The big bully in Standard may be bigger and stronger than you, but don’t resign yourself to forking over your lunch money every day just yet. Here’s some fatherly advice you can take to the playground to send Jund home crying.
Always know what you are discarding to Blightning
Starting from turn one and on every subsequent turn, before you make any play, figure out what you would discard to a potential Blightning. This is such a simple and alarmingly beneficial habit to get into, and I can’t recommend it enough. It forces you to always be playing with Blightning in mind, making it very difficult to misplay into a Blightning. There are a lot of times where you will want to not play a land or something like a Lotus Cobra when you could, because those cards are more important as Blightning fodder. Sometimes it will mean doing something like playing Borderland Ranger instead of Terminating a Leech, or playing out your best threat first (when you otherwise wouldn’t) rather than risk losing it to Blightning. It doesn’t take much thought to make these plays, but it does require planning ahead, and paying attention to what you plan to discard forces you to do exactly that.
Jund has reach
Jund may be a little slow out of the gates, but its burn gives it the reach and racing ability of a red deck. It’s always surprising how quickly Jund’s incremental damage can add up. A Thrinax hit here, a Bloodbraid hit there, a couple of fetchlands, and suddenly you are two Blightnings and two Bolts away from dead. Every point of damage you take matters. Be careful with fetchlands: when not necessary for fixing or Landfall, play them last and discard them to Blightning over painless lands. Don’t fetch just to thin your deck; the deck thinning is worth far less than the life point, in general and especially against a deck with reach.
Though it’s important to milk as much value out of your spells as you can, you can’t just stabilize at a low life total and expect to turn the game around, even if maxmizing the value of your spells put you ahead in terms of cards. Falling behind on the board and taking hits is such a huge risk. The burn spells make it too easy to translate even small and temporary board advantages into game wins.
Don’t try to play attrition
Jund will beat you in a game of attrition. It’s no secret that almost everything Jund plays is a two-for-one, and that it’s playing all the best card advantage in the format. Against any deck with less card advantage, Jund benefits from trading, so unless you are also playing Jund or something strikingly similar, a barrage of one-for-ones is a losing strategy.
This isn’t to say that you can’t grind through Jund’s resources; you can, if and only if you are focused enough to make only some of Jund’s resources relevant. Green-White, for example, can slog through Jund’s removal and beat Jund going long, but it does this only by marginalizing Jund’s creatures. Green-White’s threats so thoroughly outclass Jund’s that sticking one of them is as good as multiples from Jund. Since Green-White does a good job of making only Jund’s removal (and Blightnings) matter, it plays a game of attrition with just Jund’s removal spells, which is winnable.
Green-White should assign little value to removal against Jund; removal spells should always be discarded to Blightning over threats and necessary mana. If you want to tune your Green-White deck to beat Jund, start by cutting all of the removal. If not from the main, at the very least have a sideboard plan that involves boarding all of it out.
Similarly, it’s actually possible for a control deck to grind through Jund’s creatures, and to get ahead in cards by blanking Jund’s many removal spells. At least until Jund boards out all of those blanks, anyway.
Accept that sometimes Maelstrom Pulse will blow you out
Yeah, in general you aren’t going to want to double up on permanents, but don’t put the blinders on and miss the times you need to. Sometimes a Pulse would set you far enough behind that you are going to lose to it anyway. Sometimes holding something back will just lead to you losing to Blightning instead of Pulse, and Pulse will be the less likely of the two. Often, and especially with a mediocre draw or when you are behind, the risks are simply going to be worth the rewards. These situations are exceptions to the rule, certainly, but just be on the lookout for them.
Losing two Planeswalkers to a single Pulse is just so devastating that I would recommend never doubling up on the same Walker, though (Since this is derailing the article a little bit in the comments, I just want to clarify that this is in fact a joke – LSV).
Don’t pump Putrid Leech into open Red mana
Don’t take this as a hard and fast rule, but in general the risks of potentially getting your Leech Bolted, even if it is unlikely they have the Bolt, are much greater than the potential gain of trading two life for two damage. If you are far enough ahead for trading the two damage to be clearly very good for you, then you are far enough ahead that you don’t need to risk the Leech.
Attack Elite Vanguard / Goblin Guide into Putrid Leech
It doesn’t matter if you have the Bolt / Burst, your opponent is just going to play like you have it, so you will almost always get the trade with Leech here.
Are they Leechless?
While the differences in most Jund lists are small and insignificant in terms of your play against them, cutting Putrid Leech was reasonably popular at Worlds and that is a noteworthy difference. Rampant Growth and to a lesser extent Borderland Ranger are telltale signs of a Leechless list. No Leech means your opponent is going to have a little extra removal, and more notably will be significantly more likely to Cascade into removal (due to both having more removal spells and fewer non-removal spells to hit). They also are going to have a little more big stuff (Broodmate Dragon / Bituminous Blast / Siege-Gang Commander), making them a bit stronger in longer games.
If your opponent did cut Leech, you should be very wary of them sideboarding out Sprouting Thrinax. A zero Leech, zero Thrinax deck is an entirely different animal than one running four of each. Removal is going to be especially bad facing no Leeches and no Thrinaxes, as that’s going to leave very few creatures worth spending a card on. You certainly don’t want to be the one caught with Celestial Purges and/or Devout Lightcasters against an opponent presenting no profitable targets in his deck. Profitable being the key word there – you may be able to Purge Bloodbraid and Broodmate, but you don’t want to.
Jund Charm has three modes
I know this sounds stupid, but when Jund Charm has a clear purpose against you it can be easy to forget about its other uses, so just keep them in mind. Playing Boros, clearly you are concerned about instant speed Pyroclasm. It wouldn’t be hard to commit threats conservatively into the Pyroclasm, only to play right into a guy getting Reinforced. Or maybe you do something like cast a Hellspark from your hand with a Hellspark in the yard, playing around the Blightnings that they most likely boarded out, only to lose to having your graveyard (and two Hellsparks) removed. Running the Unearth deck, you may be carefully playing around having your graveyard removed, only to find yourself blown out by a Jund Charm killing a Hedron Crab and two Sedraxis Specters. If your opponent is about to use Jund Charm as Pyroclasm, as indicated by a Leech pump, don’t Bolt the Leech in response. That gives your opponent the opportunity to Reinforce the Leech. Instead let them cast the Charm as Pyroclasm and then Bolt the Leech dead.
Time your threats to be as awkward on your opponent’s curve as possible
This one’s a bit abstract, so let me just start off with an example. Say you have the choice between Master of the Wild Hunt or Baneslayer Angel turn four on the play. You should play the Master, as it syncs up with Jund’s spells the worst. If they have Bloodbraid and removal, they will have to spend their turn removing the Master, rather than risk missing on removal with Bloodbraid and letting you get a free wolf. As a result, they end up using their mana inefficiently, and you postpone them pulling ahead on the board with Bloodbraid. If you instead lead with Baneslayer, they are free to Bloodbraid, as the ten point life swing from a Baneslayer is not as important in the matchup as a 2/2. If they have Bituminous Blast, you are again much better off leading with Master, as they either kill the Master with something else, or you get at least one wolf out of the Master before it falls to Blast. Leading with Baneslayer causes the Master to play right into Blast.
You know your opponent wants to play Bloodbraid Elf on turn four, so give them a reason not to that turn. Play Great Sable Stag or Master of the Wild Hunt into it over something like Rhox War Monk. Since your opponent is potentially giving up value by Bloodbraiding versus the Stag or Master (for different reasons, obviously), they will play something else instead, if they can, and you end up making them use their mana much less effectively. You know they want to cast Bituminous Blast turn five, so give them a reason not to. Play Baneslayer Angel that turn, even if you would otherwise want to bait out removal with a worse threat.
If your opponent has Bolt / Terminate mana up, play a threat you don’t care about them killing, or possibly even nothing at all if you will be able to double up on threats in a future turn as a result. If turn three on the play, facing Terminate mana, you have a hand of three-drops and four-drops and a freshly drawn Noble Hierarch, with three lands in play, go ahead and cast the Hierarch into Terminate mana. If it dies, awesome, and if not, you were going to need to disrupt your curve to play the Hierarch at some point anyway, so this was a good time to do it, as whatever else you played was just instantly dead anyway.
Work to make your opponent’s Cascades worse
To some extent this goes hand in hand with timing your threats to be as awkward for your opponent as possible, but whereas the previous tip was mostly about minimizing your opponent’s mana efficiency, this one is about minimizing the value they get out of their Cascades. The simplest example is to not play two creatures into a Bituminous Blast. Force your opponent to Blast when you only have a single creature and they lose a ton of value from their Blast. When applicable, you also want to avoid playing a creature into a Bloodbraid. For example, if you have been playing draw-go in the Jund mirror when you both have cards in hand, and topdeck a Putrid Leech, there’s a good chance you don’t want to play it. No matter what your opponent has, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Leech is dead, and by playing it you give them the opportunity to play Bloodbraid for full value.
I recently threw away a Jund mirror by failing to properly bait out Bituminous Blast. The board was completely clear with me at 6 and my opponent at 16. He had two cards in hand and five lands in play (all untapped), to my now six lands and four cards – Terminate, Master of the Wild Hunt, and double Broodmate Dragon. I hadn’t presented a profitable opportunity for my opponent to play Bituminous Blast in the game, so I should not have been surprised when the Broodmate I played was met with a Blast, hitting Terminate for the other half. The next turn the second Broodmate ate a second Blast, Cascading into Thrinax. Terminate shot down the remaining Dragon token, and Thrinax attacked me down to three. A Blightning finished me off a few turns later. Despite starting far ahead, I ended up in a very rough spot because I played right into my opponent’s Blasts. Assuming he was holding two Blasts when I played the first Broodmate, leading with Master there wins me the game easily. He can’t afford to let me untap with Master, so he would Blast it immediately. I would have the Terminate active if he hits a creature, and if he hits removal that’s clearly a big win for me. By leading with Master, regardless of whether or not he does whiff with a removal spell, I get him to burn through a Blast that otherwise would be connecting for full value on a Broodmate.
Ok, this 11th tip is secretly the conclusion. Jund may not be unbeatable, but it certainly is pretty tough, and playing Jund yourself is a decent plan. No matter which deck you play, just keep in mind how you can make your opponent’s life tough, and play accordingly. Even a pretty brutish deck like Jund has its weak spots, and hopefully I helped expose them at least a little bit today.