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Meta Snapshot: Magic Origins Standard (Aug 2015)

A couple months ago I wrote an article analyzing data on 85k games of Standard, but one of the characteristics of the Standard format is that it is constantly changing as new sets are released and the metagame evolves. A lot has happened over the past couple months: First Magic Origins released, bringing along with it not only the five flipwalkers, but format staples like Exquisite Firecraft, Hangarback Walker and Languish. A couple weeks later, we had Pro Tour Magic Origins which pushed UR Ensoul Artifacts from unknown deck to among the most played deck in the format. It should come as no surprise that things look a bit different now than they did back in June. We refreshed the data with 56k games of Magic Origins Standard, so today we'll spend some analyzing it. Be sure to check out the Metagame Matchups for Standard and skim the data before continuing on.

The Big Picture

The speed of Standard has picked up significantly compard to two months ago; the average game of Standard ends 0.8 turns faster now than it did back then. Along with this change comes an even greater advantage for winning the die roll with the odds of winning on the play increasing from 54 to 54.6 percent. While I don't have much historical data to go on, getting a nearly 10 percent advantage based on the die roll seems like a lot, maybe even too much. At last check, being on the play in Modern was only a 7.2 percent advantage, and the common knowledge is that being on the play is even more of an advantage in faster non-rotating formats. Being heavily favored on the play is probably a combination of so many fast decks in the format (Mono Red, UR Ensoul Artifact, etc) and so many come-into-play-tapped lands (gainlands, scrylands, tri-lands).

If You Want to Win, Don't Listen To Cuneo (or Majors, or Me)

For me the UR Tutelage Mill deck was love at first sight; all it does is draw cards, and thanks to the triggered ability on Sphinx's Tutelage, drawing cards is enough to win you the game. After Andrew Cuneo was seen on camera having a reasonable amount of success with the deck during Pro Tour Magic Origins, I featured it on Budget Magic, and the following weekend it won Grand Prix San Diego in the hands of Michael Majors. Based on all this success and how different and interesting the deck is, it isn't surprising that people picked it up; UR Tutelage Mill is the fifth most played deck in our sample, coming in at 4.62 percent of the meta. 

Remember how I said that drawing cards with UR Tutelage Mill wins you games? Apparently this isn't true very often. The deck is — by far — the worst performing deck out of the ten most played decks in our sample coming in at a lowly 36.88 match win percentage. In fact, UR Tutelage Mill is one of the worst five performing decks in our entire sample. It's that bad.

Looking at the individual matchups just makes things worse. UR Tutelage Mill's best matchups is Jeskai Tempo, and even here UR Tutelage Mill only wins 44 percent of the time. Yes, that's right: UR Tutelage Mill is a 6 point dog in its BEST matchup. Some of the other matchups are downright laughable. 16 percent against Abzan Aggro, 17 percent against GW Megamorph, 26 percent against UR Ensoul Artifact, 27 percent against Mono Red Aggro. I could go on, but I think you get the picture. And remember, this is over the course of 5,000 matches, so its not like the numbers are being skewed by a small sample size. While we don't have the historical data to back this up, there seems to be a very real possibility that UR Tutelage Mill is the worst "Top 5 Most Played Deck" of all time, in the entire 20+ year history of Magic: the Gathering. This also shows you how much players love Mill and how desperately they want to make it work.

The Good Budget Magic Deck

So admittedly, I might have lead you astray on UR Tutelage Mill, but it seems I was right about Nyx-Fleece Ram. GW Constellation manages to squeak into our ten most played decks at number eight, making up 3.29 percent of the field. Better yet, it posts a solid 55.18 match win percentage, good for second place among the ten most played decks and fourth overall. Sounds good, right?

Well, there is a downside to GW Constellation; it may be the biggest boom or bust deck in Standard. It wins nearly 65 percent of the time against UR Ensoul Artifact, Bant Heroic and Jeskai Aggro, and about 55 percent of the time against Abzan Control and GW Megamorph, which is great. On the other hand, it loses nearly 60 percent of the time to Esper Dragons and GR Devotion and gets absolutely wrecked by Abzan Aggro

The Esper Dragons problem makes sense; it is very possible to have your board wrathed, your Sigil of the Empty Throne countered, and lose the game without ever really doing anything. Why the other two matchups are bad is a little more confusing. My guess would be that GR Devotion can go over the top, which is apparently good enough, especially when backed up by Unravel the Aether and Reclamation Sage post board, while Abzan Aggro has access to a fast clock, Dromoka's Command and Tragic Arrogance, which might be the single hardest card for GW Constellation to beat. Basically, GW Constellation is a solid choice, but it is very metagame dependent. If you expect to face a lot of its good matchups, you'll likely have a solid shot of making the Top 8, but if you run into the bad matchups, pulling a Nyx-Fleece Ram (going 0/5) is more likely. 

The Pro Tour Champ

Mono Red Aggro is the third most played deck in our sample, making up 6.99 percent of the field. When you consider that Atarka Sligh comes in fourth and makes up another 6.86 percent of the field, it becomes clear that Red Aggro is — far and away — the most played deck on Magic Online at the moment. In fact, if you combine the two red decks, they come in nearly 5 percentage points above the next most played decks (UR Ensoul Artifact and Abzan Control), and are played nearly three times as often as the fourth and fifth most played decks in the format. 

Why some people continue to opt for Atarka Sligh remains a mystery. The Mono-Red version clearly has an advantage over the field at large, posting a match win percentage about four points greater than the splash-Green build (53.5 percent to 49.6 percent). Atarka Sligh only has a significant advantage in one matchup: For some reason you gain nearly 15 percent in your Esper Dragons matchup by splashing green.

The reason for this huge dependency is actually fairly interesting. For one thing, Atarka Sligh is actually a much lower-to-the-ground build. While Mono-Red only plays seven one-drops, Atarka Sligh plays 12, making it much more likely the deck can overwhelm Esper Dragons before it has time to stabilize and gain control of the game. Second, the painful manabase on Atarka Sligh (highlighted by four copies of Mana Confluence) is actually a serious downside in many of the decks worst matchups (including Mono-Red, UR Ensoul Artifact and Abzan Aggro), but against Esper Dragons this really don't matter. I'm pretty sure Esper Dragons could start with Curse of the Pierced Heart on the battlefield every game and it wouldn't swing the matchup. Finally, Atarka Sligh simply plays less cards that are dead in the matchup. In Mono-Red Eidolon of the Great Revel and Searing Blood, basically mulligans against Esper Dragons, are taking up eight slots in the maindeck. In Atarka Sligh, these slots are filled with things like Dragon Fodder and Hordeling Outburst which are actually quite strong in the matchup. Now none of this really matters anyway because in most other matchups Mono-Red is superior mostly thanks to its ability to have 50/50 matchups against decks like GR Devotion and UR Ensoul Artifact, which absolutely crush Atarka Sligh. If you are choosing between the two Red Aggro decks, sticking with Mono-Red is pretty clearly the right choice unless you are expecting to face a ton of blue-based control decks. 

Why Aren't More People Playing This?

Abzan Aggro comes in at the very bottom of our ten most played decks at 2.81 percent of the field, but it has the best total match win percentage not just out of the heavily played decks, but out of all the decks in our sample at a staggering 58.70 over the course of more than 3,000 matches. The only truly bad matchup for the deck is Esper Dragons, and even this isn't that bad (Abzan Aggro wins about 45 percent of the time). The good matchups are numerous: Against GR Devotion, UR Ensoul Artifact and Mono-Red Aggro, the deck wins more than 60 percent of the time, while also boasting favorable matchups against Bant Heroic, Jeskai Tempo and Abzan Control

Maybe the most interesting part of Abzan Aggro is how much the deck has improved since our last Standard analysis two months ago. Back then, Abzan Aggro was still a fine choice, winning about 54 percent of the time, but a 5 percentage point increase definitely bears investigation. The main changes to the deck during this time was the addition of Den Protector and Hangarback Walker at the expense of Rakshaha Deathdealer and maindeck Thoughtseize. This benefits of this more resilient build is most clear in the Abzan Control matchup which swung from poor to fairly good. The old builds of Abzan Aggro more or less scooped to Languish, but both Den Protector and Hangarback Walker offer a ton of wrath protection. The other things that has improved the fortunes of Abzan Aggro is that Pro Tour Magic Origins heavily influenced the metagame. UR Ensoul Artifact, one of Abzan Aggro's best matchups,  wasn't even a deck two months ago and is now the single most played deck in our sample. Abzan Aggro also performs well against Red Aggro, which has also picked up steam since winning the Pro Tour.

While unforeseen shifts in the meta could make Abzan Aggro worse, if I had to pick one deck to build that would be good now and still good after Theros rotates in September, Abzan Aggro would be it. The deck doesn't lose very much at rotation (basically Fleecemane Lion and a couple of one-ofs), and it has proven to be playable in several very different metas, so its seems like a safe bet and investment for the fall. 

Caw Blade... or Not

Coming off a historically great performance during the constructed portion of Pro Tour Magic Origins, UR Ensoul Artifact has been middling over the past couple weeks. As I mentioned a moment ago, if we count Atarka Sligh and Mono Red as different archetypes, UR Ensoul Artifact is the most played deck in our sample, coming in at 9.77 percent of the field. Its total match win percentage of 53.51 is acceptable, placing it fifth-best out of the ten most played archetypes. But Caw Blade this is not. 

The good news about the deck is that it has game against pretty much everything. While it has one truly bad matchup (Abzan Aggro) and one truly great matchup (Esper Dragons), pretty much every other matchup falls between 46 and 51 percent. This might explain why the deck performed so well at the Pro Tour. While winning a matchup 47 or 49 percent of the time isn't great, it is close enough to 50/50 that a strong player (like many of those who played the deck at the Pro Tour) can potentially swing a lot of matchups based on play skill alone. 

On the other hand, if players continue to move towards Abzan Aggro and GW Megamorph (another relatively poor matchup for UR Ensoul Artifact), the outlook for the deck gets significantly worse. The fact that the best performing deck in our analysis (Abzan Aggro) is also the worst matchup for UR Ensoul Artifact is definitely problematic. In the long term none of this really matters because it is close to impossible that UR Ensoul Artifact can survive rotation with the loss of Darksteel Citadel, Shrapnel Blast and Ensoul Artifact. So regardless of how good or bad the deck may be, it won't even been in our sample next time we analyze Standard. 

Yawn, New Day, Same as Yesterday

I almost didn't write about Abzan Control, but since it is the second most played deck in our sample coming in at 8.39 percent of the meta, I figured I should probably try to say something. The problem is, you all know what this deck does by now. It 50/50's everyone (except for Bant Heroic and GR Devotion, which are strong matchups), plays all the best removal and midrange threats in its colors, and wins on the back of Elspeth, Sun's Champion and Siege Rhino

The only real addition to the deck since since June is Nissa, Vastwood Seer and the lack of Sylvan Caryatid, but otherwise this is basically the same deck that was seeing play all the way back to Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir nearly a year ago. A more interesting question is whether or not this deck will still be gracing the top tables after Theros block rotates in a little over a month.

While it is hard to say for sure without knowing what goodies BFZ may bring, on paper it appears there will be little reason to play Abzan Control over Abzan Aggro post rotation. I already mentioned that the Aggro build loses basically nothing, but the control build loses its best finisher in Elspeth, Sun's Champion, its best disruption in Thoughtseize, Hero's Downfall, and Bile Blight, and its best source of card advantage in Courser of Kruphix. It seems likely that Abzan players will shift towards the Aggro build and, after more than a year, I'll finally be able to stop writing about Abzan Control

Your Deck is Bad, and You Should Feel Bad

Apart from the joke that is UR Tutelage Mill, Bant Heroic has the worst overall win percentage among the ten most played decks in our field. In fact, it is the only other deck to have a sub-50 percent total match win percentage, coming in at 48.28 percent. While Bant Heroic basically gets a free win against GR Devotion (where it wins an astounding 78 percent of the time) and is slightly favored against UR Ensoul Artifact, every other major matchup is bad with Bant Heroic winning only 38 to 44 percent of the time. 

This poor by the numbers performance seems to be at odds with several high profile performances at the SCG and GP level, mostly in the hands of the Roanoke crew featuring Brad Nelson, CVM, BBD, Chris Anderson and Tom Ross. My take away from this disconnect between subjective observation and objective data is twofold. First, Bant Heroic is a deck that rewards strong play and experience with the archetype. If you are some random player who picks up Bant Heroic because it is inexpensive or because you saw it on camera last weekend, you are probably going to get crushed by pretty much everything. On the other hand, if you are a strong player and good at playing the deck, you can leverage your skill and experience into a winning record. Second, as various pros have mentioned (I specifically remember Paul Rietzl talking about this during the Standard Super League stream), Bant Heroic is a very difficult deck to play against if are not very good at Magic. Sometimes it feels like Bant Heroic has an answer to everything in your hand, and until you learn to manipulate the game into positions where your removal can get through their seemingly endless bag of tricks, you're going to lose — a lot. 

Bant Heroic can be an SCG Open all-star because the best (and most experienced) players in the room are running the deck and the overall skill level of an Open tournament is comparatively low. But for the average random player, the data suggests the deck should be avoided at all costs. 

The Other Post-Rotation Deck, Maybe

Jeskai Tempo is the sixth most played deck in our field, making up 4.51 percent of the meta. It also posts a fine 52.96 overall match win percentage, good for fourth among the ten most played decks. My initial impression of Jeskai Tempo is that it has potential to be a post-rotation all star. It loses the now-replaceable Goblin Rabblemaster, Stoke the Flames and a couple Stormbreath Dragons, but the core of the deck built around Dig Through Time, Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Ojutai's Command and Soulfire Grand Master remains. 

However, after looking at the matchups, I'm not so sure about Jeskai Aggro's future. It has strong matchups against three heavily played decks: Bant Heroic, Abzan Control and UR Ensoul Artifact. On the other hand, it gets crushed by Mono-Red, Abzan Aggro, Esper Dragons and GW Megamorph. The problem here is every single good matchup is about to rotate from the format. Bant Heroic and UR Ensoul Artifact are almost guaranteed to no longer exist come October, while Abzan Control (a good matchup) seems likely to morph into Abzan Aggro (a bad matchup). Meanwhile, the deck's bad matchups reads like a who's who list of decks with post-rotation potential. Mono-Red will undoubtedly be a deck, Abzan Aggro and GW Megamorph are very likely to be decks, and some sort of Esper Control deck is usually around. 

This doesn't mean that Jeskai Tempo will not exist post rotation, but it seems likely that the metagame will be much more hostile for the strategy, which decreases the odds of it being successful. 

I Still Don't Understand...

I will never understand the numbers on GR Devotion. Just like last time, the deck posts a positive overall match win percentage (although it is down from 54 to 51 percent), but it still has a horrible record against most of the other top tier decks in our field. It boasts a slightly favorable (between 51 and 54 MWP) matchup against Jeskai, UR Ensoul Artifact and Mono-Red Aggro, but in every other major matchup, GR Devotion doesn't just lose, it gets decimated. 

It only beats Bant Heroic 21 percent of the time, which means you literally have a better shot mulliganing to five every game with random decks (where you'll win about 26 percent of the time) than you do beating Bant Heroic with GR Devotion. Worse yet, GW Megamorph and Abzan Aggro are almost mull-to-five matchups as well. Thankfully, against Abzan Control and Esper Dragons things get easier. Instead of starting with only five cards, you get a match win percentage similar to starting with six at just below 40 percent. So how does GR Devotion manage to post a positive total match win percentage? Basically, it beats up on tier two and tier three decks. 

Against things like BG Elves, Abzan Delve, Temur and Bant Midrange, WR Control and the like, GR Devotion win somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the time. While you're not all that likely to run into these matchups consistently (and even less so at the top tables of major events), all these fringe matchups add up in GR Devotion's favor and, over the course of time, swing the total match win percentage into positive territory.

Notes on Decks Outside the Top 10

  • The worst deck is something called Hardened Scales Control. Why is it the worst, you might ask? Well, in absolute terms it is because it only wins 26.52 percent of its matches, but the real reason it that is plays four copies of Hardened Scales with a total of eight creatures. #DeckBuilding
  • If you want to play Red Aggro, please don't splash blue. Apparently splashing blue for just four copies of Treasure Cruise is enough to drop your match win percentage nearly 30 points. 
  • Don't play decks with "Control" (except Abzan) or "Demonic Pact" in their name. Over the course of nearly 10,000 matchs, the nine decks in our field with "Control" or "Pact" in their name only managed to win 45 percent of the time.
  • The best darkhorse decks? Both Naya and BR Dragons come in the top six for overall match win percentage (55.24 and 54.43 respectably), although they only make up a small percentage of the field. Also, an honorable mention to Goblins, which posted the 10th best win percentage (53.35) while being the 15th most played deck in our sample. 
  • GW Collected Company was the darling of our last format analysis, posting the best overall match win percentage while only making up 2.26 percent of the field. This time around it is the deck's descendant, GW Megamorph, that picks up the mantle, posting the second best win percentage (behind Abzan Aggro) at 57.31 percent while making up just 2.42 percent of our sample.  


Anyway, that's all for today. What do you make of this data? Is there anything that surprises you? Let me know in the comments, or you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 

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