In the past few weeks, I've discussed the general appeal of the G/R/B color combination, as well as Jund in Legacy and Modern. Today I'll share my Standard deck of choice, which is, if you haven't already guessed, also Jund! The midrange creature strategy is a great place to be, and the Jund colors offer tons of great tools that other Standard decks can't make use of.
Today's Standard is special. In many formats, we strive to grind out small edges by flashing back our Think Twices or getting two-for-ones with Snapcaster Mage. Other times, we jockey for board control with Squadron Hawk and Gideon Jura. There may be a place for these things in Standard, but for the most part, these aren't the things that determine games now. This Standard format is about going over the top—as anyone who's played Sphinx's Revelation or Angel of Serenity knows. It's about trading haymakers and playing the biggest spells you can.
Jund is perfect for these battles. Not only does it have its fair share of powerhouse spells, but the deck is tailor made to shut down the opponent in their quest to top you. Liliana of the Veil and Rakdos's Return will strip win conditions, the resources needed to cast them, or both. Bonfire of the Damned and an impressive suite of supporting removal will sweep the rug out from anyone relying on mana creatures. The sideboard package of Duress and Slaughter Games is just the nail in the coffin.
I've neglected to mention the thing that makes this Standard format truly tricky. There is a breed of players who refuse to play this "giant spell" late game type of Magic. They're the aggressive red players, and they strive to slip underneath, finishing their opponents before they have time to get to their powerful end game.
Jund can handle both extremes of the format. It's filled with efficient removal. Its creatures dominate the midgame and, to put it frankly, gain you a lot of life. Jund need not fear the hyperaggressive decks, and it's also situated perfectly to combat anyone who's playing for the late game.
Let's begin with the best card in the deck, one of the most universal presences in Standard: Farseek. There's no feeling like looking at a Farseek in your opening hand; you just feel like everything is going to work out. You won't fall behind, and you'll be able to cast your spells when you want to. Unlike a mana creature, there's not even anything your opponent can do to interfere!
The mana curve of Jund is built with Farseek in mind, and I'll have to grant that one of the weaknesses of the deck appeared in the games where I didn't draw it. The deck really needs four mana to operate, and while there's plenty of cheap removal, there wasn't a lot I could do to progress my own game plan for less than that.
All I wanted was a card that could fill that void in the middle turns when I couldn't jump straight to four mana. I got my wish when Jon Stern won Grand Prix Atlantic City with the breakout Bant Hexproof deck. Overnight, Liliana of the Veil went from being my pet card, on the margin of playability, to being a format staple. Liliana is good against both red aggro and slow control and is utterly devastating against Bant Hexproof (which is a great matchup if you build with it in mind). She's simply perfect for this deck. I feel that being given an excuse to play Liliana was the last piece of the puzzle for Jund.
Vampire Nighthawk is the deck's other three-drop, and I also resisted playing it for quite a while. Once Mono-Red Aggro came to the forefront of Standard, I grudgingly began sideboarding Nighthawk as a hate card for that particular matchup. I never looked back. Nighthawk has a remarkable way of taking over the game in any creature matchup. It's great for both stabilizing and pulling you out of reach once you've done so. In particular, the combo with Kessig Wolf Run is what really puts the card over the top. In some games, it does a good impression of Baneslayer Angel, and in some games, it's even better!
Ground Seal may take a little more explanation. As I've mentioned, Jund is great at playing a fair game of Magic and great at forcing the opponent to play a fair game as well. In the absence of devastating graveyard interactions, it's no trouble at all for Jund to take apart something like Junk Reanimator piece by piece. Ground Seal stops Unburial Rites dead in its tracks in matchups like that. Against Flash, where the games go quite long, it has the power to shut off multiple Snapcaster Mages, which would otherwise be providing great card advantage and flexibility to your opponent.
Perhaps most importantly, it prevents the more devastating effect of Angel of Serenity, which is her ability to recur creatures from the graveyard. Simply bouncing a few of your creatures is still powerful, but you have a number of ways to deal with the Angel. In the absence of recurring threats, Naya is quite a good matchup.
Ground Seal also fits that hole in the mana curve in the games where you don't draw Farseek. 25 land is enough, but the deck really does not want to miss a drop in the early turns of the game. Having a relevant cantrip is just what the doctor ordered to smooth things out. Sign in Blood would be a consideration, but voluntarily losing life when Mono-Red is one of the most popular decks in the format isn't an appealing prospect. That leaves something like Elvish Visionary, which would do little beyond chump blocking. All things considered, I've been pleased with Ground Seal.
The only catch is that it precludes you from also playing with Deathrite Shaman, which is a card that's okay...but just okay. It's powerful against Reanimator, but it's slow moving and easy to kill. Ground Seal is much better against Snapcaster Mage and Angel of Serenity, and it takes up fewer slots since if you draw one copy you're set for the whole game. And hey, you'll get to shut down opposing Shamans if you ever play a mirror match!
Finally, we come to the cards that set Jund apart from the rest of the format in game 1: Rakdos's Return and Olivia Voldaren. Believe me when I say that they truly are reasons to play the deck. Rakdos's Return is incredible in any game where you have the time to cast it and the good fortune to resolve it. It provides plenty of free wins when you nuke their whole hand, but it's also great value even when you cast it for two or three. When you combine it with Liliana of the Veil, that may be all you need anyway! You haven't lived until you've watched someone tap out for a planeswalker, knowing you'll be able to finish off both it and your opponent's hand on your turn. Besides its obvious applications against control, Rakdos's Return is also great in the mirror match and against Naya.
Olivia Voldaren is queen of creature mirrors and reminds me a lot of Baneslayer Angel from the old days. Have you ever watched a game show where the final bonus round is worth so many points that it makes everything that happened before it completely irrelevant? That's Olivia! Sure, flip your Huntmaster... Sure, Restoration Angel your Thragtusk... Sure, play Intangible Virtue to go with your six Lingering Souls tokens... None of that is going to matter if you let me untap with Olivia Voldaren.
Liliana of the Veil and Barter in Blood are there for the Bant Hexproof matchup. You can fight them ok with Bonfire of the Damned, Duress, Slaughter Games, and the rest of your deck, but the matchup becomes very comfortable if you draw a Liliana or a Barter. Both cards have applications elsewhere, so it's no great hardship to find room for them.
Liliana is great against control and becomes even better after sideboarding, when Duress can rip apart their hand early and Slaughter Games can stop them from topdecking their way back into the game. U/W players will often let her tick up a few times before playing a Detention Sphere or a Pithing Needle, so be sure to have an Abrupt Decay ready whenever possible. She's also strong in other matchups like Mono-Red Aggro and U/W Flash, but in many cases I'm happy sticking with three copies.
Barter in Blood can similarly come in against Mono-Red or a deck like W/G that's trying to play fair with creatures.
Duress, Slaughter Games, Liliana, and Rakdos's Return is your anti-control package. The go-to card to name with Slaughter Games is Sphinx's Revelation, but don't be shackled by hard and fast rules. A great situation is when you can see their hand with a Duress and name one of the cards you left them with. This way, you tear apart their hand while also decreasing the long-term quality of their deck. Other common plays include naming flashback spells in their graveyard or naming Snapcaster Mage against Flash (although I'd much prefer to draw a Ground Seal and name something else instead).
Pillar of Flame and Vampire Nighthawk is your anti-red package, and Bonfire of the Damned should literally come in against any deck that wants to attack you with creatures. Just try to keep your life total high against Mono-Red because once you can start dropping Thragtusks, Huntmasters, and Nighthawks, your deck will be too much for them.
I feel that, in an indirect way, the release of Gatecrash will benefit Jund more than any other deck in Standard. The format has been heading in a direction favorable to Jund players, and Gatecrash will only serve to cement it.
With the release of two new aggressive red guilds, the already-popular beatdown strategies are guaranteed to be well represented right from the start. Those who refuse to join 'em will try their best to beat 'em with midrange strategies featuring Thragtusk and Huntmaster of the Fells. This is just the environment for Jund to thrive!
Astute readers will notice that Jund is one of these midrange decks using Thragtusk and Huntmaster of the Fells to trump the faster red aggro decks, and this is a great place to be. Black also offers additional cheap removal and the excellent interaction of Vampire Nighthawk plus Kessig Wolf Run to enhance your game against red. An increase in the popularity of aggro will be a good thing for Jund.
The even more exciting prospect, though, is the presumable rise in popularity of midrange creature decks in response to Gatecrash bolstering red aggro. Jund, which has access to Rakdos's Return and the no-questions-asked black removal, is dominant in midrange creature mirrors. Most important of all is the presence of Olivia Voldaren, which represents free wins in a high portion of games whenever she stays alive for a turn or two.
Before Gatecrash, Jund's mana base worked; it had a comfortable number of lands that produced each color of mana, and games where you couldn't cast your spells were rare. With the addition of Stomping Ground, the mana will be pristine. No longer will basic Forests provide minor inconveniences with Olivia Voldaren and Dragonskull Summit. Best of all, though, is being able to reduce the M13 dual lands to a manageable number, as the games where you had to play several in a row tapped were aggravating.
The other addition I've suggested is Sylvan Primordial in the sideboard, which offers one more ultra-powerful late game play and combines in a frightening way with Cavern of Souls. When you consider its implications against opposing planeswalkers and in combination with your own Kessig Wolf Run and Rakdos's Return (two of the most important cards in slow matchups), you have an excellent tool on your hands.
There are plenty of new strategies to try with the release of Gatecrash, but I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if Jund remains one of the strongest decks in Standard.