Jund In Legacy At GP Denver

Josh Ravitz talks about how he made Top 4 of GP Denver with Jund and why he thinks it may be ripe for a comeback at SCG Legacy Open: Kansas City this weekend.

Hi, my name is Joshua Ravitz, and I am currently invited to Pro Tour San Diego as a result of my fourth place finish at Grand Prix Denver earlier this year. In addition to that, I have played in over twenty Pro Tours during my career, and I even used to write for this very site back in 2007. But paramount to all of that, Legacy is my favorite format to play and think about.

Before Grand Prix Denver, Jund was not really a major player in the Legacy metagame, with varying and limited success in prior SCG Opens (two Open Top 16s I believe) and on Magic Online (a few 3-1s and 4-0s in Daily Events). To be sure, no one was really talking about Jund, and as I played the event itself I saw a smattering of decks, yes, but very few Jund decks among them. Of course, that isn’t the case anymore—Jund is now a major consideration for anyone trying to win a Legacy tournament just about anywhere.

For the event itself, I chose Reid Duke Jund:

Getting to the point where I decided to play this deck was not a simple process at all. I had made plans to go to Denver sometime in early November, and originally I had planned on playing the Miracles deck with Rest in Peace and Energy Field. Four matches in a Magic Online Daily Event was all it took for me to realize this was a flawed strategy, but against my better judgment I persisted. I asked Gerry Thompson and whomever else I could if they thought Miracles could be good, and they all told me in one way or another that they did not believe it could be good. They told me it was really hard to win with Miracles in real life and that [good] Magic Online results don’t actually mean all that much. Well, my results weren’t even good.

You see, in reality, it comes down to one simple thing: Liliana of the Veil. Online I played against Liliana in decks like B/W "Ale" and G/W/B "Junk," but it makes no difference. The entire Miracles deck has no way to permanently deal with a Liliana of the Veil. If they put her in a Detention Sphere, Jund’s Abrupt Decays will be even more backbreaking. They have no way to pressure her, and this of course leads to a Liliana ultimate. This means Miracles can’t really achieve a lock or protect a Jace. Basically, they can’t get any traction at all against a Liliana of the Veil.

As someone that was considering playing Miracles, this was worrisome to say the least. I wasn’t expecting a sea of Jund with its four Liliana of the Veils, although it was gaining popularity at the time; rather, Liliana was featured in the flavor-of-the-week BUG decks.

With a few days left, I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew BUG was an awful deck and that I wouldn’t be happy playing it, so I asked around. I knew I couldn’t play Miracles or I’d just lose. Reid Duke, as ever, helped me see the light. Jund could beat the field that was light on combo and heavy on opposing non-red Deathrite Shaman decks.

The advantage Jund holds over BUG stems from a multitude of important deckbuilding decisions. The inclusion of a one-mana removal spell that is both good and kills Deathrite Shaman is the biggest of all of them, though. Yes, BUG could have played Dismember or Disfigure or Deathmark in the sideboard, but Lightning Bolt, as ever, is perfectly suited for the job with what amounts to essentially no downside. I would talk more about how the matchup plays out, but without anyone really succeeding with BUG in any form right now, it seems like a waste.

The last piece of the puzzle for me was RUG Delver. Regardless of how favorable conditions might be for the deck, people always seem to play it. I don’t know if this is because of the cost of Legacy and this is the deck these people have, or if they just legitimately think it can always compete, or pride, or all of it. Well, I can tell you that with Jund I was always hoping to play against RUG Delver. Luckily for me, I got paired against it in some of the most important rounds of the tournament!

The matchup should feel pretty dominant from the Jund side of the table barring no catastrophes. You should, as the Jund player, never let Insectile Aberration live. That means playing around Daze with your removal and slowing yourself down in order to slow them down. The late game is super favorable for you. Be happy to trade Dark Confidants off or chump with them after they’ve drawn you a card assuming your Deathrite Shaman is dead, as you can lose to their burn if you aren’t careful. Otherwise, try to fetch your basic lands and try not to play into Daze when it matters. Most of the time, setting them back a land drop isn’t going to hurt them as much as you may think.

I know you’re saying yes, that’s all well and good, but now people play Punishing Fire so your list is outdated. Well, I agree that the list I played may be outdated and agree that people are (or were) playing Punishing Fire, but that doesn’t mean my list is bad or that Punishing Fire is good.

There are matchups where you may think Punishing Fire is worthwhile, but it comes at quite a cost. The deck itself does not want the card Taiga in it except maybe one—and one is debatable—however, if you add Punishing Fire to the deck, you are now situated with the cost of playing more "Taigas" (Grove of the Burnwillows) just to play Punishing Fire. Once you start down this path, you realize that the cards you need to defend yourself from your harder matchups (combo decks) become increasingly difficult to cast.

How exactly can you cast Hymn to Tourach with a Grove of the Burnwillows? Well, yes, the answer is either Twilight Mire or Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth. Neither is particularly good, and, really, you don’t want to play either. You also lose out on either Wasteland or your basic lands because you need to keep your fetchland count high for Deathrite Shaman to be effective.

In order to defeat Punishing Fire in the mirror, you need to keep them off of Grove of the Burnwillows or present threats that do not die to Punishing Fire while simultaneously giving them no value from their Punishing Fires (do not activate Liliana, do not Hymn them, etc.). I would recommend adding [another?] Life from the Loam somewhere in order to combat their Punishing Fires. A constant stream of Wastelands should see you to victory assuming you don’t die to some large unanswered Tarmagoyfs, which means that perhaps additional spot removal is warranted. With something like Engineered Explosives, Perish, or Damnation, you can certainly craft a game around a sweeper when you’re Wastelanding them to death and they can only win with their creatures.

With Counterbalance winning the last two Legacy Opens [at the time of writing], I think Jund is poised to make a comeback, as both a natural enemy to Counterbalance / Miracles decks and as a natural predator to opposing Deathrite Shaman / Jace decks.

I’m going to leave you with a brief recap of the tournament as I played it along with how I sideboarded for each round. I played against twelve different decks in thirteen rounds, so there is a lot of information to be gleaned.

R4: Mirror Match (0-2, 3-1 overall)

For the first round after my byes, I was paired against Pat Cox, who I knew to be playing Jund and a similar list at that. I wasn’t thrilled to be playing a mirror match of a deck that I thought would be both underrepresented and unexpected, but here I was. He beat me game 1 when I had two lands in play and two cards in my hand and he had a Swamp and a Deathrite Shaman and was empty handed, but so be it.

I boarded in the Loam, the Jittes, and a Grudge. It’s possible I should have brought in a Nihil Spellbomb as well given that I was expecting him to have almost identical cards and it could catch his Loam or shrink his Goyfs at least, but I didn’t. I took out some discard and got demolished by some Tarmogoyfs after Wastelanding him several times and drawing the Loam—the Goyfs just kept coming. Sometimes that happens.

R5: High Tide (2-1, 4-1)

This round my opponent in game 1 cast a Time Spiral, and after we finished shuffling and drawing seven he played another High Tide. He then realized he hadn’t untapped six lands from the Time Spiral. I reminded him that it was a may and that he was now casting another spell so it seemed like the Spiral had resolved. He agreed and promptly beat me anyway.

Sideboarding against most combo decks is extremely easy with this deck, as you get to present a completely different deck against them. You get to take out all the red cards that make this deck so desirable to play in a field of small creatures and bring in Duress, Red Elemental Blast, Chains, and sometimes graveyard hate. It reminds me a lot of playing Caw-Blade after Pro Tour Paris, where against creature decks you were sideboarding into an essentially white deck but against other control decks you could easily present a primarily blue deck after game 1.

Games 2 and 3 were uneventful. He cast a Meditate in one of the games, and I won as a result. I never got Chains in play.

R6: RIP/Helm/Counterbalance/Top "Miracles" (2-0, 5-1)

Neither game was particularly close here. My opponent was a little inexperienced with his deck and made some technical blunders which helped me, but ultimately there was a moment of brief terror where he could have drawn Helm of Obedience or Enlightened Tutor to "steal" a win with his Rest in Peace already in play, but he didn’t and then I found a Decay, so there was nothing left to do but win.

It’s very hard to lose, and again you can sideboard out your bad spot removal for your good Duresses and REBs, although you do want to keep in Abrupt Decay in this particular matchup obviously. I would recommend instead removing some number of Tarmogoyfs since they are the least impressive of all your creatures, especially when even an answered Rest in Peace will cripple a Goyf for a while.

R7: Storm (2-1, 6-1)

The most interesting thing that happened to me perhaps all tournament happened here, when my opponent in game one stopped his Ad Nauseam at four life. I had already realized that he likely had no way to empty his now overflowing hand to get the hellbent he needed for Infernal Tutor, as he didn’t have another Lion’s Eye Diamond in play. He slowly pieced this together and without much shame cast another Ad Nauseam; he hit a one-drop, a land, and a Lion’s Eye Diamond and killed me without much difficulty.

Sideboarding was similar to the previous round; I took out as many Bolts, Decays, and Lavamancers as I could in order to fit in Duress, REB, and Spellbomb.

R8: Mono-Red Burn (0-2, 6-2)

I had to Hymn Pat when I knew he had Guerilla Tactics in his hand for game 2. That about sums it up. Ugh. I lost in short order. Neither game was close and a few things went wrong for me, but, really, this is not a good matchup. I took two mulligans in one game and only drew Wooded Foothills so I couldn’t fetch basic Swamp; obviously I died to Price of Progress and whatever else.

I brought in the Jittes and upgraded some Thoughtseizes to Duresses. I also took out Sylvan Library and crossed my fingers; it was all for naught, as I don’t think we played more than eight turns in the whole match.

R9: Zombies (2-1, 7-2)

Sam Black Zombie deck is an interesting matchup. It’s a very grindy deck, and your discard is heavily nullified in game 1 before you can side it out. Their best card, as ever, is Goblin Bombardment, and you can sort of deal with everything that’s going on as long as they don’t have an overwhelming advantage. You can kill their Shamans easier than they can kill yours, and indeed that’s what happened.

Game 1 still got away from me once he found another white source to cast his Lingering Souls that I had so carefully left in his hand by not using my Liliana at all one crucial turn. Both sideboard games were a lot easier when I wasn’t drawing Hymns and other useless discard. Jitte, Loam—since they have almost no basics—Spellbomb, and Engineered Plague were all welcome and made games 2 and 3 a lot easier to win.

R10: Affinity (2-1, 8-2)

This could have been a difficult match, but in game 3 my opponent did not hesitate to keep and simply played a turn 1 Pithing Needle on probably Deathrite Shaman. Well, his draw from that point was good but not spectacular (game 2 he cast two Thoughtcasts before I played a second land, and game 1 he started on five cards). I was able to easily win from there. Siding out Hymn to Tourach was a relief, and bringing in Jitte and Grudge as well as some REBs for his surprise Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and Master of Etherium made things very smooth.

R11: Elves (2-1, 9-2)

One large but hidden benefit of playing Jund is a natural advantage against a creature-combo deck like Elves. All your removal is good, Lavamancer is good—everything is just great. Wasteland happens to be great too once you can start killing their mana guys. Nothing too crazy can ever really go wrong unless they cast Natural Order, which of course is what happened game 2.

I also at some point in game 2 blocked a Nettle Sentinel with a Deathrite Shaman when I had an Engineered Plague on Elf in play. When he said no effects and said my guy was dead, I was crestfallen but gamely played on. In typical LSV fashion, he told me he made a similar mistake online, which made me feel a little better. I also drew a Jitte this game, but it did nothing due to a myriad of symbiotic creatures staring me down, which was frustrating, but after the match he confirmed he thought it was worth boarding in since if it ever does get counters it is likely game over.

If you find yourself playing against Elves and know they have Natural Order, it is likely correct to keep in some black discard, but otherwise you want to remove as much as you can in favor of Jittes and Plagues since the rest of your cards are very good in the matchup.

R12: Witchmaw Control (2-0, 10-2)

He started on six, and our decks just did what they do. His Plows made him better against my Shamans than traditional BUG with no one-drop removal, but not much. His four-color mana base made my Wastelands a nightmare, and nothing too interesting happened. I boarded in Chains incorrectly for game 2, but it made a lot of his cards terrible, which was enough to win.

I felt like I could have boarded in most of my sideboard cards for this matchup since he had blue cards, Lingering Souls, equipment, and small utility creatures, but in the end, I was not punished for my incorrect sideboarding. I don’t know what I’d recommend should that deck resurface. I do not, however, think it can contend in a field of Wastelands, so I do not think it is a large concern.

R13 (2-1) and R14 (2-0) were both against RUG Delver, which was amazing for me because I had to win both rounds to make Top 8. No interesting games were played; nothing funny happened other than a Dark Confidant revealing a Bloodbraid Elf for me when anything that cost less than four in that spot would have likely won me a very close game 1 in round 13. A few REBs, the Jittes, and a Loam are all you need to fight against these decks; Hymns, Thoughtseizes, and Sylvan are your biggest liabilities, so you should relegate them to the bench

In the Top 8, I faced a BUG Delver deck that had a lot of interesting things going for it, but every time he cast a Dismember and I cast a Lightning Bolt I was ahead four life, which matters a lot in a match like that. He admirably tried to Sinkhole me out of game 3 but it wasn’t enough. I believe that because the card Delver of Secrets is so strong in the decks in which it is played you probably want to always bring in a couple of Red Elemental Blasts to kill it, even if you don’t think they’ll be especially strong elsewhere in the matchup. I did that and brought in some Jittes and the Loam. I also took out a Hymn on the play and another on the draw because it is pretty slow and often getting behind on the board is too devastating, even if you would remove most of their resources from their hand in the exchange.

Finally, I lost in the Top 4 to Esper Stoneblade—a deck I hope to talk about in the coming weeks. I started on six in game 1 and lost to Jace. Game 2 was pretty one-sided, with me being weak to a sweeper that never materialized. Finally, a topdecked Perish in game 3 ended my hopes of a rematch in the finals. I do think the matchup is okay for Jund, but Jace is scary, their tools are seemingly on par with yours, Lingering Souls matches up nicely against Liliana, etc. Red Elemental Blast, Engineered Plague and maybe some combination of Ancient Grudge, Nihil Spellbomb, or Life from the Loam should all be considered for sideboarding. The second and third Hymn are pretty weak, as are some number of Goyfs when you know they have Perish and Relic.

In closing, I recommend playing Jund when the time is right. I think that time could be now, but you have to act fast. When Jund starts doing well, the mean-spirited combo players come out of the woodwork in droves…and we can talk about that next time.

Until then.