“I don’t care what we play, as long as it’s not one of these crappy Huntmaster/Thragtusk decks.” –Me, three weeks ago
“Screw it, I’m playing Jund!” –Me, last week
I’m starting to get a bit of a reputation for playing Jund. Everyone just assumed I was playing it at Pro Tour Gatecrash. This hardly seems fair, considering I played Flash in the last three Standard GPs, and even Top 8'd one of them! On the other hand, I have 27 pro points this season, and 17 were earned playing Jund across three formats.
I wasn’t even considering the deck until my friend BillyP (William Postlethwait) won an SCG Open with it. After talking to him (and several other people about their decks) I started to think Jund could actually be a great choice.
Every PT with a new unknown format has the same conventional wisdom: “aggro will be all over the place!” So people play midrange to beat that, and you get about half of each general archetype. Jund has the decent aggro matchups of any midrange deck, but also happens to be good in the midrange mirror thanks to Olivia and Rakdos’s Return. I expected some control, but there was actually quite a bit more than I’d have guessed at the PT. Luckily, Jund is fine against control too! As BenS puts it, “Jund is at best 55% and at worst 45% against everything. I love jorts.”
(For more pearls of wisdom, be sure to follow @s--tBenSsays on Twitter.)
Here is the list I played:
This is a good bit different than what Reid/Owen/etc. played, but I was really happy with it and wouldn’t change much. I ended up in Top 50 on the back of a 7-3 Constructed record. The same 75 also Top 25'd, and sMann even Top 8'd with a list about five cards off. Not bad for only four of us playing it!
Of course, there were plenty of other people playing the same basic archetype, but the exact composition of spells you choose is incredibly important since they are all so situational. I spent several days talking to Sharfman and John Cuvelier (Gosu.) about which combination of removal spells killed the most things. Let’s take a look at what we played, what we didn’t, and why.
Removal in Standard is Too Situational
People only play Pillar because conventional wisdom says that it is the best 1-cost removal. No one is playing Zombies or Strangleroot Geist, though. You aren’t an aggro deck, so burning them out is largely irrelevant. Dead Weight also kills Falkenrath Aristocrat, which was briefly not a thing, but now likely is again.
What is relevant is how reliably you can cast the spell. If you look at the mana base, you can see that there are 10 black sources that come into play untapped on turn 1, and only five red. You need to be heavy black in order to support turn 2 Victim of Night and turn 3 Lilianas and Vampire Nighthawks. If you are casting your one-cost removal on turn 2, then it might as well cost two. Dead Weight also actually does something even if it can’t outright kill the creature. A 1/1 Boros Reckoner is a lot less threatening.
Barring a huge increase in Jund’s popularity (which is certainly possible), this is the best two-cost removal spell. The only card it misses out of the aggro decks is Falkenrath Noble. Not being able to kill Huntmaster and Olivia is very bad in the mirror, hence only two copies. (It also can’t kill Nighthawk, but you care less about that.) It also misses Falkenrath Aristocrat, which had fallen out of favor, but that may no longer be the case, what with it winning the PT. Victim may have to become something else if that deck is the next big thing.
It is pretty obvious which creatures this can/cannot kill, so I won’t dwell here too much. Victim kills almost all of the same creatures as Decay, but the added utility of killing things like Domri Rade, Liliana of the Veil, Detention Sphere, Underworld Connections, Runechanter's Pike, etc. seemed worth playing a split. The important thing is that both kill Boros Reckoner without using damage.
Dreadbore is mostly a concession to the mirror. You really want ways to kill Olivia and Garruk. Obviously, compared to the situational clauses of the aforementioned cards, “destroy target creature” sounds pretty nice. But the sorcery speed hurts quite a bit, or I’d just play 4. There are less haste creatures than there once were, but it is more an issue of being able to use your mana efficiently. Often in the early game you will not have anything worth killing on turn 2, and need to pass. When they play something that you want to kill on their turn, you don’t want to have to waste your third turn doing it. You will be using all of your mana every turn in the early/mid-game with this deck. Also, instants allow you to pass the turn to flip Huntmaster.
This card is better than Bonfire of the Damned. That is true of the current meta, but I think it is just the case in general. Bonfire is an incredibly underwhelming card unless you miracle it. People just remember the times when that happens, and how big of a blowout it is. You are better off remembering the times you were staring down a Loxodon Smiter or Olivia and had a totally useless Bonfire in hand. Mortars being a spilt card is just a very big game. It is the same thing as Dreadbore against anything besides Reckoner, and then a Bonfire that you can actually setup and plan around later. The less Reckoners you expect, the more of these I’d play.
You have no idea how much I wanted to put a ghost in the middle of this picture.
These are the commonly played removal spells that you should not be playing. I’ve already gone over Bonfire and Pillar. Ultimate Price just doesn’t kill anything. Well that’s slightly hyperbolic, but it doesn’t kill Boros Reckoner, which makes it unplayable in the format. It also misses things like Rakdos Cackler, Burning-Tree Emissary, Olivia Voldaren, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Falkenrath Aristocrat. In short: it is dead the most often of the available black removal.
Searing Spear isn’t totally awful—it is the same as Abrupt Decay against most 1-3 drops. It can even kill Huntmaster (sometimes) and Olivia (sometimes). It can technically kill Reckoner, but not in the way you want to. It misses Loxodon Smiter. It is rare that you’ll be in a spot where you need to burn someone out with this deck, so you’re better off playing more reliable black removal than a spell that can occasionally hit your opponent.
One last removal spell I considered, but didn’t ever try was Murder. The SCG guys played one copy of this, and I think that could easily be right. You can’t go nuts on removal that costs 3, but if you have a 1- or a 2-cost removal to kill their first threat, then 3 is okay. And being able to kill truly anything at instant speed is pretty appealing. It’s also fun to say: “Murder your guy” sounds way cooler than, “Victim your guy.” (What, is that not a good reason to play a spell?)
The Rest of the Deck was Easy!
Oddly enough, the discussion of the rest of the cards isn't nearly as interesting as that of the removal. It’s obvious why Huntmaster, Thragtusk, and Olivia are so powerful. The only question is whether you want a third Olivia.
Vampire Nighthawk is normally a 2/3-of, and Reid/Owen eschewed it totally, but on the advice of BillyP I tried 4. I admittedly mostly played against aggro in my testing on Magic Online, but Nighthawk was great for me. Wolf Running a Nighthawk is very powerful, and gives you something productive to do when you are flooded or don't want to play spells due to Huntmaster of the Fells. I have won quite a few races with aggro decks just by playing a couple of Nighthawks and swinging back and forth until it is time to start Wolf Running, which takes the game totally out of reach. Nighthawk is a potential cut if you expect little aggro, but I'd advise against playing less than 3.
On playing Arbor Elf instead: I can see the advantage of an additional accelerant, but I don't think the card is what you want to be doing. The jump from 2 to 3 doesn't do much if you aren't playing Nighthawk and less than 4 Liliana. Also, it gives your opponents a potentially high-impact target for their removal. Removal normally stinks against you, since who cares if they kill half a Huntmaster or Thragtusk?
The Elf does make sense if you buy into the oft-repeated, totally untrue statement: "Jund is horrible/not a deck without turn 2 Farseek!" You will often have a Farseek in your hand that you don't even want to play turn 2, because you can go removal into Nighthawk into Huntmaster, and be in a safer spot than Farseek into Huntmaster. Farseek is great against decks that don't do much in the early turns like control and midrange, though.
I like exactly two copies of Liliana, though three seems more the norm. I’ve played a lot of Lilianas, and this is by far the worst she’s ever been for me. That isn’t to say she’s not still good. But there is very little hexproof around, so edict over targeted removal is largely irrelevant. And you don’t have any real way to break the symmetry of the discard ability. In U/B Control you had Think Twice/Forbidden Alchemy. In Modern/Legacy Jund you have Dark Confidant and a curve that stops at 4.
Here you want to cast five-drops and use Kessig Wolf Run, so discarding lands isn't inconsequential. You will still sometimes have bad cards to discard (i.e. Pillar of Flame vs. control or Rakdos’s Return against R/G Aggro). Liliana is also not great in the mirror, which I expect to pick up in popularity. The discard will occasionally be good if it allows you to Rakdos's Return their whole hand a turn earlier, but the edict doesn’t do much against Huntmaster and Thragtusk. Anyway, she is still one of your best cards against control, and passable against aggro as a follow up to earlier removal spells. Play two.
Garruk is your most reliable way to win games. You will, of course, win plenty of games with Thragtusk, Olivia, or Huntmaster as well. But if you cast him after stabilizing against another creature deck, it is nigh impossible to lose. Also, it is very hard for control to interact with him. Do not be afraid to immediately cash in for 3-5 cards if you already have a board presence, and there is some risk of Garruk dying such as Planar Cleansing or Boros Charm. You could potentially go up to three Garruks if you do not expect much fast aggro.
Another thing I’ve seen is little Garruk in the sideboard for the mirror. Brian Eason had this against me in the PT and it won him a game. I haven’t had the chance to test this, but it seems reasonable. Stopping them from casting Primal Hunter is awesome, and if you can flip your little Garruk and start tutoring for Thragtusks, it’ll be hard to lose.
Thundermaw Hellkite may seem like a bit of an odd inclusion, but we wanted a card that was good against the mirror and control, and never actually bad (see: Staff of Nin). It is mainly there to kill planeswalkers, but is also just a good way to get aggressive when necessary or follow up after a Wrath. If the format slows down, which certainly seems possible based on the Top 8, I would play two in the main deck.
Several of these cards are just additional copies of ones we have in the main. You want the extra Rakdos's Return vs. midrange and control. The extra Dead Weight against aggro. The Dreadbore comes in against aggro, the mirror, and control with planeswalkers, replacing the removal that doesn’t have targets against the latter two archetypes. The Hellkite is to kill opposing planeswalkers in both matchups, and you also want it against Reanimator because you need to present a real clock against them.
Underworld Connections is for midrange mirrors and control. The reason we settled on this over Staff of Nin is that it is easier to sneak under counters against control, and can be resolved before you get Rakdos's Returned in the mirror. I could see playing one Staff of Nin as well, though.
Slaughter Games comes in against control and Reanimator. I would want a third copy against Reanimator, but not control. Against control, you name Sphinx’s Revelation. What you name with the second copy is largely irrelevant, hence only two copies. What you name versus Reanimator depends on their deck, but if it is Angel of Glory's Rise combo, obviously name that card.
Barter in Blood is sick against aggro decks, since you don’t play creatures early anyway. It is, of course, also good against Ghost Pants, if people still play that deck.
Deathrite Shaman is largely for Reanimator, but is worth siding in against Snapcaster decks. They have to burn a removal spell on your Deathrite if they ever want to flash anything back. He will also occasionally burn someone out, as happened in my second game against Yuuya. Some people advocate siding Deathrite in against aggro, but I don’t like that. It is a bad early play when Barter in Blood is in your deck, and you have much higher-impact life gain cards later in the game.
The Grafdigger's Cage was just an extra Reanimator card, though I never brought it in. I’m not sure if I would bother with it, unless that deck picks up in popularity. You could play a Staff of Nin or little Garruk instead.
My Usual Meticulous Tournament Report
Here's a brief recap of my tournament, sans Limited:
Rounds 1-3 Draft
Round 4 Red Aggro (1-0)
Round 5 Mono Black Conley (2-0)
Round 6 Jund (3-0)
Round 7 Zombies (3-1)
Round 8 UWR (4-1)
Rounds 9-11 Draft
Round 12 Bant Control (4-2)
Round 13 Esper (5-2)
Round 14 UWR(6-2)
Round 15 Jund (6-3)
Round 16 Naya Humans (7-3)
I feel like these results are fairly representative. Bant Control seemed like a bad matchup. Esper felt even when I was helping BenS test for Top 8. The aggro decks are favorable, though not hugely. You may be a slight dog to Zombies without Pillar, but that match was two mulls to five where I was stuck on one land, so I didn’t get much of a feel either way. I lost the mirror to two Olivias that I could not answer.
One matchup here that I didn’t cover in the deck discussion is UWR. This deck is slightly awkward to side against because it can play like both aggro and control, depending on draws. You do want the additional Rakdos’s Return and Duresses against them, but I do not like the Underworld Connections, since you cannot necessarily afford the loss of life. Deathrite Shaman is also good, since it turns off Snapcaster. You may want one Barter if they have Geist (against this exact deck you’d rather have Devour Flesh, but any edict in a pinch). You have enough creatures that Geist should usually not be an issue, though.
Side out Dead Weight, Mortars, and, if you need more slots, Abrupt Decay. It is also potentially right to side out one Garruk, since he is weak to Angel tokens, actual Angels, and Boros Charms. Whether or not you want Slaughter Games depends on how controlling they are, since the more aggro versions don’t even necessarily have Revelations. Also, unlike against true control decks, you may be under pressure on turn 4 and unable to cast a spell that doesn’t affect the board.
I was happy with how the deck performed, and would absolutely play it again in hindsight. I had a slow start to the season, but with my Top 50 finish here and my recent Top 8s, I am now locked up for Gold again. Quite the relief to not have to sweat it going into the last Pro Tour! Anyway, if you are looking for a deck for GP Quebec City, I’d recommend giving Jund a try. Charlotte is much closer to DC, so I’ll be drafting instead. If you are there, feel free to come say hi!
Quick side note: Flash with more counters might also be a sweet choice right now. Cavern of Souls isn’t being played much, and the counter-heavy versions of that deck fare well against Jund and Esper. Rewind is a clunky card, but it is quite good against a deck that repeatedly taps out for 4- and 5-drops!
Alright, that’s all I have for today. Tune in next week for another Jund article. Kidding! I have been drafting/recording a lot of Gatecrash lately, so be sure to check those out in the coming weeks.
Thanks for reading,
@wildestnacatl on Twitter