Tournament Report: Winning the Modern Challenge with Jund
I managed to take down the Modern Challenge this past weekend despite registering a less-than-perfect deck and being a less-than-perfect Magic player. While it seems pretty clear that some sort of Hogaak nonsense is the best thing to be doing, I swore off ever again touching any such deck after tanking my team’s performance at a team Grand Prix with a disastrous showing with Dredge several years ago. And I am nothing if not stubborn.
Instead I decided to play Jund. After years of tinkering with various bad Seismic Assault/Life from the Loam decks I was very excited to see the printing of Wrenn and Six and have been having a blast playing with the card in Jund over the last few weeks. I’ve also been doing pretty well with the deck, at least by my low standards for what constitutes success. All these graveyard decks are pretty poor matchups for Jund, and Mono-Green Tron seems to be resurgent once again, but otherwise I feel pretty good versus the field with the deck at the moment. The matchup against Azorius Control, for instance, has taken a big swing in Jund’s favor thanks to Wrenn, I believe. Anyhow, here’s my account of playing the challenge, if you would care to read it, which I hope you would.
Round 1: I was up against Izzet Phoenix in the first round. I’ve found this matchup to be pretty good for Jund, and these games played out pretty much in line with my recent experience. The main way I have found myself losing is to Aria of Flame, so I try to play the games with that in mind. The way I’ve sideboarded in the matchup has changed in recent weeks due to two factors.
The first factor is Wrenn and Six. Where before I would generally have shaved Lightning Bolt, I now keep, usually, all four copies in my deck, because they can pair with Wrenn to give me additional answers to Thing in the Ice, and can still do their usual Bolt-y things of temporarily answering an Arclight Phoenix or permanently answering an opponent’s life total.
The other factor is that for certain Hogaak-related reasons most Jund pilots, myself included, have begun playing four copies of Leyline of the Void in the sideboard. I’ve gone back and forth on whether or not this a card I actually want against Phoenix, and I have for now decided that it is. Now that Phoenix plays Lava Dart, having lights-out graveyard hate not only stops the most broken Phoenix shenanigans, but also helps stymie their ability to fire off a flurry of spells for Aria.
W 2-0 against Izzet Phoenix
Round 2: The dread Tron. This was a conventional Mono-Green build and I somewhat improbably won in two games. I was for a time persuaded by the argument that if you’re playing Jund, it is your duty to simply take for granted that this matchup is lost and not play sideboard cards like Fulminator Mage. But I no longer think this. Not only is Fulminator Mage a fairly helpful card in other matchups such as Azorius Control, I think Jund has a real chance to win a chunk of games against Tron thanks to the addition of Assassin’s Trophy. Not, you know, a lot of games, but some. And isn’t an occasional victory all that all any of us are really asking for in this life?
I wish I had been playing more copies of Trophy, but opted not to for the strategically sound and not at all anal-retentive reason that I only own two copies in paper and it soothes me to know I am playing the same deck in both digital and paper varieties.
The matchup still sucks, but, much to my surprise, I won this round fairly quickly.
W 2-0 against Mono-Green Tron
Round 3: My opponent opened on a basic Plains and I assumed they were on Humans, a pretty good matchup, and cheered to myself a little bit. Then it turns out they were on Martyr, which I haven’t played against much, but assumed to be good and cheered a little more. When they were stuck on two lands, I was hooting and hollering. But I nearly looked a fool (or to be more precise, I almost looked more foolish than I already do) when the first game ended up surprisingly close, as I perhaps erred in stripping a Ranger of Eos from their hand, leaving Wrath of God, and trying not to overcommit, thus slowing down my clock. But eventually my planeswalkers and Bloodbraid Elf accrued too much card advantage and I took down the first game.
Not having played the matchup much I was a bit uncertain how to sideboard, namely whether or I ought to be bringing in copies of either Fulminator Mage (for Emeria, the Sky Ruin) or graveyard hate (for Proclamation of Rebirth). To be perfectly honest, I do not remember what I ended up deciding to do, but was once again able to capitalize on a bit of mana screw. That much I remember. I never forget a screw.
W 2-0 against Mono-White Martyr
Round 4: I was matched up against the deck a smarter version of myself would probably have been playing. Predictably, Hogaak easily beat me in the first game, and the combination of Leyline of the Void and hand disruption on the play won me the second.
I mulliganed searching in vain for a Leyline like amateur archaeologist Alfred Watkins (that’s right, I am capable of using Wikipedia). I ultimately kept what was probably a poor six-card hand. It had a Scavenging Ooze and Bloodbraid Elf and four lands, and that is probably much too slow on the draw. I should say certainly, instead of probably, because I lost very badly.
L 1-2 against Hogaak
Round 5: My opponent opened on a Tron land and Expedition Map and I mentally prepared to lose, drop, and find something else to do with my Saturday. But fortunately this was only Eldrazi Tron, which is actually quite favorable for Jund, I believe. Fulminators aren’t as good here, but then again, they aren’t bad. I usually shave some copies of Inquisition of Kozilek, maybe a Lightning Bolt or two, and also my face once per week on Sunday.
W 2-0 against Eldrazi Tron
Round 6: I was against Izzet Phoenix again, which gives me a chance to bring up something I didn’t mention about the matchup earlier, due to forgetfulness. I’m not sure what to do with Liliana of the Veil here. On the one hand, it’s not great, too often simply prompting them to discard the very Phoenix that will kill Liliana as soon as they untap. On the other hand, it is a (somewhat) reliable answer to Thing in the Ice. Liliana seems better on the play, when you can follow their turn-two Thing with your own third-turn edict, but how much better? I’ve been keeping something like 2.25 copies of the card in for games two and three on average, but feel a bit clueless. Do any Jund players out there have a clearer sense of what to do? I would believe that it’s right to board them all out, but I am afraid of the Thing!
In this particular round I thought I had game one sewn up but lost seemingly out of nowhere (though it probably seemed very much from somewhere to my opponent) to a flurry of Phoenixes and Lightning Bolts and Faithless Lootings. But with my graveyard hate in for games two and three I was able to take the match.
W 2-1 against Izzet Phoenix
Round 7: Another big mana deck and another sinking feeling in my stomach when I realized that fact. This time it was Amulet. Primeval Titan is a very problematic card for Jund. I don’t need to tell you, but I will, because that is the point of writing this sort of thing, that I lost game one.
I brought in those Fulminators for games two and three. Also, and I do not know if this is the conventional wisdom or not, but I have been leaving in all of my removal spells in this matchup. One the one hand, Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt are pretty embarrassing against Primeval Titan, on the other hand they can buy a ton of time against draws of theirs that lean on Sakura-Tribe Scout, and by killing Plant tokens, can help improve Liliana’s effectivness. I was fortunate that my opponent had a Scout draw in both post-board games, and never opened on Amulet of Vigor (which always feels like it ends the game virtually on the spot), and I ended up winning games two and three.
W 2-1 against Amulet Titan
Round 8: I was against some sort of Mono-Red Prowess deck. I didn’t see any copies of Arclight Phoenix in game one, which I lost, so was unsure whether or not to bring in Leyline of the Void. This is an uncertainty that came up a lot, you might have noticed, but please cut me some slack: It is not a card Jund has historically played and I am very stupid.
I did in fact end up bringing in Leyline of the Void and while I still saw nary a Phoenix in games two and three, the card did do good work stranding Bedlam Reveler in my opponent’s hand. As in the Izzet Phoenix matchup, my feeling is that the addition of Lava Dart means that, if you have Leyline in your sideboard, it does just barely enough work to be worth bringing in.
W 2-1 against Mono-Red Prowess
Quarterfinals: My opponent from Round 8 made the Top 8 on breakers and we were paired again, for the second time in a row, so I knew the matchup going in. Okay, I told myself, they are playing a bunch of aggressive one-drops, so don’t keep a hand with no early interaction. I promptly kept a hand with no early interaction, but instead, Scavenging Ooze, Wrenn and Six, and Assassin’s Trophy. But my opponent mulliganed and I wasn’t punished. Or at least I wasn’t punished for keeping a bad hand, specifically. I was punished for making a bad attack with two Tarmogoyfs, leaving only one Bloodbraid Elf back to block, which left me dead to my opponent’s combination of Monastery Swiftspear plus Lightning Bolt plus other spells the following turn.
Still uncertain what to do with Leyline I figured I’d go with what worked before and fortunately it worked again in both post-board games. I didn’t have Leyline both games, but I did in one of them and it was, um, what’s a nice flowery yet accurate way to describe it: pretty good I guess?
W 2-1 against Mono-Red Prowess
Semifinals: Mono-Green Tron again, and this time I was not so fortunate to win in two games, but I did win in three. I had one interesting situation come up where I had a Scavenging Ooze on board applying a little bit of pressure, along with a Wrenn and Six. My opponent meanwhile had an Oblivion Stone they had just played, along with two Tron pieces and three Forests. I had the option to either cast Assassin’s Trophy on their Oblivion Stone before they could untap and use it, or to target a land to ensure they would not hit Tron. Coward that I am, I opted for a Tron land which immediately felt wrong, although now that I think about it as I am typing these words might have been alright, as hitting the Oblivion Stone would have ramped them into no-effort Wurmcoil Engine mana.
After splitting the first two games I was on the play for the third one. I kept a, shall we say, questionable hand. It was Inquisition of Kozilek, Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, and four lands. Pretty crappy, right? Yes, I agree. But! On the play Inquisition could do pretty good work disrupting their ability to assemble Tron, and the Lightning Bolt ensured my Tarmogoyf would be swinging in for a healthy chunk of damage starting on turn three. I had a fast clock. And that minimal amount of disruption, plus a Bloodbraid Elf off the top, if I recall correctly, enabled me to kill them before they could get their pieces lined up.
W 2-1 against Mono-Green Tron
Finals: I had a feeling I was going to be up against Hogaak, and that was true, but only in the strictest sense. This was a more old-school Modern Dredge deck that happened to also have a few copies of everybody’s second-least favorite Avatar (fight me, James Cameron).
Game one was not close. I opened on a Bloodstained Mire on the draw, and when their turn-two dredge flipped a whole buncha power straight into play I decided I would end-step fetch a Mountain and Bolt them on the tiny chance they would be tricked into thinking I was Burn. Unfortunately, I realized I already had my only Mountain in hand, so I made the very clever play of going to my second turn, playing the Mountain, targeting their face with Lightning Bolt, cracking my fetch, and conceding. Confusing? Inscrutable? I could only hope.
Game two I had both Leyline and Nihil Spellbomb. Since this was older Dredge, I felt safe running them both out on turn one, figuring they don’t have enough green cards to support Force of Vigor. While my opponent had Nature’s Claim for the Leyline, I soon had an Ooze to go alongside the Spellbomb, and, since they were stuck on lands, ended up winning that game fairly easily.
Appropriately for game three of the finals of an event we had both spent all day playing, game three was a wild one for both my and my opponent. We both mulliganed to five. Or closer to four, in my case, since I opened on a Leyline. That was soon destroyed but I had a Scavenging Ooze to follow it up. The Ooze looked set to run away with another game. My opponent had no way to remove it, and a single Shriekhorn on board. But with the last activation of Shriekhorn they found a Conflagrate just in time to kill the Ooze without giving me priority to exile it.
But that was only the beginning of our exchange of lucky top-decks. I played two enormous Tarmogoyfs and was threatening to quickly kill them, since their Bloodghasts could not block, but they ripped a Hogaak and put me on the back foot instead. I was accruing little bits of value with Wrenn and Six but on the verge of death. They had another Conflagrate in their yard and I was at, I believe, five. I had a Bloodbraid Elf in hand and needed to hope to cascade into something like a Grafdigger’s Cage or another Ooze on my turn.
I ended up drawing an Ooze instead, which stabilized things. Now I had put my opponent on the backfoot, and while I couldn’t really attack into them thanks to their large Hogaak and Stinkweed Imp I was slowly taking over. I should mention at some point (the elegant way for a writer to introduce any topic gracefully into the flow of a story) that Plague Engineer had also bailed me out by holding off Bloodghasts during that window in which I was Ooze-less.
Just when I felt I had firmly closed the door my opponent, who had been chipping in with a Narcomoeba and Stinkweep Imp, they attacked with Hogaak as well. I at first was simply going to block with my large Ooze on the Hogaak, but my dumb brain fortunately whirred to life at the last second, reminding my that Hogaak had trample, leaving me dead to a removal spell, and explaining the seemingly strange attack by my opponent. If I blocked with just the Ooze and they killed it, I would lose. So I threw some other creatures in front of it as well. They did, in fact, have Assassin’s Trophy, but I survived, and promptly cascaded my Bloodbraid Elf into Lightning Bolt, finishing things off once and for all.
W 2-1 against Dredge
If you are still reading this, thank you for putting up with my long-windedness. I like Jund, and I hope you like Jund too. Despite doing fairly well with the deck recently—I won an IQ with a nearly identical list last weekend—it seems pretty clear to me that Hogaak is the thing to be playing until it is inevitably banned.
But I don’t enjoy playing those types of decks, and I would rather play something fun. Jund is fun. And also pretty good, even if it’s no Hogaak. Until that card gets the axe, I’d strongly recommend playing oodles of graveyard hate. There’s enough other graveyard-based decks that you’re still getting a reasonable amount of value devoting the sideboard slots to it.
The one change I would make, I think, is to go up to the third and possibly fourth Assassin’s Trophy. It’s so helpful against Tron, for instance, which I truly believe we can get to something like a 30%-ish matchup, which might not sound like much, but then again, it’s not nothing. Not much, but not nothing. Words to live by. The bonus on Maelstrom Pulse has been coming up so infrequently that I think that card, at least, should likely be another Trophy.
I could babble some more about the deck, I suppose, but I won’t. Instead I will say bye-bye. Bye-bye!
submitted by pbrawlings