Sullivan Library – Thank You, Worlds, For The Standard Decks

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Thursday, November 26th – In today’s Sullivan Library, Adrian examines the top decks from the Standard portion of Worlds, including Turbo-Fog, AUS Control, and the all-powerful Jund. With States approaching fast, how can we gain an advantage in the current metagame?

I was definitely sad to have missed Worlds this year, even if, for the life of me, I don’t know how I could have fit it into my grad school schedule. I loved Rome the last time I was there. I built up new friendships with some awesome people (going out on the town with Richie Frangiosa can’t be beat), explored the city with old friends, and had a fabulous deck thanks to all of the hard work that Jacob, Zaid, and I put into it. It was one of those moments in gaming that really locked me into being a Magic player, probably, for life.

Worlds in Rome, from all of the accounts I’ve heard this year, sounds like it was a fabulous experience. It’s unsurprising that, as usual, Worlds also gives us somewhat of a new take on Standard. We were all definitely living in a world where Jund was the de facto king, even if there were some upstarts and usurpers on the horizon.

A part of the reason was simple: building a Jund deck to be particularly powerful was not that hard. Let’s look at a very typical shell to which many decks could be compared to:

Bloodbraid Elf
Broodmate Dragon
Sprouting Thrinax
Bituminous Blast
Garruk Wildspeaker
Maelstrom Pulse

Putrid Leech
Lightning Bolt
Resounding Thunder

Things in this $5K winning list from Philadelphia are basically pretty direct. He is playing 23 cards that are solid to powerful in their own right, but also directly supply card advantage. He is playing 12 otherwise strong to super-powerful cards that are simply efficient and good. The “worst” card in this list is Resounding Thunder, which really is just an analog to any old creature kill spell.

The deck is going to pay out reasonably similar every game. It’s going to generally gain card advantage on any opponent, and most non-Bloodbraid permanents it drops are going to be more significant than its opponents. It is going to have copious removal for the best permanents that do hit the table. And it has Blightning, the one card that really makes this deck. Blightning, the card which tears away victories again and again.

The controversial Cedric Phillips article, “Jund Stinks”, took a hard line position on the deck. Maybe you can guess what it was? Cedric, in many ways, was articulating what other writers before him had said, albeit more hyperbolically*. PVDDR, for example, has said something quite similar earlier in the season when analyzing the Philly decklists: these decks weren’t good, he claimed, because they didn’t take advantage of the new possibilities in the environment.

So, the question becomes, did Worlds give us a real sense of this or not?

Let’s look at the breakdown of the top decks, in order of finish, in the Swiss:

1 — Calafell, Joel [ESP] — 18 — TURBOFOG
2 — Lybaert, Marijn [BEL] — 18 — JUND
3 — Antonenko, Alexey [UKR] — 18 — VAMPIRES
4 — Kim, Cynic [KOR] — 18 — JUND
5 — Snepvangers, Bram [NLD] — 18 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER
6 — Reitbauer, David [AUT] — 18 — JUND
7 — Saitou, Tomoharu [JPN] — 18 — JUND (no Leech)
8 — Mihara, Makihito [JPN] — 15 — JUND (no Leech)
9 — Juza, Martin [CZE] — 15 — G/W BEATS (with Pulse)
10 — Cavaglieri, William [ITA] — 15 — WHITE TOKENS
11 — Albert, Camille-Olivie [FRA] — 15 — JUND (no Leech)
12 — Brozek, Petr [CZE] — 15 — BURN(w/White)
13 — Kearney, David [IRL] — 15 — W/G/u GOOD STUFF
14 — Sakai, Yoshitoki [JPN] — 15 — JUND
15 — Bucher, Manuel [CHE] — 15 — W/G TOKENS
16 — Vernikos, Constantin [GRC] — 15 — JUND
17 — Summereder, Philipp [AUT] — 15 — AUS CONTROL
18 — Wong, Weng Sheng [MYS] — 15 — NAYA BEATS
19 — Yurchick, Adam [USA] — 15 — NISSA GREEN
20 — Fortier, Remi [FRA] — 15 — JUND (no Leech)
21 — Rozhon, Benjamin [AUT] — 15 — AUS CONTROL
22 — Kjartansson, Halldór S [ISL] — 15 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER
23 — Yasooka, Shouta [JPN] — 15 — JUND
24 — da Rosa, Paulo Vitor [BRA] — 15 — JUND
25 — Racz, Csaba [HUN] — 15 — JUND
26 — de Graat, Julien [DEU] — 15 — W/G BEATS
27 — Jurkovic, Robert [SVK] — 15 — JUND
28 — Marr, Mat [USA] — 15 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER
29 — Ochoa, David [USA] — 15 — JUND (no Leech)
30 — Plinston, Andrew [NZL] — 15 — JUND (no Leech)
31 — Howard, David [USA] — 15 — BURN (Quenchable Fire)
32 — Sacher, Aj [USA] — 15 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER
33 — Locatelli, Simone [ITA] — 15 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER (+ Angel)
34 — Larsson, David [SWE] — 15 — BOROS BUSHWHACKER
35 — Kucukcaglayan, Cerag [TUR] — 15 — JUND
36 — Camara, Aristides [BRA] — 15 — JUND
37 — Woods, Conley [USA] — 15 — MAGICAL XMASLAND
38 — Shomer, Asaf [ISR] — 15 — JUND
39 — Haroun, Seraj [ZAF] — 15 — Boros + Gear
40 — Monbailly, Olivier [FRA] — 15 — JUND
41 — Govedarov, Ivan [BGR] — 15 — JUND (Leech + Nighthawk)
42 — Ishimura, Shintarou [JPN] — 15 — 44.44%
43 — Elfgren, Bertil [SWE] — 15 — JUND

Ishimura’s list was the only one with 15+ points not posted at the Wizards site. Looking at the other Japanese players’ lists, it seems reasonable to conclude that he also played Jund.

Here are our deck counts:

43 players, 15+ points

Jund: 22 (6 without Putrid Leech)
Boros: 7
AUS Control: 2
Bant: 2
Green/White: 1
Naya: 1
Junk: 1
Nissa: 1
White Tokens: 1
Vampires: 1
Turbo Fog: 1
MonoRed: 1
Red/White: 1
Magic Xmas: 1

With 409 players, 10.5% of the players finished with 15+ points. Quick note on the Green/White lists: I’m making certain other assumptions about how classifications were determined)… So, how did the decks do compared to this standard? How many players of any particular archetype got to this record?

Magic Xmas: 100%
Red/White: 50%
Turbo Fog: 50%
White Tokens: 50%
Burn: 28.6%
Vampires: 25%
AUS Control: 25%
Mono-Red: 16.7%
Jund: 15.4%
Green/White: 12.5%
Boros: 11.3%
Average Player: 10.5%
Naya: 7.7%
Bant: 6.1%
Nissa Monument: 3.2%
Junk: 2.6%

Of course, this is a bit misleading. The magical power of standard deviation rears up its ugly head. With only Conley Woods playing Magical Christmasland, we can hardly take his lone performance as an indication of how good his archetype is. It might be the best thing in the format, or it might be merely okay.

If we limit our choices to only those archetypes which had a 2% representation in the field or better (356 players), we get the following:

AUS Control: 25%
Jund: 15.4%
Green/White: 12.5%
Boros: 11.3%
Average Player: 10.5%
Naya: 7.7%
Bant: 6.1%
Nissa Monument: 3.2%
Junk: 2.6%
Dredge: 0%
Four-Color Control: 0%

The specter of standard deviation still rears its ugly head, of course, in the top finisher. A slight change in its 8 players’ results would have scuttled it down to 12.5%, and that is the problem with such a small sample.

Often, when a control deck is made out of the ol’ Red, White, and Blue, some reference in the deck name refers to the USA happens. Well, only eight players played a Red, White, and Blue Control deck. The two of them, though, that finished at 15 points were both from Austria, and one was from of the Austrian National Team, and they played the exact 75 cards. You can call it what you want, but I’m going to call their deck “The Governator.”

The Governator — from Austria, but sporting the ol’ Red, White, and Blue.

I’m not going to lie: this list looks super pretty. When you read about Benedikt Klauser’s Team Finals game against China, you really get a sense of how it is just sculpted to take out Jund. (Crazy aside: 4 Chinese players showed up in Rome, and that was enough to win the whole thing. Take that, USA, Japan, and Europe?). Basically, The Governator is just a classic Blue/White Control deck, but held together by a smidge of Red simply because the deck has to to make it all work. It needs the “better” Wrath in Earthquake, it needs the Lightning Bolts, it needs the Vengeant, and it needs the Double Negative. Current Wisconsin State Champion (and early Crypt enthusiast) Collin LaFleur was definitely trying to make something that I’d imagine would have ended up looking like this list. If you’re looking for a counterspell deck, this is a great place to start.

In a similar vein, we see another Jund smasher out of Joel Calafell. If you look at his Opponent’s Match Win percentage, no one had a harder day of opponents than him, other than Thailand National Team Member Techarattanaprasert. In fact, his OMW% is head and shoulders above the other undefeated players, making him the solid #1 in the Swiss.

Where The Governator fights Jund pound for pound, basically choosing to slug it out face-to-face, Jacerator (or Turbo-Fog) decides to simply dodge the fight entirely. Jund shows up behind the gymnasium ready to fight, and Turbo-Fog has recorded the conversation on its iPhone, and is showing the assistant principal what happened. Strange how Jund ends up on the losing end of this one!

Most interestingly, it shares 4 Flashfreeze with The Governator. This is a clear signal that the deck expects that it will be good enough that it will be a near-hard counter in the metagame. With only 36 opponents in the tournament where it was dead, this isn’t too bad a guess. Against some opponents, like, say, Boros Bushwhacker, it might be a limited counter in a lot of ways, but it is still quite useful. Against Jund, it serves to counter almost anything.

Of course, a deck like Turbo-Fog is notoriously bad when it is asked to fight in ways it didn’t expect. When it plays its own game, it is a big shot, but if you get it into the wrong fight, it falls to pieces.

And, of course, there is the Enemy: Jund. Among the played archetypes, Jund clearly continued to show that it is a high performing deck. Usually when you see so many people play a deck, it really performs very close to average. For Jund, though, it performed about 50% better. That’s a shocking testament to just how good the deck is.

One of the big questions, of course, was raised by LSV: is Putrid Leech actually bad in Jund? Unfortunately, the data is not clear. At the 15+ point mark, 15 people played with Leech, 6 did not, (and then we have the probable but unknown possibility of Shintarou Ishamura). But, unfortunately, we have no idea how many people played which version of Jund to be able to tell which statistically performed better.

What we do know is that 3 players playing Jund with Leech achieved undefeated records, and 1 player without it did the same. When we do a little math, though, we would see that between 2.25 and 3 players, or so (depending on your method) should be in the running for undefeated records with Jund, so basically Jund is shooting ever so slightly better than par here. Seeing that many undefeated is, mathematically, about right. And unfortunately it doesn’t tell us whether to go with Leeches or not!

This is the top performing Jund list, played by Belgium’s own Harry Potter, Marijn Lybaert.

It goes a little larger than some, with 3 Garruk Wildspeaker and 3 Broodmate Dragon. Otherwise, the only innocuous feature is the single Borderland Ranger (personally I’d like to see 1-2 more, but I’m not sure where they belong). Interestingly, Lybaert eschews the Oran-Rief, the Vastwood that so many people have been moving to as of late.

The only non-Leech build to achieve an undefeated record was piloted by none other than Tomoharu Saito. The so-called “Japanese” build of the deck is noted for its choice to use Rampant Growth rather than Putrid Leech.

Like Lybaert, Saito choose to run only 2 Terminate and no Oran-Rief in the main, and shares much of the same shell. However, the Japanese player’s approach involves going big with four Broodmate Dragon and with three Siege-Gang Commander. Siege-Gang has always been a potent drop, but as Brian Kowal put it, “Siege-Gang Commander makes an incredible seven-drop”.

With an archetype like Jund, despite the core that holds it together, there is a huge amount of room to wiggle. If you look at all of the lists, you’ll see a smidge of different takes on the archetype. Ivan Govedarov, for example, managed to find room for 4 Vampire Nighthawk and 2 Chandra Nalaar in his 15-point build. Dave Ochoa and Andrew Plinston both played Master of the Wild Hunt builds like LSV’s configuration. David Reitbaur had Master, Burst Lightning, and Garruk. PVDDR found room for Great Sable Stag. There isn’t much room, but there is some space to play with.

I know I’m planning on poring over the data from Worlds again and again as I try to find a solution to Standard for States. Wish me luck.

Until next week…

Adrian Sullivan

* So, I didn’t agree with a lot of Cedric’s views on Jund, but I do agree with some of it. I definitely don’t think that Jund Stinks — it is simply too powerful to stink. I do agree, though, that Jund just kinda attacks and has Good Stuff. Where a lot of people are comparing Jund to The Rock, I have to say I think this comparison is wrong.

Rock-like decks have generally existed in three forms:

– Based off concepts of Sol Malka’s “The Rock and His Millions,” a mid-range control deck. This type of “answer” deck is often widely loathed by pros (except Jeroen Remie) for needing to have the right answer to the right question, and thus often being stuck with its pants down when the wrong question is asked. The Rock is often the exact archetype that makes people loathe midrange decks, and you can practically feel The Rock hate coming off of Cedric when he lashes out at Jund.
– Based off concepts of my “PT Junk,” a mid-range aggro deck. This type of deck is similar in some ways to The Rock, except that it is much more interested in ending the game quickly, though it can hang out for the long game. PT Junk decks usually have a small smattering of disruption to keep an opponent off-balance while they do a ton of damage in the meantime. Sometimes Junk, as an archetype, has moved into a Green/White aggressive mode, but it is still characterized by its ability to fight a long game, and distinguished from multi-color Stompy by its focus on interaction. Other decks like this include Joel Priest’s Snuff-O-Derm.
– Based off concepts of Senor Stompy creator Bill Macey’s “macey dot dec” (sometimes called “Aggro-Rock”), an aggressive Green/Black deck that puts down a serious curve, backing it up with powerful creature kill. Despite its name, a deck like Aggro-Loam (say, as played by Michael Jacob) is far closer to a Rock deck than to a macey dot dec, which usually makes a bum’s rush for the opponent’s throat.

I feel like Jund is in a similar family to these schools of decks, but is something significantly new enough to not easily be housed within them. If one insists on doing so, however, Rock strikes me as a poor choice; Junk is more appropriate.

Cedric’s big critique that I agree with is this:

Look at a typical game for Jund:

Put some lands into play.
Cast some creatures and removal.
Play some cascade cards.
Is that good enough? Yes/No/Maybe (circle one)

Here, I totally agree. It’s not exactly that Jund has no Plan B, but more that if things go awry, Jund often has no recourse. The thing is, in answer to “Is that good enough?” we usually will find ourselves saying “Yes”.

Nomenclature and hyperbolic attacks on the archetype aside, Cedric’s Five-Step Anti-Jund plan is a good one. Even if you disagree with his article’s title, I do think his suggestions about how to get the upper hand in that matchup are apt, and worth revisiting.


(As a final aside, a power outage hit just as I was getting ready to send this to the editor… If you’d like to amuse yourself with images of me walking around city streets in the rain trying to find a wireless signal, feel free…)