undying, Temur Breach, Humans, Jeskai Prowess, Death & Taxes, Insects, Mono-Red Prowess, Temur Scapeshift, Mono-Black Coffers, Prison Tron, Esper Undying, and more. The number of competitively viable Modern archetypes remains enormous, and deck familiarity is a significant success factor. My advice for navigating the Modern format is to invest time in mastering your preferred deck. A skilled player who is well-versed in their deck's interactions and matchup strategies can win with almost everything.

The defining staples of the format (more specifically, the most-played non-land cards across all main decks and sideboards) were Lightning Bolt; Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer; Spell Pierce; Expressive Iteration; Mishra's Bauble; Unholy Heat; and Fury. In Modern, it's essential to have a solid plan for dealing with the ubiquitous turn-one play of Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. The legendary Monkey Pirate can be blocked, destroyed, or overpowered, but Modern players should expect to face Ragavan frequently.

The most notable metagame development over the past month is the emergence of Underworld Breach as a fair value card. As more and more players are discovering, you don't necessarily need a combo with Grinding Station. Recasting Mishra's Bauble or Lightning Bolt several times can already yield a game-winning advantage, especially when you're triggering Dragon's Rage Channeler along the way. For example, David Nunez' Izzet Prowess list that won the $20K RCQ at SCG CON New Jersey featured two copies of Underworld Breach, and other players have found success with the card in decks such as Grixis Shadow or Izzet Murktide. Some Jeskai Breach versions have even dropped the Grinding Station combo entirely. This shift is leading to a convergence of Jeskai Breach and Izzet Murktide, which is a intriguing development to watch.

The Top 15 Modern Deck Archetypes

To take a closer look at the 15 archetypes with the highest record-weighted metagame share, I've used a decklist aggregation algorithm that takes into account the popularity and performance of individual card choices.

Izzet Murktide, with a 13.9% share of the record-weighted metagame, is a powerful archetype that combines cheap cantrips, efficient interaction, and powerful threats. The card advantage and velocity provided by Expressive Iteration, which quickly turns Murktide Regent into a two-mana 8/8 flier, gives it an edge against other midrange decks such as Rakdos Undying. The density of card draw also means that you'll see your sideboard cards more frequently, which helps to improve most matchups post-board. However, due to its reliance on damage-based removal, Izzet Murktide can struggle against creatures equipped with Colossus Hammer.

When playing against Izzet Murktide, it's important to keep in mind that they will likely have Counterspell and Spell Pierce in their deck. If your opponent is conspicuously holding a single blue mana open, it may be better to cast a creature spell instead. Another thing to remember is that Ledger Shredder makes double-spelling less appealing, so be sure to sequence your spells in a way that avoids granting free connive triggers. Finally, if you're not playing Ragavan yourself, then be prepared for Blood Moon after sideboard. Make sure to fetch basic lands quickly to avoid getting locked out of the game.

Hammer Time, with a 11.6% share of the winner's metagame, treats the metagame like a nail. The main goal is to cheat the equip cost on Colossus Hammer with the help of Sigarda's Aid or Puresteel Paladin. A turn-two kill is even possible with the right opening hand: Sigarda's Aid and Ornithopter on turn one, followed by double Colossus Hammer on turn two. However, turn three or turn four kills are more realistic, especially when relying on cards such as Urza's Saga and Stoneforge Mystic to find the Hammer.

Hammer Time is well-equipped to defeat decks that rely on damage-based removal, such as Burn, Izzet Murktide, or Rhinos. However, due to its lack of interaction, it can struggle against combo decks such as Yawgmoth, Living End, and Amulet Titan, especially when they add Force of Vigor after sideboard. The most prominent version of Hammer Time features a small blue splash for Spell Pierce, which improves the combo matchups, but it also makes the deck more vulnerable to Blood Moon. Hammer Time can also be built in mono-white or with a green splash for Haywire Mite.

When playing against this deck, it's important to be aware of the interaction between Colossus Hammer and Inkmoth Nexus. When Nexus becomes equipped with Hammer, it loses flying, but if its animation ability is activated again, Nexus will regain flying, so a ground-based chump blocker may not save you. Another interaction to keep in mind is that Blood Moon doesn't just turn off Urza's Sagaβ€”it kills it. Indeed, it turns into a Mountain Saga without chapter abilities and will be sacrificed as a state-based action.

Indomitable Creativity, with a 8.4% share of the record-weighted metagame, is a combo deck that aims to put Archon of Creativity onto the battlefield by using the namesake card in combination with Dwarven Mine tokens. The deck's ability to use any fetch land to grab Dwarven Mine makes it acts like a one-card combo. In recent weeks, a robust Temur version with Mana Leak and Burst Lightning has performed well, but the most popular version remains five-color with Leyline Binding. You may also sometimes encounter the card Indomitable Creativity in Jund Reanimator, a distinct archetype whose primary plan is to put Archon of Creativity onto the battlefield with Persist.

When playing against these decks, make sure to board in Orvar, the All-Form if you have it. When you discard Orvar to an Archon of Cruelty trigger, you can create a copy of the Archon, forcing them to sacrifice their Archon. You then untap, attack, and get another Archon trigger. It's a powerful way to turn the tables against this deck.

Rakdos Undying, with a 7.8% share of the winner's metagame, aims to evoke Grief of Fury on turn one and return it to the battlefield via Feign Death or Undying Malice. With Grief, you can discard your opponent's Lightning Bolt or Spell Pierce with the evoke trigger still on the stack, leaving them without an answer when Feign Death or Undying Malice produces a 4/3 menace with another discard attached. With Fury, the combo produces a 4/4 double striker on turn one. These powerful plays can leave opponents feeling as though they were scammed out of playing a fair game.

Rakdos Undying's midrange shell, which includes Thoughtseize, Blood Moon, and other interaction, makes it well-suited to defeat combo decks such as Yawgmoth, Living End, and Amulet Titan. However, discard spells can't answer the top of the opponent's deck, so it can struggle against decks with a large amount of consistency and redundancy, such as Izzet Murktide and Rhinos.

When playing against this deck, it's essential to keep in mind that they usually have main deck Blood Moon, so make sure to fetch basic lands when you can. Rakdos Undying is one of the most potent Blood Moon decks in the format, as it can use Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer to cast it as early as turn two, and it can pitch Blood Moon to Fury or Seasoned Pyromancer in matchups where it's not effective.

Jeskai Breach, with a 7.5% share of the record-weighted metagame, is slowly evolving into an Izzet Murktide deck that utilizes Underworld Breach instead of Murktide Regent. While some players still cling to the traditional Grinding Station combo, the archetype is branching out in various directions. Some players are experimenting with Temur builds that incorporate Wrenn and Six instead of Teferi, Time Raveler, while others have dropped the combo angle altogether.

Indeed, the aggregate list no longer includes cards like Grinding Station; Mox Amber; Emry, Lurker of the Loch; or Urza's Saga. Instead, it relies on an assortment of fair cards, such as Dragon's Rage Channeler, Spell Pierce, Lightning Bolt, Consider, and Spirebluff Canal. In these builds, Underworld Breach functions as a value card, allowing players to recast cards like Mishra's Bauble or Lightning Bolt multiple times while Dragon's Rage Channeler helps to fuel the escape cost.

When playing against this deck, it's important to remember not to sideboard in too many anti-enchantment or anti-graveyard cards. Cards like Force of Vigor or Unlicensed Hearse won't be useful if your opponent is attacking you with creatures like Ragavan or Ledger Shredder and they don't even have Grinding Station; Emry, Lurker of the Loch; or Urza's Saga in their deck.

Rhinos, with a 6.4% share of the winner's metagame, has a straightforward game plan: cast Shardless Agent or Violent Outburst on turn three to cascade into Crashing Footfalls, unleashing a horde of 4/4 Rhinos to quickly overpower your opponent. Despite the cascade restriction, the deck contains a surprising amount of cheap interaction, such as Fire // Ice, Force of Negation, Dead // Gone, and Fury. Recently, most successful versions of the deck have been straight-up Temur versions with access to Become Immense and Blood Moon, such as the list used by Stefan Steiner to win the Grand Open Qualifier at LMS Trieste. However, versions that splash for Leyline Binding and Ardent Plea are not far behind.

In terms of matchups, Rhinos fares well against Rakdos Undying and Yawgmoth, but struggles against Hammer Time and Living End. Cards that prevent you from casting or resolving Crashing Footfalls (such as Teferi, Time Raveler; Chalice of the Void; Drannith Magistrate; or Lavinia, Azorius Renegade) can also pose a challenge. Flusterstorm and Engineered Explosives are additional answers that you will often face after sideboard.

Despite these challenges, Rhinos remains a powerful deck, with a consistent and proactive game plan in every matchup. This makes it an excellent deck choice for newcomers to the format. If you're considering picking up the deck, don't be deterred by the possibility of an opposing Ragavan revealing Crashing Footfalls. It cannot be cast due to its lack of a mana cost, and it cannot be suspended because it's not in their hand. Another nifty interaction to keep in mind for versions with the white splash can come up when your opponent casts Leyline Binding and targets your Rhino token. If you respond with your own Binding and exile theirs, then your token will never get exiled and will stay on the battlefield.

Yawgmoth, with a 4.0% share of the record-weighted metagame, combines undying creatures and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to generate card advantage and achieve infinite combos. With four copies of Chord of Calling and three Eldritch Evolution, players can consistently put their namesake card onto the battlefield. The deck has a good matchup against Hammer Time, whose tiny creatures are easy prey for Yawgmoth, Thran Physician's activated ability. However, it struggles against Fury, which is commonly seen in Rakdos Undying and Rhinos.

When playing against Yawgmoth, it's important to be aware of its potential for infinite loops. One such loop can be achieved with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and two undying creatures, one with a +1/+1 counter and another without. When Yawgmoth sacrifices the counterless creature, it returns with a +1/+1 counter. The other receives a -1/-1 counter, which cancels out against its +1/+1 counter. This can be repeated, and if the loop involves Geralf's Messenger or Blood Artist, then it can win the game on the spot. Keep an eye out for these game-winning loops and try to disrupt them as soon as possible.

Amulet Titan, with a 4.0% share of the winner's metagame, is an intricate ramp deck that exploits the synergy between Amulet of Vigor and bounce lands like Simic Growth Chamber to power out Primeval Titan. After you resolve Primal Titan, there are a variety of ways to seal the game.

With Amulet of Vigor in play, Primeval Titan can grab Slayers' Stronghold and Boros Garrison and attack right away. If Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is on the battlefield, you can fetch Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and burn your opponent to a crisp. Even if the opponent has a spot removal spell, the deck can still have a way out by picking up Tolaria West with Simic Growth Chamber, transmuting it into Summoner's Pact, and grabbing another Primeval Titan. Mastering this deck requires a deep understanding of the various lines of play available, making it a challenging but ultimately rewarding endeavor.

Amulet Titan has a good matchup against decks low on interaction, such as Hammer Time and Burn, but it struggles against Blood Moon decks like Rakdos Undying. When playing against Amulet Titan, remember that Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle checks on both trigger and resolution. This means that if you can reduce the number of other Mountains to less than five in response, for example by destroying Dryad of the Ilysian Grove, no damage will be dealt.

Four-Color Omnath, with a 3.7% share of the record-weighted metagame, uses the namesake card Omnath, Locus of Creation in conjunction with fetch lands to trigger it multiple times per turn. Since the ban of Yorion, Sky Nomad, Four-Color Omnath players have been trying various approaches. Most recently, the prominent build uses Risen Reef and Ephemerate and starts the game with Kaheera, the Orphanguard in the companion zone. All of these cards synergize well with Solitude and Fury. However, you may also encounter tribal versions with even more Elementals, control versions with Counterspell, Expressive Iteration, and/or Lightning Bolt, or alternative builds with Keruga, the Macrosage. The archetype is highly customizable.

When playing against this deck, remember that mana from Cavern of Souls makes Elementals uncounterable. It's still legal to target their Elementals with Counterspell, but it won't do you much good. If they control Cavern of Souls, hold your countermagic for their noncreature spells instead.

Living End, with a 3.2% share of the record-weighted metagame, is a combo deck that aims to cycle several creatures and then cascade into Living End, wiping all creatures from the battlefield while returning all the cyclers. The deck has Violent Outburst and Shardless Agent as guaranteed cascade cards, effectively giving the deck eight one-card combo pieces, along with numerous other cyclers to ensure consistency in drawing them.

Living End excels against creature-based decks with little interaction, such as Hammer Time and Rhinos. However, it has a lot of respect in the metagame as many decks have the tools to interact with it. Despite its ability to fight back with Grief and Force of Negation, Living End is vulnerable to Teferi, Time Raveler, Chalice of the Void, and Flusterstorm. Additionally, it is susceptible to graveyard hate cards such as Unlicensed Hearse, Dauthi Voidwalker, Leyline of the Void, and Endurance, making decks like Rakdos Undying particularly challenging to beat.

When playing against Living End, remember that sometimes your creatures are better dead than alive. Destroying or sacrificing your own creatures in response to Living End is often a good course of action.

Azorius Control, with a 3.1% share of the record-weighted metagame, includes all the hallmarks of a traditional control deck: spot removal, countermagic, card draw, sweepers, and planeswalkers. Recently, the most prominent versions have incorporated Leyline Binding, which with the help of Zagoth Triome and Raugrin Triome becomes a one-mana removal spell. These Triomes also give a boost to Prismatic Ending, making them an integral part of the deck's strategy. You may also come across Four-Color Control decks that incorporate Wrenn and Six, which play out similarly to Azorius Control.

When playing against Azorius Control, always be mindful of sweepers and countermagic. Avoid overextending your threats into Supreme Verdict, and keep in mind that Archmage's Charm can both counter and steal your cards.

Burn, with a 2.9% share of the winner's metagame, embodies the philosophy of fire. The goal is to unleash a flurry of damage as quickly as possible, with an ideal opening hand featuring a turn one Goblin Guide, turn two double Lava Spike, and turn three triple Lightning Bolt for a staggering 21 damage. The deck has been a staple of the Modern format since its inception, preying on decks with painful fetch-shock mana bases.

However, four-color or five-color decks have been on the decline folloing the ban of Yorion, Sky Nomad, and Burn struggles against Hammer Time and Amulet Titan. While Burn remains an easy deck to pick up and play, other decks such as Rhinos and Domain Zoo are similarly forgiving, and they offer better positioning in the current metagame. For this reason, I would recommend Rhinos or Domain Zoo over Burn for new or returning Modern players.

When playing against Burn, be mindful of your life total. Think twice before pay 2 life for shock lands, consider exiling one of your own creatures with Solitude to bolster your life total, and grab Shadowspear with Urza's Saga. Another thing to keep in mind is the timing of your fetch lands against Goblin Guide. If you want to maximize the probability to draw a spell in your next draw step, then fetch in response to the trigger. If you need lands, then wait until end of turn instead. To see why, ignore the marginal impact of deck thinning and imagine the four ways in which the top two cards of your opponent's library can be ordered: land-land, land-spell, spell-land, and spell-spell. Comparing the difference for each option reveals the best fetch land timing against Goblin Guide.

Domain Zoo, with a 2.6% share of the winner's metagame, is an aggressive deck that uses Triomes to power up Territorial Kavu, Scion of Draco, and Nishoba Brawler. These creatures can attack for four or five early on, turn Stubborn Denial into a hard counter, and will quickly put your opponent within Tribal Flames range. While Domain Zoo can be vulnerable to Blood Moon decks like Rakdos Undying, it has strong matchups against many other top-tier decks. I believe it's well-positioned in the current metagame, making it an excellent deck choice for the Modern format.

When playing against Domain Zoo, it can be useful to know that Dress Down and Merfolk Trickster can effectively kill Territorial Kavu by removing the ability that defines its power and toughness, turning it into a 0/0.

Mono-Green Tron, with a 1.9% share of the record-weighted metagame, is a ramp deck centered around the "Urzatron"–Urza's Mine, Urza's Power Plant, and Urza's Tower. This powerful trio of lands, first dubbed the "Urzatron" in the 90s as a reference to the Voltron TV series in which robots combine to become stronger, allows for the early casting of powerful cards like Karn Liberated as early as turn three.

On the following turn, Mono-Green Tron can further bolster its strategy with Cityscape Leveler, whose ability to dodge Counterspells has made it a popular choice over Ugin, the Spirit Dragon. Other Brothers' War additions to the deck include Haywire Mite and The Stone Brain in the sideboard, which have strengthened the role of Karn, the Great Creator. Despite these improvements, Tron remains a fringe deck and its tabletop tournament results have been lackluster. It's like a super robot that can't seem to gain traction.

Merfolk, with an 1.8% share of the winner's metagame, is an archetype that has been around since the inception of the game. The original Lord of Atlantis dates all the way back to Alpha, and newer versions like Dominaria United's Vodalian Hexcatcher provide more interaction while keeping the overall theme of the deck intact.

When playing against Merfolk, be aware of the unexpected interactions that Aether Vial can provide. For example, Merfolk Trickster can remove the abilities granted by cards like Undying Malice or Feign Death. Vodalian Hexcatcher may also counter your Indomitable Creativity, and Harbinger of the Tides can bounce your attacker after sideboarding. It's like a school of fish darting and weaving through your defenses, always ready to strike.

Looking Ahead

This concludes my coverage of the top 15 deck archetypes in Modern, but there are many other strategies that are also competitive viable, and the metagame continues to evolve. Perhaps even this weekend, as Modern will be featured at the 8-player Magic Online Champions Showcase. In this event, top competitors from the last Magic Online season will battle for their share of a $70,000 prize pool and two World Championship invitations. Live coverage will start at 10 a.m. PT on January 21 at twitch.tv/magic.

If you're eager to start your own competitive Magic journey on tabletop, you can find Regional Championship Qualifiers (RCQs) near you via the Store & Event Locator or your regional organizer's website. RCQs can take place in Modern, Pioneer, Standard, or Limited and, through April 3 they award qualifications for the third cycle of Regional Championships. These major events will be held in May, June, or July (depending on your region) and will feed into the corresponding third Pro Tour of the season, which will be held at MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28-30.

However, all of that is in the future. In less than 30 days, on February 17-19, the first tabletop Pro Tour in years will return at MagicCon: Philadelphia. Pro Tours are high-prestige tournaments that invite the best Magic players from all regions to compete for World Championship invites, an awesome first-place trophy, and $500K in prizes. The formats in Philadelphia will be Phyrexia: All Will Be One draft and Pioneer and it's sure to be an exciting competition. I can't wait to see the return of tabletop Pro Tour!

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