Constructed Criticism – Dirty Jundies

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Monday, November 9th – For weeks, there has been one deck stuck in my head. At every turn, I try to beat it, but fall just short of my goal. Wall of Denial and Sphinx of Jwar Isle combined with the power of Baneslayer Angel and Ajani Vengeant aren’t enough to combat the powerful combinations that Jund brings to the table. Even with maindeck Celestial Purge, I find myself losing about 50% of the time to my own worst enemy. What can I do?

[Editor’s Note — This was submitted before the Anderson Family did so well at Saturday’s StarCityGames.com 00 Standard Open in Nashville, and thus the content does not reflect those results. Congratulations on the fine showing, guys! I’m sure Todd will elucidate on their performance next week… watch this space!]

For weeks, there has been one deck stuck in my head. At every turn, I try to beat it, but fall just short of my goal. Wall of Denial and Sphinx of Jwar Isle combined with the power of Baneslayer Angel and Ajani Vengeant aren’t enough to combat the powerful combinations that Jund brings to the table. Even with maindeck Celestial Purge, I find myself losing about 50% of the time to my own worst enemy. What can I do?

At times like these, there is always one thing you should remember: If you can’t beat’ em, join’ em. I’ve always liked Jund, but for some reason I have this complex that tells me to never play the best deck. I disregarded that instinct when Faeries came along, mostly because I really liked playing all the intricate interactions that Faeries brought to the table. You had the tools to outplay your opponent, as well as all the best cards in Standard interacting together to form an unstoppable machine. Much like Paulo Vitor Damo de Longest Name in the History of Magic Rosa, I think Faeries was a great learning tool for all of us, even if you didn’t necessarily play with Faeries. Bitterblossom was such a powerful card, yet its drawback killed many of its pilots. This was due to the fact that people learned how to beat it. Whether that be with direct damage, or dealing incredible amounts of damage to flying creatures, you could always figure out how to beat Faeries if you really wanted to.

Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of occasions where people thought they beat Faeries, but that was just not always the case. Slapping a few Volcanic Fallouts or Great Sable Stags into a deck did increase your chances to win, but they did not necessarily give you a good matchup. You can directly compare this to maindecking Celestial Purge against Jund. Removing their creatures is important, but doesn’t necessarily beat them. Jund can attack at many different levels, and is usually considered to be a good deck because it plays a plethora of good cards. The deck doesn’t really interact in a lot of different ways, but the quality of spell in the deck is much higher on the curve than other decks with similar game plans. One major problem with Standard at the moment is that there aren’t a lot of easy ways to draw cards. We were spoiled with amazing manabases, and had the ability to put any spell into whatever deck we wanted, but now we have to play fair and build stable decks with stable mana to support them. Jund is the fairest deck in Standard, but also the best deck by default, since it has both the best mana and the best spells.

While there are more powerful spells in Standard, like Cruel Ultimatum and Baneslayer Angel, these cards just don’t have the support behind them that Jund does. Sure, White decks can play Path to Exile, but Jund gets to play Lighting Bolt, Maelstrom Pulse, and Terminate as its cheap removal spells. Combine that with the fact that they also get to put Bituminous Blast into their deck, and they just outclass every other deck as far as removal is concerned. Maelstrom Pulse and Jund Charm (usually out of the sideboard) make decks that play Conqueror’s Pledge a joke, since you just kill all of their guys for 2 less mana than they invested. On top of that, you can play something like Bituminous Blast or Bloodbraid Elf and cascade into this easy answer.

Repeat after me:

Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning is one of the most powerful things you can do in Standard.
Mountain Dew is the best drink ever made.

Think about it. Cascade is such a busted mechanic that it has become the default card advantage in the format. Why on earth would you want to play something like Courier’s Capsule when you can play something that is aggressively affecting the board while gaining you the same number (if not more) cards? Bloodbraid Elf has defined this format, and that probably won’t change until the next set is released.

You can say that this format is undefined all you want, but Jund has the best tools at its disposal to pick apart any deck. Even after sideboarding, if you think you have a good Jund matchup then you are probably wrong. You can build your deck so that their removal is blanked in game 1, but you don’t really know what to expect in game 2, as they will likely board in Goblin Ruinblaster, Thought Hemorrhage, Duress, or even Fleshbag Marauder to kill Sphinx of Jwar Isle or Wall of Denial. The problem people have with Jund is that it attacks on so many levels, and with such consistency and power, that they are quickly overwhelmed unless they have an incredible draw, or Jund has a weak draw.

For example, I have been testing a lot with the Boros deck against Jund, and come to find out that Jund is actually a favorite. The winner of the first game is usually determined by who wins the die roll, but if the Boros player ever mulligans, the chances of them winning decreases significantly. If the Jund deck ever gets to resolve Broodmate Dragon when they are sitting at 6+ life, then there is little hope for the Boros player. If they get flooded, then winning is generally out of the question. Jund’s curve allows it to continuously play better spells when it hits higher land drops, so that flooding is okay as long as you eventually draw a relevant spell. Few decks can withstand the barrage of efficient removal, discard, and creatures.

As far as the deck itself goes, it is pretty much the same old song and dance that you’ve seen over and over for the last few weeks. For reference, here is my current Jund list:

The current sideboard might be off by a few cards, but I wanted to have answers for all of the decks that have been giving me trouble. Howling Mine has been deemed one of the stronger ways for control decks to beat Jund, but I don’t believe that is the case if you have a good sideboard. After boarding, this becomes more apparent as you have Goblin Ruinblaster, Thought Hemorrhage, and Vithian Renegades for disruption. I opted out of the Duress package that were cropping up at the last $5K to have a few more answers to cards like Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Howling Mine, since Goblin Ruinblaster and Blightning are usually enough to take down any pesky Five-Color Control decks you might face, as long as they are backed with a decent draw.

I love Bituminous Blast, but I would often find myself getting stuck on four mana and be unable to cast it. Also, players are becoming more adept at beating your removal suite, so having too many dead cards that cost five mana was just unacceptable. I substituted it for the fourth Maelstrom Pulse, which serves us well in killing problematic permanents like Baneslayer Angel and Planeswalkers. People keep trying to find ways to beat Bituminous Blast, so playing fewer should be your way of adapting to their strategy. You could potentially play more in the sideboard for the mirror match, or decks playing Woolly Thoctar. Bituminous Blast really shines against mid-range aggressive decks, but drawing too many in your opening hand could be devastating if you don’t get to five mana.

I was not a fan of the versions of Jund playing Resounding Thunder, so I cut it. I think Great Sable Stag is just amazing for the format, including the mirror match, so I made the maindeck switch. Stag is most important against Jund, anything with Wall of Denial, and Vampires, but is still serviceable against most decks. Stag will often be hands-down the best card against Vampires, as long as you don’t run blindly into a Gatekeeper of Malakir. Try to protect him behind a Sprouting Thrinax or two other creatures, since he is too important not to protect. Your removal and creatures are just better than theirs, but they have a few weapons you should watch out for, including Mind Sludge. This is one matchup where missing that Bituminous Blast hurts.

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood is a card that some players have been playing in the deck, but I can’t really figure out why. I mean, I can theoretically see why you would want to run it, but you just can’t afford to have too many lands that enter the battlefield tapped. Your gameplan generally revolves around curving out every turn, so I feel there is very little reason to run more lands that enter the battlefield tapped. I could be wrong and it could be good, but I just don’t think it is worth the inclusion. If you draw too many of the M10 dual lands or Savage Lands, having another land entering the battlefield tapped could lose you the game against a faster deck like Boros, or even Vampires if they play the aggressive version with Vampire Lacerator.

One thing I really found in testing is that you should rarely side out Broodmate Dragon. He’s the best card in your deck, and can pull you out of many sticky situations where you shouldn’t otherwise win. He might be the top of your curve and difficult to cast, but he costs six for a reason. The only matchup where he is poor is against the Howling Mine decks playing Angelsong, but even then I am skeptical. They’re playing Day of Judgment, so having a threat post-Wrath can keep you in the game. I’ve played a lot with and against this guy, but I can tell you that I would always want to be the guy casting Broodmate. Even against Baneslayer Angel, he can pose somewhat of a threat if you are in a position to race, but you should have plenty of removal for her. I have had trouble casting him on turn 6, but even if he comes down around turn 8 or so, he’s still good and definitely worth the wait. With that said, I’m sure I don’t really need to explain why Broodmate Dragon is good, but only to stress the fact that he is.

As far as Standard goes, Jund is the best established deck. It placed many players into the Top 8 of the last $5K, and has the best tools for the job when it comes to handling varying threats. It’s the hardest deck for fringe strategies to deal with, and should at the top of your list as far as “deck to play” goes. If you can figure out a way to consistently beat Jund, then likely you will do well. However, it might be more fruitful to find a way for your own Jund deck to consistently beat the mirror match. I’ve heard of people playing 4 Great Sable Stags in the maindeck, and even going so far as playing Mind Rot as more virtual copies of Blightning. Others have even replaced Broodmate Dragon with Siege-Gang Commander, since it costs less and can blow up opposing Baneslayer Angels, but I’m not sure that extreme is worth taking. You are going to be hard pressed to replace Broodmate Dragon with something “better.”

One of the potential problems with Jund is that people will be trying amazingly hard to blank all of your removal spells with creatures like Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Wall of Denial. Luckily, you have a sideboard and can side out the Terminates and Bituminous Blasts against such decks for ridiculous cards like Goblin Ruinblaster and Thought Hemorrhage. That brings me to another huge mistake that many players tend to make. Many players don’t test enough with their decks post-board. Just because you can beat a deck in Game 1 doesn’t mean you can beat them after that. Good players will find ways to make life hell for you, and Jund is possibly the best color combination for doing so. If you are going to playtest against a certain deck, make sure you playtest both sideboarded and non-sideboarded games. If you don’t, then you will probably get weaker results than what you hoped for. One classic deck that this applies to is Dredge. Sure, Dredge won about 80% of its Game 1’s (or at least the classic Combo Dredge with Breakthrough did), but after sideboarding people had many more answers for you to deal with. The most skill intensive part of playing Dredge was figuring out how to beat the hate that your opponent presented to you, and that is one lesson you should apply to every deck you ever play with or against. Not testing post-board enough leads to mistakes made against cards you weren’t prepared for. I have been guilty of this in the past, but I try to play as many matches as possible. Not games.

Much of the time, playing the best deck in a format can be incorrect because it warrants the most hate out of the opposition. However, if you find that the best deck is under the radar, then you can capitalize on an unsuspecting public with your creation. Jund is not one of those kinds of decks, so be prepared to face off against countless Celestial Purges, as well as Double Negative or Swerve from the Blue-based control decks. However, the way to beat Jund is not to 1-for-1 them to death, but to exploit all of their weakness simultaneously. An aggressive deck like Boros that packs a lot of potent threats and strong removal, like Path to Exile and Celestial Purge, could be the way to beat Jund. However, if you don’t beat them before they take control, it is difficult for you to beat Broodmate and Bituminous Blast. The strength of Jund lies in its ability to adapt to beat whatever strategy you are facing. Jund is the quintessential midrange deck of the format, and becomes the aggressor or control deck depending on what they are playing against. In more open formats with strong control decks, mid-range is classically an underdog. However, the control decks in this format are nowhere near what they used to be, so Jund has the potential to just overrun everyone. Expect multiple copies to Top 8 the $5K, but I would not be surprised if the better players in the room figured out the format either.

I will be honest, I’m not going to play Jund at the $5K because I think I have a better deck. This article will be going up on the Monday after the $5K, so telling you what I played would be pointless (I also promised I wouldn’t post the list before it is more widely known). You can see my decklist and tournament report in my article next week. Even if I do poorly, I’ll try to stay in and win money, so hopefully it will be a decent read. The tournament report might also include the PTQ the following day, but it is Zendikar limited and a much less exciting format in my opinion. I’ve always liked doing tournament reports on Constructed, as they can give the audience a bit more insight into certain decisions or lines of plays I make, and I can hear their responses. Learning from my mistakes is the most important part of writing for me, and I really enjoy hearing your thoughts.

Thanks for reading.

strong sad on MOL