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Feature Article – On Junk and How to Approach Jund

 

For Bruxelles I was hoping to be able to stick to some sort of White Weenie variant, but, as always and everywhere, things change. Jund players were getting more and more ready, and the “new” (back then) UW control decks with 8 Wraths were gaining momentum as well. White Weenie variants were still playable (Olivier Ruel played something very similar to my Wg version in Bruxelles), but they had seen better days. After starting to lose to maindeck Master of the Wild Hunt I felt it was time to look around.

Chapin UW control was the perfect marriage of synergy over power: a bunch of “meh” cards married to make your life difficult. Like driving a bicycle that requires a pilot’s licence. Of course I’m exaggerating and his list is very smart, but I’m not Nassif, and neither are you I suspect. Just to clarify, I’m not saying it’s a bad deck, far from it – but it requires a lot of testing to learn to master it, and if you can afford to put in that much effort, you can probably win with any deck. The tap out version of UW didn’t impress me, and the lack of results kept me away from trying it for more than a few games. I played against it a bunch of times and I honestly have no idea how good it really is. It’s not winning much, if you think about it: many pros play it and it’s quite popular, being the only control deck at the moment.

Red Burn (I think it’s a more precise name then Mono Red Aggro) seemed fragile, and the popularity of the White decks didn’t help. A heavy black splash for Malakir Bloodwitch and spot removal is the best you can do, and I toyed around with a few lists. In any case, after it won Grand Prix Kuala Lumpur I lost interest, as it’s easy to hate out (and indeed it was in Bruxelles).

Bant and Junk had access to the right cards to beat this metagame, so I started to put some serious testing into them. What I disliked very early was the mana acceleration: it can surely win you a game one here and there through speed, but it was kinda useless post sideboard. I don’t see the point in playing a turn 3 Baneslayer when your opponent can kill it for one or two mana, not to mention that losing a Birds of Paradise to a Wrath is adding insult to injury. Once again, I suspect people tend to overrate these 2 decks because they don’t play enough after sideboard.

In Bruxelles I played this:

Nothing ground breaking or super-new, but hey, it’s not exactly a fresh format. Even though I didn’t do well there, I won a lot with this list online and I still like it. The mana base could be better, but hey, our World Champion had a worse one. I played with it quite a lot, and in general I felt that I had a very good matchup against Red Burn and Naya, positive against Jund, and even against UW control counting sideboard matches. Of course, if this was true I’d have broken the format, so take it with a grain of salt.

Some random thoughts:

– The strategy against Jund is to stick a threat, as you can imagine. 😉 Since you have 24 cards they would like to kill sooner or later, it works better than for most Junk lists. If they are still able to kill everything (which can happen post sideboard), you still have Martial Coup to clean up the few creatures they should have left. Therefore I fear Master of the Wild Hunt a lot more than a bunch of Deathmarks and Terminates, and I discard to Blightning accordingly.

– I tried to keep the curve as low as possible not only because I play less mana guys, but to also be less vulnerable to Blightning.

– The value of Tidehollow Sculler depends a lot on your opponents strategy. Against something like Boros it’s just a worse Castigate, as you rarely do much with the body. Against Jund and UW, they just have to kill it sooner or later, making it a fine man. Against Mythic it never attacks or blocks, but their threat density is low enough to make it still decent. Against Red Burn is surprisingly ok, since they usually need all their cards to deal the final 20.

– I chose Identity Crisis over other options (especially Luminarch Ascension) because Open the Vaults was popular online and quite a problem. Anyway, it’s probably better than the other options. If anything, casting it after a Mind Spring for six can quite make your day.

Master of the Wild Hunt over Emeria Angel. I’m still not completely sold on it. Master helps more with problems like the mini-Visara (Sparkmage + Collar) and Malakir Bloodwitch, and it’s surely better against Mythic. Emeria Angel is less of a sure win if it sticks, but it impacts the board more, giving you more time to draw out of bad situations. In the end, they both just die all the time, so it doesn’t really matter. 😀

For reference, my sideboard strategies:

Vs Jund
+1/2 Journey To Nowhere
+0/2 Celestial Purge
-1/4 Cobra

Spot removal is not exactly exciting against Jund, but you need protection against Malakir Bloodwitch and Master of the Wild Hunt, and sometimes you have to land a Maelstrom Pulse on something else, so even Purge helps. Cobra is an easy cut since, as I said, accelerating is less relevant and the body is nothing special. I rarely sideboard the full amount of removal but it’s an option if they keep most of their creatures. Riccardo Neri (Italian level 5 mage) prefers to remove Sculler for extra Wall of Reverence, but I’m not so convinced.

Vs UW Control
+2 Duress
+3 Identity Crisis
+1 Elspeth
-2 Kor Firewalker
-4 Baneslayer Angel

Vs Open the Vaults
+2 Duress
+3 Identity Crisis
+1 Elspeth
-2 Martial Coup
-4 between Master of the Wild Hunt and Baneslayer Angel

Master and Baneslayer are equally mediocre. The first is faster and the second is harder to handle. I keep Master when I play first, as racing before they go off is more likely.

Vs Mythic, Naya, Junk
+2 Day of Judgment
+3 Wall of Reverence
+2 Journey to Nowhere
-3 Kor Firewalker
-2 Elspeth
-2 Tidehollow Sculler

The games go long post sideboard so Sculler loses a bit of value, plus they don’t exactly combo with Day of Judgment. Elspeth is not a bad card against them, but you already have too many expensive cards to play.

Vs Red Burn
+3 Wall of Reverence
+2 Celestial Purge
+2 Journey to Nowhere
-2 Martial Coup
-1 Elspeth
-4 Maelstrom Pulse

I’d now like to share a few thoughts on the Jund problem, and how it can be approached.

We’ve reached a point where the metagame is pretty clear and things aren’t evolving much anymore. The situation is hard to solve, and it reminds me of the Faeries metagame in 2008 – you can gain a few percentage points against Jund with something different, but there are still too many decks to beat to make it worth it most of the time. Divination is better than Jace 2.0 against Jund, but it’s not a 60 dollar Mythic for a reason.

Of the several analyses I read of the Jund problem there is one point that I think was overlooked: Jund is, in a way, several decks. Their Game One is still predictable – they try to disrupt everything you do while incidentally dropping some guys, with the random aggro hands (Putrid Leech plus Bloodbraid into another creature) from time to time. Post sideboard… God, they have access to everything that isn’t a counterspell. Their main theme can become discard, land destruction, tap-out control (aka bazillion of removals into Dragons)… This happens because cascade makes it feel like they are playing 20 sideboard cards – thank god we don’t live in the time of Perish or Boil.

Therefore, I started to “believe” people when they said “I’ve got a positive matchup against Jund” – because it can be true for almost every deck, solely based on the Jund list (note I put a lot of emphasis on the sideboard, but a 4 card swap like Bituminous Blast over Siege-Gang Commander makes quite a difference already, in some matchups).

My point is that every strategy can beat Jund, and Jund can beat everything, as odd as that sounds. There is no clear favourite against Jund (not even Mythic and Red Burn, if Jund really wants to beat them), but Jund doesn’t have enough space to handle everything. Therefore you should choose and build your deck based on the latest and more popular Jund lists more than anything else. In the end, it’s all about having a good read of the metagame and dodging the sideboard hate.

I realize that this sounds depressing, and the first thought that comes up is ‘Why am I not playing Jund in the first place’. Well, I expect people to finally put the necessary amount of hate against it, and the mirror is still a coin flip. Luckily we don’t have a deck like Reveillark in the Faeries format, something that beats everything that isn’t the public enemy, so you shouldn’t get punished too hard for playing those Kor Firewalker and Flashfreeze main deck.

Of course, a Jund list with a clear edge in the mirror would be interesting

So, my suggestion is to check as many of the latest Top 8s as possible, see what are the most popular cards in Jund main and sideboard, and choose a deck accordingly. To help a bit, this is a checklist of the most important cards to look out for by archetype:

Junk, White Weenie, Boss Naya: Master of the Wild Hunt, Deathmark, spot removal, Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar

UW Control: Siege-Gang Commander, Maelstrom Pulse, Goblin Ruinblaster, Mind Rot, Duress, Thought Hemorrhage

Red burn: Terminate, Dragon’s Claw, Doom Blade, Basilisk Collar, Mind Rot, Magma Spray

Token decks (it’s time for a comeback!): Jund Charm, Pyroclasm, Master of the Wild Hunt, Broodmate Dragon (the ground tends to stall quite easily)

Combos: Maelstrom Pulse, Goblin Ruinblaster, Mind Rot, Duress, Thought Hemorrhage

Mythic: Master of the Wild Hunt, Deathmark, Terminate, Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar

Again I’d like to close with another little story from the past, I hope you like it.

“1999. In the days where a Jackal Pup was considered a mighty animal and Counterspell a fair card, a Red Mage is battling a Blue Mage for glory (and incidentally a Pro Tour invite). The Blue Mage is at a healthy life total and in control, his only concern being this little artifact on the board, Cursed Scroll. The game drags on but the Red Mage isn’t willing to surrender. After a few turns, he activates his Cursed Scroll, and with it he names:

 

Boil 

The Blue Mage feels a chill in his spine (you know, back in those days we didn’t have all these fancy lands, just a bunch of basics). The Scroll activation resolves, revealing a Mountain, and the Blue Mage sets up a plan: he just needs to manage his resources appropriately, never tapping out too much, and the game will be won regardless. A bazillion turns follow, where the Blue Mage is unwilling to tap out for his Stalking Stones, and the Red Mage just collects cards and activates his Cursed Scroll.

The game ends with a flurry of burn and a fried Blue Mage, killed by the very last card in the Red Mage’s hand – a Red Mage who didn’t even play Boil in his 75.”

Thanks for reading,
William Cavaglieri

p.s. of course, for everybody’s fun, just ban Bloodbraid Elf. To those who own them, you shouldn’t even lose money, since other cards will gain value if it disappears.

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