One of the most important lessons you can learn as a deckbuilder is when to give up on a deck. Whether it lacked something, or the core strategy wasn’t sound, or the mana wasn’t there, something was missing for it to be a valid choice. Unfortunately, when people tend to dismiss decks, it makes it difficult for them to ever reconsider the strategy until somebody else forces them to accept it. The same could also be said decks that become obsoleted by advancements in the metagame, older builds tend to get written off instead of being adapted. Oh sure, if the solution is a quick fix or a few extra sideboard games in a match-up then it’s no problem, but if you have to reconfigure the deck suddenly it becomes some ludicrous idea.
I presented Wrapter’s Jund deck last week and outlined why I felt it was such an advancement on the strategy over traditional builds. The number of e-mails I got saying I either was exaggerating the impact of the changes or that the deck “wasn’t really THAT good” was staggering to me. The idea that these people who had just seen the deck, picked it up and immediately thought the impact of the changes would be completely apparent was… optimistic. Sadly, this led many people to not really give the deck a fair chance and this was really clear to me when I began reading message board posts about how the deck fared in sideboarded games.
Post Board Testing
To be fair here, I had the blessing of knowing Wrapter and Pham’s sideboarding plans before I ever played a game with the deck. However, that doesn’t excuse people for just doing terrible jobs of sideboarding and then declaring matches trash based on the fact that they didn’t know how to use the tools they had available. When an updated deck does well, you don’t have to automatically assume it’s good, but you should give it a fair shot to impress. Try out different configurations and think about what the deck’s plan is going to be in post-board games.
Here’s a freebie on the advancement front, Savage Lands is cuttable from the deck as long as every blue deck runs quad Spreading Seas. I’m not exaggerating or kidding when I say Savage Lands is just worse than a fetchland in the WU or WUr Planeswalkers matches and that you don’t need the ‘complete’ color-fixing the card brings you. Having multiple sets of fetches along with nine or ten basic land and Borderland Ranger solves nearly every mana issue the deck had. Now, if you choose to stick with the older builds, this advice won’t apply since you have the full 8 manland package and that changes plenty in how you deploy your mana and types of hands you draw. There’s a clear distinction though and the sooner people stop getting stuck on classifying a deck with a broad brush, the better everyone will be for it.
You should probably take that last sentence to heart, since the old builds of Jund aren’t gone and many of them are still winning like the Rise of Control decks never happened. Thus far I’ve seen reports from people talking about how pretty much stock builds with minor modifications like moving back to Malakir Bloodwitch, Chandra Nalaar and a few anti-planeswalker cards have helped keep the winning percentages quite high. Jund’s core cards are still very strong and underestimating them is a good way to find yourself losing to the deck you believed wasn’t a major threat anymore.
The Japanese have their own takes on Jund which I still mostly only see in the land of the rising sun, though small bits are leaking over. I notice more people trying Sarkhan the Mad for the Jund mirror and while I still swear by Siege-Gang Commander, I concede that Sarkhan the Not Bad can be quite strong. More builds over there also focus on certain niche cards like Abyssal Persecutor and making good use of his large body. Consume the Meek is another card I’ve seen slowly growing in popularity over there, likely in an attempt to curb-stomp the low end of decks like Mythic and let Consuming Vapors and Doom Blade clean up the rest.
Enough about Jund though, when I originally had this article in mind the point was that you could forget about a deck for a while and then someone comes along, revises it and ruins everyone’s party. Good timing too, because this just happened with the Naya update from Gerry Thompson which qualified multiple people including fellow writer Gavin Verhey this past weekend. The funny part is the build doesn’t even look that ‘out there’ in comparison to those who tried to make Naya decks post-Rise. Updates are effectively just making the mana non-garbage, adding Vengevine and taking the Mythic route of focusing entirely on creatures. Really the deck was poised to make a comeback even without this retrofit, but it certainly helped!
Take a look at the old Naya decks and you can quickly see that they were already equipped to deal with many of decks present in the current metagame. Against control you had some sweet Ranger of Eos packages, backed by Knight of the Reliquary, Bloodbraid Elf and potentially any anti-control planeswalker it wanted. Now it gets Vengevine as well along with a few more sideboard options. Mythic? You already had the Cunning Sparkmage + Basilisk Collar combo which could single-handedly kill the deck and both pieces were solid against it by themselves. Plus the upwelling in non-Jund mid-range and control decks puts a dent in Jund’s numbers which, again, helps Naya out. I’m not saying you would’ve pulled a 3-month old stock list out and made a run with it, but the deck wasn’t as far off from being viable again as some would have had you believe.
Of course you won’t always be able to track the potential evolution of every deck in an open format like this one. In fact you could waste a decent chunk of time trying to rebuild these types of decks, only to see someone else come up with the solution some time later*. However if you do get on board the hope train and make the breakthrough, then for at least one tournament you can possess a huge advantage over your opponents. You have sideboard plans for them and they don’t, they have to go by what knowledge they had about the old version of the deck and you just have the gains of any traditional rogue strategy, but without the trouble of breaking it.
*very guilty here
For example, I played an updated version of Spread’Em at the PTQ John Pham won. I had configured it in a way to bash control and Jund while letting the Mythic match go, since almost everybody I knew wasn’t playing it. Spread’Em was a known quantity, but had fallen out of favor since the mana was lousy and played a bunch of slow irrelevant spells in non-Jund matches. The idea of ever hardcasting a Convincing Mirage also sounded slightly worse than cutting myself. This is even clearer when you realize Jund knows it’s coming 100% of the time, and in half your other matches you just cast a terrible disruption spell. At least Spreading Seas always has the decency to draw you a card in the process of being a terrible spell in those matches.
So I started with the traditional Spread ‘Em deck and kept what I liked about it and ditched the rest, leaving a note for cards I might want to add back in later. At first, I had a build that looked a bit like Brad Nelson’s with a heavy dose of big creatures and only Ajani Vengeant on the planeswalker front. Over time I started to hate the creatures that weren’t Bloodbraid Elf or Wall of Omens, since they couldn’t net me a card in return and died to all the excess garbage in the opponent’s hand. Things only got worse when I couldn’t consistently cast Day of Judgment without doing an almost equal amount of harm to my side of the table.
However I did learn that Ardent Plea netting you a guaranteed card in hand each time made my life much less miserable and allowed me to keep the cascade engine. This is important, because by keeping the cascade engine you can run a silver bullet sideboard and consistently find them in every game. I hadn’t enjoyed such great benefits in certain matches since Vampiric Tutor was legal. Eventually I decided to dump all the creatures that solid on defense or netting me cascades. With the excess space I suddenly had, I re-added Day of Judgment and replaced my late-game threats with planeswalkers. At this point I now had the planeswalker deck with Divination, Martial Coup and Path to Exile thrown out for the cascade shell.
I played this in the PTQ and went a sweet 2-2 with it. I lost to turn three Jace, the Mind Sculptor in consecutive games followed by turn 5/6 kills (the latter with Negate) where I just fell behind early and could never catch up. The other loss was to Wrapter with his Jund build where he battled back G2 and I threw away Gideon Jura for absolutely no reason and game three I mulled to oblivion. I smashed the normal Jund deck I played and ruined Polymorph easily with the silver bullet engine. Stock Jund is generally easy because your Spreading Seas get max value since they can’t ruin you with multiple fetches early and you have Oblivion Ring and chump blockers for Putrid Leech. Even double Blightning wasn’t horrific since all the early drops cantrip and just one or two planeswalkers can buy back a lot of the lost value.
Ardent Plea as either a makeshift Stone Rain that cantrips or Wall of Blossoms is fine in nearly every matchup and allows that silver bullet sideboard. Bloodbraid Elf has obvious uses against control decks and with the exalted bonus from Ardent Plea or +3/+3 from Elspeth can battle by Wall of Omens and kill planeswalkers in one shot.
While Rhox War Monk wasn’t bad, it wasn’t great and couldn’t stop the best threats in Jund or Mythic, while dying to everything. Now I want to go with Knight of the Reliquary which in many games would’ve been a 4/4 from the get-go which is big enough to at least trade with Putrid Leech, Knight or Raging Ravine and can get out of hand while fixing my mana if given more than a single untap phase. If I can get the mana nice enough I can even add a Sejiri Steppe in.
The worst performers for me over testing and the PTQ, other than the aforementioned War Monks, were the Jace, the Mind Sculptor and at times the Spreading Seas themselves. While I like Seas as manland killers and the early mana disruption against many decks (even non-Jund), it just doesn’t do the same kind of damage against the Wrapter Jund builds as it previously did. In the UW and UWR matches, sometimes you can cut off WW and limit their options a good deal, but other times Spreading Seas is just a joke and best used on your other extra fetches.
Still they cantrip and are another early drop with some value, so it isn’t like you can just drop them out that easily. Jace, on the other hand, just pissed me off more often than not, the card is terrible against Red and doesn’t have the impact on the board like Ajani Vengeant or Gideon. Elspeth tended to be a better defensive creature and easier on the mana to boot. I like having Jace around as manipulation, but unless Knights let me have a way better defensive game I’m not going to bother. Might just run 1-2 Jace, The Old One because it gives me more 3-drops and it makes opposing Jace drops suck. That said, it might be a bit of an overreaction because I didn’t have enough defensive options in my first version of the deck. The build I’ve been testing recently is this:
CPW Ver. 2
Match-wise the deck is more or less what you’d expect. Great against normal Jund, with only a reasonable match against Geo Jund. Meanwhile for Control decks, RWU is easier than WU since beating planeswalkers is a helluva lot easier than beating Mind Spring and Martial Coup for infinite. It has a great Red match post-board if you keep Kor Firewalker in the sideboard and lousy Mythic match. I’m willing to be a bit weak against Mythic for a solid set of matches across the board, but I’ll see how it goes in terms of fixing that match.
Originally I thought the control matches would be rough, but turns out they’re just as good at being slow and lacking countermagic as you are. For game one the only big threat UWr has is Mind Spring, just giving them that much more ammo than you or giving you the business with a turn four Elspeth you can’t answer. In games 2/3 I found modifying your deck to just hit Tidehollow Sculler or Vampire Hexmage off every Ardent Plea and having the rest be a mixture of Oblivion Ring, Kor Sanctifiers and Knight of the Reliquary is reasonable. As for WU, the results can be quite build-dependent. The better equipped they are to deal with planeswalkers and the more Mind Springs and Negate they run, the worse life is for you.
The deck is quite soft to Mythic and my new sideboard plan tries to deal with that by overloading on removal. Being unable to run Path to Exile maindeck means Sovereigns of Lost Alara is a bigger threat and in general if they slam Jace or Elspeth on turn 3 and back it up with any countermagic (usually post-board), I’m up a creek. Upping Wrath count would help as would maybe boarding Mind Control, but neither are optimal solutions. Right now maxing Day of Judgment along with the Journey to Nowhere plan has given the best results, but Qasali Pridemage may force me to move to Path to Exile (not a removal spell you love in other matches) and it isn’t foolproof.
I’ll continue working on the Cascade deck, but I figured I’d share after Brad Nelson reported success with his version and perhaps someone can polish the deck up. Good luck to those attending Grand Prix: DC and I’ll see you next week.
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom
If you want to share your National Qualifiers experience from this past weekend, please share it on the FB tournament report page: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=171074764728