If you are playing Standard and using a deck other than Jund, you have your work cut out for you. Justifying playing anything but the cascading machine is no small task. A lot of people hate Jund, and with good reason; it’s an overwhelmingly powerful deck with good early, middle, and late games, aggressive cards and lots of card advantage, tons of removal and reach, and has a high luck factor (the mana is a bit shaky at times and Cascade itself is a very luck-based ability by definition). A lot of people despise Jund and call for bannings and refuse to play it and complain about its existence.
No one cares.
Your emotional reaction to the deck is irrelevant to everyone but you. If you want to win a tournament, you’re going to have to face it multiple times. In fact, if you want to win a tournament, odds are you’re going to have to get over your personal distaste for the deck and sleeve up a copy yourself. Every format has “the deck” that everybody loves to hate, but at some point you have to face the facts. The proof is in the results it puts up week after week. I have been brewing and I know a lot of great Magic minds who are doing likewise, and it all keeps coming back to Jund. Even the decks that sacrifice everything in all other match-ups to dedicate itself to beating Jund still only achieve a 70% match-up at the very best. The deck is just too versatile and powerful to just add a few hate cards and beat, and the deck is far too played to be dodged, so at some point you are going to have to confront your personal issues and take a deeper look at what a Savage Lands can do.
That rant was a long time coming. Now, one of the main reasons that people would rather not play the deck is that they don’t want to face the mirror all day, as they think it is all pure luck. The truth is that the games often play themselves and the draws and Cascade lottery decide quite a number of the outcomes. I am not debating that. What I am saying is that how you construct your deck, how you construct your sideboard, and how you sideboard are still of great importance. I feel that doing those things correctly can supply a large enough advantage to give you a significant edge over a random opponent in the mirror.
I watched a lot of Jund mirrors at the Indianapolis Open last week, and some of the things I saw players do were baffling. How can someone complain that there is no skill in the mirror while people are sideboarding so terribly? Bringing the wrong cards in, taking the wrong cards out, not to mention the sideboards themselves are poorly designed. People were even pitching the wrong cards to Blightning and playing their lands in the wrong order.
I know, I know. Big shocker, people play badly. That’s not what I’m saying (although it is obviously true). I am saying that there are significant advantages in the mirror to be had that aren’t being utilized. When people are sideboarding out Blightnings and Broodmate Dragons, leaving in Putrid Leeches and Maelstrom Pulses, and bringing in Terminates, you know that there are still edges to be gained.
First, let’s talk about the match-up itself. The way it often plays out is that the players trade guys and removal early while using Blightning and Cascade cards to eke out advantages. Sprouting Thrinax and Siege-Gang Commander leaving behind tokens are other edges that can be gained. Sometimes there will be parity, or close to it, after the dust has settled, at which point the game degenerates into a top-deck war. This aspect of the match-up, as well as the randomness of Cascade, is what turns people off, but I think that too many people make their decks in a way that dulls their Cascades and gives them weaker draw steps, then complain when they lose more than they win after the game reaches this point.
Let’s talk about card choices. The very first thing I need to get off my chest is that you guys really need to stop putting Explore in the deck. If you want an accelerator, play Rampant Growth, please. The manabase in the deck is very constrained, so having your accelerate fix your mana as well is very helpful. Also, Explore off a Cascade is supposed to be better than a Rampant Growth. That is the big argument for the Explore. Honestly, most of the time it is about the same, if not worse. Rampant Growth off a Bloodbraid Elf on turn 4 is very good. Explore without a land is not. Even Explore with a land is only a little bit better than Rampant Growth. The downsides are just not worth it. If you are afraid of bricking off your Cascades or draw steps late in the game, then don’t play either, but don’t use convoluted logic to fit the “upgraded” card into the deck.
A lot of people are in the debate of Putrid Leech versus no Putrid Leech. Frankly, I have no opinion either way. I am sure that one is more correct than the other, but I don’t know which and I don’t want to take the time to figure it out, since I am a hypocrite and am not playing Jund in Standard.
The way the argument has been laid out to me by Owen Turtenwald is that Putrid Leech gives you free wins against non-Jund decks. You have so much removal that you can just ride a Leech and use some incidental damage cards like a hasty Bloodbraid Elf hit, spare Lightning Bolts, Blightning damage, and maybe a manland attack. A lot of tier 2 style decks are helpless against such a draw. On the other hand, Putrid Leech is infamously bad in the mirror, as it just turns on removal. It gives Maelstrom Pulse a worthwhile target and often eats removal spells flipped over by Cascades that, if not for the Leech, would have been blanks.
My stance used to be anti-Leech, as I felt that you were favored already against all non-Jund decks and should focus solely on the mirror. I have since changed my view, largely in part due to the new UW Chalice control deck that Sam Black and Brian Kibler have recently played and written about. I think that the turbo-control approach of those decks makes grinding out control with incidental damage and accumulative card advantage no longer a viable option. Blightning isn’t nearly the blow-out it is against other control decks when they can use any of Knight of the White Orchid, Divination, mini-Mind Spring, Everflowing Chalice for 2, unanswered Baneslayer Angel, or Spreading Seas a manland to recoup the card advantage lost. A deck like Chapin’s UW deck from PT: San Diego would have to put in a little work to two-card combo a Treasure Hunt and Halimir Depths (or Jace, the Mind Sculptor) to recoup those loses if they weren’t stopped at the source by being countered.
For this reason, I believe that Putrid Leech should be put back into the deck. The free wins are still out there, and the added pressure against the control decks is crucial. Otherwise they can just deal with a couple of guys and then tap out for a big Mind Spring, willing to give you an attack step’s worth of damage in exchange for those cards. When they are at 4 less life and that attack step represents 4 more life, they have to be spending their resources not-dying instead of Mind Springing back into a position of initiative. This dynamic gives you the opportunity to:
A) Draw pretty much anything to close them out as they are on their back foot. Bloodbraid Elf, Sprouting Thrinax, a second Blightning, etc.
B) Hit a timely Cascade and steal the game with a second Blightning or a Maelstrom Pulse on a mana source.
C) Get them low enough that you can burn them out, potentially with the help of a manland hit the turn they finally get to Mind Spring.
The only way they can avoid getting into this position where you are free-rolling on them, they basically need to Path to Exile the Leech (or be on the play and Oblivion Ring it, but that does Time Walk them and give you a target for your Maelstrom Pulse). If they do Path the Leech, then you are poised to bury them with a stream of undercosted threats a turn earlier than they would have been cast otherwise.
What I really wanted to discuss today is the Jund mirror and how to build your sideboard for it. First of all, if you are still playing Goblin Ruinblaster, you probably shouldn’t be. Nobody seems to be bringing them in for the mirror anymore, and if that’s the case then they shouldn’t be in there at all. If you do bring them in for the mirror, and you like how they play, then obviously you should keep them. I don’t like them in the mirror, and I don’t agree with the argument that they are there for the Blue decks either. Most of the Blue decks have Borderposts and/or Everflowing Chalices to negate the tempo gained by Ruinblaster. Killing a land only to have them Knight of the White Orchid is just sickening. If you want to attack their tempo by messing with their mana development, I would suggest a few Vithian Renegades. They are a whole mana cheaper, actually easier on the mana to assure it gets cast on 3, blows up mana sources that aren’t lands to keep Knight of the White Orchid inactive for another turn, and can blow up a Chalice for two, which Time Walks them and denies them two mana they thought they would have rather than the one a land would provide. Goblin Ruinblaster may kill manlands, but if you blow up a Chalice they are less likely to be able to activate it, and you probably have a few Terminates still in the deck for Baneslayer Angels.
All of that is speaking from a Magic Online standpoint, where there is virtually no Grixis and almost all of the control decks are the Mind Spring deck or Open the Vaults. If there is just all classic Chapin UW or Grixis in your metagame, then Goblin Ruinblaster is going to be pretty good for you.
I’m approaching the length I like articles to be and haven’t even talked about what this article was supposed to be about; post-board game-plans for the mirror.
So, the Jund decks have near 30 mana sources now, so Ruinblaster has fallen out of favor. I think that this short-sighted. A few people have gone up to a couple of Mind Rots as additional Blightnings to run their opponents out of cards. A few people have been going to Great Sable Stag, sometimes even maindeck. The problem with all of these is that people are just adding cards that are “good” instead of having a dedicated plan of attack. Usually Jund can just rely on its good cards, but in the mirror their cards are just as good as yours so you need to actually formulate a strategy in deck construction instead of waiting to see what your opening hand is and just go with it.
Goblin Ruinblaster — If you are bringing in this card, it should be all four or none, as they are obviously better in multiples. If you are on the play and are taking an aggressive stance, then they should definitely be coming in. If you are taking an attrition stance, they should not. So if you are bringing in Mind Rots and not Stags, Ruinblasters should stay out of the deck. The tempo is only good if you can capitalize on it after seizing initiative. Being able to kill a manland is only really relevant if you can get value out of the Ruinblaster itself, or the one mana advantage it gives you. If you are playing mid-rangey control, they have time to draw more mana sources and cast their spells, and if your Ruinblaster ends up chumping a Sprouting Thrinax or trading with a 1/1 token, then you didn’t really achieve enough to justify spending 2RR.
Great Sable Stag — The biggest mistake I see people making is playing 2 or 3 Stags. Their only real way to kill it is Lightning Bolt, of which they only have 4, so you want to be trying to run them out of Bolts using Blightnings and Raging Ravine (as a tempting target) and so on. Multiple Stags just means less and less likely chance that they have a Bolt for each one. Not done with this point yet.
Mind Rot — This is the biggest mistake I see people making. This card is not good enough, and I will tell you why. Both players empty their hands relatively quickly, and 4 Blightnings from both sides will leave hands shredded apart early. That means that unless you draw one of the Mind Rots early enough, and it is relevant, it is just another dead draw/cascade. The solution I suggest is a card that DJ Kastner talked up when we were in the ggslive booth at the StarCityGames.com Indianapolis Open: Grim Discovery.
Grim Discovery — It is like an anti-Blightning. It negates a Blightning from your opponent, with the added bonus of letting you filter a little (and you still take 3 damage. Can’t forget the “lightning” on Blightning). You can just pitch a land and guy and get them back, or pitch two lands when you’re flooded and get back a land and a guy. Some people say that Mind Rot is better because it is more proactive. That deck has a lot of three drops. Especially with Great Sable Stags, and that means that another three drop is worse for your curve. You don’t want to be Mind Rotting on turn 3 anyway. What Grim Discovery does is allow you to play a tapped land, a Lightning Bolt, and Grim on turn 4 after your Sable Stag gets Bolted. Or it lets you Grim and replay your Thrinax on turn 5, whereas Mind Rot would not let you do two things in one turn in that spot.
Now let’s talk late-game. If you watch any of the coverage of the Jund mirror, I would say that about half the time it degenerates into a top-deck war where one player has a slight edge either on board due to more token-producers or manlands, or in life total due to incidental damage from the early exchanges. Now in this spot, your Grim Discovery is basically the greatest card in your deck, whereas their Mind Rots do nothing. You can get back Broodmate and the land to cast it, you can get back Bloodbraid Elf and a manland (which is like 3 spells in one, for those of you keeping track at home). If you cascade into it in this spot it is obviously unreal. So what are the downsides?
Well, for starters, it is often awkward in the opening hand if they don’t Blightning you, but if they aren’t using Blightning on you then you are probably going to be able to draw the game out to a point where the Grim Discovery is good. Also, it is pretty lame to Cascade into with a turn 4 Bloodbraid Elf. It’s such a low percentage to hit, and even if you do there is a guy to get back some of the time (a Bolted Stag, for example). If they had Blightning’d you, you have targets. And then in the absolute worst case scenario, you just get a fetchland back, is it really that much worse than a Rampant Growth there? Yes, but not by much. In my admittedly limited experience, you’re way more likely to hit a dead Terminate than a bad Grim Discovery.
By playing a couple of Grim Discovery, you are positioning yourself in the mid-rangey control role rather than trying to beat them down. I think that this is the best way to play the mirror, as if you are going aggro you need to leave in your Putrid Leeches, which I don’t like as it gives them efficient targets for their cheap removal that would otherwise be embarrassing (not to mention the mana that would have gone to waste if they didn’t get a target for their Terminate that turn). When you know you have 2 copies of a 2 mana card that represents what Grim Discovery does, you can be more willing to block and trade away guys to preserve your life total. That is why I think that this approach to the mirror is the best; because by racing you are leaving yourself open to big damage top-decks that can steal the game away from you, whereas if you enter the late game with 13 or so life, it becomes very hard to die out of nowhere giving you the time you need to take advantage of your increased percentages in the top-deck-war of a late-game.
Grim Discovery also plays well in just about any sideboard war that is going on. If they are playing Ruinblasters, not only does it become that much harder to mana screw you, but they can’t even get value from you when you have enough lands by killing manlands. If you are on the Ruinblaster plan, you can suicide attack it, hopefully getting some other damage in while they eat it, and kill another land. If you are playing Stag Wars, then they have 3-4 Stags and 4 Bolts while you have 4 Stag, 4 Bolt, 2 Grim Discovery. It makes it a lot easier to run them out of Bolts that way. You can also get back a Bloodbraid Elf once both players are out of gas and propose a trade with the Stag while getting value from the Cascade. This maneuver should only be done if they are out of removal, however, because if they have some (or draw some) then you are going to have to find another way to kill that Stag. Hopefully you’ll flip a Bolt or Stag to your Elf and end it there. Or get back a Raging Ravine along with the Elf with the Grim Discovery in the first place and just have another guy they have to kill before Stag gets through.
I’m well over the length I like to keep my articles, but I want to say one more thing. A lot of people say that 1-2 Mind Rot is good for the Blue matchups also, but that isn’t really true now that most of them play Open the Vaults or Mind Spring. Blightning is good because it makes it so they have to discard their removal/lands, which makes it so they have to Mind Spring a turn earlier than they wanted to. That one-turn window lets you get a lot more damage in, and that coupled with the three from the Blightning itself is what wins the game. The idea behind Mind Rot is to use lots of discard 2’s to run them out of cards, but when all they need to do is hold 1 Open the Vaults or 1 Mind Spring to undo all of the work you’ve put in to decimating their hand… do you really think that is more effective than any random creature would have been?
That’s it for this week. Tried to keep the piece a little less poetic and more facts and technical speak, as I think that all Jund players should think about these things and not just the small group of people that enjoy reading my rants. Even if they aren’t playing Grim Discovery, as the principles discussed are still important to the most played deck’s most played match-up. See you next time, probably with a more “AJ” feeling article.