Last weekend, I played in the biggest Magic tournament ever held—almost 3,000 people in attendance, and honestly the tournament was awesome. My Sealed deck, on the other hand, was pretty mediocre to bad, and I was playing with 3 [card]Verdant Haven[/card]s and 2 [card]Ruination Wurm[/card], which, if you’ve played a lot of Sealed in this format you should know that this is not where you want to be.

As a small consolation, I showed Ben Stark my Sealed pool and he said he would have built it the exact same way, card for card—so I knew I couldn’t be doing something horribly wrong, at least. My tournament was pretty uneventful—I beat 3 less experienced players who didn’t draw particularly well, and the three matches I lost were riddled with mulligans and awful hands in general.

I played an on-camera feature match vs. Orrin Beasly round five in which, game 1, he went [card]Foundry Street Denizen[/card], [card]Wojek Halbrediers[/card], [card]Ember Beast[/card], [card]Syndic of Tithes[/card] plus [card]Mugging[/card], where I cast just a [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] and died. Game two, he cast [card]Boros Elite[/card], [card]Wojek Halbrediers[/card], and [card]Frontline Medic[/card] against my double mulligan and zero spells. While I had bad hands and any deck in the room would have trouble against a start like that, my deck was not at all suited to beat his deck anyway.

I really do like playing in big tournaments, but I don’t like that GPs are essentially just a big money sink now. With the decrease in appearance fees, it’s becoming much harder for me to justify attending as many GPs as I would like, especially the larger ones.

Take GP Charlotte, for example. It was two additional rounds, both of which are Sealed, which means extra emphasis on opening a good Sealed deck. On top of that, round 10 was an additional elimination round. I said on Twitter that GP Charlotte would be harder to win than any Pro Tour because it had more rounds, had a Sealed portion, required a much better record to make Top 8 than any other tournament ever, and its immense size. I haven’t made Day Two in any of the last four GPs I’ve played, but overall I’ve been performing pretty well in tournament Magic since winning the Super Series at Atlantic City and Top 8’ing the PT, and now this past weekend at GP Charlotte I got 2nd place in the, “win a trip to GP Miami 10k.”

This tournament had over 600 players and was set for 10 rounds of swiss. I lost round one, then rattled off 11 straight wins before losing in the finals to what I felt was a bad matchup. I played Jund, as you might expect, because I loved it at the Pro Tour, and I knew Reid Duke was 8-1 with it at GP Quebec City—I played 74 of his 75. We had the deck built for Matt Linde to play in some GP trials with and he loved the deck too.

That Friday, Huey played the [card]Gyre Sage[/card] deck in a trial and went 5-0, beating Matt when he was 2-0 with Jund, Matt then went 5-0 in his next trial. Reid ended up making Top 4 of the GP with it, while Matt went 7-1 in trials, 8-2 in the Miami 10k, and I went 11-2 with it, so our total combined record with this particular build of Jund was an outstanding 36-7:

[deck]2 Arbor Elf
4 Huntmaster of the Fells
4 Thragtusk
3 Olivia Voldaren
2 Garruk, Primal Hunter
3 Liliana of the Veil
2 Forest
4 Blood Crypt
3 Dragonskull Summit
2 Kessig Wolf Run
4 Overgrown Tomb
2 Rootbound Crag
4 Stomping Ground
4 Woodland Cemetery
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Murder
1 Tragic Slip
1 Ultimate Price
3 Bonfire of the Damned
1 Dreadbore
4 Farseek
1 Mizzium Mortars
2 Rakdos’s Return
Sideboard
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Staff of Nin
2 Acidic Slime
2 Underworld Connections
2 Tragic Slip
1 Bonfire of the Damned
3 Duress
1 Pillar of Flame
1 Rakdos’s Return[/deck]

This list was amazing for me all day. No major changes, but those changes we did make I really liked. The first thing that sticks out is a jump from 1 [card]Tragic Slip[/card] in the sideboard to one in the main and two in the side. We added Slip to our sideboard the morning of the Pro Tour because we heard the dealers were sold out of [card]Falkenrath Aristocrats[/card], and figured our deck was pretty soft to that card in general.

Tragic Slip provided a countermeasure for Aristocrat, and random aggro cards like [card]Champion of the Parish[/card], [card]Stromkirk Noble[/card], and [card]Avacyn’s Pilgrim[/card]. Slip kills [card]Boros Reckoner[/card] or Olivia in a pinch, and it did many of the things [card]Murder[/card] was trying to do—“kill any creature ever.”

A mix of Murder and Tragic Slip was still important, because Murder does its job incredibly well. When my opponent plays a [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], and my best option is to play my own, he is in a dominating position because he can simply pass the turn and flip to kill mine—unless I have a Murder to blow him out and flip my own to kill his remaining Wolf token.

Moving forward, I think I would want to have four total Tragic Slip in the 75 since it’s so effective against the fast aggressive decks, and can act as straight up [card]Swords to Plowshares[/card] against the decks that try to win with higher curve creatures like [card]Loxodon Smiter[/card], [card]Hellrider[/card], and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card]. I also prefer Murder over Tragic Slip when an opponent has four open mana and can potentially flash in a [card]Restoration Angel[/card]. Murder doesn’t let them block first and 2-for-1 me.

Many question the inclusion of [card]Arbor Elf[/card], but it has fully earned its spot in the deck for me. At the Pro Tour, we played 3, and it was underwhelming at times, but not often. Someone recently asked me why I play them at all if I’m not going to play 4, and the answer is not as simple as it seems.

Jund wants to play 25 lands. Cutting lands to add Arbor Elves isn’t the most exciting proposition in the world, because you would rather just hit your land drop and play all your spells on time rather than pay mana to put an Elf out there and not play a land. When you start to cut lands for more mana creatures, you change how the deck plays out, and we wanted to have access to the mana creatures but also not compromise the Jund-ness of the deck.

There are only 10 Forests in this deck. At the Pro Tour we played 11, but that was merely a concession to playing three [card]Arbor Elf[/card]. This means that in some games you will draw Arbor Elf but no Forest, and there will also be games in which you draw too many green sources—although that is a smaller concern since the deck wants tons of green for [card]Garruk, Primal Hunter[/card].

Drawing Arbor Elf in the late game is very bad. Part of the reason we loved Jund was that it could play long, fair games and it was advantaged in the late game because it had powerful topdecks like [card]Bonfire of the Damned[/card], [card]Rakdos’s Return[/card], and [card]Kessig Wolf Run[/card], which can all act as fireballs to finish them off. It’s always nice to have 8 outs that just win the game on the spot, assuming your opponent is at a low life total. So, adding a couple bricks to the deck wasn’t the most exciting proposition in the world.

Drawing two Arbor Elf, unless they are both in your opening hand with a Garruk or [card]Thragtusk[/card] can be poor.
Arbor Elf is very bad against sweepers like [card]Supreme Verdict[/card], and is generally pretty bad if you cast it early and it dies to a card like [card]Pillar of Flame[/card]. Though even removal as bad as Pillar of Flame is rarely going to be dead, because it can kill off [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card].

By now I’ve convinced you to never touch Arbor Elf in Jund, but in spite of all those very true, compelling reasons it is weak, it was still great for me and I would not cut it.

Jund is very slow. Having a couple Arbor Elves in the deck is great, because when you cast it early and it is not removed it leads to some really powerful starts like casting turn 3 Huntmaster of the Fells or Thragtusk. They are just two additional [card]Farseek[/card]s in a deck where Farseek is your best card.

Arbor Elf is not always worse than a land. At times, having it just be a spell and not a land is nice when you need to play two spells in a turn to flip your Huntmaster back over. Also, as it’s a creature (even a bad one), you can use it with Kessig Wolf Run to produce a very real threat.

We cut [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card] from the deck for them, so however you slice it, that slot in the deck was going to be soft to removal. Nighthawk is terrible in the mirror, whereas Elf is very good. Elf can allow you to Rakdos’s Return one extra card a turn sooner, so powering up that, as well as Garruk—the two best cards in the mirror—is exactly where you want to be.

Arbor Elf works very well with [card]Underworld Connections[/card]. Say goodbye to manaflooding against control when you can turn that bad version of [card]Farseek[/card] into a good version of [card]Phyrexian Arena[/card]. Your life total is almost totally irrelevant against Flash and Bant control, so feel free to slam that Connection on a Forest and have your own [card]Sphinx’s Revelation[/card] on a stick.

Arbor Elf can allow for a turn two [card]Liliana of the Veil[/card]. This is a nightmare for control and aggro players alike, since just playing it and using the edict into a protection spell and a +1 means it’s going to kill off two creatures in a game, and a Liliana that kills two creatures against aggro has pretty much performed better than any card in your deck. The tricky part is having to draw your [card]Overgrown Tomb[/card] of course, but when you do get lucky and draw them all together it’s a pretty sweet feeling.

Lastly, we added [card]Arbor Elf[/card] to the deck because it was new and different. At a Pro Tour, it’s hard to go all the way without doing something unexpected, and I liked that the Elf added a little spice to the deck without drastically changing how it played or how we had to construct the deck.

Wow this article went by fast! If you are at all interested in hearing more about some of the card choices, how to sideboard, or how I would change the deck moving forward, go ahead and let me know in the comments. I can even talk about how the tournament went if people find that interesting.

Owen Turtenwald
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