I won a Standard Open with Jund and woke up in a Tundra. What have I done?
The week before the tournament I was completely at a loss in terms of deck choice. I've played a reasonable amount of Mono-Blue Devotion and Sphinx's Revelation control, but I was never really impressed (especially with the latter). I definitely didn't enjoy playing either deck.
After Dave Shiels ensured me he was sticking with Esper Control, I knew I had to do some soul searching. There were no Islands in my future.
The State Of Standard
Standard is currently defined by two broad categories of decks: threat-heavy devotion decks and removal-heavy card-advantage decks (which almost universally play black for Thoughtseize and Hero's Downfall).
In context of each other, removal spells are so powerful because of the role they play against devotion strategies. A removal spell against devotion is not only a one-for-one but decreases the power level of their other cards. These decks are highly synergistic and usually play a number of weak cards to take advantage of synergies with powerful cards like Master of Waves; Thassa, God of the Sea; Fanatic of Mogis; or Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx. As such, a card like Thoughtseize or Hero's Downfall is so valuable because it can outright answer the one or two powerful cards that matter—leaving an opponent with a pile of underpowered permanents.
Given that removal-heavy decks are inherently threat light, it's very difficult to build a deck in this format that can both effectively break up devotion synergies while also contending with decks that are prepared to one-for-one you into the ground.
On Thursday night I messaged Reid Duke about my conundrum. He was very determined to play a homebrew, but Prophet of Kruphix didn't quite excite me. More importantly, Reid gave me permission to play Jund.
I'm not a man who often plays Forests—especially without Islands also thrown in the mix. However, Standard Jund has a number of qualities that I really value in a deck. Before I go any further, here's the list I used to win the Standard Open in Providence.
- 3 Reaper of the Wilds
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Stormbreath Dragon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 2 Polukranos, World Eater
One of my favorite aspects of the U/W/R Flash deck from this past season was that all of its win conditions were also answers to opposing threats. The same is not true of the current Sphinx's Revelation decks. I dislike dedicated win conditions because they are often dead cards up until the point that you are ready to win the game. In this format in particular, early interaction is so valuable that drawing a useless card in the early game is often a death sentence. In truly threat-light decks such as Esper or U/W Control, these win conditions are either very expensive (Aetherling) or useless in terms of their impact on the board (Elixir of Immortality). They are also often simply too valuable to risk on an unstable board without protection. The presence of Thoughtseize in the format only compounds these problems and prevents threat-light decks from having complete inevitability.
Jund's threats are mostly difficult to answer but also serve the purpose of "answering" opposing creatures.
Polukranos performs this role admirably, most notably as an answer to Master of Waves and other one-toughness creatures of Mono-Blue Devotion. Polukranos is definitely one of the best cards in the format against any nonblack deck and threatens to end the game very quickly against those decks as well.
Reaper of the Wilds, while not abstractly a great card, is the perfect size and colors for this Standard format. By dodging Mizzium Mortars, Ultimate Price, and Doom Blade (and everything at six mana), it is able to stabilize a board without fear of most removal spells. Its deathtouch ability also allows it to trade with larger creatures (like Polukranos and Arbor Colossus) while pressuring planeswalkers meaningfully through blockers.
Compare this to the inferior Desecration Demon, which is only capable of nullifying an opponent's worst creature on critical turns. The Demon is definitely an ugly card in the face of decks with 25+ creatures, many of which cost one or two mana and lose value as the game goes on.
I'm sure I don't need to elaborate much on the merits of Scavenging Ooze, which has been one of the most powerful creatures in Standard and Modern since it was printed. It provides Jund with much-needed life gain to counteract Read the Bones and Thoughtseize. Ooze can perform roles as mundane as trading with a Soldier of the Pantheon while also coming down much later and dominating the board.
Stormbreath Dragon is the closest thing to a purely offensive threat that this Jund deck has. However, his defensive capabilities surprised even me in Providence, often holding down the board against numerous white creatures. Stormbreath Dragon is a critical piece of your anti-control plan, where haste is very valuable and protection from white also presents problems. Dragon is also better than it looks against black decks with Doom Blade and Hero's Downfall since those decks often start at a low life total from Thoughtseize and Underworld Connections.
Sylvan Caryatid is the glue that holds Jund together. The mana in Standard is inconsistent enough that three-color decks struggle to exist without it and often do so at the cost of playing an overabundance of "enter the battlefield tapped" lands. Many people pointed out to me the awkward tension between Caryatid and Anger of the Gods in the Jund deck. I agree that it isn't optimal compared to a card like Farseek, but typically resolving an Anger against the decks where it is good is absolutely backbreaking. In addition, Caryatid often forces aggro opponents to overextend into Anger. An additional role of Caryatid in the Jund deck is as a blocker for Mutavault, which is a threat that's hard to deal with and one of the best cards in the format.
Ironically, the only matchup where I sideboard out Caryatid is a matchup where I also sideboard out Anger of the Gods: against Sphinx's Revelation control. You simply can't afford to be ruined by Supreme Verdict, and you typically have time to establish effective mana.
Thoughtseize is definitely one of the best cards in Standard. As I mentioned before, it is invaluable against devotion strategies as a means of answering their most powerful cards and breaking up synergies. Thoughtseize is also one of the best cards against control decks and midrange decks, where it can create a gap by removing specific answers or preemptively deal with a haymaker like Sphinx's Revelation, Aetherling, or Rakdos Return.
If you haven't already, I would highly recommend checking out Reid's article on Thoughtseize before playing with the card.
One of the most counterintuitive aspects of this Jund deck is how good Thoughtseize is against the aggressive decks. My intuition was to cut Thoughtseizes against W/R and Mono-Red Aggro, but that would have definitely been a mistake. W/R relies very heavily on cards like Brave the Elements and Boros Charm to push through on critical turns. Thoughtseize is very good at forcing through Anger of the Gods against these cards. With the above list, I would recommend boarding the fourth Thoughtseize in against W/R and Mono-Blue Devotion and leaving at least two in against Mono-Red as well. As a result of this, maindecking four is almost certainly correct.
Decay and Downfall are two of the most versatile removal spells in the format. Given the popularity of Nightveil Specter, I think Abrupt Decay is much better than Doom Blade or Ultimate Price and a huge incentive to pair green with black. Decay is one of the best cards in general against Mono-Black Devotion since it answers Pack Rat on turn 2 and Underworld Connections. Decay is also great against control decks with Detention Sphere, sometimes providing an end-of-turn threat out of nowhere.
Anger of the Gods is great against devotion strategies and aggressive decks. All of these decks rely on playing as many creatures as possible in the early turns to power up their cards later on. In addition, Anger is an important tool against Pack Rat, which is certainly one of the more difficult cards to answer if not handled immediately.
Read the Bones and Rakdos's Return are your best cards against other midrange and control decks. Esper Control in particularly is not a great matchup in game 1, but your most common path to victory includes using Thoughtseize to force through a timely Return. Return is also deceptively good against decks like Mono-Blue Devotion, which often save their best threats for last to maximize their power level. I wouldn't rely on Return against these decks, but having access to one is often very valuable.
In Jund, Read the Bones is very much a late-game card that helps dig for gas and put the game away. Unlike Divination in other decks, I rarely find myself using it to help make land drops or smooth my draws in the early game, though having that option is certainly very nice. Read the Bones is definitely one of the first cards to come out against aggressive decks, where card advantage is less necessary and your life total is very valuable.
Sideboarding With Jund
As usual, I'll start with the disclaimer about how much I hate sideboard guides. Sideboarding is much more of an art than a science and is very dynamic based on your opponent's perspective and approach toward the matchup. A few slight variations in your opponent's decklist can greatly change the texture of the matchup and the values of certain cards.
The greatest strength of Jund in Standard is how good it is in post-sideboard games. This is partly due to the fact that Jund is very difficult to sideboard against—there are very few cards that are spiteful answers or unbeatable threats when it comes to Jund. Jund is also able to present a sideboard configuration that is devastating for both sides of the metagame: threat-heavy devotion decks and control decks alike.
Against Mono-Blue Devotion
This matchup is always close but feels unlosable when you can keep Thassa off the board. This is easier said than done, but it makes her your primary Thoughtseize target.
Against Mono-Black Devotion
The most frustrating aspect of this matchup is Pack Rat. As such, your goal is to maximize early answers to the card while keeping in a couple Anger of the Gods to deal with it if it gets out of control. In general, cutting creatures that are easily one-for-oned is a good plan in this matchup, so focus on using Rakdos's Return, Underworld Connections, and Read the Bones to bury them.
Against Mono-Red Aggro
Against W/R Aggro
Against U/W/x Control
-2 Anger of the Gods
-1 Mizzium Mortars
-4 Sylvan Caryatid
-2 Polukranos, World Eater
-1 Hero's Downfall
-1 Abrupt Decay
+2 Underworld Connections
+2 Mistcutter Hydra
+1 Rakdos's Return
+1 Sire of Insanity
+2 Golgari Charm
Esper and U/W Control are definitely your hardest matchups, which is why there are so many sideboard cards for them. Sylvan Caryatid is a huge liability against Supreme Verdict, and your card-advantage/discard spells give you plenty of time and inevitability in the matchup. In general, I feel you are lucky to win game 1 against control but are a huge favorite in games 2 and 3.
I've spent years calling Jund the enemy from my Glacial Fortress, but it also feels pretty good to be on the other side. I think Jund has an opportunity to be a real contender in Standard—it has already proven itself to be great against devotion and creature decks. In the face of so many removal spells and the proliferation of Thoughtseize, I like the idea of going back to a deck that relies on high card quality rather than powerful (and disruptable) synergies. The control matchups are more concerning, but luckily red, black, and green have powerful sideboard cards at their disposal to reclaim an edge against Sphinx's Revelation in games 2 and 3.
I'm definitely going to continue working on this deck, as it is my frontrunner for the SCG Invitational in Las Vegas in a few weeks. Most people go to the Islands for vacation, but apparently I leave them behind.