So, Jund aficionados, good news: you get another Jund article. Enjoy it, because the good news for those who don't like Jund articles is that we'll be back to our regularly scheduled programming next week.
I started playing post-unban Modern about two weeks before #SCGDFW. After five days of play on Magic Online, I realized it would be borderline irresponsible to not find a way to attend the Open. My flight wasn't finalized until the Thursday before the event. Ryan Overturf said in Fact or Fiction that he'd be inclined to take me over the field to win the tournament on Friday. I ended up losing in the quarterfinals. Not quite the win I was looking for, but good enough to make both my decision to attend and Ryan's prediction look pretty okay.
Bloodbraid Elf changed everything about Jund. I can't even imagine feeling confident enough about the Modern format to book a last-minute flight in the days before Bloodbraid Elf, but the decision to go to Dallas wasn't even particularly difficult. Jund is much better than it was just a few weeks ago, and I couldn't be happier.
Cascading Deckbuilding Decisions
Here's the list I ended up registering at Dallas:
I had the awesome opportunity to do a deck tech on-site with Nick Miller, which you can watch below:
We talked about the final build I arrived at and some of the card choices, but in a bit of an ad hoc fashion. Today I have the opportunity to dive in to the train of thought that led to this deck from beginning to end, and I'm going to take it.
The obvious starting point when considering how to adapt Jund to play Bloodbraid Elf is how many lands to play. Bloodbraid Elf is, after all, a four-drop, a cost that has historically been the absolute top of Jund's curve. Indeed, in recent times before the unbanning, I had been playing a lot of 23-land Jund decks that didn't play any card that cost more than three mana.
Like most of us who play Magic on a "time budget," I do my best to not spend my time reinventing the wheel. The first thing I did was go back to the last time Jund was considered a top-tier deck, when its curve was higher than it has been in recent months.
Curve-wise, my list from this Invitational was fairly representative of the Jund decks of the era. 24 lands, two four-drops, and six or seven three-drops was stock back then. My recollections from playing Jund at that time are that the deck felt a tad land-light if anything and that the creature-lands did an excellent job of mitigating flood scenarios.
Playing four four-drops instead of two is a significant increase to the deck's curve. Further, Bloodbraid Elf incentivizes us to play more three-drops, as cascading into a three-drop gives us the most bang for our proverbial buck. How many more three-drops? Well, ideally we play as many as we can without becoming unrealistically slow for the format. In my testing, I decided on eight as the upper bound of what I was comfortable with.
In any case, with two more four-drops and two more three-drops, I definitely wanted to play the 25th land, and all the games I played confirmed that 25 was a good number. The problem, however, is that the Jund deck plays no card filtering and only Dark Confidant for card draw, and thus cannot stop itself from drawing too many lands.
Because of this, I decided to play a fifth creature-land in the deck. I split the three Treetop Village over two Raging Ravine for a couple of reasons. First, Treetop Village is better at fighting planeswalkers, and I expected Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Liliana of the Veil to see a lot of play. Second, the raising of the curve in the Jund deck makes double-spelling more difficult, which means that you want to spend your whole turn animating Raging Ravine less often. I can "double-spell" with a two-drop and a Treetop Village attack with the same mana a Raging Ravine attack would take, a scenario that comes up frequently.
The last question to ask about the curve is this: where are these extra three-drops coming from? We're adding four-drops and we're adding a land, so either the one-drops or the two-drops have to give. I opted to cut twos in spite of wanting an overall higher curve, as early interaction is so critical in Modern.
Actually, I went further than that. I cut the twos a little harder than necessary, in favor of a fifth one-drop removal spell. Instead of raising the curve, I polarized it. Having more one-drops plays well with every decision made thus far. They make it easier to play your enters-the-battlefield-tapped lands, they let you double-spell earlier and more reliably than two-drops would alongside all the threes and fours that you want to play.
Alright, we're done talking about the curve. Time to discuss the actual spells that we're choosing to play, but first we have to talk about one more mana-centric thing. There's a big-picture trend going on in Modern right now:
Field of Ruin is catching on across all sorts of archetypes, and between it, Spreading Seas, Stone Rain, and Blood Moon, mana denial is at an all-time high in Modern. Is Jund supposed to play a basic Mountain to play around Field of Ruins?
As you can tell from my decklist, my vote is no. Drawing the Mountain is just too high a cost; it being one of the lands in your opening hand will either stunt your ability to cast your spells on time or force you to take a lot of damage from your shocklands, maybe both. Taking damage is a very real concern, as one of the consequences of raising our curve to support Bloodbraid Elf is that we should be expecting to take more damage off of Dark Confidant.
I don't want to play the Mountain, but I'm also not advocating for simply crossing our fingers and hoping our mana works out. I made the decision to limit the red spells I played as much as possible. In the end, aside from Lightning Bolt and Bloodbraid Elf, the only red card in my main deck was a single copy of Kolaghan's Command.
Playing fewer red spells doesn't just mean we end up with fewer cards trapped in our hand in the event that we get stranded off red mana. It means we don't need red mana as early or as often as we otherwise would, and thus don't have to shock ourselves for an untapped dual as often. We can hold our red sources in hand until we intend to cast a red spell and guarantee we get an opportunity to cast it.
Besides limiting the quantity of red mana symbols in our deck, the other factor influencing the spells that made the final cut was what the best cards to hit off of Bloodbraid Elf were. These two factors collided in an obvious way when it came to the two-drop slot:
The flex slot spells with converted mana cost two in the Jund shell are Terminate and Abrupt Decay. Abrupt Decay is a more reliable cascade, as it has excellent applications against both creature and non-creature decks. Abrupt Decay also doesn't cost red mana. The stars aligned on this one.
Being without Terminate means we have a hard time killing the monsters of the format, notably Gurmag Angler and Reality Smasher. Because of this, I want two of my three-drops to be Maelstrom Pulse. Again, not a red spell. Four Liliana of the Veil is mandatory, which leaves us with two slots. I split them between Liliana, the Last Hope and Kolaghan's Command, and was tempted to abandon Kolaghan's Command entirely.
I said in the deck tech that I'm lower on Kolaghan's Command than the rest of the world, but missed the most important reason for why I don't like it: it's hard for it to have two modes that affect the battlefield. When the two damage can't kill a creature, Kolaghan's Command has very limited immediate impact on the battlefield. Bloodbraid Elf is at its best when its attacking, and cascade spells that reliably impact the battlefield help it do this. Hitting a reliable removal spell clears the way, hitting a creature guarantees we have a blocker. In the end, going down to one copy of Kolaghan's Command was an easy call to make.
Note how these decisions are all hanging together. We wanted to raise our curve to play and maximize Bloodbraid Elf, but we're worried about taking too much damage off of Dark Confidant. We decide to polarize our curve and play more ones and threes and fewer twos to have more effective cascades while still preserving our ability to interact early and double-spell when needed. This gives us the ability to let our lands enter the battlefield tapped more often, which helps with our life total. We cut Terminate as the red two-drop and don't need early red nearly as often, which means we can avoid shocking ourselves to have access to red mana on turn 2. Our deckbuilding decisions all have a certain logic to them, and are made in such a way that the logic behind each of them never contradicts.
Would I change anything? There's always room for improvement, but I was quite happy with how the deck played all weekend. I want the sixth Fatal Push, but I'm not at all sure what I would cut for it. The Liliana's Defeat in the sideboard was probably too cute; I only sideboarded it in once all weekend. Those two changes are at the top of my list for future changes, on top of whatever adaptation is necessary to be best prepared for the ever-changing Modern metagame.
I want to talk about how Bloodbraid Elf has changed Jund's approach to many matchups, but Modern's too big for me to cover every matchup in the format so I'm just going to talk about the ones that are the most relevant going forward. That's still too many to realistically talk about, so I'm just going to choose from among those I played against last weekend. Notably, I did not play the Jund mirror at all during the tournament, so if you want to read what I think about that matchup, you should check out my article from last week.
VS Collected Company Decks
In the days before Bloodbraid Elf, I hit upon the idea to sideboard out discard against Collected Company decks in order to better beat them on the battlefield, and my winrate in these matchups increased dramatically upon implementation. With Bloodbraid, this plan just got better. Play to the battlefield, save removal for the creatures that matter, which means not "bolting the bird" most of the time. Use Liliana of the Veil to weaken the power of Eternal Witness and play to win a game where the battlefield stalls for a time.
VS Death's Shadow Decks
There's a lot of different Death's Shadow decks out there, but their matchups with Jund are all very similar. Bloodbraid Elf gives you a lot of staying power if you can survive that long. Death's Shadow decks are good at compressing the game into very few turns. Your goal should be to survive those early turns. Prioritize killing their threats over nearly everything else and look to pull ahead with Bloodbraid Elf in the mid-game.
This matchup has gotten a little worse in the new era, but it's not Bloodbraid Elf's fault. Affinity has always had access to the tools to fight Jund, and now its pilots know they need to play them. Expect more Etched Champions. This means we want to keep in more copies of Inquisition of Kozilek and Liliana of the Veil than we otherwise would, but the matchup is otherwise the same as it's always been.
VS Eldrazi Tron
Bloodbraid Elf is a great card here and made this matchup better, but my exact list made it considerably worse. This is the place where we're really missing Terminate. With my list, you need to look to make a 5/6 Tarmogoyf and use it to stabilize the battlefield. You lean heavily on Liliana of the Veil to deal with their threats and shouldn't deploy her when you can't defend her from a Reality Smasher if she's not immediately going to take out one of their high-impact threats. Two Lightning Bolts stay in to clear the way of Matter Reshaper so that Liliana's minus two can do what we need it to.
VS U/R Gifts Storm
Next up are a trio of decks where Bloodbraid Elf made the matchup worse. Good storm players will hold their Baral, Chief of Compliance and Goblin Electromancer until the turn they want to combo, so tapping out is very dangerous. I still do so on three to cast Liliana of the Veil, as Liliana of the Veil is our best card in the matchup and we're reasonably unlikely to die before our turn 4. The same can't be said about Bloodbraid Elf or our turn 5.
Bloodbraid Elf is a great card for us in this matchup, but it's a better card for them. This matchup is very bad when they are successfully Blood Mooning us and destroying our lands, and very good when they're not. If you can force them to play on schedule by killing the Arbor Elves and the Utopia Sprawls, you're in a good spot. Never think you can let them cast Blood Moon, as they will just kill your carefully fetched basics.
The sideboarding here is pretty scant, and that's because I'm honestly unsure of what the best angle of attack is. It's possible we want to lower our curve by sideboarding out Bloodbraids and play Collective Brutality, and it's also possible that we're supposed to worry about managing to out midrange them when they don't land destruction us out of the game. I don't have enough experience in the matchup yet to be sure.
This matchup is traditionally hugely in Jund's favor, and yet I lost to it twice on the weekend. I played suboptimally in the swiss and had some unfortunate draws in the quarterfinals, but I'm still confident in saying the matchup got worse. Not a lot worse, and it's still a good matchup for Jund, but it's definitely not as good as it once was.
Similar to the U/R Gifts Storm matchup, the reason it's worse is that tapping out is scary, and new-era Jund is designed to tap out much more often. Additional bad news includes the fact that Abrupt Decay can't kill Inkmoth Nexus and going back to Lightning Bolt means your removal spells can be pumped over. Our game plan hasn't changed: go for removal on your turn or their end step, try to keep them off creatures.
VS Jeskai Control
This is probably my favorite matchup in Modern and Bloodbraid Elf made it much easier. Bloodbraid is historically good against both Jace, the Mind Sculptor and counter spells, and Jeskai plays both. Their best card is Search for Azcanta, and you should discard it whenever possible and never pass on the chance to Abrupt Decay it before it transforms. Early on, you want to use your discard to create a hole to resolve Liliana of the Veil through, and later on, you want to hold it to pave the way for whatever threat you find. Keep any of your permanents on the battlefield for more than a turn or two and you will find yourself winning this matchup.
Speaking of Jeskai, I want to close this out by speaking briefly about what transpired in game 1 of my win-and-in against Jim Davis in round fifteen. I'm seeing a lot of misinformation spreading around the internet, and I don't want the exemplary sportsmanship he demonstrated to be lost in the shuffle.
On the last turn of the game, I declared an attack with a 5/6 Tarmogoyf and a 3/3 Scavenging Ooze while Jim was at eleven life. I had access to three green mana, and there were four creatures remaining in the graveyards, a question that had been asked by Jim and confirmed by me on the turn preceding this one. If I ate three of those creatures, my Ooze would be a 6/6 without affecting the power of Tarmogoyf, and my attack would be lethal.
During Jim's last turn, I had calculated that if he had nothing, Jim would be forced to chump block with Celestial Colonnade on my attack. When he declared no blocks, I figured he had Path to Exile in hand and I was just very dead, but knew I had to go for it in case his holdings were burn spells that he was hoping to win with after I took the conservative line of not tapping out of green mana.
I went through the motions of activating Scavenging Ooze very quickly. Too quickly. Jim asked me to back up, as he wanted to think with the last Scavenging Ooze activation on the stack. In resetting to that game state, I messed up and dialed the Scavenging Ooze back too far. Jim decided to let it happen, as the battlefield I was representing was not a lethal attack. I was confused, but I had been playing too quickly all match and assumed I messed up my math the turn before and didn't question it.
After combat was all said and done, Jim played Snapcaster Mage, flashing back Lightning Bolt to take me down to six life. With Snapcaster Mage and Celestial Colonnade on the battlefield, he had a lethal attack on his next turn and I was without cards in hand, so I conceded.
If this game hadn't been on camera, I would have never realized what happened. The spotter asked us while we were preparing for game 2 if the Scavenging Ooze was missing a counter, and it instantly hit both of us how we messed that one up and how awkward the situation we now found ourselves in was. I asked for the head judge to come over, who confirmed that the game had ended, and there was nothing they could do now about our mistake.
This is the correct ruling, and I was prepared to accept that. Jim, however, was not. He asked if he would be allowed to concede game 1 instead, and then did so.
What Jim did was the classiest thing I have seen in my entire time playing Magic, and it's not close. No one would have faulted him had he not conceded. If he hadn't asked if he could, no one would have even thought about the possibility that he might. I certainly wouldn't have been upset with him for accepting that win.
Jim's level of sportsmanship should be held up and applauded by the entire community. "What would Jim Davis do?" is certainly the question I will be asking myself in every Magic ethics/sportsmanship spot I find myself in from here on out.