I knew it was something special when I first laid eyes on it.
It’s rare for me to copy someone else’s deck for a Magic tournament. Whenever possible, I prefer to play something that I designed or fine-tuned myself, to know the ins and outs, and to understand the purpose of every card.
In the case of Standard, though, I’d been at a loss. I hadn’t entered a tournament in a month’s time. I’d been avoiding the format in part because I was stagnating—always playing passable U/W/x Control decks, yet failing to crack into Top 8s while failing to improve the deck or make any forward progress at all.
But I couldn’t run away forever. I decided not only that I needed to start playing Standard again, but that I needed a completely fresh perspective on the format. I would copy a deck list of an unfamiliar archetype—not control!—and I would enter the nine-round Sunday Super Series Standard event at Grand Prix Montreal.
The deck I chose was Ash Webster’s Grand Prix Melbourne Top 4 deck: Jund Monsters. As I was beginning to explain, it was love at first sight from the moment I stumbled across the list in my research for last week’s article.
I’ve always considered Domri Rade an amazingly powerful card, especially in Standard, where the power level of creatures is (relatively speaking) through the roof. It’s also a great way to attack Supreme Verdict decks from an alternative angle, which can make or break a creature vs. control matchup. All that said, the black splash offers tremendous sideboard options and hard removal to correct the weaknesses of plain old R/G Monsters.
Here’s what I played, making a couple tiny changes in part because of personal preferences and in part because of card availability.
The Tournament (Part One)
My day started by being decimated by Mono-Black Devotion. Thoughtseize, removal, removal, Desecration Demon left me feeling utterly helpless, and down in the dumps on both my deck and Standard in general. However, I stayed strong, got ready for the next round, and I actually wound up beating a Mono-Black player later in the tournament. Here are my thoughts on the matchup:
First, the die roll matters a lot. If you, as the Monsters player, can get ahead on creatures, then you wind up attacking for big chunks of damage while your opponent can only take one guy off the board at a time. More importantly, they can’t get any traction to attack your planeswalkers and you get tremendous value off of Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler when they come down before the Mono-Black player is prepared for them.
On the other hand, if the Mono-Black player sticks a creature and then can keep your board under wraps with removal, it is hard to claw your way back. As always, Pack Rat is substantially more devastating on the play.
In short, the matchup comes down to the way the black removal matches up against your creatures. If the Mono-Black player has the perfect play ready for every turn, there’s not a lot you can do. However, each of your creatures and planeswalkers needs to be answered in a slightly different way, and if they draw their removal spells in the wrong order (or simply don’t draw enough removal), you’ll be able to run them over.
If you have a good draw, your giant creatures can outclass even a turn 2 Pack Rat. Beyond that, you also have a couple of removal spells that can take it out right away, and sometimes an overloaded Mizzium Mortars can get you out of a tight spot.
Getting back to the tournament, after my round one loss I rattled off six wins against Mono-Black, Mono-Blue splashing white, Esper Control, Junk, R/G Monsters, and a B/G graveyard deck. Each of those felt like fine matchups, with the possible exception of the Blue Devotion deck, but in this particular case I had great draws while he came out a little bit slow.
Gameplay and Tips for Library Manipulation
I started the tournament thinking I was playing some stupid beatdown deck where all you do is play creatures, sit back, and hope for the best. After a couple of rounds, I realized that I was dead wrong. Jund Monsters may actually be in the running for most challenging deck in Standard to pilot well.
Granted, you can get some easy wins where Stormbreath Dragon simply does the work for you. However, to know how to deploy all of your threats in the best way, and how to squeeze every bit of value out of your cards is a remarkably complex problem.
In particular, Jund Monsters offers its pilot a number of ways to manipulate the top of his or her library, and knowing how to manage them properly has the potential to change a lot of close losses into wins.
Domri and Scry Lands: If you play your scry land before activating Domri Rade, then you have a higher chance of hitting a creature with Domri. If you activate your Domri before playing your scry land, then you have a higher chance of scrying an unwanted card to the bottom of your library.
More often, you’ll want to play your scry land first. The most extreme example is where you’re purely playing off the top of your library, and need to hit a creature to play this turn—here, play your scry land first. The other is early in the game where you don’t mind drawing another land—here, you might as well try for the card advantage of hitting with Domri, play your land first, scry a non-creature to the bottom, and accept that you’ll have a random draw-step for next turn.
The case where you’ll want to activate Domri first will come up in the mid-game (say turn 5 or 6) where you already have a play lined up for this turn, but do not want to draw more lands—here, the most important thing is not flooding out, so you should use Domri first to make sure you don’t “waste” your scry, because scrying a useless land to the bottom of your library is nearly as good as drawing a card.
All of these questions are further complicated by the presence of non-creature, non-land cards which you can’t reveal to Domri but may want to draw for your next draw step. If ever there’s a turn where you’re not sure whether or not you want to play your scry land, you can plus Domri first in order to gain information about the top of your library before you decide whether or not to scry. One way this might come up is if your opponent has stabilized at a low life total and you need to dig toward a Rakdos’s Return or removal spell in order to win the game.
Domri Rade and Chandra, Pyromaster: This question is a little bit more clear cut. Use Domri first. Playing a land off Chandra is one of her best uses, since it allows you to gain card advantage while still spending mana on a spell from your hand. The top card of your library has a higher chance of being a land if you use Domri first.
Domri and Chandra and Courser of Kruphix: While there can be some strange exceptions, generally you should immediately plus Domri as soon as you see a creature on top of your library. Generally you should play a land from the top of your library via Courser of Kruphix whenever you see one. With Chandra, however, keep in mind the option to activate her and not cast the card. Sometimes you’ll just have a brick sitting on top of your library. If it’s going to be a dead draw next turn, or if it’s stopping you from getting value from Courser or Domri, it can be a good use of your planeswalker to just exile it permanently. One of your top priorities when you have Courser of Kruphix in play should be to draw lands as infrequently as possible and Chandra can help with that.
The Tournament (Part Two)
In round eight I had a—maybe—win-and-in (it was unclear whether or not I’d be able to draw round 9) against an opponent I have a tremendous amount of respect for in Pascal Maynard. He was playing straight U/W Control.
In game one I had a solid draw, but Pascal had the right answers at the right times and he was able to stabilize and win via Elspeth, Sun’s Champion. The control player is advantaged in game one and Monsters is really just trying to steal a win with Domri Rade or hope that the U/W player doesn’t have Supreme Verdict at the right time.
Post-sideboard is a different story, though, as I was bringing in two Rakdos’s Returns, Thoughtseize, Golgari Charm, two Abrupt Decays, Chandra, Pyromaster, and three Mistcutter Hydras—a whopping ten cards!
On the play I mulliganed to six cards, but Pascal went down to five. I stuck a Domri Rade on turn 3 and Pascal played a third land and passed with three mana up, declining to attack Domri with his Mutavault, despite me being tapped out. On my turn, I played a fourth land and my hand contained Xenagos, the Reveler, Stormbreath Dragon, and some more lands. I +1’d Domri and passed without playing anything, figuring that Pascal was holding up Dissolve instead of attacking with his Mutavault or playing anything on his main phase. So far so good.
Playing a creature deck against control can sometimes prove to be one of the greatest challenges in MTG. In this case, I felt good about my decision to not play a spell into Pascal’s open mana. Since my hand was light on threats, it could be a disaster to trade one for his Dissolve, and then allow him to start tapping out on his main phase to answer what I had on the board. Instead, I’d continue to press my advantage with the Domri, hoping he’d eventually have to tap out, then I could use that window to resolve Xenagos and put him right back where he started.
So I feel that I played the first four turns of the game well, but after that my inexperience with the matchup began to show a little. I played very conservatively, not adding too much to the board because I felt that Pascal would definitely need a Supreme Verdict if he was to start his comeback. However, because of my timidness, he was able to get some traction with the combination of Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Blind Obedience. Eventually, he managed to get back to an equal board state and started holding up mana for what I assumed was the Dissolve he’d had ever since turn 3.
Then began a game of chicken, I’d revealed a Rakdos’s Return to my Courser of Kruphix and had enough mana to make the spell lethal if I could ever resolve it. A few turns went by with Pascal not tapping out and me not casting my Rakdos’s Return. Finally, though, a complicated attack step resulted in Pascal losing a Mutavault in combat and only having two mana available after combat. I looked down at my nine mana and the Rakdos’s Return in my hand, I looked across at Pascal’s two mana and his seven life, and I decided that it was now or never. I tapped out for the Rakdos’s Return only to find that it hadn’t been Dissolve, but Syncopate that he was holding all game!
I feel fine about my decision to go for it, as I was overwhelmingly likely to lose if I let my opponent untap for another turn. The thing was that it would have been very easy for me to have more mana available if I’d just planned better. I could have cast the Sylvan Caryatids in my hand on a previous turn, or I could have had more forethought in playing my lands and laid one untapped that turn.
Nonetheless, it was a good, clean loss where the better man—at least in this particular case—won. Now that I have a little more experience in the matchup, I can do a better job next time. Here are the lesson’s I took away:
First, it’s unacceptable how good Blind Obedience is against this particular build of the deck. Stormbreath Dragon, Mistcutter Hydra, Xenagos the Reveler, and Xenagos, God of Revels are meant to be some of your best tools against control and they’re all just neutered by a single two-mana card. Either Monsters needs to be constructed to not lean so heavily on haste creatures, or it needs to pack a healthy amount of enchantment removal in the sideboard. On a related note, control players should be sideboarding two copies of this card.
The second lesson is a conceptual one that I believe applies to most creature vs. control matchups across nearly every format. Err on the side of being too aggressive, not too conservative. Put them to the test! Make them have the Supreme Verdict to survive! The worst thing that can happen to you is that you underextend, fearing Supreme Verdict, and then lose to some other combination of cards despite the fact that they might never have been holding the Verdict in the first place.
Third, there can be tremendous value in seeing your opponent’s hand once or twice over the course of a long, complex game. Pascal gained an advantage over me because he got to see many of my draw steps due to Courser of Kruphix. Perhaps the single best sideboard card for Jund Monsters to bring in would be Thoughtseize (in small numbers). In this case, had I seen the Syncopate in his hand, I could have more easily played the game so as to minimize its effectiveness. With Thoughtseize, not only can you strip that crucial Supreme Verdict or Elspeth, but you can also see what weaknesses your opponent has, and apply pressure in the right directions without overextending.
In any case, that’s how I was eliminated from the tournament, in a brutal match against a skilled control player. I won a mirror match in round nine to finish with a respectable 7-2 record, which is also good enough to keep me interested in the deck, particularly after having learned a valuable lesson or two over the course of the event.
I’ll begin with a few words on Jund Monsters’ mana base. As I mentioned last week, I feel that three colors is a nice place to be in Standard, because you keep your mana requirements manageable while getting access to a healthy number of scry lands. My experience with Jund Monsters confirmed this; at no point in the event did I regret the black splash in my deck. (Although I should mention that I didn’t face any dedicated aggro decks to make shocking myself a substantial liability.)
I was skeptical of the two Mutavaults in Ash Webster’s decklist, but I wound up being somewhat impressed by them. It’s nice to have a few lands that enter the battlefield untapped, and as always, they’re good for attacking planeswalkers and recovering after a Supreme Verdict.
What I didn’t especially like were the basic lands; the mana in the deck isn’t good enough to skimp on dual lands. Unfortunately, the question is complicated by the fact that this color combination only offers twelve green dual lands, which is nowhere near enough sources of green mana. What I can say for sure is that the deck should play four copies each of Stomping Ground, Overgrown Tomb, and Temple of Abandon.
Next I’ll move to the 4-drop spot on the mana curve, which presents a challenge because there are so many phenomenal options available. I tried out one Polukranos, World Eater, and it was great. Sure it dies to both Doom Blade and Ultimate Price, but those cards are going to be excellent against you regardless, so there’s no point living in fear of them. It’s only because of the other good options available, and because of Polukranos’s legendary status that I’m interested in diversifying the 4-drop creatures.
Reaper of the Wilds is also excellent, in my mind just a tiny bit worse than Polukranos. If you’re to draw one 4-drop creature, you want it to be either Reaper or Polukranos. However, if you’re to draw two 4-drop creatures, you’d prefer the second to be Ghor-Clan Rampager, which offers some nice utility, and is great for fighting Elspeth, Sun’s Champion, one of the scariest cards to face down.
Finally we come to the planeswalkers. Xenagos, the Reveler does some cool things, but isn’t really a critical part of the game plan. I’d be happy trimming him down to one copy. On the other hand, the one Chandra, Pyromaster in my sideboard was one of my favorite cards in the deck all day, and I could easily see playing one in the main deck. Chandra works great alongside the other library manipulation cards—Domri Rade, Courser of Kruphix, and scry effects—and is a nice way to combat Lifebane Zombie, which would otherwise be a nightmare of a card for you.
Xenagos, God of Revels was a disappointment. In the slower matchups where you really need him to shine, the opponent frequently has so much removal that you can neither make him a creature, nor get in a clean hit with another fatty.
Here’s what I’d play next time:
I recommend adding Jund Monsters to your testing gauntlet and considering it yourself for future tournaments. The Domri Rade beatdown shell remains one of the most powerful in Standard, and the Jund color combination offers a tremendous number of excellent and underplayed cards.
Personally, I’m also experimenting with a number of more defensive off-shoots. Adding more removal and utility spells forces you to sacrifice Domri Rade, but having tons of removal and Thoughtseizes is a pretty simple and effective way to attack many of the decks in Standard. Keep an eye out for more articles and videos from me on the subject in the next two weeks!