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Recurring Nightmares – Adjusting to M14

The time of M14 Standard is upon us—and we’re all just living in Jund’s world.

Despite AJ Sacher’s win at SCG Richmond with a B/W Humans deck this past weekend, the top dog of post-core set Standard has to be the Jund Midrange deck that took just under half the slots in the Top 8. Between the efficient threats and excellent removal available, the deck appears well-poised to handle any problems the format can throw at it.

The newest addition to the Jund Arsenal is [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]. As a maindeck answer to all the graveyard shenanigans you can muster, the Ooze almost singlehandedly (do Oozes have hands?) pushed grave-focused decks like Junk Rites out of the format, a feat that even a combination of [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and [card]Rest in Peace[/card] were unable to accomplish. At the same time, it gives Jund another resilient blocker in the early turns, while providing a source of incidental life gain in the midgame, as well as developing into a significant threat and brick wall as the game progresses. It is exactly the kind of card the red opponent would prefer not to see on turn 2, and it’s not particularly good for them on turn 10, either. Finally, it allows Jund to cut the maindeck [card]Ground Seal[/card]s, that basically just took up slots in the deck that were much too valuable to be forced into a specific and focused hoser card—even if it did cantrip.

Because these two decks have a difficult time competing with the new Jund force, we should expect to see far less of them overall in the metagame. Instead, we’re seeing a battle of the midrange, and the dominating force in that war has been Jund for as long as we’ve seen modern versions of the deck.

As a result of the battle between Jund and, well, Jund, a shift in the construction of the typical shell has occurred. We’re seeing less focus on removal spells like [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and [card]Pillar of Flame[/card], that have a difficult time dealing with anything of value in the mirror, and seeing a shift toward cards that break the midrange mirror open like Garruk and [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card]. A heavier reliance on the threat base doing the work in midrange matchups means less room for the removal that is often worse than playing yet another creature anyway.

A bonus that comes with the shifting structure of the Jund deck is a better matchup against control decks—generally the rock to the scissors of midrange decks. When you’re focusing on playing cards like Ooze, that may not have a significant and immediate impact on the board, it’s easy to see how it can be outclassed by spells like [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card]. However, with the move toward more Rakdos’s Returns, more Bonfires, more planeswalkers, and less dedicated removal, the matchup with control will improve overall. It’s for all these reasons that we’re seeing decks like Andrew Boswell’s rise to the top of the heap:

Jund – Andrew Boswell

[deck]Main Deck
2 Arbor Elf
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Thragtusk
3 Olivia Voldaren
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
1 Abrupt Decay
1 Doom Blade
2 Putrefy
2 Tragic Slip
4 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
2 Rakdos’s Return
2 Forest
1 Swamp
4 Blood Crypt
3 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
1 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Woodland Cemetery
Sideboard
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
2 Underworld Connections
2 Tragic Slip
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Barter In Blood
2 Duress
1 Rakdos’s Return[/deck]

We would be remiss of course, to discuss the results of the event last weekend without addressing the winner of the Standard Open, AJ Sacher’s B/W Humans/tokens list:

[deck]Main Deck
4 Blood Artist
1 Bloodthrone Vampire
4 Cartel Aristocrat
4 Champion of the Parish
4 Doomed Traveler
4 Xathrid Necromancer
3 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
1 Orzhov Charm
4 Tragic Slip
4 Gather the Townsfolk
4 Lingering Souls
7 Plains
5 Swamp
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
2 Mutavault
1 Orzhov Guildgate
Sideboard
1 Pithing Needle
2 Lifebane Zombie
2 Sin Collector
2 Intangible Virtue
1 Brave the Elements
2 Doom Blade
2 Profit
1 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Appetite for Brains[/deck]

AJ’s list takes a cue from The Aristocrats shells from the last iteration of Standard, and looks to pair a [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] with a plethora of value creatures, punishing the opponent for the inability to interact with many of the tricks available to the Humans shell. Eschewing the [card]Skirsdag High Priest[/card]s in favor of [card]Xathrid Necromancer[/card]s, the deck leans more toward combo’ing off with a [card]Blood Artist[/card] (often after having gotten damage through with Cartel Aristocrat or tokens) than it does attempting to make 5/5 Demon tokens. This deck conjures up fond memories of BW Kithkin/tokens in Lorwyn Standard, and I can imagine the deck will have the same kind of staying power that that deck had at the time.

One facet of this deck I like in particular is the fact that it appears to be the first deck we’ve seen that has the ability to take advantage of the addition of [card]Mutavault[/card] to the card pool, something I believe we’ll see more and more of, as the presence of it in upper-tier decks tends to beget the need for it in other decks.

However much I may enjoy the BW deck conceptually, I feel that I’ll still be focusing my attention in the immediate future on the Ghouls and Ghosts deck I mentioned in my previous article. While there are certainly changes in the metagame that make me reconsider specific card choices, overall I think the shift we’ve seen in Standard has been a positive one for this deck.

Ghouls and Ghosts

[deck]Main Deck
4 Boros Reckoner
4 Vampire Nighthawk
3 Blood Baron of Vizkopa
3 Obzedat, Ghost Council
2 Olivia Voldaren
2 Pillar of Flame
2 Doom Blade
3 Mizzium Mortars
4 Dreadbore
3 Rakdos Keyrune
3 Warleader’s Helix
1 Assemble the Legion
1 Rakdos’s Return
2 Cavern of Souls
4 Blood Crypt
4 Dragonskull Summit
4 Godless Shrine
4 Isolated Chapel
4 Clifftop Retreat
4 Sacred Foundry
Sideboard
3 Rest in Peace
2 Curse of Death’s Hold
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Pithing Needle
1 Assemble the Legion
2 Sin Collector
2 Barter in Blood
1 Devour Flesh[/deck]

The adjustments to this build are subtle. We’ve added a pair of [card]Doom Blade[/card]s to the main deck over the third and fourth [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]. Much like the Jund decks, we’re noticing a decrease in the hyper-aggressive red decks lurking around (also known as prey). To improve some of the percentages against decks with creatures larger than a [card]Rakdos Cackler[/card], we’ve shifted some of our removal up the curve. To that point, I don’t believe it’s worthwhile to cut the entire set of Pillars, as they are still very good against decks like BW, and removing a Huntmaster for a single red mana is still a worthwhile endeavor. The split has suited me well so far, and depending on how the meta shifts over the course of the next few weeks, it could be adjusted more in one direction or the other. The other available slots for adjusting removal are the [card]Warleader’s Helix[/card]es, which are very good at recovering some life in a race, but clunky and expensive as well. We’ve cut the fourth in favor of a maindeck [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] (to fight the good fight in midrange city), but we could easily cut another for a third [card]Doom Blade[/card] or second Return.

The sideboard has undergone a significant overhaul, largely due to the fear of the Hexproof menace, though the Hexproof deck did not appear to pan out this weekend. Despite the linearity and fragility of the Hexproof deck, the power can’t be ignored, and having access to a few dedicated spells like [card]Barter in Blood[/card] is worth the cost, especially since you now have access to so many powerful edict effects against them post-board. I feel much more comfortable against a powerful linear like Hexproof when I have a few extra hosers in my back pocket. This is the same reason I’m running three [card]Rest in Peace[/card], despite the lowered presence of Junk in the format.

The fact that [card]Rest in Peace[/card] is still a very good card against many decks in Standard, despite it not being the potentially game-ending bomb that it is against a dedicated graveyard deck, means there is value to find in it still.

As far as the specific competitors go, Jund is, in my experience, one of your more positive matchups. Despite the fact that a card like [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card] can be difficult, I have plenty of data to suggest that it is rarely lethal, unless it is in fact lethal. The same is true of Bonfires of the non-miracled variety. In reality, the cards that you’re most concerned about from Jund are the ones they’re cutting, or the ones they were already running four of, like [card]Thragtusk[/card]. This doesn’t make things any more difficult, it just maintains the problems we already saw.

The new card additions to the Jund deck are of little regard—[card]Doom Blade[/card] is largely ineffective against your creature base, with the exception of [card]Boros Reckoner[/card], which was killed by literally every single removal spell they played before, so not much changes there. Instead of cards like Putrefy, which could easily take out an Obzedat, you now have more sorcery-speed removal and Doom Blades. Instead of Mortars, one of the only reliable answers to [card]Blood Baron of Vizkopa[/card], you have more spells that can’t target it.
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BW tokens is a very interesting matchup for the Ghouls and Ghosts. While on the surface, it would appear that we have a significant upper hand, the fact that they can blank a large portion of our spells via [card]Cartel Aristocrat[/card] and [card]Bloodthrone Vampire[/card] can be very annoying. The life gain from Nighthawk is often marginalized by their sacrifice effects, and they have the ability to combo off in rapid fashion, before some of our best spells against them can come online. While an unanswered Blood Baron can often take over a game (of course), having one online is not as simple a matter as you’d expect.

From the sideboard, we gain a lot of help, but much of it is either fragile or vulnerable to being stripped from us via Appetite for Brains (a card our deck is particularly poor against, as the majority of our power comes from being willing to commit to a high end curve). Rest in Peace, while not quite as good against BW as it is against a more traditional Aristocrats shell, is still very good, and we can obviously see that a resolved [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] can be extremely difficult for the deck to beat without an anthem effect. I’m still debating the merit of sideboarding in the [card]Pithing Needle[/card] against the BW deck, as it seems like a useful tool for keeping the Cartel Aristocrats from running away with the game, but is situational and narrow. I still like the card, especially against [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], but it has limited applications in other situations.

As I outlined above, many will look to control shells as a natural answer to the midrange question. For us, this is both a positive and negative—or rather it can be either, depending on which version of control a player decides to run.

I mentioned that a shift toward Rakdos’s Return means an aggressive or midrange deck has a natural ability to keep up with the control deck, and it’s no exception here. We did remove the [card]Slaughter Games[/card] from our sideboard, which means we are forced to close the gap before the opponent can bury us in Revelations, but that’s not all that different from before. We still have Liliana to control hand sizes, we still have Sin Collector and Cavern to force through threats, and Obzedat is still a difficult problem for the control opponent to solve. If we land an Assemble the Legion, often it becomes merely a matter of time before the control opponent succumbs.

Nonetheless, some control builds are more difficult than others. The Dragon-wielding URW builds tend to be much more aggressive, and this can be a problem for us on occasion, if we aren’t prepared. The addition of Doom Blade to our arsenal is an important one in this instance, as it allows us to answer a creature of higher-than-four toughness at instant speed, but we still need to draw and resolve our Blades at the correct moment. Esper control has access to Far // Away, which can be a real answer for Obzedat on occasion, so we need to play around it as much as we can.

And yet, with all of these obstacles in our path, I would still take the deck above into the Invitational without a second thought. It is a powerful deck, that often just plays better spells than the opponent. It has an endgame unmatched by most decks in Standard, and can create game scenarios where the opponent simply has to answer far too many angles for their success to be realistic. I’ve been more and more impressed with the deck as time has gone on, and will very likely continue to play it as long as the metagame seems positive toward it, as it does today.

If I could only figure out how to smooth out the draws (26 land alternates between being far too many and far too few more often than I’d prefer), I believe we’d have a real monster on our hands.

Good luck in your events this weekend!
Adam
@adamnightmare

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