Thirst For Knowledge – The State Championships

Claim your territory at The 2009's State and Provincial Championships!
Tuesday, December 1st – States is a funny tournament. No matter how many times it is discontinued, it simply refuses to give up. Each and every year it returns full-force, and this year is no exception. Granted, this particular year it’s quite a bit later than it usually is, and rather than setting the stage for Worlds it will instead draw from Worlds for its metagame, but nonetheless it’s back!

States is a funny tournament. No matter how many times it is discontinued, it simply refuses to give up. Each and every year it returns full-force, and this year is no exception. Granted, this particular year it’s quite a bit later than it usually is, and rather than setting the stage for Worlds it will instead draw from Worlds for its metagame, but nonetheless it’s back. Although I must admit that I’d prefer to mull over hundreds of lists from States Top 8s in order to get a grasp on the developing meta as opposed to just the Top Standard Decks from Worlds, I can’t say that I’m all that upset that States has been put off this long. The fact that it still exists is more than enough for me.

Last year at States I played – you guessed it – Faeries. Despite working very hard at testing and honing my skills in the mirror, I managed to lose two mirrors that day, dropping me out of contention for Top 8. Of course, I misplayed in another match earlier in the day, and that coupled with an awkwardly-timed Remove Soul gave me no one else to blame for the outcome but myself. I played a great deck, and played it particularly poorly that day. One would think I didn’t enjoy myself, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Last November, I was still a new face in the Grand Rapids Magic community. In fact, I hadn’t even made it to an FNM by that time and so I knew practically no one from this side of the state. However, at States I met a lot of the friends that I currently test with, and so I am quite thankful for that. I also got to play alongside my father at that event, as it was his first time playing in anything larger than our local Flint FNMs. I asked him why he wanted to go, and he told me that he wanted to “have fun.” What a novel concept.

It’s true, though — States is a lot different than a PTQ or a Grand Prix. There is no invitation on the line, no shot at the Pro Tour. All it is is a little tournament that offers some free PTQ entries and a title for the winner. It’s quaint, simple, and endearing. It’s all well and good that not paying for your future PTQ grinding sounds appealing, and it’s more than reasonable that you’d want to win such a prize. However, the nature of States is such that you can play in a much more relaxed fashion than you normally would. You can play a deck that isn’t necessarily “the best deck.” You can, oddly enough, have fun at States.

Last year I played the best deck, no question. Faeries was far and away the most-played deck at Michigan States last year, and I don’t really doubt that Jund will be the same way this year. It’s simply the best deck, and people will play the best deck. I’ve been refusing to play Jund in any major tournament for a while now, but this year at States I may have to give it a go. At least, that’s what I’d like to believe. The truth, though, is that I will probably try to have fun, in which case I will avoid Jund like the plague and give the old “play a powerful, off the radar deck and have a good time with it” approach to the tournament, which not enough “good” players do these days.

But enough about why or why not you should play this deck or that deck. States is a week away, and not everyone wants to just “have a good time.” For the rest, you’re probably trying to narrow your deck choice down, and I can totally relate. And, no matter how hard you try to deny it, Jund is the deck you need to consider first and foremost. My list:

Some say it’s correct to cut Putrid Leech, and that Rampant Growth is far better. Still, I prefer my 4/4 for two, thanks. I’ve certainly taken a liking to Master of the Wild Hunt over Garruk as he’s just vastly superior versus Blightning, and the almost-full-grip of Terminates maindeck has been tremendously helpful at keeping Baneslayers and Geopedes at bay. I won’t get too much into the maindeck card choices, though, as Marijn did a great job of that here. The important part of my list is the sideboard.

Malakir Bloodwitch shouldn’t be much of a surprise, as being able to toss a complete roadblock in front of Baneslayer Angel and the entirety of the white weenie decks is absolutely superb. Ruinblaster, in the same vein, requires no introduction. The best tool for the mirror, Ruinblaster has never failed to impress (except off a Bloodbraid on turn 4!), and I’d never dream of playing Jund with less than four. I’ve argued for them to be maindecked for quite some time now, but they’re dead against Eldrazi Green, Mono-White, and Boros — none of which are decks we can afford to have even remotely “dead” cards against.

The reason I choose to play Jund Charms is twofold. First and foremost, they’re phenomenal against Boros. I don’t find Boros to be a particularly poor match-up or anything, but having a no-questions-asked sweeper for their team is pretty saucy no matter how you slice it. Second, I think that Dredge is a good deck, and as such I’d prefer not to roll over to it because I didn’t draw a Jund Charm. The more the merrier, right?

Chandra Nalaar is a card that I’ve said many times that I adore, but I need to restate that once more: Chandra is good. In fact, in Jund, she’s just insane out of the sideboard against the control strategies (they exist, honest), and I’ve been told to use her in the Jund mirror as well since she absorbs a ton of damage and tends to end the game much faster than many other cards you could be playing. I don’t know about that myself yet, but I have time to find out.

Vampire Nighthawk, the last piece of the puzzle (I should hope that the lone Terminate is pretty self-explanatory), is the card I’ve enjoyed the most out of the sideboard. He’s very good versus the mirror in most cases, and he’s just a beast against the weenie decks like GW and Mono-White. Against the white decks, in fact, he’s even better since when paired with Bloodwitch you can actually take advantage of the Bloodwitch’s Syphon Soul ability. Not a huge deal, but a nice touch. I’m not entirely sure if Nighthawk is truly the card for the job, but as time runs thin it would seem to me that either this card or Great Sable Stag should make an appearance in the sideboard for the mirror and small creature decks.

Jund is the best deck, period. Boros really is right alongside it if we look at the decks through a “tier” lens, but in all honesty Jund is in a league of its own. If you want to win your States, it’s going to be “play Jund” or “play what absolutely wrecks Jund,” whichever you like better. I’m personally recommending the former, as playing the best deck is rarely the wrong decision, but there is some merit to playing a Jund-killer. Take Joel Calafell’s deck, for instance:

The final realization of the concept John Treviranus first put into motion back when Zendikar released, this deck punishes Jund just as intended. Blightning still sucks, but generally this deck will just not lose to Jund. It does royally suck against control strategies and even some midrange decks, but the number it does on Boros (brutal, really) and Jund is more than enough to justify playing it at a tournament like States. In an environment where literally at least half of the field will be Jund, it’s not as though taking a few hits in some less common match-ups isn’t worth the impressive win/loss ratio that you’d have against the format’s top two decks.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this deck is tier one, though, as it can stumble wit even slightly poor draws and sometimes you just won’t be able to get there before you’re buried under threats that you might not be able to stop. Time Warp is the card that wasn’t in John’s original deck, and it’s a great introduction — it Fogs, it draws you lots more Fogs, and post-sideboard it allows two consecutive swings with a Baneslayer Angel or a more traditional combo kill with Tezzeret (though pulling that off is a tad difficult at times, as he’s mostly there as a means to find Relics, Needles, and the occasional Mine or Font). Sunspring Expedition was a card we first saw being used by Todd Anderson in his UW deck from a few weeks back, and Calafell expanded on the idea and used it to great effect in his Fog deck. Eight life is an awful lot, and it’s not as though you’ll ever be missing a land drop with this list. Combine that eight life with the two from Kabira Crossroads (note that Joel chose to play the White “gain two” land rather than the two-colored “gain one” land) and you have a life gap that actually allows you to ignore a turn or two where you just didn’t find a Fog. In a format where there is no Everlasting Torment, life gain is actually surprisingly effective.

I wouldn’t make any drastic changes to Joel’s list, as what he has is a solid build that accomplishes everything it sets out to do, but I’d like to see another Path in the maindeck somewhere, as the miser’s point removal seems a little awkward to me. On the other hand, I could get behind removing it altogether and playing a third Expedition maindeck, since then we can effectively ignore yet another creature or two worth of damage and not give them a land when they need it — early.

Would I play this deck? Yes, I certainly would. In fact, aside from Jund this could potentially be the very best option. It doesn’t roll over to the few control decks that exist, and it just simply beats any sort of creature strategy. If you’re looking to play control at States, this could be the deck for you.

What about the UWR control deck, you ask?

As one might expect, I like this deck a lot. Wall of Denial, Flashfreeze (maindecked!), Path to Exile, Oblivion Ring, and Double Negative help you to deal with Jund’s beasts, and Sphinx of Jwar Isle and Ajani Vengeant are great finishers against the archetype. You do, however, do a lot of one-for-one trading versus Jund with this deck, and that’s basically what turns me off from the deck. I realize that the basic tools being used are the same that were in my Cruel Control list, but the reality is that when all of your spells do that you’re going to always be on an uphill battle. But with no Cruel Ultimatum at the end to make all that one-for-one trading a viable plan, you’re just going to end up getting Blightninged out of games you probably should be winning.

On the bright side, the mana is wonderful and you have lots of solid options in the sideboard. Baneslayer Angel is… um, Baneslayer Angel, and Spreading Seas takes a page from the Spread ‘Em book and helps defeat Jund by attacking its mana (by the way, I don’t recommend Spread ‘Em as a deck mostly because it’s bad against the Grixis and RWU control decks as well as Turbo Fog). I love me some Felidar Sovereign, and seeing it in this list makes me wonder how often its ability actually triggers in this deck. I’m going to assume that in this particular list it is being played because it’s simply a 4/6 lifelinker, which is obviously nothing to scoff at.

Earthquake, in all honesty, is what makes everything work. It was the card that I didn’t see, and the card that might have solved a lot of my problems when trying to build control decks. It does as little or as much as you need it to, and it totally ignores all of your own creatures. You can make it very big to clear a board of creatures, or maybe play it for two to wreck Boros. It also is very good against Planeswalkers, which is probably where it shines the absolute most. Earthquake is also very good in Grixis decks, though I don’t really have a reasonable list for that deck at this time.

As it is 4am on my birthday and I’m very tired, I’m going to wrap this one up. States is a good time, and it especially is so if you let it be. I know that I will personally avoid Jund at all costs, but the fact that I have the entire deck together and ready to go should let you know how awkward the situation has become. I just don’t feel like having to get lucky to win games. And no, I don’t mean to say that you don’t need to get a lucky a few times to win a 200+ man tournament – you do — I’m just saying that with everyone playing Jund, you’re going to have to rely on a good deal of luck to out-cascade your opponents all day long.

I mean, Jund is the best deck, no doubt. I wouldn’t play Boros over it for obvious reasons (Bloodbraid Elf), and I probably wouldn’t play any aggressive strategy over it (which is why I only talked about one aggro deck today). If someone were to ask me which deck to play that isn’t Jund, I’d have to say Calafell’s deck. It’s simply very well-positioned, and has a real shot at winning. Rozmon’s Walker deck is also very good (and again, why I talked about it over something else), but I’d look into playing Cruel Ultimatums if I were someone who wanted to sling with traditional control.

The very best of luck at States, and try to relax a bit and just enjoy yourselves. Remember, you’re not playing for the Pro Tour!

Until next time…

Chris Jobin
Team RIW
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