Flores Friday – Meet Me At the Fauna Shaman

Friday, January 28 – Michael Flores is the originator of many of history’s best Magic decks. Today, he brings you his latest mono-creature creation: Vengevine Jund.

There are two different viable strategies in Extended that utilize a Fauna Shaman + graveyard creatures / haste attackers. Both of these strategies
also use Bloodbraid Elf; per Flores Friday – How to Make a Mashup, we
know that sizable card crossovers between two seemingly different decks can give us the opportunity to gain additional value via hybridization.

You probably already know which decks I’m talking about, but for those of you who don’t, they are [big] Naya and [regular] Jund:

How Does Naya Work?

Naya in its current incarnation — as exemplified by Nathaniel Chafe’s PTQ winner — is a big creature deck that takes advantage of
fast green mana production. The Fauna Shaman bridge here is used to either set up Vengevines and Bloodbraid Elves or one-of bullet strategies (Cunning
Sparkmage + Stoneforge Mystic for Basilisk Collar; Linvala, Keeper of Silence against Elves; Knight of the Reliquary v. Magic: The Gathering decks,
&c.). Naya is therefore a strategy voluntarily constrained to almost all creatures for the benefit of Vengevine and especially the predictability
of a double creature drop via Bloodbraid Elf. It seems to gain little from the move from Summer 2010 Standard to double-Standard Extended, but its card
quality is high enough that Naya can compete with flashier Cryptic Command decks.

How Does Jund Work?

Quintessential bad person Jund plays with a much more significant upgrade relative to its previous power level in Standard than Naya. Here, Fauna
Shaman takes a role that it did not previously hold, as an incremental two-drop and as a facilitator to the control-crushing game ender, Demigod of
Revenge. The rest of the Jund shell is quite similar to one or both of its previous incarnations; it exemplifies per-card quality, though consistently
with lots of mana symbols involved.

Our exploration of hybridization this time around will be to incorporate the [almost] all-animals spell selection of Naya (constraints which facilitate
Vengevine re-buys) in Jund colors. Why move to Jund? Because Fauna Shaman is great with both Vengevine and Demigod of Revenge, and the bet is that
having all kinds of Vengevines and Demigods and Bloodbraid Elves (again played in both decks) can give us a critical mass of haste creatures that’s
almost Red Deck in ferocity… While taking advantage of the huge bonus in raw power afforded to three-color decks.

Both of these “original” (that is, pre-hybridization) Fauna Shaman green decks have some good things going for them… Some of which will
be inevitably lost in hybridization. For example, big Naya has only one spell, so that it can most consistently re-buy Vengevine; our process of
hybridization will remove white, and with white Stoneforge Mystic. We’ll therefore lose the relatively easy-to-implement Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk
Collar lock (with Basilisk Collar — the lone target for Stoneforge Mystic — being Naya’s one non-creature spell).

At the same time, our hybrid robs Jund of its secondary disruption plan. There is no Bloodbraid Elf-into-Blightning for us. In fact, Charles Gindy said
that Thoughtseize was his best sideboard card at Grand Prix Atlanta… and we’re not (at least not initially) going to try Thoughtseize due to
Vengevine planning considerations.

The baseline of the deck is more like Naya without Stoneforge Mystic; the bet is that the addition of Anathemancer to Naya (for additional reach) and
Shriekmaw to counterbalance the hit taken by Cunning Sparkmage, plus the awesome power of Demigod of Revenge in a haste-driven strategy might yield a
stronger contender than Naya.

You can look at it another way, which is to ask if the addition of Vengevine combined with more consistent Bloodbraid Elf cascades (that is, your
Bloodbraid Elf will never flip a blind Maelstrom Pulse or Terminate) make up for the loss of Blightning and Thoughtseize… I think approaching from
this second angle is much more matchup driven, whereas there seems to be a clearer path to punching power when we compare to Naya… Albeit accompanied
by a potential loss of speed with the loss of one-drops.

So what are we going to play? Mise decklist amiright?

The 1.0 version of this deck played four Birds of Paradise and two Noble Hierarchs, mindful of what Brad Nelson talked about last week: The ability to
spring starting on turn 1 is a compelling one for Extended offenses. The problem is that I tried to get the mana to be as consistent as possible (in
terms of land choices), but even though I could play an untapped land on the first turn the majority of the time… That land didn’t necessarily
produce G on the first turn; Birds and Hierarchs after turn 1 become decidedly less exciting, especially on the Bloodbraid bonus. The plan at this
point is to just scoop the speed and focus on consistency and card power.

First up, consistency.

I love Love LOVE this mana base for what we are trying to accomplish.

There is a sum total of one land that doesn’t cast a Demigod of Revenge (basic Forest), and even with the Forest, we have four Fire-Lit Thickets
to repair a Forest draw.

Moreover, there is one One ONE land that doesn’t cast a Putrid Leech (basic Mountain). In terms of basics, there is exactly one Verdant
Catacombs; because you only have one copy each of Swamp and Forest, having exactly one Verdant Catacombs allows a mindful mage to minimize mistakes
that many of us make so often. You know those games where you lazily play a mid-game fetch, only to find you are out of targets? Or the games where it
doesn’t really matter if you get a Forest or an Island with your Misty Rainforest, but you get an Island because blue is better, and then when
you draw your Scalding Tarn, you’re left with no targets… but like three basic Forests in your deck? Even a cursory accounting of the decklist will
prevent that mistake from ever happening to you. You see the Verdant Catacombs in your hand; you know immediately to look for your Forest and / or
Swamp. You know the priority and speed with which you have to use it, if it matters. Having this 1-1-1 split will long-run save a surprising amount of
mages games they shouldn’t have lost.

The crowning burgle of the deck’s lands listing is the ability to play Ancient Ziggurat. Congratulations playing all animals! Of course you
can’t re-buy Anathemancer or his Hell-ish Red brethren with Ancient Ziggurat, but that limitation has come up a sum total of never for me so far

The one question mark I have is around Lavaclaw Reaches. That is, I didn’t play any. I have four Raging Ravines and four Savage Lands that hit
the battlefield tapped. Additionally, I have seven lands that may or may not hit the battlefield tapped. You have a fair number of soft mana points in
this deck; for example, you can always afford to play Savage Lands and Raging Ravine on the first turn, as you have no one-drops. But later in the
game, individual lands start to matter more specifically. For example, it’s very desirable that your fifth land come into play untapped, both
for Fauna Shaman activation-into-Bloodbraid Elf and just laying down the Demigod of Revenge on-curve.

The amplified uncertainty around playing Lavaclaw Reaches kept me from running it this time; I played four copies at National Qualifiers last year, and
I don’t think I activated the land even one time.


Now speaking of National Qualifiers, the same tournament where I Q’d, one of my best friends — Brian David-Marshall — picked up a
Blue Envelope as well, using Gerry Thompson Vengevine Naya deck.

I was immediately inspired by Gerry’s list and snap-designed my first take at a Jund Vengevine deck — not even with Fauna Shamans as we
have here, just based on how awesome Vengevine and Bloodbraid Elf are together — which manifested itself as the so-called Vengevine Monster

The first Monster Truck listing certainly wasn’t perfect, but the notion of porting Vengevine value to Jund colors was immediately realized that
weekend by Bradley Carpenter, with his Top 8 at Grand Prix Washington D.C.

Carpenter’s build probably made better use of the Sarkhan the Mad high end that our decks shared (as Siege-Gang Commander and Hell’s
Thunder both work on the bonus there); but the jury is still out in terms of Maelstrom Pulse… especially considering Bloodbraid Elf predictability
with Vengevines.

I obviously drew on Bradley’s Hell’s Thunders with my Extended listing and made up for the lack of Maelstrom Pulses with a Shriekmaw idea
borrowed from last week’s Brad. Ultimately:

Spell Rundown:

2 Shriekmaw, 4 Putrid Leech, 4 Fauna Shaman, 2 Hellspark Elemental:

… aka the two-mana plays.

At this point, I don’t think I’ve ever cast a Shriekmaw for full value in this deck, so it goes with the twos. I decided to go with Hellspark
Elemental as a redundancy over Hell’s Thunder, which was cribbed from Carpenter’s Grand Prix deck. Hellspark Elemental hasn’t been
bad, but it also hasn’t done a hell of a lot. The theory is that you can discard it (or Hell’s Thunder) to Fauna Shaman and still recoup
value sometime in the future… Haste attackers and graveyard bonus redundancy over Vengevine and Demigod of Revenge.

Fauna Shaman is the hot cheerleader of this deck, and Putrid Leech frankly makes other fighting men in this — and most — formats look
simply embarrassing, so I didn’t get all clever-like and cut it.

1 Anathemancer

The one copy is just for mondo destructions against decks like Four-Color Control. It has non-zero value in a number of matchups, for example the Jund
mirror, and is a scary blocker insofar as it is also kind of like a ticking time bomb — or perhaps the heart of a murdered friend
driving you mad from beneath the floorboards (that is, beyond the grave[yard]). “I’m coming!”

4 Boggart Ram-Gang, 4 Hell’s Thunder

Trivia! I have made Top 8 of 100% of the PTQs where I played four Boggart Ram-Gangs and four Hell’s Thunders! I also played four Demigods of

Obviously we have a relentless focus on haste here. Just a ton of hard-to-contain damage that adds up quickly with Bloodbraid Elf bringing along a
haste attacker and / or some Vengevine help out of the bin. Of the cards tested so far, Hell’s Thunder has been either the least impressive or
the second least impressive creature (along with Hellspark Elemental). I think that they’re trying to race to five when the super-fast decks are
actually racing to four… Might need something along the lines of Cunning Sparkmage haste over what we have thus far, instead.

4 Vengevine, 4 Bloodbraid Elf

Bloodbraid Elf is an uncontested Top 10 card in a deck with little other representation. Vengevine + Bloodbraid Elf, facilitated by Fauna Shaman, is
obviously half the deck.

4 Demigod of Revenge

… The other half of the deck. Huge value here, especially against any opponents playing fair.

Initial Impressions:

This version of Jund seemed very smooth to me in initial testing. It clearly lacks the backbreaking Bloodbraid Elf-into-Blightning smashie-smashie, but
Blightning isn’t the best 100% of the time in Extended, especially against other Vengevine / Demigod decks, or against Open the Vaults, which was
one of my video losses (and looks, for that matter, to be a real deck).

Animal Jund seems like it would have consistency, power level, tempo, and card access advantages over the majority of non-over-the-top,
“unfair” decks, and itself brushes up against unfair play a lot of the time. To wit, the Game Two against Elves ( see videos) where I (spoilers!) go
from one life and a mile behind on the board to killing the opponent for 16 in one turn thanks to a naturally drawn Cunning Sparkmage. It can go
weenie-creatures lockdown with Cunning Sparkmage and take out even the biggies like Linvala, Keeper of Silence with four Shriekmaws after sideboarding.

I don’t want to jump ahead to new cards too quickly, but Phyrexian Revoker as a two-drop seems pretty good as an incremental beater that can also
lock down planeswalkers or Time Sieve.

That said, Animal Jund seems weakest against “bigger” strategies with more personality… Like Open the Vaults combo or Scapeshift midrange
combo. More than once I found myself with an opponent dead on board… but losing on like my third or fourth turn. I would be very open to hearing
thoughts about how to fix this. Do we have Have HAVE to go Thoughtseize? Is that even enough?


One of the things that I noticed in game play situations was that I wasn’t really gaining much advantage from the unearth abilities on my red
dumps (Hell’s Thunder and Hellspark Elemental). While I think that they may still be valuable for super-fast draws, we can still see via the
videos, in particular against our two combo deck matchups, that getting a good haste draw may not actually be fast enough; for example, in the Open the
Vaults matchup, I lost on my opponent’s fourth turn in both the first and the third games.

On balance, I sided in Kitchen Finks in a variety of spots (including against Open the Vaults, though it’s not like they were madly effective
there); and just playing Kitchen Finks main in lieu of some of the red hasters may just 1) give us more sideboard room and 2) actually improve our main
deck beatdown resistance, which would be welcome anyway if we want to emphasize winning non-combo matchups.

Specifically, I really liked Cunning Sparkmage, which, combined with Shriekmaw, gives us a nice package of effective resistance to both the green-deck
bigs (Baneslayer Angel, Knight of the Reliquary, &c.) and the little guys that get them there (Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, &c.). Odd as
it might sound, I think a reasonable one-of sideboard addition might be Royal Assassin! He’s a bugger for Naya to remove and basically eradicates their
big guys.

Here is a different pass, given that I haven’t utilized a lot of unearth so far:

The door’s still open on this deck… But at least I got the mana right on the first pass (I think) :)

I leave you to the videos!