Last week, I spoke about how States is, in essence, a chance to play what you like, not necessarily what is just hands-down the best deck. While that recommendation is certainly very solid, I failed to take my own advice this past weekend at Michigan States.
Up until roughly half a week before States, I was pretty sure I would be playing a RG Valakut deck, as it had been performing very well on MTGO and had tested nicely for me. The problem, though, was that I wasn’t beating Jund as often as I’d have liked, and I easily got too far behind against the Emeria Angel decks. Put simply, I was losing a lot. And, as one might expect, losing isn’t all that fun. That being said, I decided I wanted to win at States (surprise!), and so I audibled to a deck I knew was capable of winning a large number of games: Jund.
I tried very hard to not play Jund, but it’s exceedingly hard to justify playing something other than Bloodbraid Elf and Blightning, as that sequence of plays has been winning more games in Standard since October than possibly even Mistbind Clique and Bitterblossom had by this time. My only real complaint with the Jund deck was that, as I mentioned last week, I would have to rely on luck and better cascades than my opponents in order to win. For a “best deck,” Jund is definitely too draw dependant. And, as such, I wanted to find a way to take some of the randomness out of my wins and losses, though doing so wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. See, I didn’t want my cascades to be less random or anything, but rather just that I needed to have some sort of secret weapon that I could play that would blow open the mirror.
Needless to say, I spent even more time than usual with Jund, and reached some conclusions. I began my extended testing with the list from my last article:
The week before States, when I was testing with RG Valakut, I had been toying with Hellkite Charger in the sideboard for the mirror and Jund decks. I suggested the card for the Jund mirror to my test group, and someone suggested that I should instead play Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund as he was clearly just superior. That made a lot of sense to me, but I pointed out that seven mana is a lot more than six, and that if I wanted to play him I’d need to play the Rampant Growth version of the deck — something I certainly didn’t want to do. I’m not saying that cascading into Putrid Leech is the stone nuts or anything (quite the opposite, really), but it’s a miles ahead of cascading into a land. Still, Karrthus would utterly wreck the mirror, so I was on board. For a time.
I kept testing with Putrid Leech, and against the Grixis deck we found that in literally every game that I got a turn 2 Putrid Leech I was able to win pretty easily. A lot of people don’t give the card enough credit anymore, but I can’t figure out why. Most Jund decks aren’t playing Great Sable Stag, and even less overall decks are playing means to deal with that guy. Putrid Leech is a very real threat, and few cards outside of Path to Exile can actually put a stop to him before he’s dealt ten or more damage all on his own. I was so impressed with Leech in my testing, in fact, that I decided that Karrthus, while very powerful, just wasn’t worth dropping Leech for.
One thing I knew I wanted to change about my previous list, though, was that I wanted to try Chandra maindeck. In the mirror, she just nukes any threat they play and she absorbs so much damage that you’ll rarely have to worry about losing the life total race. I mean, she might just eat a Pulse, but if she doesn’t they’ll have to dedicate attacks to her or simply lose the game. Chandra’s uses in that match-up only improve after sideboarding, too, as she serves as yet another answer to Stag. She was also absolutely brutal on the format’s control decks, giving me outs to Wall of Denial and Sphinx of Jwar Isle in the RWU match-up and a constant, nigh-unkillable threat in the Grixis and Turbo Fog match-ups. In short, she was incredible, and I wanted them maindeck.
The rest of the deck didn’t change all that much. At that point, all I needed to do was fit Chandras into the maindeck and retool the sideboard. After moving the Chandras into the main from the board, I realized that my sideboard plans involved a lot of high-costed bombs coming in. I considered adding a 26th land, but instead I had a better solution: play Garruk. While I typically felt like he underperformed whenever I would use his -1 ability, in my deck I needed him for his +1 untap ability, which raises his survivability considerably and allowed me to play my spells a turn earlier (read: value). I also thought about playing the miser’s Borderland Ranger and then two more in the sideboard to bring in against Ruinblaster, but I ended up playing zero copies of Ranger by registration.
Here is what I registered:
When I got to the tournament, my good friend Zack Pearlman suggested that I play Thornling in my sideboard for the mirror, as Ari Lax had done at Worlds. According to Ari, he won literally just about every mirror where he resolved Thornling, and that was good enough for me. Considering the amount of Jund I had seen around the room, I was comfortable with moving the second maindeck Chandra to the board in favor of the one-of Green beast. Traditionally, though, I think I’d have kept it in the sideboard and played both Chandras maindeck instead.
Haunting Echoes is a card I had not tested, and still haven’t had the chance to, but in theory it seems utterly ridiculous. Though it is definitely weaker than Hemorrhage when you’re trying to avoid a Cruel Ultimatum or something, I can’t argue with how bonkers it is against Dredge, Turbo Fog, and other control strategies. It’s probably at its best against Fog, though, since they can’t counter it given that they only leave Flashfreeze in against you when sideboarding. The Dredge deck can still beat a Haunting Echoes depending on what it hits, though it seems like such a savage beating would be enough to cripple the deck. It’s very possible that Haunting Echoes might just be “it,” if you know what I mean.
As for the tournament itself, I got what I deserved. I mean, States and I never seem to get along in the first place, and this year was no different, but I do feel like it wasn’t exactly my fault. In my first round, I played against Vampires and was stuck on two lands both games, unable to do much about the guys smashing my face in. I actually did hit three lands in game 1, but it hardly did me much good when I didn’t have anything beyond a single Pulse to deal with his steady stream of beaters. A mull to five and a mull to six without hitting more than two lands doesn’t really beat Vampires.
In the second round, I played against Eldrazi Green, a match-up I didn’t want to see. In the first game I drew too many lands, and only a lucky Broodmate off the top kept me alive long enough to chump his Stag that had literally gotten there for almost all 20 of my life. He mulled to six in game 2 and I steamrolled, but game 3 was as awkward as it gets. I keep a very solid hand, make some trades, and Pulse away Nissa. Then, with four guys on board staring down my untapped blockers, he plays a Monument and brings me from 20 to 5 in a single attack. I tap my deck for the Pulse, and hit a Verdant Catacombs to join the other three lands sitting in my hand. He ran the “still had all these” after the game, though, and showed me that he had a second Monument anyway. I really couldn’t feel too bad about the game at that point, since I was toast regardless.
I’ve more than learned my lesson about the whole “I lost to bad luck” excuse, but in this case I don’t feel like it’s unjustified. That’s how Jund is. I didn’t draw enough lands in round 1, and drew far too many in round 2. I was focused, and ready to play as tight as I could, but there really just isn’t much you can do with Jund. You don’t have much room to interact with your opponent, and more often than not it comes down to how explosive your cascades are and how cooperative your manabase is with you. Mine was not that willing to work with me, and so I got destroyed. Maybe I didn’t randomize my deck enough, but I certainly remembering taking extra long to shuffle in between games to avoid that as best I could. In retrospect, Jund was still the correct choice to play. Granted, I was still playing a draw-dependant deck that allowed for very few decisions to be made on my part (and I hate decks like that), but playing what wins is naturally a decent strategy. It’s very possible that playing a Grixis deck or something would’ve been a better choice for me personally, but once again I couldn’t justify not cascading into Blightning. Maybe control really is dead, or at least as long as Bloodbraid Elf is legal.
In any case, if I were to play Jund again, I’d play this list:
Not much different, of course, but you get the idea. Here are my sideboarding notes for those interested:
If they have Great Sable Stag, you can switch the order on the last two cards or simply remove all the Leeches and keep the full set of Bolts in. This sideboarding is pretty standard fare, and isn’t necessary to discuss much further. After all, we’ve been playing this match-up for ages, right?
Chandra is too slow, and Blightning is less effective since it doesn’t affect the board and also doesn’t perform well versus Ranger of Eos unless they play it on four with no hand. Bloodwitch is five mana, but unlike Chandra it can actually stall very well and only comes down to a Burst Lightning. If they’re playing more than two of those that you can tell, I might not bring that card in. I could be wrong on Blightning in this match-up, but taking one out is probably safe. It has simply never impressed me here, and literally only here.
Great Sable Stag is annoying, yeah? I don’t bring in Thornling here because unlike in the Jund mirror he isn’t just an unstoppable threat. Granted, they only have four Paths and he doesn’t die to a Purge, but even so I don’t think it’s worth it.
You’ve got to keep in at least two Pulses in this match-up for Siege-Gang Commanders and Sorins, but I suppose it would be reasonable to keep the Bolts in and remove all the Pulses. Everything else is fairly self-explanatory, right down to bringing in the monster of all monsters, Thornling.
Haunting Echoes should more or less be game if it resolves (which, as stated earlier, should be easy to do), and Hemorrhage can strip them of their Baneslayers should you need the extra help. Taking out all of the removal safe Pulse can be awkward if they get a bunch of Angels down, but hopefully you can keep them off Mines and Fonts long enough to win. I actually was having good games against this deck with Jund over the past week, and I think with Chandra and Echoes it’s even better.
The original sideboard plan I had written up included Goblin Ruinblasters, but attacking Crypt is pretty awkward since they tend to hold it until they find a Fatestitcher and just untap it immediately and then go off. It’s better to sit on Jund Charm or resolve an Echoes with our mana, and that will usually be enough to take the game. Blightning is of course not just a Mind Rot, but I don’t want to give the graveyard deck more cards in its graveyard.
Jund is a great deck, and I merely had a run of bad luck with it at this event. I feel as though I could play it again in a week and do very well with the same list, which is why I don’t personally enjoy the deck (or this format) as much as I could. Still, Jund does have room for improvement, and actually enough for innovation too. Thornling and Chandra are every bit as good as I’ve said, and I’d bet money on Haunting Echoes being much the same way. There’s quite a while until San Diego, and between now and then Jund remains the deck to play and even more so the deck to beat. Good luck, and may your cascades be better than theirs!
Until next time…
Shinjutsei on MTGO and everywhere else