Removed From Game – The Twelve Decks of Christmas #1

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Monday, December 28th – Put on your party hat, pull a cracker, and join Rich on a festive tour of a dozen decks in Standard. A great place for newer players to learn about the main components of Magic’s most popular Constructed format, with a deck a day for the next two weeks.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be bringing you a deck a day (with two on Fridays to tide you over the weekend.) If you’re already a regular part of the Magic Online Standard community, there’s going to be very little for you here. Go find your festive cheer elsewhere. This bite-size series is aimed primarily at those who are taking their first steps into the world of Standard. It’s for the people who don’t always understand why particular cards go in particular decks, and it’s certainly for people who would like to start making their own decks work better and can’t understand why they keep losing in the tournament practice room.

There are easily twenty decks I could have chosen to showcase the world of Standard, which is generally considered to be less than fabulous right now. See, I’m not trying to bring you the deck that’s going to 4-0 your next Premier event. Whilst every one of the twelve decks has some Magic Online pedigree, it isn’t news that Jund is the most prominent and the most successful deck. However, there are many delightful niche strategies that highlight ways we might build decks in the future, and it’s this wide variety of approaches I’m looking to shine the spotlight on.

There are decks for all tastes, but what are you meant to do with them? Well, my ideal scenario involves you having access to all the cards in Standard on Magic Online, and I realize that may not be possible for many of you. However, I’m prepared to wager that at least some of you have friends, and that some of them may know someone who’s prepared to loan you a deck for a couple of hours.

The truth is that writers can tell you all sorts of good information about a deck, but nothing accelerates the learning curve quicker than taking the deck out for a spin, and seeing exactly what it does in the heat of battle. So, even if you don’t think of yourself as someone who would ever play a certain type of deck, sleeve it up and go fight in the tournament practice room for a while. It’s the perfect environment to get things wrong without penalty, and see lots of the decks in action played by living breathing idiots just like you.

Christmas is a time for family, and there’s an online family of deckbuilders in urgent need of you to come play. So enjoy our wander through Standard, featuring the full spread of Aggro, Control, Mid-Range, and Combo, one deck at a time…

The First Deck of Christmas: Jund

It will surprise approximately none of you that I’ve started with the defining deck of the format. Let’s get straight to it, with our sample list:

Let’s see what makes this deck so powerful.

Creatures — The first thing to notice about the creatures in Jund is that none of them are creatures. Pause. Read the sentence again. Still not making any sense? Well, on one level, you’ve a perfect right to be confused, since anything with power and toughness is indeed a creature. Where I’m heading with this is that at the heart of deckbuilding is the idea of function. That is to say, what each card is there to do. There will be times it does other things, but it’s important to understand the jobs we’re looking for each card to do, and one of the things that makes Jund so difficult to deal with is that its creatures don’t follow the rules.

Creatures have summoning sickness, but Bloodbraid Elf has haste. That means that it can have multiple functions. Sometimes, it will behave as an expensive burn spell, costing you four mana and doing three damage to a tapped-out opponent before they untap and kill it somehow. Sometimes, it will be effectively countered. That might be via an actual counterspell, such as Double Negative or Flashfreeze or Essence Scatter. It might also be ‘virtually’ countered by an instant-speed removal spell like the ubiquitous Lightning Bolt. In either of these ‘countering’ cases, you’ve traded one-for-one, your Bloodbraid Elf for their card.

However, Bloodbraid Elf has card advantage built in via the awesome mechanic of Cascade. Even if the Bloodbraid itself is dealt with one-for-one, the Cascade ability will net you something useful most of the time. Your Cascade options are:

4 Sprouting Thrinax
4 Blightning
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Terminate
4 Trace Of Abundance

Nine of these cards represent point removal, and Maelstrom Pulse can wreak havoc with an opposing board of either tokens or multiple copies of something like Goblin Guide coming out quickly from a rush deck. Blightning both deals damage to the face and forces a discard of two cards, which for no mana is frankly unfair, which is exactly what we want to accomplish at all times. Trace Of Abundance might be the only ‘disappointing’ Cascade, but that can still be useful to deposit on a vulnerable non-basic land if your opponent is running Goblin Ruinblaster, or just to have a bit more mana next turn.

Our next creature is Broodmate Dragon. Why would I say this isn’t a creature? Well, because it’s two creatures! Utterly fundamental to Magic is the idea that a creature is synonymous with a card. You cast that creature spell, the creature enters play, and sometime later it dies. Inherently, card advantage only accrued through what creatures did, not what they were. You might have to double block them, and hand away a two-for-one. You might need two sets of damage to kill them, and do the same. Basically, though, no matter how good the creature was, it was still just one monster that cost an entire card to cast, and often one card to remove. Broodmate Dragon breaks that rule, by creating two 4/4 flyers. Now, even the most efficient Terminate can’t kill both halves at once.

Our next ‘creature that isn’t’ is Siege-Gang Commander. Just like Broodmate Dragon, it ‘explodes’ when it enters the battlefield, spreading itself out to end up as a 2/2 with three 1/1s as backup. If you’ve never played with this guy, Magic Online really does illustrate this point perfectly. You click Siege-Gang in your hand, and suddenly (BANG!) your screen is full of useful Goblins. Of course, the really powerful bit about Siege-Gang Commander is that provided you have mana available, each of those Goblins becomes a source of point damage, either as removal or as direct to the faceness.

If you ever want to know whether your opponent is holding Lightning Bolt, try casting this. Unless they’re about to kill you, they will bolt the Siege-Gang every time, with the trigger for the three 1/1s still on the stack, meaning they never get the chance to get sacrificed for gain. When someone casts one against you, this is overwhelmingly likely to be your correct play. Get it dead.

Our final Jund ‘creature’ is Sprouting Thrinax. Once again, it has the capacity to be more than just a 3/3. Killing it sends out little porcupine tendrils of 1/1s onto the battlefield. On the one hand, it’s miserable that you have to wait until it dies for your bonus guys, but its function is really important. Against point removal, it shines, since a Lightning Bolt does essentially nothing. Against mass removal, it shines. Day Of Judgment may well tap out your opponent, but you’ve still got three guys ready to hit with next turn. Against an opposing onslaught, it shines. You put this in front of their biggest threat, and suddenly you have three more blockers ready for the next go-round.

Compared to the creatures, the spells in the deck are individually disappointing, in that you rarely feel like you’re being unfair when you cast them. Every man, woman, and dog, has access to Lightning Bolt, so the fact that it deals three damage with spectacular efficiency is irrelevant. It’s a bit like having a CD player in your car. Yes, it’s better than tape, but everyone has it, so stop trying to think you’re big or clever.

Terminate and Maelstrom Pulse are similarly high-calibre but unremarkable spells, although we’ve already noted the potential for card advantage from the Pulse. The only time Blightning won’t be too exciting is when you’re on the defensive and your opponent has nothing in hand. At that point, three to the dome probably won’t help you much.

When these spells do come into their own is when you get them for nothing. Bituminous Blast is an expensive way to deal four damage, but Cascade ensures you get bang for your buck. This is a deck that allows for all sorts of nonsense:

You’re both on three life. They have both halves of a Broodmate Dragon. You have nothing. Of course, you’re wanting to draw a Lightning Bolt. Instead, you get Bituminous Blast. You shoot one half of the Broodmate, and Cascade into Bloodbraid Elf. This time, you Cascade into Maelstrom Pulse. That offs the other half of the Broodmate, and your Bloodbraid Elf hastily smashes in for victory. So, just to recap, that was killing eight toughness of flying killing machines, and dealing three damage with a creature still on board. For five mana.

That’s why Jund is so feared. Almost every card in the deck looks to break the conventional rules of the game, and huge swings in your fortunes can come out of nowhere via Cascade. The one note of caution when playing is to pay careful attention to your mana. Jund is well and truly three colors, and it may take you a bit of time to learn how to efficiently use your mana, and also how to protect it from the decks that look to punish a sketchy manabase.

So now, go put it together, and take it out for a spin. Tomorrow, we have a very, very quick deck indeed.

Until then, as ever, thanks for reading.