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Metagame Mentor: Modern with March of the Machine

May 25, 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. As we look forward to the Modern Pro Tour at MagicCon: Barcelona on July 28—30, today we'll analyze the biggest Modern innovations since the release of March of the Machine.

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. If you're new or returning to the format, then I recommend starting with my article "everything to know about Modern to win your RCQ" to acquaint yourself with the top-tier decks. Even though that article was written in January, the Modern metagame doesn't move quickly, so it's still relevant.

To grasp the latest Modern developments, I analyzed over 1,000 successful decklists from competitive events over the past month. Specifically, I used all published Magic Online decklists from scheduled Modern events held from April 21 through May 22, all Top 16 decklists from the Modern main event at Arcanis Infinity and Modern $5K at Apex Gaming, all Modern Top 8 decklists from F2F Tour North Bay, F2F Tour Montreal, F2F Tour Halifax, and F2F Tour Edmonton, all MTG Melee decklists with net positive wins from the $20K RCQ at SCG Con Richmond, $5K RCQ at SCG CON Richmond, and $5K RCQ at NRG Series Minneapolis, and all decklists from the 2023 MOCS Showcase Season 1. That last event is the pinnacle of competition of Magic Online.

Marco Vassallo has had an amazing month. After making Day 2 in his first Pro Tour, he emerged victorious at the Magic Online Champions Showcase, earning $20,000 and an invitation to Magic World Championship XXIX! The Modern metagame at the MOCS Showcase was wild: Vassallo triumphed with an innovative Goryo's Blink deck, which I'll highlight later in this article, while others showed that Infect and Eldrazi Tron are still competitive, at least for a specific expected metagame. If this event is any indication, then anything could happen at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings in two months from now.

Although the MOCS Showcase mainly showed linear or combo decks, Modern features midrange and control decks as well, and the number of viable Modern archetypes remains enormous. To provide an overview of the decks that you can expect to see the most at the top tables, I assigned an archetype label to each deck in my dataset 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. I added three wins for every MOCS competitor. The sum of these numbers for every archetype yields its record-weighted metagame share, which represents its share of total net wins.

Archetype Record-Weighted Metagame Share
1. Indomitable Creativity 11.3%
2. Izzet Murktide 9.2%
3. Rakdos Scam 7.6%
4. Rhinos 7.5%
5. Hammer Time 7.3%
6. Living End 5.8% ↑↑
7. Four-Color Omnath 3.8%
8. Amulet Titan 3.5%
9. Burn 3.5%
10. Mono-Green Tron 3.4%
11. Yawgmoth 3.3%
12. Jeskai Breach 2.9%
13. Hardened Scales 2.5%
14. Domain Zoo 2.2%
15. Azorius Control 1.7%
16. Affinity 1.6%
17. Jund Reanimator 1.6%
18. Mono-Black Coffers 1.3%
19. Mill 1.2%
20. Izzet Prowess 1.2%
21. Humans 1.1%
22. Grixis Shadow 1.0%
23. Boros Obosh 0.9%
24. Asmo Reanimator 0.9%
25. Bring to Light 0.7%
26. Merfolk 0.6%
27. Jund Midrange 0.6%
28. Glimpse of Tomorrow 0.6%
29. Jeskai Prowess 0.6%
30. Other 10.4%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist, and the arrows indicate that Living End has surged in popularity compared to my Modern metagame snapshots from March and from April. The "Other" category, continuing the descending order, included Mono-Blue Tron, Belcher, Urza ThopterSword, 8-Whack, Eldrazi Tron, Goryo's Blink, Mono-Red Obosh, Niv to Light, Infect, Devoted Druid, Death & Taxes, Timeless Amulet, Bant Control, Izzet Breach, Dredge, and more.

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; Fury; Expressive Iteration; and Endurance. Endurance has witnessed a remarkable ascent, primarily finding its place as a sideboard card. This trend becomes all the more sensible when we take into account the recent rise of Living End.

To shows the impact of March of the Machine, the following table reveals its 15 most-played new-to-Modern cards across the decklists I analyzed.

Card Name Total Copies Main Deck Sideboard
Change the Equation 291 26 265
Surge of Salvation 213 128 85
Ozolith, the Shattered Spire 82 82 0
Wrenn and Realmbreaker 41 41 0
Nissa, Resurgent Animist 38 38 0
Invasion of Ergamon 30 30 0
Pile On 26 0 26
Invasion of Azgol 26 25 1
Invasion of Tarkir 21 21 0
Halo Forager 17 16 1
Invasion of Ikoria 16 16 0
Yargle and Multani 16 16 0
Coppercoat Vanguard 12 12 0
Deeproot Wayfinder 12 12 0
Invasion of Alara 12 12 0

The most-played new card is Change the Equation, which has primarily found a home in the sideboard of Indomitable Creativity decks. With its capability to counter anything from Fury to Living End, it comes close to Counterspell in various matchups, but it's far easier to cast in a deck whose mana base needs to support both Leyline Binding and Dwarven Mine.

While Change the Equation is primarily a sideboard card, various other cards have been added to the main decks of different archetypes. To depict where they have found their niche and to shed light on other groundbreaking developments in the Modern format, let's embark on a closer examination of several captivating Modern decklists.

Surge of Salvation Bolstered Hammer Time

In my data set of over 1,000 successful Modern decks from the past month, Surge of Salvation is the most-played new main deck card from March of the Machine. It has proven to be an excellent addition to Hammer Time, where it protects any equipment wielder from spot removal. Previously, Hammer Time players used Spell Pierce or Blacksmith's Skill in this slot. Those cards may have more utility against Indomitable Creativity, which "fizzles" if the target is indestructible, but they were not as effective against other axis of interaction.

In contrast to Spell Pierce or Blacksmith's Skill, Surge of Salvation can shield your entire board from Fury or Force of Vigor, which could otherwise wreck you. In addition, the dreaded combo of Grief plus Feign Death is mitigated when you gain hexproof from discard effects. All in all, Surge of Salvation is the superior protection spell in the current Modern metagame, and it doesn't require a blue splash that leaves you vulnerable to Blood Moon. As a result, Hammer Time has been bolstered by March of the Machine.

Ozolith, the Shattered Spire Reinvigorated Hardened Scales

The second-most-played new main deck card from March of the Machine is Ozolith, the Shattered Spire, which has reinvigorated Hardened Scales by effectively adding more copies of the eponymous card. When you only have four copies of a certain effect in your 60-card deck, there is only a 40% probability that you draw it in your opening hand. When you go up to seven copies, this number rises to 60%, which represents a massive difference in terms of consistency.

Even though Ozolith, the Shattered Spire costs twice as much mana as Hardened Scales, it's an artifact to trigger Patchwork Automaton, comes with a powerful activated ability, and provides the essential ability that the entire deck is built around. By supercharging counters on Arcbound Ravager and Walking Ballista, the deck is capable producing lethal damage out of thin air. Finally, unlike Hardened Scales, Ozolith, the Shattered Spire also adds additional +1/+1 counters to artifacts, which allows you to build up your board even further with The Ozolith, the unshattered original.

Invasion of Tarkir Found a Home in Domain Zoo

Did you know that Scion of Draco is the most-played Dragon in the current Modern metagame? Generally found in Domain Zoo, whose mana base can consistently cast on turn two, Scion of Draco also boost the damage potential of Invasion of Tarkir. While this makes for a natural pairing, it's not the only reason why the battle fits well into this deck.

The biggest reason is that Domain Zoo offers so many ways to deal five damage—exactly the amount of defense counters on the battle. Territorial Kavu and Nishoba Brawler can both attack for five, providing the potential for a devastating third turn. Alternatively, Tribal Flames can defeat Invasion of Tarkir singlehandedly, yielding a impressive battlefield presence. Invasion of Tarkir may not have been a huge upgrade, but it has breathed fresh fire into Domain Zoo.

New Enablers Boosted Jund Reanimator

Jund Reanimator is essentially an Indomitable Creativity strategy that eschews interactive white or blue spells and instead relies on Persist, Bitter Reunion, and Thoughtseize to return either Archon of Cruelty or Primeval Titan from the graveyard to the battlefield. The latest successful incarnations of have benefited from two different March of the Machine cards: Invasion of Ergamon and Wrenn and Realmbreaker.

Invasion of Ergamon is both a discard enabler for Persist and a Treasure enabler for Indomitable Creativity, without requiring additional resources to do either. It's the first non-creature, non-artifact two-mana card in Modern with this combination of effects, so it's a unique and potent addition for an Indomitable Creativity deck with a reanimation angle.

Wrenn and Realmbreaker also supports both strategies. Its +1 ability provides an hexproof target for Indomitable Creativity, and its -2 ability can set up your graveyard for Persist. Due to the addition of these two new cards, Jund Reanimator has become more appealing.

Asmoranomardicadaistinaculdacar? Gnshhagghkkapphribbit!

That's four copies of Yargle and Multani in an Asmo Reanimator shell, leading to one of the best section headings ever.

In this deck, after discarding the legendary Frog Spirit Elemental to Voldaren Epicure or The Underworld Cookbook, it can be revived with Goryo's Vengeance. Yargle and Multani may not have any sort of evasion, but if you catch your opponent without a blocker, then they'll take 18 damage out of nowhere. This could prove lethal if they've played an untapped shock dual.

The other way to deal 18 damage with Yargle and Multani is to discard it to Cragganwick Cremator. This requires managing your hand size or pure luck, but it's realistically achievable if you plan ahead and cast other spells first. All in all, this sweet new brew is a fast combo deck with multiple avenues to victory and solid tournament results, so it could be the real deal.

Nissa, Resurgent Animist Reinforced Four-Color Omnath

March of the Machine: The Aftermath has not been out for long. In most of the Modern tournaments I analyzed, its cards were not yet legal. Nevertheless, based on the early indications from last weekend's events, the most important Modern card from the supplementary set is Nissa, Resurgent Animist.

Her powerful landfall ability fits naturally in a deck that runs a lot of fetch lands for Omnath, Locus of Creation. In the specific list shown above, if Nissa's ability resolves for the second time in a turn, you'll put another Nissa, Omnath, Endurance, Solitude, or Fury into your hand, providing amazing value. Moreover, when you control Elesh Norn, Mother of Machines to double Nissa's triggers, even a regular land drop will yield a mana and an Elf or Elemental. In a Four-Color Omnath deck like this one, Nissa, Resurgent Animist is a sweet upgrade.

Goryo's Blink Won the MOCS Showcase

The final highlight is the deck that Marco Vassallo used to win last weekend's Magic Online Champions Showcase, going 3-1 in Modern. While it's not entirely new, with similar lists dating back to March, Vassallo took a well-tuned version with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker to its first breakthrough performance. In a premier field featuring multiple unexpected Modern decks like Infect and Eldrazi Tron, Vassallo's reanimator strategy showed off its power during the feature matches.

The first key card in the deck is Goryo's Vengeance. After discarding Atraxa, Grand Unifier to Tainted Indulgence or Fable of the Mirror-Breaker (or even to hand size, which actually happened during the tournament) the instant can bring her back to the battlefield, providing a fresh grip of new cards. Atraxa has to be exiled at end of turn, so this may appear to be merely a convoluted way to draw cards, but pitch elementals like Solitude or Grief allow you to transform card advantage into efficient interaction without further mana investment.

The second key card in the deck is Ephemerate. When cast on Grief in response to its evoke trigger, it's even more punishing than Feign Death, as it rebounds to force another discard on your next upkeep. And when Ephemerate is cast on an Atraxa that was brought back to life with Goryo's Vengeance, she returns as a new card object, which not only yields another enters-the-battlefield trigger but also escapes the end-of-turn exile. I'm excited to see if Goryo's Blink will take up a bigger slice of the Modern metagame going forward.

Looking Ahead

March of the Machine has introduced new tools for Modern archetypes both old and new. And as proven in the MOCS Showcase, the format remains a brewer's paradise where everything is possible. Following the release of The Lord of the Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™, which will be legal in Modern, afficionados of the format can look forward to the NRG Series $10K event on June 24, the Grand Open Qualifier at LMS Bologna on July 8, and of course the highest-profile Modern tournament of the year: Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings at MagicCon: Barcelona, beginning on July 28.

The next few weekends, however, are dedicated to Standard and Pioneer. These Constructed formats offer multiple premier events with live streaming coverage:

  • May 27–28: LMS Valencia. Featuring Pioneer, the Grand Open Qualifier at LMS Valencia awards well over $20,000 in prizes and 32 Regional Championship invitations. Live coverage begins at 9 a.m. CET both days.
  • May 27–28: Arena Championship 3. Featuring draft and Standard, the Arena Championship 3 awards $200,000 in prizes and two Magic World Championship XXIX invitations. The field is stacked with many of Magic's top competitors, including Nathan Steuer who can go four-for-four on premier event Top 8s. Check back tomorrow for the metagame breakdown, which will reveal several surprises. Live coverage begins at 9 a.m. PT both days.
  • June 3–4: Regional Championships. Featuring Pioneer, the third Regional Championship cycle of the 2022-23 season kicks off, with championships in the U.S., South East Asia, Mexico, China, and East Canada in the first weekend. Next week's Metagame Mentor article will provide a full overview of all Regional Championships and their coverage and will convoke a summary of the latest Pioneer metagame developments.
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