As with most things, I was late finding a team for Grand Prix Madrid. I searched for some teammates, and my two good friends from Sweden, Per Nyström and Elias Watsfeldt, agreed to play with me.
Now, I haven’t played a single game of Legacy since GP Las Vegas 2017, so I didn’t feel ready to face all of the Legacy aficionados at GP Madrid with so little time left. Elias shared my view so we delegated that task to Per, who had a bit more experience in the format. With only Modern and Standard left, after some discussion, we decided I would play Standard and Elias Modern.
For those who doesn’t know, Elias is quite the control player—a Swedish Shouta Yasooka, if you will—and since Jace, the Mind Sculptor was recently unbanned, it seemed best to put him to the task of breaking it. I, on the other hand, had recently come home from the Modern Pro Tour. It would seem natural that I would keep playing the format, but I yearned to interact with my opponents, something I had pretty much given up on in Modern. I think the best way to play Modern was to play something profoundly proactive, preferably unfair, because there were too many ways to get caught off-guard while trying to control the game. It’s just the way Modern has been for quite some time and a lot of people love it—it’s a part of the format’s success. But personally, I haven’t been a fan.
When I started playing my first Standard League on Magic Online, I asked for a list from our team Standard expert, Brad Nelson. He shipped me his latest U/B Midrange build, and as I was testing it, I just wasn’t feeling it. Before the League, I hadn’t played Standard in a while and I wasn’t sure how it had progressed post-bannings. That meant the game was unintuitive and complex unless I played against Mono-Red. The sequencing was also hard—whether I should keep up Supreme Will or cast Champion of Wits, play Walking Ballista on turn 2 or save it, etc. Without much experience with the format, all these decisions became a lot harder.
A few days later, Fredrik Löf said that he was planning on playing a small Modern tournament close to where I live and asked whether I wanted to come. Since I didn’t have a finished Modern deck, I declined, but he then offered to let me borrow an entire Bloodbraid Elf Jund deck because he was playing U/W Control with Jace himself, and so I agreed. After four rounds of Modern I didn’t lose a single game. Even more importantly, the matches felt great. Almost all of my decisions mattered and sequencing was important.
After the event, I went straight back home and told my team of my newfound love. I asked Elias whether he had found anything with Jace, the Mind Sculptor that he liked, and since he hadn’t, we made the old switcharoo. With a new goal in mind, I started playing Jund, invigorated like never before! This was the list I ended up with prior to the event.
I went 7-1 Day 1, finishing all of my matches, and 1-2 with three undecided matches going into game 3 on the play on Day 2. That meant a total record of 8-3, not counting the undecided matches. Elias barely lost a match throughout the Swiss and Per didn’t lose a match Day 2. They definitely carried me to the Top 4. You might say that 8-3 isn’t a great record, but the true power of Jund is demonstrated by what I faced:
- Two B/R Hollow One
- Three Mono-Green Tron
- Three R/G Eldrazi
- One Bloodbraid Elf Valakut
- One W/B Eldrazi
- One Burn
- Two Jund
- Two Living End
Some might say that I didn’t play a single good matchup throughout the Swiss portion. Did I just run better than normal, or is Jund really that good? I would say it’s a combination of the two. Sure, the sample size is small, but I’m not that surprised by the results since my testing reflected the same trend. A lot of people won’t instinctively agree with this, but I believe the Jund versus Tron matchup is pretty much 50/50—maybe 47/53—hard to say exactly. Even the Living End matchup isn’t as bad as many may think, and probably closer to 55-45 in Living End’s favor. The R/G Eldrazi matchup isn’t terrible either. Yes, when these decks curve out perfectly, it’s pretty much impossible to win, whether it’s a natural turn-3 Karn, Reality Smasher turn 4 and 5, or bringing back 5-6 creatures on turn 4 with Living End. But they have consistency issues, while Jund is solid at carrying out its own game plan. That’s why it may feel like a terrible matchup sometimes when they just do their thing on the play and you can’t win. In reality, those are few and far between. The only decks I truly wouldn’t want to face among the matchups I played are BBE Valakut and B/R Hollow One, which are both tougher matchups.
The Jund Mirror
The Jund mirror is a little bit of everything. Life total matters, tempo matters, card advantage matters, sequencing matters—the list goes on. That means the games play out differently almost every time and finding a way to attack the mirror becomes difficult. But since Jund is great at picking apart game plans, especially with discard spells, the game is most likely to become an attrition war. This can also be a trap. Because the games go long, players board in expensive and grindy cards, and forget about all the other factors that have an impact in the mirror, such as tempo and sequencing. If you’re too clunky, it means that your opponent will be able to become the aggressor—a big advantage in the mirror, and it will be harder for you to sequence your spells in the fashion you would want to. Thus, you won’t be able to use the grindier cards to their full potential after all.
Lately, there has been some controversy about how to sideboard in the Jund mirror. Sideboarding in the matchup is very complex and, in all honesty, almost impossible to know exactly what’s correct and what isn’t.
I want four copies of Fulminator in my sideboard right now. With all the Tron running around, this card is paramount, but don’t forget that it’s great versus Living End, Scapeshift, and U/W Control too.
The mirror, however, is not where you want it. I don’t really want to trade a card for a land, even if it’s a Raging Ravine. It transfers indirectly into card disadvantage where you trade cards not only for their spells but their land as well. Using a Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push to destroy an animated Raging Ravine is completely different, because it generates tempo. Not only does Fulminator Mage cost 3 where Lightning Bolt or Fatal Push cost 1, but you also get an advantage when they spend mana to activate Raging Ravine.
The only time Fulminator Mage is good is when your opponent keeps a low land count hand and you “get them” on the play. With you wanting to keep close to every hand in the mirror because of the value of each card, this will not happen too often, especially if they keep discard spells post-sideboard.
Even on the play, playing Fulminator Mage and destroying a land on turn 3 will be a disadvantage. Say you play a Tarmogoyf on turn 2 on the play. They play a Dark Confidant. At this point, you really don’t want to them to get a trigger off the Dark Confidant, so you can’t play your Fulminator Mage. You have to play removal instead. Even if they mirror your play with their own Tarmogoyf, using Fulminator Mage isn’t great, because if they just respond by playing another Tarmogoyf, or destroy your Tarmogoyf, you’re no longer ahead on the board, which leads to worse sequencing and your cards create less value the further you fall behind.
To put the final nail in the coffin, the best cards in the mirror costs 3 mana and maximum 4 mana. Before, there were a lot more 5-mana spells to break the mirror, such as Batterskull or Thundermaw Hellkite, which Fulminator Mage could prey upon. This isn’t the case anymore, erasing any semblance of usefulness.
A popular idea among Jund players is to board out discard spells in the mirror. The cons of having discard spells are that they are a bad topdeck in a long game, a bad hit off Bloodbraid Elf later in the game, and many of the cards do similar things in the mirror. Jund hasn’t really seen the spotlight in a long time, and this idea has become archaic. It needs to be looked at in a new context. I believe there are some good reasons to keep some discard spell in the mirror.
First off, because I still want Fulminator Mage in my sideboard but not in the mirror, keeping discard spells post-sideboard actually frees up a ton of sideboard slots. If you want to take out six discard spells and one Pulse, you need seven cards that are definitely better, which is a lot of space. If you don’t want to completely cut sideboard cards against some matchups, for example Surgical Extraction against Tron and graveyard strategies or Ancient Grudge versus Affinity etc., you need to make all those answers less powerful to make them target a larger scope. You may have to switch Surgical Extraction into Nihil Spellbomb or Ancient Grudge to Fatal Push, because they’re flexible enough to come in for the mirror. As you can see, forcing yourself to take out discard spells in the mirror and making room for other slots makes other matchups a lot worse.
Exploit a Weakness
While a lot of the cards in the mirror are the same and trade frequently against each other, there are some cards that can snowball and win the game on their own if they aren’t dealt with right away, like Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant. Since literally every card matters in the mirror, including hitting your land drops up to 4 or 5 lands, you seldom mulligan. That means that a lot of time you will have to keep a hand that doesn’t have everything. If you can exploit that by discarding their only removal for Dark Confidant or their discard spell, Abrupt Decay or Kitchen Finks for your Liliana of the Veil, you can run create a large advantage or even run away with the game based only on that.
Sequencing and Information
Sequencing well with Jund is important and sometimes very difficult. For example, on turn 2, if you have a choice between casting Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, or Scavenging Ooze, they can all be the right play for different reasons. Most of the time, it’s correct to play Dark Confidant while your life total is high and has the highest chance to retain value, but what if they are on the play and have Liliana, the Last Hope? It’s a disaster. What if they only have Lightning Bolt and Kolaghan’s Command as removal spells that can’t kill your Tarmogoyf? Then Tarmogoyf is great! What if you only have 1 green mana, so you play your Scavenging Ooze for them to kill first and clear the way for your higher value targets, but your opponent didn’t have removal in the first place? You lost out on tons of value! If you have a discard spell on turn 1, you can sequence to get the most out of every spell, which is key in the mirror match.
Hazoret the Fervent is the Best Card
I firmly believe that Hazoret the Fervent is the best card in the mirror match. But because it’s legendary and costs 4 mana, you don’t want too many of them. It dodges all removal, races most boards, wins Tarmogoyf stalls, and can only be dealt with by a fresh Liliana of the Veil. On the other hand, it’s great versus Liliana of the Veil. If Liliana of the Veil is already in play, you can kill her immediately, even if she’s on 5 loyalty, or even bring her down to 1 loyalty from 6 so that she can’t edict the Hazoret next turn. To add to this, if you save it as your last card, there is a high chance that your opponent will discard additional Liliana of the Veils as the first one’s loyalty goes up.
So what does this have to do with discard? Well, first of all, you can get their Liliana of the Veil, which usually makes it so that they won’t have an answer for Hazoret any time soon. The other reason is pretty simple, which is that you want to empty your hand to be able to attack with Hazoret right away.
Inquisition of Kozilek or Thoughtseize?
While I want discard spells post-sideboard in the mirror, I don’t want all of them. Since I have 3 cards I want to bring in with two Kitchen Finks and one Hazoret the Fervent, and Maelstrom Pulse goes out before anything else, I only cut two of them. I prefer Inquisition of Kozilek over Thoughtseize.
Life Totals Matter
Life totals really matter in the mirror. You usually say that your life total is a resource—that couldn’t be less true in the mirror match. Life total usually matters most when the game grinds out and the game devolves into a topdeck war. The easiest example of this is when I draw a Dark Confidant in such a scenario. Whether I’m on 5 or 7 life at this point matters by a huge margin, since it directly translates to how many cards I will be able to draw off Dark Confidant before it’s a liability. But life total also translates into value in many other scenarios. Say that my opponent draws a Tarmogoyf and that I draw a Scavenging Ooze I play and pass. The Tarmogoyf is a 5/6 and I’m at 3 life with only 2 green mana available. That means I will have to chump this turn, even if I gain 2 life from the Scavenging Ooze. But if I played Inquisition of Kozilek instead of Thoughtseize earlier in this match, I don’t have to chump and Scavenging Ooze most likely takes over the game, trumping Tarmogoyf. There are an infinite number of these scenarios where your life total gives you more turns to come back.
3-Drops are Better
Recently, 3-drops in Jund, especially in the mirror, have become a lot more powerful. With the addition of Kolaghan’s Command, Liliana, the Last Hope, and Kitchen Finks after sideboard, together with Liliana of the Veil, 3-drops are just better than the 4-drops. It sounds crazy, but hear me out. Say that you are planning to take a Bloodbraid Elf with a Thoughtseize. The only problem is that your opponent has a Kolaghan’s Command or a Liliana, the Last Hope. If I take the Bloodbraid Elf, they return the Bloodbraid Elf to their hand with either of them, with the additional value that those cards provide. It’s similar to how it’s often awkward to take an instant or sorcery instead of a Snapcaster Mage, because it’s pretty much the same thing except they get the 2/1 as well. I would say that most times, even Kitchen Finks and Liliana of the Veil are better to take early than Bloodbraid Elf.
Lastly, you want to play your discard spell early in the game to gain the most information about how to sequence, as well as take away opportunities from your opponent before it’s too late and the discard spell is a dead card. When you play it early, you often want to take something that impacts the game earlier to give you momentum, meaning that you often don’t want to take the Bloodbraid Elf regardless!