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Metagame Mentor: Out of the Preordain-ary

August 17, 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. This month, I'm taking you on a grand tour of Constructed formats. I covered Pioneer last week, I'll analyze Modern today, and I'll cover Vintage and Legacy next week and Standard in the final week of August.

The main topic for today is the impact of Preordain on Modern, which was unbanned on August 7. Based on the results from several big weekend events, we'll take a first glimpse at the new Modern landscape and where the powerful card selection spell is finding a home.

Modern Metagame Update

Modern is a nonrotating format based on expansion sets, core sets, and straight-to-Modern sets from Eight Edition forward, save for cards on the ban list. With its deep card pool, Modern boasts intricate card interactions and exciting competitive diversity, and it will be the Constructed format for the upcoming cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers. If you're new to the format, then I recommend starting with my introduction to the format and its top archetypes right before Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings.

To understand the impact of Preordain, I analyzed 570 decklists from competitive events over the past week. I gathered all available Magic Online decklists from scheduled Modern events held between August 8 and August 14. In addition, I used all MTG Melee decklists with positive net wins from the $20K RCQ at MXP Tacoma and the $10K RCQ at NRG Detroit, as well as Top 8 decklists from the MEGA Modern at Axion Now's The Gathering, the $5K Apex Invitational Qualifier, and the 24th God of Modern. It's always great to see Modern champions hoist their trophies, especially at large events that drew hundreds of players.

To obtain a metric that combines popularity and performance, I awarded a number of points to each deck equal to its net wins (i.e., its number of match wins minus losses). Each archetype's share of total net wins can be interpreted as its share of the winner's metagame.

Archetype Winner's Metagame Share
1. Rakdos Evoke 18.6%
2. Rhinos 12.0%
3. Four-Color Omnath 7.2% ↓↓
4. Hammer Time 5.8% ↑↑
5. Jund Sagavan 5.5% ↑↑
6. Burn 4.3%
7. Living End 4.3%
8. Izzet Murktide 4.3%
9. Dimir Control 4.3%
10. Amulet Titan 4.1% ↑↑
11. Mono-Green Tron 4.0% ↓↓
12. Indomitable Creativity 2.7%
13. Yawgmoth 2.3% ↓↓
14. Grixis Shadow 1.8%
15. Samwise Gamgee Combo 1.5%
16. Five-Color Reanimator 1.1%
17. Dimir Shadow 1.1%
18. Domain Zoo 1.1%
19. Affinity 0.9%
20. Belcher 0.9%
21. Mono-Black Coffers 0.9%
22. Jeskai Breach 0.9%
23. Hardened Scales 0.7%
23. Other 9.6%

In this table, each archetype name hyperlinks to a well-performing, representative decklist. The "Other" category included Izzet Prowess, Mono-Black Grief, Dice Factory, Goblins, Rakdos Midrange, Mill, Eldrazi Tron, Urza ThopterSword, Twiddle Storm, Four-Color Control, Dimir Murktide, Naya Blitz, Five-Color Omnath, Cragganwick Cremator, Mono-Black Discard, Heliod Company, Brought Back, Bogles, Orzhov Evoke, Calibrated Blast, Dredge, and more.

With Rakdos Evoke as the most prominent deck at the top tables, the most-played card overall was Orcish Bowmasters, closely followed by Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Taking a cue from Jake Beardsley's winning list from Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings, most Rakdos Evoke decks now favor Fable of the Mirror-Breaker over Seasoned Pyromancer. The second-most prominent deck is Rhinos, and most lists are reminiscent of the one that Kai Budde used to clinch another Pro Tour Top 8—a three-color Temur build, with Flame of Anor in the sideboard as never-useless answer to Chalice of the Void.

As indicated by the arrows in the table, the metagame has evolved compared to what we saw at the Pro Tour. Four-Color Omnath and Yawgmoth dwindled after disappointing Pro Tour results, while Hammer Time and Amulet Titan soared after their excellent Pro Tour performance.

More surprisingly, Mono-Green Tron has fallen hard, despite putting multiple players in the Top 8 of the Pro Tour. This drop-off could be ascribed to the unfavorable matchup against Rakdos Evoke and to the large quantities of Obsidian Charmaw and Crumble to Dust that have popped up in sideboards. These red cards blow up Urza's Tower, providing powerful counterplay to the Tron land strategy. Or perhaps it was just an immutable law of the universe.

Meanwhile, we also have a relatively new contender. At 5.5% of the winner's metagame over the past week, Jund Sagavan—a portmanteau of Urza's Saga and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer—has been climbing the Modern ranks. Thoughtseize into Tarmogoyf may be good again!

From The Lord of The Rings: Tales of Middle-earth™, the deck gained an excellent new toy in Orcish Bowmasters, and it appears well-positioned in the new metagame. According to Markus "RespectTheCat" Leicht, who took the deck to a 10-0 run in a Magic Online Modern Challenge the weekend after the Pro Tour, the deck has a good matchup against Rakdos Evoke, and against Rhinos a Tarmogoyf or a Construct token wielding Shadowspear, carries. Meanwhile, bad matchups such as Indomitable Creativity are not very popular right now. If you're preparing for the upcoming cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers, then keep this option on your radar. It's basically the evolution of the Jund Midrange deck that was popular in Modern for years, so it can be an exciting development for long-time Modern players.

The Wide Adoption of Preordain

In 2011, Preordain was banned due to the amount of consistency it added to combo decks. In 2023, Modern is a lot more interactive, and the card selection spell was just taken off the ban list. If you haven't played with Preordain before, then it might look like just another cantrip at first glance. But don't underestimate its efficiency. Preordain digs a whole card deeper than Sleight of Hand or Consider and, unlike Serum Visions, finds the card you want on the turn you cast it. As a result, it can provide a lot of consistency to a wide variety of decks.

Out of the 570 Modern decklists I analyzed, 103 players (18.1% of the field) included at least one copy of Preordain in their main deck or sideboard. This group of players was comprised of 28 Izzet Murktide, 15 Dimir Control, 12 Grixis Shadow, 6 Dimir Shadow, 5 Jeskai Breach, 5 Izzet Prowess, 5 Indomitable Creativity, 4 Four-Color Omnath, 3 Amulet Titan, 3 Twiddle Breach, 3 Hammer Time, 2 Azorius Control, 2 Dimir Murktide, and 10 other archetypes played by one player each. Collectively, they used 377 copies of Preordain (all in main decks, none in sideboards) which means that the vast majority of Preordain players ran a full playset.

So, Preordain has found a home in a wide variety of blue decks, largely of the midrange variety. There are also a few combo decks that have adopted it, but the unbanning of Preordain has not immediately heralded an onslaught of such decks like we had in 2011. To provide some concrete examples of Preordain decks, let's take a closer look at eight different Modern decks that reached at least three more match wins than losses in their tournaments.

The most popular and arguably best home for Preordain was Izzet Murktide. Almost every Izzet Murktide player made room for Preordain, typically by shaving single copies of different cards. For example, they cut one land, one Consider, one Counterspell, and one Lightning Bolt to fit in four copies of Preordain. Andrea "PieGonti" Piemonti made the finals of the Magic Online Showcase Challenge with such a list.

The addition of Preordain makes the deck more consistent, and the higher density of card draw spells fuels Murktide Regent and Dragon's Rage Channeler. It also makes it easier to double-spell with Ledger Shredder, which has returned to the main deck. Another important benefit is that Preordain adds additional sorceries to the deck, which enables delirium more reliably for Unholy Heat and Dragon's Rage Channeler. The combination of these reasons makes Izzet Murktide arguably the biggest benefactor of Preordain in Modern.

As Preordain is a blue card, it's suitable to pitch to Force of Negation or Subtlety. Hence, the vast majority of Dimir Control decks adopted Preordain. For example, Anthony Sayre went 7-2 at the MXP Tacoma Modern $20K RCQ with the above list. Compared to typical builds at the Pro Tour, Sayre shaved a creature, a removal spell, a land, and a three-mana card draw spell for four copies of Preordain. As an aside, the flexible Archmage's Charm has become the three-mana card draw spell of choice over the more rigid Sauron's Ransom.

You don't even need delirium or graveyard synergies to make use of Preordain. In a fair deck that can take a turn off to set up its draws, you can shave 1-2 lands and 2-3 spells for 4 copies of Preordain. This will help you make your land drops and find your best spells more consistently. While most Four-Color Omnath players did not bother including Preordain, Ryan Hayes did, and it resulted in a solid Top 8 finish at the MXP Tacoma Modern $20K RCQ. In this list, the existence of Preordain also improves the emblem of Wrenn and Six.

Preordain's ability to dig three cards deep makes it suitable for single-card combo decks like Five-Color Creativity. Sean "Beekeeper" Goddard finished 18th with Indomitable Creativity at Pro Tour The Lord of the Rings and, after adding three copies of Preordain, made the Top 4 at last weekend's MEGA Modern at Axion Now's The Gathering.

To make room for Preordain, he shaved one Persist, 1 Prismari Command and 1 Flame Slash compared to his Pro Tour list. Afterwards, he wrote that he's "not yet sure if it's worth the slots ... it's definitely a questionable turn 1 play because of the need to fetch a Triome." Indeed, only about half of the Indomitable Creativity players in my data set used it. Given the typical fetch land sequences, more testing will be required to determine if Preordain truly fits the strategy.

Every single Death's Shadow deck in my data set included Preordain. It provides consistency, fuels Murktide Regent, and even enables Dragon's Rage Channeler in the Grixis versions. However, the Dimir versions are more novel, and they feature the standout combo of Troll of Khazad-dûm and Persist, which puts an evasive five-power creature onto the battlefield on turn two. It's a relatively recent addition to the Modern format, and the combination of Grief and Persist is also a potent one. Burnt_Taco77 went 4-0 in a Magic Online Preliminary with the list shown above, putting Preordain to good use.

Preordain can help Amulet Titan players find their combo cards, but it can be difficult to cast. Due to the demands of Amulet of Vigor and Primeval Titan, the green-centric mana base doesn't allow for the typical manabase. Without enough early-game blue sources, only a very small minority of Amulet Titan players dared to include Preordain.

However, Nidael09 went 4-0 in a Magic Online Preliminary with a list that added 3 Preordain along with 3 Gemstone Mine, 1 Island, and 2 Sakura-Tribe Elder (to fetch the basic). Compared to stock builds, this list shaves 1 Summoner's Pact, 1 Azusa, Lost but Seeking, 1 Expedition Map, and 2 lands to fit in the new nonland cards. This offers an interesting new direction for the archetype.

Jeskai Breach lists have traditionally used Expressive Iteration, but as a land-light combo deck that recently added The One Ring as another expensive card draw spell, it may be better off with the leaner and cheaper Preordain. The one-mana sorcery helps smooth your draws and was included in half of the Jeskai Breach decks that I analyzed. For example, Enzo Birk went 9-4 at the MXP Tacoma Modern $20K RCQ with the list shown above.

Twiddle Storm has been a fringe Modern archetype for a while and Preordain makes the strategy more consistent. The game plan is to find Lotus Field, untap it with cards like Twiddle, and generate loads of mana. Untapping The One Ring to draw loads of cards in a single turn can be a lot of fun as well. With a large enough storm count, you can Wish for an enormous Empty the Warrens as a win condition.

Alternatively, if you control Underworld Breach, then you could Wish for Tome Scour, alternate between escaping it twice and escaping Twiddle once, mill your entire deck, and finally Wish for Thassa's Oracle to win the game. While Preordain is just a support spell, the selection and consistency it provides for a single mana can make combo decks more viable in competitive events, and Isaac "Bullwinkkle6705" Bullwinkle finished 17th at a Magic Online Challenge this weekend.

All in all, Preordain is a powerful card that has been adopted in a wide variety of Modern decks, ranging from midrange to combo to control. I've highlighted eight of them. Although Orcish Bowmasters provides a way to punish opponents who draw too many cards, Preordain looks poised to become a Modern staple.

Looking Ahead

As the Modern RCQ season is coming up soon, the format is brimming with potential. If your dream is to qualify for the Pro Tour in the 2023–24 season via the Regional Championship qualification path, then the following infographic provides a visual overview to Pro Tour fame.

Cycle 1 (Pioneer): There's one weekend to go for the current cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers, which runs through August 20 in the Pioneer format. Due to format matching, these qualifiers award invitations to a Regional Championship in the Pioneer format. Details are not available for all these Regional Championships yet, but they include the Legacy European Championship in France starting on September 30, the Champions Cup Final in Japan on November 25–26, and the Dreamhack Magic Showdown in the United States on December 16–17. Top players from these Regional Championships qualify for the Pro Tour that will be held at MagicCon: Chicago in February. More details regarding this event, including the Pro Tour formats, will be announced at a later time. Pro Tour formats are not necessarily the same as the formats of their corresponding Regional Championships.

Cycle 2 (Modern): The next cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers runs from September 9 through December 17 in the Modern format. Due to format matching, they award invitations to a Regional Championship in the Modern format. These Regional Championships will take place between January 19 and March 24 in 2024 and will qualify players for a Pro Tour in the second quarter of 2024. More details concerning its location and formats will be announced at a later time.

Cycle 3 (Standard): The third cycle of Regional Championship Qualifiers runs from January 2024 through March 2024 in the Standard format. Due to format matching, they award invitations to a Regional Championship later that year in the Standard format. Pro Tour details will be announced at a later time.

Join me again next week for a look at Vintage and Legacy, in which I'll analyze the impact of the recently unbanned Mind's Desire in Legacy. But there are many ways to play the game we all love. I'm already looking forward to the pinnacle of the 2022–23 season: Magic World Championship XXIX, the most prestigious event of the year. It will take place live at MagicCon: Las Vegas on September 22-24, 2023, featuring brand new Standard and draft formats with Wilds of Eldraine!

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