Sullivan Library – Sorting Through Standard Jund

The StarCityGames.com Open Series returns to Dallas/Fort Worth!
Thursday, January 7th – Last weekend, LSV won the StarCityGames.com Los Angeles Standard Open with a Jund-wrecking UWR Control build. So where does that leave the Jund pilot today? With the SCG Dallas / Fort Worth Open weekend mere days away, Adrian Sullivan examines the latest evolution of the deck we all love to hate…

One of my favorite features of the coverage from the tournament in Los Angeles this weekend had to be the video coverage that asked one question:

“How do you beat such a dominant strategy, and how does it compare historically to previous “best” decks?”

Of all of the people who answered the question, I definitely felt like Kibler and Matt Sperling had the best takes on the question. I particularly liked Sperling’s comment about Jund as not having as “oppressive a hold” on the format. LSV’s comment is also really telling, “It’s no Affinity.”

That doesn’t change the fact that it is omnipresent and powerful. I know that every time I think about the format, the biggest thing I want to do is ask myself how I’m going to beat Jund.

This question has been asked successfully a number of times. Richard Feldman recently seems to have answered the question with Brute Force Grixis. I spent a long while talking to Richard about this deck as he worked it through its many incarnations, unsuccessfully talking former Wisconsin State Champion Collin La Fleur into attempting to go back-to-back with Feldman creations by playing an older version of the deck. If Feldman had gotten it to the point where he eventually had it by the time he played it in Saint Louis, I’m pretty sure Collin would have strongly considered it. As it was, though, Richard hadn’t gotten it to the point, yet, where it was a honed Jund-smasher:

One of the amusing things about this list is its choice to play out just like an old-school Mono-Black Control list: break that, break that, break that, dump their hand, draw some cards, repeat. This tactic, to emulate the successful parts of the past, is a very valid way to try to compete against powerful strategies. It doesn’t mean that it will necessarily work, but it certainly helps give you good guidelines about whether or not the structural integrity of your deck is composed appropriately. Whether what you come to is powerful enough is another question.

This deck shares an important trait with the deck piloted to victory by LSV. LSV’s list is incredibly similar to the Austrian lists from Worlds (I dubbed those lists “The Governator”). It basically looks like LSV took the Spreading Seas in the board of The Governator and put them in along with a smidge of card draw in place of Day of Judgment and Oblivion Ring.

Both LSV and Feldman respect Jund enough to pile in the maindeck Spreading Seas to combat Jund’s notoriously unexciting mana. In fact, if you look at the two lists, you’ll see that they both share something important in common: they run a lot of card draw (to fight the power of Blightning), they run quick point removal, and they run some sweep. For a Jund deck that might be stumbling over Spreading Seas playing against a deck that is working to fight Blightning very actively, this combination might well be the key to being an effective weapon in the war.

Blightning, for those of us who have tested a lot against Jund, is definitely one of the most crushing aspects of the deck. You have your plan in mind, and then suddenly, you are just a step away from being able to implement that plan and your life total is that much closer to death. Often, the Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning is the thing that just ends you. Blightning, in the mirror, is often the definitive predictor of who is actually going to win the match.

If you go through all of the cards in Standard, fighting ways to fight Blightning is actually a huge chore. I spent a long while trying to make a Jund-Ramp deck, looking for all manner of ways to not make Blightning just destroy me. I added in my four Borderland Rangers as one means. Then I realized, “Gee, why the hell am I not playing Blightning?” Blightning is one of the few “anti-Blightning” cards out there, as are any card advantage cards that you can count on to immediately do their work.

A part of the reason that I’m sure that this deck found some success in such a competitive tournament has to be the Blightnings. If you look at all of the Jund lists in the Top 16, Blightning (along with Bloodbraid Elf and Sprouting Thrinax) is one of the only cards that all of the Jund players agreed upon running four copies of. Finding the room to fit it into a Vampire base (on the back of 12 semi-duals) is something that makes a lot of sense to me, much like finding the room to fit it into Boros also does. Anything to fight one of the strongest aspects of Jund.

Of course, in doing this trick, the Boros deck does make itself all the more vulnerable to having the problematic mana that so plagues Jund. A quick survey of all of the Jund lists in the Top 16 shows that their manabase is less dangerous than a lot of people seem to think it is, but that doesn’t change it from being somewhat slow.

Average Total Green Mana: 15.22
Average Total Red Mana: 13.89
Average Total Black Mana: 14.89

The smallest of them, Red, still runs more counts of that color producer than many decks choose to run for their secondary color (and that doesn’t even count the influence of Borderland Ranger).

Looking at the total of all of the lists, we see some interesting trends on the average counts:

Bloodbraid Elf — 4.00
Borderland Ranger — 0.89
Broodmate Dragon — 2.44
Elvish Visionary — 0.44
Great Sable Stag — 0.56
Master of the Wild Hunt — 0.56
Putrid Leech — 3.11
Sedraxis Specter — 0.44
Siege-gang Commander — 0.67
Sprouting Thrinax — 4.00

Bituminous Blast — 2.44
Burst Lightning — 0.78
Lightning Bolt — 3.56
Terminate — 2.22
Garruk Wildspeaker — 1.78
Blightning — 4.00
Maelstrom Pulse — 2.44
Rampant Growth/Trace of Abundance — 0.78
Eldrazi Monument — 0.22

Forest — 2.44
Island — 0.11
Mountain — 2.44
Swamp — 3.11
Akoum Refuge — 0.11
Crumbling Necropolis — 0.22
Dragonskull Summit — 3.33
Oran-rief, The Vastwood — 1.11
Rootbound Crag — 3.56
Savage Lands — 4.00
Scalding Tarn — 0.11
Terramorphic Expanse — 0.11
Verdant Catacombs — 4.00

TOTAL LAND — 24.67

Of course, going for the averages in this way is just a single step in trying to understand how an archetype approaches being successful. It’s clear if you look at the lists separately, there are a number of different philosophies that were employed by these successful pilots. Two of the lists eschewed Putrid Leech, on to be a Sedraxis-Jund (12th), and the other to play in the “Japanese” style with Siege-Gang Commander (10th). Other philosophies in the deck existed as well. Token-Jund was the most dramatic of these, but others were the small choices on whether to try to use Great Sable Stag, Borderland Ranger, heavier burn counts, or some other means to get an edge in the mirror.

If we were to try to find an amalgamated version of the list, it would probably look something like this:

4 Bloodbraid Elf
1 Borderland Ranger
2 Broodmate Dragon
4 Putrid Leech
4 Sprouting Thrinax
3 Bituminous Blast
4 Lightning Bolt
2 Terminate
2 Garruk Wildspeaker
4 Blightning
3 Maelstrom Pulse
2 Forest
2 Mountain
3 Swamp
3 Dragonskull Summit
1 Oran-rief, The Vastwood
4 Rootbound Crag
4 Savage Lands
4 Verdant Catacombs

Making an amalgamated list is a great tool for testing purposes, but I’d almost never suggest simply playing such an amalgamated list (let alone a list of mere averages). While I respect Frank Karsten a lot, I also know that when you make a list, you want that list to be strong in and of itself, and merely choosing a list because it is the average of successful lists of an archetype will mean that you are going to, essentially, be choosing a list that will be raising its average results, perhaps, but not really raising its results in the upper and lower reaches.

In game theory terms, there are numerous elements of your results that you can expect, before the proposition is carried out. You can attempt to maximize your maximum results (think the Hail Mary in football). You can attempt to maximize your minimum results (playing to make the worst situation as good as possible). I’ve written about the distinctions between these two approaches at length in the past. Or, you can attempt to maximize an average result. Of these choices, attempting to maximize the average result is actually a fairly low-return play in Magic (and most situations). Why? Because it is the least likely to turn losses into wins. The Hail Mary might not get there, but it can pull a win out of an untenable situation. Playing conservatively is the best way to protect a win. Maximizing your average return sounds good, but in practice, it just means that you’re going to win about the same amount, and not pick up any outliers. Boo.

It does have a great utility, though, for testing, where you can playtest against a deck that you know will perform more closely to the largest number of your opponents as possible. With a limited number of playtesting hours at anyone’s disposal, small shortcuts in playtesting can be incredibly valuable. In the case of the current metagame, it should be clear that you need to spend a great deal of time practicing against Jund.

With Jund representing 30% of the metagame, on average, we should have expected to see about two-to-three Jund decks in the Top 8, just based on numbers alone. Jund is on target, there. We should expect to see a total of about five copies of the list in the Top 16; here Jund greatly exceeds expectations with a total of nine copies.

I know that a lot of people look at these numbers with a great deal of alarm, but I’m not all that concerned. At the highest level, Jund only ever so-barely overperformed, and certainly within the margin expected (getting 2.4 copies of a deck into Top 8 is kinda hard). At the spot just below this, Jund really explodes. A quick glance at the top of the field begs the question: did the UWR-post Governator control decks just shove these other decks down? I’m guessing that this is very much the case. LSV beat three Jund on his way to Top 8, as did Jeff Huang. Matt Sperling was doing his part, too, beating three Jund decks on his path to the Top 8. While Sperling did lose to Jund in the Top 8, I’m guessing that he is still a favorite.

If these style decks are generally problematic for Jund, what is the answer?

If we look at the sideboarded games in the Top 8 for clues as to what LSV does, we know that he brings in several cards. Baneslayer Angel is one of them. I’d be willing to bet that some number of Mind Control come in versus Malakir Bloodwitch. Ultimately, if you read the coverage, it looks as though the basic plan for the UWR deck is to just try to stop the bleeding, draw cards, and drop something big and relevant.

A look at all of the sideboard cards employed by the winning decks is somewhat illuminating here. This modified list includes copy counts for cards that were played in some decks’ mains. In the case of Bituminous Blast and Terminate it is because these decks were included in nearly all lists, but some decks included more to buttress their abilities.

Goblin Ruinblaster — 3.00
Maelstrom Pulse — 2.67
Jund Charm — 2.56
Terminate — 2.56
Bituminous Blast — 2.56
Malakir Bloodwitch — 1.44
Great Sable Stag — 1.44
Mind Rot — 1.11
Duress — 1.00
Burst Lightning — 1.00
Dragon’s Claw — 0.78
Deathmark — 0.78
Pyroclasm — 0.56
Thought Hemorrhage — 0.33
Fleshbag Marauder — 0.33
Flashfreeze — 0.33
Slave of Bolas — 0.33
Grazing Gladehart — 0.22
Liliana Vess — 0.11
Unstable Footing — 0.11

Typically, I’m imagining that a number of people’s plans involve some combination of Goblin Ruinblaster, Malakir Bloodwitch, and discard of some kind. With the mini-bursts of card-draw, it almost feels like Goblin Ruinblaster, which requires RR to get the work done that you want it to be doing, is just not the appropriate critter to be putting into the fight.

At least one opponent attempted to use Jund Charm as a means to “grow” its creatures (presumably to push through Wall of Denial and survive Bolt/Ajani); this plan also seems pretty terrible.

To me, the clearest plan seems to be to fight the strengths of the deck: you know that they are going to be playing, after board, Spreading Seas, some number of Mind Control (if you have Bloodwitch), Baneslayer, and some number of Planeswalkers. Maxing out Maelstrom Pulse seems really significant here. Further, Malakir Bloodwitch also seems pretty dangerous to a typical opponent. With as problematic as UWR seems to be, I don’t have a problem with running four here. Duress, also, seems particularly good at fighting here.

Nearly everyone runs Goblin Ruinblaster for the mirror, certainly. You might still need to pack this card, but I think you absolutely need to lean on other cards more, if you want to win this difficult matchup. Here is one potential sideboard (to be paired with a Jund list running 3 maindeck Maelstrom Pulse):

1 Maelstrom Pulse
4 Malakir Bloodwitch
2 Mind Rot
3 Duress
3 Goblin Ruinblaster
2 Jund Charm

Boarding would go like this:

+1 Maelstrom Pulse
+4 Malakir Bloodwitch
+2 Mind Rot
+3 Duress
-2 Broodmate Dragon
-2 Terminate
-3 Bituminous Blast
-3 Lightning Bolt

It’s not like we’re excited to be taking out Bolt, but something has got to give. I’m pretty confident that you want to have everything else here more. Four Maelstrom Pulse seems necessary given the game plan your opponent is likely to send your way. You’re not excited by it either, but you do want to have ways to knock out Spreading Seas, Buffy the Baneslayer Angel, that Mind Control that might come in, or the Ajani Vengeant (and maybe the Jace). In an ideal world, you’d have four Duress for this matchup, but you also have to have the cards for your other matchups.

+2 Mind Rot
+3 Goblin Ruinblaster
-3 Maelstrom Pulse
-2 Lightning Bolt

Here, the switch is pretty simple: try to increase your two-for-ones while maintaining an aggressive stance.

Eldrazi Green
+1 Maelstrom Pulse
+3 Goblin Ruinblaster
+2 Mind Rot
-2 Broodmate Dragon
-2 Garruk Wildspeaker
-1 Bituminous Blast
-1 Putrid Leech

I could be crazy here with wanting Goblin Ruinblaster, but I find that Oran-Rief, The Vastwood is just such an important card in this matchup, I really just want to smash them as quickly as possible before their crappy Nissa’s Chosen become too difficult to deal with. If you think that Ruinblaster isn’t worth it, I recommend putting Bituminous Blast and Putrid Leech back in. Jund Charm might also be useful, but I’m not sure. I’ve done very little work on this matchup, so I’m mostly shooting from the hip.

+4 Malakir Bloodwitch
+2 Jund Charm
-3 Maelstrom Pulse
-2 Garruk Wildspeaker
-1 Bituminous Blast

Here, the choice is pretty simple: Jund Charm acts like a semi-Maelstrom Pulse. Shaving out the more expensive cards, other than Broodmate Dragon, you make room for the problematic Malakir Bloodwitch, which in addition to being a real b*tch of a card for all of their White cards, also grants that smidge of lifegain that can be a real help.

+2 Mind Rot
+2 Jund Charm
-2 Maelstrom Pulse
-2 Broodmate Dragon

Here, you just want to be a bit faster. Broodmate is simply too slow. Mind Rot can also read “Gain 7+ life”. Jund Charm works as a better kill spell against a deck that can just throw down a 6/1 so easily, or a pair of 3/1.

Turbo Fog
+1 Maelstrom Pulse
+3 Duress
+2 Mind Rot
+3 Goblin Ruinblaster
-2 Broodmate Dragon
-3 Bituminous Blast
-4 Lightning Bolt

Perhaps the most surprising choice here is the inclusion of Terminate over Lightning Bolt. So often, Turbo Fog has Buffy the Baneslayer Angel in the mix after sideboard, and having a solid answer to this is a good thing. This does weaken the Bloodbraid Elf a smidge, but it’s still well worth it, for this contingency, I think.

Overall, it’s clear that this deck is real, but it’s also clear that the metagame, as Matt Sperling said, is catching up to it. I know that Jund is a deck that I expect everyone will be pointing their guns at, and there are already two clear Blue-based decks that are very good against it. Given how long it has been since Blue has been any good, this in-and-of-itself is likely to be a draw for a huge number of people, further punishing the Jund player. If you’re planning on playing Jund anytime soon, you need to make sure you’re ready for this eventuality.

Until next week…

Adrian Sullivan