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Metagame Mentor: How Leyline of the Guildpact Transformed Modern

March 28, 2024
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. After the recent ban of Violent Outburst in Modern, the big question was how the format would develop, so today's article will reveal the shape of the post-ban metagame.

Modern now features fewer cascade decks, while Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco are proliferating. After analyzing these Modern developments, I'll go back in time to examine the winning deck from the 1995 Magic World Championship, adding insights into the history of Magic formats and deck construction.

The Modern Metagame Minus Violent Outburst

Modern is a nonrotating 60-card format that allows expansion sets, core sets, and straight-to-Modern sets from Eight Edition forward, with the exception of cards on the banned list. With over 20 years of card history, Modern features intricate card interactions and a vast array of viable strategies. On March 11, it was shaken up by the ban of Violent Outburst.

To grasp the state of post-ban Modern, I analyzed all published Magic Online decklists from March 12 through March 25, in addition to decklists from the 2024 Hunter Burton Memorial Open and the Grand Open Qualifier Prague. These enormous tabletop events awarded numerous Regional Championship invites.

The Grand Open Qualifier in Prague drew 563 competitors, awarding a prestigious trophy and thousands of dollars in prizes to the winner. After previously coming close with a Top 4 finish at the Grand Open Qualifier Barcelona in December 2023, Raul Avoscan established himself as one of the best Amulet Titan players in Europe, now with 2 cheeky Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines in his sideboard. In the quarterfinals, Raul Avoscan even defeated Pro Tour Eldritch Moon champion Lukas Blohon, who came out of the woodwork and dominated the Swiss rounds in his hometown, so the competition at the event was fierce.

For each Modern decklist in my data set, I assigned an archetype label and awarded a number of points equal to its rectified number of net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses if positive and zero otherwise). Each archetype's share of total rectified net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame. In the following table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing decklist close to the aggregate of that archetype. Note that I've color-separated the archetype previously grouped as "Goryo's Blink," showing that Esper Goryo's is the most prominent build.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Golgari Yawgmoth 8.9%
2. Domain Zoo 7.8%
3. Esper Goryo's 7.5% ↑↑
4. Mono-Green Tron 7.1% ↑↑
5. Amulet Titan 7.0%
6. Rakdos Grief 5.8%
7. Izzet Murktide 4.6%
8. Five-Color Creativity 4.4%
9. Domain Murktide 4.0% ↑↑
10. Azorius Control 3.5%
11. Hardened Scales 2.8%
12. Four-Color Omnath 2.7%
13. Domain Rhinos 2.7% ↓↓
14. Dimir Mill 2.4%
15. Mono-Black Coffers 2.2%
16. Hammer Time 2.0%
17. 8-Rack 1.9%
18. Merfolk 1.4%
19. Jund Reanimator 1.3%
20. Four-Color Goryo's 1.2%
21. Asmo Food 1.1%
22. Living End 0.9% ↓↓
23. Other 16.8%

The "Other" category included such deck archetypes as Boros Burn, Mono-Black Grief, Temur Prowess, Domain Grief, Domain Goryo's, Orzhov Grief, Urza ThopterSword, Jeskai Breach, Mono-Blue Tron, Temur Murktide, Naya Scapeshift, Rakdos Reanimator, Grixis Shadow, Izzet Wizards, Twiddle Breach, Mono-White Martyr, Domain Omnath, Bring to Light, Asmo Reanimator, Gruul Valakut, Dimir Shadow, Domain Enchantress, Infect, Izzet Breach, Bant Rhinos, Domain Valakut, and more.

Compared to the metagame at the last six Regional Championships, which were held before the ban of Violent Outburst, the number of cascade decks has plummeted, and diversity was the name of the game. The Top 8 of the 2024 Hunter Burton Memorial Open featured eight different archetypes, and the same was true for the Grand Open Qualifier in Prague. In Modern, anything can win in the hands of an experienced pilot.

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Over the past two weeks, the most important development was the proliferation of Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco. We already saw Domain Zoo and Domain Rhinos at the Regional Championships, but more and more archetypes are adopting this Domain package. I'll take a closer look at emerging builds in the remainder of this article.

Simultaneously, the metagame is reacting. Pick Your Poison has soared in popularity as a sideboard card against the Domain package, and Esper Goryo's and Mono-Green Tron ticked up because their game plans are well-positioned against a two-mana 4/4 with vigilance, hexproof, lifelink, first strike, and trample. Atraxa, Grand Unifier or Griselbrand will still go over the top, and cards like All is Dust and Sundering Titan get even better when there's a Leyline of the Guildpact on the other side of the table.

The New Face of Crashing Footfalls

After the ban of Violent Outburst, many Rhinos players embraced Ardent Plea as a replacement. Since Ardent Plea can boost your attackers and can be pitched to Force of Negation and Subtlety, it's not a strict downgrade to Violent Outburst, and the deck remains competitive. However, without the ability to cascade into a payoff card at instant speed, the strategy did drop in popularity.

The winner's metagame featured 0.2% Bant Rhinos and 2.7% Domain Rhinos, which is a far cry from its dominance at the Regional Championships. The version with Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco has become the go-to build, and Hannes Mauch piloted the above-shown list to a 10-4-1 record at the Grand Open Qualifier in Prague, earning a Regional Championship invitation. Note that due to the fading of Living End, there is no longer a need to include Drannith Magistrate in the sideboard.

The New Face of Living End

Living End plummeted to a 0.9% share of the winner's metagame, and there was no clear consensus on how to best construct it after the ban. Some players swapped out Violent Outburst for Ardent Plea. Others tried Bloodbraid Marauder. But the most successful list, which Meninoney took to 6th-place finish at a Modern Challenge, was based around Press the Enemy.

When you have Press the Enemy and Living End in hand, you can bounce an opposing spell or nonland permanent and cast Living End for free. This two-card combination effectively creates a four-mana Violent Outburst, unlocking an instant-speed Living End even after the ban. And due to the abundant array of cyclers, this two-card combination can be assembled with startling consistency. Don't count out Living End just yet!

Leyline of the Guildpact in Domain Murktide

Although Domain Zoo is well established in Modern, numerous other archetypes have also started to slot in the rainbow package. The most prominent new approach, with a 4.0% share of the winner's metagame, was Domain Murktide. In my definition, this deck uses the shell of Leyline of the Guildpact, Scion of Draco, and Leyline Binding alongside at least 9 combined copies of Counterspell, Expressive Iteration, Murktide Regent, and Preordain. Some players are calling this sort of deck Blue Zoo, which is a reasonable name as well, especially considering that the card Murktide Regent is not included in every single list.

With or without the titular card, the playstyle of this formidable new archetype features the best elements from both Domain Zoo and Izzet Murktide. Without Wild Nacatl or Tribal Flames, it is less aggressive than Domain Zoo, but the extra card draw spells provide durability. And without Unholy Heat or Dragon's Rage Channeler, it does not exploit the graveyard as much as Izzet Murktide, but the domain package bestows power. Philipp Wodenitscharow carried the above-shown list to an 11-4 finish at the Grand Open Qualifier in Prague this past weekend, good for a Regional Championship invitation.

Leyline of the Guildpact in Domain Goryo's

The domain package is arguably the best thing you can be doing in Modern right now, and it goes beyond just Rhinos, Zoo, and Murktide. It can potentially fit everywhere. Leyline of the Guildpact supercharges Scion of Draco, can be exiled to any pitch spell, and painlessly fixes your mana. Rather than starting the game at effectively 16 life, Leyline of the Guildpact obviates the need to sacrifice fetch lands to find untapped shock lands, allowing you to truly begin at 20 life.

Domain Goryo's showcases the possibilities. Although it was only 0.6% of the winner's metagame, Stainerson took this list to a 4-1 finish in a Modern Last Chance event, proving that disparate strategies can be smushed together into a viable Modern deck. However, I would only recommend picking up a multifaceted deck like this if you have a solid fundamental understanding of sideboarding. With multiple angles of attack, you need to know which elements to preserve, which ones to de-emphasize, what to expect from your opponent's sideboard swaps, and how to defend against that. This requires some experience, but it's a sweet option for competitive Magic veterans.

Leyline of the Guildpact in Domain Grief

Another option, also at 0.6% of the winner's metagame, is to combine the best of Domain Zoo and Rakdos Grief into a single deck. After all, you can pitch Leyline of the Guildpact to cast Grief! With the list shown above, Tomasz Mocydlarz made the Top 8 of the Grand Open Qualifier in Prague. He was ready for the mirror match with main deck Hit // Run, which can force an opponent to sacrifice Scion of Draco while taking 12 damage in the process. Although Mocydlarz was the only player at this 563-player tournament to include Hit // Run in his main deck, it's a sweet piece of tech that deserves to see more play. It's quite well-positioned in the current Modern metagame.

Besides the various Domain decks that I've highlighted thus far, smaller numbers of players have also been experimenting with Domain Omnath, Domain Enchantress, Domain Valakut, Domain Tron, Domain Yawgmoth, Domain Hammer, and so on. It's not clear if any of those brews will stand up to competitive scrutiny, but the possibilities are nearly endless. All in all, nearly one-fifth of the field over the past two weeks exploited Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco. However, none of those players advanced to the semifinals at either the 2024 Hunter Burton Memorial Open or the Grand Open Qualifier Prague, showing that they are not the end-all, and the metagame is already adapting. The aforementioned Hit // Run is a spicy answer, and a green sorcery is stealing the show.

Peak Popularity For Pick Your Poison

Chaz Alexander, who won the Hunter Burton Memorial Open with Jund Reanimator, was one of the many players who added Pick Your Poison to their Modern sideboard. The one-mana modal sorcery is an efficient answer to Leyline of the Guildpact or Scion of Draco, sidestepping hexproof. Moreover, it's almost never dead, as it has additional utility against Leyline Binding, Urza's Saga, Murktide Regent, The One Ring, and so on. Across all Modern decks in my dataset, Pick Your Poison was not just the most-played sideboard card—based on the sum of copies from both main decks and sideboards, it was the most-played non-land card overall!

As you might expect, Pick Your Poison is found in the sideboard of green decks like Golgari Yawgmoth, Domain Zoo, and Mono-Green Tron. It's also regularly splashed in Rakdos Grief or Izzet Murktide nowadays, as a single Breeding Pool or Overgrown Tomb is all you need to unlock it. Some of these lists even run one or two copies in the main deck! Across the board, nearly 50% of the field included at least one copy of Pick Your Poison in their main deck or sideboard, eclipsing other format staples.

Taking the above Jund Reanimator list as an example once more, Turn the Earth is also becoming more popular as a sideboard card. It's one of the best answers to Goryo's Vengeance because it prevents them from reanimating their legendary creatures, and flashback makes it resilient to Thoughtseize and Grief. So while you're adding Pick Your Poison to your sideboard for the Leyline-Scion metagame, consider one or two Turn the Earth as well for the emerging Goryo's Vengeance decks.

In conclusion, Modern is brimming with diversity and innovation right now. The cascade strategies have diminished, while Scion of Draco has emerged as one of the most prominent threats to play or defeat. To see more novel takes on the Modern metagame, check out the MTGO Masters series, in which sixteen top Magic celebrities square off in a 12-week tournament while adding their commentary to the broadcast. Catch all the action every Wednesday at 1 p.m. PT (21:00 UTC) on!

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

Across Magic's rich history, the World Championship has always been the crown jewel oforganized play, and the upcoming 30th edition is one to celebrate. As we count down until MagicWorld Championship 30 starts at MagicCon: Las Vegas on October 25, 2024, we'll take a look at a great deck from a past World Championship each week. Last week, we reviewed the 1994 World Championship; this week, our stroll down memory lane takes us to 1995.

The 1995 Magic World Championship, based on the information from the old Duelist magazines, was held in Seattle on August 5–7, and it was the first World Championship that was invite-only. Featuring 71 competitors from 19 different countries, as Corbin Hosler will expound in tomorrow's The Week That Was, it marked Magic as a global phenomenon. It was also the first World Championship that used Swiss rounds and multiple formats: Day 1 was five rounds of Sealed Deck, Day 2 was five rounds of Type II, and Day 3 used the same Type II decks for a single-elimination Top 8 playoff.

Type II, which would later become known as Standard, was newly introduced in 1995 as a format that would only allow cards from the last several sets. It was developed with two ideas in mind: "First, the Magic environment should be ever-changing; seeing new cards appear and disappear from time to time... Second, by restricting the environment to only the most recent available cards, we hope to accommodate newer Magic players" (Duelist #4, p. 57). Inheriting banned and restricted lists from Type I, which would later become known as Vintage, Type II quickly became "the most popular tournament style" (Duelist #5, p. 64). At the time of the 1995 World Championship, it allowed cards from Fourth Edition, Fallen Empires, Ice Age, and Chronicles.

Using cards from these sets, Alexander Blumke from Switzerland emerged victorious with a strategy described as a "black/white/blue card denial deck" or a "black and white discard deck" (Duelist #7, p. 51–52). Like today, the most informative way to name a deck remains a point of contention. My approach is generally to include a color into a deck name if and only if there are at least two realistically-castable spells of that color in the main deck.

366 Hymn to Tourach

The deck that won the 1995 World Championship focused on a coherent discard theme. The dream start involved Dark Ritual to power out Hypnotic Spector on turn one, followed by Hymn to Tourach or Mind Twist to further deprive the opponent of further resources (Hymn to Tourach would later be restricted in Type II, and Mind Twist would later be banned in Type II). After whittling away the opponent's hand, The Rack would then deal a lot of damage over time.

Similar strategies are still finding success nearly 30 years later: Thoughtseize is the one of the most-played card in Modern, and 1.9% of the winner's metagame over the past few weeks used a deck based around The Rack.

Balance Zuran Orb

Another powerful combination in Blumke's deck was iconic for the time: Balance and Zuran Orb. You could float mana, cash in all of your lands to gain life, and cast Balance to reset your opponent's board. Zuran Orb also allowed you to enable Land Tax at will, keeping you flush with mana while weeding unnecessary lands out of your deck. Both Land Tax and Zuran Orb would later be restricted in Type II.

574723 Underground River

Blumke's deck had an adequate number of 25 lands. Early 1994 guidelines may have stated that "roughly a third of your total cards should be land" (Duelist #2, p. 16) but this had quickly progressed to a recommended land ratio of "at least forty percent" (Duelist #6, p. 44) by the time Blumke built his deck. This corresponds to 16 lands in a 40-card deck, 24 lands in a 60-card deck, or 40 lands in a 99-card deck, which remain suitable numbers today.

However, the number of colored sources was suspect: Four blue sources for Power Sink or six white sources for a large interactive suite is nowhere close to sufficient. By today's standards, doubling the number of white sources to twelve would be seen as more reasonable. However, since enemy-color pain lands like Caves of Koilos would not be introduced until the release of Apocalypse in 2001, Blumke did the best he could with the card pool available at the time. From a historical perspective, today's Constructed players are spoiled for choice when selecting lands for their decks.

Disenchant 598977

Blumke's list used an eyebrow-raising 63 cards, but that number was defensible. Deck builders at the time did understand that "for most decks, the proper deck size is the minimum allowable: sixty cards" (Duelist #6, p. 28) because "this will maximize your chances of drawing the cards that you want." Yet there was one exception, and it was applicable here: "when you have a legitimate chance of drawing more than sixty cards".

Indeed, Type II games in 1995 could take a while, as the answers outclassed the threats. Hence, decking the opponent was a legitimate path to victory. For example, Blumke's opponent in the finals, Marc Hernandez, used a creatureless 62-card deck with Armageddon and Winter Orb. This mana-denial strategy would eventually fill the opponent's hand with Howling Mine and win the game with Black Vise. However, if Black Vise was answered by Disenchant and/or Zuran Orb, then such a matchup could easily come down to whoever ran out of cards first.

Hypnotic Specter The Rack

To me, the most puzzling part of Blumke's decklist is that there are only three copies of Hypnotic Specter and The Rack. These key cards were seemingly at the heart of his strategy and drawing multiples would normally be useful. So for consistency purposes, running the full four copies would seem superior. In fact, the Modern equivalent is often called 8-Rack because, by adding Shrieking Affliction and/or Urza's Saga, you can effectively attain 8 copies of The Rack, increasing the likelihood of drawing your win condition. Then again, many such Modern decks have recently shaved down to only three copies of The Rack, so perhaps Blumke was ahead of his time.

Another possible explanation is that Blumke's deck was a last-minute audible, constructed on the morning of the Type II rounds: "I didn't have a deck when I got here, so I stayed up late the night before making one. Then the next morning, I realized that what I made would not win, so I changed it right before the competition" (Duelist Companion #13, p. 1). If you have switched decks at the last minute, then it's reassuring to know that you're in good company, and you'll recognize the difficulty of perfecting the numbers when you're under a time scramble. More importantly for Blumke, the strategy he engineered came through for him when the pressure was on.

All in all, the 1995 World Championship cemented Magic as a international phenomenon, with the potential for a variety of formats to shine. This year's World Championship will certainly be different—for example, Swiss points are now given out for each match rather than for each game—but Magic World Championship 30 will surely be just as awesome. Save the date: October 25, 2024!

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