Black Magic – Catching Up On Standard

The StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open Series Comes to Nashville!
Thursday, October 29th – After a disappointing Pro Tour: Austin, Sam Black turns his attention to Standard in preparation for Worlds. With Jund being the top dog in the metagame, Sam brainstorms a selection of strategies designed with the Jund menace in mind…

Travel and preparing for Zendikar Sealed has taken all of my time lately, but with Worlds approaching frighteningly soon, it’s time for me to start to get a feel for this Standard format. At this time, I have yet to play a game, but I’ve followed coverage and read what others have to say about the format, and I think I have a reasonable understanding of what’s going on.

Jund is the deck to beat. When Faeries was the deck to beat, I just played Faeries, but I don’t really like the Jund deck, so I’m hoping I can actually beat it instead. That leads me to the position of needing to figure out how best to attack the deck.

First, you’re not going to beat it by just playing abstractly better cards. The cards in Jund are all awesome, so if you’re going to beat them, you need to have a plan that stacks up favorably against them.

I think blanking their removal with creatures like Deft Duelist; Uril, the Miststalker; Wall of Denial; and Sphinx of Jwar Isle is a very reasonable first step.

I’ve seen people consider discard as a way to get around a lot of their card advantage, but the problem with that plan is that their cards are individually powerful, rather than merely synergistic, so they can just draw their way out of it. Also, it doesn’t work at all with the plan of blanking their removal. I think discard is a very weak way to try to fight them, particularly because they’re really only planning to try to cast one spell a turn anyway.

Tempo plays like Remand or Stone Rain would be amazing against them, but the format doesn’t give us those options.

Relying on synergistic interactions between permanents is another approach that is best to avoid, because they have enough spot removal to break any such combo. This is particularly problematic if one is trying a tribal approach like Vampires or Soldiers.

Removal is problematic against Jund. Sprouting Thrinax makes mass removal and spot removal that doesn’t exile inefficient; Bloodbraid Elf makes spot removal, and especially countermagic, inefficient; and Broodmate Dragon makes spot removal inefficient. In general, you have to accept that you’re losing value when you try to kill Jund’s creatures, so you should only bother doing it if you’re going somewhere with it. Don’t play an attrition game with Jund, ever… that’s really what I’m trying to say.

What I mean by “going somewhere with it” is that you can play removal against them if and only if you’re doing it to by time to make some kind of game winning play. Cruel Ultimatum might count, protecting a Baneslayer Angel might count, Mind Spring for 5 might count, depending on the kinds of cards you’re drawing, etc.

I think there’s a good chance that just burning your opponent out is the best way to fight Jund. They’re not that fast, and most of their cards don’t interact with this plan at all. I’m not going to build a burn deck here, because others who know much more about building burn decks than I do have already done so, but the strategy makes a lot sense to me.

The Boros deck is trying to do something very similar—just get as much damage through as possible before Jund turns the game into a battle of attrition. From what I’ve heard and from how the deck looks, I think it does so very well, and I would guess that the more it focuses on damage output rather than longer term board presence, the better it’s Jund matchup gets. For this reason I would guess Hellspark Elemental is a sideboard card worth trying against them.

These decks have been explored though, so that’s really not where you want me to spend my time. Instead, I’m going to try to suggest new routes, even if I can’t say that I know that they work yet.

Jund is great at killing creatures. If you play creatures, they will probably die. If your creatures don’t suck, they’ll probably die for less mana than you put into them, which means Jund will be up on the exchange. On the other hand, Jund’s creatures aren’t necessarily that great on the board at fighting other creatures on the board. Sprouting Thrinax does not want to do battle with Woolly Thoctar, for example. Other colors do get bigger creatures for the mana.

I’m interested in trying to play more threats that Jund has to kill than they can reasonably expect to kill, given that, if a 3/2 is not a large enough creature to matter against you, they really don’t have that much card advantage, given that they don’t have actual card draw, for the most part – sometimes Sign in Blood.

Basically what I want is a Standard version of Brian Kibler PT Austin deck (I wish we had Grove of the Burnwillows, except that Punishing Fire would probably define Standard at that point).

Noble Hierarch should be very good, given that there aren’t that many decks packing Day of Judgment, as long as we make sure that most of our other creatures live through Pyroclasm/Jund Charm. I want to try to play big threats, and he’s the way to do it.

Ranger of Eos is absolutely mandatory, not because I have some one-drops that I need to play, but because he’s the best way to avoid discarding real threats to Blightning.

Knight of the Reliquary is awesome in decks with Baneslayer Angel, since it functions as an accelerator and a redundant huge threat that they’ll eventually need to deal with.

Baneslayer Angel is obviously the trump card we’re really playing to. Everything else is just here to draw out removal to make her stick.

Elspeth, Garruk, or potentially Nissa Revane are cards that need to be dealt with, but that can also provide some kind of advantage when killed by spot removal, and will generally be hard to kill with creatures if you have plenty of creatures in play yourself.

Guardian Seraph or Emeria Angel are good, powerful creatures that can help draw removal. I think I prefer Guardian Seraph because it can’t be killed by Lightning Bolt, but there is certainly some appeal to the token generation.

Thornling is another potential trump card that was amazing against Jund in block.

I want to avoid cards like Steward of Valeron or Qasali Pridemage because they create a weakness against Jund Charm, but I want two-drops. River Boa is interesting, because late in the game it’s a really hard threat to deal with, but the mana to regenerate early makes it a terrible blocker against something like Boros. Nissa’s Chosen actually seems somewhat respectable in this format, mostly because I like Nissa Revane and it lets me do something with two mana without exposing that weakness.

Path to Exile is all but mandatory at this point.

Vines of Vastwood may be the key to making this deck work. I’m really excited about a superior Rebuff the Wicked, and randomly having a pump spell in the deck can enable a lot of great things to happen in combat.

Scute Mob is another card that demands removal that makes Ranger of Eos better.

Taking all this in, a possible list might be something like:

There was a strong temptation to play one Turntimber Grove to find with Knight of the Reliquary, but I think that’s just being too cute and you need to be careful about being able to play turn 1 Noble Hierarch. At the moment all the fetches are Black because I wanted to highlight the possibility of sideboarding one Swamp if something like Duress or Doom Blade was desirable. An alternate approach would be to play Misty Rainforest with access to an Island, and then Noble Hierarch could help as well. Graypelt Refuge could also become Seaside Citadel, but I really like the life gain. This would allow a Blue splash in the sideboard, which would most likely be for Negate, Hindering Light, or Bant Charm, but Finest Hour or even Sphinx of Jwar Isle aren’t completely out of the question.

The abundance of lands that enter the battlefield tapped makes me want some more two-drops even though I plan to play an accelerator on turn 1 a lot of the time, so I kind of want some River Boas, but I’m a little worried about lowering my threat density too much, given the accelerators and Vines. Maybe River Boa counts as a legitimate threat when boosted by Noble Hierarchs.

I feel like GW should be a very reasonable place to look regardless, if the format continues to be defined by creatures the way it is now. GW’s usually good against those.

Another approach I’m interested in is still mana ramp. The acceleration in this format is extremely powerful, and I figure it’s just a matter of finding the right thing to do with it. Maybe something like:

That’s probably a little greedy – the deck probably needs more defense, like some Day of Judgments or Path to Exiles. Maybe Wall of Reverence, but I’m not sure if that’s better in the sideboard. I’m afraid of adding too many defensive cards because again, low threat density scares me. For the record, with this list you’re 77% to hit a Rampaging Baloth, Baneslayer, or Iona off Summoning Trap (which you’re not planning to trap, of course, but it would be pretty sweet if it happened), that’s assuming a fully random deck. That number goes up to 79% if you’ve resolved a single Harrow or Khalni Heart, assuming your draws have been average other than that and you haven’t used a fetchland. In reality, the percentage actually gets a lot better than that, because you’re thinning from a deck that’s less than 60 cards after you’ve drawn some cards in the game, and you’ll probably have thinned closer to 4-6 lands before casting a Summoning Trap, which gets the percentage over 80. The amount that thinning can help Summoning Trap makes me wonder if it’s reasonable to play the 4th Trap and Iona and just try to do that with some consistency.

Another approach that’s reasonable would be splashing Blue for some countermagic and Mind Spring, but that would come at the cost of threats, and I just don’t know that that really leaves us any better off. If I don’t have removal, I need board presence once I’m finally playing a big spell. Mind Spring will definitely be too slow, so playing it would require defensive cards, and that means cutting winners for answers and for Mind Springs, and that might get us to the point where we have few enough winners that they just get killed by removal spells and our Mind Springs no longer win it for us.

I’m hoping Gladeharts plus Oracles either buy enough time or draw enough removal spells for Baneslayer to stick, depending on how the opponent plays, and that we win either way, but I’m not sure that that will happen. I really like Vines for the same reason I do in the first deck, but it’s possible that the problem is living to cast a big threat, not protecting that threat, in which case cutting this for Wall of Reverence or Path to Exile would be totally reasonable.

I still think the amount of life gain being played in decks at the moment is criminal, and this deck tried to address that primarily by maxing out on life gain lands, and Grazing Gladehart, who I honestly believe might be awesome in Constructed (though I admit that I could also see it being a total flop).

Another interesting splash possibility is Grim Discovery, which should always be able to get two cards thanks to Harrow and Fetchlands, and getting a creature back will always be great. It doesn’t help much with extremely early development, but it’s a very realistic consideration, possibly if the Summoning Traps aren’t working out.

As usual when I’m brainstorming like this, I don’t really expect to see these lists winning tournaments in the coming weeks, and I think it’s likely that burn is the best deck that I’ve talked about against Jund. As always, my goal here is to offer some new things to think about, and maybe in this case to open the door to a better understanding of how to attack the current Jund problem.

Thanks for reading…