The Meat and Potatoes of Jund - Massdrop East/West: Article #11
Leading up to the Team Unified Modern grand prix in San Antonio this past weekend, I got together with a couple of friends to try out the many decks in Modern. This tournament was an interesting and unique challenge, as you had to register three decks that have 0 overlapping cards. Therefore we had to pick three very distinct decks. That proved especially difficult for our group of unoriginal hive minded Torontonians.
Of course, as history would have predicted, none of us liked any of them except Jund. After doing our fair share of losing with and against Death’s Shadows, Gurmag Anglers, and Prized Amalgams, we were at an existential crisis. Jund was the only thing we enjoyed. It was the only thing that made us feel alive. Most importantly, the only thing that made any sense anymore.
Much like a child will always choose chocolate ice cream over broccoli, none of us wanted to register a deck that couldn’t Inquisition of Kozilek into Dark Confidant or Tarmogoyf. However, also similar to little children, we managed to make sure that if one of us couldn’t have ice cream, no one could.
Somehow, some way, in the confusing haze that was this tournament preparation, we decided on 3 decks – none of which had any of the above-named cards in them. Not even Death’s Shadow. Bland vegetables only. We appropriately did not make it to the Day 2 dessert table. The hunger continues.
On the bright side, though we didn’t play it, we did come up with a new spin on an age-old old recipe: a Jund deck that was beating the new influx of Death’s Shadow and Grixis decks. Former GP Finalist Omar Beldon didn’t go to San Antonio and instead stayed back to win the Magic Online PTQ with the Jund deck, thereby making an exclusive reservation at the Pro Tour in Kyoto.
2 Overgrown Tomb
3 Raging Ravine
1 Stomping Ground
4 Verdant Catacombs
2 Wooded Foothills
3 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
3 Bloodstained Mire
1 Blooming Marsh
1 Graven Cairns
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Dark Confidant
2 Scavenging Ooze
4 Kolaghan's Command
4 Liliana of the Veil
2 Tireless Tracker
4 Fatal Push
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Anger of the Gods
2 Collective Brutality
3 Fulminator Mage
1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
3 Leyline of the Void
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Night of Souls' Betrayal
2 Thundermaw Hellkite
For context, on Magic Online, we found ourselves playing almost exclusively against Jund Death’s Shadow, Grixis Death’s Shadow, Abzan, Eldrazi decks, and Dredge, with a little bit of Grixis Control. From the perspective of Jund, the matchups we were playing against indicated a grindy metagame with very large creatures that must be answered immediately. Particularly because of how large Death’s Shadow gets when both players are attacking, getting control of the board felt like a much more reliable route to victory than trying to win a race.I’m sure there’s no need to go over most of the ingredients in this list – but I think the oaky undertones are important. Having a Liliana, the Last Hope in hand instead of Liliana of the Veil can change a win into a loss if everyone is casting 5/5s on turn 2-3 against you. However, if you anticipated playing against a lot of Birds of Paradise or Lingering Souls, the opposite would be true.
In a format like Modern, even though a Jund list with at least 45/60 of these cards has existed for 5+ years, the deck is always evolving in a meaningful way. I’d like to talk about a few of the highlights.
0 Lightning Bolts, 4 Fatal Pushes – Any midrange deck trying to win in this metagame needs to have a surplus of cards that can kill Death’s Shadow, and Fatal Push is as good as it gets. We thought Lightning Bolt would be good against Death’s Shadow as you could burn them out at the end of the game, but in practice this just wasn’t happening. Your opponent typically tends to stop hurting themselves when they are around 8 life or so, and at that point it is really difficult to fight through Death’s Shadow in combat without outright killing it. Furthermore, we often tried to hold the Lightning Bolts as the final course, but since the Death’s Shadow decks have such a large amount of Duresses, you frequently get stuck in a spot where you have to choose between Bolting them down to 4 or so, or letting them get discarded so that the Death’s Shadows don’t grow. Therefore Lightning Bolts only seemed to close things out in corner cases. Given that Lightning Bolt kills almost nothing in the popular matchups, we cut all of them.
0 Abrupt Decay, 3 Terminate – Although Abrupt Decay is very good at killing Death’s Shadow particularly against the large amounts of Stubborn Denials we were facing, it is very important to have flexibility in your answers. The Grixis decks in particular were playing a lot of Tasigur, the Golden Fangs and Gurmag Anglers, meaning a hand full of Fatal Pushes and Abrupt Decays could suddenly look rotten.
4 Kolaghan’s Command, 2 Tireless Tracker – As mentioned, the goal right now is to come ahead on cards after all of the removal spells are cast and the dust settles. It’s difficult to do much better than these two cards as they impact the board, generally gain card advantage immediately, and produce a threat that must be answered. Importantly, they also work well together, like Chocolate Mousse and Oreos.
3 Leyline of the Void, 0 Nihil Spellbomb, 0 Surgical Extraction – I have two anecdotes about this choice. Firstly, at some point during testing I was playing a lot of Corey Burkhart’s Grixis Deck. My hand was something like Tasigur, Kolaghan’s Command, 2 Snapcaster Mage, Terminate against Bant Eldrazi. Man, Corey is smart, I thought. Music was playing, I was feeling nice. Young, rich, and tasteless. I had this delicious gourmet meal, and I was going to make my opponent watch me savour it for an excessively long period of time. On turn 2 my opponent cast Rest in Peace. Suddenly this dish was spoiled.
Secondly, against Dredge, I had a game where I managed to Surgical Extraction his Narcomoebas and his Bloodghasts, and the board was empty. Even still, a Scourge Devil brought some Prized Amalgams to the battlefield, backed up by Conflagrates. Hell’s Kitchen.
The point of these two experiences is that these graveyard options are not as interchangeable as they look. The Leyline effect is far more powerful against the current popular decks than the others.
2 Thundermaw Hellkite – A card that Jund chronically has trouble dealing with is Lingering Souls, and you need to register something that helps with this. I have a few perennial favourite options for dealing with this depending on the format – cards that interact well with Lingering Souls, but are also good in general when they don’t draw it. Liliana, the Last Hope, Huntmaster of the Fells, Night of Souls’ Betrayal, Golgari Charm etc.
Flashback to GP Vancouver earlier this year, I had talked with my friends about how Thundermaw Hellkite could be a good choice as your high-end threat since Fatal Push and Abzan were running rampant. That would be really smart, god this is a great idea, man I’m so smart, I said.
Anyway I end up in a feature match against Abzan, who plays turn 3 Lingering Souls, turn 4 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. I wish I could say I tapped 3RR and extended the hand, but I left the dragons at home in their roost. Instead I made a 2/2 wolf and gained 2 life. My Huntmaster of the Fells might have even got Fatal Push’d. To say it paled in comparison is an understatement. Another example where that ‘interchangeable finisher’ choice turned an easy win into an abysmal loss.
A card like Huntmaster of the Fells particularly shines when you’re racing and the 2/2 wolf and 2 life is very relevant, such as against decks like Rallier Zoo and Burn, but in scenarios like these he is simply mediocre. Finishers like Tireless Tracker and Thundermaw Hellkite are better when the board is clogging up and you’re trying to come out ahead in topdeck wars.
The moral of the story here is that a deck like Jund (and most other decks) doesn’t just “become bad in the metagame” like many often say. It’s always a bit of a guess and a gamble trying to decide what you want to focus on beating, but I believe that if you put effort into understanding the pieces and are able to make the right choices for that event, Jund could be a great choice any weekend. Like Chipotle.