The Most Popular Deck Does Not Equal The Best Deck

Collins Mullen has turned his bold deck choice of Modern Humans into a Regionals win to go with his SCG Tour trophy! When he talks about how tournament players convince themselves to play the popular deck instead of the best one, it’s on you to listen!

This past weekend at Pro Tour Ixalan, we saw Temur / Four-Color Energy make up 43.2% of the field. That’s almost half!

The crazy part is that I’m not even that surprised to see this happen. This has been a trend in recent Standard events. Popular decks have been becoming more and more, well, popular. So why is this happening? Is Temur Energy really that good, or are there other factors at play here? I believe there are some things happening in the Magic community that are affecting these numbers that don’t actually have anything to do with the deck itself.

“Play the Best Deck.”

When I was first getting into competitive Magic, this was advice that was given to me over and over again through all sorts of mediums. My Spike friends were telling me this. Articles I read on the Internet were telling me this.

“If you’re not playing the best deck, you’re making a clear mistake.” It seemed so obvious to my young Magic brain as well: of course I should play the best deck. That is what will give me the best chance to win.

Well, hang on. What does “best deck” even mean? I think it varies from player to player and depends on their objectives. The best deck for a particular player means that it has the highest chance of fulfilling their objective. For me, my objective when playing a deck in a tournament is to win that tournament, so my “best deck” is the deck that gives me the highest chance to win the tournament.

A big misconception that I believe a lot of players fall into however is that “best deck” means “most popular” deck. They operate under the belief that the Magic hive mind has always solved every format and that the most popular deck must be the deck with the highest win percentage.

If we go back and look at recent Pro Tours, this rarely proves to be true. Over and over again we hear about “breakout” decks that performed very well, either with a high Day 2 conversion rate or win percentage, yet were not as represented as the most popular deck.


Pro Tour Ixalan:

Most Popular: Temur / Four-Color Energy – 43.2% of the Metagame, 62.7% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: Mono-White Vampires – 1.10% of the Metagame, 100% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Hour of Devastation:

Most Popular: Ramunap Red – 24.89% of the Metagame, 73% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: B/G Constrictor – 9.74% of the Metagame, 77.8% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Amonkhet:

Most Popular: Mardu Vehicles – 26.19% of the Metagame, 58% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: Aetherworks Marvel – 25.40% of the Metagame, 71% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Aether Revolt:

Most Popular: Mardu Vehicles – 22.59% of the Metagame, 75.8% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: Mardu Vehicles – 22.59% of the Metagame, 75.8% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Kaladesh:

Most Popular: Aetherworks Marvel – 17.60% of the Metagame, 67.1% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: R/W Vehicles – 6.22% of the Metagame, 69% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Eldritch Moon:

Most Popular: Bant Company – 19.21% of the Metagame, 53.4% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: B/G Delirium – 12.25% of the Metagame, 86.5% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Pro Tour Shadows over Innistrad:

Most Popular: Bant Company – 23.02% of the Metagame, 56% Day 2 Conversion Rate

Best Performing: Goggles Ramp – 3.97% of the Metagame, 80% Day 2 Conversion Rate

How we Absorb Data Today

Another factor to consider is how we look at metagame data in this new information age. We have access to so many Top 8 decklists and 5-0 Magic Online League decklists that we have a pretty good idea of what is being played. But it’s important to take into account that the lists we end up seeing are heavily influenced by what people are already playing.

If a deck has a 55% win rate but makes up 40% of the field, it is more likely that this deck will win the tournament than a deck that has a 60% win rate but only makes up 10% of the field. People are going to look at this deck that makes up 40% of the metagame and believe it is clearly the best deck.

These decks are winning tournaments not necessarily because they are the best choice for the weekend, but simply because they are statistically the most likely to win.

Playing Scared and Building Scared

One thing that I’ve noticed about many Magic players is that they are afraid to take risks. This shows frequently when playing Magic, both in-game and while making mulligan decisions. Take a look at this six-card hand that I kept at my SCG Regionals last weekend.

I was on the draw in Game 2, playing against Eldrazi Tron. This hand has everything you need in that matchup. It’s very hard for the Eldrazi player to keep pace with early Champions that get out of control, and this hand has two Lord effects to back it up! It’s just missing a land.

I believe many players would mulligan this hand because they don’t want to risk missing a land drop and looking silly. They would rather mulligan into a five-card hand with lands and spells so that at least it feels like they’re playing Magic. But the reality is that if this hand gets there, it’s a huge favorite to win in this matchup.

A similar concept applies to deck selection. Most players want to play a deck with lower risk involved. If you decide to play the most popular deck, at least it has been proven that the deck can win matches. Many players may know of a deck that they believe has potential to be good, but are too afraid to pull the trigger on playing it in a bigger event because they don’t want to risk looking silly if it doesn’t pan out.

I believe that players aren’t trying hard enough to break the mold. We have become convinced that the “play the best deck” mentality is the only way to have success in tournament Magic. It isn’t.

Magic Isn’t Solved

I think that now, more than ever, is the best time to innovate. Use the information age to your advantage. Players have become too predictable. There are many tools that exist in Magic that can give you an edge on a format that has become stale. There are many new angles that we can use to punish players who refuse to look beyond Temur Energy and Ramunap Red.

I have only just begun testing for GP Atlanta, but there are a few decks that I am excited to explore. Mono-White Vampires got a lot of press during the Pro Tour, and I think that a version of this deck has a lot of potential.

I really like the matchup that this deck has against Energy and Ramunap Red, but a few weaknesses that it might have are to dedicated control decks and God-Pharaoh’s Gift decks. If this deck can find a way to compete there as well, I believe it will be a big contender.

Another deck that I’ve had an eye on for a while now is this Four-Color Ramp list.

I’m definitely a fan of anything Hour of Promise, and I think that Fumigate has an excellent position in the Meta right now. Along those lines, check out this crazy brew!

It’s a bit all over the place, but if it gets cleaned up, I think that it has potential. The concept of going over the top is definitely there.

In any case, I’m going to do my best to see if I can attack this format from a different angle, and I encourage you to put on your brewing hat and do the same.

Update on Humans

For those wondering what the latest Humans list looks like, I took down my SCG Regionals with this:

I’m very happy with this 75. I ended up cutting a land from the maindeck and fit in the fourth Mayor of Avabruck. This was mainly because I felt like I was running too many mana sources before. Between the lands, Noble Hierarchs, and Aether Vials, we were at a whopping 28 mana sources.

I also decided to fit in two Dismembers in the sideboard. They do a lot of heavy lifting in a few of your bad matchups, such as Affinity and Counters Company.

Another spicy tech chice that I utilized was Riders of Gavony. There have been quite a few Humans decks running around lately, and I wanted something to break the mirror. Riders of Gavony is pretty much unbeatable in the Humans mirrors unless your opponent has access to Dismembers.

Good. Game.