Deep Analysis – Two Junderful Standard Decks

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Thursday, October 2nd – The five distinct tri-color pairings in Shards of Alara promise great things for the Standard metagame. Creative deckbuilders across the globe are looking for the perfect way to harness the power and synergy of Jund, Bant, and the rest. Today’s Deep Analysis sees Richard Feldman bring us a pair of interesting Standard decks using the Red, Green, and Black cards of Jund…

Last week’s Bant endeavor got a little derailed when the Shards spoiler filled out and Rafiq of the Many was revealed to only have three toughness instead of four. If Firespout and Nameless Inversion continue to be as big in Tenth/Shards-infused Lorwyn Block (that is, the new Standard) as they were in Lorwyn Block, that change in toughness is a real deal-breaker. However, I haven’t given up hope. Particularly if Pyroclasm or Jund Charm (foreshadowing!) start to eclipse Firespout in popularity, I will definitely revisit that concept.

So let’s talk Jund Charm. I look at the card, and the first thing I see is dead Faeries. The trouble with Pyroclasm and Firespout against the Fae is that the little buggers like to come in on your end step or upkeep, meaning you often cannot deal with new threats until after they’ve already done some damage and are now being defended by Spellstutter Sprite and Cryptic Command. Jund Charm doesn’t care if it’s your upkeep or end step, it just clears them out on the spot – before the Faeries player can untap and present some anti-sweeper defense. Best of all, unlike Cloudthresher, Jund Charm can be cast when Faeries is on the play and they hit Mistbind Clique mana before you hit Evoke mana.

The other applications of the Charm require a bit more finesse. Against Five-Color Control and Reveillark, each of the three modes presents an opportunity to gain an edge; the tricky part is the timing. If Firespout or Pyroclasm come knocking against your Jund Beats deck, you can use the +1/+1 counter mode to save your best affected dude and untap with a monster ready to counterattack. If Makeshift Mannequin or Reveillark is on the stack, you can counter them by acing the graveyard. If a chump-blocker is in your way and damage is a priority, you can (often) Pyro it away; if you’d prefer, you can stack damage and grow your own guy to keep a fatty around post-combat instead.

As I said, though, the timing is what makes it difficult. To counter Firespout with +1/+1 counters, you will need to pass the turn with Jund Charm mana open, which may telegraph your intentions. Whenever you want to remove a blocker and the opponent has Mannequin mana open, you’ll have to read him for it, or jump from the frying pan to the fire as he puts his Mulldrifter into the graveyard only to reanimate it before blockers for enormous profit. If your blocked attacker has trample, do you put counters on it before damage and risk the two-for-one if the opponent has a removal spell, or do you play it safe and stack lethal damage on his blocker first? You have a lot of options, and I’m sure that figuring out exactly when to cast this spell will be critical (but often non-obvious) if you want to get value out of it.

The thing that first got me interested in Jund Charm is that it is a potent sweeper that also embodies the kind of tricky, interactive card that fits with the strategy I have been pursuing of late. It’s not Blue, but it presents my opponents with two – sometimes three – big things to consider. Will my attack or block still make sense if my opponent Pyroclasms at instant speed? What if he has the instant-speed Elven Rite? Constructed-worthy pump spells are extremely rare, and many mages will have attuned their autopilot reflexes to filter out the possibility that a Grizzly Bear might double in size mid-combat. Granted, effecting a sudden Tormod’s Crypt maneuver could cause a blowout against Five Color or Reveillark, but most other decks will only care if you are using it to counter Persist, Unearth, or Demigod.

Unfortunately, the options for playable trickiness from Red, Green, and Black in this format dry up rather quickly after Jund Charm. You can engineer a blowout with Cryptic Command sixteen ways to Sunday, or with Sower of Temptation by baiting out the opponent’s removal and then reversing his advantage…but where’s the beef from Black, Green, and Red? Besides the ubiquitous threat of a removal spell, what does my opponent have to fear from my untapped lands? How can I walk him into a Sower of Temptation-style blowout?

The first card that comes to mind is Sarkhan Vol. Threaten has always had a ton of blowout potential, but it’s tough to justify its maindeck inclusion because it is so situational. Sarkhan helps mitigate that by offering an alternate ability (pumps and haste) and an alternate win condition (go on defense and charge up the Death Star), making him much less situational – and thus more maindeckable – than Threaten.

Deck One

So where do I go from there? Thus far I have only Jund Charm and Sarkhan Vol as a starting point, and that’s hardly a cohesive strategy. I do know one thing: I don’t want to play control here. In this format, I don’t see any money in playing control unless you’re going for either all five colors (or maybe only one or two because you really need those lands to come in untapped), and Five Color Control is plenty explored as an archetype already. Since I’m playing Jund Charm and will be expecting to use it for Pyroclasm a lot of the time – but I’m not playing Control – I have to find a way to fill a beatdown deck full of creatures that will not die to Pyroclasm.

I’m also looking for more playable tricky cards. Since Black, Green, and Red seem to be pretty dry on those, I’m going to look to the old standby – Blue.

Sedraxis Specter has solid potential. Against non-Faeries decks, he is a solid evasive attacker with a strong ability, making him a magnet for removal. Once removed, he comes back to either hit the opponent for three and make him discard – a sort of miniature Blightning effect – or else kill it or block and trade. In each of those cases, the Specter is a two-for-one; even if his full “go nuts” potential is not realized, he still gets you a useful incremental advantage. Seems solid, though he does get incidentally swept away by Jund Charm.

The Grixis Charm does not appeal to me. I’m not thrilled about bouncing things when I’m already playing Cryptic Command (did I mention I’m playing Cryptic Command? If I’m playing Blue, I guess that goes without saying), the Trumpet Blast seems incredibly situational. Given two abilities I’m not thrilled about, it comes down to the -4/-4. I’d prefer Terror against basically anything but a Black creature – notably Demigod or Doran – and I suppose some of those colored artifact creatures, should any of them see play. For three mana, I’m not impressed.

Unfortunately, Blue doesn’t seem to be heading in the right direction for Jund Charm. Sedraxis Specter is a 3/2, Sower of Temptation is a 2/2, and a quick search revealed that none of the x/3 creatures Blue brings to the table are playable. As good as Cryptic Command is, splashing for it is probably not what is going to make this deck come together when so many fundamental needs are as yet unmet.

What about White?

The Naya Shard brings Woolly Thoctar to the table, a big beater with a low price. White also opens the door to playing Doran, and the new Mesmeric Fiend, Tidehollow Sculler. (Sculler would probably be in the board, as maindeck he would too often be hit by Jund Charm’s two damage.) I also like Naya Charm; as we have seen with Cryptic Command, tapping all of someone’s creatures is very potent in this format, we all know how important it is to answer Sower of Temptation, and a card which does both while offering the potential to turn into a threat if need be (plus, um, a way to disrupt a Reveillark combo, I guess?) sounds good to me. The tapping part in particular interests me because it helps satisfy my quota of tricky, interactive blowout-generators.

After playing around with a few sketches, I settled on this one:

I thought Wren’s Run Vanquisher would be ideally suited for the two-drop role in a Pyroclasm deck, which led to an Elf focus. If I were to drop the Elf package, I’d have worse mana (no Gilt-Leaf Palace, and potentially no Bosk if I started cutting Changelings as well), and a vastly worse two-drop instead of Wren’s Run. What would I gain? I’d probably rather have Sprouting Thrinax than Wilt-Leaf Cavaliers, I could replace Safehold Elite with some non-Elf two-drop (though, honestly, none of my alternatives excite me), and I guess I would open up the option of changing out Chameleon Colossus for something else. None of that sounds altogether appealing.

Speaking of Safehold Elite, I kinda wish he were Elvish Warrior – the Warrior outright survives Jund Charm and is a 3/3 with Doran out – but I am concerned about assembling GG on turn 2. I’m sure it’s possible, but I’m also sure it will often require depleting a Vivid land, and I haven’t yet gotten a feel for how precious my Vivid counters are. Frankly, if not for curve considerations, he’d probably be a Crib Swap or Eyeblight’s Ending by now; I have never been a fan of Safehold Elite.

Looking at the list as a whole, we see an extremely straightforward midrange beatdown deck featuring a variety of tricks to make things interesting. Opponents will have to play around Jund Charm, Naya Charm, Nameless Inversion, and Sarkhan Vol, or suffer the consequences. I’m not sure if I have the correct proportions of Naya Charms and Sarkhans, but I’m pretty sure I don’t want either as a four-of. I could see making some cuts (which would pretty much have to be Dorans or Thoctars) to go up to three of either, but for now I am content to maximize my midgame fat and leave my two distinct late-game blowout generators at two apiece.

The deck’s biggest selling point is its incredible array of large creatures. A 3/3 at two mana, a 5/5 a 5/4, and a 3/4 at three, and Chameleon Colossus at 4. I can play out one man at a time against control, or swarm the board with fat that demands chump blocking against smaller creature decks. I have Thoughtseize and eight ways to cast it turn one, the curve is low enough that I can get a bit aggressive with the land count and leave it down at 22, and there is enough removal included that I don’t have to sweat Sower of Temptation. The one hole in all this is Demigod of Revenge, but considering how much fast fat this deck packs, I can imagine it racing red decks so successfully that they might have to play their Demigods untapped just to block and trade.

In any case, I’m definitely excited to see what a brawny assortment of powerful spells can do together.

Deck Two

While thinking about ways to improve Sarkhan Vol’s Threaten ability – and noting that, pre-rotation, Gargadon would have given me the option of using it as an improved removal spell – I thought of Nantuko Husk. Husk is not the type of “good stuff” creature you can just throw into any deck, but Stuart Wright found an excellent home for it in pre-rotation Standard with his B/R Tokens (aka “Stokin’ Tokens”) concoction. He discussed it in an article awhile back; here’s the list:

What does this deck lose in the rotation? After you apply Stuart’s suggested change of the fourth Furystoke in the main over Slaughter Pact, there are four big losses: Shadow Guildmage, Magus of the Moon, Greater Gargadon, and Mogg War Marshal, plus the minor losses of singletons Kher Keep and Pendelhaven. The lands can’t be helped, but Shadow Guildmage can reasonably be replaced with Thoughtseize, a card which shares similar properties (life loss for a desired effect, being strong against Faeries – though obviously not on the same level – and being a Black one-drop). Magus, War Marshal, and Gargadon, however, are a bit trickier to replace.

First up is the Magus. There’s no comparable effect in the new Standard, but if I’m adding Green to the B/R mix, I damn well have a suggested three-drop! Sprouting Thrinax, anyone? Hey, as long as I’m not playing the Charm from the Jund Shard (and, let’s be honest, as much as I like Jund Charm, I’m not playing Pyroclasm in a tokens deck), I might as well look to the flagship three-drop beater instead.

The next twist is that I really want to include Sarkhan Vol. Except against the all-flying Faeries, a token deck is uniquely suited to stalling the ground for the three turns necessary to release the flood of Dragon tokens that essentially guarantee victory. He clearly does not fit into the curve of Gargadon and War Marshal, though, so I’m going to try and find a one-drop or two-drop sacrifice outlet to replace them. Rite of Consumption is a sacrifice outlet – albeit a really crappy one on turn 2, and pretty narrow in general – which I might look to as a last resort, but I’d honestly rather keep looking.

There are other options besides sacrifice outlets, of course. Tattermunge Witch vaguely gels with the token-heaviness of the deck, but I’m concerned about her in practice. I mean, what if the opponent just doesn’t block the tokens? Devoted Druid is a cute combo with Furystoke Giant, but he doesn’t really power out anything useful (“Turn 3 Sarkhan Vol! Yeah! Turn 3 Furystoke Giant! Yeah!”) Dragon Fodder from Shards does a sort of half-assed Mogg War Marshal impersonation, and tragically that’s the best I have been able to find so far.

Let’s have a look at a list:

In the general sense, Stuart’s list obviously had an easier time getting its colors and could cast its one-drops more consistently. I added a 25th land to help out with that problem and with the fact that I’ve shifted the curve upward significantly, and went with a fourth Husk to maximize my sac outlets given the loss of Gargadon. The two Nameless Inversions were cut to make room for these changes, and the loss of Mogg War Marshal meant that Auntie’s Hovel was coming into play tapped so often that I replaced it with Savage Lands to help out the Green splash.

Unfortunately, this build is way worse off against Faeries than Stuart’s original list. It’s missing two backbreakers in the form of Magus of the Moon and Shadow Guildmage, and they are replaced by Thoughtseize and Sprouting Thrinax. Since Nantuko Husk is the deck’s only remaining sacrifice outlet, and since Faeries does not really fight on the ground, I don’t see Thrinax converting into tokens very often in that matchup; he’ll basically be Trained Armodon.

The only potential upgrade against Faeries is that a resolved Sarkhan Vol is probably much better than a Greater Gargadon. The Threaten aspect of Vol is unlikely to do much, but as Faeries is not well-suited to defend against a mass of 2/2 tokens, the pump ability combined with the life-saving aspect (the Fae will have to divert some attackers towards Vol to avert the Dragon Apocalypse) could make him a valuable racing asset.

The good news is, in the rotation, Faeries has lost some goodies of its own. The Fae are less likely to pack counters these days, and definitely will not have Ancestral Visions as they did when Stuart fought them. Will the net effect of these losses on both sides work out to a favorable matchup for the token deck? I’m skeptical, but with sideboarding factored in, it might be able to get there.

Against the rest of the format, I’m really not sure how it will fare – but I am intrigued. Much of the synergy inherent to Stuart’s initial list has been retained, and while the curve has been pushed back and the two best hosers dropped, I think Sarkhan has a ton of potential. I think the success of this list will depend on the answer to the question of how much the deck loses from the rotation (and attempts to replace with a third color and some Shards cards) compared to what the rest of Standard loses.

So there you have it: two ways to skin a Jund. Next week I’ll start putting one of these decks (one of the two Jund ones or the Bant one from last week) up against some updated gauntlet lists to see how they fare. Sound off in the forums if you have a preference for which deck I should try first!

See you then!

Richard Feldman
Team :S
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