Feature Article – Mythic: Versus Jund

Wednesday, March 17th – With Jund proving to be a perennial player in the current Standard metagame, news of its demise has been greatly overstated. To combat the Cascading menace, Zvi Mowshowitz revisits his popular Mythic strategy, and walks us through everything we need in order to bring the giant elephant to its knees. Unmissable stuff!

Jund has become a monster that is strangling the diversity of Standard, often comprising over a third of the starting field and even more of the top finishers. Kuala Lumpur showed us that things have not only failed to improve, they have gotten far worse. Jund has been the most popular deck for a long time but things have now gotten completely out of hand. This changes the focus of everyone else as they make sacrifices to improve their matchup against the dominant deck, especially if they can still handle Boss Naya. When I created Mythic, I did not expect Jund (or Naya) to reach this level of popularity. I felt that sideboarding explicitly for them would not be necessary, as we had a clearly favorable matchup in game 1, and while I felt comfortable after sideboarding it was not clear that the deck could improve much by sideboarding cards meant only for this one matchup. This has, upon investigation, turned out to be wrong, and Mythic can improve its matchup dramatically.

I gave a brief look at the matchup in my last article, but here we will go into the matchup in depth based on an in depth marathon playtest session starting with the first game. We used the Pro Tour: San Diego winning build of Jund, which is a version that has severe problems handling Mythic:

As a reminder, here is the original build of Mythic:

That’s not a good list with which to take on Mythic. The extra problem for this Jund build is in the name of this variant: All lands, no removal. Raging Ravine is a good man, but he is not going to be the card that beats you. They must rely on their removal to contain many of your threats, and this version has virtually no removal. Three Maelstrom Pulse and four Lightning Bolts have to face down your entire deck until Siege-Gang Commander can be activated, and that is a very slow proposition. This forces the Jund deck to use Lightning Bolt to buy time, because otherwise they are stuck with three answers to all of Mythic’s large threats combined, including Knight of the Reliquary. If the game opens with a fetchland for a Forest and Noble Hierarch, not killing the Hierarch is so risky that a Knight could come out at 4/4 on the spot, but killing him if you do have the Lightning Bolt means that Rafiq and Knight won’t have any removal left to hit them. Even if you hold Bolts and they work on Knights, there’s nothing left to handle Rafiq, with the Pulses hoping to neutralize Baneslayer Angel.

Jund can get a hand full of removal and hope things break well for it, get lucky with cascade, or hope that Mythic gets a poor draw that gives Jund time for Siege-Gang Commander and Broodmate Dragon, but if nothing goes wrong on the Mythic side, a build without Terminate is in a world of pain. The build has only Dragon as a good answer to Celestial Colonnade, three good solutions at most to Baneslayer Angel or Rampaging Baloth or an unprotected Thornling, and even Lightning Bolt is overworked. When I switched sides to Jund in order to see if I could turn things around, it felt like I was helpless. The results bore this out, as Mythic won 7-3 in both sets for a combined 14-6 record and against versions so light on removal I feel this is representative against this version. Add in a few copies of Terminate and Jund can pick up a few extra percent in game 1, but no reasonable build can pull them even. Even Terminate isn’t that easy to justify, given what is currently out there. Bituminous Blast won’t get the job done against Mythic. Also note that those versions with extra maindeck removal usually have less removal in their sideboards to compensate, so game 2 is essentially unchanged.

Mulligans with Mythic

Any hand that does not pose serious problems for Jund should be thrown back, and these guidelines can mostly be used against unknown opponents at this point. Never keep a hand that doesn’t have at least four mana sources of some kind in it unless either the payoff for getting there is fantastic or you’re finding your mana creatures live, in which case you can stick with three (especially if the three are three lands and a Lotus Cobra that lead into a third turn Baneslayer Angel or Finest Hour). Such hands are much better if the first land enters the battlefield tapped because if you advertise that you don’t have a Birds of Paradise or Noble Hierarch and don’t have an enters the battlefield tapped land, no good Jund player will hold back a Lightning Bolt on Lotus Cobra.

Ideal hands have four or five mana sources, at least one of which is acceleration. A hand without Noble, Birds, or Cobra should usually be thrown back, especially if it has five or more lands, although a hand with a Bolt-proof third turn Knight leading into quality can be kept. Mana heavy hands are better than they look if they are fast and contain action with Nobles and manlands, but are miserable if either half of that is missing. Celestial Colonnade, Stirring Wildwood, Noble Hierarch, Noble Hierarch, Forest, Misty Rainforest, and Verdant Crossroads isn’t a perfect hand but it is strong. You’ll attack for two on turn 2, five on turn 3 and six on turn 4 even without drawing another spell, and will be able to cast anything that you draw. However, contrast that with two Birds of Paradise and five lands that don’t attack, which is an awful hand. The full-mana draw doesn’t have to be quite as good as suggested to be kept, but if it’s more than one card off it then it needs to be thrown back. Having even one high-end threat to go along with the lands makes any mana-heavy hand with good acceleration a keeper.

One instinct that is common in my experience is for players to be hesitant to mulligan due to their fear of Blightning. This is a good instinct in some places, but does not reflect how this matchup works. Mythic will always seem to be behind on cards if the Jund player is not chump blocking, but it will rarely matter because the Jund player still must answer your threats and usually cannot do so. Many have died to a Birds of Paradise or Celestial Colonnade from a commanding board position. Blightning can hurt a lot after a mulligan, but if your draw is solid it will still usually require above average backup, especially if you are aware of the danger and play accordingly.

After sideboarding, especially if your curve has become higher, there is less of an emphasis on blowing them out right away, and hands with less immediate action become better. Mana-heavy hands become much better in these situations, but the temptation to keep hands without acceleration must still be avoided.

Early Turns

Birds of Paradise comes out before Noble Hierarch if you have the choice, unless you have an explicit script for the first three turns that involves an attack with a Rhox War Monk that does not leave you a chance to get the Noble Hierarch onto the table. This protects the far superior creature if they choose to use Lightning Bolt. One exception is if you also have a second Noble Hierarch and therefore want to draw Lightning Bolt and avoid Maelstrom Pulse, or if you have a hand where your key threats are Knight of the Reliquary and/or Rafiq of the Many and at least one mana creature that’s expendable. This plays to their expectations as well, as Birds of Paradise makes it much more likely from their perspective that breaking up your mana won’t work, since it says little about whether you have Hierarch, while playing Hierarch says you don’t have Birds.

Second turn, the options are mana development, Rhox War Monk, and Knight of the Reliquary. If the mana lets you play a five-drop on the third turn, develop your mana instead of playing Rhox War Monk, but if there’s no payoff right away Monk gets that nod barring a Knight being available. Holding back Knight of the Reliquary waiting for a second fetchland or for a manland to die is not worthwhile unless the decision was already very close, so usually it’s right to go for it if you don’t read them for a Lightning Bolt, especially if they don’t have Red mana available. The reason to go for Knight on the second turn when there are alternatives is because the payoff is so high if it works and the loss if you fail is small. Often it means getting to five mana on turn 3 for Finest Hour or Baneslayer Angel. If Knight is treated as a precious little snowflake then it loses much of its power, and it should only be used that way if you can afford to make that sacrifice because you are protecting a Baneslayer Angel or other large man. Keep in mind that you’re still drawing out removal that would have been put to good use elsewhere in addition to getting things done quickly. Grant the Jund deck time and they have cards like Siege-Gang Commander they can activate, so it’s important to force them to quickly make uncomfortable decisions.

The same way that in the past I reminded players of Fires that the Blue decks don’t have the counterspell, the Jund deck doesn’t have the removal in game 1. In game 2 they probably do have the removal, but it’s not something you can play around so you have to go through it, and trying to make that not seem ugly when it happens is futile.

Rhox War Monk

The most underrated card in the matchup is Rhox War Monk, which is far better than it looks. It loses a fight to Putrid Leech, but it wins fights against Sprouting Thrinax and Bloodbraid Elf. If you have a Noble Hierarch it can beat up on Putrid Leech as well. Having a Rhox War Monk turns an ugly situation into a stable situation, as the lifelink prevents them from going through a Monk or trading hits with one profitably. It can even keep up with Broodmate Dragon in strange situations. It is rare that the Rhox War Monk will win the game on its own, but it gives you a solid platform to gain a remarkably large amount of life and take full advantage of Rafiq of the Many or Finest Hour, and to eat away at the ground resistance while the decks fight over other cards.

A large part of the reason Jund is such a strong deck is that Jund gets incidental pressure on the opponents’ life total that puts them in range of a growing army of midrange creatures, and suddenly the control deck you were facing has you dead in two turns or even straight from the double digits. By keeping your life total out of range you give yourself additional time to win with other threats, especially Celestial Colonnade. Without the help on the ground, trading hits in this fashion is usually a losing proposition.

While previously I was taking out multiple copies of Rhox War Monk during sideboarding, I now believe this to be a mistake. Putrid Leech is not a card that Jund can afford to keep in against Mythic, so after sideboarding they won’t have their best way to stop a Rhox War Monk. In addition, new sideboard plan relies on strong high end creatures so you are highly incentivized to buy yourself the time to develop your mana. It’s not easy to find the space, but this card is deceptively powerful.

The other advantage to Rhox War Monk is that it is so underrated that Jund decks will often refuse to kill it. Time after time I have watched Jund players let me gain shockingly large amounts of life and eat steady streams of creatures, unaware of how much this is damaging their game. Jund is not playing a pure control game and needs to prevent Mythic from building a life point buffer.

Larger Threat Order and Timing

Rampaging Baloths are usually not worth holding back until they can be protected, where protected means locking in at least one and preferably two Beasts, but Thornling is worth shielding. The standard order is Baneslayer Angel, then Finest Hour, then Rampaging Baloths, with Thornling coming in when it can be protected and Rafiq of the Many showing up when you have four mana but not five, or when a large man is attacking and you can’t play Finest Hour instead. It is almost always better to play a threat than attack with a land, given that choice, and almost always right to try and generate a big attack right away with Rafiq of the Many or Finest Hour if a worthy creature is attacking, and often Rhox War Monk is good enough for that. So long as your mana is not under threat the rest can wait, but sometimes you need to watch out for Blightning. If you will be forced to hold multiple large threats as the last two cards in your hand, play the most valuable threat first to minimize the damage, even if it isn’t quite as efficient to go in that order. This can be ignored if you’ve put him in such a bind that he no longer has time to cast Blightning and live.

Sideboarding: Old Sideboard

The old sideboard did not have any cards whose primary target was Jund, and it showed. Mind Control has lost a lot of its luster as opponents move more towards Siege-Gang Commander and away from Malakir Bloodwitch, and the card is vulnerable to Maelstrom Pulse which was proving problematic when bringing in too many copies. The biggest problem was that it’s not a threat until they allow it to be one, so often you are unable to press the early mana advantage and this lets them back into the game.

What to take out of the deck with the old configuration is a tough decision, as there is nothing that actively wants to leave. The third Finest Hour is one too many given the risk of facing so much removal, and with less natural men I think you’re forced down to one. Then one Rafiq of the Many likely comes out to complement, and you stick with adding three copies of Mind Control.

In the testing I put in all four so I could draw it more often, and while it was often good I ran into many problems with the double Blue cost and with not having anything worth taking. When it was good it was very good, but that is true of all five- and six-drops that are remotely playable. I think it is right to bring these in if the alternative is doing nothing, but admittedly it is close and the decision to not prepare explicitly for Jund has become deeply flawed.

With this configuration I went 5-5 in ten games, and I think you are a slight underdog to an average build and sideboard. A new approach was called for.

Jund: How Should/Will They Sideboard?

There are two things that are obvious for the Jund player: Putrid Leech is coming out and removal is coming in. Beyond that, it becomes far less clear. It is a safe bet that they will try to improve their creature set with either Malakir Bloodwitch or Master of the Wild Hunt, with a combined two to four copies. It is also a safe bet that they will be sideboarding in a lot of removal, sometimes as much as seven, but the distribution will change. Let’s say for the moment they have access to ten sideboard cards worth putting in, as we are working from Simon’s build.

Garruk Wildspeaker is a poor card, because a 3/3 Beast does not successfully fight any creatures in Mythic worth fighting, and other cards are too important, so that will leave as well if they had it to bring the out list up to six. After that, it gets harder. The mana curve has stayed the same so whatever mana you went in with is the mana you’re keeping, and that leaves only a few cards that can be looked at: Siege-Gang Commander, Sprouting Thrinax, and Blightning. There are arguments for taking out all three, and up to four copies need to come out between them. Siege-Gang Commander and Sprouting Thranx should likely be trimmed down, unless the decision is made to abandon Blightning, since that is an all or nothing plan: The first one is not that impressive, but the second can be devastating.

Most opponents will likely do some variation of this, but I would also take this opportunity to point out that Deathmark seems to me to be a poor choice of removal spell. Even against decks that have only vulnerable creatures, is a one-mana sorcery truly better than a two-mana instant speed Terminate? I have severe doubts about this, as Terminate can hit Celestial Colonnade and other manlands and can often be cast on the spot with spare mana, where Deathmark would slow down development even though it only costs one mana. The Jund players will doubtless tell me I am wrong, but I like Terminate better, and having to only face two copies even after sideboarding is a blessing.

Sideboarding: A New Way

From the previous maindeck, I then tried sideboarding in this fashion based upon the feedback and suggestions I’ve received and my own experience:

-1 Rhox War Monk
-1 Rafiq of the Many
-1 Finest Hour
-2 Rampaging Baloth
+2 Thornling
+3 Sphinx of Jwar Isle

This is a light touch, preserving both the essence of the deck and the bulk of its sideboard. If I had to do it again, I would likely cut a second Rafiq of the Many and keep all four copies of Rhox War Monk. The second Thornling can replace a Rampaging Baloth in the maindeck with little sacrifice in other matchups while improving things against Jund, and if things are sufficiently extreme the third copy or the first Sphinx can do the same. Rampaging Baloths is a strong universal card but is never the perfect card for you, and the only place I feel actively sad to not have it is against control or against other Bant decks, which right now is a sacrifice worth making, and against control Thornling has its own advantages. That means only three sideboard slots are necessary to complete this plan, which means the sacrifice of Admonition Angel and Day of Judgment. The fourth Mind Control is also a potential cut, as Vampires are no longer a major threat, and the fourth copy is not vital anywhere else.

The problem with this approach isn’t that those cards can’t be sacrificed, as they can and that even gives you one extra slot that can be used for the fourth Bant Charm to help out against Cunning Sparkmage. The problem comes if Naya requires a more dedicated response, because the easy cuts have already been made and the budget is now tight. Mythic can choose to have its sideboard do two of the three things it wants to do: Have dedicated anti-Jund, dedicated anti-Naya and be highly flexible against the field including rogue decks. We’ve already given up some anti-field weapons but those sacrifices cost us relatively little, and cutting Jace, the Mind Sculptor, the rest of the Mind Controls or Negate will hurt far more. If you do decide to dedicate against Naya, a few different suggestions have been made. The most popular I’ve heard is probably Pithing Needle, but I don’t like the vulnerability to Oblivion Ring and the need to get it down before seeing the Cunning Sparkmage. My instinct would be to go with Harm’s Way instead, but I have not tested either and neither card is attractive against other decks.

New Sideboarding: Results

I won the ten game set 7-3. My guess is that with equal play that is a little generous, but Jund is in deep trouble here. There is certainly no way Jund can pull even. The only answer it has to Sphinx is Broodmate Dragon, and Thornling with protection can only be raced. Drawing even one of these together with the required mana is a nightmare for Jund, and they still have to prevent all your other threats from sticking. They do now have far more removal for those threats, and you have less of them because some of them became unanswerable threats, but it is no longer enough for them to keep the killable creatures off the table. The extra removal is excellent, but it is also a double-edged sword because all the creatures that had to be removed make it far harder to execute a quick kill when given a chance, and that makes it much harder for them to race one of these unanswerable threats by attacking with an overwhelming number of men.

This makes sense to me, because Mythic is doing what Mythic does best by asking tough questions to which Jund does not have good answers. Jund still has reasonable routes to victory. One is to attack the mana creatures and deny Mythic the mana it needs to function, relying on Mythic’s mana to stumble, possibly even with Goblin Runeblaster as part of this plan, but if Jund goes for this and fails it will surely lose, and it has to go through forty-five mana sources to do it. Jund can try to wipe out your cards with its standard game plan, and sometimes that will work, but against the wrong creatures it is hopeless. No matter the strategy, Jund’s attempt to make up its lost ground after sideboarding will not work, and this will leave a prepared Mythic player with a large advantage in the matchup.

Mythic: Going Forward

I’m going to define the new base version of the deck to be as follows:

From there, the deck can if it is deemed worthwhile sacrifice general flexibility to get more cards to deal with Naya in general and Cunning Sparkmage in particular, but I would not want to advise in more detail without testing that matchup. Instinctually, I much prefer Harm’s Way to Pithing Needle, and whichever is chosen please don’t get drawn into using it elsewhere. This is a hard matchup to get a read on without testing, and that testing is beyond the scope of this article.

The one innovation not suggested here that was used in Kuala Lumpur was to maindeck Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and in one case Mind Control, in place of one copy each of Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour. There was also a player who switched his high-end creature to three copies of Sphinx of Jwar Isle. I think putting these cards in is the wrong direction to take given that Jund is popular. Whether those cards can be cut depends on what is going on with Blue-White Control. There are now two builds of that deck. The old one I believe to be good for you, but it wants you to keep access to three Finest Hour, while the new one is clearly bad news and also demands Finest Hour. I recommend everyone check out the new build, it’s damn cool and could become the downfall of Mythic. If sideboard slots must be cut, this is a way to buy them back by eating maindeck slots instead at a small sacrifice to your general game 1 and to the control matchups. At this point, I can see a strong case that this is worth it given how much the field has narrowed.

Until next time…