Duel with Ruel – Jund versus Pyromancer’s Ascension: The Jund Perspective

Tuesday, August 24th – Hall of Famer Antoine Ruel rocks the perennial Jund against his brother’s Pyromancer Ascension deck. Has the format’s powerhouse finally met its match?

This week’s matchup features the deck to beat from the last year and a half: Jund. The deck seems to have lost its hegemony with the introduction of M11, and a deck that was not good until the new Core Set was released might now claim a spot among the top decks: Pyromancer’s Ascension.

According to Guillaume Matignon, the U/R combo deck has only one bad matchup: Jund. But how bad a matchup is it?

Jund, on the other hand, is clearly on the decline, but I believe that it still is a strong contender in the metagame, as it can still beat anything with the right draw. Lately, the deck has became more aggressive. As such, I decided to play the Plated Geopede version that placed third in Italy, as it seemed to be the build with success behind it at time of writing. With many different decks in the current metagame (Control, Combo, Lands, Aggro, Tempo), it is very difficult to target any particular deck you will play against. Now, playing 4 Bituminous Blast when only 30% of the decks you will face will run enough creatures to make the card efficient is simply bad. An aggressive version, be it this version or a version with Nest Invaders and Eldrazi Monument, seems to be correct, as it will adapt to whatever your opponent plays.

I will play the following version of Jund, by Guido Roccoli:

Oli will play the following:

Maindeck Games (11 wins, 13 losses, 45.8% games won)

On the play: 5 wins, 7 losses
On the draw: 6 wins, 6 losses

As always with Jund, the result after 24 games has to be taken lightly. I expect this Jund version to win between 55 and 60% of the maindeck games against Pyromancer’s Ascension. If I had drawn as many Maelstrom Pulse as I drew Terminates, I might have lost no more than four games.

After a few games, I decided to write something about the fact that Mana Leak would turn the toss won into a great advantage in the format. For about two years (since the atrocious Faeries left the format), in Standard, playing first did not matter that much. It does now, even though the results here do not back up this claim with hard evidence. I got a lot of mana problems on the play, which might be explained by the fact that I ran 26 lands instead of the usual 27. This seems right with a lower curve as usual (but crippling when you attack with 1/1 Plated Geopede).

Plated Geopede was really disappointing in the matchup. It absolutely never survived when I cast it on turn 2, which is normal against a deck featuring 4 Burst Lightning, 4 Lightning Bolt, and 16 cheap drawers. It was still better than dead removal, as it helped other guys to survive later on, and sometimes managed to deal a couple of damage.

Every game is a race between the aggro and combo, and you will try to disrupt your opponent a little while doing the beating. The faster you can kill, the more pressure your opponent will have to handle, the more vulnerable his Pyromancer Ascension will be to your Maelstrom Pulse.

The combo deck is not of the kind which kills on turn 3. It is more like a control deck with a combo kill; as a result, games usually ended between turn 6 and 9. In the late game, your opponent will be able to cast his enchantment and combo in the same turn.

Pyromancer’s Ascension runs 4 Ponder and 4 Preordain. As a result, it is almost as if the deck only played 52 cards. Your opponent will draw one or two of each of his important spells in every game. Because of this statement, your board will be annihilated quite easily by some removal, your opponent will draw more of his enchantment that you will draw Maelstrom Pulse and Mana Leak will counter your most precious spells.

About Mana Leak: your opponent has so many card draw options that if he’s tapped out in the early game, then, he is probably holding his counterspell. By not casting a spell that would be countered, and passing the turn, you would just lose too much tempo. Just play your cards, and if one does not resolve, then the following ones will have greater chances to do so.

Any bad draw will be punished by an auto-loss. If you do not know that your opponent plays combo, you might keep a hand with a Terminate then draw another one and just lose. Whenever I could, I would destroy my Spouting Thrinax with my own Terminate in order to have 3 creatures attacking on the following turns rather than just 1 that would receive a Lightning Bolt, leading up to a Fog.

Any damage dealt is precious as it might allow you to steal the game by topdecking some burn when you are in a bad shape.

During the first games, I was wondering which was the better turn 2 spell to cast: Putrid Leech or Plated Geopede. Both would die if I tried to be too aggressive, but Putrid Leech, as a random Grizzly Bear that could only be killed by two cards, proved to be a much better option. The main thing is to keep your creatures alive for as long as possible so that they could deal as much damage as possible, at the safest pace. Then, when your only out (according to the game state) is to pump it, just do it and pray. Whenever your opponent has a Blue and a Red mana untapped, just play your spell before the attack to see if it gets countered. Then you’ll know whether you can boost the Putrid Leech or Geopede as much as you would like.

Blightning did not have as much impact as I thought it would. Treasure Hunt is a very good answer to the discard spell, and the amount of cards your opponent will draw with it will determine if Blightning is anything more than a direct damage spell.

The matchup mostly depends on your draws. Bloodbraid Elf’s random factor is back, as you can cascade into a lot of blanks, such as Maelstrom Pulse when there is no enchantment on the table. On the other hand, whenever Pyromancer Ascension is on the board, any lucky cascade into the sorcery can seal the game.

If there is a Pyromancer Ascension on the board, destroy it whenever you can, even if it results in applying a lower level of pressure. You are not the only one that will lose tempo in the process. It will hurt your opponent much more than yourself.

Once the enchantment is on the table, your opponent will charge it easily and quickly. On the turn he casts a Time Warp, netting two extra turns, you will lose. This is the game state that you want to avoid as much as possible.

Keeping a Maelstrom Pulse in hand in order to cast it later on with three untapped lands for Mana Leak does not work so well, as once the enchantment is charged, your sorcery will face a Mana Leak and its copy at the same time, and you will never be able to pay the extra six mana.

Playing against an activated Pyromancer Ascension is tough. You must try to avoid helping your opponent put the right cards in his graveyard.

For instance, with one counter on the enchantment and a Mana Leak in his graveyard, your opponent might just hope to target one of your spells with another, even if it still resolves, to untap and cast a Time Warp with a fully charged Pyromancer Ascension. If you have enough pressure on the board, do not play spells!

If the enchantment is fully charged, it is good to activate your Putrid Leech as a sorcery. Then, once it is killed and you take the copy of the Lightning Bolt to the face, you can either activate a Raging Ravine or cast a Bloodbraid Elf, reducing the impact of the copied Bolt on your gameplan.

Sideboard plan:

-4 Terminate (I’m glad to get rid of those)
-2 Anathemancer (Gray Ogre is already bad in Limited; I do not want it in a Standard deck)

+4 Duress (against a deck with no creatures ,this should be awesome)
+2 Prophetic Prism (already necessary in game 1, it will be good against Spreading Seas)

-4 Putrid Leech
+4 Goblin Ruinblaster

Even thought the Goblin has lands to target in Oli’s deck, the kicker is only a bonus here. The haste guy will be easier to cast against Spreading Seas and far more aggressive.

With no more dead cards in the deck, I guess I should win the postboard matchup.

Sideboarded Games (18 wins, 8 losses, 69.2% games won)

On the play: 8 wins, 5 losses
On the draw: 10 wins, 3 losses

It was my turn to be on a rush, with a humiliating 10-3 record on the draw. Winning more on the draw than on the play just makes no sense to me.

Bloodbraid Elf became a nuts card again, only revealing quality spells, although sometimes failing on Maelstrom Pulse. As a matter of fact, Jund became much more aggressive, and picked up more disruption too.

Duress was not that good by itself, as there is nothing special you want to remove from your opponent’s hand; all the cards have the same average strength. The ability to watch his hand and know whether to pump the Putrid Leech, or force the discard of an annoying Mana Leak at the right time, was crucial. Moreover, the card made Blightning more powerful, as the fewer cards the opponent holds, the better it is.

It also helped messing with Oli’s plan. For instance:

Oli had a Pyromancer Ascension on the table. I played Duress, revealing (as usual) a handful of cards I wanted him to discard, including 2 Lightning Bolts and a Burst Lightning (that I forced him to discard). Then I attacked with a Bloodbraid Elf and 2 Putrid Leeches. Oli Bolted the 3/2. In response, I pumped the 2 Putrid Leeches so that Oli would have to have his two Lightning Bolts on the stack at the same time. With none in the graveyard at that time, the enchantment would not trigger.

Duress also allowed me to develop rather than destroy a Pyromancer Ascension, as I knew he was far from comboing off, or if he had other copies in hand. It is still risky to avoid destroying the enchantment, as the combo deck could do monstrous things with a few topdecks. If you are unsure about what to do, just destroy the enchantment. It cannot be a bad play, while taking risks might cost you the win via a wrong evaluation of the game’s state.

Spreading Seas was a lot of trouble against my deck, which struggled with its manabase in game 1. Prophetic Prism was really useful, and helped me cast spells when no other card would have done so. The best answer to the Seas would be to lay a fetchland on turn 1 in order to cast a colored spell on turn 2, but with so many enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands, you might lose too much tempo in the process. On the draw, that cannot be good.

Goblin Ruinblaster was a great addition. It provided the pressure that I needed in the first game, and revealing it with Bloodbraid Elf was always good. Spouting Thrinax could not be killed as easily, but I would have struggled to cast it with my Island.

Oli still got very unlucky with his postboard draws (9 out of 10 Treasure Hunts for a single card), but I think that the matchup is still around 65% positive with this sideboard configuration.

Jund is slowly vanishing from the format, and if the deck is the only bad matchup for Pyromancer’s Ascension, then the combo deck might do well in the upcoming tournaments. But Jund is Jund… it’s always underrated. It can defeat or succumb to anything with inappropriate draws, and it will always be much stronger after sideboarding than before.

Good luck at the last few Nationals competitions…
Cheers !

Antoine Ruel