As I was phishing for content on our socials, we received a request to bring some additional insight into the meta, how it is we got here, and how we predict the next set will affect it. When I read this request, I realized we never really talked more in depth about the meta other than its just the nebulous thing that exists outside the game but still affects the game, kind of like a planeswalker emblem. Well, I think now is a great time to break this down, at least as I see it, and to shed some light on this rather foggy subject.
First, before we dive in, let's just get our toes wet and test the waters. What does the word meta or meta-game even mean? People may think it means metaphysical or something like that. It doesn't. Meta, in gaming terms, is actually an acronym. it stands for Most Effective Tactics Available. So, what does this mean? Being within a meta-game shows that over the course of time, a clear pattern for which tactics produce the best results against certain opponents or archetypes becomes apparent. For Magic, this is a several faceted system that represents multiple formats, play spaces, and micro-macrocosms within the game.
Magic will have a Modern meta-game, which will look vastly different from a Standard meta-game, which looks vastly different whether you are playing locally at your local game store, on the tournament circuit, or playing online with MTGO or Magic Arena. It is also important to note that when decks win major tournaments like Protour or high profile Grand Prixs, you can expect to see many of the people who build their decks with net decking will be building the best performing decks from those competitions. But, one thing that is important to note: it is possible to quantify the affect certain decks or archetypes are having on certain metas, and once we've established that, we can be better equipped to counteract it.
So, let's take a look at our current #MTGRNA standard and see how we got here. The tool that LandSayGo uses is MTGTOP8. In fact, on this site, it gives you a bird's eye view of the meta-game with its Metagame Breakdown function. Here, we can adjust our time frame. Since we are only looking at #MTGRNA, we'll only elect to look at the last 2 months. This tool is really a neat thing, it will show you, based on our parameters, the break down of the overall meta (online competitions as well as Grand Prixs and the Mythic Invitational) on what percentage is Aggro vs. Control Vs. Combo. Now, these lists within these 3 super-archetypes will have many variations and color combinations below it, and may even have other, more specific types of archetypes mixed in (such as Aristocrats, Tempo, Midrange, etc.) What's even cooler is that it breaks down the more specific decks and show their overall played trajectory.
So for RNA standard, we have an overall meta-game that is 72% Aggro, 20% Control, and 8% Combo. For my personal meta, it feels like it is much more built around control than it does Aggro, but we at LandSayGo play a lot online, so we often build our sideboards to better reflect what we perceive our weak points are based around the overall meta. The top decks currently in our format are Mono Blue Aggro at 12% of the meta, Weenie White at 12%, Sultai Aggro at 11%, Esper Control at 11%, Red Deck Wins at 9% and Nexus Reclamation at 8%. So, if we were to base our deck or sideboard design choices off of anything, we would want to be built to defeat Aggro, with options against Control and Combo in our sideboard. We also will want to heavily consider running cards that will cross over into multiple super-archetypes, so that way we can also build to beat Aggro's answer to our answers.
A good example of cards like this would be something like Crushing Canopy or Cindervines. Both cards have 1 mode on them that do similar things; however, both also have modes that can help us sure up against our weaknesses. If we have built an aggro list and can already innately deal with flyers, then perhaps we'd want to run Cindervines against a spell heavy matchup instead, and vice versa.
To learn more about these decks, we can also dive into them a little further by clicking on their name. This brings up a list of competitions that the deck was present in and their overall finish. You can then dive even deeper to view the actual deck lists of the decks. So, if you find that at your local meta you are being ravaged by, let's say, Mono Blue Aggro, we can open their list here and see what cards are typically being run and build our deck to be weighted at defeating it. Perhaps something like a main deck Kaya, Orzhov Usurper? Once you get down to the deck level on MTGTOP8, it will also show you the final competition and standings on the left side to see what was up against it. This can also be a good indicator for how healthy a particular meta is by looking at the diversity level within the competitions. If we are seeing 2 of a same deck in the top 8, it might be a popular deck. If you see 3+ of the same deck in the top 8, the meta might be broken.
We can also use MTGTOP8 to see the most played spells in standard. This can be an indicator on how healthy a meta game by seeing what kind of diversity is there. Currently, our top ranked cards are:
Opt (30% of decks),
Cast Down (28% of decks),
Watery Grave (27% of decks),
Drowned Catacomb (26% of decks),
Breeding Pool (26% of decks),
Vraska's Contempt (26% of decks),
Glacial Fortress (26% of decks),
Hallowed Fountain (26% of decks),
Chemister's Insight (24% of decks), and
Search for Azcanta (23% of decks).
It looks like mostly control spells, hardly no Aggro cards in here whatsoever, despite Aggro being 72% of the meta-game. So, what this tells me is that even Aggro lists are running these cards, and running some elements of control in order to better facilitate a favorable endgame. What this particular card list helps illustrate is that perhaps we should consider running cards that hate on a specific color, such as Vine Mare or Lightning Mare, or perhaps something like Knight of Grace or Rhythm of the Wild.
So now that we have a better understanding of where we currently are in the meta, what are my predictions for how #MTGWAR is going to shape up and shake up the format?
1) Aggro will rule the day early.
Okay, okay I cheated a little bit with this one. It is pretty time tested that Aggro lists typically dominate in the early portions of a new meta. It can be easier to slap creatures together in a deck than it is to build an effective control list (although building a well-crafted aggro strategy can be pretty difficult). So, I predict that the meta will be heavy aggro in the beginning as people are trying to figure out the control strategies.
2) Control will become a higher percentage of the meta than it is right now.
I think control players will be able to rejoice about midway through the season as their lists become better tuned to take on the aggro game. War of the Spark is introducing a metric ton of control cards to us with fewer answers given to the aggro lists. For example, we already had a ton of board wipes in standard, and we've just been introduced to a few more, including Massacre Girl, Solar Blaze, Single Combat, Time Wipe, Widespread Brutality, and Ravnica at War. The reasoning for this is that they are introducing their huge roster of 36 planeswalkers into the set. So, in order for players to make use of them, Wizards of the Coast had to give the player base a multitude of ways slow down the game.
3) Planeswalkers will perform vital roles in decks, but we won't see many dedicated super friends lists.
As much as I love super friends decks, I don't think we are going to see many hit the top of our meta game. We'll have maybe 1 or 2, but I doubt we'll see it take much of the meta. We are getting many control pieces to help stop these types of decks in the way of cards like Dovin's Veto and Angrath's Rampage.
4) Previously tier 2 decks will become tier 1, and some tier 1 decks will become tier 0.
Specifically, I think Goblins and Zombies will have a real shot at becoming tier 1 decks. We've seen some really good spoilers that can go into these decks; Krenko, Tin Street Kinpin for instance will fit really well in a Goblins list. Other decks like Sultai or GB Explore gets a lot better with a lot of the green proliferate synergies that will be floating around. Imagine playing a Wildgrowth Walker into a Merfolk Branchwalker or Jadelight Ranger, to follow up with an Evolution Sage and a land to pump your entire team. Gross.
5) We'll see the rise and fall of new archetypes, specifically Miracle Grow and Aristocrats.
I have an inkling that we'll see the rise of new archetypes not yet tapped in the current meta with decks like Miracle Grow (decks looking to play a lot of cantrips and pump up creatures fast as they churn through their decks) and Aristocrats (sacrifice synergies) but will ultimately fail against the other more established decks in the meta. Miracle Grow will likely be fairly dominate starting out but will lose pace to other aggro strategies. Aristocrats lists are still missing a free sacrifice outlet and/or a mass recursion spell to really see much success. People will try it, but it isn't going