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Fifty Shades of Jund

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Competitive Magic, Standard

Hurricane Sandy turned New York City upside down. My family and I got through it unscathed, but many others have lost their homes, belongings, and even loved ones. My condolences go out to those that were affected by this massive storm in any major way.

There are many faces of Jund, and I don’t like calling all Jund decks “midrange” because of how differently each build can behave. Some can heavily lean on the control side of the spectrum, utilizing cards like Garruk, Primal Hunter, Vraska the Unseen and more removal than what’s considered normal. Others can very much be a pseudo aggro deck, with cards like Wolfir Avenger, Falkenrath Aristocrat and Strangleroot Geist.

While this is intended to be a general guide, it’s ultimately your decision on where you go with this (or any) deck. Not everything is going to be correct. The format is ever-changing, and you should take your play style and the format into consideration when building, playing or tweaking anything. Find what works for you.

The Jund archetype plays some of the most efficient and high-end powerful cards in the format. High-end cards are those that are strong on curve, but only get better as games go longer. These cards include, but aren’t limited to, Olivia Voldaren, Huntmaster of the Fells, Kessig Wolf Run and Rakdos’s Return. Jund also packs a lot of removal, which can enable grindy games that eventually go in your favor because of the aforementioned high-end cards.

The archetype can also reward tight play. Even though by it’s nature you’re essentially a one-for-one deck, you can’t just play your spells for the sake of playing them. Knowing how to sequence your plays can help you gain even the slightest advantages, and slight advantages add up over the course of a tournament.

Jund also has access to Rakdos Keyrune, the best keyrune of the cycle by far. A 3/1 first-striking mana producer is great on both offense, defense, and special teams (Yeah, I went there). You can hold off Thragtusks, enable a turn-four Thragtusk, shut down a ton of creatures in dedicated aggro decks, and give yourself a prioritized aggro game. The keyrunes also excel in Jund because of Kessig Wolf Run, so you can push through even more first strike or deathtouch damage.

Nothing is perfect

Jund’s ability to adapt to how other decks attack is probably the most important of its strengths. It doesn’t feel like this archetype has any really bad matchups unless you stumble. Unfortunately, this is a huge issue with the deck, no matter what build you’re running. Although Jund does play very powerful individual cards, it’s not the most synergistic deck in the world. You’ll often find yourself in very clunky situations. Jund doesn’t have a hard sweeper effect like Supreme Verdict and Teminus. Bonfire of the Damned is a card, but you have to put in a lot of work to hardcast it profitably. The current aggro decks in the format don’t give you a lot of breathing room, and trying to rely on a Bonfire can be a losing proposition sans a miracle.┬áMissing a land drop can be a lot more punishing for this deck than it can be for other midrange or control decks. This is part of the reason why most builds play Farseek and Keyrunes. The card-drawing options aren’t very plentiful in Jund, either. Underworld Connections is generally considered the best one, but it’s no Sphinx’s Revelation or Jace, Architect of Thought.

You can often find yourself expending all of your resources before your opponent in grindy matchups. You may also have difficulty finding the resources you’re looking for in time against the faster creature decks. The cards that help you find said resources aren’t very good against these faster decks either. Underworld Connections, for example, is pretty embarrassing to cast when you’re staring down a Loxodon Smiter and Wolfir Silverheart. Geist of Saint Traft is particularly strong against us, and generally demands an answer as soon as he resolves. The answers to Geist, while obvious, cause us to sacrifice another major part of our game. Liliana of the Veil is incredibly awkward against green/white decks because of Loxodon Smiter, and is generally weak against the swarming aggro decks. Barter in Blood doesn’t play very nicely with our own creatures (although they work very well with keyrunes), and Tribute to Hunger is arguably worse than Liliana.

Firm foundation

Overcoming these issues can take practice and tuning, but it definitely can be done. Between the super-powerful core cards and the vast array of support, you can adjust accordingly and make up for these weaknesses with tight play and proper building.

There aren’t a great number of core cards, but these are generally accepted as auto-includes:

4 Thragtusk
3-4 Huntmaster of the Fells
2-4 Olivia Voldaren
4 Farseek
2-4 Rakdos Keyrune
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Blood Crypt
3-4 Woodland Cemetery

After this, it’s really up to what where you’re trying to go with the build. Thragtusk is generally agreed upon as the best creature in the format. Huntmaster of the Fells and Olivia Voldaren are the best four-drops you can play and both of them are easily capable of taking over the game (Olivia moreso than Huntmaster). Farseek doesn’t seem like it does much more than ramp and fix your mana, but phases of the game can often be decided by this spell. Getting into your endgame before your opponent is huge in a deck like this, especially when you have so many spells that can impede your opponent’s progress.

If you noticed, I do not have Pillar of Flame on that list. Pillar of Flame was generally accepted as a staple red removal spell that makes your life against aggro decks much easier. With aggro decks underperforming, however, you can now get away with playing less Pillars. Rakdos Keyrune is a highly flexible card that fills a plethora of roles. Overgrown Tomb and Blood Crypt don’t need much explanation. They make the rest of your lands enter the battlefield untapped, and there’s no reason to ever run less than the full sets. Woodland Cemetery is also a staple, but some builds can opt to shave one for an untapped land if their curve demands it.

There’s a pretty large number of cards that are direct supporters of the main core. The most common ones are:

Bonfire of the Damned
Pillar of Flame
Dead Weight
Abrupt Decay
Dreadbore
Mizzium Mortars
Rakdos’s Return
Searing Spear
Ultimate Price
Liliana of the Veil
Underworld Connections
Vampire Nighthawk
Sever the Bloodline

Different directions

It goes without saying that you won’t see all of these cards in a single list. But all of these have applications. Let’s take a look at some lists to get a better perspective of how each build can potentially perform, and to get a better grasp of the archetype.

This is a fairly straightforward version of the midrange build, utilizing the efficient and effective Dreadbore and Mizzium Mortars as removal, along with Abrupt Decay to catch even more cheap, problematic threats. More recent Jund builds have maindecked Rakdos’s Return because of how backbreaking it can be against control decks despite how underwhelming it tends to be against aggro decks. I expect this to be a continuing trend. Sever the Bloodline is a great way of dealing with nut draws from aggro decks, Entreat the Angels, and other problematic creatures unconditionally. This particular build opts to run Evolving Wilds to make their already powerful sideboard Deathrite Shamans better. This is a very small edge, but it’s something that’s definitely worth considering when building with sideboards in mind. As with any midrange build, you’ll have the problem of having the wrong cards at the wrong time, so be weary of that if you’re going to go with something like this.

If you want to be more aggressive, then this may be more your style:

This is a much more aggressive approach, and one I can get behind. Charles takes one of the shallow dimensions of the archetype and completely overhauls it. While it doesn’t have the explosiveness of a Zombies build, it definitely has the staying power. Four Wolfir Avengers and four Strangleroot Geists help end games much quicker than most midrange decks are capable, while still having access to the removal and utility of most Jund builds. This goes without saying that your creatures are incredibly resilient, and generally larger than the early threats that most aggro decks currently play. The single Falkenrath Aristocrat is a very nice touch as well. You generally can’t afford to play two because of curve considerations, but the one fits the goal of this build much better than a fourth Olivia or second Rakdos’s Return. Overall, it’s a very nice way to go about building an aggressive version, and I’d highly recommend starting here.

Another way to go about building Jund is to ignore all of the “small talk”, and just go big.

If you just want to rip peoples faces off with ridiculously large Rakdos’s Returns, then this is the build for you. Craig decided to go up to seven keyrunes, maximizing not only his beatdown potential in control matchups, but his ability to hardcast a respectable Bonfire of the Damned. Having access to so many keyrunes allows a much more stable manabase, as well as improving the already solid Kessig Wolf Run. Garruk, Primal Hunter makes an appearance here, because why the heck not? If you’re going to go big, then big Garruk is exactly what you want to be doing, especially following a Thragtusk or considerable Wolf Run activation. As a ramp player by nature, this build excites me the most, and is well equipped to slay the different flavors of control in the current format.

What if you want to be as grindy as possible? What if you want to just run your opponent into the ground?

A powerful lineup of planeswalkers, a large removal suite, and a “rock”-esque feel to it to boot. Nick wants to attrition the crap out of his opponent with this build, and it’s going to be hard to fight through the 18 removal spells it contains. Once again, the numbers that were chosen seem very thought out to me. The single Vraska the Unseen will perform much better than both the third Liliana of the Veil and the third Garruk Relentless, and the one Abrupt Decay is a great way to cover the things that any of the other removal spells may miss. Three Mizzium Mortars may seem excessive, but it’s pretty affordable here due to less emphasis on Olivia, keyrunes, and Wolf Run, and more on planeswalkers and bringing the game to a complete halt before powering through.

Thundermaw Hellkite has been making waves recently, mostly in the UWR tempo decks. Jund is more than capable of adapting this strategy, as the super fast and powerful dragon is good enough to incorporate into this strategy, without losing much of anything.

Olivia Voldaren is exactly the kind of card that helps you gain those small, incremental advantages. I do think the fourth Olivia gets the nod over the fourth Huntmaster of the Fells. Huntmaster is decent to below average in control matchups, and pretty good in creature matchups, where as Olivia is ridiculously good in creature matchups, and pretty good against control. Playing five keyrunes is right about where I want to be, since I mostly use my keyrunes as utility more than anything. I feel that my Farseeks are a bit more potent here as well, since my Underworld Connections can go on an untapped land the turn after a Farseek. The only post-Farseek play that’s more powerful than that is landing an Olivia. I’d really like to play a third Connections, but it’s pretty lackluster against aggro when you’re attempting to stabilize.

The three/two split of Bonfire of the Damned and Mizzium Mortars feels fine for now, but I may switch to a fourth Bonfire. This is because it’s very easy to set up a Bonfire for two, while overloading Mizzium Mortars can often come a turn too late. Casting Mortars normally isn’t very impressive either, since I have so many ways of killing creatures already. Rakdos’s Return has gone from “nice to have once in a while” to “essential in every non-aggro matchup.” Dreadbore doesn’t do anything pretty, but it fits the “hard spot removal” spell just right. Three may be one too many, and I can see adding a Murder or Ultimate Price in its place.

In the sideboard, Deathrite Shaman is a great way to cover your Zombie and reanimator matchups. Gaining life while blanking Gravecrawlers and Undying and Scavenge is huge. Being able to get rid of the reanimation tools makes it easier to run your discard spells against the Rites decks. You can also bring it in against any hyper-aggressive deck, like monored. Most of their deck involves creatures that can easily be removed, and they pretty much need to deal with it as soon as it hits the board. If they do kill it, we just spent one mana to gain two to three life, which is definitely worth it. If they don’t, then we can put the game out of reach fairly quickly once we reach Huntmaster or Thragtusk mana. Thundermaw Hellkite is great against token-based decks, and is a much faster way of ending the game against control decks than Huntmaster is. It’s also very good against planeswalkers, and can one-up an Olivia for at least a turn as well.

Liliana of the Veil, Duress and the third Rakdos’s Return is a heavy hedge toward control and midrange. Liliana is also a broader removal spell against non G/W aggro decks. She isn’t the worst against G/W aggro, even if they do have Loxodon Smiter, but it can get really awkward if you can’t back her up with something following the Smiter. Generally, you can edict your opponent first, then discard. This way, if they do have the Smiter, you can kill it on the spot.

Barter in Blood is as close to a cheap wrath effect as we can get, and is a great way of fighting Geist of Saint Traft, along with many other aggro strategies. Blasphemous Act is a viable option, but being able to consistently Turn 3 or 4 Barter makes it a bit more reliable. Underworld Connections is just an absurd card to bring in against anything that isn’t trying to kill you quickly. The life loss hasn’t felt super relevant in my experience, mostly because of how much lifegain is in the 75. This has been the best card for combating control decks for me, as you can keep up with their Jaces and Sphinx’s Revelations with ease.

Here’s one last version of Jund that opens up a new angle of utility:

This particular build uses Deathrite Shaman not only as a hedge against graveyard-based decks, but Farseeks five through eight when paired with Evolving Wilds. Having acceleration is so important for this archetype, and being able to play more without setting your primary plan back seems powerful. This build is completely untested, but it’s definitely an interesting step in a new direction for Jund.

The Standard format is ever-changing, but I’m very confident that Jund is here to stay. If you’re looking to get into a flexible archetype that is highly customizable, then Jund is where it’s at. I’ll be working on this archetype for the long haul, and as always, I’m open to suggestions and recommendations.

For you Modern lovers, here’s a bonus list. I haven’t played much Modern recently, but I really like how this list utilizes a lot of cards that are very well-positioned.

Thanks for reading!

~Firebranded
Twitter: @Aulowry

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