Constructed Criticism – Solving Standard: Junk in the Trunk

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Monday, December 21st – Last week I wrote about Zendikar Block Constructed but didn’t get too much response, so I’ll focus on Standard until the Zen Block format becomes more relevant. I’ve read countless articles about the metagame involving the Top 8 decks from St. Louis, but not much on innovation as to how to beat them, or where the next evolution of the format is going to come from…

Last week I wrote about Zendikar Block Constructed but didn’t get too much response, so I’ll focus on Standard until the Zen Block format becomes more relevant. I’ve read countless articles about the metagame involving the Top 8 decks from St. Louis, but not much on innovation as to how to beat them, or where the next evolution of the format is going to come from. Apparently, Mike Flores has been correct in determining the winners of the last few tournaments, so let’s see if I can take a crack at it. I’ve been toying around with a Black-Green-White Junk deck for the last few weeks, ever since my friend Will Cruse won our State Champs with it. His version seemed to be lacking a few key components, but it was a solid idea with powerful synergy. His playskill and powerful cards contributed to his victory over a weaker field, but one thing remains true: smashing Jund is something this deck does very well.

Jund only has so many removal spells. Some of your creatures are not vulnerable to Lightning Bolt, and they should eventually run out of answers for you incredible threats. If they happen to get you with a ridiculous Blightning draw, followed up with multiple removal spells and Broodmate Dragon, then almost any deck has trouble winning. However, the fact that you can topdeck your way out of any situation says a lot about the deck’s power. Lotus Cobra provides for some busted draws that Jund just can’t handle if they draw a lot of M10 Dual lands and Savage Lands, leaving them vulnerable to Emeria Angels and Knight of the Reliquary, not to mention Baneslayer Angel or Master of the Wild Hunt. Cards like Vines of the Vastwood could have potential uses for protecting your most important creature from their Maelstrom Pulses, and in some cases protecting multiple creatures. It can also prove a great combat trick that most people will not expect, and catch them off guard when you are potentially swinging for lethal.

Some people will say that Junk is just a worse form of Jund, but I don’t think that is necessarily true. Where Jund attacks with different forms of card advantage and tempo, Junk attacks in the form of incredible threats, and potential disruptive packages post-board. Duress and Mind Shatter can be great allies against the rising popularity of Grixis and Team America decks, giving you outs to their silly Mind Spring draws after killing a few of your more potent threats. I’ve also discovered they the Wall of Denial decks have a tough time dealing with an early World Queller, as he can lock them out on lands, or force them to sacrifice their Shroud creatures, and sometimes even Planeswalkers. He is a very underrated card, as he should be since Walletslayer Angel exists. The 5-drop slot is hard pressed to compete with the angel, but I think out of the sideboard, World Queller has some great theoretical applications.

Without further ado, here is my current list for BGW Junk:

I’ve gone through a few different configurations with the deck, but this is the one I’m very satisfied with. I haven’t done worse than 3-1 in any Magic Online 4-Round Swiss tournaments, and most of my losses come from play mistakes or mulligans. With the deck being three colors, you will have to mulligan occasionally due to awkward mana draws. With Noble Hierarch and Lotus Cobra, your mana can be fixed pretty easily as long as they survive, but often a timely Lightning Bolt will put you very far behind if you use either as a crutch. Borderland Ranger has been playing fantastically for me, saving me in countless situations where I desperately needed a threat and a land in one card. He is amazing at digging out multiple sources of Black mana for your sideboard cards, and can singlehandedly be the reason for winning a war against Blightning. The extra land will often sit in your hand to protect your removal or bombs so that you have outs to Broodmate Dragon or Sprouting Thrinax in the race against Jund. The extra card he generates is invaluable for consistency when trying to curve out.

A card I am really fond of is Vines of the Vastwood, as I mentioned earlier. However, I don’t really know if I can cut any of these cards for the Vines. Some of my friends suggested I cut a Maelstrom Pulse and a Path to Exile for two of them, but I am very fond of my Maelstrom Pulses, since everyone and their brother are trying to come up with interesting ways to defeat Jund (see Howling Mine and Planeswalkers). This deck doesn’t have a lot of reach as far as direct damage or the ability to easily deal with non-creature permanents outside of Maelstrom Pulse, so I’ll stick with four until the metagame shifts and becomes more solidified. Maelstrom Pulse can prove invaluable against a variety of decks, and I rarely even side it out against Jund. I found that when I played the Jund mirror, the main reason I sided out Maelstrom Pulse was because I wanted to cascade into creatures and Blightning more often, in addition to not wanting a card that could potentially destroy my own creature. In comparison to Vines of the Vastwood, they function on entirely different wavelengths. I don’t think you can really suggest cutting removal for a card that isn’t removal in a deck that is already cutting back on it (see 3 Path to Exile).

In a world full of Blightning, this deck just rears back and punches you square in the jaw. No strings, no neat tricks, just raw power and synergistic cards. Emeria Angel is probably the best creature in the deck, when combined with Knight of the Reliquary she can be unstoppable. Lots of games against Jund will come down to racing, and having a ton of 1/1 Bird tokens will help greatly in that regard. Even if they do have a removal spell for her, often she will still leave one or two birds in her stead. Your game plan against most decks is just to overwhelm them with too many powerful cards until they run out of answers. With the incredible deck-thinning capabilities of Knight and fetchlands, you will be drawing tons of gas while your opponent draws blanks. To boot, you can even search up cool lands like Kabira Crossroads and Gargoyle Castle whenever you need. Gargoyle Castle has been nothing short of spectacular, and I’ve highly considered playing a second copy in the sideboard against decks packing Day of Judgment. However, I don’t think you can consistently cast your spells if you ever happen to mulligan into a hand with one or two Gargoyle Castles, and the situation can become even more frustrating if they kill your early mana producers.

Against various other matchups, most of the other decks besides Jund are incapable of handling all of your threats. Each creature in your deck provides a different skill-set for combating different strategies. Emeria Angel is great at holding off a creature rush, either mid-range or weenie, while Baneslayer Angel halts all aggressive decks until they find an answer. Usually she just ends the game outright upon resolution, since most of their removal is pointed at either your early mana guys, or your mid-game ridiculous monsters. If they use their Maelstrom Pulse on your Knight of the Reliquary, how are they going to handle Baneslayer? The answer is usually that they have to topdeck their way out of it. Luckily, your deck is built for drawing better cards than your opponent, so you will often outdraw them if the war comes to topdecking.

Decks who aren’t sure of what you are playing will often just blow through removal on the early turns to kill your Noble Hierarchs or Lotus Cobras, for fear of you getting an accelerated draw into threats they aren’t equipped to deal with. While this works on occasion, cards like Borderland Ranger are there to help you get to the mid-game. Elspeth, Emeria Angel, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Martial Coup are all great cards for stalling, but can just as easily win games against an unprepared opponent. Elspeth singlehandedly wins games with her Angelic Blessing +1 ability, usually targeting an abnormally large Knight of the Reliquary, or even just a lowly Lotus Cobra to smash for 5 damage. If they use a removal spell on the target, then there is little harm. Just replace the creature with any other, and send them to the skies some more. Eventually one or more will connect and they will be dead.

Here is a rundown of sideboarding tips for the format’s most popular decks. Please forgive me if I leave any out, but these are what I mostly play against on Magic Online:

Against Boros:

Boros is all about life management. Using your removal as early as possible to keep you from dying to a surprise Burst Lightning or Goblin Bushwhacker is key. Your key spells here are Emeria Angel, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Baneslayer Angel. If any of these stick for multiple turns, you will often be able to overwhelm them before they get going. Here is how I usually sideboard:

-1 Martial Coup, -3 Elspeth (she is just a tad too slow, and they never attack her), -4 Maelstrom Pulse

+4 Wall of Reverence, +3 Malakir Bloodwitch, +1 Kabira Crossroads

You will rarely have time to efficiently use Maelstrom Pulse, and it is even worse against the versions playing Hell’s Thunder and Hellspark Elemental. If Wall of Reverence or Malakir Bloodwitch stick around, it is very difficult for them to win. They will have to draw a ton of Path to Exiles or harder removal like Journey to Nowhere or Oblivion Ring for you to lose. Your Lotus Cobras and Noble Hierarchs are very important for accelerating you into your mid-game threats as quickly as possible. Be wary of Earthquake, since it usually destroys your little guys.
If you are on the play, I suggest leaving in Maelstrom Pulse and potentially cutting the Cobras. They can do some good against them, but if you are Earthquaked for 1 on turn 2, you can get blown out really badly if you ran out a Noble Hierarch and a Lotus Cobra.

Against Red Deck Wins:

This deck is becoming more and more popular since its victory in St. Louis. However, I don’t really think the deck is that good. I honestly believe it is just a worse version of Boros Bushwhacker, but time will tell if it has the staying power that Jund has had over the last few months. RDW attacks from two angles: Burn and Haste Creatures. These two threats are fairly easy to combat as long as you play around particular cards. Path to Exile should be used primarily for Ball Lightning or Hell’s Thunder, but you can sometimes use it on a pesky Plated Geopede if you have a slow draw and can’t handle a 5/5 first striker. Maelstrom Pulse is absolutely horrid in this matchup, and should come out for Walls and Kabira Crossroads, much like Boros. Here is how I sideboard:

-4 Maelstrom Pulse, -1 Martial Coup

+4 Wall of Reverence, +1 Kabira Crossroads

If you feel as if their sideboard plan incorporates cards like Manabarbs and the like, it is okay to side in Duress for Elspeth. Elspeth can be nice in combination with Wall of Reverence, but it is usually unnecessary to win. Kabira Crossroads in combination with Knight of the Reliquary can buy you an extra turn, and is often much better than the Martial Coup you side out. The extra land doesn’t affect your draws that much, but can sometimes be crucial for landing your Baneslayer. If you happen to stick a Wall of Reverence early enough, it is hard for you to lose. Also note that Lotus Cobra can be used to pay for the cost on Quenchable Fire. If you don’t have an explosive draw, try to hold onto a Lotus Cobra in hand for just such an occasion, as you don’t want to get your army swept by a timely Earthquake, and the 3-life you save from Quenchable Fire could prove worthwhile.

Against Jund:

Jund is one of your better matchups, but it is always a tough opponent. It is hard to lose if you have a decent draw on the play, since your threats will usually come online before they Bituminous Blasts have a chance to deal with them. However, if you stumble, they will be more than happy to punish you. You can’t afford to keep weak hands against them, as your only real goal against them is to kill them as quickly as possible. Your key cards in this matchup are Elspeth, Baneslayer Angel, and Emeria Angel. Get these cards into play as early as possible, but try to sandbag the Emeria Angel until you can play a land in the same turn, or when you have an active Knight of the Reliquary. If they don’t kill your early mana producer, it is very hard to lose this match. Here is how I usually sideboard:

+3 Wall of Reverence, +2 Mind Shatter (on the play); +2 Duress (on the draw)

-3 Path to Exile, -2 Master of the Wild Hunt

Master of the Wild Hunt isn’t super impressive, as you can’t gain any value if they have Lightning Bolt. Emeria Angel is different, as she can leave behind multiple birds even if they have the Bolt in hand when you cast her. If you are on the play, you can usually destroy their hand on turn 3 with Lotus Cobra and Mind Shatter, but you won’t usually have enough time to do this on the draw. Duress can be great if they sided into heavy removal, since you can take their best one and protect your large threat later. Mind Shatter is usually dead on the draw, since they will almost always have plenty of time to kill your Lotus Cobra or Noble Hierarch, then start running the Blightning chain on you. Wall of Reverence might seem questionable, but it blocks everything they have to throw at you, and can usually buy you enough time to draw out of your problematic situations. When combined with an Elspeth or Knight of the Reliquary, your life total will become almost unmanageable, giving you plenty of opportunities to draw out of topdecking situations. For the record, I used to sideboard Great Sable Stag, but too many Jund decks are opting for Siege-Gang Commander and Master of the Wild Hunt packages, so Stag is becoming worse and worse. However, if Grixis and Team America all start to see more play, then Stag could start to make a comeback.

Speaking of Grixis and Team America:

These decks are functionally identical except for two major differences…

Grixis has Cruel Ultimatum, which may or may not be incredible against you depending on the game state. In this scenario, the Team America player usually has Mind Spring. Both can be blowouts if you don’t kill them immediately after the spell resolves.

Second, Team America has Wall of Denial. This creature can cause you lots of distress, since it will often force you into overcommitting into an Earthquake. However, lots of your creatures fly or can get out of Earthquake range rather easily, so I wouldn’t worry about that too much. In both matchups, your Path to Exiles should be used solely for ramping you in response to a removal spell from your opponent. They always come out, as even the Grixis deck sides into creatures with Protection from White against you.

Here is how I normally sideboard (note: both versions usually bring in Mind Control)

-3 Path to Exile, -2 Master of the Wild Hunt, -4 Baneslayer Angel, -2 Noble Hierarch

+3 Duress, +3 Bloodwitch, +2 World Queller, +2 Mind Shatter, +1 Kabira Crossroads (just as a 25th Land) against Team America.

Against Grixis you can leave in Baneslayer Angels over the Bloodwitches.

These matchups are all about blowing out your opponent in one way or another. Maelstrom Pulse should be used primarily for Mind Control, since it is very difficult for you to beat that card otherwise. Duress and Mind Shatter attack their hand, and can keep them off of a vital counterspell in the late-game. World Queller is great at keeping their mana in check, as well as giving you an out to Planeswalkers, Enchantments, or even Shroud creatures. Baneslayer Angel comes out against Team America because Bloodwitch is so much better, and you can’t really have too many cards at the 5-drop slot. Against Grixis, Baneslayer is usually better, but even Malakir Bloodwitch can make her a blank, so just try to figure out their gameplan and alter your accordingly.

Against the mirror or other Emeria Angel decks:

This matchup doesn’t come up often, but when it does it can be a real drag. Creature stalls are the name of the game, and Maelstrom Pulse is all too important at eliminating whatever threat your opponent drops first, or vice versa. Emeria Angel is MVP, acting as an infinite blocker as well as a win condition. She buys you enough time to find a better win condition or removal spell for your opponent’s Baneslayers, so try to keep her alive at all costs. Knight of the Reliquary can get really out of hand in the mirrors, but is only incredible when combined with Lotus Cobra or Emeria Angel.

Here is how I normally sideboard:

+3 Malakir Bloodwitch, -3 Elspeth, Knight-Errant

Often, your opponent will be bringing in Bloodwitch as well, which makes Elspeth just horrible. Additionally, if your opponent has fliers, she becomes a 2WW: make a 1/1 then prevent 5 damage. This isn’t the most exciting of jobs. Martial Coup can be a random blowout, and that is the main reason it is in the deck. It is amazing against any white deck, and can just steam roll the opponent if they walk into it. Using Lotus Cobra and Knight of the Reliquary to accelerate into it can be fun, but just try not to throw too many of your own cards away being cute. Knight of the Reliquary is much more valuable than gaining a few extra 1/1’s. However, if casting the Knight is your only real way of casting the Martial Coup, do not be afraid to lose it if you are falling far behind on board. The reason Martial Coup is in the deck is to randomly blow out your opponent. Often you will find yourself with an excess of mana and nothing to sink it into. If you happen to draw the Coup, you can be in a winning position just like that.

I had a 2nd Martial Coup in the sideboard for these matchups for a while, but they don’t really come up often enough to warrant having the slot, at least for now. If World Queller proves to be a dud, then I can see cutting the two of them for a Martial Coup and possibly a 4th Malakir Bloodwitch or 3rd Mind Shatter. Both of those cards come in a lot, and I wouldn’t mind having access to another of either. I am falling in love with Malakir Bloodwitch, since she is so hard to kill and can provide you with a beastly attacker that ends the game rather quickly. Mind Shatter has also proven more efficient than Identity Crisis, since it can be case explosively off of Lotus Cobra for X=3 on turn 3, whereas you can’t cast a 3rd turn Identity Crisis unless you also have a Noble Hierarch. However, this is just betting to get you blown out by Earthquake, so be careful.

These are the primary matchups I face on Magic Online, though there are plenty of other archetypes out there. I think that having Maelstrom Pulse and lots of disruptive sideboard cards gives you a good matchup against Turbofog, so you can just side out your Paths and Masters, and possibly Baneslayer Angels, for Mind Shatters, Duress, and the World Quellers. They can really wreck your opponent if they aren’t suspecting it, since World Queller has a tendency to eat… well, everything.

In closing, I think this deck has a solid chance at becoming tier 1. The Grixis and Team America matchups are very difficult, but the rest of the field just seems like a bye. I’ve never felt like I’ve had a more powerful creature-based deck in the history that I’ve been playing Magic. Extended decks are faster, sure, but the potency of your threats is just absurd. If your opponent has a weak draw of any kind, your deck can swarm and overwhelm them as early as turn 3. Elspeth is a very difficult card for most people to handle, and especially so when guarded by such ridiculous monsters. If you’re looking for a very fun deck to play (albeit very expensive), then look no further. This could be the answer you’re looking for.

Thanks for reading.

Todd Anderson
strong sad on MTGO