“Has anyone done that before?”
A lot of our research starts with that question. We’re chatting about an idea, or we’re reading through a research paper, and we find ourselves thinking, “You know, I have this idea, and it seems plausible. I wonder if anyone has checked this already?”
The answer is often something like, “Yes, and here are their ten research papers on the topic.” On the other hand, you could hit something like I did two months ago, where the answer was “Only one person has ever looked into anything even sort of like this, and that was over a decade ago in a completely different organism.”
These “Has anyone done that?” ideas are also great prompts for deckbuilding, and it was one of those that led to today’s deck. I found myself wondering why I wasn’t seeing Fauna Shaman all over the place in Jund decks, and in addressing that question, I built a deck that I think is a great use of your Jund staples for this ultimate month of Alara-Zendikar Standard.
We’ll start with the deck list, and then explore a bit about why the list looks the way it does, and then how it plays against your most common match ups.
The deck list
How we got to that list
As promised, I’m going to talk a bit about where the final list came from, as I think that understanding the basic development of a list gives us a jump start on playing that list effectively. I’m going to start with the initial intent, and look at how that changed through playtesting and development.
The goal – I wish I could hate you to death
Although the basic question that led to me try this Shaman Jund experiment was simply “what happens if I play Fauna Shaman in a Jund list?” the core concern that led me to wander from Naya at all was the way that my Naya Shaman list was being steamrollered by Valakut Ramp decks. Although I discussed attacking the Ramp game plan just a little while ago, my eventual conclusion was that no combination of lines of attack was enough to consistently push Naya over the top against ramp decks.
This is a big issue now, since Valakut and Eldrazi Ramp decks are combining to crush many metagames, from MTGO through local FNMs.
Naya decks necessarily approach the Ramp matchup by trying to outrace it, delay it a bit, or make it inconvenient. In contrast, a quick scan of Jund lists showed options that could decisively remove the Ramp game plan, via Thought Hemorrhage and Slave of Bolas. Whereas Ajani Vengeant pushes the ramp deck back a turn for four mana, Thought Hemorrhage can severely hamstring a Valakut deck for the same price.
The first pass – Naya, but Jund
In concert with my curiosity about playing Fauna Shaman in Jund lists, I found myself wondering why I wouldn’t just go “whole hog” and try running out a bunch of mana dorks. Effectively, I tried mapping Naya or Bant Shaman decks onto Jund colors, with the intent of benefiting from the acceleration while also acquiring a host of useful sideboard cards.
As it happens, this fails for reasons both obvious and non-obvious.
First, the obvious – the colors are sketchier. Although Birds of Paradise is a universal accelerator, the backup choices are not so hot. We could just go for “faster” via Noble Hierarch or Llanowar Elves, but the best possible choice there is Lotus Cobra, and even that is not as exciting when you’re not ramping into truly giant threats.
Second, the possibly less obvious – the three drops are not as exciting. A turn two Sprouting Thrinax is significantly less threatening than a turn two Knight of the Reliquary.
At the end of the day, it was a really bad rendition of a Naya Shaman deck, and it did not make the grade.
The second pass – pop it into Jund
Having given up on making bad off-color copies of Naya lists, I wanted to take a look at the “default” Jund list before I popped Fauna Shaman in there. To be clear, “popping” Naya Shaman into a list means including quad Vengevine as well. My comparison of several recent winning Jund lists looked like this:
Briefly, we see either 26 or 27 lands, and these core cards:
I theorized, based on this, that I might want my main deck frame to look like this:
I then tacked on a few more cards that “seemed good” or filled necessary roles, and ended up with this core:
This left me with an issue – I had just three cards left (assuming a 26-land mana base) leaving basically no room for additional Shaman targets or any copies of Slave of Bolas in the main…or Sarkhan the Mad, or other useful cards. Clearly, I was overstacked to begin with. It was time for some thinking and testing, and then for some changes.
Refining the list – losing redundancy and dead weight
The very first change was prompted by mana and tempo issues, which I’ll address below.
I cut the Thrinaxes.
Although I was initially reluctant to do so, after some consideration, this change made a great deal of sense. This is one of those times that it’s good to pull back a little bit and consider a card’s role.
Thrinax is an attrition card. It makes life hard for decks that want to crush your board with removal, and for decks that might end up trading in combat.
Well, guess what. We have Vengevines. Although Vengevine and Thrinax don’t operate on exactly the same axis, and Vengevine obviously lives one step up on the curve, they pretty much live in the same space – attackers and blockers that keep coming back.
Second, I cut the Blightnings.
This is a funny case, since it actually happened by accident. My initial plan had been to have main deck Blightnings, with the idea of siding them out pretty reliably against most opponents, as I expected them to prompt people to bring in Baloths. However, in transcribing a list for testing, I just plain old left them out, and then filled the space with other stuff. I noticed an hour later, and decided I was way happier without them.
Although Blightning is an excellent card in isolation, I think it does not do enough to win me games right now. This is specifically an issue in an environment where a reasonable portion of your opponents will be running Vengevines of their own, and seeding their graveyard for the inevitable Bloodbraid-driven counterstrike is not so hot.
In their place, I brought in Sparkmages. I’d initially been testing one as a tutor target, but once you cut the Lightning Bolts from a Jund deck (you noticed that, right?), you don’t have enough early removal to deal with Mythic and Naya. The Sparkmages were excellent, and have the advantage, of course, of being another set of creatures you can cascade into from a Bloodbraid.
Fixing the mana base
As I was considering ditching those Thrinaxes, I also noticed that I was having some disappointing stumbles due to mana issues. I say “disappointing” because one of the strong points of Fauna Shaman is that she comes down very early and immediately starts the Vengevine-fueled craziness. Being stuck playing my second ETBT land of the game with a Shaman in hand was exceptionally annoying, especially when it meant my ramp opponent was able to steal a march on me and win the game as a result.
Consider this fairly typical Jund mana base:
It evaluates like so:
As a quick refresher, this is just a count of how much mana in each color the mana base can provide, and how many of its lands enter the battlefield tapped (ETBT). This time around, we aren’t tracking the number of fetches or “First Turn Green,” since neither one matters so much. I’m also counting each M10 dual – Summit, Crag – as 0.5 ETBT lands, since they will sometimes come in untapped on turn two, allowing a Fauna Shaman (fun fact – neither M10 dual, when played on turn two, will allow a Putrid Leech).
So, those are our colors. What are our color demands? If we look at a stock Jund list, it might look like this:
The need for all those ETBT lands is immediately evident, and not new news – we want to hit all sorts of different color combinations as early as the two-mana mark. However, the super-clincher is the Thrinax. Our desire to hit all three colors on separate lands as soon as turn three is what really pushes us to run so many ETBTs despite the tempo issues. Consider what happens, then, if you remove just Thrinax:
This kind of change is subtly a big deal. Now we just need to be able to make our three color pairs across any three lands by turn three, which is far more achievable than our prior goal. At the same time, this lets us relax our constraints on the mana base subtly. In the case of Goodall Jund, that meant removing one Raging Ravine and the sole Lavaclaw Reaches and adding in one more each of Mountain and Forest. Here’s how the adjusted mana base compares:
For the cost of pulling back just a but on the super-color-balanced nature of a default Jund mana base, we gain the benefit of going from 44% ETBT lands to about 34% ETBT lands. This yields a significant uptick in tempo, and means that more often than not, we can cast that turn two Fauna Shaman to get the Vengevine party started.
Running Goodall Jund
So, with that history tucked under our arm, let’s look at how the deck actually plays. I’m going to start with a general discussion and disclaimer about the build, then look at a few of the specific card choices, discuss potential alternates, and close with specific match up information.
Rule number one – I am not Naya
The temptation in any list with Fauna Shaman – one that, I think, actually tends to negatively impact our ability to innovate with her right now – is to think that everything must go the Naya route of maximizing Bloodbraid-fueled Vengevine recursion. Clearly, this is not the case here.
In its core configuration, a Goodall Jund deck’s Bloodbraid has 19 cascade targets (we’re assuming one Shaman is on the battlefield already). A good third of these are not creatures, meaning that one third of the time, the sequence will not be Vengevine, Bloodbraid, profit.
This is not a tragedy.
In the core configuration, two thirds of your non-creature cascade targets are Maelstrom Pulses, and these days it’s actually rare to be in a position where Pulsing something isn’t an immediate need. Similarly, your other two options are creature removal, which is almost as common a need.
The two things to keep in mind are (1) you shouldn’t play just to try and recur Vengevines and (2) your Bloodbraid/Vengevine math will change as you sideboard. Honestly, you need to keep that second one in mind for Naya, too, but it’s even more immediately evident here.
Checking in on a few card choices
Although I touched on the ditching of Thrinax and Blighting earlier, I also want to explore a few of cards that did make it into the deck, with an eye toward explaining exactly why they’re there.
Sylvan Ranger – The one-of Ranger is there as a Shaman target. I’d had the idea in the back of my mind, and in several playtest games I found myself in awkward mana situations that I could have readily solved had I been able to tutor up a land. I picked Sylvan over Borderland because sometimes these situations involve being stuck on two mana, or the Ranger can get you the extra color you needed to be able to Terminate an opponent’s key creature.
Vithian Renegades – The Renegades serve as a tutorable Collar-killer, with the incidental ability to hate on Everflowing Chalice from time to time. Although your suite or Sparkmages means that you can often just kill theirs, and you have Pulses to take out Collars as well, an active Collar can yield enough of a life difference to give the opposing (Naya) deck enough time to kill you while you try to gain control.
Malakir Bloodwitch – One of my first thoughts on considering Fauna Shaman in Jund was how happy I’d be to be able to tutor up a Bloodwitch. Already run as a one- or two-of in many Jund lists, Bloodwitch is an ideal tutor candidate, being in all-star in certain matchups, and a mediocre flyer in others. With Shaman in hand, one is the ideal number.
Sarkhan the Mad – …eats Vengevines just as well as he eats Thrinaxes, and has his usual power of late-game card advantage as well.
Slave of Bolas – The clincher against ramp decks, Slave has also proven itself just a serious beating in many pairings, which is how it made it into the main deck. For five mana, I’d much rather hit the opponent in the face with their best guy and then kill it, instead of, say, casting Bituminous Blast or Siege-Gang Commander.
I’ll touch on specific sideboard cards below.
Alternate tutor targets
Obviously, a toolbox approach gives individual pilots room to customize the build. Don’t need the Renegades in your local metagame? Kick ‘em out. Here are some of the other options I considered as one-ofs in the deck, either main or side:
Naturally, I think these aren’t the best choices (thus, not making the cut), but they’re among the runners up. Maybe you’ll see more in them than I did.
Specific match up advice
This section will touch on some of the more common opponents you may face in this final month of Alara-Zendikar Standard. As always, guidelines are just guidelines, and you want to make sure you’re tailoring your play and sideboarding to the specific opponent you’re actually facing.
The top performer in the MTGO metagame and the driving force behind this Jund list’s creatures. Game one is about running threats at them as fast as you can so that they’re relying on their heavy hitter, such that Slaving it (thanks, Mr. Bolas!) and hitting them with it is a final, crushing event. Generally, I prefer to run Vengevines out rather than trying to get cute with the Vengevine-Bloodbraid dance, as you need to be knocking down those plant tokens and other speedbumps early, so that when they do hit an Avenger or a Primeval Titan, you can crush for the win. Save your Terminates and Pulses for the big guys as well, since you can’t always rely on drawing one of your three main deck Slaves.
Post-board, the game plan changes a bit. You still want to race threats into them, but now you have seven cards to eviscerate their game plan. My targeting preference for Thought Hemorrhage starts with the game-breaking Titan, of course, and then proceeds down the list based on whatever I see in their deck after the first Hemorrhage hits. Shambler is a dedicated Valakut-killer – and it’s Shambler because of the flexibility in other matchups, but you could always go with Ruinblaster if that serves your local needs better.
A growing force online, Eldrazi Ramp has about half or less of the market share of Valakut, but has dominated at least one recent PE. The game against Eldrazi Ramp is significantly less certain than the game against Valakut. You will be punished, badly, for keeping sketchy hands. Although they may stumble from time to time on a Summoning Trap due to their preponderance of ramp spells, that same preponderance means that they can get way the heck ahead of you in a shockingly short amount of time.
Summoning Trap merits a special mention here, as you want to be extremely cautious about tapping out in the face of untapped Trap mana. If you can keep a Terminate up in game one, do so, as you may find yourself facing an end-of-turn trap into Primeval Titan or other killer. The single biggest problem card out of this deck has been Ulamog, as it can deal you a crippling setback by hitting a land.
The Preserver is self explanatory, but the Anathemancer might stand out a bit. Eldrazi Ramp decks actually run a lot of nonbasics (the Kolos build from U.S. Nationals ran about half nonbasics), meaning that Anathemancer can hit for a nontrivial amount of direct, un-chump-blockable damage when it comes down.
The other spells in the deck play much as you’d expect, with the bonus that Slaving an Eldrazi is not just crushing, but, well, annihilating.
The Jund “mirror” is an attrition war, except that it turns out you’re actually better at it. Although they have more intrinsic N-for-1s, you have the benefit of having cards that devalue theirs (Vengevines, that is) while also having a superior pure offense. In general, this match appears to be about smashing their face in while they attempt to grind you out with card advantage.
Anathemancer turns out to also be pretty good against Jund.
Any combination of Fauna Shaman, Vengevine, and Bloodbraid is already intrinsically good against UW Control. They try to counter and remove your stuff, while you, in turn, keep bringing back Vengevines. My losses to UW Control come about when I stumble long enough for them to plant a couple of planeswalkers. This reinforces, if you needed it reinforced, the exhortation to not keep sketchy hands with this deck.
The sideboarding here is a little looser than in some other match ups, partially because UW Control decks seem to have a bit more “range” in terms of how they win the game these days. The Hellion, for example, which is normally there for that odd Overrun deck (or to kill a bunch of Soul Sisters), also serves as a one-of solution to the problem of an out-of-control Eslpeth of a painfully large Martial Coup.
Is this deck Naya’s evil twin, or vice versa? Either way, the main deck is already geared toward trying to crush the Naya matchup. You’re “threat light” compared to them, only not really…but you do pack in more removal. The key element to watch out for is the potentially swingy nature of Vengevine recursion, which means that you might clear their board only to find it suddenly reappearing, so it’s best not to go in for all-out attacks unless they’re going to immediately win you the game.
Note how we’re changing the Vengevine math post-board in this case. We’ve shifted from having about two thirds “recur me” cards in the deck to having roughly half of our cascades lead to rebuys on Vengevines. The downside is that their deck is going to be Vengevine-swingier than yours, but the upside is that half your cascades kill Linvala, which is important.
This is similar to the Naya match up, except that Mythic can kill you much faster and is locked down much more thoroughly by Cunning Sparkmage. It also highlights the value of rearranging the mana base to yield slightly better tempo, as you’ll find you can Doom Blade and Terminate on turn two more often than you’re used to.
Those are the major pairings, but there are tools there for others, such as Caldera Hellion to try and knock creature swarms back a bit, and Obstinate Baloth against Burn decks.
A one-month experiment
If you aren’t already throwing your Alara cards over the side of the boat, I think this final month before rotation is an excellent time to try out deck variations that might be a little bit outside the norm. Even if you want to keep yourself oriented toward the post-rotation environment, you can pick up a lot of positive practice by using a deck that contains at its core an engine that will remain in the new metagame – be it Fauna Shaman/Vengevine, Titan Ramp, or something else.
Have you been sitting on a “halfway out of the box” design that you’d like to try out? If so, let us know in the comments.