Reflecting Ruel – Naya versus Jund: The Naya Perspective

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Friday, April 16th – Olivier Ruel catches up on his Duel With Ruel commitments, rounding out last week’s matchup of Naya versus Jund. While Rise of the Eldrazi promises to rejuvenate the Standard format in a week’s time, there are eight-man queues to be won… so how does Knight of the Reliquary stand up against Jund?

In the current and soon-to-be-changing Standard metagame, this matchup may be the one I was the most curious about, ever since Antoine started this column. Ever since LSV managed to go 14-0 in San Diego with the deck, I’ve tried to understand what was so special about the build, and how it could be better than Jund. Original? Definitely. Interesting? Absolutely. But a solid alternative to Jund? I still had my doubts.

Preboard Impressions

I heard Nicholas Lambach had played against many Jund decks on his way to the Top 8 in GP: Brussels. Even though he ended up losing to a Jund deck, this should mean his deck is solid in the match up, so I’m going to go with it.

On the other side, Antoine is running the GP: Brussels champion Emmanuele Giusti’s deck.

The matchup should produce long games in which Ranger of Eos will play a key role, as it should be able to annihilate one of Jund’s biggest threats: Blightning. One of the keys to the matchup, which is hard to determine, is to know how much impact the equipment can have on the game. Anyway, my MVP, as far as maindeck is concerned, should be Knight of the Reliquary, as untapping with it seems to mean GG.

Preboard Games: 11-13 (48,83% win)

Score on the play: 6-6
Score on the draw: 5-7

The first key to the matchup were our early drops. If Antoine had Putrid Leech on turn 2, he would win almost every time. Not that the card is strong in the matchup, but it is the only efficient drop in the first two turns, which is the reason why it always gave Antoine the game’s tempo. Then, every single time I untapped with Knight of the Reliquary, I took the game. However, in order to do so, it is highly advised to have two lands in the graveyard so the Knight will be Bolt-proof. When you untap with it, don’t rush things and attack right away. Try and at least fetch Tectonic Edge and Stirring Wildwood before you do so.

I know I say this every time I’m speaking about Jund, but one of the keys against the deck is to play around Blightning. And in order to keep cards you’d like to discard in hand, what better way is there than to cast Ranger of Eos?

When casting Stoneforge Mystic, you’ll almost always go with Behemoth Sledge on the play, and a little more often with the hammer than with the Collar on the draw. To put it simply, Sledge is a lot stronger in the matchup, but it is yet another pretty expensive drop. As Naya’s mana is pretty bad (we’ll come back to that later), you sometimes feel like going with the cheapest option.

A huge difference between the decks comes from the impact that Bloodbraid Elf has on the game. When you often cascade into an irrelevant card (any one-drop basically), they will always catch something useful.

Even though the maindeck score is decent, I’m mostly worried about my deck. I mean, the card synergy is pretty good, and Naya has a lot of cards to disrupt most decks in the format (including Jund), but it often loses one turn to any other Standard deck for having trouble gathering its mana. Sincerely, I felt like I was blessed to draw such a good mana mix during the 50 games we played. You only have 8 ways to get Green mana on turn 1, but 10 Green one-drops! I know Wild Nacatl is more of a support card which is there to be tutored by Ranger of Eos, but still, how can you try and accelerate your mana when you often won’t be able to cast Birds or Hierarch before turn 2? Then how can your mana rely so much on those small guys when the most popukar deck in the format can kill them so easily?

Here’s a typical example of a hand I was opening with:

Ranger of Eos, Ajani Vengeant, 2 Arid Mesa, Tectonic Edge, Misty Rainforest, Lightning Bolt

Three spells, all the right lands, and still the impression I must topdeck to win.

Here’s another one:

Terramorphic Expanse, Plains, Noble Hierarch, Knight of the Reliquary, 2 Bloodbraid Elf, Behemoth Sledge

On turn 1 I’ll have to play Expanse for Forest, then hope to draw a Mountain fast, or pray for Knight of the Reliquary to survive. Also, if my Hierarch (which won’t accelerate my mana much) is killed, I’ll be in so much trouble.

I kept both hands as odds seemed to be in my favor, but still, those kind of hands remind me of a Limited deck, when you need to topdeck all the time. Luckily I did topdeck a lot, but this is just not the way a Constructed deck should be. Also, I managed to play Hierarch on turn 1 a ridiculous number of times, and the 11-13 score seemed great for me, as 10-14 or 9-15 would have been more accurate.

Postboard Impressions

-1 Path to Exile
-1 Ajani Vengeant
-1 Wild Nacatl
-1 Basilisk Collar (on the play)
+2 Dauntless Escort
+1 Behemoth Sledge (on the play)
+1 Baneslayer Angel

As I’m expecting Antoine to board in more removal and probably cut Blightning, I decided to simply bring in a few more targets for them. As Deathmark should give him tempo, and as card advantage is likely to be on his side anyway, I should probably try and focus on getting a big guy to survive and swing in. First, I took out 2 Ajani and kept all the Wild Nacatls, but as the kitty doesn’t do much but be fetchable through Ranger of Eos, I don’t really ever want to draw it, and a Planeswalker seems a little better. Finally, I don’t like Path as it accelerates into the very annoying Broodmate Dragon. As I’ve been testing several White decks against Jund, I feel bad about this. Once Jund gets the tempo (which Deathmark should provide), it is very hard to stop.

Postboard Games 7-19 (26.92%)

Score on the play: 4-9
Score on the draw: 3-10

I’ve had a very, very, very hard time after board. At first, when keeping many hands which looked like those I showed above, I wouldn’t topdeck well and would often lose because of it. It was nothing to complain about, as it’s nothing but normal that the deck with the strongest mana wins games thanks to its stability. Not only was I losing as far as mana was concerned, but I was also down through tempo and card advantage. I surely expected to be facing Deathmark and Terminate… but Jund Charm? The card is a blowout. It instantly wins pretty much all the time, as Nacatl is rarely a 3/3. Also, if you add a Bolt to it, you’ll be able to deal with any of my big guys.

Knight of the Reliquary is now a card for which he has three times as many answers than I have copies in my deck. So much for my MVP.

Still, I had the feeling something was wrong. If the deck was so bad against Jund but still pretending to do well, I had probably been wrong about sideboarding. I mean, could it really have no relevant card against the strongest deck in the format? The only apparent option would have been Cunning Sparkmage. But even if I had gathered an unlikely combo with the Collar, what would I have killed? The problem in the matchup doesn’t come from Jund’s guys, but from his removal. Also, if the card was any good against Jund, it would be a nonsense not to run it in the main deck.

Possible Changes To Improve The Matchup

One possible change to the deck would be to play Naya Charm, maybe instead of Ajani. The card will definitely unlock some games in the maindeck. However, I’m still not fond of the card, as it seems worse than Ajani in pretty much any other matchup, and as the Charm’s impact would decrease a lot after boarding, when the staring contests are pretty rare.

More generally, it’s been quite a while since I last played with such a disappointing deck. Its mana is quite bad, and so is its synergy (cascade into blanks, not good enough mana to support the mana acceleration). Its aggressive power is almost entirely based on Knight of the Reliquary, and only the games against aggro decks seem encouraging. And Bant has so many ways to deal with the Sparkmage combo that you may not even beat that. If I had to give a piece of advice concerning Naya, it would simply be not to play it. The deck isn’t bad, but it’s far from enough in a format in which the dominant deck seems strictly better, both in general and in this specific matchup.

Of course, tomorrow is a new dawn, a fresh face of Standard coming closer with Rise of the Eldrazi. Let’s hope the format is given a might shake by the tail.

Until next time…