Data Analysis: The Top Modern Decks, April–May 2021


One month after release, it's time to review all of the many Strixhaven cards that made a splash in Modern and analyze the Magic Online results to determine which are the format's best performing decks in this post-STX, pre-MH2 world. We've got data, calculations, programming, and a new frontrunner!

Visiting a Modern Mage School: Strixhaven

expressive iteration - clever lumimancer

Available as early as the April 15 on Magic Online, Strixhaven brought 274 new cards to Modern. What about their impact? About 10% of those cards appeared at least once in the results of major events (Top 32 of Challenges, Champ Qualifiers, and Super Qualifiers) since, not even accounting for Preliminaries or Leagues. It means that those new cards succeeded in hitting a strong record in a competitive event at least once, but many more might have appeared elsewhere.

Moreover, Heliod no longer is on top! Another previously strong archetype stole the crown, carried by the most played Strixhaven card in Modern. Before seeing how the meta shifted and what those new cards are, let us start with our usual breakdown of the data, five weeks after the release of the set on Magic Online.

List of MTGO Major Events Between 2021-04-15 and 2021-05-17:
Modern Challenge 2021-04-17
Modern Challenge 2021-04-18
Modern Challenge 2021-04-24
Modern Challenge 2021-04-25
Modern Challenge 2021-05-01
Modern Challenge 2021-05-02
Modern Champ Qualifier 2021-05-03
Modern Challenge 2021-05-08
Modern Challenge 2021-05-09
Modern Champ Qualifier 2021-05-14
Modern Challenge 2021-05-15
Modern Challenge 2021-05-16
Modern Super Qualifier 2021-05-16

Some Quick Stats:
Number of decks in the data: 416
Number of different players in the data: 267
Number of different cards in the data: 776
Number of exact archetypes in the data: 61
Number of rounds played (with Top 8): 3254
Average number of Swiss rounds: 7.38
Minimum number of Swiss rounds: 7
Maximum number of Swiss rounds: 9
Number of events in the data: 13

Archetype Presence

Today, let us introduce a new aesthetic for the presence graph. Please let me know in the comments if you find it better than the previous one, or if you have any suggestions to improve it.

Proportion of exact archetypes in Top 32s, based on number of matches
Proportion of exact archetypes in Top 32s, based on number of matches

Yes, you see this right. Heliod, Sun-Crowned no longer is the most represented deck in the results. Instead, Izzet Prowess reigns supreme at 11.2%—and if you add the Boros version, at 5.1%, the total share of prowess decks goes over 16%. Here, Expressive Iteration appears as a serious boost to Izzet Prowess, replacing Light Up the Stage in most lists. (It's better when behind and digs deeper.)

Meanwhile, Clever Lumimancer is the card that seemed to be the missing piece for Boros Prowess to work. While the deck misses out on evasive threats such as Stormwing Entity and Sprite Dragon, Luminancer makes the strategy even better at goldfishing, and it gains Lurrus of the Dream-Den for additional grind (though it is to be noted that Luminancer is not the best card to topdeck). A few copies of Leonin Lightscribe have also helped complete the arsenal of prowess creatures in some variations of the deck. Here is an example decklist for Boros Prowess—as always chosen by picking the most recent decklist with the highest number of points:

Heliod is relegated to the third place at 7.5%, with Eldrazi Tron slightly higher at 7.7% in second. Indeed, with Chalice of the Void to prey on the low curve of Prowess, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger to beat infinite life, and Karn, the Great Creator to stop Walking Ballista, Eldrazi Tron has the weapons to take on the other two most represented decks. (Of course, Heliod still has a "fair" beatdown plan, but Eldrazi Tron is pretty good at fair games too.)

The next deck to appear is BTL Scapeshift, at 5.2%. Revolving around Bring to Light and a mana base supporting at least four colors, it is the new control/combo/ramp deck of the format. Well, technically, we cannot call it "new." Pretty much all the pieces were here before Strixhaven, but it seems that the deck needed tuning and attention to reach the point where it puts up consistent strong results. In fact, the last truly important card for the deck appeared in Kaldheim: Valki, God of Lies // Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor, whose back side you can cast with Bring to Light for five mana, making it even better than Teferi, Hero of Dominaria at this cost. When the "fair" plan of casting removal, planeswalkers, and Omnath, Locus of Creation is not good enough, it can instead go Bring to Light into Scapeshift to close the game (Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle dealing 18 damage off six Mountains, which you can get from shock lands and Triomes) or get lots of Valakut triggers with Dryad of the Ilysian Grove out (including cracking fetch lands).

You can read more about an early version of the deck here. A build with Elvish Reclaimer won the Modern Challenge on April 18, although it later evolved without Reclaimer, such as in Do0mSwitch's list from a Challenge one month later.

At the same level of presence, we notice the rise of Amulet Titan, historically strong against red and other big mana decks but weak against creature combo decks. Still, it can beat infinite life (with Karn, the Great Creator for instance) much more easily than infinite mana and damage from the old Devoted Druid and Vizier of Remedies combo. The "basic" Amulet list and the new Elvish Reclaimer variant are supposed to fare better against red decks, whereas the Karn variant is stronger against most of the rest of the field.

We can also note a comeback of Red-Green Midrange also known as Ponza also known as Gruul Utopia, at 4.3%, again using Karn, the Great Creator as an out to Heliod's combos and preying on big mana decks. However, this deck has always had a lot of trouble with red decks, so it is is surprising to see it this high with that many prowess decks around. Still, it didn't stop some pilots from having good success with it, and its most famous pilot just published an update to his primer on the deck.

Dredge also rose from the dead (pun acknowledged and overused) up to 3.7%. The reason is simple: Thrilling Discovery functionally works as copies number five to eight of Cathartic Reunion, significantly increasing the deck's stability. It cannot beat infinite life. However, the life gain from Creeping Chill and Thrilling Discovery is pretty effective against red decks.

thrilling discovery prismari command

To finish this part, even though we already introduced almost all the decks from the pie chart above, there is still one we did not: the last one, Izzet Breach. While most of the deck looks like your typical blue-red control deck with counterspells, removal, and card advantage engines, it includes a combo: Through the Breach cheating Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play for 15 damage and a board wipe. It even gets to transition to another combo post sideboard: Madcap Experiment finding Platinum Emperion, which several aggro and combo decks can hardly beat. Our own Filip Skórnicki was one of the first to write about the boost the deck got from Prismari Command as a way to interact, filter its draws, and combo one turn earlier thanks to the Treasure. Strong against big mana strategies (thanks to the combo and counterspells) as well as creature decks (due to the multiple cheap pieces of removal) and able to beat infinite life with the Eldrazi, it is only really afraid of Thoughtseize decks. Happily for it, those black decks don't make for a big presence at the moment.

You can often find Izzet Breach with a green splash. Easily enabled via Ketria Triome, you get access to cards such as Veil of Summer and Wrenn and Six. Here is an example list:

Ranking the Decks

As before, we will use the win rates of each archetype in addition to their presence in order to establish a ranking and a tier list. As a reminder, our sample includes only decks that appeared in Top 32s of competitive events, meaning that they all have a win rate significantly above 50%. If we added the data of the entirety of the decks (if it were available …), the average win rate would likely be much closer to 50%. We can display those win rates for the most represented decks the following way:

Win rates and confidence intervals in percent (click to view at full resolution)
Win rates and confidence intervals in percent (click to view at full resolution)

Heliod, the previous deck to beat, finally became enough of a target to fall back, in presence but also in performance. It now exhibits almost the worst win rate among all the decks above a 2% presence (the minimum for inclusion in the pie graph). Only those poor Green Tron players were doing worse, presumably because the good matchup for Green Tron that was Heliod fell a bit, whereas matchups that require spot removal as early as turn one or two (prowess) rose. Thus the Eldrazi variant replaced it as the go-to Tron deck of the format. Even when we only take the lowest bound of the confidence interval into account, an interval that is smaller for Heliod than for most archetypes because of its large presence, more than half of the decks have a better pessimistic estimation of the win rate than Heliod.

Meanwhile, red midrange decks (Obosh and Ponza) exhibited very good win rates, even though they were not highly represented in the results—hence a large confidence interval on their win rate. I also mentioned earlier that Izzet Breach seemed to encounter relatively few predators in the format at the moment, and it shows. Still, it has the largest confidence interval in our data set, so we will have to wait and see how things evolve to check whether it was a fluke or not. As for Izzet Prowess, the most represented deck in the results, it also has a win rate above average, leading to the highest pessimistic estimate of the win rate, along with Gruul Midrange, which showed the highest win rate in the data.

If we display both the win rate and the presence for all the decks in the data, we see the following:

Win rate by presence for all archetypes in Top 32s (click to view at full resolution)
Win rate by presence for all archetypes in Top 32s, circle diameters based on players (click to view at full resolution)

Some decks did particularly well in terms of win rate but did not appear all that much. Let us showcase a few, in no particular order:

  • Kiki Chord, a four-color toolbox and combo deck, full of tutors, silver bullets and value, with one Challenge Top 4 at the hand of its most famous pilot Kurusu

  • Elves, a tribal aggro deck, championing no Strixhaven cards, but Realmwalker and Elvish Warmaster from Kaldheim, with two Challenge Top 8s

  • Inverter Combo, which the Pioneer players among you immediately recognize, with three Top 32s up to a Challenge final, always by the same player: musasabi, who already had success previously with off-meta decks such as Mardu Stoneblade. His take on Inverter includes some very uncommon cards such as Beseech the Queen but also a new Strixhaven toy in Sedgemoor Witch. Here is his latest decklist.

  • Orzhov Taxes/Blink, one archetype theoretically divided by the presence of Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in one of the lists. With five Challenge Top 32s including three Top 8s, the archetype made good use of new Strixhaven cards: the World Champion, Elite Spellbinder, and Vanishing Verse in the sideboard. Here is an example deck list.

Let's move on to the tier list now. As mentioned before, we only keep the most represented decks. With this "zoom", we get:

Win rate by presence for the most represented archetypes in Top 32s (click to view at full resolution)
Win rate by presence for the most represented archetypes in Top 32s (click to view at full resolution)

We now compute a normalized combination of the presence and the win rate—as detailed in a previous article—and get the following values for each deck.

Sum of the normalized metrics for the most represented archetypes in Top 32s (click to view at full resolution)
Sum of the normalized metrics for the most represented archetypes in Top 32s (click to view at full resolution)

Previously, we would divide in the middle based on the average of those values, to which we add or remove a standard deviation of the value, so that we can split the decks in categories and get our tier list. This time, it is a bit more accurate, with additional divides to showcase decks that did really well or really poorly, through adding or removing even more standard deviations. Here is what the tier list looks like with those additional divides:


Note that with the previous system, the single change would be that Izzet Prowess would be considered tier one alongside Eldrazi Tron.

Bonus: All Strixhaven Entries, Including Preliminaries

Admit it: you mainly want to know which Strixhaven made an impact in the format, right? After checking, it turns out that the Preliminary results only bring two more cards into the picture, appearing in a single list each: a copy of Blade Historian in a Winota deck and two copies of Fortifying Draught in Neobrand.

Main Deck Additions
Card Copies per Deck Which Decks?
Baleful Mastery 1 1 Mill
Clever Lumimancer 4 21 Boros Prowess
1 Jeskai Prowess
Deadly Brew 2 1 Smallpox
Elite Spellbinder 3.8 4 Orzhov Blink
1 Orzhov Taxes
Emergent Sequence 3 1 Titan Shift
Expressive Iteration 3.6 2 Grixis Shadow
40 Izzet Prowess
Field Trip 3.5 4 Amulet Titan
Leonin Lightscribe 2.4 10 Boros Prowess
1 Jeskai Prowess
Magma Opus 1 1 Temur Breach
Prismari Command 2.7 7 Izzet Breach
4 Jeskai Control
8 Niv to Light
1 Omnath Saheeli
2 Polymorph
1 Pyro Ascension
4 Taking Turns
4 Temur Breach
Silverquill Silencer 2 1 Humans
Thrilling Discovery 4 14 Dredge
Vanishing Verse 1.4 1 Esper Control
5 Niv to Light
2 BRGW Shadow
Velomachus Lorehold 2 5 Taking Turns
Wandering Archaic // Explore the Vastlands 3 1 Green Tron
Sideboard Additions
Card Copies per Deck Archetypes
Baleful Mastery 1 1 Mill
Basic Conjuration 1 4 Amulet Titan
Containment Breach 1 4 Amulet Titan
Elite Spellbinder 2 1 Heliod Combo 1 Orzhov Taxes
Environmental Sciences 1 1 Amulet Titan
Fracture 2 1 Hammer Time
Introduction to Annihilation 1 2 Amulet Titan
Mascot Exhibition 1 3 Amulet Titan
Overgrown Arch 2 1 Amulet Titan
Pest Summoning 1 3 Amulet Titan
Prismari Command 1.5 2 Izzet Prowess
Rip Apart 2.3 8 Boros Prowess
3 BTL Scapeshift
2 Grinding Breach
1 Land Destruction
Sedgemoor Witch 2.5 1 Esper Control
3 Inverter Combo
Tend the Pests 1.4 8 Jund Shadow
2 BRGW Shadow
Vanishing Verse 2.1 2 BTL Scapeshift
1 Esper Control
1 Land Destruction
4 Orzhov Blink
1 Orzhov Midrange
2 Shadow Prowess
1 Smallpox
6 BRGW Shadow

If you want to get the entire data for these cards and find the links to the decks in which they were played, you can check the initial files online: main deck and sideboard.

Let us talk about a few of these cards that we did not mention previously. Do you feel that you were missing on removal? Rip Apart and Vanishing Verse proved to be versatile spells that appeared in many different archetypes; you can expect to see them again on a regular basis in the future. They are mostly sideboard cards at the moment, though. Most Disenchant effects usually are, whereas Vanishing Verse suffers from being a complete blank against Tron variants. However, if you face a black-green Shadow deck, be wary about using your Verse in the face of two untapped lands: with Tend the Pests, your target might turn into a dozen tokens instead.

Speaking of big creatures again, but this time at a sizable mana cost, Velomachus Lorehold actually appeared a few times in the results, in a hybrid Polymorph and Turns deck. Dwarven Mine provides you a free body, on which you can cast Indomitable Creativity to get your creature. In the past it would be an Eldrazi, now it is a Dragon. It even works with the Treasure token of the new Prismari Command, which sees play in a wide variety of archetypes. Once you have your Dragon on the battlefield, you try to steal all the turns. You can find a detailed guide on the archetype online and a decklist below.

Last, this review of Strixhaven cards in Modern would not be complete without the deck that incorporated the highest number of them: Learnmulet!

Four copies of Field Trip rather than Karn, the Great Creator allow you to replace the wishboard with Lessons, and you gain an additional ramp spell that helps under Blood Moon. Speaking of that enchantment, you can find Containment Breach to destroy it, or Pest Summoning should you need board presence and/or life gain at a low cost against aggro, or even Environmental Sciences for a faster life boost as well as another basic land to help against the Moon. Karn was also a win condition, and Field Trip can do that too: Basic Conjuration provides even more life gain, but most importantly, it helps finding Dryad of the Ilysian Grove or Primeval Titan. And if you have enough mana, the Tron-costed Mascot Exhibition should be enough to close the game. In spite of the hype the deck generated, it didn't stand the test of time, and the list did not place again.

Graduating from the Strixhaven Academy

After all this, we have to conclude our excursion on Strixhaven for today. If I counted correctly, that makes 28 cards from the set that appeared in Modern results so far. The estimate of 30 at the end of my previous article was quite good! Even though, to be fair, to get an A+ I should have highlighted Expressive Iteration much more, as it turned out to be the most successful card of the set, propelling Izzet Prowess to the place of best deck of the format by a reasonable margin.

Soon, we will get even more cards to enter the format: Modern Horizons 2 is poised to release online in about a month, and the month after we shall have a Dungeons & Dragons-themed set. Are you hyped for Counterspell and Sanctum Prelate? Looking forward to new versions of emblematic cards in Brainstone and Diamond Lion? We will try to anticipate the impact of some of those spoilers by reviewing them and the state of the Modern format around the release of Modern Horizons 2 in the next article. See you there!

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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Zwenner(04.06.2021 11:00)

For me, as early as it is, one of the best Series of Articles on Cardmarket.
I'm eager to read more of this.

Aliquanto(04.06.2021 17:45)

Zwenner thank you, I hope you will enjoy the one introducing MH2.

bradcarlyon(25.05.2021 09:20)

Great work on these articles, will be very interesting to see the affect MH2 has on the meta.

Aliquanto(25.05.2021 11:31)

Bradcarlyon Thanks, I'll try to cover it the same way!

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