The Wescoe Connection – Persecutor Jund and M11 Spoilers

Grand Prix GP Columbus July 30-August 1, 2010
Thursday, July 1st – With the current Standard format entering its Last Hurrah, old warhorses such as Jund are plowing ahead, looking for vital edges to catapult them atop the field once more. Craig Wescoe rocked Persecutor Jund at the StarCityGames.com St. Louis Standard Open, to great effect. He discusses the deck today, along with M11 cards, before presenting a bonus video interview!

I’ve been playing a lot of Magic lately, and also doing a lot of travelling. I’ve also been trying to keep up with the M11 Spoiler updates. Last week I talked about the Magic Weekend in Columbus, where I played White Weenie on Saturday for the Midwest Masters Series and Owen Turtenwald Jund list in the Sunday PTQ. I managed to make Top 16 with Owen’s list, and had a newfound interest in Jund. This week I played Jund in the Standard portion of the StarCityGames.com Open Series in St. Louis, but I made a few changes to Owen’s list. Actually Susan Zell and Michael Pozsgay were primarily responsible for the changes, but adding Abyssal Persecutor was something I had been thinking about ever since local superstar Rocky J. Harris mentioned it to me a few weeks ago.

Persecutor Jund in Standard

This is the list I played:

What separates this list from a typical Jund deck is the absence of high cost creatures like Broodmate Dragon and Siege-Gang Commander. It might seem counter-intuitive, but Abyssal Persecutor is actually better in the mirror than either of these creatures. Jund is often thought to be an attrition battle, and it is, but if you follow a Blightning with an Abyssal Persecutor, they’ll typically have already discarded some number of Terminates and Maelstrom Pulses. This combined with the fact that Jund only has maybe 4-6 total copies of the aforementioned cards, it’s actually pretty hard for most Jund decks to deal with the Persecutor. Moreover when you’re in a back-and-forth Blightning fight, the difference between 4 mana and 5-6 mana is significant.

I played eight games against Susan a couple of nights before the tournament. She was playing Abyssal Persecutors and more Terminates and I was playing Broodmate Dragon, Siege-Gang Commander, and Sarkhan the Mad. She happened to draw Persecutor almost every game, so it made the games very productive. I lost the games where I immediately killed the Persecutor; I lost when I let it stick around and tried to instead tear apart her hand and put her in “top deck a way to kill the Persecutor” mode; and I lost the ones where I tried to ignore the Persecutor. I think I won one of the eight games, and every time that I drew one of the four big drops I wished it was an Abyssal Persecutor. My Siege-Gang Commanders would just get Lightning Bolted, my Broodmate Dragons would get Bituminous Blasted, and Sarkhan the Mad would not help me get ahead when I was already behind. So that was enough to convince me to switch builds and run the Persecutor version.

Michael Pozsgay and I each played the same main deck and both of us finished in the Top 16. There ended up being 4 players with a 7-1-1 record and I was among the two that failed to make Top 8, despite my loss not coming until Round 7. Still, 14-3-1 is not a bad combined record for the deck. My loss was also due to a pretty bad punt on my part, so it’s my own fault I did not make Top 8 (I’ll get to that in a minute).

My draw came against Jason Schousboe’s Turboland deck in round 2, who eventually finished in 4th place. He actually had me dead on board in turn 5 of extra turns, but I did not concede since I was playing overly aggressive in order to give myself the best chance to win in the short amount of time we had, and I’m pretty sure I could have won had he played faster in the previous two games since I would have been able to play less aggressively in game 3. On an unrelated note, I had him all but dead in all three games and he ripped runner-runner outs in two of those three games at the last possible moment. The Turboland matchup felt close, but certainly not unwinnable. They usually get into top deck mode after they ramp up their mana and have their first threat dealt with. Then they have a couple turns to draw non-blanks or they lose to manlands and Bloodbraid Elves. Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Avenger of Zendikar are the two cards you have to worry about most. Thought Hemorrhage is probably our best card in the matchup, and it won me game 2. I would likely run 3-4 if I were to play the deck again.

My loss in the tournament came in round 7 against Mono Red with Hell’s Thunder and Hellspark Elemental. Game 1 epic punted. He had two cards in hand and five untapped lands in play and was at nine life. I was at six life with an Abyssal Persecutor, a Lavaclaw Reaches, and five other lands in play, and two cards in hand (Lightning Bolt and Terminate). The obvious play is to attack him to 3 with Persecutor, then Bolt him to 0 and Terminate Persecutor. I saw the play immediately, and then sat there thinking what possible combination of cards he could have that would keep me from killing him. Obviously if he has six points of burn to deal with Persecutor he would just target me with them and kill me. The only thing I could think of is him having six points of burn in hand and not realizing I’m at six life, so I activated Lavaclaw Reaches for good measure and attacked with both, trying to induce him to burn the Lavaclaw Reaches with one of his burn spells and thus not have enough to lethal me with the burn spells.

Instead he says “take 8” and I look down at my two untapped lands and realize I cannot deal him lethal and still Terminate the Persecutor since I spent so much mana on the Lavaclaw Reaches. So I pump the Lavaclaw Reaches to put him to zero and I pass the turn, at which point he flips over Burst Lightning and Earthquake for lethal. Yeah, nice play Craig. I guess that was his only out — having me play like a moron and not make the obvious play. Even if I simply don’t pump the Lavaclaw Reaches, I could Terminate the Persecutor and we both die to Earthquake. Then justice was served in game 3 when I was at 8 with Terminate in hand and lethal the following turn, and he had five lands and 1 card in hand. During my end step he kicked Burst Lightning at me, untapped, and ripped the only out in his deck: another Burst Lightning, to which Gerry Thompson asked, “You’re at 4?” and Cedric Philips exclaimed, “Skill Game, Boys!” That was against Joey Mispagel, who went on to win the tournament.

For the rest of the day I played Naya, Brilliant Ultimatum, Red-Green Tokens, and a bunch of Jund. Despite my loss and my tie each coming against players that made Top 8, my tie-breakers were still not good enough to make the cut. Better here than in Richmond though, I guess.

After the tournament, I reflected on my loss and how I could have made such a terrible play. I feel like I have made the same type of epic punt more than once in recent past. It reminded me of a play I made at Grand Prix: Houston, where I thought through the correct line of play and then, when executing the play, I suddenly changed the order of the cards I played (Chalice for 0 before Tormod’s Crypt against Living End instead of the reverse order) and lost the game because of it. In order not to make this type of mistake again, I will make a point to go through the play in my mind one last time before executing it, and never to switch plays mid-play without thinking about it first. Everyone has holes in their play, and it’s nice to discover a recurring hole and come up with a solution to (hopefully) keep the same kind of mistake from happening again.

My sideboard was kind of loose and I was testing out various strategies, whereas Mike went with the more tested plans. All is Dust seems good against any of the Blue-White Control strategies, including Super Friends. It is also a way to kill Sphinx of Jwar Isle. Unfortunately I never got paired against either deck, so I’m still unsure how good it is.

Thought Hemorrhage was for any of the combo decks, including Turboland, Polymorph, Open the Vaults, Brilliant Ultimatum, or anything else that is heavily dependent on one particular card. Going forward, I’m pretty sure I want at least three in the sideboard.

The reason I did not play Duress in the sideboard is because I wanted better cards for top deck wars against Combo and Control decks. I figured Thought Hemorrhage and All is Dust would serve these roles better against the respective archetypes than Duress would. I still think the no-Duress plan is probably better than the Duress plan, but it’s possible I’m wrong on this point.

Forked Bolt was another card that not too many people are playing in Jund, but it was fantastic for me. I did not play against any Bant decks in the tournament, but in testing it was really good at killing Birds of Paradise, Lotus Cobra, and Noble Hierarch. And against Turboland it can kill off a couple Khalni Garden Tokens to allow your creatures to bash through and win the race without having to spend a full turn worth of mana on something like Maelstrom Pulse. It can also unexpectedly finish off opponents when combined with Lightning Bolt, Blightning, and creatures. The card is really good right now and I sideboard it in about every other round.

Yes, I would recommend playing Persecutor Jund. I want to experiment with something like Momentous Fall against Mono Red, or maybe Jund Charm. Too bad Obstinate Baloth is not in the format yet. Then again, if my plan is to play Blightning-Jund, maybe it’s not that unfortunate.

M11 Spoilers

Speaking of Obstinate Baloth, I am pretty excited about that card! In fact, it’s the first card of which I went out and purchased a play set. The Baloth, in conjunction with Vengevine will really make it difficult for opposing Blightnings. Moreover getting a 4/4 creature out of the deal makes it difficult for all of Jund’s three-power creatures to fight through the Baloth and survive. If I weren’t so focused on Extended right now, I’m sure I would be brainstorming decks for the Baloth. With all the Red decks rising in popularity, and all the Jund decks still showing up en masse, the Baloth will be welcomed with open arms by many Green mages. Will Bant be THE deck post-M11? Maybe.

Speaking of Bant, they no longer have to play Negate and they can now run a main deck hard counter in the form of Mana Leak. Everything looks better with Jace, the Mind Sculptor, but this card in particular combos really well with the Brainstorm ability of Jace, since early on you get a hard counter, and then later, when the opponent has plenty of mana, you can shuffle it away with Jace and a fetchland. Blue-White decks rejoice at a turn 2 play other than Wall of Omens, and Bant Decks return to the glory days of Pressure backed by counter-magic. Now whenever an opponent has a Lotus Cobra and an untapped fetchland, they can counter anything you play unless you can afford to keep 3 extra mana open to pay for the Leak.

Knight Exemplar is another card that interests me, not so much because I think it will dominate tournaments, or even see any relevant amount of play for that matter, but rather because of what else might be printed alongside him. In M10 there was a Soldier sub-theme in White and it looks like maybe a Knight tribe is replacing the Soldier tribe. This could be interesting. I doubt Silver Knight will get reprinted since Kor Firewalker is already giving Red decks enough of a headache, but traditionally Knights are stronger than soldiers, primarily due to the First Strike keyword. So I’m keeping my eye out for what sort of knights might get printed to empower the Knight tribe. When talking to Patrick Chapin this weekend in St. Louis, he brought up an interesting point: White Weenie is never the bad guy; he is always playing fair and never playing the broken deck of the format. Maybe a part of me just wants to play that role, but it’s always attractive to me to have good options for White Weenie. The deck is almost always underestimated.

The last card I would like to talk about is Fling. In Tempest (Rath) Block drafts, this card was systematically undervalued. It was one of the best removal spells in the format, and yet it would rarely go higher than fourth or fifth pick in a draft. I’m hoping the same phenomenon will occur in the M11 draft portion of Pro Tour: Amsterdam, but it’s unclear at this point whether Fling will be as powerful in M11 draft as it was in Tempest Block Draft. Without damage stacking, you cannot double dip, but I doubt that will hinder the card’s value, even in Constructed.

I think Fling will play a similar role that Shrapnel Blast played in Mono Red decks. Sure, sometimes you need to kill a Baneslayer Angel with it can you’re basically getting 2-for-1’d in that situation, but at least the card affords you a way to kill the Angel. That’s only the secondary use, however. The primary use for the card will be to gain more than 3 damage off 2 mana and 1 card. Yes, you have to sacrifice a creature, but the Red plan typically involves getting some early damage in with creatures and then going to the dome with burn spells. Sacrificing a 5/5 Plated Geopede once you’ve played your final land is perfectly acceptable, as is sacrificing a Kargan Dragonlord post-combat to get in those last 4 points of damage. I’m also excited about the prospect of jumping a creature with Elspeth, Knight-Errant and then Flinging it at the opponent for the double punch finish. Who needs cards like Rafiq of the Many and Finest Hour when you can just pay 2 and Fling your monsters at the opponent’s dome? I foresee Fling winning a lot of races in the coming year of Standard. Not being able to get blown out by a removal spell makes Fling miles better than Soul’s Fire, and certainly pushes it into playable status.

Added Bonus

Last weekend Adam Rodgers interviewed me for the Timmy Magic Corner: Episode #47 where he asked a bunch of Magic-related questions. If you’re interested, the interview is on YouTube and is broken into Part 1 of 2 (8 minutes) and Part 2 of 2 (3 minutes).

Craig Wescoe