Once more, the Duel With Ruel article of the week will feature the omnipotent Jund. I have been claiming for months that anyone who really wants to win in Standard has to play Jund, Blue/White Control, or something really new. It is really tough to show up with an innovative deck that can actually stand a chance in the powerful current metagame, but it happens… sometimes.
About a week or two before Grand Prix: Brussels, the Ally deck emerged as a strong Standard force on Magic Online, and more and more people were playing and winning with it. I was truly happy to see it as an alternative to the narrow metagame, especially with my flatmate Alexandre Riviere proving to me that the deck was good, rocking the online queues himself. I played Allies a bit, hoping that the day would come in which I play Ranger of Eos in a tournament, but it was definitely not my kind of deck.
I admit that Allies might be one of the best decks in the format, probably the best Naya option, but I have the feeling that it won a huge amount of games and matches just because of the opponent’s inability to do easy math whenever he found himself in an unusual spot.
Now that anyone should either have played a few games against it (or read this article, hehe!) and knows how it works, I wonder if it will take a seat next to Jund and Blue/White as a deck you are “allowed” to play in a tournament without feeling it’s a mistake.
I expect the matchup to be 50/50, which is about the best you can have against Jund without being crushed by half of the other decks in the field.
Once again, I chose to run Emanuele Giusti’s Jund, the deck that won Grand Prix: Brussels.
And here’s Alexandre Riviere’s Allies (Top 16 at GP: Brussels), played by Manuel Bucher:
- 2 Ranger of Eos
- 4 Bloodbraid Elf
- 1 Baneslayer Angel
- 1 Goblin Bushwhacker
- 4 Kabira Evangel
- 4 Kazandu Blademaster
- 4 Oran-Rief Survivalist
- 4 Akoum Battlesinger
- 4 Hada Freeblade
- 2 Harabaz Druid
- 2 Talus Paladin
Maindeck Games (14 wins, 10 losses, 58.3% games won)
On the play: 9 wins, 3 losses
On the draw: 5 wins, 7 losses
Manu had a bad run, mulliganing to five a total of four times, and once to four (which he won), when I only mulliganed a few times, to six. I expect the person who plays first to win around 66% of the games.
The quality of the Allies deck’s draw matters a lot, as sometimes it’s faster than Mono Red, killing you on turn 4 even though you’ve already cast turn 2 Putrid Leech turn 3 Spouting Thrinax. The problem is that it is hard to keep removal in hand waiting for a better target than the miserable 2/2 ally that is already on the board. As it will be a monstrous 6/6 at some point, you would rather kill it before it starts damaging you. Putrid Leech and Spouting Thrinax are excellent blockers, and they protect you from the early waves of attacks, so that you gain a lot of tempo and opportunities to cast your removal on creatures that are worth it. If you have none of those two creatures in your hand, I would recommend you “waste” your removal on stupid Grizzly Bears.
If you hold your opponent’s creature back with yours, you have to keep a removal for Kabira Evangel. That mediocre draft card is the card you should be afraid of in the matchup. If you cannot deal with it in the early game, you will lose; if your opponent draws it in the late game, none of your creatures will be able to block. You can try to diversify the colors of the creatures that you will keep in defense to fight against this, but if your opponent has a second ally to cast it will not be enough. For that matter, if you are afraid of Kabira Evangel plus another ally (such as Akoum Battlesinger) because you have Red and Green creatures on the board (Siege-Gang Commander and Spouting Thrinax tokens, for instance), an instant removal on the 2/3 should help.
In a lot of games, we found each other with 6 creatures on the board, the game locked until Broodmate Dragon, the Evangel, or some other gamebreaker would show up. Maelstrom Pulse unlocked a few games, as the Ally deck cannot afford to keep many creatures in hand, as he wants every single one on the board to be big enough to threaten you. It is also a good answer to Ranger of Eos searching for 2 Hada Freeblade, as Goblin Bushwhacker does not do much in the matchup.
The tempo of the game is a little weird.
You have to be really defensive at the beginning of the game, so do not pump your attacking Putrid Leech, and keep some creatures in defense for his haste guys. Once you have the lead on the board, make sure to kill him before his next wave of creatures all become 10/10. You have to play the race very strongly, or an unexpected Talus Paladin, Kabira Evangel, Akoum Battlesinger or Goblin Bushwhacker (sometimes combined) will cost you the game. Because of those cards, you have to stay at as much life as you can before you attack; do not hesitate and chump block with Spouting Thrinax whenever you are on 20 life.
Spouting Thrinax is one of your key cards. I thought that I would very often Lightning Bolt it in order to block many creatures, but the only time I did was to overrun with Garruk Wildspeaker on my very next turn. The Green Planeswalker is one of the cards that allows you to unlock the situation; the tokens and mana acceleration are very helpful in the early stages of the game, then the Overrun ability at least forces your opponent to commit suicide attacks into it rather than losing. It is really helpful when casting a Broodmate Dragon on turn 5, as that is the best attacker and the best defender in the deck.
Whenever you untap with Siege-Gang Commander and its tokens, you will usually be in a very good shape if you were not already drawing dead. Creating 3 RED tokens might totally destroy your opponent’s Kabira Evangel game plan, and then, any upcoming ally will be shot for a fourth of a spell.
Just as last week, I was disappointed with Blightning. Some would say that Ranger of Eos annihilates the Black/Red sorcery, but Manu only resolved one in 24 games (one more reason to think that I should have won fewer games). The fact is that any of your spells has to have an impact on the board, or the Allies will overwhelm you really quickly. You probably lose the game if your opponent has a perfect draw anyway, but stopping even a normal draw is very complicated as you do not have that much removal in the deck. Even Lightning Bolt sometimes cannot count as a removal spell, as it does not deal with the bigger creatures on the board, but it is still precious as your best way of playing two spells in the same turn in the early game (Allies does this fairly well, and sometimes kills you before you’ve played your third spell).
Against most of the Allies deck, it is better to cast your instant removal during your opponent’s turn, as he might play something different if his creature died during yours. If you are facing a Join the Ranks / Violent Outburst version, even though Alex and other people told me those were bad, instants allies can be really annoying. According to how important it is to destroy a creature, I would sometimes kill it during my own turn, whenever my opponent was tapped out.
I happened to kill Harabaz Druid in only one situation: whenever he played Forest turns 1 and 2. Otherwise I usually did not destroy it, as I wanted to keep my removal for better cards and I would rather spend my mana casting creatures.
The lone Baneslayer Angel in his deck killed me once, but it is really hard to take it in consideration. Maybe your opponents will play more copies, so keep in mind that the card is scary and you might need to handle it as soon as possible or you would lose.
Bloodbraid Elf… is Bloodbraid Elf. Just try not to cast it when your opponent has no creatures on the board, as then it will do whatever your deck decides. According to some people, you have to think very hard about the card you want to cascade into, and here it will be Maelstrom Pulse.
Whenever I was testing Blue/White Control, I was happy to reach the sideboard to get my Baneslayer Angels. Here, with stupid Jund, the best thing would be to board in 4 Deathmark, as the card is just far too good.
I really hesitated over whether I should keep 1 or 2 Broodmate Dragons, on the play, on the draw… but Siege-Gang Commander and the Raging Ravine should do the job once I’ve killed all the allies, which will basically be my game plan post board. I do not know how good Jund Charm will be, but the card is definitely very interesting
Sideboarding Games (18 wins, 8 losses, 69.2% games won)
On the play: 8 wins, 5 losses
On the draw: 10 wins, 3 losses
The game process became very different here. Playing first doesn’t matter anymore, nor does your opponent’s draw. Manu achieved a new mulligan record, with three mulligans to 5, three to 4, and two to less, but I do not think it really changed anything in the end. The only thing that mattered were my draws. I only lost games in which I got flooded or screwed, and a regular draw should beat a very good draw from your adversary.
The sideboarded games were a slaughter, as 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Deathmark were just too much for the Ally deck. Just as last week, my sideboard turned my deck into a better one, while his did not improve that much (that is the good thing with Jund: people have to be pre-sided against it in order to stand a chance).
You should never keep a seven-card hand on the draw with no action before turn 3, as you do not want to auto lose to a quick draw on his side.
Jund Charm was bad in the first games I drew it, as I had six creatures with one toughness when he had none, and I almost put the Dragons back instead, but the next games in which I drew it, it was insane. Every time I got it early, it did an excellent job, killing a 2/2 ally + Ranger of Eos, or Bloodbraid Elf + the ally he cascaded into, or Akoum Battlesinger and Harabaz Druid. Then, yes, in the late game the card is worse than a Broodmate Dragon, but you are not supposed to reach this point and still lose the game.
The one thing I regretted a little was not always cascading into removal, but Putrid Leech and Spouting Thrinax are still very good to pick up for free from a 3/2 haste guy for four mana. With that much removal in your deck, do not play Bloodbraid Elf with no creatures on your opponent’s board (do not do it game 1 either). I would even suggest casting it only when there is something that needs to be killed on the table, or whenever you have some backup answers in your hand for a Baneslayer Angel. The Noobslayer is a good way for your opponent to rob a few games, but you have so many removal spells after boarding that if you pay a bit of attention, handling it should be okay.
The results of the Ally deck were quite sad. I do not think that it is a serious contender to Jund and Blue/White Control in the current metagame. Just like with Zoo in Extended, Jund proves week after week how flexible and tough it can be.
There was a mistake in last week’s poll, as this matchup should not have been in it. I guess that we’ll be testing Mythic versus Jund.