Reflecting Ruel – Catching Up With Oli: Standard Matchups

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Wednesday, March 31st – After missing a few articles in the past few weeks, Olivier Ruel plays catch-up. Today’s installment of Reflecting Ruel sees Oli present the information on White Weenie versus Jund and Jund versus UW Control from his brother Antoine’s series! With Nationals qualifiers fast approaching, Oli leads the way!

Today’s edition of Reflecting Ruel will be a little different special. As I couldn’t write an article two weeks ago, I was a little late on my obligations for Antoine’s Duel with Ruel’s column. Therefore, today you will find two articles inside of one, as I will analyze both the Jund versus UW matchup and the White Weenie versus Jund matchup.

UW versus Jund: The Jund Perspective

Preboard Impressions

I’ve heard that Gabriel Nassif and the other folk who played the deck consider the matchup pretty good. It doesn’t seem bad, but still, I have the feeling that UW has too many one-for-ones to overcome the cascade effect. Only a few cards (Mind Spring, Halimar Depths, Martial Coup) can give UW card advantage. This is quite a paradox, as UW is supposed to be the control mage. Therefore, I didn’t feel so scared by the match up.

Antoine’s deck:

My deck :

Preboard Games (16-8. A 66.67% win percentage)

I thought the matchup would be positive, but I didn’t expect it to be this good. To put it simply, UW tries to deal with your cards one by one, which is the worst strategy against Jund. Jund simply generates too many threats and card advantage for UW to follow up.

On the play, it is just close to impossible to lose. I won 11 of the 12 games I which I played first, and it felt right, as I have more aggression, more tempo, and more card advantage that UW. When I was on the draw, however, a card like Jace would become annoying, while it was just far too slow in the other half of the games. Also, his countermagic was suddenly coming at a better time, and Cancel was no longer a half-counterspell for a turn 4 Bloodbraid Elf. Games when Jund plays first are not close, while any game on the draw is pretty much 50/50. Out of those 8 games I lost, I put UW down to one or two life on three occasions, and almost won one on the draw despite not playing lands from turn 3 to 5.

The games are quite easy to play, and there are not so many plays to debate about, except how to play against Jace. The card may be a little annoying, but it is not as scary as it may seem, and you don’t necessarily have to kill it. With Bloodbraid Elf, Blightning, and Lightning Bolt, it is pretty easy to deal the finishing blow. Therefore, if you have guys and they have to play Day of Judgment or Martial Coup to clean the board, you should have a good window to finish them. Then if you can put them down to three life or so, or within reach of the cards you’re holding, don’t bother too much with the Mind Sculptor and just aim at the player.

Still concerning Jace: do not fetch a land you don’t need, as you will sometimes be glad to reshuffle after the planeswalker’s +2 ability.

Martial Coup is a card which is as annoying if you don’t play around it, as it is easy to deal with when you do. As you force him to clear the board pretty much every time you resolve a guy, don’t play a Broodmate Dragon when it’s not necessary. Most of the time, they will have to tap out for Martial Coup, so you’ll follow up with your dragon and they’ll be screwed. Even against some of the latest builds of the deck (which often feature four copies of the XWW removal spell), the plan will work most of the time, as Coup is the first card he’ll discard to Blightning if he has two in hand.

+ 3 Great Sable Stag
+ 1 Maelstrom Pulse
+ 2 Master of the Wild Hunt/Deathmark
+ 1 Pithing Needle
+ 2 Terminate
-2 Rampant Growth
-4 Lightning Bolt
-2 Sprouting Thrinax
-1 Siege-Gang Commander

UW’s Manlands can be annoying, and I expect them to bring in Baneslayer Angel. Therefore, I bring in Terminate, and a fourth Pulse to deal with the 5/5 as well as Jace. Master of the Wild Hunt is a bit expensive for the matchup, but it is still a pretty good answer to the annoying Kor Firewalker. I’ve also tried Deathmark for a few games, but the card was often disappointing, and the wolves’ master can force your opponent to use Wrath to one-for-one it. Still, when I come to think of it, I didn’t leave enough of a chance to Deathmark, but we’ll come back to that later. I cut the cards I don’t want to reveal with Bloodbraid Elf, as Lightning Bolt doesn’t shine so much here. Thrinax is quite decent, but it’s easily stopped by Firewalker and I can’t have too many three-drops. As it seemed a little worse than Great Sable Stag, running 2 and 3 seemed appropriate.

UW’s cheap counters from the sideboard should help them compensate for their lack of tempo, and they will often protect Baneslayer Angel, eventually giving them a card which can win games on its own. I have the feeling that games should be a lot closer.

Postboard Games (10-16. A 38.46% win percentage)

The matchup didn’t turn out to be closer… it was totally reversed. His early drops (Firewalkers and counters) didn’t balance the tempo; they totally reversed it. I think I made a mistake by not giving Deathmark enough of a chance, as the card was one of the very few cheap and relevant ones I could play. Maybe I should have played them for the Masters or a Siege-Gang Commander, but still, things were going wrong. Also, I had cards which would often remain useless (removal and red guys, mainly), and I felt my draws were much less relevant than his, and I was dependant on what he would play. This is exactly what usually happens to Jund’s opponents!

I know I mention the tempo angle a lot, but it is all Jund – and therefore this matchup —is concerned about. The player who develops the fastest can set up his game plan, while the one under pressure will focus more on stopping his opponent’s strategy rather than developing his own. Being able to play spells earlier than me obviously gave UW that tempo advantage but, more annoyingly, it gave him much more time to expand his gameplan. Anytime he played Kor Firewalker, I would have to answer with Maelstrom Pulse or Master of the Wild Hunt, and he was now almost always able to counter my three- and four-mana spells with two-mana counters. As a result, I often had to waste a removal spell on a two-mana guy and thus die to Baneslayer Angel, and Mind Spring was much more efficient when we played the games at Antoine’s pace.

Therefore, I logically performed pretty badly on the draw (4-9), but a little better on the play (6-7), mostly because of Putrid Leech. The card turned out to be my deck’s MVP after boarding. The games when I could resolve it on the play were the only few in which I could get that tempo back. Out of the eight games in which I resolved the Leech on turn 2, I won six. Any other time, things would get really hard for me.

The matchup is as easy in the maindeck as it is hard after boarding, and it should globally turn out to be 50-50, with a clear advantage to the player who wins the dice roll.

How to Improve the Deck in the Matchup

Manlands are really difficult for UW to handle. With many of the latest versions of the deck playing fewer Tectonic Edges, they win many games in the matchup. Jund also has a great advantage compared to some of the other decks in Standard: it can run Trace of Abundance. This Fertile Ground effect seems clearly better than Rampant Growth as, if you play it on a manland, it will win any game 1 on its own, and still have a huge impact in game 2. I think that a version using 3 or 4 of the enchantments should gain 10% in the matchup.

A pair of Doom Blades in the sideboard would help greatly in dealing with UW’s sideboard guys. Of course, it is a little more expensive and therefore less tempo-minded than Deathmark, but it can also kill Celestial Colonnade, which can’t be overlooked.

In case you’re not running Trace of Abundance, a second Pithing Needle could be pretty good too, for Edge and Jace. And the card would also be quite good against Naya’s Ajani, Manlands, and equipment.

White Weenie versus Jund: The White Weenie Perspective

Next up, Antoine and I tested Jund against White Weenie. As I was appointed to test the aggro deck, which I wasn’t very familiar with, I went though different decklists to pick the right one. I found two major styles of WW lists. The first was what I’ll call the Cavaglieri style lists. Based on tokens producers and Landfall, they are vulnerable to Maelstrom Pulse, but they’re less concerned about Path to Exile, and they have the best of Honor of the Pures. The second type is the equipment based deck. It seemed to me that the equipment searching would be quite slow against UW, good but not amazing versus Jund, and pretty great against everything else. As Jund, UW, and Naya are the three decks I expect to face the most, and as the equipment decks didn’t seem to shine against those, I went for the token version.

However, I came to realize after those 50 games that I had misunderstood one thing: Conqueror’s Pledge is not nearly as good as Baneslayer Angel. Not only did I realize Pledge was simply not good against Jund (I’ll come back to that later), Baneslayer Angel was also better against Mono Red and UW. Therefore, even though I’m about to analyze a matchup I played with a suboptimal version, I’ll bear in mind that the 5/5 should have made it in there, and I’ll consider the impact it would have had on the games.

Preboard Impressions

When you want to know how good a deck is against Jund, just ask people who run that deck what they think of the match up, then remove 10% and you should have the right score. It doesn’t make a doubt Jund is the best standard deck at the moment and people who don’t play the deck only do because they hate the concept of Cascade, and the fact they don’t manage to break the format. Therefore, it is often very hard for them (or should I say for us?) to remain objectives.

When you ask a WW mage what he thinks of the match up, he’ll tell you he should win it but he’s not a huge favorite. Therefore, I’ll expect something around 50/50. It will be important to see how often he has the right answers to my pro red and pro black guys in the early game, and if I can make Honor of the Pure touch the board, as it should both protect my creatures from some of the removals (Siege Gang Commander, Lightning Bolt), and help me finish him off before he has Broodmate Dragon.

Here are the lists Antoine and I have been running. At the moment we were playing, we didn’t know what was in each other’s deck or sideboard.

Preboard Games (14-10. A 58.33% win percentage)

The matchup surprisingly didn’t turn out to be about whoever played first. Indeed, we went 6-6 when I was on the play, but I won 8 out of 12 when on the draw. Two reasons can explain this. First, and no matter how aggressive I am, I mind Blightning a lot; the eighth card I open with when going second helps a lot when dealing with the discard spell. Second, there are two cards which make my chances a lot higher in the matchup, and I was drawing them both a lot more often on the draw: Steppe Lynx and Honor of the Pure.

The fact that I drew (too) many of them, and that Antoine had great trouble – if not too much trouble – dealing with the 0/1 probably affected the results we should have had. 13-11 or 12-12 would have seemed like a more appropriate score.

The most disappointing card happened to be, by far, Conqueror’s Pledge. To put it simply, whenever they play Blightning, you will most of the time have either 3 lands in play and 4 cards in hand, or 4 land and 2-3 cards in hand. In both cases, rarely will you want to keep the token generator, when even a fetch land can be safer (if you have Emeria Angel or Steppe Lynx). In the end, the card only won one game on its own. It’s true that I could have drawn more when the games were stalled, and therefore made better use of it, but the fact that a five mana card only won one game out of 24 speaks for itself. I didn’t have the feeling that Baneslayer would have been amazing here (the same Blightning problem), but it would still clearly have done a better job, and then a 14-10 score would have made more sense.

Brave the Elements was the other disappointing card in the matchup. It’s pretty easy to play around (as long as they play their removal at sorcery speed), and the games the card won where mainly late game topdecks. I mean, the card is still good, as it does save guys from removal, but it is still nothing extraordinary, and it’s often off-tempo.

It is important, when playing the matchup, to always play around Blightning. As Jund has all its cascade effects, it is often better to assume they will cast one Blightning per game. Then you should consider what would happen if he did from turn 3 until turn 5 or 6, and whether it is better not to play a spell in order to discard it and protect a better card on the following turns. Also, Kor Skyfisher is pretty good against the card, is it helps by bouncing a not so relevant permanent.

When you must play your removal, bear in mind that the most threatening card is not always the stronger card on paper, but the one White Knight, Kor Firewalker, or Brave the Elements will have the most trouble with.

One last thing concerning the matchup generalities, before I move on to the sideboard analysis: the starting hands. Mulligans hurt a lot, while being land flooded is not a problem at all. If you know for sure your opponent is playing Jund, then you should keep most five-landers.

+ 1 Celestial Purge
+ 4 Devout Lightcaster
+ 1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
+ 1 Oblivion Ring
-1 Emeria Angel
-4 Conqueror’s Pledge
-2 Ajani Goldmane

Ajani Goldmane is much too easy to deal handle, and Conqueror’s Pledge is, as I mentioned earlier, useless 90% of the time. I choose to cut an Emeria Angel, as the card’s value mostly depends on whether you draw Honor of the Pure or not. It may be more expensive than Celestial Purge, Oblivion Ring removes Master of the Wild Hunt and Garruk Wildspeaker, and Devout Lightcaster makes Putrid Leech and Sprouting Thrinax (if he keeps the 3/3 in) close to useless. Finally, Elspeth has done a great job in preboard games, giving me a huge advantage as far as tempo was concerned.

I would soon find out that Antoine had taken out every single one of his Black guys, making Lightcaster nothing but a bad White Knight, but I still chose to keep four of them in the deck. Indeed, in a tournament I would have expected my opponent to keep the annoying Broodmate Dragon and Putrid Leech, and I would probably not even have realized in a single match that he had not. Also, the card is pretty decent, and with 12 protection guys I had a new weapon.

Postboard Games (12-14. A 43.15% win percentage)

The “protection from” army was, indeed, one of my greatest weapons. Antoine would often be holding useless removal in hand, waiting for me to play creatures he could actually kill.

Another great weapon was that I had lowered my curve a lot, which meant Blightning was much less annoying, as I needed one land less to cast my spells, if not two. If I’d had Baneslayer Angel in the main, I would probably have kept a pair, bringing in only three Lightcasters, and sideboarding out one Brave the Elements.

How different would these games have been? Probably not much, as the score seemed accurate. The matchup was close but in my favor in the first 24 games we played, and Antoine was now a narrow favorite. The decks didn’t change much, but the only game breaker which had made it was on Antoine’s side: Master of the Wild Hunt. If you don’t have Oblivion Ring, you need a huge draw or Honor of the Pure and many guys to stand a chance. Even if it was still a card I could handle, it would still make the small difference which would take the matchup from slightly positive to slightly negative. Also, Antoine’s tempo got a lot better, as he now had cheap removal, and because he wouldn’t cascade into useless cards anymore.

Surprisingly, Malakir Bloodwitch was not that good. The card was okay, and it obviously won games, but it was nothing like broken in the matchup. When my plan is to swing and keep him from blocking anyway, the fact that his 4/4 can’t block eight of my guys make it a lot less annoying.

How to Improve the Deck in the Matchup

The first and obvious way is to remove Conqueror’s Pledge in the main deck. The card is just strictly worse than Baneslayer Angel. Ajani is pretty bad, when Elspeth is really good. You definitely want one more Elspeth and one fewer Ajani in this match, if not two, as Elspeth seems better in many matchups. Maybe would it also be good to have some Tectonic Edges. As the card is not so good against everything but it is very good agaisnt Jund, two in the main and two in the sideboard would be best.

Here is a version which should do better in the matchup without performing worse against everything else.

Have a great week!