Deciding on your decks for the #SCGINVI can be rather stressful. There's a lot on the line at the biggest tournament of the year on the SCG Tour®, and no one wants to be behind the field before round one even begins. Luckily for me, I've sidestepped that stress this time around and have known six of the 150 cards I'll register for months.
Look, I'm not saying it's the best life, but it's not a bad one and it's the only life for me. My heart these days beats to the siren's call of Overgrown Tomb. Getting to play with Overgrown Tomb in both Standard and Modern in the same tournament is a rare treat, and not one that I'm willing to give up.
If this is your lot in life too, here's what I recommend.
Last weekend at #SCGBALT I played Jund to a 10-5 record and a Top 64 finish. Here's the list I played:
This list was good, and if I were forced to run it back without making any changes I would still feel good about my chances at the #SCGINVI. Before talking about why, I want to address the Karn in the corner:
Jadine Klomparens (@thequietfish) December 1, 2018
After my post-Assassin's Trophy Top 8 with Jund at #SCGCHAR, I wrote in my post-tournament article that the Tron matchup was legitimately fine now. I didn't spend more than a paragraph talking about that matchup, partly because I wasn't confident enough in my assessment of the matchup to be shouting it. Since then things have changed, and it's time for me to start shouting.
I believe that the builds of Jund I've been playing lately are small favorites against Tron, somewhere in the 55% to 65% to win range. Assassin's Trophy is great and does a lot, but Trophy only gets Jund up to even against Tron. The edge in the matchup I've been enjoying lately comes from other shifts in the metagame:
Surgical Extraction is something we're actively interested in playing right now. Thanks to the rise of graveyard decks, that is a game-changer against Tron. The two-card combo of Fulminator Mage plus Surgical Extraction guarantees you a Tron-free game whenever you draw both, a plan which used to be a desperation gambit for Jund in Tron-heavy metagames. Assassin's Trophy has greatly increased the efficacy of the combo by giving you tons of redundancy on one half of the combo. Nowadays, every game you draw Surgical Extraction you're very likely to have drawn an Assassin's Trophy or a Fulminator Mage to go with it, making the card much more effective than it used to be.
The old rebuttal to arguments like this is that Jund will just lose to Thragtusks and Wurmcoil Engines cast the fair way, but that idea no longer holds water, if it ever did. Jund is more than capable of grinding through a Wurmcoil Engine when the need arises. The real problem in the old days was being unable to beat a Karn Liberated or an Ugin, the Spirit Dragon, but Assassin's Trophy does double duty and lets Jund cover the planeswalker angle at the same time as everything else. But back to the Wurmcoil Engine thing. Let's not forget this unsung hero:
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is incredible right now. It takes a lot to get me to bench Bloodbraid Elf, but I played a two-two split between Kalitas and Bloodbraid last weekend and don't regret it one bit. The stars have aligned in the Modern metagame right now such that Kalitas is good in virtually every matchup.
In the Tron matchup, Kalitas puts the final nail in the coffin of their Wurmcoil Engine plan. This might not sound like a huge deal, but I assure you that it is. Wurmcoil Engine is legitimately what Tron is forced to rely on when their manabase is under the level of attack that Jund can muster in sideboard games, and having Kalitas to close the door on even that plan really cements the whole matchup. It's the combination of Assassin's Trophy, Surgical Extraction, Fulminator Mage, and Kalitas that makes me believe Jund is currently favored against Tron.
But enough about Tron - no single deck is that important a piece of the Modern metagame. Kalitas is also great against the creature decks, Humans and Bant Spirits, by the simple virtue of being the Traitor of Ghet. Creature decks are what Kalitas was printed to beat. The graveyard decks right now utilize creatures as their payoffs, and Kalitas is great at turning your removal spells into live cards against the likes of Prized Amalgam and Arclight Phoenix. Kalitas is even good against the artifact decks, letting you beat the Scrap Trawler value game that Ironworks likes to play against you and turning off a sizable portion of the synergies in the Hardened Scales deck.
There are a few decks where Kalitas doesn't shine: the mirror, Grixis Death's Shadow, Jeskai Control, Storm, and Infect. Those five decks together aren't nearly enough of the metagame to get me off my maindeck Kalitas kick, and I fully intend to register two copies at the #SCGINVI.
My biggest problem with the idea of playing Golgari Midrange over Jund is that I've never felt that the archetype had enough playable threats. Tireless Tracker and Grim Flayer are just not good enough to register in my book, and the deck just falls short on playables without them. If Kalitas is well-positioned, getting to 75 cards becomes doable.
These are the big cards you lose by moving to Golgari Midrange. I don't consider Kolaghan's Command to be much of a loss as the card is surprisingly ineffective most of the time. Bloodbraid Elf is great and I'm sad about not having access to it, but it's worth noting that I did only play two copies last weekend. Lightning Bolt is the big loss for me, as having a removal spell that can also speed up my clock by a turn against non-interactive decks is a big boon to Jund. Still, it might be worth it.
These are the big things you gain by switching to Golgari. Treetop Village is an immense upgrade to Raging Ravine, letting you get value out of your manabase without spending your entire turn on it. Trample also matters a lot and is a big deal on your creature-land. The combination of Field of Ruin and Assassin's Trophy is legitimately powerful and gives you a sizable edge in midrange mirrors. Fatal Push is remarkably well-positioned right now, and the only knock I have against the card is that it's not Lightning Bolt, but very few things are. It's also worth noting that Golgari's Fatal Pushes are better than Jund's thanks to Treetop Village.
Golgari Midrange does lose some speed when compared to Jund, and there's a lot of climates where that would be a deal breaker for me. I don't believe that time is now. #SCGBALT showed that the fair decks had what it takes to compete with Modern's non-interactive nonsense, and I believe that playing relatively fair will be on the rise next weekend. That's good news for Golgari Midrange.
At the same time, it must be said that Golgari's sideboard is much worse than Jund's. That makes sense - Golgari has access to one less color of cards and decreased options leads to decreased quality. This isn't a big deal if you nail the metagame when building your list, but if you miss by a little your sideboard cards are unlikely to be good enough to carry you anyway.
All in all, I'm torn on what to play. I ultimately don't think the difference between the two decks is very large, and if you have a strong leaning towards one or the other, I think that is absolutely the deck you should play this weekend.
Final point: Slaughter Pact. I played Slaughter Pact last weekend and it was fine for me. Pact is old-school Jund tech to give you a removal spell that you can play on turn 4 alongside Kalitas and get a Zombie token immediately before your opponent has a chance to answer the Kalitas. Slaughter Pact became strictly unplayable when Death's Shadow was a top deck in the format, but those days are over, and I didn't expect there to be any Death's Shadows cast against me last weekend. Then Death's Shadow went and did well despite my expectations, so I won't be playing Slaughter Pact going forward.
Enough of this Modern talk. Let's switch over to the format where you get to play twice as many Overgrown Tombs and have 100% less people tell you that your deck is an awful choice.
- 2 Carnage Tyrant
- 4 Jadelight Ranger
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 2 Midnight Reaper
- 2 Plaguecrafter
- 2 Ravenous Chupacabra
- 1 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Wildgrowth Walker
This is the list that Emma Handy played in the Standard Classic last weekend to a ninth place on tiebreakers finish and is approximately the list I intend to play at the Invitational. Here's what matters:
I've finally caved and admitted Llanowar Elves is something we should be playing. I didn't play it at the Pro Tour, and I don't regret that, but the way the format has developed since the Pro Tour has me convinced that Llanowar Elves is no longer a debate.
It's not that Llanowar Elves is just wildly good against any specific deck that is more popular since the Pro Tour, it's that every deck in the format is just much more tuned and refined nowadays. Llanowar Elves is the kind of card that adds raw power to your deck and lets you keep up with decks that are doing powerful things quickly.
But very few people besides me ever needed convincing that Llanowar Elves was the truth, so I won't waste time and words convincing you of something you already believe. Let's move on.
If there's one big thing you take away from the Standard portion of this article, it should be that Plaguecrafter has circled back around to being great. I loved Plaguecrafter at the beginning of the format, but after Golgari Midrange became the most popular deck, Plaguecrafter got much worse. The mirror tends to feature heavily populated battlefields, and Plaguecrafter is not good there. But these days, Golgari Midrange has trended downward slightly in popularity, and at the same time the rest of the format has moved in directions that Plaguecrafter is exceptional against.
Niv-Mizzet, Parun is the big bad boss of Standard right now in the minds of the people, and Plaguecrafter is the answer. Jeskai Control has moved towards playing around seven creatures on top of their copies of Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and these are the kinds of threat numbers that Plaguecrafter is best against. You're very happy every time your Plaguecrafter trades for Niv-Mizzet, Parun, Crackling Drake, or Teferi, and that will happen basically every game you draw Plaguecrafter against Jeskai these days. Even better, with Find it's more likely to happen twice than it is to happen once.
Against Jeskai, the one-mana discount when compared to Ravenous Chupacabra and the flexibility to answer planeswalkers are both very important parts of Plaguecrafter. No matter what threat they draw, Plaguecrafter answers it. If you always sacrifice Plaguecrafter to itself, they can't ignore it and leave it on the battlefield to protect their second threat from Find, and this combination becomes a threat with only five mana. Plaguecrafter changes the nature of the Jeskai Control matchup.
Against Izzet Drakes, you win by being aggressive and by answering all their creatures. Answering Electromancer on turn 3 as opposed to turn 4 will often be the difference between winning and losing the game. If they're on Enigma Drake instead, the same logic applies. The value of Plaguecrafter goes down a lot once they get Arclight Phoenix on the battlefield, but it's good enough on turn 3 that it's still a good card in the matchup.
Plaguecrafter isn't stellar against Boros Aggro or Mono-Red Aggro, but it's not atrocious either. It's always going to trade down in mana, but it's always going to trade. Sometimes you can use it to stop their Legion's Landing from transforming on an early turn, sometimes it's just a little less damage they get to present. These matchups are far from a reason to play the card, but neither are they bad enough for it that you should eliminate the card from consideration.
Finally, Plaguecrafter may not be good in the Golgari mirror, but it does limit your opponent's options. Once they know you play Plaguecrafter, they must play in a way that doesn't expose their planeswalkers or Carnage Tyrants to Plaguecrafter. This means letting damage get through rather than trade; this means not following up their Carnage Tyrant with a Finality to clear the battlefield. Plaguecrafter only shines if your opponent makes a mistake, but you can get a sizable advantage out of how playing it restricts their play, and I think that advantage often is more important than how lackluster it ends up looking when cast.
The last major point of contention in Golgari Midrange lists right now is what the removal suite should look like. Now that Tocatl Honor Guard is a format mainstay, the number of removal spells in the Golgari maindeck has uniformly raised to five or six from the two or three that lists were playing circa the Pro Tour. At the same time, Assassin's Trophy has fallen out of favor and is being replaced by main deck Cast Downs in a lot of lists.
Vraska's Contempt is rather popular right now, and I'm not a fan. Double black and four mana are both huge strikes against the card. If Rekindling Phoenix is popular, I think Vraska's Contempt is a necessary evil, but it's not right now and that makes me want to just lean on Plaguecrafter and Assassin's Trophy to answer planeswalkers. Golgari Midrange is forced to be the aggressive deck in a wide host of matchups these days, and its aggro game is hurt a lot by playing a removal spell that demands its whole turn to cast.
At the same time, I like Cast Down a lot. The only deck that Cast Down is actively bad against right now is Jeskai Control, and even that matchup has times where killing a Crackling Drake changes the face of the game. Cast Down is nominally bad in the mirror, but now that Wildgrowth Walker is the order of the hour there are creatures in the mirror that have to be killed that Cast Down can answer. Further, Cast Down being only two mana means you can use it to get aggressive and put your opponent on the back foot, which is one of the best ways to steal games in the matchup. And against the rest of the field, Cast Down is one of your best cards.
As for quantity, I think four or five removal spells is the right number. You need to answer Tocatl Honor Guard, and that means three removal spells just isn't enough. You want to play as few as you can get away with though, as the power of Golgari Midrange is in its threats, not its answers. It plays a lot of medium-minus creatures, but when you play a lot of them, they become medium-plus.