Just Play Jund

Ari makes a convincing case for why you should be playing Jund in Modern right now, lists the different builds of it, and highlights the pros and cons of each.

I’m going to preface this by saying that I haven’t played a match of Modern in about a month. That said, I’ve played and watched enough of most of these decks in the past to be sure of my opinions.

This past weekend (two weekends ago once this article is posted), Joe Bernal won a Pro Tour Qualifier with a new three-color Splinter Twin brew.

My snap reaction, straight from the mind of Ari Lax circa 2009:

"No lie, this deck makes me actually ill to look at. All offense intended."

To be fair, I may have gone over the top since it was Joe and I felt no offense would be taken. I also understand how Joe’s deck was good in the current metagame.

That doesn’t stop it from being bad. It’s the king of a format of bad decks.

People really don’t learn their lessons, do they?

One person who learned their lesson a while back is fellow StarCityGames.com columnist Brian DeMars. After (or maybe even during) Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, we had a talk about how he was sick of losing to decks that were just playing better cards than his U/W midrange decks. Notably, he rattled off a lot of things from the Jund deck.

None of those cards was Bloodbraid Elf.

Deathrite Shaman. Dark Confidant. Tarmogoyf. Liliana of the Veil.

These were the cards Brian listed as overpowering him. Notice how all four of them are still legal.

You know what other cards are still legal? Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize. The single most legitimate complaint I heard about Jund was always based on how these cards make it almost impossible to profitably interact with them in the abstract. Regardless of what you are doing, they can just go discard spell, unbeatable two-drop, more good cards. This isn’t your bad discard deck of the past. Every other card in your deck is just good.

How are you expecting to match these cards in fair mirrors? Sphinx’s Revelation? You are aware that Thoughtseize is a card and that odds are Jund can apply enough pressure to make sure you have to cast your Revelation way too early. You need lands, Revelation, and spells, and watching Scapeshift against Jund has shown that Thoughtseize plus Liliana of the Veil is usually good enough to disrupt this combination. Your giant spell doesn’t even actually kill Jund. They get to keep playing!

What about all of these people playing random aggro decks? Do they remember why those decks were no longer considered viable in the first place? Yuuya Watanabe and Shuhei Nakamura dominated the Zoo decks at the Players Championship with Jund. Obviously, newer cards have added to the Stomping Ground aggro decks, but they still have the same fundamental issue. Jund kills their one-drop, plays a Goyf or Finks, and the Zoo deck can’t produce enough cards to deal the full 20 damage.

Back to Bernal’s combo deck: your deck is so piecemeal that a single Thoughtseize will end the game. Let’s take a peek. Oh, my hand can beat the combo? Take your attempt at interaction and easily win. My hand can’t beat it? Have fun trying to draw to your minimal outs. Old Twin would often beat Jund on percentages to rip out, and this deck has destroyed its margins there. No Serum Visions, no Sleight of Hand, no more eight pieces of either half of the combo.

Gifts almost has it right. Same with Grixis Delver. Both of them got the Deathrite Shaman plus discard memo, but they only exist because they were the lone footholds of that shell. How does Gifts expect to win a Deathrite Shaman mirror? How is Grixis Delver supposed to beat Tarmogoyf and Kitchen Finks when they are backed by all the same good cards that they are leaning on? Both of them were important glimpses back into reality. Zac Hill called Modern a format defined by powerful cards over powerful synergies, but Jund is just a step ahead on power level.

So, why now, when I’ve never played Jund in a Modern event? Why only once the deck has been hit by a banning am I all about it when I opted to not play it for a year?

The easiest way to put this: everyone’s deck is bad right now, and that’s what Jund beats. Even if Jund is a worse Jund than it was before, it’s still better than what people are trying to pass off as decks now.

Every time I decided to play not Jund in the past, this was not the case (bar the one Modern event I played and failed to cash). I carefully gauged Jund and put a lot of effort into attacking it from an angle that it was not well prepared for. Even then, I usually wasn’t an extreme favorite.

I started off in Modern playing Affinity. At that time, I viewed the viable metagame as Affinity plus hyper-linear Splinter Twin. Back then, Jund did not have Deathrite Shaman and was a significantly worse deck. Affinity was especially well angled at the deck with Etched Champion and Blood Moon against their previous level mana base, and Twin was just flipping coins on topdecking in time, which was good enough. This was the only time I felt like I was a heavy favorite against Jund, and that was because it was not optimized.

Since then, Affinity has lost a lot of ground due to Lingering Souls making Etched Champion the only relevant evasive creature, Abrupt Decay hitting Cranial Plating, and Deathrite Shaman making Blood Moon borderline blank. Twin has remained mostly the same; if you want to try to win a lot of weighted coin flips, the deck is a great choice if you keep it simple and just combo people.

I played a Bant midrange deck for one event after various fair decks started finding successful anti-Twin and anti-Affinity configurations. This was a bad Jund. Your threats were worse, and your cards more situational.

When I played Infect, the deck had significant edges against non-Jund decks as opposed to Jund’s more marginal edges while still coin flipping against Jund. When Lingering Souls came around and made Plague Stinger and Inkmoth Nexus into bad options, the deck ceased to be good.

With Pod, you were angling to make Lingering Souls, Kitchen Finks, and Bloodbraid Elf into irrelevant threats. That worked reasonably well, but you were soft to Thundermaw Hellkite and excessive cheap removal. Things moved on, and the deck got bad.

Now, we are in a place where there is too much interaction for any of the consistent fast combo decks because of the Hallowed Fountain decks but too much metagame variance to play one of them with all the situational blue answers. So just play Jund and have positive game against the field.

Of course, playing Jund requires building Jund. Within this, there are a lot of options. Here are the overarching categories I’ve been considering along with reasoning for each.

Aggro Jund

Pros: This list is much better against Eggs than the others, which is one of the actually bad matchups for this archetype. You can clock them very well on top of your discard, which means they have a much smaller window to redraw on their Lotus Bloom or Second Sunrise to combo after a Thoughtseize. The same applies to Tron.

(Aside: Eggs isn’t bad either. You are just admitting defeat to Splinter Twin before starting the event.)

Cons: This is not an "all good cards" Jund list. Putrid Leech is fairly low on the pure value scale. Against grindy decks like U/W/R, I would much rather be playing a ton of two for ones and not have more creatures that get Electrolyzed or Lightning Bolted if I try to make them into clocks.

Notes: I’m pretty sure that Bloodhall Ooze is awful. I watched jjflipped stream the PTQ where the card was first unveiled, and it did nothing almost every time. It has no immediate board impact and is not individually good. When part of the strength of Jund is being a good card pile, this is not what I want. I would consider looking back to the Cedric Phillips‘ innovation of Geralf’s Messenger, but if Ghor-Clan Rampager is very good, the mana might not work out for both at the same time. You can obviously produce RG and BBB in the same deck, but the problem will be that this deck will have issues bloodrushing Rampager while playing another spell and remaining mana efficient.

I really like the idea of Blightning in a list like this that maximizes both halves compared to normal Jund that isn’t the best at capitalizing on the three life.

Also, Terminate is probably one of the best removal spells. Killing a Celestial Colonnade is very important.

Classic Jund

Remove four Bloodbraid Elf and add one Kitchen Finks and some mix of Olivia Voldaren, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Batterskull. Maybe even one of each if you feel spicy.

Pros: This is a tested list. Generic four-drops are approximately the same as Bloodbraid Elf. You have maximum numbers on all the good cards.

Cons: This list is solid but not flawlessly tuned for the times. If you think you know what’s up, you can fiddle with some of the non-essential slots

Notes: Victim of Night also kills Celestial Colonnade. I would consider another Blood Crypt, but I’m slightly biased since Eric Froehlich specifically lost to me at Pro Tour Return to Ravnica because he only had two fetchable red sources.

Grafdigger’s Cage is a joke of a sideboard card. It’s the wrong graveyard hate against Eggs and Living End. Boarding it in against Snapcaster Mage or Pod is basically mulliganing against decks that are very able to play fair Magic and win games of attrition. It’s really only good against Goryo’s Vengeance and Gifts Ungiven for Unburial Rites. You obviously don’t want Relic of Progenitus because you are a Tarmogoyf deck, so if you must play graveyard hate I would try Tormod’s Crypt or reconsider your premise of "must play graveyard hate."

Bloodbraid Elf leaving also opens you up to playing a lot of previously unplayable cards, namely X spells. I’m not sure if there are any you want, but it’s always possible one exists.

White Jund

Pros: All of your cards are default awesome, similar to the Yuuya list. I also think Elspeth, Knight-Errant and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad are more universally powerful four-drops than Huntmaster of the Fells or Olivia Voldaren, especially against control. You also get real sideboard cards against Tron, Scapeshift, and Eggs between Aven Mindcensor and Stony Silence.

Cons: Lingering Souls is probably good right now, but it’s reasonably easy to angle against if it explodes into the metagame. Your four-drops are also better all-around but less situationally powerful, especially against aggro. Path to Exile also isn’t great in a format where decks have a ton of ways to use the extra mana (manlands, Sphinx’s Revelation), and the loss of Lightning Bolt likely makes you a bit softer to Zoo because you are less able to immediately halt their one-drops. You are also a bit soft to Rest in Peace and Relic of Progenitus as almost all of your threats have some graveyard interaction.

Notes: The mana fixing from Stirring Wildwood is an interesting tradeoff with Treetop Village costing one less to activate. Besides that, this is list very straightforward. Again, there’s a lot of wiggle room to metagame with this deck just like with the Yuuya list.

Blue Jund

Pros: Snapcaster Mage is a really good Magic card and mimics a lot of the functions of Bloodbraid Elf. The exception is when you are trying to double up on threats, but the ability to assuredly have a Shriekmaw or Mesmeric Fiend when you want a specific one of those is relevant.

Cons: Beyond Snapcaster Mage, I don’t really like any of the blue cards. All of the blue answers are counterspells, which are timing specific and reactive. This goes against the principle of all your cards being always good. There are good blue cards, but they are all heavy blue to cast: Vendilion Clique, Jace Beleren, and Cryptic Command. I don’t know if the mana can support it and wouldn’t trust it in the dark, but if it tests fine, then I have no arguments against "splashing" those cards. Snapcaster Mage also lines up with Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, and potential Kitchen Finks in being weak to Relic of Progenitus and Rest in Peace. Also, obviously this list of all singletons is quite loose. Fix that.

Notes: Go for the Throat and Smother also kill Celestial Colonnade. Duskmantle Seer flipping Karn Liberated against Tron also seems awesome, but that’s not a reliable outcome.

Hopefully, I’ve showcased the reasons to just be playing good cards for the end of this Modern season. Not only are all your cards insane, but you have access to a massive pool of options beyond the core of the deck. Just start your list with four Deathrite Shaman, four Tarmogoyf, four Dark Confidant, three Liliana of the Veil, and four cheap discard spells and it will be smooth sailing from there.