As I drove home alone, there were only a few things I could think about:
“I just won Pennsylvania States!”
“Wow, I made Top 8 of States four years in a row!”
“I’m glad I chose Jund again!”
It had been a very long and frustrating couple of weeks because I’ve had a bit of an identity crisis about what to play in Standard. I tested this Blue Jund list for about a week before finding I couldn’t beat normal Jund. In about eight games against Jund, I think I won two, which was pretty dismal. I also tested against Naya Midrange and won one out of the four games we played, with the win being very, very close to a loss.
Blue Jund by Josh Milliken
Then I moved on to this Gruul Aggro deck that splashes white, but it wouldn’t perform. I went 1-2 in a small local tournament, with the one win being against an Esper deck that did nothing for roughly 10 turns. After Round 3, I went on tilt and dropped.
Gruul Aggro by Josh Milliken
After I dropped, I played a few games against a friend with Jund, and it felt glorious to be playing it again. It took a few days to hammer out a functional sideboard that still beat Reanimator. I was now back to my old standby of Jund, and while it didn’t perform exactly as I needed, that was mostly due to pilot error.
I ended up with a 5-3 record in the Pittsburgh SCG Classic with my losses to Naya Blitz and two Reanimator decks. I had four sideboard cards for Reanimator that didn’t perform as I had anticipated, so now it was back to the drawing board. This was the original sideboard I ran at SCG Pittsburgh:
The Acidic Slimes just weren’t pulling their weight, and I needed something to stop losing to Angel of Serenity while also being acceptable against the Jund mirror. I ran through a lot of ideas, but there was only one that felt right. This is where I ended up for Pennsylvania States.
Jund by Josh MIlliken, First at Pennsylvania States
It was the Friday before States and I actually had the night off from work, so I decided to run Jund through its paces at FNM. It turned out that it was not my night; I went 1-2 drop but did not question my decision to play Jund for States. I lost to Reanimator, but felt like I made a couple of bad decisions that cost me that match. My other loss was to a Naya Midrange deck; in Game 2, I had mulliganed to three, and in Game 3 I just needed a fifth land to start casting a stream of Thragtusks but that didn’t come in time.
And now the real reason you’re reading what I have to say, and the reason I’m writing this article. At times I got pretty lucky over the course of this tournament, but I also played to my outs when I could and tried to make good mulligan decisions. If you don’t throw back the bad hands with this deck you just won’t win, and that’s something I had to learn again over the last couple weeks.
Round 1 — RUG Flash
I lost to an endless stream of counterspells and removal in Game 1, and was barely able to muster a defense. In Game 2, I started dropping Huntmaster of the Fells onto the board like it was my job, and he wasn’t able to keep up with the pressure. I kept an awkward hand in Game 3 and he flashed a creature in on while I floundered about trying to stay alive.
I was pretty disappointed after this match, and had to get something to eat and mellow out a bit. I really felt favored against RUG Flash, but bad beats happen and I forced myself to get over it.
Record: 0-1 (1-2)
Round 2 — U/W Delver
In Game 1 he started on the play and countered my Turn 3 Thragtusk. Apparently that didn’t matter because I was able to land a Huntmaster of the Fells and later an Olivia Voldaren to start eating his creatures. Game 2 was just brutal; I landed an early Liliana of the Veil and began to eat away at his hand while dropping some Huntmaster of the Fells to keep the pressure on. He only hit the cantrip portion of his deck and lost pretty quickly.
Record: 1-1 (3-2)
Round 3 — Junk Aggro
He started on the play in Game 1 and cast a Voice of Resurgences on Turns 2 and 3, but luckily I was ramping into Thragtusks and removal to stay alive. He flashed in a couple Advent of the Wurms and I was stuck trying to hold him off while waiting for removal. Luckily he ran out of gas while I just kept killing everything in sight. In Game 2, I held him off with a Turn 3 Vampire Nighthawk, which took over the game long enough to get him struggling for answers.
Record: 2-1 (5-2)
Round 4 — RUG Delver
I saw on Twitter that I was paired against Jonathan Richmond (@norbert88) and knew he was on Delver of some kind because we reguarly converse. So I started thinking about how funny Curse of Death’s Hold was going to be against him. In Game 1, I started chucking Huntmaster of the Fells and removal at him and his army of small creatures, which was a nightmare for his deck. While we sideboarded, I jokingly told him he’s going to cry if I resolved one card in particular; that told him I was referring to Curse of Death’s Hold.
He started off Game 2 with a Quirion Dryad, but I killed it immediately. He said I could have left it on the board for a while, but I said I wasn’t having any of those shenanigans. I then starting casting what would be the first of three Ground Seals that ended up on the field to make his Snapcaster Mages useless. I decided to try to get any counterspells out of his hand with a Thragtusk, and when he countered it I decided to try for a Curse of Death’s Hold the next turn. I managed to resolve it, and and now he didn’t have any creatures that could attack without a Runechanter’s Pike equipped. I made pretty short work of him from there.
Record: 3-1 (7-2)
Round 5 — Jund
I was running in good position Game 1 until he cast a Deadbridge Chant, and he put me out of the game on the first try with a returned Olivia Voldaren. I was running behind and trying to keep up in Game 2, and when he tapped out for a Bonfire of the Damned to hit only me, I responded with Thragtusk and Sire of Insanity on my turn. I already had a Kessig Wolf Run in the mix, so he conceded on the spot. We both stalled on mana in Game 3, but I drew a Farseek and went from three to five lands on my next turn. Then I cast a Thragtusk every turn until he died.
Record: 4-1 (9-3)
Round 6 — Gruul Aggro
I started off with a Farseek to his Stromkirk Noble, and he added a bunch of stuff to the board but was stopped by a Thragtusk into an overloaded Mizzium Mortars. In Game 2, he got off to a pretty fast start while I just cast spot removal on his Boros Reckoners and Hellriders. Eventually I cast a Thragtusk and was able to stabilize. The turn before I was about to kill him, he put me into panic mode when he cast Mark of Mutiny on my Thragtusk with me at eight; fortunately the last card in his hand was a lowly Rakdos Cackler, which I killed before swinging for the win. I had done it! Nothing short of losing to an opponent who can’t or won’t draw would keep me from making Top 8 of States four years in a row.
Record: 5-1 (11-3)
Round 7 — Reanimator
Then the pairings went up. For those that don’t know me, I always get paired down and it gets a bit frustrating.
I was on the draw for Game 1 and answered his Turn 1 Avacyn’s Pilgrim with an Arbor Elf, allowing me to cast a Turn 2 Liliana of the Veil to make him sacrifice his mana accelerator. I then cast a Turn 4 Garruk, Primal Hunter that took over the game, allowing me to coast to victory. Game 2 saw an even more oppressive Garruk, Primal Hunter hit the board, which allowed me to sit back and control the game until I won.
Now I officially had done it, making Top 8 at States four years in a row. Now I needed to win. I was tired of simply making Top 8 and losing. My friends Grayson Maxwell and Dylan Kiedrowski also made the Top 8, and when the pairings and standings were announced, I was quite surprised to see myself as the first seed. That enabled me to choose whether or not to play first throughout the entire Top 8.
Record: 6-1 (12-3)
Top 8 — Gruul Aggro
I sat down half-recognizing the name of my opponent, but was unsure of who it was until he sat down. I began laughing pretty hard when I saw it was my Round 6 opponent. He told me that he was already consigned to defeat. He got off to a very slow start in Game 1, and when I cast my first Thragtusk he immediately scooped. Game 2 was a little different because I had an awkward removal-light hand and he took me out pretty quickly.
I was a little nervous going into Game 3 because I had previously been in the position of losing to someone in the Top 8 at States after beating them in the Swiss. I shouldn’t have been so concerned. He kept another slow hand with a lot of Volcanic Strengths to put on his creatures. I two-for-oned him each time and then started dropping Thragtusks.
Record: 7-1 (14-4)
Top 4 — Jund
Dylan and I had been discussing our decks together all day, and just before this round I told him I hadn’t drawn my singleton Rakdos Keyrune all day. Of course, I followed his Turn 2 Farseek with a Turn 3 Rakdos Keyrune. His hand wasn’t nearly as good as mine, though, as I began casting Thragtusks and removal spells like crazy with the Rakdos Keyrune swinging for game. My hand was stacked in Game 2 and I started casting Thragtusks on Turn 4 while he was only able to kill one at a time and do nothing else to advance his game state.
I’m moving on to the finals. My opponent wanted the plaque, and there was no way I was going to give it up without a battle, so it was decided that we were playing it out.
Record: 8-1 (16-4)
Finals — Reanimator
I got off to a blisteringly quick start with a Garruk, Primal Hunter paired with a Kessig Wolf Run that just knocked my opponent out of Game 1 before he could get anything going due to missing a ton of land drops. I even drew nine cards with the Garruk to ensure my opponent couldn’t creep back into the game. I felt like I had Game 2 locked up when I got off to another quick start and cast Sire of Insanity, to which he played Restoration Angel. Unfortunately, I was unable to draw more removal and he cast a second Restoration Angel that allowed him to race me.
This was it. The final game to decide who gets to be the Pennsylvania state champion. While I shuffled up for this game, I felt an eerie calm come across me like I had felt in the Top 8 of the PTQ I had won. I knew I was going to win this game.
I started off with a Turn 3 Huntmaster of the Fells into Turn 4 Slaughter Games to take out all of his Restoration Angels, which felt like the only way he could possibly beat me. I hit one in his hand and saw Isolated Chapel, Isolated Chapel, Forest, Acidic Slime, Acidic Slime, Garruk, Primal Hunter. He cast a couple of Acidic Slimes that I was able to easily answer while beating down.
And that was it, I had won the tournament!
Record: 9-1 (18-5)
+4 Ground Seal, +1 Putrefy, +1 Sever the Bloodline, +2 Slaughter Games, 2 Sire of Insanity
-3 Pillar of Flame, -1 Tragic Slip, -1 Mizzium Mortars, -2 Rakdos’s Return, -3 Liliana of the Veil
No Bonfire of the Damned? How did that work for you?
I went 9-1, losing to a deck that Bonfire of the Damned is terrible against. The format has become a lot less aggressive since Dragon’s Maze was released, which makes Bonfire of the Damned much worse. For it to be good right now you have to miracle it right when you need it, or it’s just a terrible card in your deck. I had an opponent miracle Bonfire of the Damned two turns in a row against me and they did nothing but make him play badly to get in a couple of extra damage. I would rather go with more Mizzium Mortars to get the flexibility of spot removal or a sweeper.
What is Jund’s worst matchup, and how bad is it?
The worst matchup has to be Reanimator, and it’s about 50/50. June players feel they are favored, and Reanimator players feel they are favored, but it’s really just 50/50. Naya Blitz can also be bad if they draw the nuts, but if they don’t it’s pretty easy to stabilize.
Is the Gruul deck harder or easier than Naya Blitz?
We have Magic 2014 coming out soon, and Jund will most certainly get some new toys. There are a lot of exciting cards coming that have been spoiled through both official and unofficial channels, among them Liliana’s Reaver, Into the Wilds, Primeval Bounty, Scavenging Ooze, and Ratchet Bomb.
We have also not seen any mana accelerants other than Keyrunes and Cluestones in a while, which could put Jund in an awkward position once Innistrad Block and Magic 2013 rotate out of Standard. Jund will have to continue to adapt if it wants to stay competitive as new decks and cards are added to Standard, but I’m confident it will remain one of the best decks until at least the Fall rotation.
With Standard PTQ season still getting under way, I’ll be slinging some Jund out there in the trenches with everyone else. Feel free to stop by to say hello, watch me play, and even ask questions if you want. And remember I will always try to get to any questions or comments on any of my articles, so feel free to speak up.
Thank you for reading,
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