Jeskai. Sultai. Abzan. Mardu. RUG. You know what none of these are? Jund. Naya.
As the last Standard season slowly wound down, it looked like the status quo was intact. Black Devotion, UW Control, and Blue Devotion still dominated the scene, with a smattering of Rabble Red winning tournaments where it was well positioned down the stretch. For the most part key cards in these decks have rendered them obsolete, ushering a new and promising era of Standard—something that I’m sure will be refreshing for anyone who played as many Pack Rat mirrors as I did. However, there was one more deck which made a Splash in standard at Pro Tour M15—and I think it has some staying power.
Let’s take a look at the creatures and planeswalkers from Yuuki Ichikawa’s Jund deck:
Yeah, those are all still legal (except the one Vraska). This looks like as good a starting point as any.
Now, building a Jund planeswalkers deck is going to present us with a few problems.
The Jund planeswalker decks of days past played a diverse (random) set of removal spells, but for the most part none of them are still legal in Standard. At various points during the season, all of the following saw play in Jund:
Aside from Hero’s Downfall, all of these spells have rotated out. More importantly, almost all of them cost only 2 mana, a luxury that we don’t really have access to in Standard now.
Now, if we’re looking for cards against beatdown decks, Magma Spray and Lightning Strike could definitely do the trick. Even cards like Drown in Sorrow and Arc Lightning are options when it comes to fighting purely aggressive strategies.
However, as the format shapes up it looks like Siege Rhino and Courser of Kruphix are going to be the bigger and more common problems for a deck like this. These are cards that would also normally be helped out by having access to Vraska, though I think Sarkhan probably does a reasonable impression against most opposing creatures other than Siege Rhino and Polukranos.
Another way to solve this problem might be to dip into another color—something that I’ll cover later.
For now I’m going to assume the correct plan is to max out on Hero’s Downfalls for the big problem creatures and use a few Lightning Strikes as answers to early aggression and fliers like Mantis Rider.
The other major loss for Jund is shocklands. We have some new mana available, but fetchlands getting basics isn’t exactly what you’re looking for in a 3-color deck with Elvish Mystic. That said, both fetchlands in the Jund colors are able to get basic Mountain, and we have access to an extra G/B dual land in Llanowar Wastes. Having a G/B land and a Mountain is pretty reasonable start.
Given these constraints, a very traditional approach to a Jund planeswalkers deck would be:
The mana in this deck is far from perfect—it has issues with taking too much damage, not having the right colors, and forcing you to play off curve—a true trifecta of mana troubles.
In my experiences with Jund Planeswalkers having access to the right removal was key—as you played a surprisingly large number of long, grindy games where answers were really important for certain threats. Jund has access to the “right” removal in Hero’s Downfall—but at tremendous cost.
Another way to approach the G/R planeswalker shell would be in Naya:
The White Splash
This deck definitely resembles the Theros block Naya deck that put up great numbers at the Pro Tour. Elspeth is obviously a huge upgrade over most threats the Jund version could play.
I think this deck looks a lot better on paper because of how much less stress is puts on the mana base. Having your primary removal spell in a base-R/G deck cost only 1 color of mana (Banishing Light), is pretty meaningful compared to Hero’s Downfall.
Suspension Field is also pretty interesting out of Naya as a two-mana answer to both Courser and Siege Rhino. Not being able to answer early aggro creatures is certainly a bit awkward—but not necessarily a deal breaker. Still, 6 of the 8 removal spells in this deck are enchantments, so it remains to be seen how much a liability that is. If there are lots of Sultai Charms, Back to Natures, and Destructive Revelries floating around, then the white version starts to look much more vulnerable. I could see turning to Reprisal, but not being able to answer Courser is not something to mess around with early in the format.
With Banishing Light to replace Downfall, the biggest loss from not playing black is the card advantage and selection of Read the Bones. While Tormenting Voice is clearly significantly weaker, it is still reasonably elegant since you can easily discard extra lands/mana dorks in the late game or redundant planeswalkers while you are setting up. Wild Guess was always an ok card—but simply too awkward on the mana to actually play. This might be that effect’s first chance to really shine.
It’s unclear to me how much of a sacrifice Thoughtseize is. These mana-heavy decks typically want higher impact spells that take advantage of their acceleration. Thoughtseize is a card that naturally sacrifices tempo rather than gains it, since you are spending mana to deal with something they don’t have to actually cast. Without Revelation in the format, it’s very possible that Elvish Mystic/Sylvan Caryatid decks should try to avoid maindecking Thoughtseize to begin with, instead focusing on taking greater advantage of their inherent strengths.
It’s always tough to think about sideboarding early on in a format since things are so undefined. For the most part, I think it’s safe to break down cards into the following three classes:
Defending Against Aggro
For these matchups, I’m mostly looking for early removal spells like Magma Spray and Last Breath, or sweepers such as Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow. Cheap, defensive creatures are also good choices here—Nyx-Fleece Ram and Heir of the Wilds come to mind immediately. It’s also nice to have access to life gain, which in this format probably comes in the form of the Ram, Nylea’s Disciple, or Highland Game.
Protecting Your Threats
In black, this can be done primarily via Thoughtseize. We also have access to Destructive Revelry, which is very good against opposing Banishing Lights—assuming they have enough other targets to warrant bringing it in.
Playing for the Long Game
This category covers threats that are too slow or clunky to play in the main deck but provide a higher threat density in grindy matchups.
If traditional control decks exist and are a problem, both Hammer of Purphoros and Mistcutter Hydra are available, though the latter seems particularly weak given the lack of good counters and prevalence of 3-mana doom blade effects.
Hopefully this look at R/G planeswalker shells informs a bit about what Standard might look like moving forward. Without the threat of Lifebane Zombie, a hybrid version with more mid-size creatures might be a better way to go—but there are too many cards that destroy a creature straight-up for me to want to put Polukranos and its ilk in my deck.
I might get a chance to play an Open series event this upcoming weekend, and if I do I suspect I’d play something akin to the Naya Planeswalker deck.
Thanks for reading,