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Junk Midrange Player Guide

Last week I presented my Standard deck of choice: Junk Midrange. Today I’d like to discuss in more detail its matchups against the format’s top decks, my suggestions for sideboarding, as well as some possible changes to the sideboard. For reference, here’s the list that I played at the SCG Invitational and posted last week:

As I mentioned last week, I put up a 6-2 Standard record in the Invitational and had no regrets about the deck list I registered. That said, that event immediately followed a weekend where Esper Control took first and second place in both of the major Standard tournaments that I felt were likely to drive our metagame. Also, my personal experience has been that blue counterspell decks tend to be overrepresented among the SCG Invitational crowd. These factors led me to gear my deck strongly against control.

Today we have a slightly different metagame. While Grand Prix Phoenix didn’t exactly knock us out of our seats this past weekend in terms of unexpected archetypes, it did remind us that Blue Devotion and Jund Monsters are very real decks to beat. There’s been a bit of a backlash against Burn. The deck has experienced a substantial drop in popularity by means of both a reduced amount of (pure) aggro, and a splintering of Burn’s portion of the metagame into other aggro decks like White Weenie and creature-based red. Finally, the Sphinx’s Revelation decks are still a force to be reckoned with, but they no longer stand alone as Standard’s top dog.

Here’s a very rough ranking of the decks I’d expect to face in a Standard tournament this weekend, keeping in mind that this can be adjusted according to factors like the level of competition and the geographic region:

1.) Black-based midrange (15-20%)

2.) U/W/(x) Control (12-18%)

3.) Blue Devotion (10-15%)

4.) Monsters (8-10%)

5.) Burn (~5%)

6.) Red Devotion//B/G Graveyard//Hexproof//Rakdos Cackler Aggro//White Weenie//G/B/(x) Midrange (each about 3%)

7.) Other (20-30%)

In short, I’d plan for a relatively balanced metagame, but expect to have to beat Black, Blue, U/W, and Monsters if I want to do well. I’d play the same main deck with a sideboard better prepared to handle creature decks.

You’d be well served to consider this deck list your starting point, but one of the great things about a deck like this is how customizable it is. For example, in the exact same shell, you can choose virtually any combination of Archangel of Thune, Obzedat, Ghost Council, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, and Vraska, the Unseen as your five-drops, depending on your personal preference or what matchups you want to gear for. You could easily add an Underworld Connections, cut a Scavenging Ooze (particularly if you were also cutting Archangels), or switch a couple Thoughtseizes between main deck and sideboard.

In the past, I’ve had success with decks like this in part because of my ability to make minor adjustments from week to week depending on which matchups I wanted to emphasize.

Along those lines, I might as well begin with what I consider the most important matchup right now:

Black Midrange

This includes all decks that play Underworld Connections—Mono-black, Black Devotion with a splash, B/W Midrange, and the rest. This is a textbook example of a grindy midrange mirror. The games can be long, skill-testing wars, but they can also end in frustrating ways such as when one player floods out, one player topdecks better than the other, or one player sticks an early Underworld Connections while the other does not.

As the Junk player, your primary advantage is that you can efficiently and conveniently kill your opponent’s Underworld Connections while they cannot do the same to yours. In this matchup, creatures are leaves scattered by the wind—disposable, replaceable, and not-long-for-the-world. The best way to gain a long-term advantage—short of Elspeth, which is pricy and easily nabbed by Thoughtseize—is Underworld Connections, so make that your plan in the matchup.

The Black Midrange player, however, has an advantage of their own in Lifebane Zombie. This card frequently (half the time it’s cast or more) represents a 2-for-1 against the Junk player. This is not insurmountable, but in a matchup that runs on such thin margins, it’s pretty darn good. Hope they don’t hit twice in the same game with a Lifebane Zombie—you can use Thoughtseize and hedge your bets during sideboarding to protect yourself a little bit.

Sideboard

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Trim down your mana a tiny bit because the games can go very long after sideboarding. This means first that you can have time to draw out of a slight stall on mana and second that you really don’t want to flood out in the long run. This deck never wants to go below 24 lands—Sylvan Caryatid is nice to draw one of, but bad in multiples and generally clunky with Courser of Kruphix and against Lifebane Zombie.

The big question mark during sideboarding is the presence of Erebos, God of the Dead. It’s not entirely obvious whether or not that card is good against Junk. On the one hand you have so much removal that he will rarely be a creature, but on the other hand the passive abilities are quite relevant. Either way, it’s a good idea not to lean too heavily on Archangel of Thune after sideboarding just in case they play Erebos (this also has the side benefit of protecting you from Lifebane Zombie a little bit). Bring in Unravel the Aether if you expect your opponent to have two or more copies of Erebos. Feel free to leave in the Archangels if you’re confident that they have zero. For reference, Mono-Black Devotion will always have access to two or three copies of Erebos. A deck that dips heavier into white for cards like Brimaz, King of Oreskos is more likely to have zero or one.

To make a long story short, I consider Junk to be a favorite in this matchup by an extremely slim margin. You will be a very small favorite in post-board games, and game one will be even or slightly unfavorable depending on the presence of Lifebane Zombie.

If you wanted to improve the matchup, here are three suggestions to do so: Move more copies of Underworld Connections to the main deck; Add one more Dark Betrayal to the sideboard; or change some number of Archangels and Obzedats into Blood Baron of Vizkopas. Blood Baron is a clear upgrade, but is not the be-all and end-all because of Lifebane Zombie and Erebos, God of the Dead.

Play as conservatively as possible, and err slightly on the side of keeping if you have a tough mulligan decision, since being down a card is a significant disadvantage.

U/W/(x) Control

Most decks in Standard are underdogs against the Sphinx’s Revelation decks in game one, and Junk is no exception. These decks are simply so powerful and operate on such a wildly different axis than the rest of the format that it’s difficult to have a favorable matchup while still being reasonable against creature decks.

Not to worry, though! You can steal game one by resolving Obzedat, Ghost Council, since most opponents will have zero ways to remove it from the table, or you can look for them to stumble in some small way and press that advantage. If you ever do win game one, you’re in great shape because things get much better after sideboarding.

Sideboard

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Just like against black, your primary game plan will be sticking Underworld Connections. However, your opponents will be stretched pretty thin after sideboarding since they’ll want to keep in all of their card drawing and all of their permission while still needing win conditions, answers to creatures, and answers to noncreatures. Especially with the addition of Mistcutter Hydra, you can use Thoughtseize, Duress, and Golgari Charm to protect yourself from Supreme Verdict and take down a quick win.

In this matchup you should play aggressively and take chances in game one, but slow down and play conservatively after sideboarding. In game one, if you ever face a clean board on turn 5 or 6, you’re so unlikely to win anyway that you’re usually just better off playing all your creatures and crossing your fingers that they don’t have Supreme Verdict at the right time. Sometimes they won’t!

One tricky interaction is that of Obzedat, Ghost Council and Azorius Charm. Above I made the claim that most Esper players will not be able to remove Obzedat in game one, but that isn’t entirely true. Esper decks play about two copies of Azorius Charm (sometimes more, sometimes less), so they could hypothetically Charm your Obzedat and counter it on the way back down. Think hard and use your judgment about whether you should play around this possibility. Does it make sense for them to have Azorius Charm in their hand? Does it make sense for them to have a permission spell in their hand? Do you have a reasonable amount of pressure, or will playing conservatively give them too much time to chain Sphinx’s Revelations? Like I usually do, I recommend erring on the side of attacking.

The most common way for the U/W/(x) matchup to play out is that you’ll lose game one, sideboard in ten or more cards, and be a heavy favorite in the sideboarded games. So long as you have reasonable draws and play your best, you have a very good chance of winning two games in a row. This, combined with the reasonable possibility of winning game one, makes Junk a favorite in the matchup. If you want to further improve the matchup, just load up on Duresses and Sin Collectors.

Blue Devotion

Blue Devotion is an extremely explosive deck which has inherent strengths against opposing creature decks—it’s not to be taken lightly. That said, it’s also very reliant on synergy and is therefore even more vulnerable to removal than other decks. Like Black Devotion, this matchup will be statistically very close. The difference is that the games will sometimes not feel very close; in some you’ll get steamrolled and in some you’ll tear them to pieces. Don’t get either discouraged or complacent if you have one or two extreme experiences while starting out.

Sideboard

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While Thoughtseize is typically one of the first cards I consider sideboarding out against creature decks, I actually quite like it against Blue Devotion. Some portion of their draws will contain a bunch of air—lands, removal, permission, weenie creatures—and only a single engine card like a God or a Bident of Thassa. The easiest wins come when you can ignore most of their draw, and just focus on fighting a couple of key cards. Thoughtseize is perfect for that.

Sideboarding is a little tricky: it’s not that Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Courser of Kruphix are bad (drawing more than one copy is bad), it’s just that the cards you’re bringing in are better. Your best hands in this matchup are the ones where you can play out one or two threats, and spend the rest of your energy containing their board. Also, it’s difficult to predict exactly how your opponents will sideboard against you. Trimming Elspeth and Obzedats will make you less vulnerable to permission, and trimming Coursers will make you less vulnerable to Domestication.

Monsters

The good news is that Junk is built to beat other midrange creature decks. The bad news is that Jund Monsters is too. You can definitely count on this matchup being a war. Of all the matchups with Junk, I find it to be the most complex, and the most important to play your hardest. However, if you do, you’ll come out on top.

Sideboard

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I’ve recommended bringing in Underworld Connections so frequently that one might begin to wonder why I don’t simply have more copies in the main deck. The thing is that every single matchup with Junk slows down after sideboarding, once both players have more answers to what the opponent is doing, and Underworld Connections becomes better under these circumstances. Nowhere is this more true than against Jund Monsters. In game one, you can expect them to be a fast and focused creature deck, but after sideboarding, they’re likely to have lots of removal, lots of planeswalkers, and possibly even Rakdos’s Return.

Pithing Needle is worth bringing in because the Monsters player will have access to four copies of Domri Rade as well as Xenagos, the Reveler, Chandra, Pyromaster, and possibly Vraska the Unseen. A one-mana answer to a planeswalker is already solid, and when the game goes long and you have the potential to strand a second copy in their hand it’s huge.

The most troublesome cards are Rakdos’s Return—just hope to have something on the board by the time they cast it—and Xenagos, God of Revels. If you know they have two copies of Xenagos, God of Revels, bring in Unravel the Aether since it can always hit Courser of Kruphix as a backup.

That covers the most important matchups. Of course, there are a dozen other decks to be aware of in Standard, as well as plenty of room for rogue deckbuilders to work. One of the things I love most about taking a deck like Junk to battle is that the more obscure your opponent’s deck is, the better the matchup tends to be for you. You have access to a healthy mix of answer cards for both creatures and noncreatures—you have four copies of Scavenging Ooze against graveyard strategies; you have plenty of life gain against aggro; and you have Thoughtseize so you won’t be taken by surprise.

I highly recommend this deck. It’s solid and fun to pick up once for an FNM, but it will also reward you for the time you put into it, and for sticking with it through multiple tournaments. Getting to know your matchups and your sideboarding with this deck will give you a huge leg up on Standard.

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