Sullivan Library – Digesting Standard’s Big Weekend

Visit the StarCityGames.com booth at Grand Prix Houston!
Tuesday, March 30th – The dust has settled over a record-breaking weekend for Standard competition, and it seems that Jund is still ridiculous. Adrian Sullivan examines the results from the StarCityGames.com Orlando Standard Open and Grand Prix: Brussels, and draws some interesting conclusions.

For a lot of people, Standard is an unpalatable mess. Jund runs too rampant, and it is being compared to the kinds of dominance that we used to see in other stifling formats, such as the hey-days of Affinity or Block Faeries (or High Tide, for you old fogies).

I’m not on of those people, exactly. For me, I don’t think of Jund as being insurmountable; it is simply a particularly potent kind of the castle, and it basically requires that your deck not ever forget it. Building decks that beat Jund is actually eminently doable; building decks that also can fight the rest of the field is a real challenge. I think part of the reason I’ve really been enjoying playing Red decks is the way that they can accomplish this task, though the “rest of the field” portion can sometimes fall at the waysides, depending on the metagame.

But neither am I a Jund apologist. Jund is aggravatingly good; it gets frustrating building decks that simply can’t compete with the sheer power of the deck, particularly when it is combined with a real ability to allow diversity. Sometimes, the margins with which you beat Jund are so slim that even a small change (the decision to forego Bituminous Blasts entirely and run 4 Maelstrom Pulse, or conversely, to run the full Blast package, and eschew Broodmates) can take your Jund win percentage and send it to the can. Some Jund apologists do try to make the argument that complaints about Jund are silly, because the deck isn’t nearly as absurd as some deck from long ago. This response is ridiculous to me, on par with a person bringing up the problems of racism today and someone saying, “Well, hey, at least there aren’t lynchings” or a person being upset at having their wallet stolen and someone saying, “Well, people have gotten murdered, ya know.”

I was really excited when Ding Yuan Leong took the whole event in Malaysia with his excellent Red-based aggressive deck.

It was a deck like this that I thought might win at least one of the events this last weekend, and I was sorely disappointed.

Here is the makeup of the combined Top 8s of Grand Prix: Brussels and the StarCityGames.com Orlando:

Jund — 10
Mythic — 3
Boss Naya — 2
Blue/White Control (counters) — 1

Yeah. I guess I’m glad that I didn’t actually make any bets on red.

The Dissenters

With a grand total of six players in both Top 8s not playing Jund, it is interesting to see just how homogenizing the rest of them are. Worth noting, Zvi Mowshowitz Mythic makes up half of the remainder of the non-Jund decks. Boss Naya puts in a finisher into each Top 8, and a somewhat-Chapinesque Blue/White Control deck also made its way in Orlando.

Here is finalist Zoltan Szoke’s list:

Both Szoke and fellow Mythic player, Tamas Nagy (who he vanquished in the semis) made the same claim about the Jund matchup that Zvi Mowshowitz has made: Mythic is just too aggressive for Jund and it is able to constantly drop relevant critters beyond Jund’s ability to handle it. Both decks, in essence, are naturally steeped in their role as Midrange Beatdown decks, but Mythic is just naturally better at it. This forces Jund into the choice of being the control deck. Jund can easily be built to take on a more controlling role (which still often makes it the beatdown in many matchups), but places it in the unfortunate position of needing to match Mythic card for card, and all before being just randomly killed!

Of course, when you read the finals of the Grand Prix, or the Mythic/Jund matchup in Orlando’s quarterfinals, you can see that this can absolutely happen. Sometimes, Jund can just overpower the relevant creatures, critter per critter with kill. In the Bryan Allen/Seth Allison matchup, I somewhat wonder if Seth wasn’t overly greedy with his Knight of the Reliquary, but, not being there, it is hard to tell.

Interestingly, the deck that is widely thought of to be the bane of Mythic, Boss Naya, was so overwhelmed by Jund that Mythic might have been a near-perfect choice for the metagame. Even if Mythic has an edge on Jund on the order of, say, 65/35 or so (or more, if you ask some people), it is still totally reasonable to lose to Jund on those odds.

Boss Naya, of course, is one of those strong Pro Tour decks like Mythic that just continue to shine. Amusingly, many Boss Naya players consider Jund to be their worst matchup. Perhaps this is true in a vacuum, but when you’re playing against real opponents, it is often the case that you aren’t getting optimal play out of them, and the weaknesses that the deck might have in the matchup could be, perhaps, overcome by player advantage. So it may have been in Orlando, when Charles Gindy, arguably (if not probably) the best player in the room took Boss Naya all the way to win.

There is nothing too extraordinary to this list. Perhaps what is most extraordinary is the sideboarding choice that Gindy went with in the finals. I haven’t played enough Boss Naya versus Jund to know, but most of the people I have spoken to about the matchup claim that you don’t want to be a Cunning Sparkmage/Basilisk Collar deck against Jund, because it is too easy for them to break everything up. Gindy ignored this “common wisdom” and boarded them in.

Reading the coverage of the finals, it’s definitely a confirmation that Boss Naya is going to stay a real deck (despite a few voices to the contrary). If you have a likely skill advantage over a field, it can allow you to dodge the horror that is the Jund mirror, and the deck is incredibly strong in its own right. There is just something to be said about a deck that gets to run Bloodbraid Elf, Ranger of Eos, Baneslayer Angel, and Knight of the Reliquary.

The final deck to get into the Top 8 of either event was the Blue/White Control deck piloted by John Dean into the semifinals before being taken down by Gindy.

This deck clearly shares a lineage with Chapin’s deck. It turns the Celestial Purge and Iona into a pair of Baneslayer Angels, but essentially maintains the rest of the core that Chapin and company laid down for Pro Tour: San Diego.

This Top 8 is somewhat gratifying for me, in large part because it confirms the successes of the American innovators in San Diego. I’ve talked about the exemplary work of auteurs (so to speak) for that Pro Tour before, but it bears noting that decks from Zvi Mowshowitz, Patrick Chapin, and Tom “The Boss” Ross are still succeeding in a hostile environment, even after their secrets are out of the bag. Kudos, guys.

Variance in the Mainstream

And then there is the mainstream: Jund. Tried and true, with a core of iron, this deck has just always seemed like it is going to be a factor since Lorwyn rotated out and took away its slew of ridiculous cards.

Of course, there are a lot of ways that a Jund deck can be built. If we look at the top decks from Brussels and the top decks from Orlando, we can get a sense of what makes up the various forms of the deck.

Here are my notes from those Top 8 Jund lists, transcribed for your reading pleasure:


1 — 27+0+2GW (6) / 3BD
4 — 25+2RG+2GW (6) / 2BD, 3BB
6 — 27+0+0 (6) / 2 BD, 4BB
7 — 26+0+0 (4) / 1BB, 3 Nighthawk
8 — 27+0+2GW (5) / 1BD, 1BB

SCG Open

2 — 26+2RG+2GW (5) / 1BD, 2BB
4 — 28+0+2GW (7) / 3BD, 2BB
6 — 25+0+2GW (3) / 3BD, 2BB
7 — 25+0+0 (5) / 2BD, 3BB
8 — 26+0+0 (3) / 2BD, 2BB, 4 Visionary

The first section is a discussion of the mana of each deck:
Land + Acceleration + Garruk Wildspeaker (Man-land count)

The second section discusses one of the highest questions of variance in the deck:
BD = Broodmate Dragons
BB = Bituminous Blast
[text] = Unusual Card Choice

What we can see is that there is a split, now, with what is popular in the archetype. For a while, there, it looked as if Pro Tour: San Diego Champion Simon Görtzen was going to be the go-to guy when it came to Jund. This meant a deck with no Bituminous Blast, a decision to run both Leech and Rampant Growth, and use of Garruk Wildspeaker.

Now, things are fractured. The decision to run Putrid Leech looks like it has been completely solidified: everyone is running it now, and the question isn’t whether you run it or Putrid Leech, but now it is rather if you run it in addition to Putrid Leech. Even in a Jund-heavy world, in which Leech is supposed to (according to some accounts) be a liability, the fact remains that Leech draws sometimes just automatically win you games. This is one of the only places where there has been massive agreement.

It appears as though most players have again returned to no Rampant Growth. Garruk Wildspeaker is in a near-even split (though it tends to be correlated to a higher finish). Broodmate Dragon is back in all of the lists, though sometimes it is only a single copy. Unlike the San Diego Champion, most people seem to have returned to Bituminous Blast (though Grand Prix Brussels Champion Emanuele Giusti ran zero). “About six” seems to continue to be the answer to the man-land question. And, perhaps spurred on by concerns of Red decks, Francesco Cipolleschi managed to find room for some Vampire Nighthawks in the main of his Jund.

There is both a lot of information here, and a little. The sense I get from all of this is that it is better to play a Jund deck without explicit mana ramp, but with a high land count, including about six man-lands and Garruk. Broodmate Dragon is still very important, and I should expect to run a lot of elimination spells of some variety (though the jury is still somewhat out on Bituminous Blast).

Sadly, if you’re a Jund-lover, this is a lot less hand-holding than maybe you’re looking for. A part of the problem is that the metagame continues to be very dynamic, in its own way. Even if a particular flavor of Jund becomes more played, it can virtually demand that other builds shift to accommodate it. Ultimately, the specific package that might make the most sense really is based upon small shifts in the metagame. Until Rise of the Eldrazi comes and shakes things up, I think we can expect to see these mini-shifts essentially give advantage to those players that are most practiced with their decks, and those players whose particular instants and sorceries are best selected for the day of the tourney.

One interesting side note is the results of the remainder of the top sixteen at Orlando: there was not a Jund deck in sight.

What this might mean is that they simply rose to the top over these lists. But it also speaks to the strength of other decks, as well: there still are a ton of great lists, they are just largely overshadowed by Jund. Here is a breakdown:

U/W Control — 2
Polymorph — 1
Burn — 1
Boss Naya — 1
White Weenie — 1
Bant — 1
Vampires — 1

Obviously, the most exciting of these lists has to be the deck piloted by Isaiah Ley, the Polymorph deck:

This is a really cool deck. Using Halimar Depths, Garruk, and Wind Zendikon to supply creatures to Polymorph, it protects them with Negate, Spell Pierce, and Vines of the Vastwood. The Polymorph will then fetch up an Iona, Shield of Emeria, a card that will often just spell doom all on its own. Progenitus and Sphinx of the Steel Wind show up in the sideboard to bring a different kind of pain to the right opponent.

I haven’t played against this deck yet, but it looks quite promising to me. I could easily see the deck just winning off of a Garruk/Jace game plan if things either go down that path from happenstance, or if the deck is forced to, particularly after sideboarding. Kudos to Isaiah for his excellent finish as the top 8-2 player in the room — it’s a shame that none of them made it.

Personally, I’m excited about the possibilities of Rise of the Eldrazi in potentially shaking things up. So far, there is a little bit in Blue that has me smiling. As for the Eldrazi themselves, I’m really hoping that the Legendary Eldrazi aren’t going to be that great; I don’t relish the idea of them being a Mythic card to have to chase after if I want to be competitive. But we’ll see, I guess.

On a slightly different note, next week is my last PTQ attempt of the season. I’m working on all manner of things, but who knows, I wouldn’t be surprised if I’m casting Lava Spike. Hehe!

Until next week…

Adrian Sullivan