Duel With Ruel – Red Deck Wins versus Jund: The Red Deck Wins Perspective

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Friday, April 2nd – With Jund dominating every Standard tournament across the world, it’s a brave deck that claims a winning percentage. Grand Prix: Kuala Lumpur provided one such deck: the tournament-winning Red deck. Antoine Ruel tests the theory today, throwing the deck against the wining Jund list from Grand Prix: Brussels!

I am back from Grand Prix: Brussels, where I went 6/3 (basically 3/3 plus 3 byes). I tested Blue/White a lot, in many different versions, and they all looked very good. As we think that the format is about playing more powerful spells than your opponent, Gabriel Nassif and I decided to run this counter-less decklist:

With a Red deck having won the last Grand Prix, I expected White Weenie and Naya to be very popular. As the Allies deck seemed really good too, we decided to play 4 Day of Judgment main, as the only way we would lose to those decks would be by not having Wrath of God on turn 4. Losing to Green / White creature-based decks would be unacceptable for a Blue / White Control deck that wants to do well in the tournament.

The sideboard is really good against the one bad matchup the deck has game 1: the Red Deck that I will test today. If the first game should be about 25% (thanks to the Baneslayer Angel), games 2 and 3 should be a 75% win, which is still okay.

Jund being Jund, the deck should win 50% of the games, according to their draws. I usually sideboard the Angels out one game out of two, and usually board the Firewalkers when my opponent runs Trace of Abundance, or whenever I want to go for a beatdown game.

Props and flops of the week end:

– A Czech 14-year-old kid I played against seemed smart and spoke perfect English. I’m sorry to say this, but in France, those guys are scary, as they have a reputation for shady play. I expected nothing less from him, just in case, and I paid close attention to what he was doing. In the end, he made a misplay and tried to go back, “losing” his English skill in front of the judge all of a sudden. “I… not English speak… don’t understand… he said what …” Nice try boy, but this old school tech does not work so well nowadays. On the very same turn, he played Lightning Bolt on my Baneslayer, then Earthquake for 2, and asked me to put my Angel in the graveyard when he was dead next turn. That was fun.

– Losing at 5/0 to one of my flatmates (not Manu) playing Allies, but as he eventually made Top 16, the whole apartment is qualified for San Juan.

– Losing to a guy who cast Thoughts Hemorrhage on “Wrath of God,” and not even looking at my sideboarded deck when I just show my hand and tell him I have none in the deck. For those interested, a Judge told me that it was forbidden to name a card that is not in the format… I did not know that.

– Losing to the same guy to 4 Blightnings by turn 9, even though he tapped out to cast a Bloodbraid Elf into Earthquake and suicide-attacked into a Celestial Colonnade with it.

– Casting Oblivion Ring after a security-check Path to Exile, to avoid having to eat one of my own permanents, to see the answer of “oops, I am so stupid,” with my opponent casting Brave the Element in response to the enters-the-battlefield trigger. I ask him if he wants to do it in response to the targeting or in response to the spell; he answers “to the targeting.”

– Oli, Manu, and I all lost the bubble final round for Day 2.

Back to the matchup of the week: Red Deck Wins against Jund (piloted by Manu Bucher).

The matchup is quite interesting, as the decks won the last two Grand Prix tournaments, in Brussels and Kuala Lumpur. With 12 Jund decks in the two tournaments’ Top 8s, the deck is blowing out the format. It is as easy as this: if you want to win, play Jund. If you hate it, play Blue / White. And, if what I hear is correct, if you want to beat it and only it, play Red Deck Wins. Every other choice in the format is bad, unless if you show up with a brand new deck, such as Allies (which will be worse once people are prepared for it).

Mono Red is the kind of deck that can win any bad matchup with a really good draw whenever its opponent’s deck is screwed one way or the other. The playability of the deck depends on how much it beats Jund, and this is what we will try to figure out.

Manu opted for Emanuele Giusti’s Jund that won Grand Prix: Brussels…

Maindeck Games (17 wins, 7 losses, 70.8% games won)

On the play: 9 wins, 3 losses
On the draw: 8 wins, 4 losses

I am the first one to complain that the random factor of cascade, and the “luck” that goes along with it, too often decides the outcome of a match. Even though I agree with that this time too, I was the lucky mage. I expect the result not to exceed 65% in the long run.

The matches are easy to play on both sides and there are a few winning moves for both of us. Mine was Goblin Guide on turn 1, and I was really consistent with it, as I made it around 15 times when going first (2/3 of the games), eventually losing two of those games. Everyone who has ever played with or against Mono Red knows how brutal its draws can be. If you follow the goblin with a Hellspark Elemental, your opponent will be on 13 with one land into play, so he will be virtually dead on turn 2 if you have a half-decent draw backing it up.

On the opposite side, Jund needs a great draw to win. Nothing like an insane draw, just the immediate answer to your threats, combined with aggression. Once again, Bloodbraid Elf is the key. As a Red mage, Goblin Guide is the only target for a cascaded removal spell, and it is usually dead before the disgusting Elf comes into play, turning 5 cards in his deck (out of 20) into cascade blanks (Maelstrom Pulse/Terminate). Bloodbraid Elf is also the main pressure from Jund itself. The deck cannot afford to take two life to boost Putrid Leech, and has to keep blockers, so it has virtually no aggression except for the Cascade Elf.

This is what makes the matchup good: Jund has to play on the defense most of the game, and burn spells deal at least the same amount of damage (2/3 damage) as his attacking creatures.

As Bloodbraid Elf often misses the card advantage, or it’s irrelevant (Lightning Bolt), Jund really needs Blightning, but that card does not stop your “development” as you can play around it quite easily. You can discard Unearth cards to compensate for the card disadvantage, but either way, the Red deck is all about card disadvantage, and any of its drawn spells will do just about the same thing: burn them. It is also easy to discard lands, as three are enough to cast your spells. Remember that Blightning might cause a problem if you don’t play around it every single turn, which should be easy for the first spell. However, the second spell might turn ugly no matter what you do, but at least it will be on a turn in which he does not do anything else, which leaves you some time to topdeck (or to draw any non-land card, basically).

You have to manage the proportion of burn spells you will keep for your opponent and the proportion you will spend on his creatures. Consider how many turns you expect to pass before he can kill you with the creature(s) on board, his direct damage, and his manlands, and how many turns you need to get him to zero life, when considering that a third of your deck (any spell) will deal at least 3 damage to your opponent, plus the haste creatures if he has no blockers and no removal left in hand. It is sometimes very hard to calculate, but both Earthquake and Searing Blaze kill creatures and deal damage at the same time.

The perfect spot for Earthquake is to kill Saproling tokens or Siege-Gang Commander and his goblins. X can be all your mana available, as long as you do not drop down to a low enough life total to be killed by a Raging Ravine, a Lavaclaw Reaches, or a Bloodbraid Elf combined with a direct damage.

Searing Blaze is really good at the end of your opponent’s turn with a fetch land; it might sometimes look like a bad card, but without creatures, Jund will never be able to kill you, so it will always do its job. It is really efficient on a Putrid Leech, as most of the time you opponent cannot afford to lose 5 life in the same turn, especially to save a Grizzly Bear.

Goblin Guide, as I said, was the best card in the deck, as it is early pressure, and you start dealing damage very early in the game. If you keep a mana untapped, attacking with it into Putrid Leech will be okay, as your opponent should NEVER risk pumping it. It’s a fair trade on both sides, and at least, as long as Jund has no creatures on the board, you are doing well.

Jund can cast only one removal spell a turn, so it is sometimes better to keep a Goblin Guide in your hand whenever you know that you will have a Hellspark Elemental showing up on the next turn. Most of the time, as Manu only played 2 Terminates and 4 Lightning Bolts as instant removal, once he’d already played one or two, the odds that he would see more were very low.

Ball Lightning was excellent; as I said before, Jund does not have infinite instant-speed removal spells. It is hard to kill, and even when chump blocked, it deals a lot of damage. As your opponent’s deck needs to curve out, there will always be a good time to cast the 6/1 if you hold it in hand. Hell’s Thunder cannot be blocked and does not die to Lightning Bolt, but I was disappointed, as I only Unearthed it twice in 24 games. The reason why is easy: I discarded my lands to Blightning, and I was either winning through overkill or dead on board. Still, in the long run, the ability of the card should be really good.

I doubt that Jund will let me win the matchup that easily in the end; it is probably time for it to draw better than I did.

Sideboard plan:

+2 Quenchable Fire
-1 Earthquake
-1 Burst Lightning

Goblin Ruinblaster was an alternative, but I do not want to have too many four-drops in the deck, whether I play first or second.

Sideboarded Games (10 wins, 16 losses, 38.4%games won)

On the play: 7 wins, 6 losses
On the draw: 3 wins, 10 losses

As predicted, I started getting mana screwed. I was mulliganning a lot, and I’d already used my quota of Goblin Guides in game 1. This time, it was his turn to be in a rush.

The Goblin Ruinblaster changed everything: now he was able to win whenever I was screwed, and he also provided a lot more aggression. A 2/1 haste guy had a lot more impact on the games than a Broodmate Dragon, as it would usually help him kill me two turns earlier. Those extra damage points turned his Raging Ravine into great finishers, as they only needed to attack once for the critical damage.

Bloodbraid Elf had two fewer chances of hitting a blank, but four more chances of hitting a creature. As a matter of fact, Manu could actually play most of his spells before losing, while in game 1 he’d have four cards in hand at this point.

In the long run, I think that I would win 50% of the games, which actually makes Jund a good matchup.

I did not test the Plated Geopede version, but the tempo you’d gain by having more two-drops would be paid off, with Spouting Thrinax becoming better. I think that the list I tested is very good against Jund, as it should win a few more games over time.