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Metagame Mentor: Standard and Modern Ban Updates

October 13, 2022
Frank Karsten

Hello and welcome back to Metagame Mentor, the weekly column in which I highlight the decks to beat and the latest Constructed developments on the path to the Pro Tour. Today, as an independent writer who has no influence on ban lists, I'll analyze the impact of the October 10 Banned and Restricted announcement. What will Standard look like without The Meathook Massacre, and what will Modern look like without Yorion, Sky Nomad?

534886 Yorion, Sky Nomad

Last Weekend's Biggest Events

But as always in this article series, first I will start by summarizing last weekend's biggest events across all formats.

With yet another MOCS victory, Nathan Steuer cemented himself as the end boss of Magic Online. Piloting Izzet Phoenix in Pioneer, he defeated Kiran "Cherryxman" Dhokia's Green Devotion in the finals. Decklists have been published, and both players earned an invitation to the 2023 World Championship.

As Nathan Steuer explained to Corbin Hosler last week: "I have a rivalry with buddy Sam Rolph, who just won the Arena Championship and qualified for [the World Championship], so my goal is to shut him up ... and join him there." Success!

Over at SCG CON Dallas, the 314-player Modern main event was won by Tommy Harding, playing Indomitable Creativity. In the finals, in one of the last-ever Modern matches involving Yorion, Sky Nomad, he defeated Nathaniel Monsees' Four-Color Omnath.

Standard Without The Meathook Massacre

The last time I provided an in-depth Standard metagame roundup was right after the release of Dominaria United. Back then, black midrange decks were dominant, and this hasn't really changed. Using similar methodology, now based on Magic Online events and large MTG Melee events over the past three weeks, the following picture emerges for best-of-three Standard right before the ban.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. The Meathook Massacre decks 77.3%
2. Jeskai Control 2.6%
2. Boros Reanimator 2.6%
2. Izzet Control 2.6%
5. Naya Enchantments 2.4%
6. Mono-White Midrange 2.0%
7. Domain Control 1.7%
8. Mono-Blue Tempo 1.5%
9. Selesnya Enchantments 1.1%
10. Naya Humans 0.9%
11. Azorius Control 0.7%
12. Jund Midrange 0.6%
12. Rakdos Midrange 0.6%
12. Bant Festival 0.6%
12. Gruul Modified 0.6%
12. Mono-Red Aggro 0.6%
12. Azorius Midrange 0.6%
12. Azorius Flash 0.6%
20. Rakdos Aggro 0.4%
20. Bant Enchantments 0.4%

Well over three-quarters of the winner's metagame had The Meathook Massacre main deck and/or sideboard. There were a few Jund Midrange and Rakdos Midrange decks without it, so they show up separately in the metagame table, but almost every black deck included the legendary enchantment.

The Meathook Massacre

The set of The Meathook Massacre decks was largely comprised of 20.1% Grixis Midrange, 18.4% Esper Midrange, 15.1% Rakdos Sacrifice, 9.8% Jund Midrange, 8.5% Mono-Black Midrange, 2.6% Esper Legends, and 2.0% Rakdos Midrange.

Out of these, Mono-Black Midrange and Rakdos Sacrifice are hit the hardest. They ran 2.8 main deck copies of The Meathook Massacre on average, the most of all black midrange decks. For Rakdos Sacrifice, the death trigger supported their Oni-Cult Anvil engine. For Mono-Black Midrange, card availability is limited to a single color. For both, it may be difficult to find a replacement.

Grixis Midrange, Jund Midrange, and Rakdos Midrange ran approximately 1.9 main deck copies of The Meathook Massacre on average. The sweeper complemented their game plans, but it wasn't essential or even a universal inclusion. As I already mentioned, there were successful Jund Midrange and Rakdos Midrange decks without the legendary enchantment, so The Meathook Massacre is replaceable.

The black midrange archetypes that are affected the least are Esper Midrange, which ran 1.3 main deck copies of The Meathook Massacre on average, and Esper Legends, which ran only 0.6. The Meathook Massacre is not a vital card for the Esper shard because there are loads of excellent alternative high-powered cards in these colors. As a result, I expect that many black midrange players will flock to Esper variations in the coming weeks.

Esper Decks Without The Meathook Massacre

Although the metagame gets better balanced and new angles open up, I believe that the ban of The Meathook Massacre is not earth-shattering. It won't change that much. I'd anticipate that black midrange decks will remain dominant in post-ban Standard.

Out of the black midrange decks, I expect that Esper will take the role as the "Deck To Beat", for two reasons. First, Esper players ran the lowest main deck number of The Meathook Massacre on average, so they will miss it the least. Second, Wedding Announcement gets stronger when opponents no longer have The Meathook Massacre to conveniently answer multiple 1/1 tokens.

There are two main ways to build Esper.

This is the aggregate Esper Midrange deck over the past three weeks, with two main deck copies of The Meathook Massacre replaced by the second Ao, the Dawn Sky and the first Destroy Evil. In the sideboard, I added a Path of Peril and a Malicious Malfunction. They provide an effect akin to The Meathook Massacre against aggro decks.

Esper Midrange retains powerful cards, efficient sideboard options, and an excellent mana curve. It looks perfectly serviceable, even without The Meathook Massacre.

This list is identical to the one that Magic Online player bless_von took to a 5th place at a Standard Challenge on October 8, except with two sideboard copies of The Meathook Massacre replaced by Path of Peril and Malicious Malfunction. Which one of the two will be the best will depend on how the metagame evolves. Path of Peril is more flexible against a wide field, but Malicious Malfunction is superior against cards like Tenacious Underdog; Squee, Dubious Monarch; Phoenix Chick; and Guardian of New Benalia.

What I like about Esper Legends is how it exploits Plaza of Heroes as both a mana fixer and a utility land. The legend theme is further supported by Ratadrabik of Urborg. The Meathook Massacre was not necessary in the main deck, whereas the combination of powerful creatures and efficient removal spells makes for a deck that has game against everything.

Standard Decks That Get Better

The main benefactors of The Meathook Massacre's ban are aggressive creature decks. They were suppressed by the life-gaining sweeper effect, which they now no longer have to fear. Let me present three decks that I believe will get better in post-ban Standard.

This deck, which placed 11th at the September 24 Standard Challenge, aims to cast Rite of Harmony followed by Fable of the Mirror-Breaker, Teachings of the Kirin, or Wedding Announcement. All Sagas immediately create a 1/1 token, which means that Rite of Harmony will draw two cards at least.

Since many cards in the deck create small creature tokens, it has always struggled against The Meathook Massacre. With fewer sweepers to worry about, I reckon that Naya Enchantments will have its opportunity to shine.

Naya Humans, which placed 16th at the September 24 Standard Challenge, is fueled by Secluded Courtyard; Katilda, Dawnhart Prime; and an aggressive curve of Human creatures. The red splash is merely for Halana and Alena, Partners, but that's easy to fit into the mana base.

Cards like Intrepid Adversary and Kind Darien XLVII are at their best when you control a lot of creatures, so Naya Humans would often get wrecked by The Meathook Massacre. Now that it's banned, Naya Humans gets better positioned in the metagame.

Mono-White Aggro shares a lot of cards with Naya Humans, and it'll get better too. Guardian of New Benalia in particular gets better without The Meathook Massacre as a clean answer.

This list, which placed 25th at the September 24 Standard Challenge, features the hasty creatures and burn spells that one might expect in Mono-Red Aggro. It'll also get better positioned after The Meathook Massacre's ban.

Since most of the red two-mana creatures have 1 toughness, The Meathook Massacre for X=1 was already a nightmare for Mono-Red Aggro. Even worse, the stationary life gain triggers would easily bring black midrange players out of burn range, making it nearly impossible to close out the game with Lightning Strike and Play with Fire. With the legendary enchantment gone, Mono-Red Aggro's chances will improve.

Modern Without Yorion

The last time I provided an in-depth Modern metagame roundup was two weeks ago. Back then, I mainly focused on the impact of Leyline Binding. In the weeks since, there have been a few fluctuations and some good results by Yawgmoth players, but the metagame as a whole has not changed much. Using similar methodology, now based on Magic Online events and MTG Melee events over the past three weeks, the Modern metagame right before the ban is as follows.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Indomitable Creativity 11.4%
2. Yorion, Sky Nomad decks 9.7%
3. Hammer Time 8.9%
4. Izzet Murktide 7.6%
5. Rakdos Undying 5.7%
6. Yawgmoth 5.2%
7. Burn 4.9%
8. Amulet Titan 4.7%
9. Jeskai Breach 4.6%
10. Living End 4.3%
11. Azorius Control 4.3%
12. Rhinos 2.8%
13. Merfolk 2.3%
14. Temur Scapeshift 1.8%
15. Domain Zoo 1.7%
16. Goblins 1.4%
17. Dredge 1.4%
18. Mono-Green Tron 1.3%
19. Grixis Shadow 1.3%
20. Rakdos Midrange 1.3%
21. Affinity 1.2%
22. Hardened Scales 1.0%
23. Eldrazi Tron 1.0%
24. Jund Midrange 0.7%
25. Rakdos Shadow 0.7%
26. Mill 0.6%
27. Glimpse of Tomorrow 0.5%
28. Bring to Light Scapeshift 0.5%
29. Gruul Breach 0.5%
Other 6.9%

Yorion, Sky Nomad

Fueled by Leyline Binding, five-color Indomitable Creativity decks have continued their onward march, and the archetype has even overtaken Hammer Time, the previous number one.

Less than ten percent of the winner's metagame had Yorion, Sky Nomad main deck and/or sideboard. Note that the 2.8% Rhinos in the table represent the versions without Yorion.

The set of decks using Yorion, Sky Nomad as their companion was largely comprised of 7.0% Four-Color Omnath, 1.5% Rhinos, 0.7% Bring to Light Scapeshift, and 0.3% Glimpse of Tomorrow.

For all of these archetypes, a 60-card variant exists, and a natural solution is to shave 20 cards. Since Yorion decks were not an enormous part of the field in the first place, I believe that the ban won't have a major effect on the Modern metagame.

Four-Color Decks Without Yorion

Let's take a look at how the most-played Yorion archetypes, Four-Color Omnath and Rhinos, might look like without the 80-card companion.

This decklist, which Magic Online player Kaijimmy took to a 24th-place finish in the October 9 Modern Challenge, features Omnath, Locus of Creation in a 60-card shell without Yorion, Sky Nomad. Instead, the companion is Kaheera, the Orphanguard, and the deck is based more around Elemental creatures. Risen Reef and Cavern of Souls provide additional payoffs for sticking to the tribe, and some might label it as "Elemental s" in a metagame breakdown.

The lack of Abundant Growth and Teferi, Time Raveler surprised me, but it makes sense when you no longer have access to Yorion. Blinking Abundant Growth was an easy way to get an extra card, and bouncing Yorion with Teferi gave a never-ending stream of card advantage in the late game. Without Yorion, these cards have gotten a bit less appealing. Perhaps they still deserve a slot—Omnath afficionados will investigate the best way to build the archetype in the coming weeks—but one thing is clear: You have to re-evaluate every card in the new context.

More controlling builds with Counterspell will be viable too, of course. There has always been a lot of variation across Four-Color Omnath builds, and I don't expect that to change.

Rhinos players will also move away from 80-card builds. The list shown above, which Magic Online player Kaijimmy took to a 6th-place finish in the October 1 Modern Challenge, is an example.

I am not sure why this 60-card list runs Scion of Draco, Gemstone Caverns, and Dead // Gone while the aggregate 80-card version doesn't. I would be more inclined to run a few Brazen Borrower, Ardent Plea, and/or additional fetch lands or shock duals instead. But regardless of these tweaks, 60-card Rhinos versions are competitively viable for sure.

Should You Run 60?

Although the sample Four-Color Omnath and Rhinos lists contain 60 cards, this need not be the optimal deck size. As I mathematically showed two weeks ago when comparing an 80-card Rhinos build to a 60-card Rhinos build, the larger deck has better mana. When building a four-color deck with Leyline Binding, you preferably want one of each key shock land and basic, plus a Triome or two. You then fill up the rest with fetch lands. Since larger decks have a higher ratio of fetch lands to shock lands, and fetch lands are the main drivers of mana consistency, larger decks will assemble the four required basic land types for a turn-two Leyline Binding more consistently.

When mana base considerations already incentivize you to add cards for this reason, it was typical to go up to 80 cards and get Yorion for free. The reason to go up to exactly 80 is now gone, but the rationale for a larger deck size is still there.

There are precedents to increasing your deck size to support fetch-land mana bases, set by some of the best players all-time. From the top of my head, I can think of three instances where Hall of Famers made a Grand Prix Top 8 with a larger-than-normal deck. A classic is Hall of Famer William "Huey" Jensen's Battle of Wits deck in the Top 8 of Grand Prix Milwaukee 2002. If you thought shuffling 80-card decks was tricky, how about a 244-card deck?

More relevant to my premise of land ratios, Hall of Famer Makihito Mihara made Top 8 at Grand Prix Kobe 2011 with a 64-card Scapeshift deck. It was the only way to have at least 7 Mountains for Scapeshift while retaining a sufficient ratio of blue-producing sources for Cryptic Command. Likewise, Hall of Famer Ben Rubin made Top 8 at Grand Prix Oakland 2016 with a 64-card special. His reasoning was that he needed more than 60 cards to fit in all the fetchable lands.

When moving to a post-Yorion world, we should learn from these examples. Don't get stuck in the mindset that you must run 60 cards. Even though a larger deck size means that you draw your best cards less often, it can improve your consistency of assembling domain. For some Leyline Binding decks, more than 60 cards may very well be optimal. Whether you run 60, 61, 62, 63, 64, 65, or 66 will depend on the details of your deck and mana base, and 60 will still be best for most decks. But don't be afraid to explore deck sizes slightly over 60.

Modern Decks That Get Better

Although I do not expect that Modern will look vastly different after the Yorion ban, I would like to highlight two archetypes that may get slightly better.

The card Yorion, Sky Nomad was at its best in grindy matchups that feature a lot of resource exchanges. Such matchups often came down to long games where every piece of cardboard matters, and then a card advantage engine as free eighth card is massive. Examples of such matchups include Izzet Murktide, Rakdos Undying, and Azorius Control. All of them will get slightly better as a result of the Yorion ban.

There's an additional reason red midrange decks may improve: Nowadays, both Izzet Murktide and Rakdos Undying run main deck Blood Moon, and Blood Moon may get even better if Four-Color Omnath players cut Abundant Growth.

The reason why I showcased Rakdos Undying over Izzet Murktide is that it's a black deck featuring multiple turn-one discard spells. It's easy to tear the opponent's hand apart with Thoughtseize and Grief, but beating that eighth card from the companion zone was tough. Now, that will no longer be a concern.

You know who hated 80-card decks the most? Mill players! Musical celebrations following the Yorion ban have already started. 🦀🦀🦀

By combining several Hedron Crab or Ruin Crab triggers with Archive Trap, Fractured Sanity, and/or Tasha's Hideous Laughter, you can easily deplete an entire library by turn 4...if they have 60 cards. If they have 20 more, then milling them out is far more difficult. It's like playing Burn where your opponent starts at 28 life. Now, it may be time for a comeback of Mill.

Looking Ahead

This weekend, October 15-16, there is the Magic Showdown in Warsaw, where both the Grand Open Qualifier and the Classic Qualifier feature the Pioneer format. There will be live streaming coverage on both days with an excellent team of casters.

Next weekend, October 22-23, there is the NRG Series Trial Weekend in Newark, OH, featuring a $10K Pioneer/Modern/Legacy team event and a $5K Modern event. Coverage of this event will also be broadcast on Twitch.

And later in the month, we of course have Magic 30 and the Magic World Championship XXVIII coming up. On October 28–30, you'll be able to watch the best in the world battling live in Dominaria United Booster Draft, Standard, and Explorer for their chance to be crowned the next Magic World Champion!

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