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Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch: By the Meta

Normally, this is where I start writing my "By The Numbers" article, focusing on which decks under performed, which decks over performed, and what the format looks like moving forwards. However, this time around it didn't feel worthwhile. While I'm still going to break down the numbers, the Eldrazi decks were so dominant. Historically dominant in fact. I'm not sure breaking down the numbers on each and every deck is all that enlightening. It would basically be an article which amounted to, "Eldrazi is the best." Moving forward we know two things: Eldrazi is the best deck, and it isn't particularly close. If you are going to play a Modern tournament and not play Eldrazi, you need to play a deck that can beat Eldrazi.

I'm not sure that deck exists.

The only decks that could compete with Eldrazi were Affinity and Infect, which made up most of the other top slots in the tournament. Even those decks didn't appear favored against Eldrazi when they ran into each other in feature matches. Essentially, to have success at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch you either needed to be playing Eldrazi or Inkmoth Nexus. That's it. You can't play your Tarmogoyfs, your Scapeshifts, and you certainly can't play a control deck. You will simply get crushed by Eldrazi or an Inkmoth Nexus deck.

As such, by the end of day two the conversation on social media had shifted to if it was possible to beat Eldrazi, and if so, how? The general feeling seems to be some type of prison strategy with Ensnaring Bridge, Blood Moon, Ghostly Prison, and the like. It does feel like this type of deck could have a good matchup against Eldrazi, but there are two other problems. First, these decks lose to other things, possibly even Affinity and Infect, but second, and more importantly, people don't like these decks. Hell, before this weekend there was a serious outcry from some in the community to ban Blood Moon, and Ensnaring Bridge is almost as hateful. Do we really want a metagame that is Eldrazi versus Blood Moon and Ensnaring Bridge?

Anyway, today we are going to break down the numbers on Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch in a slightly different way, instead of going deck by deck, we are going to go metagame by metagame, starting with the Day One meta and moving all the way through the Top Eight. This way we can still get an interesting picture of how Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch played out, but without me repeating how everything was so much worse than Eldrazi a million times. Let's begin with the Day One meta.

Day One Metagame

The day one meta at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch was fairly predictable. Coming into the tournament, most people expected Burn, Infect, and Affinity to be the big players. The all pro field seemed to back up the prediction, with one out of every three players showing up with one of these three decks. On the other hand, Eldrazi coming in fourth was somewhat of a surprise. We simply didn't know how good the deck could be, or if any of the pro teams had been able to figure out it. While we knew there was a chance, just how much of a chance was the wildcard. 

Beyond the top four decks, the fact that Tron was nowhere to be found was interesting. Many people thought it would spring to the top of the format with the banning of Splinter Twin. The fact that 10% of players showed up with some form of BGx was somewhat surprising, since it was rumored to be poorly positioned in the fresh format. 

Basically, the day one metagame is the baseline reading for the format, and will be important as we move forward through the rest of the article. In theory, decks that improve on their day one numbers performed well, while decks whose numbers decreased performed poorly.  

Day Two Metagame Breakdown

Now, before we discuss the decks in the day two metagame breakdown, I should mention a problem with analyzing this data from a Pro Tour. One of the unique aspects of any Pro Tour is that the nearly half of the rounds are limited. Making day two isn't simply about how good your constructed deck performed. You could have the best Modern deck at the event and if you bomb your draft it isn't going to save you. It is also important to remember that making day two is necessary to make the Top Eight. When a deck performs horribly on day one and misses out on day two, it's unreasonable to expect it to perform well by other metrics. 

Winners: While the percentage changes are relatively small at this early stage, the two big winners from day one are Eldrazi (+2.7%) and Infect (+2.2%). We should also note that this strong showing may be in part because of who was playing the deck. Team ChannelFireball / Face-to-Face Games came packing Eldrazi and the Pantheon came with Infect, so many of the best players in the room were playing one of these two decks. 

Losers: The biggest loser on day one was Zoo (-1.9%), along with Abzan (-0.9%) and Burn (-0.8%). My guess is that Abzan was just a poor choice for the event, while Burn and Zoo got hated out by the top performing decks, specifically by the four main deck Chalice of the Void from the ChannelFireball build of Eldrazi. If there is one card you don't want to see across the table as a Burn player, it's Chalice for X = 1. 

We also see the "others" category (-2.6%) start to drop off, as people who showed up with fringe strategies and odd one-off decks performed poorly overall. Here again it isn't clear if this trend is because of the decks themselves, or because the "others" category is more likely to include PTQ winners and semi-pros, which aren't as well equipped as the bigger teams. Regardless, being a fringe deck is not where you wanted to be on day one of Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. 

7-3 or Better Metagame

The 7-3 or better meta is just as it sounds. If we took all the players that finished the constructed portion with at least seven wins and put them in their own tournament, this chart is what it would look like. At this point the field has tightened significantly, from 400 players on day one, to over 200 on day two, to just 58 players who managed at least seven wins in constructed. We also start to see major movement for the first time, as opposed to the day two meta, which didn't look all that different from day one.

Winners: Obviously the big winner is Eldrazi (+15.1% from day two), which more than doubled its presence in the day two meta. It is now the most played deck in the field, to the point where one in every four players is on the deck. However, Eldrazi is not the only winner, Affinity (+4.2% from day two) makes some big, but more realistic, gains as well. Altogether Eldrazi and Affinity make up 43% of the field, and if we throw in Infect, the top three decks make up more than half of the 7-3 or better meta. 

Losers: This is where the wheels fall off for GBx, with Abzan dropping completely out of the metagame (after starting day one at 5%) and Jund falling to 1.7% of the field. To put it into perspective, Jund and Abzan lost 83% of its players from day one to the 7-3 meta. Burn also hits the wall (-3.6% from day two), likely because it can't compete with Chalice of the Void and Affinity running around at the top tables. 

Other Decks: While I didn't want to clutter the graph with decks from the "others" category, I did want to give a shout out to Abzan Company, which clawed its way up to 6.8% of the 7-3 or better metagame. While it didn't show up in force, the players who chose Abzan Company were rewarded with strong constructed finishes. 

8-2 or Better Meta

At Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch only 21 players ended up with a 8-2 or better record in constructed, an elite club consisting of 5.3% of all day one players. This is the cream of the crop. With a 8-2 record in constructed, a player would only need to go 4-2 in limited to have a shot at the Top Eight. Going 5-1 would guarantee a slot. The 8-2 or better meta is where things start to get absurd. 

Winners: There is only one winner here, Eldrazi. The numbers are staggering. After starting day one with 8% of the meta, the Eldrazi deck once against doubles its percentage to a stunning 47.6% of the 8-2 or better meta. In fact, Eldrazi came one-half of a deck short of making 50% of the field, meaning it was more visible than all the other decks put together

Affinity is also a winner, at least in some sense. Even though its numbers are down from the 7-3 meta (-2.7%), it is the only non-Eldrazi deck to put more than one player into the 8-2 or better field. Otherwise, we some some of the decks from the "others" category make an appearance, with Naya Company, Goryo's Vengeance, and Scapeshift each having one player (one player equals 4.7% of the field). 

Losers: Easily the biggest loser is Burn, which is down to a single player after starting day one with 51 pilots. The same goes for Infect, which apparently couldn't keep up at the top tables. It dropped from 10.3% of the 7-3 meta to a goose egg at getting a player to 8-2 or better. It's also worth noting that, by this point, Eldrazi is making itself a loser since due to the number of mirror matches at the top tables. 

Top 8 Meta

First off, Spike Feeder combo deserve a mention. It is the only deck in the tournament that managed to go 9-1 or better in constructed and miss the Top Eight, due to a poor limited performance. While it probably doesn't mean much, especially considering it was likely in the losers' bracket (and therefore not playing Eldrazi consistently), it is at least worth exploring. 

The Top 8 meta is the culmination of what we have been seeing throughout our analysis. Eldrazi gains an even bigger share of the meta, up from 8% at the start of day one to 75% of the Top Eight, while Affinity is the only other deck that even makes the field. All in all, the performance of Affinity is about what we would expect. While its metagame share is up slightly from the beginning of the tournament, where it started with 13%, Affinity performed average or slightly above average at every check point. Meanwhile, Eldrazi beat everything else right out of the metagame, leaving us with a Top Eight that is lacking diversity in historic proportions. 

What's This Tell Us?

  • Clearly Eldrazi was the best deck at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. It also has a legitimate claim to be the best deck at any Pro Tour in the history of Magic. Whether or not this means Eldrazi is clearly the best deck in Modern moving forward remains to be seen. My guess is yes, it is.
  • One of the arguments I heard a million times on stream during Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch is "give the metagame time to prepare." To me this feels false. Do we really believe that the best Magic players in the world spent two weeks preparing for Modern and everyone except the 8% simply missed the Eldrazi deck, to the point where the didn't prepare at all for it? To me that logic seems shaky at best. While it is true that the deck will have a huge target on its back moving forward, I've seen pros talking about the Eldrazi deck on social media for months, so to assume that they just didn't prepare for it seems questionable at best. 
  • Affinity was the second best deck at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch, but because of the historic dominance of Eldrazi, second best means it performed average, or at best slightly above average. 
  • Infect performed well throughout the event, and again, by well I mean average, since nothing but Eldrazi truly performed well at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. It did have a lack of high end finishes. The big drop between 7 wins and 8 wins is troubling, especially considering the deck was played by several Hall of Famers. 
  • Burn was by far the biggest loser. It performed poorly at every check mark, and basically had an abyssal record. I chalk this up to so many main deck copies of Chalice of the Void. It seems unlikely Burn will be well positioned moving forward. 
  • Abzan Company appears to have had a good weekend, but the sample size is too small to say much. We also don't really know how the deck matches up with Eldrazi, which is the way Modern decks will be measured going forward. 
  • GBx seems unplayable based on its performance at Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch. If you insist on sleeving up Dark Confidant and Liliana of the Veil, Jund is better than Abzan at the moment. 

Here's the pathway to success. First, and above all else, figure out a way to beat Eldrazi. If your deck doesn't have at least some shot at beating it, leave it at home. Whoever figures out a deck that beats Eldrazi will be rewarded with a huge finish at the next SCG Tour event or Modern Grand Prix. Otherwise, keep ample Affinity hate in your sideboard, because you are still going to run into the Robots. While I'm not sure it has a good matchup against Eldrazi, it might have a good enough matchup to remain a tier one deck in the format.


Anyway, that's all for today. Someday soon I hope to write an article about what the Twin banning did to Pro Tour Oath of the Gatewatch and what it did to Blue in Modern. Spoiler: the banning appears to have killed Blue.

For now, what do you make of the numbers? What is your plan for beating Eldrazi? Does Affinity have a chance, or is it time for turn two combos, Ensnaring Bridge, and Blood Moon? Will the UR Eldrazi deck hate out the Colorless builds (and Chalice of the Void along with them) allowing Burn and/or Zoo a chance to shine again? As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestion in the comments. You can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive.

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