Insider Information – Jund Stinks

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Thursday, November 12th – Jund is currently the Elephant in the Standard Metagame Room, and everyone is looking for ways to bring it down. Decks like Nissa Monument are great steps in the right direction, but Ced believes we can go further. He examines the ways in which we can attack what he describes as the worst “best deck” ever built.

“Introduce a little anarchy, upset the established order, and everything becomes c-h-a-o-s.”
The Joker

You see, I don’t work with any exact boundaries of the law because I wasn’t consulted when the damn laws were made. I govern my life around my own personal code of ethics, and I suggest that you do the same. That way, if, within the constructs of my own morality, I were to do something that is considered illegal, so be it. I feel no guilt whatsoever, and furthermore, if I were to buckle under the social weight of the system by adhering to laws that I do not truly believe in, then I would be extinguishing the very fire of patriotism and individuality. So, in sense, by saying Jund is one of the worst “best decks” of all time, and predicting that it is going to perform fairly poorly at Worlds in two weeks, I’d be preserving the rights our forefathers fought and died for… right?

Wait, what?

Yeah, you read that right.

I think Jund stinks.

I’m sorry, but it is very hard for me to believe that Jund is the best deck in this format. I refuse to believe that a deck that is taking the “watch me put all these good cards in my deck even though they have no synergy ,and I’m not carrying out a game plan except casting all of these good cards and hope they are good enough to win” approach is the defining strategy of this Standard format.

I’m sorry if I’m just not buying it.

The “look at all the good cards in my deck” approach has rarely won anything. Take a look at every Doran deck ever made in both Extended and Standard. They have the most powerful cards available to them in those three (and sometimes four) colors, yet they rarely win anything of relevance. Do you know why?

1.) The deck lacks synergy
2.) The deck lacks a Plan B

Decks like Doran and the current iteration of Jund are built of powerful cards doing powerful things, but when it comes down to it, these decks simply do not win tournaments. Decks with synergy like Faeries, Affinity, Goblins, and Dredge win tournaments. Decks with Plan Bs, like Kibler Zoo, Astral Slide, Ghazi-Glare, and Opposition win tournaments.

When talking with Adrian Sullivan earlier this week, I asked him for an example of a good card deck that did nothing but cast powerful cards and hope they were good enough to win. Invasion Odyssey Standard had decks like these, with Black/Green/White decks that had the best cards possible (Spiritmonger, Pernicious Deed, Call of the Herd, Vindicate, Gerrad’s Verdict, etc), but those decks never won anything of relevance. It was at that moment where he pointed out to me that those decks never won because they didn’t have a Plan B.

“”Ehrnam-Geddon was basically a good card deck too. It tried to just have better creatures (Erhnam, Serra, Autumn Willow) and better spells (Disenchant and Swords to Plowshares), but if things went to hell, it could either reset the board with a Balance or Wrath. And most importantly, if it ever caught you when you weren’t ready, it would shut you down with an Armageddon while it had superior board position. Looking at Ehrnam Geddon is like looking at a bunch of good cards too, they are just good cards that give you a more complex set of tools in case you need to change your game plan.”

How about I attack this subject from a different angle?

As much as it sucks to say this, the New York Yankees won the World Series this year. They had not won since the year 2000. Now, the Yankees are famous for spending infinite resources on the best players that money can buy every offseason to win a championship, but it had not worked for eight years. It was not until this year that they finally brought a championship back to New York. When asked what led to their success this year, many of the players said the same thing:

“Role players like Nick Swisher and Brett Gardner making the game fun to play, and working hard on a daily basis.”

Sure, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter had an outstanding playoff series, but ask anyone who knows their stuff about baseball, and they will be the first to tell you that it was the role players like Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner, and Chad Gaudin that did the little things for the team that led to wins. No, the things these role players did do not show up in the stat box, but they matter more than you can possibly quantify.

Not a Yankees fan? From Boston? I can cater to anyone!

Do you think the Celtics would have won that title two years ago without Kendrick Perkins, Leon Powe, and Eddie House? I didn’t think so.

Cubs fan? Well, I don’t have an example for you because the Cubs suck. Sorry…

My point is this: decks need role players. Not every card in your deck has to be a superstar. Some decks need Spark Spray to be able to win a tournament. Some decks need Peppersmoke to bring the title home. It doesn’t always have to be flashy to win a tournament. It just needs to get the job done.

As things stand right now, Jund is a deck with thirty-six really good cards. But where are its role players? Where is its synergy? What is its Plan B?

My biggest issues with Jund are that it is a deck with no synergy, and it lacks a Plan B. Every game, Jund casts its spells and hopes they are good enough to win. They aren’t actually formulating a game plan dependant on matchup, nor are they doing anything synergetic. They are just casting their spells.

Anyone can just cast their spells.

Look at a typical game for Jund:

Put some lands into play.
Cast some creatures and removal.
Play some cascade cards.
Is that good enough? Yes/No/Maybe (circle one)

What deck is Jund not employing this strategy against? Where are you, as a player with amazing talent, using the skill set you have developed to gain an advantage over an opponent? Much like playing any deck with Doran, the Siege Tower in it, you aren’t.

Now, I’m not delusional. There are definitely positives to Jund or it wouldn’t be putting up the results that it has. Those positives are certainly worth noting:

1.) It plays some of the most powerful cards in the format.
Jund definitely plays some of the most powerful cards available in Standard. Bloodbraid Elf, Sprouting Thrinax, Putrid Leech, Lightning Bolt, Maelstrom Pulse, and Bituminous Blast are some of the strongest cards available to a deck builder in Standard.

2.) It plays the defining cards of the format.
Jund is currently defining Standard. Every deck that is being built should be built with beating Jund in mind. That is both good and bad for Jund.
Good: Players will have the wrong answers against Jund, though they perceive them to be the correct answers.
Bad: Players will find the correct answers.

3.) Jund is the deck that uses Blightning the best.
Blightning is one of the best and annoying spells in the format. No deck utilizes Blightning as well as Jund.

4.) Jund is the deck that uses Sprouting Thrinax the best.
Sprouting Thrinax is one of the best creatures in the format. No other deck is able to abuse Sprouting Thrinax as well as Jund.

5.) Jund is the deck that uses Bloodbraid Elf the best.
It’s been well documented just how good a creature is Bloodbraid Elf. While most decks play Bloodbraid Elf extremely well, no one does it as well as Jund.

6.) Jund deals a lot more damage over the course of a game than it seems.
While it may not seem like Jund is dealing a player much damage over the course of the game with its creatures, the fact is that it isn’t. There is so much damage that a player rarely notices. The three points of damage from Blightning is significant. Cascading into a Lightning Bolt may not seem like much, but it is a free three damage. Not to mention the fetchlands from your opponent, that may seem irrelevant at first, start to matter. This deck deals damage in three point intervals. It only takes seven of those for an opponent to be dead (or six with two fetchlands).

Wait! I’m trying to convince you Jund is bad. What am I doing highlighting all these positives?! Certainly, there has to be some negatives:

1.) Jund has an iffy manabase.
The Jund manabase is certainly something that needs commenting on. The manabase in this deck is by no means bad, but it isn’t exactly good either. Yes, there are lands available to Jund that tap for multiple colors of mana (Rootbound Crag, Dragonskull Summit, Savage Lands), as well as Verdant Catacombs to help fix the mana and thin the deck out. But with all these exciting helpful lands comes the opportunity to draw the wrong combination of tap lands, too few basics, or just the wrong color of lands. It doesn’t happen that often, but it still happens more than you would think.

2.) Playing the Jund mirror is horribly painful.
Playing the Jund mirror match is one of the most painful things to endure in recent memory. At Pro Tour: Honolulu, Jim Davis had the awesome idea of drawing first to negate the impact of Blightning, negate the impact of mulliganing, and leave the player on the draw with the last cascade card so that he/she would be able to catch back up. With the addition of Goblin Ruinblaster to the format, being on the draw is actually a liability, so now the matchup has become “I really hope my opponent doesn’t have Goblin Ruinblaster on turn 4.” In addition to that, let’s not forget that the mirror match is still a case of, whether you want to admit it or not, the Cascade Lottery. I hate to complain about the lack of skill present in a mirror match, but I cease to find game-altering decisions in the Jund mirror. A player is not rewarded for their superior skill, and there isn’t an area of the game for a player to gain an advantage.

3.) The mirror match is so important that it affects the way you construct your deck
With Jund being the most popular deck by a mile, you have to construct your Jund deck to beat your opponent’s Jund deck. That means fewer Maelstrom Pulses; more copies of Oran-Rief, the Vastwood to slide into the maindeck; and the full amount of Goblin Ruinblasters heading to the sideboard, in addition to whatever other tech you have for the mirror match in your sideboard since you probably need a few trump cards. Things can get so terribly inbred that techy cards like Slave of Bolas, Karrthus, and Sarkhan Vol may show up when they have no business even being there.

I point all this out about Jund because it is time to take this deck off its pedestal. According to Sam Black article this week (an excellent read, by the way), this deck has made up about 40% of the metagame. That is both ridiculous and unacceptable.

This is a Rock deck, people! A Rock deck! If I told you a Rock deck was occupying 40% of the Extended metagame, you would slap me in the face.

It’s time to put this animal to rest. But how can we do that?

1.) Take advantage of the fact that there are fewer Maelstrom Pulses in the format.
Maelstrom Pulse is a card on the decline. This is not an opinion of mine, but a fact of the format. Maelstrom Pulse is an extremely powerful card, but its mana cost makes it slightly inefficient. Maelstrom Pulse is best when hit off a cascade, but with no way to guarantee that happening, the only answer is to cut a few and replace them with more efficient answers (Terminate, for example). The matchups of the format prove the inefficiency of the Maelstrom Pulse:
a.) Boros Bushwhacker: Using three mana on your turn to destroy a Steppe Lynx or Plated Geopede just isn’t productive enough.
b.) Jund: Never a real hit in the mirror, as you both share permanents. With Garruk Wildspeaker picking up speed, it is slightly better in the mirror now, but you still have a 3/3 beast to deal with.
c.) Mono Red: All of the relevant creatures in this deck have haste. The one that doesn’t, Plated Geopede, can be killed by your other removal spells. If a Jund player has to kill Plated Geopede with Maelstrom Pulse, they will feel the full effect from a Ball Lightning or Elemental Appeal.
With fewer Maelstrom Pulses in the format, it is time for decks to play cards that Jund would normally rely on Maelstrom Pulse to kill. Nissa’s Monument has begun to do this with cards like Nissa Revane, Eldrazi’s Monument, and Ant Queen, but it could, and probably should, be taken to the extreme.

2.) Take advantage of the fact that Jund is slow out of the gate.
As I spoke about earlier, Jund is a deck with above-average mana, but it can take a little while to get online. While developing their mana, they are extremely reliant on casting Lightning Bolt on whatever the first or second threat may be. A way to really get Jund behind is to start out of the gate quickly. This is the reason that Boros Bushwhacker, Mono Red, and to an extent Nissa’s Monument are able to defeat Jund. If there was a way to attack Jund’s mana quickly, I would recommend that, but with the noticeably lack of a three-mana land destruction spell, that plan will have to stay on hold.

3.) Realize that Jund is a Rock deck in disguise.
Jund is still a Rock deck at heart. Rock decks are known as midrange decks that play the correct answers to the format’s questions. A great way to attack Jund is to ask questions that Jund is not prepared to answer.

4.) Look at the ways we used to beat Jund in the past.
This isn’t the first time that we have seen Jund. Jund was a popular deck in the last Standard format, as well as the miserable Block Constructed format that some played at Pro Tour: Honolulu. There were ways to beat Jund in the past that are still available to us today:

a.) Kithkin used army-in-a-can cards to exhaust Jund’s resources.
1.) Ranger of Eos
2.) Garruk Wildspeaker
3.) Nissa Revane
4.) Elspeth, Knight-Errant
5.) Emeria Angel

b.) Make Blightning a liability to cast instead of an advantage.
1.) Wilt-Leaf Liege (you are sorely missed)
2.) Swerve
3.) Any card with Unearth
4.) Bloodghast

c.) Red decks beat Jund before they could get setup and exploited the fact that they could not gain any life.

d.) Having protection from a certain color gives Jund headaches.
1.) Chameleon Colossus (we miss you too)
2.) Valeron Outlander (used at Pro Tour: Honolulu in Esper)
3.) Paladin En-Vec
4.) Eldrazi Monument

5.) Overload Jund’s removal until something finally sticks.
If each of your individual threats are so difficult to deal with on their own, you can exhaust Jund simply by casting too many good threats to in a row. This is what the G/W deck the Japanese built for Pro Tour: Honolulu looked to accomplish:
a.) Elspeth, Knight-Errant
b.) Battlegrace Angel
c.) Thornling
d.) Knight of the Reliquary
This strategy is tough because of huge upswing in Blightnings, but hardly impossible.

I think Nissa’s Monument is a step in the right direction as a way to fight Jund. That deck winning the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open in Nashville was not a fluke, and the deck is very, very real. I do not think the deck, as Kali Anderson has it, is optimally constructed (24 lands with no fetchlands and that many creature mana sources will lead to mana flooding)… but the concept is sound, and that is what matters. The synergy within the deck is off the chart, and that is what matters. The deck is doing broken things and has a Plan B if things go poorly. That is what matters!

I’ve never been a big fan of Jund in any of the formats in which it has been legal, and I dislike it now more than ever. The success it is enjoying is due to laziness among deck builders. There is a way out of this cascade hardlock. We just have to look deeper. Hopefully I have provided with some insight on how to do that.

Tomorrow, I head to Grand Prix: Minneapolis for one of the most important Magic tournaments of my life. It’s been a long time since I have wanted to win this badly, so hopefully that doesn’t translate to me pressing too much in my play. If you will be in Minneapolis this weekend, feel free to say hi. I’ll be around until Monday.

Here’s hoping I have to cancel my next article because I will be on my way to Rome!

Cedric Phillips

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