Constructed Criticism – The End Boss

StarCityGames.com Open Series: Indianapolis on March 13-14
Monday, March 1st – After Day 1 of the Pro Tour in San Diego, murmurs could be heard that Jund was dead, and everyone heralded a new era full of Wild Nacatls and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. However, when the dust cleared and the last few rounds of Standard commenced, Jund was scattered across many top tables, and eventually put multiple copies into the Top 8.

If you play Magic at a competitive level, and even if you don’t, you probably know Luis Scott-Vargas. The man, the myth, the legendary one himself, is one Powerful Planeswalker. Recently at Pro Tour San Diego, LSV crushed the swiss with a perfect 16-0 record, which is the first time this has ever been done (to my knowledge). While you probably have seen his Naya deck, and watched him steamroll opponent after opponent, his journey was halted in the Top 4 of that Pro Tour by the eventual winner playing Jund. And so the cycle continues.

When the finals commenced, only two decks remained. Rather, Jund remained as the only deck left, and with a new fire in its belly, continued to dominate the Starcitygames.com Standard Open this past weekend. Alex Bertoncini showed the world just how powerful he is by taking his third StarCityGames.com title in four events, and making Top 8 of all four. The man is a force to be reckoned with, but even he stooped so low as to play the Jund menace, because it is just that good. At Worlds last year, people thought that someone would find a way to crush Jund, and all of the pros would just play that. However, most pros ended up playing Jund themselves, and yet another copy made its way to the finals. Luckily, Andre Coimbra stifled the menace, though it would not be for long.

After Day 1 of the Pro Tour in San Diego, murmurs could be heard that Jund was dead, and everyone heralded a new era full of Wild Nacatls and Jace, the Mind Sculptor. However, when the dust cleared and the last few rounds of Standard commenced, Jund was scattered across many top tables, and eventually put multiple copies into the Top 8. While this might be good news for those of you who love casting Bloodbraid Elf, it is not good news for those of us who enjoying playing real Magic. For a while now, Bloodbraid Elf has been used as a virtual crutch for less skilled players competing in Standard, often resulting in free wins. The variance is too high, and I have been trying my best to just stay away from the format as long as Extended tournaments keep firing on Magic Online. Just today, I watched multiple features matches in the StarCityGames.com Open in Richmond where the person casting Bloodbraid Elf won, even through countless play mistakes. It is something that I am frankly growing tired of. But, enough complaining from me! While I may hate most aspects of Standard, I do think that Boss Naya is the real deal. I’ve only played it in about 7 matches of sanctioned Magic, but I have yet to lose with it.

Boss Naya, named after Tom “The Boss” Ross, is a Naya deck revolving around Knight of the Reliquary, Stoneforge Mystic, and plenty of card advantage 4-drops. Ranger of Eos and Bloodbraid Elf make for an interesting duo, though they can lead to some incredibly slow openers. Their power level is nearly unmatched in Standard, and combined they are certainly formidable for any deck to handle. Jace, the Mind Sculptor doesn’t look so hot when facing down a Bloodbraid Elf or even a Wild Nacatl, since you will often keep them from Brainstorming with him, decreasing his overall value. Additionally, you can usually keep up with Jund on terms of card advantage, since Ranger of Eos is essentially a 3-for-1, and Stoneforge Mystic will give you an extra card to pitch against Blightning. If you haven’t seen the decklist that LSV piloted, here it is:

I played in a side event at PT: San Diego with a very close version of this (70 of the 75 I believe) that Brad Nelson loaned me during his draft portion. I ended up going 7-0 with the deck, and learning a few things about it throughout the day. First of all, I think the deck is solid, and has very few bad matchups. Even Jund is pretty close, which is one of the biggest reasons you should consider playing this deck. Most of the aggressive decks just fold to Cunning Sparkmage and Basilisk Collar (aka Mini Viscera), and you will often just be able to race them with Basilisk Collar on a medium-sized monster. Behemoth Sledge #2 in the sideboard was a bit unnecessary, since you have many Stoneforge Mystics and not a lot of different equipment to fetch up. Brad’s list did not have the maindeck Elspeth, Knight Errant, which I actually agree with. The deck just has an insane number of 4-drops, and cutting one for something a bit more efficient wouldn’t hurt. Elspeth is a fine spell, but I’m not sure that’s what you want to be doing in a format filled with Jund. Brad played a singleton Naya Charm, which was actually quite good in practice, winning me a few games by tapping all of their blockers and smashing in for the win.

One card I was very impressed with, which LSV cut completely, was Journey to Nowhere. For me, it was always better than a Path to Exile, and more efficient than Oblivion Ring. With Jund being the “best” deck in the format, having more ways to remove their annoying creatures without accelerating them into Broodmate Dragon could prove invaluable. Luckily, Journey to Nowhere and Oblivion Ring both exist, and you can mix up the numbers to decrease the likelihood of getting blown out by Maelstrom Pulse. One nod to Oblivion Ring over Journey to Nowhere, as far as playing multiples is concerned, is that Oblivion Ring can deal with Planeswalkers, which Journey obviously can’t. I would likely just play Journeys over Path to Exiles.

Another card that I really wanted throughout most of the tournament was the fourth Lightning Bolt. It was great at helping kill Jaces, opposing Noble Hierarchs, and even a slew of allies that I faced multiple times. While my side event might not have been the best representation of the Standard metagame, it did provide me with a decent amount understanding as far as playing out different archetypes with The End Boss. Most aggressive decks just couldn’t handle Mini Viscera, and I was really happy with the combined three Stoneforge Mystic and double Basilisk Collar after sideboarding. Cunning Sparkmage can often be enough on his own against decks like Bant and Boros, where you just accelerate into him on turn 2 and start destroying your opponents Steppe Lynxes or Noble Hierarchs. I even used him to kill an early Lotus Cobra, and it just felt so good. I used to play Vulshok Sorcerer back in the day in Constructed, and this guy is just an easier to cast version.

The Baneslayer Angels were absent from my sideboard, but LSV highly recommends them, so I say keep them. I honestly wanted some maindeck, as I didn’t feel like I could ramp into anything incredibly powerful. Ajani Vengeant was just ok for me, and never spectacular. He was often just a glorified Lightning Helix, but occasionally stuck around to shoot down another creature. I could see just swapping the two out, since Baneslayer Angel is much better against Jund than Ajani Vengeant, and just bringing in the Ajanis against control decks to threaten Armageddon. I think that the format is just too full of Jund for Ajani to make much of an impact, or at least as much of an impact as he should. Blightning is just an incredible card against you, and Ajani often wants to use his Lightning Helix ability when he comes into play in order to help protect himself.

When looking over the deck before the tournament started, one aspect of the deck I really liked was the manabase. While the manlands enter the battlefield tapped, they have already proven to be important players in the new Standard. Most Jund decks are maxing out on Raging Ravines, and I can’t really blame them. They allow you to play more lands without feeling flooded, which is something Jund has been trying to do for a while. Whenever I played Jund, I always wanted to hit my lands for the first 4-6 turns in order to cast my game-breaking spells, but this would often leave me flooded if my bombs got countered or dealt with. Raging Ravine lets you play tons of mana sources while rarely flooding you out of a game. On top of being a 4/4 upon first attack, he has the ability to continuously grow into a bigger and bigger problem for your opponent. Additionally, the manlands are new, and people will often forget about them until you are bashing them to death.

I was incredibly impressed with Stirring Wildwood, and my initial reaction was that it was the best manland in Standard. However, with Jund packing the quads on Raging Ravine, I can’t really argue in favor of it. I do think that Wildwood has the best potential to see play outside of Standard, since Knight of the Reliquary is so popular in Extended. The land fits well into the Bant Zoo decks I’ve been playing lately, acting as an “out” to opposing Dark Depths tokens, as well as a solid blocker for most iterations of Tarmogoyf. He also swallows Wild Nacatls whole, and is just ridiculous with a Noble Hierarch in play.

Sejiri Steppe is another land in the deck that I was impressed with, and did not have respect for until actually playing with it. Yes, it protects you from removal, but you will often want to refrain from growing your Knight of the Reliquary in order to keep up the ability to protect yourself from a Terminate or Lightning Bolt. But, when most Jund decks are cascading into removal, that is when the Steppe really comes out to play, since they are virtually casting their removal via sorcery speed. Once you blank a single removal spells with Steppe, you will be sold immediately afterwards. But, if you ever draw the Steppe, prepare yourself to feel awkward, since it is a very, very bad Plains in the opener. But, that is the danger of playing lands that come into play tapped. This deck obviously has very few qualms with that, as six of them don’t tap for mana when they hit the battlefield.

Terramorphic Expanse was a late addition to the deck, helping to fix the mana while also growing the Knights in the process. They often will act as a +2/+2 when fetched via Knight, and keep you from taking damage in the meantime. Most of the time, untapping with Knight of the Reliquary is game over for your opponent, so try your best to do that and just win. I’ve seen plenty of people die with active Knights in Standard, but mostly due to their misplays. If you play correctly, and don’t walk into removal while you are able to fetch Sejiri Steppe, you should be well on your way to taking the game. LSV even quoted on camera that, “Come to think of it, I didn’t lose a single game where I untapped with Knight of the Reliquary.” Those are some powerful words, and you should heed them.

The UW Control deck has been getting a lot of hype lately, and for good reason. Gabriel Nassif started off 5-0 with the deck at the PT, which could say a lot about it. I think that it has the most potential to beat Jund than any other major archetype in Standard, but I haven’t played with the deck enough to get a solid feel for it. It looks powerful, and does incredible things, but doesn’t seem like it could do well in the hands of a weaker play. While I’m sure Patrick Chapin or Nassif could pilot the deck to great finishes, your average Joe would much rather just cast Bloodbraid Elf and cascade into gas as opposed to playing Cancel. Oh, how the control players have gotten desperate, but I do agree that Cancel is just what control wants right now. It has been amazing in Block versions of UW Control, and seems to get better and better with cards like Everflowing Chalice at your disposal. While it may not be obvious how good Everlasting Chalice is in that deck, people will eventually figure out just how powerful the deck can be. It doesn’t have an “I Win” button in Cruel Ultimatum, but Mind Spring and Martial Coup can really bring the house down if played correctly. I’m really looking forward to casting Jace, the Mind Sculptor, if I can ever trade for any. While he’s at $60 each, I’ll keep trying to borrow them.

While the metagame keeps tilting back and forth between Vampires, Jund, Naya, and UW Control, there is not clear victor other than Jund. If you want to win a major tournament, you have to be able to beat them, and there is just no getting around that fact. If you can’t beat Blightning, then you need to be playing a different deck. The same goes for Sprouting Thrinax, Bloodbraid Elf, and even Broodmate Dragon. Most Jund decks even have Siege-Gang Commander as another ridiculous threat, so try mixing it up a bit when you start attacking them. Cards like Chain Reaction seem better than Earthquake in a metagame full of Blightning, and can even take down a pesky Broodmate Dragon if there are two more creatures on the battlefield. Celestial Purge and Flashfreeze are other options at your disposal, but neither deal with the problems as efficiently as you might hope for. Flashfreeze only counters half of Bloodbraid Elf, while Celestial Purge only deals with one of the two Dragons from Broodmate Dragon. All hate cards for Jund have bad side effects, which is one of the reasons that Jund is so good at the moment. Until people can effectively combat every card in their deck, we are looking at a Jund Summer, and a fairly uninteresting PTQ season unless Rise of the Eldrazi brings some incredibly powerful cards to the table. Last year, the 3rd set of Alara Block brought us the problem cards, so hopefully we’ll get some new goodies to combat the old ones. Until then, I’ll be making Marit Lage tokens.

Thanks for reading.

Todd Anderson

strong sad on MTGO