Interlude: Josh's Jund Juke
A few summers ago I played in a Standard PTQ at the end of an August. There were lots of cool decks and varied viable strategies to play at the time. My favorite deck I have ever made was actually pretty good (5C Cascade would prove an Open powerhouse following rotation). Faeries was at the end of its power in Standard but still widely considered the Deck to Beat. Baneslayer Angel was brand new and not yet considered to be—per not-yet-a-PT-champion Brian Kibler—"the greatest large creature of all time," and the jury was out on whether it or Broodmate Dragon was the finest finisher in control. But knowing that while it is true that if you are not at least 25% brew you have no heart but also that if you are not at least 25% net deck you have no brain, I opted for Blightning Beatdown.
My friend Paul Jordan had been tracking Standard performances across the various international National Championships all summer, and the data was both consistent and clear. Blightning Beatdown was the highest-performing archetype deck. "No one" considered it the best (though it exceeded Faerie's 45% by an embarrassing margin), but Blightning simply exceeded a 55% win percentage in essentially every Nationals tournament. I put some customization into the deck (Goblin Outlander at the two to walk past Wall of Omens), but I was essentially net deck.
The list I sent to my onetime #1 Apprentice and beloved benefactor Joshua P. Ravitz included four copies of Savage Lands. The deck was straight B/R, but I wanted more dual lands because I had both strategic black two-drops (Bitterblossom) and very red-intensive cards like Boggart Ram-Gang and Flame Javelin alongside the BB in Stillmoon Cavalier.
Josh handed me a 75 that morning with zero Savage Lands.
"I need Savage Lands! B/R doesn't have enough dual lands!"
"Look again," said Josh patiently. "I gave you Crumbling Necropolis."
"Crumbling Necropolis is worse," I panicked.
"Can you tell me why it is worse? It also taps for black and red."
"I can tap for green for Boggart Ram-Gang!"
I realized the silliness of my statement almost immediately. When would I ever need to tap for G over B or R? This wasn't Firespout.
"You can just tap for red instead with this," Josh replied. "But more importantly, if you lead with Crumbling Necropolis, you can put your opponent off for a turn or two."
The ramifications of Crumbling Necropolis > Savage Lands were fairly obvious at that point. I wasn't Jund, but Savage Lands was a signal to Jund; the "downside" of being misread being that a lot of the lines that were good against Jund were good against Blightning Beatdown. I had Goblin Outlander, but Putrid Leech was also an aggressive two-drop. I didn't have Sprouting Thrinax but a different 3/3 for three mana (which Jund also sometimes played). Both of our decks were keyed on high-end haste threats, whether Bloodbraid Elf or Demigod of Revenge. From a reactive standpoint, both Jund and B/R played Blightning, the most challenging card for an opponent decision-wise, and both tended to be damage-intensive aggressors.
But if I were Grixis Control or Five-Color Control, the opponent might play their first few turns quite differently—play the wrong land, tap out the wrong time. By contrast then-control didn't play aggressive two-drops or 3/3s-for-three and was in fact reactive rather than proactive. I could steal a point or force the opponent to waste a turn or just confuse them utterly ("what is he splashing for?!?"). I don't know I would have lost otherwise, but I certainly got at least one free win on the day due to a U/W opponent's raised eyebrow at my Grixis tri-into-Goblin rush. At least.
I lost twice that day, both times to two-time Open finalist Chas Hinkle (the second in the Top 8). The deck choice was right on the numbers, but Josh's last juke made it even better.
It's like Master Sun says:
"All War is Deception."
Or like the back of the cereal box:
"When you assume, you make an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me'."
/ end interlude
1. & 2. Mindful Mana
My Invitational weekend was generally frustrating and ended on a frustrating note. Minus one cool play, day 0 was disappointing until the point that it didn't matter; the Standard Open was just a long line of mana stalls; and when I finally got my head screwed on relatively straight for a 7-3 in Legacy, I ended 66th (payout to 64).
Though my Legacy losses were at least 66% fixable.
They were out of Rough // Tumble at the booth, so I subbed in Pyroclasm—and immediately lost round 1 when I had to Pyroclasm my own Delver of Secrets to stay alive versus Elves (would have easily won the other way). Both Todd Anderson and Drew Levin had Rough // Tumble, but I didn't put the Bat-Signal out to Twitter so I didn't know I had access in time. Live and learn.
I played a RUG Delver list based on the recent performances of Jacob Wilson and Chris Pikula. I failed to beat Omni-Tell because I had two 1/1 copies of Nimble Mongoose, six cards in my bin, and Dismember in hand; I later corresponded with Chris, who said he liked Chain Lightning more and credited Wilson with Tarfire as maybe even better (instants are good with Stifle and Tribal is good with Tarmogoyf). That one tweak would have put me to one more win as well.
I lost to BUG after winning game 1 and locking him to zero lands in game 2 with Life from the Loam and Wastelands. Unfortunately, he had four Deathrite Shamans in play and eventually drew an Umezawa's Jitte. I thought about siding in Ancient Grudge, but again my lack of Rough // Tumble haunted me. Those two small tweaks and I would have easily won with the same draw.
Now any one swapped loss will change everything in your pairings, but I think you know where I am going with this. All these losses were in some wise under my control if I had done a small thing differently.
Yet I am reminded of this vital piece of mindset:
There is no failure, only feedback.
We now live in a world where there are so many big, high-profile Magic tournaments that you can crash and burn but then just go crush a different big, high-profile, tournament the next weekend (if not the next day) if you want to. Ergo feedback and adjustment is more useful (and "failure" less final) than ever.
The reality is that I pretty much got what I deserved and if I wanted to Top 8 the largest Legacy Open of all time, I probably should have prepped better.
The best and most useful one came at the genius of former Player of the Year (and fellow RUG Delver pilot) Owen Turtenwald.
Consider these RUG Delver mana bases.
What do you see?
More importantly, what do you not see?
"Wooded Foothills is Goulet." -Owen Turtenwald
There were nine RUG Delver lists in the Top 8s of the last ten or so Opens (Chris Pikula twice). Of these, only Stephan Hink in St. Louis played four copies of the card Wooded Foothills. Most players played four each of Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn, which is intuitive for the same reason Savage Lands was intuitive but functionally indistinguishable-while-operationally-inferior-to Crumbling Necropolis.
Misty Rainforest can fetch either Volcanic Island (it's an Island!) or Tropical Island (it's a Forest!); Scalding Tarn can fetch either Volcanic Island (it's a Mountain!) or Tropical Island (it's an Island!). Intuitive.
The more important question is what do you put him on?
Let's look at all those mana bases for a moment:
So . . . what do you put him on?
Legacy is a format with many, many decks. I have run early turns over with Drew Levin and asked him what to put my opponent on and gotten some counterintuitive (but ultimately right) responses. Like I don't necessarily translate Misty Rainforest --> blue combo deck, but Drew asked a particular question, I answered about a non-drop, and he said it was obvious.
The reality is that you will—all other things held equal—see more Misty Rainforests and Scalding Tarns than Polluted Deltas and Flooded Strands because there are more available and they cost less. That is why Drew could process Misty Rainforest --> blue combo deck where Polluted Delta might have been in some wise better (or maybe functionally not).
Here on StarCityGames.com you have prices about . . .
Think about it like this:
Your opponent plays Misty Rainforest on his first turn and passes or answers your fetch dual with that particular fetch dual. This gives you pause (or it should).
Some players will wait a second to break even if they want to Brainstorm. Most savvy ones will at least think about it.
No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.
And largely, up until now, most people probably wouldn't put "Wooded Foothills" into "effin' Stifle!?!"
But from now on, they should.
This matters for a second reason: Pithing Needle.
The RUG list now plays Gitaxian Probe, which I found consistently awesome. I ran a sideboarded first turn against a BUG player that went like this:
Me: Gitaxian Probe.
Him: Reveal a seven that included two Misty Rainforests.
I am not sure what the optimal RUG Delver fetchland mix is, but I am reasonably sure that at this point it includes four copies of Wooded Foothills.
Here are some thoughts on how you can split up lands:
I think this spread is harder to read on average and plays the crucial four Wooded Foothills.
Flooded Strand and Polluted Delta will give some players the cue to Esper Stoneblade (which could be advantageous for you as a misread and also is not a Stifle deck); in addition to playing four Foothills, this spread minimizes the chances of hitting your own land with Pithing Needle against more common mana bases.
Takeaway 2: Even if you are aiming for Deathrite Shaman; Jace, the Mind Sculptor; or some other bomb, Aether Vial on Misty Rainforest can be a windfall beating that furthers your RUG Delver land destruction subgame.
As a final aside, in recognition of Owen's innovative genius here I suggest that if you plan to attend a big tournament where he is present, you print out this mask and wear it. He will appreciate it greatly.
3. Side in Your Scavenging Ooze!
I figured there must be something outrageous about Chris's version of RUG Delver because in four mirror matches I finished 4-0 / 8-1 (again, with no previous practice with the deck). What I found really telling was that in at least two of those matches I got Wastelanded to zero permanents for a turn but was able to come back to win the game.
Interestingly, despite a flurry of Stifles, Wastelands, and removal from potentially both sides, I found the RUG mirror refreshingly not draw-dependent. I had a good strategy (really just playing Chris's cards) and won because of it.
Scavenging Ooze serves multiple functions. I had multiple matches where I reduced all Tarmogoyfs to Elvish Warriors for a while, though I did find it hard to keep the opponent off of threshold with limited green as I was Wastelanding them every turn.
I had a match where the opponent drew his Life from the Loam first. I was terrified for a moment, but then my Ooze showed up. I ate his Life from the Loam, stabilized my life total, and held off three Tarmogoyfs! Nice job little Ooze!
RUG Delver can come down to threat exhaustion. Both decks have a symmetrical dozen creatures and enough Lightning Bolts to trade all of them. It can be like a red deck standoff where neither player has a way to break through to win but where any Tarmogoyf might die to a block and a Bolt. A thirteenth creature—especially one that can live through Lightning Bolt—is surprisingly useful here. Again, it makes a hell of a wall.
Takeaway 3: Side in Scavenging Ooze in the RUG Delver mirror.
Dunno if this is "right" / Pikula-approved, but I sideboarded thusly:
On the subject of Scavenging Ooze . . .
4. Use Every Part of the Buffalo
I went only 2-2 in the Standard portion of the Invitational and well out of the money in the huge Standard Open on Saturday, but I did have one pretty sweet play that illustrates a great way to steal games.
I was playing a long game 1 with Jeff Hoogland at the 1-1 table. He was down to seven, and I was down to only two cards in my deck, attacking with some Restoration Angels (though I had several non-attacking Wizards in play).
Jeff sent a removal spell at one of my Angels. I tanked for a long time about what to do next. I realized he could have a removal card and if he had another one my contingency plan was probably going to wilt. Jeff later commented that he maybe should have conceded many minutes earlier but he thought he could possibly deck me—and with good reason.
I decided to respond to his removal spell with Quicken. Then I played an instant speed Terminus to put five cards back into my deck, including both Restoration Angels (though I of course did no damage with this particular attack). I passed; he passed; I played my Sphinx's Revelation for two, redrew, and replayed my Restoration Angels, quickly drawing the concession.
It felt good!
Jeff shook his head and credited me with the outplay.
Well, that game took over 40 minutes.
To Jeff's credit, he won the match in less than eleven minutes (including a game where I thought I had him with a Planar Cleansing that got two Lifebane Zombies, Desecration Demon, Ratchet Bomb, and Liliana of the Veil—I missed his Mutavault in play that attacked for my last two [I blame foils]).
Jeff of course went on to make Top 8; I was super impressed by his Lifebane Zombie offense.
Takeaway 4: Cards often have off-label uses. My deck only had eleven creatures to win, four of which were Augur of Bolas; decks with lots of removal could prove a problem, so the plan had to be to outlast that removal. I used Terminus—itself creature removal in most cases—to foil the opponent's and avoid being decked. Figure out what's scarce and use your resources accordingly.
5. Thragtusks vs. Wizards
One of the reasons I played U/W is its superb matchup against any kind of Jund-type deck. I was super successful against midrange green decks in the Standard Open and would heartily recommend my U/W as long as Jund Midrange continues to be one of the top decks.
Against green decks various the most difficult card to deal with is Thragtusk. It is built-in card advantage and bigger than most of your threats. Often as a U/W player you will be forced to trade a Restoration Angel for Thragtusk straight up, which can end up decking you.
As the U/W player I tried very hard to get this situation on the board tactically and was successful in pulling it off dozens of times on Magic Online and at least a handful of times on Friday and Saturday.
Them: Attacking Thragtusk.
As the U/W player your goal is actually to get through combat. Azorius Charm is a fallback, but you would honestly rather draw with it than bounce the Thragtusk. I said a minute ago you don't really want to deal with the Thragtusk, and letting them rebuy it is just going to give them another 3/3 Beast.
Your goal is to trade so that your sweeper card can kill the 3/3 Beast as well as everyone else. You don't want to tap out on your turn, leave a 3/3 Beast, and then get beaten up by Kessig Wolf Run for instance.
So here's the takeaway . . . from Jund side.
Letting the U/W player trade their Wizards for your 5/3 is going to end up a disaster. I spent every game against Jund—where I would generally start out behind and often on the wrong end of a Rakdos's Return before I stabilized—trying to figure out how to deal with their damn Thragtusk.
The key here is that the Wizards are a sunk cost. The U/W player's goal is to play a sweeper to equalize the board. That means their Wizards are dead either way. You might be looking at Thragtusk-for-two-Wizards as not just card advantage but double card advantage (the 5/3 itself is only a half-card), but because the Wizards are going to the graveyard anyway, the opponent doesn't think about it this way. Also remember they might have already gotten two-for-one twice and is probably not hurting for card advantage out of these two-drops.
Takeaway 5: As a Jund player, do not accept the Thragtusk 5/3-for-Augur of Bolas-and-Snapcaster Mage trade. This is exactly what the opponent wants.
I hope you've liked these five small tips. I'm pretty sure that many of you can incorporate them in winning more games.