Hey everyone, it's Bard “Jund Guy” Narson here. Usually StarCityGames.com® only lets me write an article after I crush a Modern tournament with the best deck to ever need 75 sleeves, but that's not the case today. Somehow, someway an idea has taken hold that Abzan is superior to Jund. It sounds absurd, I know, but it's true. I've been asked to do my civic duty and educate the masses on an epidemic that's been taking over competitive Modern. Hopefully my words of wisdom will help clean up this debacle and midrange mages around the world will once again have greatness at any cost.
The origin of this phenomenon dates back to the same time Eldritch Moon was released. It started small with discussions about Collective Brutality and Grim Flayer. Nobody thought it was that big of a deal. Sure, people talk all the time when new sets come out, but no one would actually bench Blackcleave Cliffs, right? Decklists started popping up in articles, but as we all know, Abzan is as close to a Mean Girls catchphrase as you can get in Magic.
If anyone needs freelance Photoshop help, I'm available.
Then it started to happen. People actually showing up to tournaments with Abzan. Not even in small numbers either! Shambling Vents began to infest the battlefields. Lingering Souls laid waste in graveyards. The lists were all over the place and arguments broke out about all the different versions. It was anarchy! I thought the craze would die down, but no, the pros went and made it even worse! Eight players in the 2016 World Championship played Abzan Midrange. That's a third of the field, for those of you counting. One in three of the game's elite thought bringing Lingering Souls to the biggest tournament of the year was a good idea. How do we ever come back from this?
Luckily you've got me, Jund Guy. I'm here to set the record straight and prove once and for all why Jund is just better than Abzan, to set the record straight and put this horrible time behind us. I don't ask for fame or glory for doing this. It's not for me. I do this because I can't sit back and idly watch my brethren go to battle with dull weaponry. Open your minds and let me bring you back from the brink.
To get to the bottom of this cataclysmic event, we must first understand why people started this trend in the first place. Two culprits got printed that “changed” the game for B/G/x Midrange in Modern.
Enough of these two!
Very few cards from any set have the capabilities of making it onto the Modern battlefield. Both of these cards had viability, so a number of players got excited about playing them. The most obvious one was Grim Flayer. This two-drop gave Abzan another effective creature in the early-game, which it has been lacking for some time. Now the deck would be able to play upwards of eleven two-drops and cease to be as clunky as it once was. No longer did the deck have to lean on Siege Rhino or Tasigur, the Golden Fang for threat density. It also obviously comboed with Lingering Souls, which was pure upside.
Collective Brutality was a little more subtle in its applications. The selling point for this card was that it could act as a removal spell against creature matchups, a hand disruption element against combo, and both against a select subset of the format. Being able to turn two cards into two “removal spells” for two mana is as premium as you can get, especially when one of the cards you invested into the spell wasn't necessary at the time it was used. The card's versatility was intoxicating.
Especially when you would discard Lingering Souls!
Sure, it's great when you discard Lingering Souls, kill a creature, and take their Collected Company. It's amazing! You added a synergistic element to your deck and it did its thing. Let me roll out the red carpet and congratulate you for your superior intellect and ravishing good looks.
That doesn't make Collective Brutality a good card. That right there is actually the hook, the flaw in the decision-making process that caused me to write this article in the first place. Adding independently inferior cards to a midrange deck in an attempt to make it more synergistic is never a good idea in decks like this. The only synergies in Abzan and Jund should come from cards that are already good and can independently stand on their own. The reasoning is that assembling combos in midrange decks just makes your cards slightly better when the opponent's combos simply kill you, kill you dead, and you need your cards to be as efficient as possible to combat them. You're not the one trying to do cute things; they are. Know your role.
Now, this does not make Collective Brutality a bad card. I just don't think it has a home in midrange decks. I would much rather see this card in a Goryo's Vengeance strategy where it can be used as an outlet and create “true” synergy, not just some value 1/1 Spirits.
The other major argument to be made for Abzan is that Path to Exile is better against the current metagame and that Lingering Souls is well-positioned. Now, I don't buy into any of this, and I will break down exactly why this isn't the case, but first I want you to understand the basic theories I have for when Jund or Abzan are respectively good in the format.
Both decks occupy the same space in Modern. They use Inquisition of Kozilek, Liliana of the Veil, and Thoughtseize to disrupt the opponent's gameplan, and threats like Tarmogoyf and Scavenging Ooze to threaten life totals. The unique flavors provide differences in gameplans, but fundamentally they are the same deck.
The unique differences are important though. Jund historically is a stronger choice against the aggressive decks and even combo strategies, thanks to Lightning Bolt and a leaner curve. Even though Lightning Bolt isn't what you want against combo, it will deal them three damage as opposed to Path to Exile being completely useless. Now, even though Path to Exile can kill more creatures than Lightning Bolt, the tempo loss from providing the opponent an extra land lends itself to Path to Exile being one of the last removal spells you will use. It also doesn't allow for Abzan to get under decks by killing off early mana creatures. That's usually not an issue for Abzan when facing other midrange decks, which is why the deck tends to be better in “mirrors." It does topdeck much better than Jund in these matchups, which games almost always devolve to.
Abzan has always been a stronger choice against midrange strategies and that's one of the main reasons why people are flocking to the deck right now. They might have gotten to Abzan with the allure of the new cards from Eldritch Moon, but stay for arguments like this. The only issue is that the decks that would make me want to play Abzan aren't even being played anymore! I've almost always wanted to play Jund over Abzan for reasons I will get to, but the only time I've ever wanted to play Lingering Souls over Blackcleave Cliffs was at last year's Players' Championship, and for good reasons.
You see, Abzan is a much better deck than Jund against Snapcaster Mage strategies and they were extremely prominent at that time. Splinter Twin had not yet been banned and Kolaghan's Command was being played in extremely high numbers. Now, Jund wasn't a bad deck against Splinter Twin, but it was poorly positioned against the Grixis decks leaning heavily on the Kolaghan's Command / Snapcaster Mage interaction. They would just drown you out with card advantage. Not to mention that Spell Snare was a playable card as well, which made it difficult for Jund to stick any threats. Abzan was the cure for that specific metagame by giving you more diversity in the casting cost of threats, but also Lingering Souls to combat the high levels of card advantage the deck had.
Snapcaster Mage is almost nonexistent right now. For a while we saw Jeskai Control trying to solidify itself in the metagame, but by now we all know it's not a competitive choice. Without Snapcaster Mage around to scare Jund players away, what's really the argument to play Abzan?
Abzan is supposed to be the best midrange deck against other midrange decks, and previously that was the case. That's the deck's selling point after all, but it currently isn't even the case. Bant Eldrazi might lean more aggressively than Abzan or Jund but is in fact a midrange strategy. It just does it that much “better” to make it look like it doesn't occupy the same space as these two decks. It still has disruptive elements, aggressive creatures, and needs specific cards to win the more volatile matchups. Don't trick yourself into believing this isn't a midrange deck, and that it doesn't do what Abzan is trying to do, but better on almost every street.
On the surface that looks true, but this argument is secretly a test of Modern prowess that many fail. Just because Path to Exile “answers” every creature in the matchup doesn't make it better than Lightning Bolt. In fact, “answering” in Modern is often overvalued and the incorrect path to take. Whenever a new deck shows up, people first try to answer it with reactive spells. Look, I get it. It's easier to answer problems as they present themselves instead of finding other alternatives, but it's often not the correct way to approach problems. This way of thinking is one of the reasons why we don't see formats shifting as quickly as we constantly predict they will when new elements are presented. Instead of drastic shifts like discontinuing invalidated strategies, or finding aggressive ways to attack new decks before they do their things, players often just throw some Grafdigger's Cages or Pithing Needles in their deck and call it a day. Modern just doesn't work this way.
The biggest benefit Jund has over Abzan is exactly this! Jund has a shorter clock and can more efficiently get under any opponent's strategy. Lingering Souls, Path to Exile, and Shambling Vent just aren't as good as Dark Confidant, Lightning Bolt, and Raging Ravine when the only gameplan is kill! It's not like we draw this gameplan up before the tournament, but more games than not, that's what we have to work with.
Take the Bant Eldrazi matchup, for example. Tons of players who picked up Abzan thought they could take the control role in this matchup by playing a Standard deck's price tag worth of Damnations in their sideboard. It didn't work. You can't control a deck that still topdecks better than you. Abzan and Jund have to go under Bant Eldrazi. Not over or through. Under. Lightning Bolt and Dark Confidant can facilitate this more often by killing a Noble Hierarch. Not saying it's a good matchup, but I do know it's a better gameplan.
“But Abzan is better than Jund against the metagame.”
This is another argument I've gotten, to which I respond with, “What metagame?” Seriously, what metagame are people talking about? Elves won the last Invitational, for crying out loud. Elves!
- 1 Spellskite
- 4 Dwynen's Elite
- 4 Elvish Archdruid
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 3 Elvish Visionary
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 4 Heritage Druid
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Nettle Sentinel
- 1 Reclamation Sage
- 1 Scavenging Ooze
- 3 Ezuri, Renegade Leader
Modern is a format that tends to consist of ten decks making up half the field and 40 others filling out the rest. Now, some matchups might be better for Abzan, just like some are better for Jund, but to say one is better against the metagame is absurd. I could say that when I was preparing for a tournament with only sixteen very predictable players, but that's not something I would ever utter about an event like an SCG Open. In fact, I would assume I would play against more random things and lean towards the “leaner” deck, which is and has been my main point for Jund's superiority.
Jund is a smoother deck. Both decks roughly have around the same spells that cost one mana, but Abzan doesn't always want to cast Path to Exile on turn 1. After that, Abzan has far more cards than Jund that cost three mana. Jund pretty much only has Liliana of the Veil and one or two Maelstrom Pulse as three-drops. Everything else costs two. It plays more creatures and removal spells that cost two. This “leaner” frame is what costs it percentage points when facing Abzan, since it's almost always better to be slightly “bigger” in the mirror, but it does make up for these lost points in my other matchups.
Jund's leanness is also helped out by Blackcleave Cliffs, which I am under the impression is currently the best land in Modern right now. It lets the deck cast all of its one-mana spells on turn 1 without costing the deck a single life point. Often an opening-hand Blackcleave Cliffs will also allow the deck to fetch up more basic lands when life totals might be important. It might sound strange to say one deck is better thanks to a single land, but it's true.
Now, you might be thinking things are about to change with Kaladesh finishing off this cycle of lands, but I'm under the impression that not much will in fact change. That's because Concealed Courtyard and Blooming Marsh don't actually do the same things that Blackcleave Cliffs does. Being able to cast either Inquisition of Kozilek or Lightning Bolt on turn 1 is the appeal. Having the same options between Thoughtseize and Path to Exile doesn't have the same impact on a game. I do believe Blooming Marsh will find a home in small numbers in both decks, but these lands won't invalidate Jund's “land” advantage. The only thing that will most likely change is Blackcleave Cliffs will become the second-best Modern land, being surpassed by Spirebluff Canal.
I'm well aware that I haven't covered every nook and cranny of this debate. It would be impossible to do so in one article, but I am fairly sure that if I haven't sold you yet, it would be all for naught anyway. Instead I will spend the rest of my time showing off my current list of Modern that I might take with me to battle in Florida this weekend in Orlando.
I first caught wind of this version of Jund right before Worlds a few weeks back. Paul Dean took a similar list all the way to the Top 32 at Grand Prix Indianapolis. I got in contact with him and we spent many hours discussing the merits of his iteration of the deck. I've taken it in a slightly different direction than he has, but for all intents and purposes, this is his deck and I am very impressed by his understanding of the archetype.
At first glance this looks like a gimmicky version of Jund. You're probably waiting for me to eat my own words about “synergy” as you see Seal of Fire, but in all actuality I believe it does stand alone in this build. Jund loses a lot of games where it can't deploy enough of its spells on time, which is one of the reasons to add more removal spells that cost one. Being able to sit on the battlefield is also nice against decks like Affinity, Infect, Death's Shadow Aggro, Merfolk, and many other strategies. Now, the card does have synergies with Grim Flayer; Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet; and both Lilianas, but that's not the main reason for its inclusion.
This version of Jund is worse off against other midrange decks playing a slew of midrange “trumps," but I don't believe that is the best way to be approaching the other decks in the format. Simply being lean and aggressive has padded my win percentage more than any “silver bullets” ever have. Grim Flayer has allowed this deck to get much more aggressive making it almost a new deck. Now it's much easier to stick a threat and ride it to victory when you have more of them, especially when eight of them create some form of card advantage, whether it is drawing cards or manipulating draws. I've been very happy with the addition of Grim Flayer to the team.
That's all I've got for now. I hope my words of wisdom have brought you back from the dark side. If so, please let the wonderful people at StarCityGames.com® know that so I may one day become a permanent fixture on the website. Truthfully I do believe this website should have a weekly article about Jund, and I want to be the person to bring it! Make Modern great again!