Duel with Ruel – Next Level Bant versus Jund: The Next Level Bant Perspective

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Wednesday, June 16th – Brian Kibler posted a 9-0 opening day at Grand Prix: Manila with Next Level Bant, cementing the deck at the top of the metagame food chain. Today, Antoine Ruel throws the deck against a GP Top 8 Jund lists from Yuuta Takahashi, played by Manuel Bucher. Which deck will be victorious?

Grand Prix: Manila is over, and it was the last professional-level tournament in this Standard format. Despite his 9/0 record on Day 1, Brian Kibler did not reach his second Top 8 in a row with Next Level Bant, although Yuuya Watanabe did. The deck is now considered as one of the top deck in the format. Mythic Conscription, Super Friends, Jund, and Blue White Control complete a five-deck gauntlet that seems better than the rest of the metagame. Even if the five decks have many cards in common, it is good for the upcoming PTQs that Standard has more than two-point-five decks that you can play if you want to win.

Formats evolve a lot during a season, and some decks might re-emerge, such as Mono Red (when there’s less hate in the sideboard), Polymorph (probably good against the Bant decks), Open the Vaults/ Dredge decks (maybe later in the season, as more and more anti-graveyard will be found in the sideboards at present, to fight Vengevine) or Naya Vengevine (Cunning Sparkmage must be the nuts against any of the Bant decks).

This week, I will play Brian’s version from GP: Manila:

As Manu actually enjoys the deck, he will play Yuuta Takahashi’s Jund, from the GP: Manila Top 8:

I really enjoyed playing Next Level Bant (NLB) last week, and I beat UW Control with it, but I still do not know if it is better than the Mythic Conscription deck which won GP: Manila (based on Sovereigns of Lost Alara rather than on Vengevine and Planeswalkers). The results against Jund, which is still the most popular deck, will be very important to figure out the deck’s potential.

I heard that someone in the PT Last Chance Qualifier tournament qualified with the previous version of NLB by going 9/0 against UW and 0/1 against Jund (but if that story comes from Gerard Fabiano, it might be a little exaggerated). I still think that the matchup should be okay, and Vengevine should be the key card there.

Maindeck Games (12 wins, 12 losses, 50% games won)

On the play: 4 wins, 8 losses
On the draw: 8 wins, 4 losses

Manu and myself both lost a game to mulliganing to five or less. Otherwise, despite a few mulligans to six on each side, none of us got especially lucky.

The results are a little weird, as we both won two-thirds of the games on the draw! When you think about it, playing first should provide the player a significant edge (Noble Hierarch/Putrid Leech), but it was actually the opposite, and winning less on the play actually ended up seeming normal. I am not telling you to let your opponent play first (it is game 1… what if he doesn’t play Jund ?), but maybe you should test it and then try it whenever you know the exact deck and list of your opponent (he might have played next to you a few times) if the testing was effective.

One of the obvious reasons you could find to explain the fact that being on the draw was such an advantage would be that Jund’s Blightning would be less efficient if you have more cards in hand. But Manu did not cast too many Blightnings, and Vengevine decreases the card’s power and impact on the game.

Very few games were decided by an early explosive draw that would lead to a blowout. Wall of Omens and Sea Gate Oracle on my side, and Spouting Thrinax on Jund’s side, slow down the attackers quite well and protect you from losing or winning too quickly.

The Jund list that Manu chose has 14 lands that enter the battlefield tapped, which decreases the odds of him having Putrid Leech on turn 2. It is also more controlling than the others, with 3 Bituminous Blast, 4 Maelstrom Pulse, and 2 Master of the Wild Hunt; if you add the usual 2 Sarkhan the Mad, and 8 man-lands, the deck has a solid long-game plan in this matchup.

Most of the games ended in topdeck mode: the player who drew the most powerful cards would win. His main threats were Master of the Wild Hunt and Sarkhan the Mad. If you know that your opponent plays the Wolf lord, be careful not to waste your removal on creatures which are annoying but not lethal until you know that he cannot be holding it in hand. The card is a lot of trouble, and almost wins all by itself. Sarkhan the Mad, especially with Spouting Thrinax, really is a pain. The ability to create three 5/5 Dragons is good, as they handle any of your creatures, the biggest being 4/4 if you do not have Noble Hierarch in play, so you probably will have to stay in defense. Lots of people forget the — 4 ability of the Planeswalker; here, it won a few games, but against a Jund deck with Broodmate Dragon, it will be more of a problem. Jace, the Mind Sculptor is not so good in the matchup, as is mostly gets killed by anything, but it is very good to bounce tokens. As this will happen in the middle/late game, your opponent might not have much gas left, and you might sometimes be able to activate it on the following turn too.

The key cards in my deck were as expected: Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Vengevine. Jund is the deck that can deal with Planeswalkers the best: it can kill them with direct damage or with Maelstrom Pulse, and any Bloodbraid Elf is as scary as usual, as there is always an optimal card to cascade into. Still, Elspeth is the only card that can help you finish the games quickly. Your opponent’s Spouting Thrinax will often have to stay in defense, thanks to the Wall of Omens, and without flying, your creatures struggle to get through it. I would recommend you create 1/1 tokens until you have clear advantage on the board, then go for the kill.

The matchup is definitely not a race for NLB. Jund has direct damage, multiple spells at once with cascade, and it might be able to win a race that you felt safe was yours. You have to go into semi-control mode and optimize your Vengevines. With this goal in mind, it will be better to skip creature turns in order to keep them in your hand and be able to bring the 4/3 back to life, even 5 turns later. Your opponent will be aware that if they kill a Vengevine that came into play this turn, you will be able to cast a second creature and then revive it, so you have to force him to do it by throwing yourself into Bituminous Blast sometimes. At other times, you know that the creature’s first attack will go through if you have some mana up (and nothing to follow it up). Whenever I had a Vengevine in the graveyard and played another one, I usually planned to reanimate both at the same time to get significant card advantage out of it. Getting the same Elemental into the game 2 or 3 times does not necessarily win. There were games in which I had to get many of them back, for a total of 8 or 9 reanimations, in order to win.

Obviously, Vengevine also wins games when you get it very early and Jund does not have Spouting Thrinax, but it is really rare as your mana accelerators usually die before you untap with them.
Even though Noble Hierarch’s and Birds of Paradise’s lifespan is really short, they are still precious. Manu even told me that the Hierarch was the best card in the deck against Jund. As they always die, it is sometimes better not to cast them if you have a Vengevine in hand, and just use them later on. Whenever I had Path to Exile in hand and was a bit short on mana, I would just wait until turn 2 to cast an accelerator with a White mana open, to use it as a Rampant Growth.

It is annoying to keep creatures in hand to have them eventually discarded by a Blightning, but it also protects your other cards from it. If you want to be able to do so, keep your lands in hand if you do not need them, even if there is no actual reason to do so. The choice might pay a few turns later, and, worst case scenario, it is still bluff.

Putrid Leech is savage on turn 2 (which did not happen that often). There is not much to do about it besides chumping it early with your Sea Gate Oracle and Wall of Omens, to avoid getting burned to zero later on. Manu was running 4 Maelstrom Pulse; once again, there is not much you can do about it as it might just show up anytime from a Bloodbraid Elf or a Bituminous Blast. Just try to avoid having two copies of the same permanent on the board when you do not need it, and play weaker cards first if you expect Jund to have the Vindicate (Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Gideon Jura before Elspeth, Knight-Errant, for instance).

The only good thing about Bituminous Blast is that you know when your opponent will cast it (4 cards in hand, 5 mana up, “go”…). Just do not throw unconsidered attacks into it to lose your whole board and pray so your opponent won’t get the nuts out of it (there is ALWAYS a nut cascade to get out of the Jund deck).

The games ended even, and I think that the matchup is pure 50/50.

Kibler sent me this sideboard plan against Jund:

-3 Jace, the Mind Sculptor
-2 Path to Exile
-1 Oblivion Ring
+2 Bant Charm
+2 Celestial Purge
+1 Deprive
+1 Journey to Nowhere

This was offered as general advice, as there are a lot of Jund versions around.

As Manu played the scary Master of the Wild Hunt main deck, there might be even more after board, so I had to keep the Path to Exile, even if the card is not dreamy in the matchup

-2 Jace, the Mind Sculptor (should be useful; maybe he will sideboard the Blightning out)
-1 Scute Mob (I always search for 2 Hierarch with Ranger of Eos)
-1 Gideon Jura (did nothing whenever I got it)
-1 Oblivion Ring
+2 Bant Charm
+2 Celestial Purge
+1 Journey to Nowhere

Deprive might be okay, but I wanted to have more outs against Master of the Wild Hunt when it was on the board, and try to kill Putrid Leech when I needed to. I might adapt later on.

Sideboarded Games (16 wins, 10 losses, 61.5% games won)
On the play: 7 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 9 wins, 4 losses

Manu mulliganed once to five, and twice to fewer, when I only mulliganed to four once.

The sideboarded games scenario was something like this:

Manu wins 3 games, then I win 7, then he wins 7, then I win 9.

The player in a rush would just win. As I said about the preboarded games, drawing better from the top of the deck is needed in order to win. The first game ended on turn 17 (!) after we both topdecked a lot, teaching us that it would be important in the upcoming battle. We both agreed that NLB should have a small edge here – 60% might be accurate – but in the future, Jund might have some winning cards in the matchup, such as Jund Charm.

After a few games, I realized that Manu had Pithing Needle and more Masters of the Wild Hunt in his sideboard. I had to add an extra Oblivion Ring to the deck instead of Jace, the Mind Sculptor (it is hard to get 2 Blue mana after sideboard, as you cannot rely on the 0/1s anymore). With only two in the deck, Manu still managed to Maelstrom Pulse both Oblivion Rings at the same time, which was lethal, but anyway, the second was necessary in the deck.

Pithing Needle proved to be quite good against Celestial Colonnade (which seem like the perfect target for Bituminous Blast) and Elspeth, Knight-Errant. You can chose not to sacrifice a Misty Rainforest in response, as your opponent will always be proud to name it in the early game, to protect your upcoming Planeswalker, but it is a bit risky. I lost a game because the only land I drew later in the game was another fetchland. Still, it felt good every time Manu cascaded into an artifact when I had no “target” for it; as the format becomes more and more Planeswalker-oriented, there should be a lot of Pithing Needles around.

Bant Charm destroys the artifact, which makes is very relevant against a variety of cards, as it also protects your creatures from instant speed removal and handles Master of the Wild Hunt. It’s definitely a great sideboard card in the matchup. I think that Manu’s sideboard had a lack of such variety of cards, as a lot of his cards would just be answers to only one type of threat (creatures, mostly), when mine would do many things efficiently. Celestial Purge and Oblivion Ring got rid of many creatures and also exiled Sarkhan the Mad.

If your opponent has Master of the Wild Hunt in his list, you will need to kill it, so make sure you still have a removal spell when it shows up! If he has Jund Charm, it will be good to board in a few counterspells. The sideboarding against Jund will always be better in game 3, once you know his sideboard tech, which will be very different from one Jund list to another.

Good luck at your PTQ and tournaments. Next Level Bant might be the best deck choice, until the format eventually evolves around it.