To my dissatisfaction, we ended up playing Jund at Worlds. It isn’t that Jund is a bad deck; it’s the best deck, which is why we played it. I was just disappointed that we didn’t come up with a better brew, despite doing quite a bit of testing. Even after going 2-4, I don’t regret playing Jund, and the overall records people had with our Jund build were solid, I just wish we had found the right configuration for our other deck. That deck, the deck we tested the most, just wasn’t quite where I wanted it to be, but it is certainly worth talking about now.
As I have said many times before, having a plan is crucial. Jund in particular is too strong a deck to defeat without having a solid plan, so any deck that dares try has to have some specific angles of attack. When you begin testing a new deck, you might not have your plan fully formed, but you should have an idea of what you are trying to accomplish; otherwise you are just slinging pieces of cardboard at each other, and will learn nothing. As I go through each iteration of the base White-Green deck that we tested, I will mention any additions or deviations from the basic plan, but here is the concept that the deck was based on:
The main goal of the WG decks we tried was to stick one big threat. Baneslayer Angel was the biggest of course, but other such threats included Knight of the Reliquary, Thornling, Scute Mob, Master of the Wild Hunt, and Great Sable Stag. This may seem like a bad plan against Jund, but it was actually surprisingly effective. If you will notice, all of the above-mentioned threats can pretty much ignore any of Jund’s creatures, which is a powerful tool. By essentially blanking just about all of their creatures (Broodmate could still be problematic, depending on which threat you had in play), we actually nullified a ton of their card advantage. Now, every time they cascaded into Putrid Leech, Sprouting Thrinax, or Great Sable Stag, it was basically a miss.
Most of the cards in the deck should work toward this goal, either by providing mana acceleration, protecting the threats, or being a threat. Some versions had a few spots of removal, and some didn’t. Cards that didn’t do any of the above things and weren’t good enough on their own (such as Garruk), were cut pretty quickly.
Now that we have the goal of the deck clearly laid out, I will take you through the variety of lists we tried, outlining the good and bad about each. Even if our final list didn’t quite get there, it was pretty close, and by seeing how we evolved a deck through testing, hopefully you can get a better idea both of the process we use and how you can learn from it.
We started with the WGB list that did well at the Austin LCQ:
Having some experience with W/G animal decks, I thought it was an angle worth looking into. After running some games, we decided to cut the Black entirely, since Maelstrom Pulse and Putrid Leech just weren’t very exciting. We also mixed up the threats some, mainly biasing the list against Jund, since that was (and still is, as far as I can tell) public enemy #1.
WG Little Kid, v1.0
Cards that worked:
Baneslayer Angel – Excellent, and didn’t for a second leave the deck. While Baneslayer may have lacked the natural protection of Thornling and the low casting cost of Knight of the Reliquary, by herself she could vanquish almost any army. Even a Broodmate quailed at the sight of Baneslayer, and the amount of creatures it took to try and race an Angel is staggering. If this “protect the queen” plan had any hope, Baneslayer was that queen.
Knight of the Reliquary – Pretty awesome, even if it lacked any sort of evasion. We started with a bunch of cool lands to fetch, but after the only one we ever got was Gargoyle Castle, the Refuge (and by association, Kabira Crossroads) and the Vastwood were both cut. Knight’ing for Gargoyle Castle was a common occurence, and happened enough that we eventually added a second. Unchecked, the Knight grew by 2 a turn and possibly fetched an army of 3/4s, before eventually attacking as a 10/10 or greater, which was quite a bit of action for only three mana.
Thornling – Four ended up being too many, but the card itself was good. A bit pricey, and hence the eventual reduction in numbers, but unique in that it protected itself. All it took was an abundance of mana, and Thornling would eventually do the job. Sometimes we would get raced by Broodmate, particularly if enough Thrinaxes were around to chump, but being unkillable by anything but Slave of Bolas was pretty impressive.
Noble Hierarch – One of the key pieces of the deck, and a card I would gladly play eight of. We never considered reducing this number.
Vines of Vastwood – A one mana Negate, Vines always traded for a spell that cost more mana. Casting threat + Vines in the same turn sequence was crucial in letting you untap with a threat in play, at which point you ideally dropped another threat, putting them too far behind to stop all of your guys. Sometimes it even gave +4/+4, although that was obviously the secondary usage. Vines is another constant among the decklists.
Cards that didn’t work
Ranger of Eos / Scute Mob– As much as we wanted Ranger to be awesome, it just wasn’t. We did find that we were playing too many Scute Mobs, but even when we cut it to 1 Mob plus Rangers, the Ranger underperformed. Part of the problem is that Ranger didn’t really mesh well with the main plan of the deck. Ranger is excellent in attrition wars, searching up multiple threats at the cost of only one card, and giving you a 3/2 to boot. However, this deck is bound to lose in any attrition war against Jund, since Jund is the deck with all the 2 for 1s. Even the 3/2 body of the Ranger does nothing but make Putrid Leech and co. relevant again! The WG deck beats Jund by sticking a huge threat and riding it to victory, which the Ranger doesn’t really help.
We played some more sets, this time against both Jund and Boros. Before this, we had only battled against Jund, but Boros was definitely a factor we needed to take into consideration. After a good number of games (around 50 vs Jund, 15 vs Boros), we moved on to the next iteration.
The addition of Blue
We played the WG version quite a bit, eventually coming to the above conclusions as to which cards we wanted to cut and which we wanted to keep. After mixing the numbers up, and trying a few different cards, we decided to try and take a slightly different tack. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), Jund wasn’t the only deck we were worried about. Even though we expected Jund to be the most played deck (and it was, by far), we had no intentions of going into the tournament only prepared to face Jund, since even at 1/3 of the field, you mostly play non-Jund decks. After the games against Boros, we were dissatisfied with the results of the straight WG deck. It was too slow, and even its heavy hitters were outclassed by Plated Geopede or even Steppe Lynx, depending on the number of fetchlands in play. What we needed were a couple pieces of removal and some relevant low drops. Enter everyone’s favorite elephant, Rhox War Monk! Blue was an easy splash, leading to the creation of Lotus Bant:
Lotus Bant, v 1.0
The addition of War Monks, [card]Journey to Nowhere[/card], and Elspeth, was very good in the RW matchup. A low drop removal spell and a bunch of lifelinkers did wonders in allowing this deck to leverage its bigger creatures, and provided more must-kill targets for opposing [card]Path to Exile[/card]s. The changes against Jund were slightly better, but not huge. Journey and War Monk weren’t that effective, but then again neither were the cards we removed. We also got to add a 25th land, since the mana felt a little tight earlier, and the addition of another color wasn’t going to help matters.
Cards that worked
Journey to Nowhere – The reason we picked Journey to Nowhere over Path was that we fully intended to cast our removal in the early turns, which is when the drawback on Path is at its worst. Most decks play out their cards and then use Path to clear the way, but this deck needed to use the removal slot to give itself time to play those cards, hence leading to our choice of Journey.
Rhox War Monk – Against RW, it served its purpose admirably. Against Jund, War Monk was decent, but would often have to stop attacking during the midgame, which led to it sitting there until it randomly died. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t spectacular either.
Elspeth, Knight-Errant – Even though it seemed like it might have the same problems as Garruk, Elspeth had a number of advantages. It lived through Blightning and most attacks, it provided chump blockers AND gained loyalty while doing so, and it was very good with our 10 lifelink cards. It was solid against Jund and very good elsewhere, which was good enough.
Cards that didn’t
Lotus Cobra – This is about the point where we started to dislike the Cobra. The 2/1 body was pretty irrelevant, and it wasn’t the most reliable sort of acceleration. Much has been said about the Cobra, and while I think it has turned out to be a solid card in many decks, it wasn’t quite pulling its weight in this one. It was quite explosive with Knight of the Reliquary, but an active Knight out was usually pretty good already. The biggest problem with Cobra was when we ran out of lands but still desperately needed mana, and that was what ultimately led us to playing [card]Birds of Paradise[/card]. That decision might not be final, and I would be willing to try Cobra again, since the decision was quite close. Enough WG decks using Cobra did reasonably well at Worlds that I am willing to admit that perhaps we were wrong on this count.
More battles, this time also playing against a few other random decks. I even ran the deck at Magic Game Day, where I went x-1, losing to Boros. It takes up little article space to talk about what takes the most time in the process, playing games, but don’t be fooled. Playing actual games is crucial, both to advance your understanding of each deck and the individual cards, but also the format in general. Playing 50 or 100 games of Standard with a number of different decks, even if they are decks you mostly don’t plan on using, gives you the knowledge necessary to tinker with decks without playing games. Once I feel I have the format knowledge I need, I can substitute that for in-game testing, but be aware that it takes many games to get to that point. If anything, people seem to err on the side of too few games, but keep in mind that if you know a format well enough, you can make informed decisions about a deck without actually having to test them out. That is a big reason why I don’t consider our testing with GW to be a waste of time; it allowed us to make changes to decks later without having to test each one.
The subtraction of Blue (and the end of the line)
WG Little Kid, v2.0
This worked well, better than any previous version. The addition of threats like Stag and Master were potent vs Jund, and Master shored up a lot of weaknesses against other creature decks like RW and Mono-Green. It was still a little slow against RW, but the vastly improved game against Jund was probably worth it.
Cards that worked
All of them, duh. This was our final list!
Ok, I suppose I should elaborate a little, especially seeing as how I prefaced this article by saying that our final list didn’t quite get to the point where I felt comfortable playing it.
Master of the Wild Hunt – This guy is awesome, and I expect him to show up in Standard quite often. He has been seen in Mono-G and Jund as well, and I suspect that most Green-based creature decks will at the very least consider playing him, even if they ultimately don’t. He is a powerful and recurring effect, and becomes insane in conjunction with Oran-Rief, which as you can see made its way into the deck.
Great Sable Stag – A little underpowered, since it is Trained Armodon in many matchups, the Stag helps out immensely against Jund, and might even sneak past some Wall of Denials. Along with Master, Stag was the reason we added Oran-Rief back into the deck, since a 4/4 Stag is many times more difficult for Jund to deal with than a 3/3 Stag.
Oran-Rief, the Vastwood – Another card that Green decks have to justify not playing, Oran-Rief follows in the tradition of lands that do things being awesome. Even something as small as pumping Birds or Hierarchs can make a difference, and once you start Oran-Rief’ing Thornling or Wolf tokens it gets pretty filthy. Searching up multiple Oran-Riefs with Knight was not an uncommon occurrence.
We managed to test many potential sideboard options, although I’m loathe to list a complete sideboard, since sideboards are so fluid. Here are the cards I liked enough to recommend and the cards I disliked enough to suggest not using.
Cards that worked
Wall of Reverence – Good against Boros and excellent against burn. The Wall provides a good blocker and enough lifegain to buy you time, which is usually all you need. Most of our sideboards had 2 to 4 of these.
Grizzled Leotau – As silly as it seems, ol’ Grizz here is exactly the card you want against Boros. The French used him in their deck, and had I played this deck I would have as well.
Path to Exile – Path might not be a really powerful sideboard option, but against other Green and/or White decks it is nice to have some sort of removal option.
Qasali Pridemage – You need to be able to kill Eldrazi Monument against Mono-Green, and some defense against the Jacerator / Howling Mine deck is good too. I liked a mix of Pridemages and World Queller, since they both have their upsides.
World Queller – More powerful but slower than Pridemage, the Queller munches on Planeswalkers and Enchantments/Artifacts most of the time, although it can hit land if they are a little land-light. You don’t want to overload on these, since they cost 5, but 2 is a good number.
Fog – It might seem silly, but Fog can be quite effective against both RW and Mono-Red, since it stops either the Goblin Bushwhacker turn or Ball Lightning for only 1 mana. Grizzled Leotau is probably better, but Fog is certainly worth considering.
Cards that didn’t
Celestial Purge – The generic anti-Jund card just didn’t impress me. Killing a random guy just isn’t what you want to be doing vs Jund, and there aren’t many other decks where this is good either. The biggest threat out of Vampires is Bloodwitch, and this obviously doesn’t help there.
Wrath of God – While it might theoretically be decent against Boros, Wrath cripples your gameplan to the point that it isn’t worth using. This isn’t how you want to fight Boros.
There are certainly sideboard cards we didn’t test, so this is not meant to be a comprehensive list or anything like that. Just keep in mind how potential sideboard cards interact with the goal of the deck and you should be fine.
So, what was missing?
The biggest question is something I still can’t answer. I think this deck is very close to being good enough, but perhaps the fact that we couldn’t close the deal indicates that there is no solution. Maybe Emeria Angel and other token-making cards are what’s needed to bridge the gap between almost good enough and good enough. Josh Utter-Leyton ended up playing the deck as WG splash Blue for Aven Mimeomancer, which is an interesting addition, but his record on Day 1 was 1-5. Of course, with only one person playing the deck that doesn’t tell us much, but it is still a bit disheartening. Then again, part of the reason he had so much trouble is that he started 0-2 and was relegated to playing against completely unexpected (ie, non-Jund non-Boros) decks. WG is a metagame deck to some extent, particularly if you have maindeck Sable Stags, and being thrown against rogue creations can be difficult. That is a point of favor for something like Jund or Boros, since powerful decks tend to fare well against randomness.
In any case, I’m not discouraged by what happened. We had an idea for a deck, and we tested it, and it didn’t pan out. It wasn’t a waste of time just because we didn’t play the deck, since the experience we gained about the format itself was valuable even when looking at the format with other decks.
With States coming up this weekend, GW might be worthy of consideration. I personally love States, and try to play in it every year. I even won it back in 2005! If I do make it down to States this year (it is a 6 hour drive, but it’s possible), I will not be playing Jund. I play in States because it is fun, and I would not have fun playing Jund. I might play GW, I might play something else, but if your goal is to have fun, playing GW is a good choice. I don’t say that because GW can’t win; I think it is both a fun and good choice, even if I wasn’t quite ready to gamble my Worlds on it.
Good luck at States!