Welcome back to another breakdown of the latest stop of the SCG Tour®, this time in Philadelphia. Izzet Phoenix (and Faithless Looting) are unsurprisingly going to be a lot of the discussion this week as we break down how Day 2 went for those decks, discuss some of the better performers, and then look at Day 2 in connection with Faithless Looting and other pillars of the Modern format to better understand its place in the metagame.
Let's start with Izzet Phoenix, by far the largest percentage of Day 2. We can explore how Izzet Phoenix interacted with the rest of the metagame with such a large sample size. Izzet Phoenix is clearly the consensus "best deck" in Modern right now, so how did it match up? By our data for the tournament, mostly well against a variety of decks, within a match win here and there. Phoenix's margins are not super-wide across most matchups. Phoenix was clearly targeted by some: even with the preponderance of Shatterstorms and Abrades, Phoenix gave up the tournament to Whir Prison. Other decks that were supposed to target Phoenix, like Grixis Death's Shadow and Burn, seem to have been figured out by Phoenix pilots, as they posted twice as many won matches than those other decks could claim versus Phoenix. But when we break down win percentage, that's where this becomes interesting.
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|Jund Death's Shadow||0/2||-||0/1||0/1||0/1||1/1||-||-||-||0/1||-||-||-||2/0||-|
Phoenix against the format seems to post a lot of even matchups. But against the tournament itself, it actually posted a slightly sub-50% win rate. This is what you should expect: as a deck becomes a larger share of the metagame, its win rate goes down. It's when the win rate of a deck continues to be high while holding a metagame share that we should be concerned. It seems that, despite the concerns of many people, the format is adjusting to Phoenix.
Phoenix hung with most of the random things that the Modern format threw at it: from Dredge to Colorless Eldrazi, Phoenix usually was able to stick with the competition within one or two match wins. Outliers to that from the smaller metagame shares were decks like Ad Nauseam and Faeries, which make sense on paper. But against the rest? Phoenix did fine. Only fine. While the prevalence of Phoenix in the field might make it seem that the deck is dominating Modern, the results from this tournament suggest that Phoenix is a deck where players get to leverage play skill through consistency and tune their strategies for success. Phoenix's consistency is the foundation for players to build on and leverage their skill, but it is not an impenetrable, unbeatable strategy.
One notable archetype did perform consistently well against Izzet Phoenix: big mana strategies. We'll dig into those in the next section.
|Grixis Death's Shadow||3/6||-||0/3||2/1||-||-||1/0|
If you love big mana strategies, Izzet Phoenix's domination of Modern should make you very happy: Izzet Phoenix is the prey you've been looking for. TitanShift, Amulet Titan, and Tron all posted positive matchups against Izzet Phoenix. Izzet Phoenix's inability to handle large creatures (Beacon Bolt being the best removal in the Phoenix decks now) makes Primeval Titan and Wurmcoil Engine strong threats versus it. Ugin, the Spirit Dragon has probably never been stronger in Modern.
Amulet Titan also has demonstrated the ability to out-race Phoenix decks and is so violently proactive it crushed players who tried to take Humans out of the woodshed. While the deck has a relatively low adoption rate compared to its strength, there has never been a better time to learn Amulet Titan, particularly when you look at the consistent performance of the Amulet "Stronghold," players like Edgar Magalhaes, Dominic Harvey, Daryl Ayers, and Matthew Dilks. We can trace the evolution of Amulet Titan with these players from week to week as they refine the deck. That it did so well in the hands of extremely strong and competent Amulet Titan players is a credit to their skill.
We wanted to highlight TitanShift as a deck that has also started to show some potential. A potentially strong matchup against Whir Prison (even though that wasn't borne out this weekend) and Izzet Phoenix suggests that TitanShift can brawl with the Level 0 and Level 1 decks of the format. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle has also been quietly yet consistently landing Top 8 berths at the MagicFest level, which leads us to think that the deck has potential; it just hasn't attracted a critical mass of pilots to it.
Our analysis would not be complete if we didn't briefly touch on Dredge, the other Faithless Looting deck. Dredge wasn't as popular as Phoenix – we suspect there's some internal bias in Magic players, as they enjoy casting blue cantrips but using the Dredge mechanic is looked down upon as "unfair" – but it did show an ability to win against almost anything. Its worst matchup was Golgari Midrange, presumably because players were taking Gerry Thompson's advice and packing Nihil Spellbombs. Dredge looks to be a fine choice if you're interested in the deck, but if you're not, there's nothing that suggests picking up Dredge is a superior deck choice to Izzet Phoenix.
What decks that were supposed to be big going into the weekend or supposedly had a good matchup versus Izzet Phoenix failed to perform? Grixis Death's Shadow and Burn stick out the most as vaunted killers of Izzet Phoenix who were soundly beaten by the deck. Burn seemed to be very prepared to be beaten this weekend, not only by Phoenix but also everyone else. Grixis Death's Shadow had to deal with players picking up its worst nemesis again, in the form of Humans. Golgari Midrange did not hit Izzet Phoenix as hard as it was supposed to.
And then everyone else was beating on these decks: Azorius Control, while dying to big mana strategies like TitanShift and Tron, was beating on Golgari Midrange. Humans was beating down on everything they could while Tron and Dredge defeated them. It was a dogpile of decks that just posted more polarized or significant vulnerabilities to larger swaths of the metagame that contributed to their lack of success in Day 2.
Another Look at the Big Three
After this weekend, which included not only SCG Philadelphia but also MagicFest Tampa and MagicFest Bilbao, there has been a lot of social media buzz about Faithless Looting and its prevalence among the Top 8 of these collected tournaments. This concern is not unwarranted: decks that featured Faithless Looting as central to their strategy took ten out of the 24 slots across these three tournaments. Considering the "holy trinity" that Bryan Gottlieb suggested for Regionals, we wanted to explore how these decks match up against each other and against the format in general, based on SCG Philadelphia.
First, let's look at Mox Opal, Faithless Looting, and Ancient Stirrings versus everything else. (Note: we coded Whir Prison decks as Mox Opal decks and Grixis Death's Shadow decks as a non-Faithless Looting, even though it is very common practice for Death's Shadow players to have a singleton Faithless Looting in their maindeck.)
It looks fairly evenly matched. While Mox Opal decks are the smallest representation in this, we can see that Ancient Stirrings and Faithless Looting decks and the margin between their performance and the rest of the field isn't as large as it might seem if you look exclusively at event Top 8s. So we thought: let's get more nuanced with it. What if we added to the "trinity?" To this end, we further broke down based on other key cards that helped define the archetype of the decks in Day 2, adding another three (Thoughtseize, Cryptic Command, and Aether Vial) and then lumping the rest together of the Day 2 decks together.
We start to see more nuance here and the gulfs between the haves and the have-nots grow. What are Faithless Looting decks succeeding against? Aether Vial decks - unsurprising, as Thing in the Ice is the worst card for tribal and "hatebear" style decks to see across the table. Cryptic decks - this might be Phoenix carried by Dredge's strong performance against control strategies.
But Faithless Looting decks have vulnerabilities and are not overwhelmingly dominant against any one particular group, not to the extent that other groups are - Thoughtseize, for example, was a rather polarizing approach, as it lost hard to Aether Vial and Cryptic strategies but did well against the random detritus of the format. Cryptic Command similarly had polarizing gulfs, also doing poorly against Aether Vial while doing well against Thoughtseize and Mox Opal strategies. What it looks like, though, is that Ancient Stirrings is doing a certain amount of gatekeeping, a little bit more than Faithless Looting, as Ancient Stirrings is performing better versus Faithless Looting decks as well as the rest of the format.
While Mox Opal, Faithless Looting, and Ancient Stirrings are undoubtedly pillars of the format, we think the rush to call for a ban on Faithless Looting is, in our opinion, very premature. Krark-Clan Ironworks, which based on our data was one of the best decks against Izzet Phoenix, has only been banned for two months at this point. The format has been and still is adapting to Izzet Phoenix.