After Ascending Pyromaniacally for several weeks, our hero (me) finally felt like it might be time to put the deck that I talked about the other week on the shelf. While certainly powerful and capable of completely degenerate draws — triple Ponder, Pyromancer’s Ascension comes to mind — the long and short of the matter is that the deck is just a little bit of a dog to Jund. The matchup is certainly not unwinnable; I would say that I’ve won about half of the matchups that I’ve played against “the best deck.” That statistic does not mean, however, that I would claim a 50% matchup against it. The matches I was winning revolved more often than not around the mistakes of my opponents. In the hands of a good pilot, Jund has all the tools to beat the deck I talked about in my seminal article: discard; hard-hitting, difficult-to-kill threats; card advantage packaged with tempo; and worst of all, a maindecked answer to Ascension. Jund is not the deck I want to face every round, but that was exactly what was happening both online and at FNM. So, with a tear in my eye, I hurled the deck into the corner of my room, where it sits, longing for the time when Jund is no longer the deck to beat.
So when I found out I had the opportunity to write articles, I was ecstatic… and yet somewhat worried. I had not only a truncated time period within which to write as my very first solicited article, as my deadline was only a few days away, but now I also had to come up with some brilliant topic on which to show my vast and unarguably correct knowledge. “What in the world am I going to write about?” I shouted constantly, drawing strange glances from whatever people happened to be walking innocently by. As luck would have it, my prayers were answered when I met a couple of new cats playing at an FNM this past Friday.
After the FNM, I went with my new best friends to their apartment, to participate in a late-night 3v3 draft. While waiting for the 6th man to arrive, we tested some Standard, particularly playing Boros against a GWb AngelSledge deck. The draft occurred, and after sweeping our opponents in the first two rounds, my triumphant teammate asked me if I was going to play in the nearby store’s Game Day the next day. Not wanting to battle uphill all day, I didn’t particularly feel up for playing the only deck I had built at the moment. I told him such, and he said that no one was playing the aforementioned Rock deck, and that if I wanted I was more than welcome to use it. It had a good matchup against Jund – he said – which we tested after the draft and, true to his word, it certainly felt much stronger than any other deck I had tested against Jund before. Being offered up a new and interesting deck that was supposedly designed with beating the most popular menace in the format seemed like a good thing to me. On top of it all, playing with this as-of-yet-hardly-talked-about deck seemed like a good way to sidekick my writer’s block into submission.
I woke groggy on Saturday morning, having decided it was in my best interest to MTGO draft at four in the morning when I got home. It turned out my Spidey Sense was on point, as I proceeded to crack a Lotus Cobra and draft a comically good RB deck that easily won the draft at a reasonable 6am. After I awoke, I expertly explained to my girlfriend why I needed to go play even more Magic: the Gathering rather than go Halloween costume shopping with her, but the length of the phone call left me in the position that I needed to literally sprint from the L station to the game store, as I was already cutting it close, and construction work on the track had the train moving at a brisk one mile per hour.
As I wheezed my way into the store, I was handed the deck, which needed to be patched up with some cards. Somehow I ended up having exactly the ones needed. I opted to make a few minor tweaks to the deck that I was handed, which had itself been slightly tweaked from the original decklist. This can be found here. I downgraded one Maelstrom Pulse into the somewhat-more-narrow Celestial Purge. Richard Feldman was right when he postulated that Celestial Purge was maindeck worthy. I wanted the option of Exiling if the need were to arise, not to mention that Purge also was an instant, less mana, and less color-intensive. I also added a singleton Gargoyle Castle to the deck, bringing the total number of cards to an unforgivable 61. I have a soft spot for tutorable one-ofs, and Gargoyle Castle just felt like it would fit so well into a deck that plays Knight of the Reliquary. When I suggested it, everyone said that the colored mana was really an issue (and after playing the deck, I wholeheartedly agree), but I felt that the reward far outweighed the risk. Finally, the sideboard I was given was lacking Duresses which, actually, I was fine with. I had wanted to find a way to fit Wall of Reverence in the 75 to combat the admittedly bad Boros matchup, and the 4 Walls fit nicely into the 11 card sideboard I was presented. The following is the final deck that I registered:
Galactic Forces game day ended up being sponsored by Microsoft, so we all got gift bags filled with Zune-related paraphernalia, including a sweet new Zune t-shirt, of which all my friends are super duper jealous…
Round 1: Fight! (Michael with Jund)
With my opponent’s first turn Savage Land, I knew it was time to put up or shut up. If this deck was truly worthy of the title “Jund Slayer,” then it would be pretty awkward if I were to lose in the first round. Luckily, I won the die roll and opened just about the best 6-card hand possible against almost any deck: double Noble Hierarch, Baneslayer Angel, and an assortment of various lands. Maybe next time Lotus Cobra, but that’s a turn 3 Angel the old-fashioned way! When Baneslayer didn’t die, I eagerly smashed in for 7, and while his Maelstrom Pulse off the top was timely, the Garruk and Knight of the Reliquary I had drawn in the interim were more than enough to finish the job.
I boarded in the Purges, Stags, and the Thornling for this game, removing the Maelstrom Pulses, 1 Elspeth, 1 Hierarch, and 1 Cobra. Maelstrom Pulses are just a little underwhelming in the Jund matchup, and the upgrade to Celestial Purge is huge. The only card that the latter doesn’t answer which Pulse does is Garruk, a significant threat, but the extra utility of Exiling and ease of cost is justifiable. I boarded out one of each of the mana accelerators to avoid getting blown out by a Maelstrom Pulse of their own.
Game 2 starts a little slower. I keep a two-land Noble Hierarch hand, and obviously the one-drop was Lightning Bolted immediately. I am forced to sit on two lands for an uncomfortable amount of time, but fortunately was blessed with more than adequate removal. His lightning start of Putrid Leech, Putrid Leech, Sprouting Thrinax is Purged, Purged, and Pathed away. We both start drawing lands, and his lack of pressure and my heavy hitters combined to end the game in short order.
Round 2: Kevin with Lotus Jund
I had played Kevin a few weeks prior, and figured he was probably playing the same deck as before: a Jund build featuring Lotus Cobras and Vampire Nighthawks. He was indeed playing the same 60, but unfortunately this match highlighted some of the awkward draws that can occur with this deck. Spoiler Alert: I cast a total of six spells the entire match. Observe:
Game 1: I keep a hand of Forest, Forest, Marsh Flats, Knight of the Reliquary, Maelstrom Pulse, and some other card that obviously doesn’t matter. I wait until turn 3 to crack the Flats, and while he has a Putrid Leech, I figure playing the Knight would be the best play (not to mention the fact that the Knight would also allow me to fix my mana, should he survive). The Knight is Terminated, and I proceed to draw no other lands for the rest of the game.
Game 2 is only slightly less awkward. I play a Noble Hierarch which immediately dies, and he drops a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, followed by a turn 3 Lotus Cobra into fetchland into Sprouting Thrinax. I counter with my Great Sable Stag, followed by another Great Sable Stag, followed by yet another Great Sable Stag. I would have been feeling pretty saucy at this point if it weren’t for the fact that he was too busy casting Broodmate Dragons to care. When he Thought Hemorrhages me for Baneslayer Angel, I reveal the three that had been stuck in my hand for the last thousand turns never having drawn the needed fifth land.
Round 3: Verdell with Vampires
My notes on this round, unfortunately will forever be lost in the sands of time. I do remember that I do a very bad job of stifling a laugh when he plays a turn 2 foil Carnage Alter. The game was a very long, tedious affair, but to his credit his 1-of Carnage Alter actually provided him with a quite a few cards over the course of the game. It actually, he explained, worked quite well with Bloodghast which I can completely understand. His Bloodghasts came too late however, and I narrowly escaped the now-undeniable power of that is Carnage Alter.
Game 2 I actually play sort of awkwardly. His turn one Vampire Lacerator has its work cut out when I play a turn three Great Sable Stag followed by a turn four Wall of Reverence followed by a Behemoth Sledge. I say that I played this game awkwardly because I put myself in several positions to lose my Stag, a card that he has almost no outs to save a kicked Gatekeeper of Malakir. Luckily he only casts one on turn three which kills a Cobra (or perhaps a Hierarch) and never draws another one when I’m foolish enough to offer up the trade of my beast token with his Vampire Nighthawk. I’m sitting at a comfortable 22 life and he had nothing on board, but it was a position that I felt awkward for putting myself in.
Round 4: Dave with Mono-Red Burn
I knew what my opponent was playing after having sat next to him round 1, and I have to admit I was not looking forward to game 1. I felt that my sideboard made winning games 2 and 3 infinitely better, but losing game 1 is never a good thing against a deck that can conceivably win on turn 4. Fortunately, my opening hand is a goodie. The miser’s Celestial Purge shined, saving me 6 life from a Ball Lightning where a Maelstrom Pulse would’ve awkward sat in my hand. I was soon at ten due to his Goblin Guide/Hellspark Elemental tag team, but that would be as low as I would go. My Lotus Cobra that had survived allowed me to run out a Baneslayer Angel (which promptly died), and then traded with the dastardly Guide. Baneslayer number two came out, and it was on to game 2.
I boarded in a whole arsenal of weapons against my opponent: the Persecutions, Purges, Walls, and Doom Blades all came in, while the higher end things — Thornlings, Elspeths, Garruks, and Leeches — came out. Surprisingly, this game was much closer. My opening plays were three Lotus Cobras, the first two of which met a fiery end to Volcanic Fallout. I was merciful, and seeing as how I was stuck on 3 lands, decided to Path my own creature – the third Cobra – to go find another land (I felt super suave in generating the mana by sacrificing my Terramorphic Expanse). I finally drew another land and ran out Baneslayer. He had a one-turn window to draw some sort of burn spell, but he didn’t, and Ms. Lifelinker was able to put me comfortably out of burn range.
Round 5: ? with BWG good stuff
The mirror? Not quite. While we ran many of the same cards — KotR, Lotus Cobra – my opponent was running, among other things, a full playset of Scute Mob, which were often fetched up with Rangers of Eos.
Game 1 my opponent stalls on land after I Maelstrom Pulse his Knight of the Reliquary. The lone Purge ends up holding its weight in this matchup by banishing a Putrid Leech to a land of nothingness. My turn 5 Elspeth is enough to essentially win the game itself, as it slowly starts accumulating counters while making an army of men. I decide against using her ultimate ability, as I figure that jumping a gigantic Knight of the Reliquary for the win is just slightly more important. Side note: This is the one and only time where I draw Oran-Rief!
I side it the Doom Blades, Zealous Persecution, and Thornlings, and take out various cards: a Putrid Leech here, a Lotus Cobra there. Game 2 is another long drawn-out game, with both of us drawing very few lands. The game evolves with him playing a Pithing Needle on my yet-to-be-cast Elspeth, which makes me frown, and then again on my freshly-cast Thornling, which turns it into a pretty uninspiring Thresher Beast. I obviously rip the Maelstrom Pulse, but his early beats have me at a precarious 9 life facing down a Ranger of Eos (having fetched two Scute Mobs, which are both in his hand), Lotus Cobra, and a third Scute Mob (while he still has only 4 lands in play). Since he’s at 13, if I attack with my Thornling and he doesn’t block, I can cast Elspeth next turn to jump it and kill him with exacties (as I only have 6 lands in play). He elects to block, however, and I am in a pickle, for on his turn he drops not only both Scute Mobs, but the unfortunate fifth land. I have dozens of outs, including a Plains to be able to play both Elspeth and the Path in my hand, or the ridiculous Zealous Persecution to almost-Wrath his still-1/1 Scute Mobs. Instead, I merely draw a Baneslayer Angel. He doesn’t draw anything of relevance, and Elspeth is cast to Jump Thornling over his team for the win.
I was very happy with the performance of the deck, having only lost 2 games the entire day which, unfortunately, happened to be in the same match. Testing against Jund felt extremely positive. Losses tended to come on the back of nut draws on the part of the bad guys — double Blightning and gas, for instance — or, more often than not, mana issues on the part of the good guys. With only 8 first-turn sources of Green mana, a turn 1 Hierarch is not always going to happen. More to the point though, with only one dual land in the deck, basic lands are the only source of mana, which makes a curve of, say Putrid Leech, Knight of the Reliquary, Garruk, Baneslayer very specific. Playing more non-basics can indeed help solve the problem, but that then begs the question “what lands to cut?” Cutting basics is not necessarily the answer in this deck, as the ability of Knight of the Reliquary specifically calls for Forests and Plains, and going below two Swamps (your only source of Black outside Lotus Cobra) is asking for trouble. The problem I routinely found myself having was not having enough access to Green mana, being only 14 sources in the entire deck. If I had to make one cut, I would take out one Marsh Flats; even though the deck loves to get those fetches into the graveyard, playing 8 lands that lose you life, along with Putrid Leeches, can quickly add up. In its place, I would play another G/W dual to increase the amount of Green mana sources in the deck. It’s not only the most important color to have, it increases the likelihood of being able to generate the other colors that the deck needs through Hierarchs, Cobras, and Knights, and it needs to come online early. Another Sunpetal Grove is the obvious option, but going along with my aforementioned love of tutorable singletons, I’d probably play Graypelt Refuge instead, so that when my opponent is swinging for exactly lethal I can totally BLOW THEIR MIND after blocking with a Knight.
One of the prohibitive issues with the deck is, obviously, cost. The vast majority of the deck is comprised of $10-$20 bills disguised as cards, and without a significant portion of the deck already in one’s collection, the deck could easily run over $500 to buy. All the cards therein, however, have such a value because they are staples that span formats and will be playable for a long while. You can’t make a thousand dollar omelet without breaking a few Faberge eggs. As an FNM option for the casual, budget-minded player, this might not be not be the deck of choice, but for those interested in, say, the StarCityGames.com $5000 Standard Open tomorrow, this should be at the very least a deck to consider.
If anyone has any questions, critiques, or suggestions I’d love to hear them: Zoochz on MTGO, [email protected], or sound off in the forums.