Black midrange decks have been good in Modern for a very long time. But they’ve never been this good.
The printing of Fatal Push changed Magic forever. It’s been said for years that Lightning Bolt was the best card in Modern—Fatal Push is much better than Lightning Bolt. In many cases, it’s better than Swords to Plowshares, which is a card that ought to be well beyond the power level of Modern.
Combining Fatal Push with 1-mana discard spells and undercosted threats is a winning recipe. More than that, it’s a recipe for the best decks in the format. Consider a few of the decks that share this shell:
- Grixis Death’s Shadow
- Jund (or any green-based) Death’s Shadow
- Abzan Traverse
- Classic Abzan Midrange
- Classic Jund Midrange
- Grixis Delver
- W/B Tokens
In my opinion, these are the best decks in Modern. This is not to say that they’re the only competitive decks in Modern—not by any stretch of the imagination. There are dozens of decks that make great choices if you decide they’re good metagame calls, if you think you can dodge the right hate cards, or if you’re particularly skilled with them. But the black midrange decks are basically good against the whole Modern field, and they’re difficult to attack. You can’t go wrong by choosing one of them.
Why Choose Jund?
I can’t claim that Jund is the single most powerful option from among the black midrange decks, but it does have an important niche that makes it a great choice for certain metagames. It’s the best at picking apart smaller creature decks. This includes Affinity, Infect, Elves, Merfolk, Hate Bears, and most importantly, Collected Company.
This is exactly why I played Jund at the SCG Open in Baltimore last weekend. Collected Company is a hot strategy right now, due to the new combo of Devoted Druid plus Vizier of Remedies. I feel squarely advantaged playing Jund against Abzan Company, whereas I feel squarely disadvantaged playing most other black midrange decks against Collected Company. (Although it should be noted that the matchup is close and challenging in either case.)
Reid Duke, 4th place at StarCityGames.com Modern Open
Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize are the cards you most want to see in your opening hand. In combo and control matchups you want to draw as many copies as you can at any point in the game. In other matchups, you don’t particularly want to draw multiples. So while they’re never bad, there is a limit to how many you should play. I always maindeck 6. I used to play 1 or 2 more in my sideboard, but I now spend those slots on Collective Brutality instead.
Fatal Push and other removal spells let you control the board while the discard spells help you control your opponent’s hand. I recommend 4 Fatal Push because it’s so efficient at killing Tarmogoyf and Death’s Shadow. Turn-1 black mana is also much easier and less painful than red mana (or white mana for Abzan). Beyond 4 Fatal Push, you want a healthy mix that helps you cover your bases against a wide range of threats. With Jund in particular, there’s a risk of overloading on Lightning Bolt, Abrupt Decay, and Kolaghan’s Command while being too soft to cards such as Gurmag Angler and Reality Smasher. Terminate is great right now.
Tarmogoyf is still the cleanest, most efficient threat that Jund has access to.
Dark Confidant has more weaknesses than Tarmogoyf, but a Confidant and a discard spell is what I want to see in my opening hand more than anything else. Confidant really shines against linear decks that skimp on removal, like Collected Company.
I still consider Scavenging Ooze a key card, even though I don’t play the full 4 copies. It’s your best late-game card, and lets you win in spots that would otherwise be hopeless without targeted sideboard cards. Ooze is also excellent against Abzan Company.
Liliana of the Veil is one of my absolute favorite cards in Modern. It’s at once the best card against efficient creature decks (like Death’s Shadow), control decks (like U/W Control), and ramp decks (like R/G Valakut). Granted, there are some matchups where she’s not great, but discard spell into Liliana is an opening I’ll gladly take in my next Modern match, even without knowing what I’ll be paired against
Creaturelands aren’t exciting or glamorous, but they’re a subtle reason why Jund Midrange has been a winning strategy for so long. You play an even game, trade off resources, and then look down and have a 4/4 beater waiting for you to use at your convenience.
3 Raging Ravines are my bare-bones creatureland suite for when I want my mana to run as smoothly as possible. If I want more firepower for grindy matchups (for example, if I expect a lot of mirror matches), I supplement with 1 or 2 Treetop Villages.
Optional and Sideboard Cards
Grim Lavamancer main deck is an example of gearing Jund to beat Collected Company. I wouldn’t leave home without 1 in the 75, but the second copy is definitely a flex slot.
Olivia Voldaren is likewise at her best against small creature decks, but she will win you the game any time she survives on a stalled board. She was quite good for me at SCG Baltimore, but there’s stiff competition at the 4-mana slot.
Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a new planeswalker that I was very excited about at first. I started my testing with 2 copies and had cut down to 1 by the time of the tournament. She was fine for me, but didn’t excel. Double-red is not a trivial cost for a deck that’s primarily black and green.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet remains a reasonable and powerful option, but loses a bit of his punch now that Abzan Company can combo without using the graveyard.
Huntmaster of the Fells wasn’t in my deck for the SCG, but is what I consider the “baseline option” for the 4-mana slot. It stabilizes the board, provides guaranteed value, and can do some damage when it goes unanswered in a long game.
Note that having more Kolaghan’s Commands causes the top-end creatures to go up in value relative to noncreature options like Chandra.
Grafdigger’s Cage is an all-star sideboard card that’s great against Dredge and Collected Company. I’m very happy with 2 copies.
Leyline of the Void was my graveyard hate of choice alongside Grafdigger’s Cage. My logic was that starting with Leyline would hamstring the Grixis Shadow decks by making their delve creatures uncastable, while reducing the effectiveness of Snapcaster Mage and Kolaghan’s Command. These things are true, but the problem is that the Jund vs. Grixis matchup goes so long that you’re more likely to draw into the Leyline later in the game than you are to have it in your opening hand. I’m really not sure what’s better between Leyline and Nihil Spellbomb, but the randomness of Leyline is a bit unpalatable for me.
You can consider Brutality a hate card against Burn that’s versatile enough to bring in whenever you have something you want to cut. Against weenie decks you’re happy to pay an extra mana for Disfigure, and against combo decks you’re happy to pay an extra mana for Duress. Whenever you can reliably do both—like against Burn and Infect—this is a back-breaker.
Kitchen Finks is still a pet card of mine after all of these years. It remains the best creature you can play against Burn or against anyone with Wild Nacatl in their deck. It also has value in grindy matchups, and provides a buffer against opposing Liliana of the Veils.
Matchups and Sideboard
There are too many decks in Modern to cover them all, so what I’ll do is focus on a select few matchups that proved to be the most important at the SCG Open. Note that I’ll be using the deck list posted above, even though I’ve mentioned some possible changes in the Key Cards and Optional Cards sections.
Grixis Death’s Shadow
I don’t particularly like playing against Snapcaster Mage midrange decks with Jund. These matchups are very close statistically (maybe 45%-55%), but the games virtually always come down to a topdeck battle, and Snapcaster Mage is always a devastating top deck.
Leyline of the Void is going to be awesome when it’s in your opening, but poor when you draw it later. It’s worth bringing in, especially when you have some unexciting cards, but it’s not good enough that you’d want a full playset (since drawing 2 is unappealing). Kitchen Finks is a persistent threat when you’re winning and can buy you as many as two full turns when you’re behind. Trim the cards that match up poorly against 5-toughness creatures.
You want a moderate amount of discard for this matchup—5 or 6 is probably ideal. It’s important to strip away Snapcaster Mages and clear the way for your threats to stick, but you don’t want to dilute your deck and be at a big disadvantage in a topdeck war.
Abzan Collected Company
With a tuned deck list, good sideboarding, and tight gameplay, you’re squarely advantaged against Collected Company decks. But if you get sloppy, they’ll punish you.
This matchup is not about bashing in with Tarmogoyfs, it’s about attacking their resources and making sure they can’t untap with the creatures they need.
You might see me with any number between 0 to 4 Liliana of the Veil after sideboarding based on play and draw, and on my opponent’s exact deck list. She goes down in value if they have cards like Voice of Resurgence and Lingering Souls, but generally fits with the plan of killing all of the opponent’s stuff. Both Liliana and Inquisition of Kozilek are better on the play than on the draw (it’s possible to miss with your second discard spell if you draw 2 when on the draw). You can trim Tarmogoyfs, but you shouldn’t cut them altogether since drawing one is helpful to hold the ground and protect planeswalkers.
Just like Abzan Collected Company, Affinity can be a solidly favorable matchup, but requires careful execution. One small misstep and you’re dead very quickly.
Also like Collected Company, your plan is not to race, but to dismantle their key threats and win at your convenience. The exception to this rule is when Etched Champion goes unanswered and forces you into a race situation.
My approach to the Affinity matchup is different from the majority of Jund players, who sideboard out Dark Confidant. While I’m open to trimming down to 3 Confidant, I find it to be a key part of the “kill everything they play” game plan, and I actually prefer it to Tarmogoyf. Scavenging Ooze is nice to draw exactly one of when the dust settles after the initial flurry of action. Fulminator Mage and Liliana of the Veil (she’s better after sideboard than in game 1) are both passable, but unexciting, with Fulminator generally being a little better.
I went 1-2 against Dredge at the SCG Open, eventually being eliminated in the Top 4 by Ben Friedman. The matchup ranges from “bad but winnable” to “good” depending on your number of dedicated hate cards. Right now I consider 2 Scavenging Ooze in the main deck and 2 Grafdigger’s Cage in the sideboard mandatory, but if you want to beat Dredge you should play substantially more than that. Nihil Spellbomb and Leyline of the Void are the next best options. It’s even possible to play a Spellbomb maindeck, particularly if you’re interested in delirium.
The die roll is incredibly important in this matchup, since a turn-1 discard spell that strips away their Faithless Looting or Insolent Neonate is a great way to steal the game. Even on the draw, you shouldn’t sideboard out discard spells since you can use them to answer their answer for your Grafdigger’s Cage or Scavenging Ooze.
Death’s Shadow is all the rage recently, and many players seem to believe you have to be flashy and explosive to win in Modern. You can still grind! A world of small creature decks where everybody has forgotten that Jund exists is a world I want to live in.
And it’s a world where I want to play Jund.