Modern is a format of fast and powerful decks. You can either put on your racing shoes with a deck like Infect or Affinity, or you can take a different approach to the format.
Playing Jund is about systematically dismantling your opponent.
Jund is a textbook example of a midrange deck. It’s capable of playing both offense and defense, and will typically take an offensive role against slower decks and a defensive role against faster decks.
However, don’t mistake versatility for a lack of focus. Jund’s game plan is the same in every matchup: to shut down the opponent’s game plan. You take out their key pieces via discard and removal, and you pare down their resources enough that they cannot establish the synergies their deck is based upon. Put a different way, when things go according to plan, your opponent will never get much traction, and they may never get moving at all.
This is only a couple of cards different from the deck I played to an 11-4 finish at the SCG Open in Baltimore last month.
Jund vs. Abzan
These days, you’re likely to be more familiar with Jund’s cousin, Abzan. Abzan is one of the most popular decks in Modern, if not the most popular. That said, I think that Jund is a more powerful deck, and hope that any Abzan players out there will be willing to give it a chance. Abzan has a few late-game synergies (like Lingering Souls with Gavony Township) that Jund cannot match. However, Jund is faster, sleeker, more efficient, and has better opening hands than Abzan. In a format as fast as Modern, these are the most important qualities in a deck.
Ironically, the most important difference between the two decks isn’t even a red card, it’s Dark Confidant! For my money, Dark Confidant is among the ten best cards in Modern, and yet so few people are playing it these days. It’s the single card that I’m most happy to see in my opening hand.
Of course, you could play Dark Confidant in Abzan, but with the slower pace and higher mana curve of the deck, it’s not quite as good as it is in Jund. The two biggest reasons are Lightning Bolt and Blackcleave Cliffs.
The thing that Abzan needs before it can be a truly great deck is an effective turn-1 removal spell. And don’t talk to me about Path to Exile or Dismember—these are not turn 1 plays! Giving your opponent a land or starting the game down 4 life are tremendous disadvantages. These cards can’t hold a candle to Lightning Bolt!
Actually, a turn-1 Dismember is likely to cost you 7 life once you factor in Abzan’s mana base. Which brings us to Blackcleave Cliffs, a land that you can’t really appreciate until you see Abzan and Jund side by side. Jund’s turn-1 plays are either Lightning Bolt or a discard spells—Blackcleave Cliffs is perfect. The colored mana requirements are fairly demanding, but having a Blackcleave Cliffs gives you more flexibility to fetch for a basic land on turn 2 or turn 3. In short, it’s not obvious just how good Blackcleave Cliffs is, but it smooths your mana at the cost of 0 life, something that’s hard to come by and is incredibly valuable.
Deck Difficulty: Below Average
Relative to the fairly challenging Modern format, I give Jund a difficulty rating of “easier than average” to play.
That said, the skills needed to play Jund to its full potential are a little bit different from some other decks. Decks like Affinity and Storm are quite challenging, but all they really require is a deep mastery of the deck itself. The individual plays and interactions in the Jund deck are straightforward, but to play the deck well requires deep knowledge of the format, and the ability to see what your opponent might be up to.
For example, if you’ve never seen the Amulet of Vigor combo deck in action, you probably won’t know which card to take with your turn-1 Thoughtseize. If you’ve never played against Affinity, you won’t know whether to fight over a Cranial Plating or the creature it’s attached to.
In other words, Jund doesn’t require you to have specific knowledge of the deck to do well. If you’re experienced with Modern, you could pick up Jund for the first time and have a fine chance to win a tournament. However, the basic principles of Magic are important, and a basic knowledge of the commonly played decks in Modern is helpful.
Jund is a remarkably well balanced deck. It also has the appealing quality of being able to sideboard to beat virtually any matchup. The only problem is that Modern pulls you in so many different directions at the same time that you can’t beat everything all at once. The weakness of Jund will be any linear strategy that you underprepare for.
For example, at the SCG Open, I put emphasis on having a good matchup against Abzan, control decks, ramp decks, and Affinity. I skimped a little against dedicated combo. As a result, I got my teeth kicked in by Living End. Did I make a mistake in building my deck? That’s hard to say. If I’d swapped my three Fulminator Mages for Leyline of the Voids, I might’ve had the same final record, you’d just be reading a slightly different paragraph right now.
A Favorable Metagame for Jund
Along the same lines, the best metagame for Jund is simply one that you can accurately predict. If you show up to an 8-player FNM and know what everyone is playing, you should be able to build your deck to have favorable matchups against most of the field.
Inherently, Jund has a strong matchup against opposing creature decks. Infect is a good matchup for Jund (despite the fact that Abzan struggles against Infect). Most builds of Zoo and Delver will be good matchups as well.
Splinter Twin is also a favorable matchup for Jund. You attack from enough different angles that they can never gain full control over the game, and you have enough removal that they can’t simply go for the combo at the first opportunity. Discard spells are also great against them. Just watch out for their ways to steal the game like Blood Moon or Batterskull out of the sideboard.
Core Cards and Flexible Slots
The heart of Jund is efficient creatures, efficient removal, and discard spells. Within this shell, there’s a lot of flexibility. Here’s what I’d consider mandatory:
- Some combination of Thoughtseize, Duress, and Inquisition of Kozilek. I like to have 7 or 8 total copies in my 75.
- Tarmogoyf and Liliana of the Veil. These are your bread-and-butter cards, and the ones that most combo and control decks will have a hard time overcoming.
- Lightning Bolt and some other removal. Currently I’m putting my emphasis on Maelstrom Pulse and Terminate in order to answer Siege Rhino and Tasigur, the Golden Fang. For other metagames, Abrupt Decay or Pillar of Flame might be more appropriate. Mix and match as you see fit.
- At least a couple of manlands. My favorite is Treetop Village, but Raging Ravine is good as well.
Here’s a list of the optional cards which I find most appealing:
- Dark Confidant: I’ve professed my love for this card above. I suppose I could envision a metagame so full of Burn and Zoo that I might go without it, but it would really take a lot for me to completely cut Confidant.
- Scavenging Ooze: Not the best turn-2 play, but great in the long game. Life gain is important, and the value of shutting down opposing graveyard synergies is not to be overlooked. I like two to four copies.
- Grim Lavamancer: I love Lavamancer as a 1-of, but don’t like to draw it in multiples.
- Kitchen Finks and Huntmaster of the Fells: These cards play double duty as protection against opposing Liliana of the Veil edicts and much-needed life gain against aggro. Of the two, Kitchen Finks does its job faster and for a cheaper cost, but Huntmaster has the potential to be a major player in a board stall.
- Olivia Voldaren: Expensive and easy to answer, but one of the most powerful cards in the game when she does go unanswered. You don’t want to slam her on turn 4, but I love having one in my deck for those long games that come down to topdecks.
- Tasigur, the Golden Fang: A bad combo with Dark Confidant, but a good enough card that I think it’s worth taking your chances. He’s not good in your opening hand, and not good in multiples, so don’t go above two copies.
- Thundermaw Hellkite: Hellkite kills fast, is good against planeswalkers, and makes the otherwise-troublesome Lingering Souls look silly. It’s also relevant that you can easily cast it under a Blood Moon. I played two copies at the SCG Open, but would consider trimming down to one. Nonetheless, it’s a card you want to have access to.
- Fulminator Mage: I’ve always relegated these to the sideboard, but they’re somewhere between decent and great in virtually every matchup. I could see maindecking them in a field where you didn’t need Kitchen Finks.
- Chandra, Pyromaster: I loved this card in a field full of Birthing Pod, since the +1 ability could usually find a creature to kill, and the 0 was important for locking up the late game. Unfortunately, Chandra is too slow against a lot of decks and matches up poorly against Siege Rhino. I could still see playing one, but not more than that.
- Slaughter Pact: One of the best cards against Splinter Twin and Infect, but doesn’t kill Dark Confidant, Siege Rhino, or Tasigur. I chose to sideboard mine, but one copy in the main deck would be fine.
Again, Jund’s sideboard is largely a matter of guessing what you’re going to play against and choosing where you want to be strongest. Right now, you definitely want to make sure you have enough midgame power against Abzan, enough discard to tear apart Splinter Twin, and some Fulminator Mages to slow down the Amulet of Vigor deck. Round out the rest with the dedicated combo hate of your choice.
- Ancient Grudge, Shatterstorm, and Creeping Corrosion: When you I face a good Affinity player, I feel like I need three dedicated hate cards to have a fighting chance, four to be a favorite, and five to feel great about the matchup. When Affinity is popular, it’s absolutely worth coming prepared. You’ll want a mix of Ancient Grudge (which is the best card in the early game) and Shatterstorm/Corrosion which puts the nail in the coffin and importantly answers Etched Champion (this is the easiest card to lose to). Jund typically has more green mana than red, but I nevertheless prefer Shatterstorm. Welding Jar isn’t super popular, but the fact that creatures can regenerate from Corrosion (but not Shatterstorm) is a problem. You can also cast Shatterstorm under a Blood Moon.
- Destructive Revelry: This card comes in against Affinity, Splinter Twin, Bogles, and plenty of other miscellaneous matchups. However, the number one reason it’s here is to destroy Leyline of Sanctity. It’s a waste to sideboard in a hundred Thoughtseizes and Duresses against a combo player only to have them shut you down with a Leyline of Sanctity. Your first answer to Leyline is more valuable than your eighth discard spell.
- Spellskite: Spellskite is a great sideboard card, but helps you in matchups where you’re pretty strong anyway. Infect is a good matchup. Splinter Twin usually tries to play a control game after sideboarding. Play one Spellskite if you expect to face a lot of Bogles, but otherwise feel free to skip it.
- Graveyard hate: This is also metagame dependant. Right now there aren’t many popular decks that make you want dedicated graveyard hate. However, if Storm, Living End, Eggs, Goryo’s Vengeance, Gifts Ungiven, or Dredgevine decks were to become popular, you’d want at least a little bit. My go-to card would be Leyline of the Void, but Nihil Spellbomb is good also, and a little more flexible.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this crash course on Modern Jund. If Abzan hasn’t been doing it for you, or if you’re just looking for a change of pace, give it a try!