Since I doubt writing an article about drafting Tempest-Stronghold-Exodus would interest most readers, I suppose I can talk about a more relevant format. I have been drafting a lot of TSE online though, and it has been incredibly awesome, so I would recommend it to anyone looking for something “new”. If you haven’t bought back Capsize or Disturbed Burial recently, you really should give it a try. Ok, I need to get on-topic before I start debating the merits of Killer Whale or examining exactly where Sift fits in the pick order (hint: Sift is at the top).
It seems like the honeymoon is over in Standard. The only reason Jund briefly dipped in numbers was that people wanted any excuse not to play it, and the release of Worldwake gave them that excuse. People brewed all sorts of new decks, some good, some not, but ultimately it was back to 40% Jund once people realized that there are few reasons not to just play Savage Lands. The Top 8 at the GP that just concluded, Kuala Lumpur, was six Jund decks, a Boros deck, and a Mono-Red deck, and I don’t think that is an anomaly. Jund is back, and for the foreseeable future it is here to stay. Does that mean you should be sleeving up Blightnings and resigning yourself to cascade coin flips? No, of course not. There are always options, and the narrowness of the format just opens new doors for us to exploit. The way I see it, there are a few solid options for those of us looking to win Standard tournaments these days:
1) Play Jund
Obviously, there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with just breaking down and playing the best deck. Jund is good, and if you are running well it can be nigh unstoppable. There are even different ways to build the deck, so if you are good at predicting the decks and cards people are going to play, you can certainly get edges based on how you choose to put together your Jund deck. Unsurprisingly, this isn’t the route I would choose to take, but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention it.
2) Play Mono-Red
Mono-Red has always been solid against Jund, and only the resurgence of various WG Knight of the Reliquary decks has been keeping it down. I know the whole rest of the San Diego Top 8 breathed a collective sigh of relief when I knocked out Jeroen Kanis, since he was the worst matchup of something like 5 of the other 6 decks in that Top 8 (Wescoe WW of course being the only deck that actively wanted to battle Mono-Red). More recently, Ding Yuan Leong won the GP by beating three Jund decks in the Top 8, and it appears that if your goal is beating Jund, Mono-Red is not a bad way to go. My concern with this approach is that people are still playing a fair amount of White-Green or Mono-White decks, and I’m not sure how good those matchups are for Mono-Red. Plus, I may have picked up Wild Nacatls, but asking me to pick up Hellspark Elementals is just crossing the line.
3) Dodge Jund
Let me know how this works out for you.
4) Re-Brew some sort of sweet UW deck
I wonder which option I’m going to choose.
If we look back a few months, the Standard metagame wasn’t all that different than now. Jund was making up a solid 30 to 40% of just about every tournament, and past that it was pretty fragmented. GW was definitely a smaller slice of the pie, but other than that I wouldn’t say the difference was huge. I did manage to make a deck that beat Jund back then, and won a 5k for my troubles (with Jeff making Top 8 of the very same event). It worked before, maybe it will work again! For reference, here is my article about the deck, and here is my tournament report about the 5k.
Now, I’m not saying that since that UWR deck beat Jund, just remaking it and switching old Jace and Sejiri Refuge for new Jace (henceforth referred to as “Jace”) and Celestial Colonnade will continue to beat Jund. Circumstances have changed, a new set is out, and we have different things to worry about. What I do think is that some of the tools I was using to beat Jund 3 months ago might still be useful, so taking a look at how we might apply them now might bear fruit. Plus, if the other options are playing Jund or Mono-Red, what choice do I have?
The three important elements in beating Jund are:
UWR obviously didn’t have access to Tectonic Edge or Snapper, but the rest of the cards were present. I think that the addition of manlands to Jund’s arsenal require Tectonic Edge in this sort of deck, and as such I am uncomfortable with the idea of playing Red.
Here is the core of the deck:
These are the spells (and lands) that aim to blank all Jund’s removal, and offer us a fighting chance of dealing with their endless stream of threats. Sphinx remains an excellent win condition, and Wall still stops all of their guys (although both manlands eventually break through). Snapper is slightly worse than Wall in many situations, but is still a good way to stop their idiots. It even beats down, which is pretty relevant. I do want to address the role of Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edge. My goal with those cards isn’t to mana screw Jund out of ever casting anything, since that isn’t really going to happen that often. Jund is playing a lot of lands nowadays, and even has a few Rampant Growths. The Seas and Edges are to kill their manlands and slow them down, not to lock them out. If you cast a Seas on turn two, they can’t cast Thrinax for at least one extra turn, possibly more. That buys you time to cast a Divination while under no pressure, which is a lot to get out of a two-mana card that replaced itself. Once it is obvious that they don’t have any mana troubles, save your Seas to hit manlands, since ultimately that is what matters.
The Flashfreezes are also worth noting. I think the time is once again upon us to maindeck Flashfreeze, since it is only dead against other UW control decks at this point. We even have Jace to Brainstorm it away, which is pretty insane. A full set of Flashfreezes goes a long way to beating Jund, since it gives you a mana efficient play that can stop anything they can do (although Bloodbraid Elf is pretty good still).
Now that the Red is gone, we need to add a bunch more creature removal. Losing four Bolts and two Earthquakes is rough, although the addition of Jace does help, since Jace plus Wall is a pretty nice combo.
Splitting the Journeys and O-rings is for Maelstrom Pulse protection, and the miser’s Martial Coup is because I am a miser (duh). Path may seem a little odd with Edge and Seas, but you should be able to hold off on casting Paths until later in the game, so that shouldn’t be a big issue.
Card draw is also necessary, and here Jace gets to pull double duty. I still like two Mind Springs, but I suspect the Divinations require more explanation. I know that Treasure Hunt has replaced Divination in any deck that used to use it, but I don’t want to play Halimar Depths, and the straight two cards promised by Divination is enough for me. It isn’t the most exciting card, but it does the job, so it gets the slot.
As mentioned before, four Edges are crucial.
28 lands is a lot, but the Edges and Colonnades help mitigate flood, and the lack of Everflowing Chalice keeps this deck at less mana sources overall than most UW decks.
Sadly, I can’t guarantee that this deck crushes Jund, or anything of the sort. I haven’t gotten to test it much, although the few games I have played with it have gone well. Without any sort of sweeper you are somewhat vulnerable to getting overwhelmed, but the Top 8 decks from Kuala Lumpur only averaged two Siege-Gangs per deck, which isn’t too bad. One of your non-Wall shroud guys still stops Siege-Gang from attacking, and Flashfreeze is always an out. There are a few reasons that a deck like this is effective against Jund: it makes so many of their cards lose value by not playing creatures, it has a bunch of Shroud guys they have problems getting through, and it maindecks four Flashfreezes, which are actually just Counterspell against them game 1. It also has Spreading Seas and Edge to disrupt their early game and deal with manlands lategame, which is crucial. If you lose focus and start to trim any of the above elements, the deck will perform much worse in the matchup, which is why such a deck can only be successful when you know that you will play against Jund over and over.
I don’t have a sideboard fully built, but I know some of the elements.
This one is a lock. I just love siding in Baneslayers in a deck without removal targets, because as I have said many times before, it puts them in a real awkward spot. Even if they know you are doing this and leave in removal, you sometimes don’t play Angel until you have counter backup, and if Angel ever survives they just lose.
Past the Angels, I would probably elect to play a mix of Mind Controls, Luminarch Ascension, Essence Scatter, Kor Firewalker, Perimeter Captain, and Negate. You need enough stuff to be able to cut all the Flashfreezes and Seas against decks where they are dead, as well as more cards for control matchups. An answer to Malakir Bloodwitch is also important, as are additional cards against Mono-Red.
I think a deck like this is viable, and if Jund truly is back in force, it might be one of the few viable decks to play. Good luck, and I will have more info and updates on this deck soon, as I have started to battle with it on MTGO.
On a side note, here is another list that I have seen recently, and wanted to mention:
GP KL Blue-White
One interesting list to keep in mind is the UW list that the Americans played at GP KL, which was originally made by Michal Hebky and played at Pro Tour San Diego. Martin Juza thought the deck was awesome, and after a few changes it looked like this:
This got Sam Black to a Top 16 and Kibler to a Top 32, with Juza, Brian Kowal, and Alex West missing Day 2. I don’t know if anyone else played the deck, or even if all the Americans played it, but either way this is an interesting list. The most striking feature is a complete lack of situational counterspells in the main deck. This is a change I was interested in making even before I saw this list, since having Essence Scatter or Negate in hand when the other is needed is usually enough to lose you the game. I actually followed this principle with UWR, since the only counter I had in my maindeck was Flashfreeze, which is never dead against Jund. It may seem a little odd to say that I like the lack of situational counters but also like Flashfreeze, but that is because I like cutting the counters that are situational against Jund, a category in which Flashfreeze certainly doesn’t belong. In fact, this list contains another crucial element in fighting Jund: Spreading Seas. The deck does diverge a little from what I propose, but it is similar enough that I figured I would mention it for completeness’ sake. The eight X-Spells are sweet, and give this deck a ton of power going late. I haven’t battled with this list yet, so I don’t know how good the non-Shroud guys are against Jund, but I’m sure we will see something by those who played this list soon enough.