The Standard Pro-Tour in San Diego ended last week with a Jund mirror in the finals. If someone asked every player attending if his deck beat Jund, 80% of the people not playing the GBR deck would say the match-up is at least 50/50, and they are probably winning more than losing.
This statement is wrong.
The Jund deck is a machine, and even if I hate it (my ideal vision of Magic does not include Cascade and its randomness), it deserved to win a Pro-Tour, as its best draws and best cascades are more powerful than any other deck.
Still, one deck in the Top 8 drew my attention: Niels Viaene’s Open the Vaults deck. I’ve talked to Mark Dictus (a Belgium Pro that played and worked on it too), and he told me that the archetype only lost to Mono Red and Boros, and had an edge on Jund. There were no such copies of the two bad matchups in Niels’ bracket, and he might have won the tournament, as the deck seems to have a very good match-up against LSV’s Naya. The only problem I found when I played it online was a lack of lands (which cost him his quarterfinal); once this is solved, Open the Vaults might become one of the strongest Standard decks.
Of course, I might lose in this test session and be completely wrong, but if I had to play another Standard tournament (Grand Prix: Brussels, perhaps), I would look to play a deck that REALLY beats Jund… maybe this one if the results are successful.
This testing session will determine if the deck is playable or not. Let’s figure it out!
This week, I will playtest with Manu, the only person I know who likes both Jund and the cascade ability.
The decklist I will run:
I cut the Jace, the Mind Sculptor from the original decklist, replacing it with 2 lands. I agree that the Blue Planeswalker is okay, but I am far from being his hugest fan, especially in this deck. Maybe I missed the match-up in which it does something for real; maybe it’s great against Chapin’s U/W deck, which Nassif almost piloted into the Top 8.
Manu, of course, is playing this:
MAINDECK GAMES (11 wins, 13 losses, 45% games won)
On the play: 9 wins, 3 losses
On the draw: 2 wins, 10 losses
Playing against Manu is always annoying. While most of the players you will play against will cast their Blightning whenever they have no other play, Manu did not. Even his Broodbraid Elf seemed aware that cascading into the discard spell was bad, as it only happened once in 24 games, and the Blightning’s 3 points killed me (ah, the beauty of the Cascade mechanism… if you hit the right card all the time, you win).
Two main parameters will change the outcome of the maindeck games a great deal:
– Your opponent: Basically, if he casts his Blightning at the wrong moment, you will win.
– Putrid Leech: Nowadays, on Magic Online, for reasons I do not understand, people do not play Putrid Leech. Instead, they run Explore, or Great Sable Stag. Leech is the best card against Open the Vaults.
Open the Vaults is a combo deck. You have to proceed through different steps to beat Jund:
1: Cycle artifact dudes
This will allow you to build up your mana and dig into your deck for your key cards and answers, then to have a strong Open the Vaults.
2: Survive/slow him down
The “combo card,” Open the Vaults, is usually cast on turn 6. That’s the reason why the deck is control- based.
3: Get Filigree Angel in the graveyard
The “combo” does not kill straight away, and your opponent will be able to burn you out if you do not bring the gain-life Angel back too.
4: Play Open the Vaults
… And win!
If you follow this gameplan, the games are not so hard to play.
As the results show, the deck playing first should win. Whenever Jund has Leech turn 2 when playing first, followed by a good draw, he should win. On the opposite side of the coin, if you have Spreading Seas on the second turn while playing first, then you are in a good shape.
Spreading Seas give you free wins; I do not think I lost a single game on the play with two of those in my opening hand. This configuration is almost a free win, as Jund has a good but fragile manabase. Once your opponent has his lands settled up, if you have the game under control, it is very often better to keep it for a future manlands. However, you have to be aware that it is sometimes better to cast the enchantment on a Mountain than on a Savage Lands. The main reason for this would be to slow down the M10 lands (Rootbound Crag, Dragonskull Summit), which would thus enter the battlefield tapped as they do not share a color with a basic land on the table, because Jund needs to curve out. If your opponent has 3 lands, with a basic of each, target the Mountain too.
As I wrote earlier, Blightning is the key card in the matchup. If your opponent casts it at the wrong time – 80% of the possible times – you will discard Filigree Angel and then play a game-winning Open the Vaults. Just make sure Blightning will not destroy your game plan by playing a land you will not need next turn, in case you have important cards you must then discard instead. This seems obvious, and it is easy to stay out of reach of a single discard spell, but two of them on the same turn might kill you if you do not pay enough attention.
You do not have to cycle Architects of Will and Glassdust Hulk in a hurry. Always try to develop your mana first, whenever you have the choice. If you have to choose between casting a Capsule on turn 2 or cycling twice, it is mostly better to play the drawer. You will very often have extra mana to cycle your spells later on the game. Moreover, on the draw, the card advantage from the Courier’s Capsule will force you to discard end of turn, and this is perfect with the Filigree Angel! Also, it is very rare to hardcast the two cycling artifact creatures; the only times it happened in 50 games was with the Architect, whenever I needed to topdeck next turn no matter what, or to prevent Manu from topdecking himself and coming back in the game.
As you always try to have a winning Open the Vaults – with a Filigree Angel – there is no need to try to race your opponent, as you should win in the long run with you original game plan. In some very marginal games, you can cast an early Open the Vaults into Hulks and win the race by making them unblockable. Too bad there is only one Sharuum in the deck, as with two you can virtually have an infinite/infinite Hulk. Nassif and company played that combo in Hawaii in Block Constructed, but it is too slow for Standard.
You need to cast Sphinx of the Lost Truths in most of the games in order to put the Angel in your graveyard along with his artifact friends. But make sure not to be too greedy by discarding too many artifacts, and keep some cards that will help in the long run if you do not hold Open the Vaults yet (i.e. do not necessarily discard your cycling guys).
I recommend that you cast the Borderposts for three mana if you do not need to combo with it (to get a second White out of a Plains to cast a Day of Judgment, for instance). If you use it as a basic land that enters the battlefield tapped for one mana, Maelstrom Pulse will kill you.
SIDEBOARDED GAMES (10 wins, 16 losses, 38% games won)
On the play: 6 wins, 7 losses
On the draw: 4 wins, 9 losses
I was wrong.
There are 2 ways of interpreting this result:
– Manu got lucky
– If Manu had played Goblin Ruinblaster, the score would have been even worse.
The sideboarding was a bit awkward. At first, I wanted to board in the Hindering Light, but as a matter of fact, if your opponent is smart, he will sideboard out his Blightning and most of his Lightning Bolts, which would leave Maelstrom Pulse the only card to counter. Then it is simply worse than Flashfreeze.
I tried a few different sideboard strategies, and here is how I ended up:
On the play:
On the draw:
The game texture is a little different after boarding, as he only has a few direct damage spells left in his deck. Being on six life is not so scary anymore. Thus you have a little more time to play your Replenish.
Flashfreeze is really good on the play. Very often, I chose to keep it open on turn 2 rather than cast the excellent Spreading Seas, a card I would then cast later on an annoying Raging Ravine. If you can successfully annihilate his creature threats, then slow down the manlands, you should be able to get the tempo on the game, and the turns needed to cast an early Open the Vaults, then hardcast Filigree Angel.
On the draw, I would rather have Oblivion Rings and have an immediate answer to a threat that would have been out of a counterspell reach. Of course, the sideboard evolved alongside his. If he had Goblin Ruinblasters, I would have needed the Flashfreeze on the draw as well.
One interesting starting hand I had was:
On the draw.
It is very tempting to keep the hand, as you have 3 draws to have a Blue on turn 2. You have 9 Blue sources that enter the battlefield untapped out of 53 cards (a 43% chance to get there in 3 draws). So you have 57% chance to auto-lose the game (I am sadly not able to add the odds of drawing one of the 3 Hulks left and getting a Blue land out of the extra draw it would provide on turn 2). Now, do you think that, on the draw, this is a hand good enough to gamble? The Blue land will just allow you to stay in the game, not to win it. Spreading Seas are okay on turn 2 on the draw if he does not play Putrid Leech beforehand; if he did, you would have to play Journey to Nowhere on it and your enchantment might just be totally useless. So I mulliganed this hand, as it would leave me with around a 20% chance to win the game.
Once again, Manu got really good draws while mine were just average. Once sideboarded, his deck became better, while mine did not change a lot. Playing first was a little less important, but it still mattered.
Anyway, even if I won 3 more sideboarded games, the deck would just be 50% against the most popular deck, and of course, he played Leech, which is really annoying. If he then had Goblin Ruinblasters in the sideboard, I feel like I would have won less than 30% of the games.
To conclude, you should win or lose the first game on the die roll, then if you really want to play this deck in a future event, I would recommend that you work on the sideboard against Jund. Path to Exile or Celestial Purge would have been really good, but it offers no synergy with the deck. The same goes for Wall of Denial, which even dies to Day of Judgment. In any Regional, GP, or local event, there should be a lot of Boros/Mono Red; if you cannot find a way of being confident against Jund, you would do better to forget about the deck.
Cheers, and I’ll see you in Puerto Rico (if you do not have the motivation to play this season’s PTQ, Google “San Juan,” as it might help…)