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Metagame Mentor: Modern Meta and Outlaws of Thunder Junction

May 16, 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. With the exciting release of Modern Horizons 3 coming up, it's the perfect time to review the latest state of the format.

I'll start with a metagame snapshot, highlighting the most prominent Modern tournament decks over the past month. Afterwards, I'll cover the impact that Outlaws of Thunder Junction had on the format, including successful decklists and an overview of the most-played new Thunder Junction cards. This overview can help you get back up to speed on Modern, providing a context for all the Modern Horizons 3 previews.

The most important new addition from Outlaws of Thunder Junction has been Slickshot Show-Off, resulting in a resurgence of prowess strategies. This development will surely inform the Modern deck choices at this Saturday's Magic Online Champions Showcase, where eight skilled competitors will battle for Magic World Championship invitations and $70,000 in prizes. For more details on that event and its livestream, check out the viewer's guide.

The Modern Metagame with Thunder Junction

Modern is a nonrotating 60-card format that was introduced in 2011 and that has captured the hearts of Magic: The Gathering players worldwide ever since. It 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.

To grasp the state of Modern with Outlaws of Thunder Junction, I analyzed over 3,000 Magic Online decklists from Preliminary, Challenge, and Showcase Challenge events held from April 19 through May 12, in addition to more than 1,300 decklists from large tabletop tournaments. Specifically, I considered the Modern $20K at MXP San Francisco, the $10K Showdown at NRG Minneapolis, the Grand Open Qualifier at LMS Bologna, the $10K Showdown at NRG Indianapolis, the Super Sunday RCQ at SCG CON Richmond, and Axion Now's MEGA Modern event. These tournaments at destination events awarded many Regional Championship invites to top finishers.

To obtain a metric that combines popularity and performance, I awarded points to each deck 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, representative decklist.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Rakdos Grief 11.2% ↑↑
2. Golgari Yawgmoth 10.4%
3. Domain Zoo 9.3%
4. Amulet Titan 9.0%
5. Izzet Prowess 6.8% ↑↑
6. Living End 6.4% ↑↑
7. Azorius Control 5.2%
8. Jund Reanimator 3.5% ↑↑
9. Mono-Black Coffers 2.6%
10. Esper Goryo's 2.6% ↓↓
11. Four-Color Omnath 2.5%
12. Gruul Prowess 2.4% ↑↑
13. Izzet Murktide 2.3% ↓↓
14. Mono-Black Grief 1.7%
15. Mono-Green Tron 1.6% ↓↓
16. Five-Color Creativity 1.5% ↓↓
17. Domain Rhinos 1.4%
18. Hardened Scales 1.4%
19. Domain Murktide 1.1% ↓↓
20. Hammer Time 1.1%
21. Other 16.0%

The "Other" category is the biggest of them all, featuring strategies like Mono-White Martyr, Gruul Valakut, Jund Sagavan, Affinity, Urza ThopterSword, Ad Nauseam, Izzet Breach, Temur Prowess, Merfolk, Dimir Mill, Boros Convoke, Boros Burn, Four-Color Control, Bant Rhinos, Esper Reanimator, Jund Scapeshift, Jeskai Breach, Golgari Midrange, Azorius Mill, Mono-Red Prowess, Humans, CrabVine, Bring to Light, Gruul Midrange, Four-Color Rhinos, 8-Rack, Heliod Combo, Goblins, Mono-White Tron, Asmo Reanimator, Dimir Shadow, Esper Grief, Grixis Wizards, Valakut Crimes, Calibrated Blast, Rakdos Aggro, and many others. The number of competitively viable Modern archetypes remains enormous, as Modern rewards deep format knowledge and experience with your favorite deck.

In recent months, the Modern metagame has been through some changes, including the introduction of surveil lands, the dominance of cascade decks, the resulting ban of Violent Outburst, and the subsequent proliferation of Leyline of the Guildpact. Since my last metagame snapshot from late March, the format has continued to develop, as indicated by the arrows in the table above. The most notable changes are:

  • Rakdos Grief is back on top as the most prominent archetype in Modern. A players are waiting to see what Modern Horizons 3 will bring to the format, they have once again embraced old favorites.
  • Living End has made a comeback, now typically using Ardent Plea instead of Violent Outburst. The deck is well-positioned because many prominent decks are heavy on creatures and low on answers. For example, after the ban of Violent Outburst, many Rakdos Grief decklists shaved Leyline of the Void and Chalice of the Void from their sideboard. In such an environment, Living End can thrive, even without Violent Outburst.
  • Exploiting lower amounts of graveyard hate in the metagame, many Indomitable Creativity players have moved from five-color versions with Leyline Binding to Jund builds with Persist.
  • Prowess decks were revitalized thanks to Slickshot Show-Off from Outlaws of Thunder Junction. The Bird Wizard can attack for huge amounts of damage, and many Izzet Murktide players have now flocked to Izzet Prowess instead.
  • Domain decks based around Leyline of the Guildpact and Scion of Draco have ticked down a little bit as the metagame has adapted to them. For example, Pick Your Poison is now the most-played sideboard card in the format because it's an excellent answer to Scion of Draco.
  • Esper Goryo's and Mono-Green Tron, whose game plans lined up far better against Scion of Draco than against Slickshot Show-Off, have ticked down a bit in the face of recent metagame trends.
  • The defining staples of the format (specifically, the most-played cards across all main decks and sideboards) are now Lightning Bolt, Pick Your Poison, Thoughtseize, The One Ring, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, and Orcish Bowmasters. These six cards exemplify the current state of Modern.

The 4 Modern Decks to Defeat in May 2024

If you have been following Modern closely over the past few months, then you'll be intimately familiar with top-tier decks like Rakdos Grief, Golgari Yawgmoth, Domain Zoo, and Amulet Titan. For players who are new or returning to Modern, an introduction to these four decks may be helpful. After all, if you'd like to brew with sweet new cards from Modern Horizons 3, then you should know what to expect from the competition.

Rakdos Grief is the most popular deck in Modern right now. It's a midrange deck that can evoke and return Grief as early as turn one. Ideally, you evoke Grief on turn one, discard your opponent's Lightning Bolt with the evoke trigger still on the stack, and return it with Not Dead After All. Roughly once every seven opening hands are capable of this dreaded sequence, resulting in a 4/3 menace with another discard trigger attached.

In 2023, Rakdos Grief won Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings and dominated the Modern RCQ cycle, resulting in the ban of Fury. Yet the powerful Grief opening remains, giving the deck a fighting chance in every matchup. Along with an interactive shell headlined by Thoughtseize and Fatal Push, Rakdos Grief has held 11.2% of the winner's metagame over the past month. Traditionally, the deck lines up favorably against Amulet Titan, but it struggles against Golgari Yawgmoth and Domain Zoo.

Golgari Yawgmoth, with a 10.4% share of the winner's metagame, combines undying creatures and Yawgmoth, Thran Physician to generate card advantage and achieve infinite combos. In 2023, the archetype gained Delighted Halfling, Orcish Bowmasters, and Agatha's Soul Cauldron, unlocking powerful upgrades, and it benefited greatly from the ban of Fury. Ever since, it has held a top spot in the metagame.

Golgari Yawgmoth is capable of infinite, game-winning loops. One such loop can be achieved with Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and two copies of Young Wolf, one with a +1/+1 counter and another without. When Yawgmoth sacrifices the counter-less 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 to draw lots of cards, and Blood Artist wins the game on the spot.

Domain Zoo, with a 9.3% share of the winner's metagame, is a disruptive aggro deck that uses Triomes to power up Territorial Kavu and Scion of Draco. These creatures can attack for four or five damage, turn Stubborn Denial into a hard counter, and will quickly put your opponent within Tribal Flames range.

Leyline of the Guildpact, the latest addition, has supercharged the deck. If you begin the game with it on the battlefield, then you no longer have to worry about taking damage from your fetch lands. Furthermore, Leyline Binding now costs only a single white mana, and Scion of Draco can easily come down on turn two. Moreover, Scion of Draco will grant every one of your creatures vigilance, hexproof, lifelink, first strike, and trample. This powerful combination can win the game by itself, and many decks are ill-equipped to deal with it.

Amulet Titan, with a 9.0% 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 Primeval Titan, there are a variety of ways to seal the game. For example, with Amulet of Vigor in play, Primeval Titan can grab Hanweir Battlements and attack right away. And if Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is on the battlefield, then you can fetch Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and burn your opponent to a crisp.

A new addition to the deck from Outlaws of Thunder Junction is the singleton copy of Roxanne, Starfall Savant in the sideboard. Amulet Titan traditionally struggles against Blood Moon or Magus of the Moon, but Roxanne's Meteorite provides colored mana to fight back. You can also use Summoner's Pact to tutor for Roxanne, Starfall Savant and have her Meteorite shoot down Magus of the Moon!

The Impact of Outlaws of Thunder Junction

Outlaws of Thunder Junction, along with its bonus sheet The Big Score, has had a significant impact on the Modern format, enabling brand new strategies and reinvigorating old ones. The aforementioned Roxanne, Starfall Savant is one addition among many. The following table reveals the 20 most-played new-to-Modern cards across the decklists I analyzed.

Card Name Total Copies Main Deck Sideboard
1. Slickshot Show-Off 1483 1483 0
2. Satoru, the Infiltrator 399 396 3
3. Roxanne, Starfall Savant 273 17 256
4. Pest Control 190 7 183
5. Simulacrum Synthesizer 188 188 0
6. Lavaspur Boots 163 163 0
7. Jace Reawakened 108 108 0
8. Pillage the Bog 90 90 0
9. Fomori Vault 86 86 0
10. Caustic Bronco 85 85 0
11. Collector's Cage 80 80 0
12. Smuggler's Surprise 76 74 2
13. Three Steps Ahead 75 75 0
14. Nexus of Becoming 72 72 0
15. Honest Rutstein 64 62 2
16. Insatiable Avarice 36 36 0
17. Freestrider Lookout 34 34 0
18. Tinybones, the Pickpocket 32 32 0
19. Bristling Backwoods 32 32 0
20. Jagged Barrens 31 31 0

Later in this section, I'll go over successful sample decklists to highlight the most popular cards like Slickshot Show-Off and Satoru, the Infiltrator. To briefly summarize the role of other new cards with lower numbers:

  • Pest Control can answer Hardened Scales, Crashing Footfalls, and so on. It was often included in the sideboard of Azorius Control and Esper Goryo's.
  • Caustic Bronco found some success in Rakdos Grief, as it's basically an improved Dark Confidant. It's not yet clear whether it deserves the slots, but it's a fascinating option.
  • Collector's Cage was used in various white aggro decks to hit Moonshaker Cavalry, Emeria's Call, and/or Emrakul, the Aeons Torn.
  • Smuggler's Surprise was included in CrabVine and Amulet Titan decks, as it can fill up the graveyard, dig for key cards, or protect your largest creatures.
  • Three Steps Ahead was mostly used in Azorius Control, where it acts as the best Cancel variant ever.
  • Nexus of Becoming found a home in some versions of Mono-Green Tron, where it has the potential to create a 3/3 token copy of Sundering Titan as early as turn three.
  • Honest Rutstein was mostly used as a one-of tutor target in Golgari Yawgmoth, providing a way to reuse any creature.
  • Insatiable Avarice was typically included in Mono-Black Coffers, where it can put a desired card on top or trigger Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.
  • Tinybones, the Pickpocket was in aggressively slanted Rakdos Aggro decks as a one-drop that demands to be blocked.
  • Bristling Backwoods and Jagged Barrens were included in Calibrated Blast decks, where the lands can deal the final points of damage after a 15-point Calibrated Blast.

But where did the other cards find their home? To answer that, let's take a look at six successful decklists with new Thunder Junction cards.

Slickshot Show-Off, a multi-format all star, has allowed prowess decks to return to prominence in Modern. Providing the perfect combination of abilities, it's like a Kiln Fiend with haste and evasion or a Sprite Dragon with a bigger buff. Its most popular home is Izzet Prowess, where it enables incredible turns. For example, after plotting Slickshot Show-Off on turn two while your opponent is holding up mana for Counterspell, you can win on turn three after your opponent foolishly taps out. Cast Slickshot Show-Off from exile, and follow up with Mishra's Bauble, Preordain, Lightning Bolt, Lava Dart, a flashed back Lava Dart, and Mutagenic Growth. This adds up to exactly 20 damage, basically out of nowhere!

While Izzet is the most popular Prowess build, there are also Gruul, Temur, or Mono-Red versions with Slickshot Show-Off. (Under my deck labeling logic, Phyrexian mana cards like Mutagenic Growth or sideboard cards like Pick Your Poison do not count towards a deck's color.) Adding up all the different color combinations, prowess decks would have been 10% of the winner's metagame, making it one of the most popular strategies in Modern right now. Don't skimp on Fatal Push!

Scapeshift decks, which aim to fetch Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle and six Mountains to roast the opponent for 18 damage, have been a mainstay in Modern for years. Yet OkoDio went 10-5 at the Grand Open Qualifier in Bologna with a novel take the archetype, splashing black for Pillage the Bog.

This new card from Outlaws of Thunder Junction almost functions like a Demonic Tutor, as all the mana ramp in the deck means that you'll be able to look at a lot of cards. Even the new Worldsoul's Rage helps in this regard. By increasing the consistency at which you find the namesake card, Jund Scapeshift became 0.4% of the winner's metagame over the past month.

Qbeczkowo won a Magic Online Challenge tournament by making great use of Satoru, the Infiltrator. In this deck, the main goal is to blink Grief or Solitude with Ephemerate or to reanimate Archon of Cruelty or Troll of Khazad-dûm with Persist. In all of those situations, a creature would enter the battlefield without being cast, which means that you get to draw an additional card with Satoru, the Infiltrator.

While Esper Reanimator climbed to 0.4% of the winner's metagame on the back of the new blue-black legend, he also saw play in Esper Goryo's, CrabVine, Esper Grief, and Humans.

Shadowz2005 finished 9th place in a Magic Online Challenge tournament with four copies of Jace Reawakened in a Grixis Wizards deck. The new planeswalker from Outlaws of Thunder Junction allows you to plot Ancestral Vision, which means that you can cast it on the next turn. This makes Ancestral Vision far less of a liability when you draw it later in the game. You can also plot Valki, God of Lies and cast it on the next turn as Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor—a powerful and mana-efficient combo. Similar Jace Reawakened setups were also used in Dimir Control or Azorius Control shells, but they were more commonly seen in Grixis Wizards.

Aspiringspike finished 14th place in the 220-player Showcase Challenge on Magic Online this past weekend with a spicy brew, exploiting the crime mechanic from Outlaws of Thunder Junction. Whenever you target your opponent with Relic of Progenitus, Mishra's Bauble, or Wrenn and Six, you're committing a crime, which means that Magda, the Hoardmaster creates a Treasure and Freestrider Lookout looks for a land. These lands get you closer to Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle triggers, which can keep the crime spree going. It's an innovative list with criminally powerful synergies.

I saved the best for last. After The Big Score bonus sheet introduced Simulacrum Synthesizer as a powerful payoff, Affinity decks soared to 0.7% of the winner's metagame!

In the sample list above, which Sem99 took to a 10-5 finish at the Grand Open Qualifier in Bologna, Simulacrum Synthesizer creates a Karnstruct whenever a Frogmite, Myr Enforcer, Sojourner's Companion, or Thought Monitor enters the battlefield. So on turn three, if you have enough affinity for artifacts, then you can easily go from 0 power to 20 power in the blink of a second. The archetype also gained Lavaspur Boots as a useful Urza's Saga target, and various list exploit Fomori Vault as well.

Modern Horizons 3 Could Supercharge Affinity

Affinity is one of my all-time favorite Modern archetypes, so I'm thrilled that it's back on the menu. Moreover, it stands to gain more from Modern Horizons 3, as two standout cards have been previewed already. Ugin's Labyrinth might be made for Eldrazi decks, but it can also exile Myr Enforcer or Sojourner's Companion, allowing us to cast Simulacrum Synthesizer on turn two or Chalice of the Void on turn one. And Kappa Cannoneer is new to Modern as a fast damage clock that can be cast by tapping Ornithopter or Memnite. With these powerful additions, I'm feeling excited about the potential for Affinity in Modern!

Modern Horizons 3 will undoubtedly be one the most important Magic releases of the year, shaking up the Modern metagame with a mix of desirable reprints and powerful new cards. On Tuesday May 21, 2024, beginning at 9 a.m. PT, the debut for Modern Horizons 3 kicks off on the official Magic: The Gathering YouTube channel and, providing a look at the mechanics, artwork, and designs from this new set. After a highly anticipated preview season, the prerelease events will begin at your local game store on Friday June 7!

The Road to Magic World Championship 30

At this weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase, the top two finishers receive an invitation to Magic World Championship 30—the crown jewel of Magic organized play. As we count down the weeks leading up to that tournament in late October, each week I'm taking a look at a great deck from a past Magic World Championship. After reviewing the World Championships from 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001 in past installments, let's go back in time to 2002.

A total of 245 competitors from 46 countries came to Sydney, Australia to compete at the 2002 World Championship. After three days of competition in Standard, Booster Draft, and Block Constructed, Brazil's Carlos Romão and Argentina's Diego Ostrovich shared the honor of being the first South Americans to make the Top 8 of a World Championship. Before the event, an unprecedented alliance between South Americans tested endlessly for Worlds, sharing tech and results, and they put two players in the Top 8. In the end, Carlos Romão managed to outplay everyone, emerging victorious.

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To become the Magic World Champion, Romão played the defining deck of the tournament: Blue-Black Psychatog. A control deck at heart, with lots of card drawing and countermagic, it wanted to stay alive long enough to play Upheaval, float mana, and replay Psychatog on an empty board. With a full hand and graveyard post-Upheaval, Psychatog could then attack for lethal on the next turn.

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As the oldest Modern-legal set (Eight Edition) dates back to 2003, Romão's winning deck from the 2002 World Championship features several iconic cards that were not immediately legal when Modern was incepted. However, Modern Horizons sets always feature quintessential reprints or cool throwbacks, which is how Counterspell and Fact or Fiction would later be introduced to the format.

Counterspell, which was reprinted in Modern Horizons 2, was a staple card in any Constructed format in Magic's first decade. At the 2002 World Championship, most of the players in the Top 8 were running four copies each, and the two decks that didn't lost in the quarters. Being able to neutralize any spell your opponent can muster for just two mana is amazing. Counterspell still sees heavy play in Modern today.

Fact or Fiction pretty much defined Standard for the entire time it was legal. Romão's main deck had three copies, with the fourth in the sideboard for Cunning Wish. Fact or Fiction single-handedly ensured a +6/+6 boost for Psychatog because no matter how the opponent splits the piles, you could always guarantee at least three cards to hand.

Splitting Fact or Fiction was a good test of skill for both players, effectively embedding a partition problem into an extensive-form game with incomplete information. Carlos Romão's strategy was to let Fact or Fiction resolve in the mirror match, saving countermagic for Psychatog or Upheaval instead. When Fact or Fiction was reprinted in Modern Horizons, Carlos Romão got to preview it, and he wrote: "FACT: Always choose the biggest pile after playing this card. FICTION: Counter this card."

Carlos Romão, winner of the 2002 Magic World Championship

While the 9th Magic World Championship was a memorable tournament, the upcoming 30th edition will take place later this year at MagicCon: Las Vegas. There, you can cheer on your favorite World Championship competitors or enjoy ticketed play, amazing panels, or incredible experiences all weekend long. So, MagicCon: Las Vegas has something for everyone. Early bird badges and ticketed play registration will go on-sale on today at 10 a.m. PT, so don't miss out!

The ticketed play schedule is brimming with exciting events. For competitive Limited players, the $100K Limited Open and Limited Pro Tour Qualifiers are large multi-day tournaments that are reminiscent of the old Grand Prix events, as they reward top performers with direct access to the Pro Tour. For competitive Modern players, the headline event is the Secret Lair Showdown, which awards unique and coveted prizes. Get your badge and lock in your tournaments today!

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