Black Magic – States, Eldrazi Jund, and GW

SCG 10k St. Louis Offers First Chances to Qualify for the 2010 StarCityGames.com Invitational!
Tuesday, December 8th – Sam Black decided to try something a little different for States this year, and tuned a Jund build dedicated to beat the mirror. However, while the deck was perfectly fine, Sam found another powerful strategy: Green/White Tokens. Will it be enough to take the top prize at this weekend’s SCG 10K St. Louis?

The night before States, I decided to play the same deck I played in Worlds. I knew it was good, and I wanted to have another shot at playing it to give it a chance to make up for the poor showing in Rome. The morning of States I realized that I can’t PTQ next year, so free events for a year is pretty blank. I was playing to have fun, learn something, and have something to write about, so I should probably get a little more creative.

The morning before Worlds, I told Gau that I had figured out how to win the Jund mirror. We just needed to board in Eldrazi Monument, Elvish Visionary, and Borderland Ranger. Those would give us protection from Blightning and an unbeatable finisher after they’ve boarded out their Maelstrom Pulses, which everyone does. The problem with this plan is that it would take up basically our entire sideboard, so it was really just a joke.

But then I realized that I could just play this as my main deck. It’s not as good before sideboarding, but it’s still a powerful, synergistic plan, and they’ll still usually board out Maelstrom Pulse (if they don’t see Monument in game 1… and even if they do, a lot of players are just locked into how they sideboard against Jund and might not realize they need to leave Pulse in). So I played:

My reasoning about the deck starts from my Worlds deck: I want to do more powerful things than the normal mirror, and Siege-Gang Commander is generally awesome in this deck and format. There is a fear of increasing the curve too much, which had been addressed by Rampant Growth, but that card has a lot of problems (and it really does suck to cascade into it late). So I needed a different approach.

It’s hard to say I started with this, which led to this, and then this… everything in this deck plays off everything else. I guess it starts with trying to play Eldrazi Monument in Jund because Monument plus Sprouting Thrinax is insane, as is Monument plus Siege-Gang Commander. The rest follows from there.

I need more creatures to make that work. In general, Eldrazi Monument plays very badly with non-creature spells, and Jund has a lot of those. I was going to have to cut some if I wanted to have any chance to make this work, so I had to trim the removal package to what I considered the smallest I could get away with. Bituminous Blast was the first to go because I had my five-drops spoken for anyway. Trimming Maelstrom Pulses hurt a lot, but I needed room for creatures.

I’ve been really impressed with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood, and if I’m playing more creatures, I want to be able to take advantage of it. The problem is that Jund’s manabase is very tight and doesn’t have a lot of room for additional enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands. Fortunately, the package of Elvish Visionary, Borderland Ranger, and Oran-Rief did everything I needed. It makes my mana draws much smoother and my mana requirements much easier, which allows me to cut M10 dual lands to make room for Oran-Rief while still having an easier time casting my spells than traditional Jund decks. Also, cutting Putrid Leech allows me to minimize my Black sources, which is perfect when my two-drop is only Green and I’m trying to support Goblin Ruinblaster and Siege-Gang Commander. This is another incentive to cut Putrid Leech.

The problem is that there still aren’t enough creatures in the deck to feed Eldrazi Monument consistently without single cards that give you lots of creatures, so I needed more of those. My sideboard at Worlds had one Necrogenesis, because I think the card is awesome. I want it against Boros, Jund, and Vampires. Anything where I’m trying to play any kind of attrition game, and it’s just amazing with Oran-Rief, the Vastwood.

So that’s what I played, and the reasoning behind it.

How was it?

It was okay. I loved Elvish Visionary and Oran-Rief all day. Eldrazi Monument won a number of games for me, and there are several others where I just needed to draw it to win. My biggest mistake of the day was not bringing in the third against Jund. I then lost to one Broodmate token when I had a board full of creatures. Necrogenesis was amazing against Boros, and surprisingly good against Turbo-Fog and Spread ‘Em, since it meant that Day of Judgment wasn’t good enough. It would have won the game against Jund if I had drawn another removal spell or an Eldrazi Monument.

The problem is that it felt exactly like the cascade deck I played in Honolulu, and the Jund deck I played at Worlds. There just wasn’t enough that I could do. I think Jund is 55% against the field. Usually, when someone says that, I assume they mean 55% in a vacuum, and then I can outplay my opponents and win much more than that, like with Faeries. With Jund, you lose 45% of your matches. You just do. There’s nothing you can do about it.

Also, on Putrid Leech: In all of those decks, the big difference between my deck and the normal deck is that I didn’t play Putrid Leech. I don’t know how this keeps happening. I think that card is amazing. I was one of the first people to write about how insane it was. I love that guy. But I just keep cutting him. And I’m wrong to do it.

I won a Lorwyn Block Constructed tournament with River Kelpie, and then quickly decided it was the wrong deck to play. Its matchups were pretty similar to Faeries, except that it didn’t have the ability to get free wins by playing a Bitterblossom on turn 2. My Jund decks keep giving up the free wins that come from turn 2 Putrid Leech. Free wins are awesome. It’s much easier to win a tournament when you barely have to play half your games.

With the deck I played specifically, Putrid Leech would have been great at getting to the point where my opponent just died instantly when a Monument hit. I didn’t need to get cute and play an attrition game to turn it on: I could just get my opponent below 10; pump up all my guys and give them flying; and attack for the win.

The mana’s harder, but there has to be a way to make it work, as the rewards are simply too great. The odds that you just draw the wrong answers, or get flooded and lose because you have no library manipulation and there’s a land clump 15 cards down, are much lower if your opponent dies when you draw your 13th card because your deck has better nut draws. By trying to give my Jund decks more play, I’m giving them more chances to lose.

If I were to play Eldrazi Jund again, I would play:

From my States deck that’s:

-2 Broodmate Dragon, -1 Lightning Bolt, -1 Necrogenesis
+4 Putrid Leech

-1 Oran-Rief, -1 Mountain
+1 Swamp, +1 Rootbound Crag

I have the same number of Red and Green sources, a little bit more untapped mana, and an extra Swamp specifically. This is huge for playing turn 2 Putrid Leech because it lets me play it off Savage Lands or Oran-Rief, which the fourth Dragonskull Summit wouldn’t do. The one Lightning Bolt moves to the sideboard over Burst Lightning.

There’s a chance that Master of the Wild Hunt is good enough that I have to find room for him in the main (possibly cutting 2 Elvish Visionary, now that I have another two-drop… but I really liked Elvish Visionary). Unfortunately, I haven’t played with him enough to be sure. There’s also a chance that the deck wants the third Eldrazi Monument in the main, but drawing two is really bad.

You probably noticed that I say this is what I would play, and not what I will be playing. I need to stop playing Jund. Yes, I believe Putrid Leech might be the answer – he might make me win much more than I have been winning with these decks – but at the end of the day, I still think Jund just can’t win some unacceptable portion of its matches. I feel like Jund is the deck to play if you want to be playing the same deck as the guy who won the tournament, but not the deck to play if you want to be the guy who wins the tournament. It sounds weird, because if the guy who wins is playing Jund, clearly you need to play Jund to win, but let me explain:

Most Standard tournaments will be won by Jund, but I think it will essentially be a random Jund player that wins them. Many Jund players will do badly, and you have little control over which of the Jund players you are. They are all over the standings; you can always find Jund at the top tables, but also at the bottom tables. On the other hand, if you pick the correct “other deck” for the tournament, you personally have much better control of how you do.

The match that I lost most decisively at States was against G/W. I kept terrible hands, drew lands, and did nothing. My opponent’s draws were awesome, and it looked like he probably would have beaten most of my draws that were doing something. I’m not whining about a round where my opponent got lucky. I’m explaining why I’m inspired to take a much more serious look at G/W (a deck I already liked).

Emeria Angel is just insane. In the second game, my opponent played two copies of Honor of the Pure, and then on his fifth turn he played Emeria Angel and a fetchland. I Terminated it, but then I still had two 3/3 fliers to handle. That’s almost a Broodmate Dragon, and that’s after I killed the real creature. That card is incredible, and I think maximizing it, as most of the successful G/W decks at Worlds were designed to do (Cedric, Manuel, Paulo) is one of the best directions to take in this format.

I’ve written in the past that I don’t like Dauntless Escort, but part of that is that I was thinking of it as using a creature that dies to Lightning Bolt to protect a creature that doesn’t. Seeing exactly how good Master of the Wild Hunt and Emeria Angel are, I think they’re worth protecting with another creature that has to be Lightning Bolted. This is probably closely related to the fact that I had been tied to Ranger of Eos, but now I think the other four-drops are too good not to play. I’m thinking something like:

The deck is so explosive, and almost every creature in the deck is devastating if it gets to stay in play for any amount of time. It’s disappointing that I can’t play something like Oran-Rief, Honor of the Pure, or Ajani Goldmane, to make the tokens and other creatures better, but I think most of them are so good on their own that they don’t need another card supporting them. If the format is about doing the most powerful things, this deck seems like it’s more focused on playing more powerful things than other decks. I’ve given up Blightning resistance, but with this deck I can just count on drawing an awesome threat anyway. I think this is the better approach, given what I’ve lost to when I’m the one playing the Blightnings.

I’m playing much more Standard these days than I usually do, primarily because I’m not busy traveling. I look forward learning a lot in the coming weeks, especially at the StarCityGames.com $5,000 Standard Open in St. Louis this Saturday, which will be the first of these tournaments in which I’ll be playing.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible on Saturday!

Thanks for reading…