MTGO Vintage Metagame Report: May
As part of Ryan and I's commitment to bringing cold, hard data to the Vintage Community (however that may be defined), we would like to start monthly installments of MTGO metagame reports. Our data sets will include both the results of Daily events and (eventually) the aggregate results of individual Vintage challenges. Before we dive into the data, we should take a moment to explain certain elements of our methodology (which will likely be cut and pasted in subsequent reports).
Methodology and FAQs
What are Vintage Dailies?
Vintage Dailies are four round swiss events that fire, as the name would imply, at least once a day. Wizards relays the full decklists of the 3-1 and better finishers on their website. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, there are three daily events - someone at Wizards somehow selects one of them to be published though the details are unknown (Brian Kelly believes they purposefully choose events in which he doesn't 4-0. We are doubtful that this is the case, but wish to humor him by bringing his theory to the collective consideration of the Vintage community). From these lists, Ryan and I categorize decks into archetypes and assign them several descriptive tags. They get entered into a spreadsheet that allows us to do more detailed analysis.
What are the current Archetypes and what decks do they include?
Our list of archetypes will change repeated over the evolution of the format, in part based on what Ryan and I see being played in events, and in part based on feedback from you (hint, hint).They are best used to answer the question "What does the Vintage metagame look like?" The current archetypes are:
- Mentor - This is not any deck with one or more Mentors. This category refers specifically to what was previously Gush Mentor. The current iteration of the deck features Cantrips and restricted cards as the draw engine with Mentor and planeswalkers as threats that win the game. The vast majority of these decks have been UWR, though it would also include Esper and Sylvan (UWRG) Mentor lists.
- Delver - During the first month post-Gush restriction, several versions of more aggressive lists have emerged. The defining characteristic of these decks is the card Delver of Secrets combined with an assortment of two drop threats that complement a slim manabase with Cantrips and restricted cards. Such two drops include Young Pyromancer, Eidolon of the Great Revel, Harsh Mentor.
- Shops - The card Mishra's Workshop is all sorts of broken and so we label those artifact heavy decks after the namesake card. Most decks are aggressive versions feature Arcbound Ravager and Sphere effects. A small minority are Smokestack variants or aggro decks with Null Rod instead of Arcbound Ravager. Of note, we do not consider the decks like 2-Card Monte to be Shops decks. Most Vintage players have a very specific style of play in mind when the term Shops is used, and therefore we categorize Shops-based combo decks like 2-Card Monte into the "Other Combo" category.
- Eldrazi - Aliens invaded every format with the printing of Thought-Knot Seer and Reality Smasher, and Vintage has proven no exception. The two subtypes are White Eldrazi (featuring both Thalias and other hatebears) or Colorless Eldrazi (normally unpowered, with Null Rods and Eldrazi tribal synergies).
- Paradoxical - Paradoxical Outcome decks have quickly emerged as a fixture of the metagame. The actual win condition of these decks tends to be pretty variable. Vault/Key, Mentor, Tendrils of Agony, random creatures, and even Emrakul, the Promised End have all been used (I know I would also use Auriok Salvagers if it was feasible on MTGO).
- Oath - Decks running the card Oath of Druids in the main deck. We do not consider decks that run an Oath transform as part of the Oath archetype (though those decks would have been tagged as Oath). We also give Oath of Druids priority over other archetypes. Paradoxical Oath, Gush Oath, and Oathstill are all considered to be part of this category.
- Dredge - Both Transformational and Anti-Hate sideboard dredge decks. Graveyard based, loads of zombies, Cabal Therapies...you know the deal.
- Null Rod - The remnants of the Null Rod pillar. We consider BUG Fish, Hatebears, 3-5c Humans, and Merfolk as part of this archetype.
- Big Blue - Your Tinker-Vault/Key deck from 3-4 years ago. The most common variant right now is Grixis Thieves.
- Blue Control - Landstill and other control decks. Lots of counterspells, Jace TMS, and random ways of winning the game.
- Other Combo - Non-Paradoxical Outcome based combo decks. For instance, Dark Petition Storm, Ad Nauseam, Gifts Combo, etc.
- Other - If it doesn't fit elsewhere, it goes here. We've used this for Infect, The Mountains Win Again, and that random Modern deck that someone accidentally or intentionally submits.
What are the current tags in use?
Tags are descriptive modifiers with no upper bound. Unlike archetypes, they are not exclusive and most decks are given multiple tags. They are best used to answer the question "How many decks in the field are running _____?" Current list of tags (please chime in with suggestions):
- Blue Control
- Big Blue
- Null Rod
Don't players like Rich Shay, Brian Kelly, and Montolio significantly skew the results of Dailies?
Yes. Yes, they do. Rich had 12 3-1 or better finishes in the month of May. Brian Kelly had 13. What does this mean? Good players can win with mediocre decks, but they will trend towards playing good decks. If Rich plays a deck, does well with it, but decides the deck if flawed in some way, he typically abandons it and moves on to a different deck. It holds that these repeat performances do have some value in determining the best decks in a field. However, it's difficult to assign a quantitative value to that. The answer we arrived at was to create two different columns: one for total finishes and one with redundant results filtered out. Google Sheets allows us to count unique entities within a given archetype, so no matter how many times Brian places with his Paradoxical Dragonlord deck, it only counts as one Paradoxical deck in the end. Use this data as you will.
What is this "Delta % Total" thing?"
Short answer: something we were experimenting with. Long answer: theoretically, it should be possible to infer win rates from the percentage of decks that 4-0 compared to 3-1. If you take a deck with a 50% win rate, the odds of it winning four matches in a row is 1/16. The odds of it winning three out of four matches is 4/16. The ratio of 4-0 decks to 3-1 should be 1:4 if a deck has a 50% win rate. When Ryan tried to work backwards to calculate the win rate, we quickly discovered that the sample size was much too small to derive meaningful data. However, we still wanted a way to measure a compare decks based on these results. We created a weighted category called "total wins" (pretty self-explanatory) and compared that distribution to the unweighted distribution. That is the "Delta % Total" column - the decks that had more 4-0s would have a positive value and decks with relatively more 3-1s would have a negative value.
Alright, that was boring...let's get to the data.
We are going to pass on this with only 2 Vintage Challenges in this month, but in future, we'd take the data from individual challenges and combine them to look at trends and matchup vs matchup data.
All information needs to taken with a grain of salt. I would caution people from drawing rigid conclusions from any individual data set. Is this metagame any different from previous months?
Is any of this significant? No, we need more data and less jumping to conclusions.
On a more positive note, it looks like we have more players playing Vintage on MTGO than in previous months. Reason for that? Who knows...
In terms of archetype classification, I don't think there is much difference between blue control and mentor decks. Sure they have different win conditions, however, both decks are pretty much packing a dozen counterspells maindeck + at least 4-6 removal spells main deck. It just seems like the same concept with only a different wincon. Can we just group them together? We can then make sub-archetypes such as mentor control, landstill control, planeswalker control, big blue control etc.
@HouseOfCards I think now that gush has been restricted the new "Gush Mentor" decks such as my own are even less of a control deck than they were previously. With unrestricted gush I played almost every matchup as the control role because I knew if I didn't die I would eventually outdraw my opponent. Now that gush is restricted I think "Gush Mentor" is much more of the tempo deck that people were mistakenly calling it all along. Note that in our archetype classification not every deck with a Monastary Mentor in it is put in the Mentor archetype. By Mentor we mean decks that resemble the Gush Mentor style of deck. When Brian Kelly runs a mentor or two in his drain PO deck we put that under Blue Control or Paradoxical. Same idea when someone runs a couple mentors in their landstill list.
@HouseOfCards I very much disagree with this. Blue Control tends to have 6 or more additional lands, which completely changes the way it interacts with the rest of the metagame.
@HouseOfCards That is a reasonable position to take - the typical Jeskai Mentor decks are essentially tempo control decks. However, there is a significant portion of the Vintage metagame that thinks Mentor and/or Preordain should have or should be restricted to weaken specifically those Jeskai Mentor decks. And the matchup profile I think (we'll see what the numbers are) is typically different for these decks. Landstill, for instance, is thought to have a better Shops matchup than Mentor with a larger manabase and win conditions that aren't dependent on the stack. I'm not sure what the best approach is and I welcome further feedback on this issue (and appreciate your feedback).
@all I just think if a blue-based deck is going about the same concept using a dozen counterspells + 4-6 removal spells It should be classified as blue-based permission/control. While the draw engines may be different, Cantrip style, Standstill or even Thirst, If the decks are all relying on lots of permission/removal into dropping whatever wincon, It's all control. I don't believe that whether or not you are running extra lands or a wincon that isn't affected by the stack changes the core concept of the deck. This core concept being control the stack and board then land a wincon. It's how blue-based permission builds have operated since the dawn of time. I can't see how anyone wouldn't refer to any blue-based deck that operates in this fashion as a blue-based permission/control deck.
@HouseOfCards Even if you completely disagree about how different Landstill and Mentor are, it is important because they have historically had very different winrates against various archetypes, as Randy pointed out. If you want to use this data to pick your next deck for the daily, you'd care a lot whether a deck was Mentor Gush or Landstill if you are considering running shops.
As a slight aside, do you play blue? For quite a while I thought all shops decks were essentially the same. Same with dredge. Lumping a bunch of decks you don't like into one pile is a good way not to appreciate how to play differently against them to maximize your winrate.
@diophan They definitely have different win rates. Mentor is better overall if you don't know what your meta is. Classic UW Landstill builds are the opposite as for those builds need to be heavily tailored/tuned to the meta game in order to have a high success rate. Mentor is also much easier to play. I used to play blue for several years, I switched over to shops last year a couple months before Eternal Weekend. Labeling all decks that rely on the same gameplan of controlling the stack through a dozen counterspells, the board through another 4-6 removal spells and dropping whatever win condition they choose to run has zero interconnectedness with me disliking blue-based permission decks. It's simply a classification. Lets keep focused on the classification of archetypes as that is what this discussion is about. Mixing feelings into the fray or derailing the discussion on how to maximize win-rates does not serve a purpose here.
Grouping white eldrazi/shops into "taxing" is the exact equivalent of what I am suggesting for blue-based permission decks that are going about their game plan in the same manner. By not using my suggestion, you are actually skewing the perception of data which will lead to inaccuracies when decisions are made based on the data(whether that be B&R decisions or deck choice/construction for a tournament). Food for thought.
@diophan we could re tag mentor as blue control and keep the archetypes. The current tag is a bit redundant.
@ChubbyRain I think we should also remove the "FOW" tag as it contains not just blue-based permission decks, but it also includes some of the outcome combo decks that are only packing 4 FOW as their only permission spells. Or just rename it to blue-based permission and remove the specific outcome builds and any other builds that only pack 4 forces as their only form of permission. I believe this would lead to more accurate perceptions of the data overall.
My thinking was that the FOW and Thorn tag served similar purposes. That is, they are very broad tags that have more granular tags breaking them up further. To be clear, my feeling is that having a "Thorn" archetype would be as problematic as having a "FOW" archetype. I may have misinterpreted your request as combining archetypes instead of altering the tags.
The reason we went with FOW as the tag is that it is easy to define and it represented to us the best delineation for what counts as a "blue deck". We wanted the tags to be fairly clear cut, although "Blue Control" and "Big Blue" vary from this philosophy. I'm personally not sure where I would draw the line if it's not there. Is it when you start running missteps, flusterstorm/pyroblast, or mana drain? I don't think there's an obvious answer.
I do think the discussion of winrates is important. Classifications don't exist in a vacuum and what you are trying to do with the data should dictate, or at least be considered when making, the classifications. To that point, I am interested in what people actually use data for. Personally before I make a deck for any large tournament I look at the data to either determine what archetype to play or how to tune the last few slots in a specific deck.
@diophan The latter part of your response seemed more geared at how to become a better magic player which had zero interconnectedness with how to properly analyze and classify data, hence my response. While classifications may not exist in a vacuum, what we are doing here is making classifications. It's all extremely relevant when it comes down to utilizing/analyzing the data, whether it be for a B&R decision or deck building/deck construction. I use the data personally to decide on whatever archetype to play before an event, or whatever sub-archetype as well as sideboard choices for whatever brew I choose to roll with.
It regards to where we draw the line, I believe it should be at X amount of permission spells(9/10 or more?). I think we can all agree here that a deck with only 4 FOW as their only form of permission is not a permission deck.
@ChubbyRain Heads up, I bought into vintage on MTGO last night. I can now help with data collection as per your request. Humblebrag-Cashed in 1st place of last nights daily too yay.
Personally I don't think Mentor is a permission deck, especially against non-blue decks. You are using your free or very cheap counterspells to buy yourself the time to filter with preordain and Dack to find a game ending spell. When I play Mentor I will almost always misstep a preordain.
Contrast that with the gameplay of a deck like Landstill. Although I don't understand landstill as well, I would say it operates in a mode where it tries to counter or remove almost all the relevant spells. Here you are less likely to misstep a preordain but save it for an ancestral or protect your mana drain/standstill from a pyroblast. This mode of playing is what I think of as "Blue Control".
Even though many of the cards are the same they are being used in different ways. When a deck like Grixis Thieves uses mana drain it's not necessarily for the same purpose as a true control deck. Other perspectives are reasonable.
@diophan It all comes down to which version of the build and cards used in it. There are some builds that have spells that are more useful in some or more situations than others. Mentor decks with mana drain are an example of this. Whether you are misstepping a preordain or a plow or a dark ritual or a solring/skull clamp/pyroblast or whatever, It is still yet another permission card in the deck. "You are using your free or very cheap counterspells to buy yourself the time to filter with preordain and Dack to find a game ending spell." This is the exact general principle of blue-permission. Use your free or cheap(or even luxury -drain) counterspells + removal to buy the time to either filter or draw enough cards to land a win-con. As for mentor based wincon permission decks and landstill grindy style permission decks, they are both operating on the same core principle. One just happens to get from point a to point b faster than the other, one happens to filter/draw cards differently and one has the ability to slow down your mana base but it is all still the same core concept. Grixis thieves is slightly different in the way it can attack decks because it has 2 combo packages built into the deck + tutors to land them faster as well as tinker-blightsteel, however, it still follows the same core principle of blue based permission style decks. You either go off right away with the nut draw or you hold control of the stack/board long enough to go off. I like to look at it as a blue-based permission deck that has two win-more packages(tinker-blightsteel and vault-key) and a combination of robust and straight forward lines of play compared to other blue-based permission decks.
I think what @HouseOfCards is getting at (correct me if i'm wrong) is the archtypes currently list mentor, big blue, and blue control as different decks were as shops is just one category. However, within shops, there is stax, TKS, ravager, percusor golems, etc.
Basically if we VERY broadly organize decks, we have
- Blue control
- Bazaar based
- Workshop based
If blue based control was broken down, you'd have mentor, big blue, etc. The issue is why are blue decks separated when shops aren't. I'd argue stax vs ravager MUD has just a big difference as standstill vs mentor.
@Naixin generally agree, but Mentor has inflitrated many blue strategies. See Joe Brennans recent results or standstill lists running 1 or 2 mentor. Almost need to go paradoxical mentor,drain mentor, the stock jeskai lists, ect...
@Naixin I agree with your point about the difference between stax and ravager. Personally it's a balancing act between granularity and the number of decks you put in each archetype. Landstill and mentor might not be fundamentally more different than stax and ravager, but there are usually many fewer shops decks than blue decks. Specifically, if we break out stax into an archetype it will usually have 0-2 representatives. If we start seeing stax played in larger numbers I think that's when it'd make sense to break it out as a separate archetype.
Hey y'all. This is a very useful and helpful report. Are you still planning to publish the June version?