I did not recently set myself on fire or fall off a cliff. I just needed a break from Magic – I had burnt out pretty hard and wanted to recharge my batteries, but it’s hard to just give up on Magic and only play what you want and when you want when you’ve got a weekly column. Luckily, LSV is a nice guy and he gave me a break from writing (although I continued my daily duties as co-editor of this site), and after durdling and burdling around for a while, I’m fired up and ready to go.
I’ve been playing a fair bit of Jund, both on paper and online, and it’s one of the most misunderstood decks. Or rather, this format is tricky to get down, and has been since Lorwyn rotated, giving us this current Standard format. Even broad, general concepts like the approach to beating Jund on any sort of regular basis took months to figure out, and I’m not completely convinced that it’s been solved. Hence the title being the things I merely think I think about Jund – while also being homage to Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King.
1. You need more than just four creatures that can attack through Wall of Omens.
Recently in Standard we’ve seen a trend of cards that have pretty large impacts on the format, but do so in subtle ways. Spreading Seas wasn’t really given much of a thought when it was spoiled, but it has affected the format in a large way – and Wall of Omens is now doing the same thing. The Wall’s power – that is, being able to stop an attacking Sprouting Thrinax or Bloodbraid Elf while also replacing itself – was more readily apparent than that of Spreading Seas, but is equally strong. The colorshifted Wall of Blossoms is ubiquitous in control decks that play white, and Jund has to adjust. Four Putrid Leech is a good start, but having four more creatures that can attack through a Wall of Omens is becoming increasingly necessary. Whether it’s Plated Geopede, Vengevine, or Sedraxis Specter (postboard), have a way to bash through a 0/4.
2. Yes, Vengevine does have a home in Jund.
When Vengevine was spoiled, the initial thought was that it didn’t fit into Jund because it was unlikely to be triggered in the mirror unless you got lucky to cascade into another creature via Bloodbraid Elf, an unreliable plan at best. Jund mirrors often go long and are attrition wars, and you’re not going to be able to hold two creatures in your hand in order to trigger Vengevine’s graveyard ability. So Vengevine found itself in other decks, often built around Vengevine (playing sub-par cards like Kor Skyfisher, for example), and these decks weren’t very good.
This reminds me a bit of when Tarmogoyf started to see play after Regionals 2007 (he wasn’t played much during that tournament, despite the fact that red/green aggro was the top aggro deck in that format; most people just hadn’t caught on). Tarmogoyf initially was put into Time Spiral Block Constructed decks with inefficient cards like Chromatic Star and Edge of Autumn solely to make Tarmogoyf as big as possible, since he “comboed” with those cards. But in reality, Tarmogoyf just comboed with playing Magic: The Gathering. So people stopped trying so hard, and Tarmogoyf was realized as being the awesome efficient creature that he is. If there happened to be an artifact or an enchantment in the graveyard, then it was just a bonus, but it was unnecessary.
Vengevine is the same way. He may or may not do things to come back from the graveyard, but more importantly, he’s a four power haste creature for four mana with no drawback. If you happen to cascade into him via Bloodbraid Elf into Sprouting Thrinax, then that’s just icing on the cake. Otherwise, he’s still a perfectly fine, quality creature that bashes through Wall of Omens and trades with Putrid Leech. Sign me up.
3. Aggressive Jund builds let you have a clear plan in the mirror.
The Jund mirror isn’t a lot of fun because it is one of the most draw-dependent mirrors in a long time, but more importantly, it was sometimes difficult to determine whether or not you should be the beatdown in any particular game. It depended largely on what was in your hand, whether you were on the play or draw, who mulliganed, and what was in their hand. You have information on the first factors, but you don’t know what’s in their hand (not exactly – apply powers of deduction as appropriate). Do you trade your Sprouting Thrinax for their Bloodbraid Elf, or do you take the hit and go beatdown? When is it right to chump Putrid Leech with Thrinax? Do you Terminate the attacking Putrid Leech, or can you afford to take the hit and discard the card to Blightning if they do so postcombat? If they don’t have the Blightning, then one line of play is correct, while if they do have the Blightning, then the other line of play is better. Often it’s a guessing game, and if you guess wrong, you give up an edge.
But if you’re playing Geo Jund versus the slower, more lategamey midrange Jund, your plan becomes much clearer, and some of the “my plan depends on what he has or could draw”-ness goes away. If they cast their top-end Broodmate Dragon and they’re not close to dead, you’re probably in trouble. In those matchups, you are the beatdown and you can look at your opening hand and draws and plan accordingly.
Obviously this won’t be the case 100% of the time, as you can have a slow but keepable hand and be placed in the same situation as before (that is, playing a more “midrange” game in the mirror), but having a deck that’s geared around a particular plan will help make your mirrors more consistent and feel less like a coinflip. Although most of any edge you get in the Jund mirror is going to happen during deck construction, games are definitely won or lost based on choosing the correct plan. Having a build that lets you choose the correct plan more consistently is going to add up to more wins.
(If they’re playing a similarly aggressive Jund deck, then you’re in the same boat as before, but that’s not really avoidable.)
4. If you’re going to play Goblin Ruinblaster, stay aggressive.
I see some people try to play both the aggression role and the attrition game in the Jund mirrors, and I don’t think that’s the way to go about it. If you’re going to play Goblin Ruinblaster, leave the Mind Rots at home. If you want to throw him in the same deck as Plated Geopede and leave in your Putrid Leeches postboard, on the other hand, then he’s largely okay. I admit to not being a huge fan of him against decks that play 27 lands, but if you’re going to play cards in your Jund decks like Lotus Cobra, Nest Invader, or Rampant Growth, then you can really blow them out with a turn three Ruinblaster, especially on the play. I think there are better ways to approach the mirror and in other matchups Spreading Seas can sometimes make kicking him difficult, so he’s not my favorite guy – but if you are going to play him, then take a plan and stick with it. Playing a 2/1 hasty guy just as a Stone Rain when you’re trying to win an attrition war is pretty loose. Playing a 2/1 hasty guy when your plan is to beat down every turn is a better, more cohesive strategy.
5. Consuming Vapors is way stronger than I initially thought.
If Jund has a drop in popularity (like in the first few events of the post Rise era), I would even consider maindecking Consuming Vapors. Initially I thought it would only be good against creature-based decks like Mythic, but I found that it is actually very strong against decks with Wall of Omens, especially if they’re maindecking cards like [card]Sphinx of Jwar Isle[/card]. Postboard it’s almost a must, as Wall of Denial is a huge problem, but Consuming Vapors helps mitigate that problem significantly. Interestingly, the lifegain aspect often comes into play, as games can play out where you’re racing with Putrid Leech and they are beating you back down with a Celestial Colonnade. Elspeth can make Vapors a little awkward, but overall you still get a ton of value out of that card in that matchup.
Against Mythic it can be a little awkward if it just eats Noble Hierarchs and Birds of Paradise, but if your postboard plan is to use a lot of spot removal to kill their mana birds and then Consuming Vapors their bigger guys, the card is quite effective. Look at the removal that John Pham’s PTQ-winning decklist has against Mythic:
That’s not even including 4 Siege-Gang Commander as removal. If your plan is to let the mana birds live and just kill whatever big things they play (Knight of the Reliquary, Baneslayer Angel, Sovereigns of Lost Alara if they leave it in), then Consuming Vapors is only mediocre. But if you slow them down by bolting their Hierarchs and Birds, that’s where Consuming Vapors really shines.
Even against Mono-Red, those decks have shifted to be more creature-based (I’ve seen some UWx players leave in Day of Judgment against them), and that’s another matchup where Consuming Vapors initially stayed in the sideboard after game one, but eventually found its way into the deck postboard, as it does just enough against cards like Kargan Dragonlord and Devastating Summons to warrant the slot. And it can eat your own Sprouting Thrinax if need be to get a lifegain boost without setting back your board development too far.
6. If you want to beat Mythic consistently, don’t skimp on removal.
For Nationals Qualifiers, I expected more Turbofog, Polymorph, and Open the Vaults combo decks than there actually were. In testing, the John Pham Jund deck was utterly crushing the Sperling Conscription Mythic list, especially postboard. I mentioned that it felt like punching a baby repeatedly.
As a result, I thought I could skimp on removal and cut the two Doom Blades for Thought Hemorrhage, noting that Doom Blade really only came in against creature-based decks like Mythic and Mono-Red. I didn’t expect a lot of Mono-Red, and the Mythic matchup was “such a good matchup I could get away with it.”
But what I realized is that you do need a critical mass of removal, because you have to be able to execute your “kill everything” game plan, and the Doom Blades are necessary. I had to leave in two Putrid Leeches over the nonexistent Doom Blades, and in a key game, I was confronted with the following six card hand on the play (after mulliganing a no-lander):
That’s a pretty solid six card hand for Jund, and an autokeeper. But the problem is that you need to draw removal, and in spades, in order to stay with your plan. If they untap with a Knight of the Reliquary or Baneslayer Angel, you’re probably toast. I Burst Lightninged a Noble Hierarch, drew (and played) two more Putrid Leeches, cascaded into a Borderland Ranger when I did play Bloodbraid Elf, and my plan to beat “my best matchup” went out the window, likely costing me a slot at Nationals.
It’s easy to be results-oriented here, but Mythic can be such an explosive deck and Jund has to have enough cards to contain it. If they get an awkward draw and stumble, then Jund will get punished. More testing is necessary, but it may even be correct to mulligan that hand, as crazy as that sounds.
If your plan is to kill everything, then have the cards that kill everything. Consume the Meek is a card worth trying, although it doesn’t get around Dauntless Escort the way Consuming Vapors does, and it’s a littlPutrid Leechese slow.
7. Consider cutting Lightning Bolt from the maindeck entirely.
Bolt is not very good in the mirror and it’s not very good in the UWx matchup, and is boarded out in both matchups. If those are the two most popular decks, then you might want to think about cutting the card entirely, and putting Bolt in the board. If you don’t expect a lot of Mythic, Naya, or Mono-Red, you could even leave Lightning Bolt out of the deck entirely. It’s crazy to think that Lightning freaking Bolt is not a particularly strong card in a format, but right now it’s not particularly well-positioned if you don’t expect a lot of creature-based decks that aren’t Jund.
Pham/Wrapter went down to two Lightning Bolts in the main and had two more in the sideboard, and I don’t fault them for that. I find myself boarding out Lightning Bolt a lot, although it’s pretty key in the Mythic matchup and you really need to be able to kill Birds and Hierarchs if you’re on the above Consuming Vapors plan, hence them actually having a fifth Lightning Bolt in the board (Burst Lightning).
8. Sedraxis Specter is the real deal in both the mirror and against Spreading Seas decks.
When I first saw Sedraxis Specter in the sideboard of Jund decks a few months ago, I was skeptical. Jund’s mana is bad enough as it is, so why would you add a fourth color? But Wrapter/Pham found an elegant way to get around this problem. Playing seven ways to get the Island postboard (four Terramorphic Expanse/Evolving Wilds, one Scalding Tarn, and two Borderland Rangers) isn’t a lot, but when you take into account that the maindeck cards all play well with Plated Geopede and help fight against Spreading Seas, it really works well with the deck. Having a more resilient manabase that’s less vulnerable to both Spreading Seas and Goblin Ruinblaster will win games. Combine that with being able to play Specter off the Spreading Seas, and I’m sold. In Jund mirrors, I often found myself without the Island, but I was still able to get a lot of value out of it by discarding it to Blightning, then continuing my gameplan of staying aggressive and wanting to beat down every turn (see point #3) by unearthing the Specter and getting in damage while taking a card out of their hand.
Being able to discard Specter to Blightning and giving him haste the following turn is pretty big. For one, you get a lot of use out of him if you don’t draw the Island (or a way to get it), and two, it’s damage that can come out of nowhere that makes it difficult for the opponent to account for. Taking a surprise extra three damage (or even six!) while also being down a card is a pretty dramatic turn of events. Incidentally, I recently won a match where I was almost certainly going to lose the next turn, but he cast Cruel Ultimatum, letting me discard two Specters and unearth them for exactly lethal the next turn. It’s been a while since I’ve won a game because my opponent cast Cruel Ultimatum, something that hasn’t happened since the days of Reflecting Pool, Vivid lands, and opposing Anathemancers.
Jund seems very well-positioned, and it’s the most adaptable deck in the format. I really have a hard time believing anyone when they say “my deck just crushes Jund.” I can believe that it has a good matchup against particular, specific builds of Jund that may be popular at any given point in time, but Jund can adjust its sideboard for any matchup and continue to be one of the strongest decks – if not the strongest deck in the format. It’s telling that the only matchup where Jund really has a hard time getting a large edge is the mirror.
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