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Modern Mastery: Down With the Sickness

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

This week we start to seriously look at the decklists from the recent PT, and try to put some of it into action. We made some changes to our Jund list to try some of the sweet tech that was on display, namely Deathrite Shaman. Shaman is an interesting addition because it offers both powerful upsides and downsides.

Shaman offers a valuable trifecta of abilities. Ramping to your powerful cards a turn early is huge value for a fair deck like Jund, and the ability to cast spells under Blood Moon or pay for off-color pacts is big game. Having options to interact with both spells and creatures in the graveyard also can be useful in a format with graveyard All-Stars like Snapcaster Mage and Kitchen Finks. Shaman also helps provide lifegain missing in our list because it uses Geralf’s Messenger over Kitchen Finks, or it helps reduce our opponent’s life totals.

All of these things seem very positive until you consider the monster drawback. Cascading into Deathrite Shaman will make you want to weep openly. I also made slight concessions to the manabase to maximize the impact of the Shaman’s mana ability. Out went the filterlands (mostly) and in came more fetchlands.

After the dust cleared, here was the list:

My testing partner this week would be none other than Justin Deuewel-Zanheiser (@justin_DZ), an editor at LegitMTG. He was going to pilot his UG Infect deck, which was supposedly one of the worst matchups for Jund despite my previous success against it. Here’s the list:

I was excited to play against it, and boy did we ever. Here are the matches:

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So … That wasn’t so good.

My initial strategy was to attack high-yield spells with my discard and use Bolts and Terminates with impunity. I was sideboarding in the Pyroclasms, Ancient Grudges and Abrupt Decay to increase the yield of my removal spells, and taking out cards that were either too slow, or of less use. Initially that was Lilianas and Messengers, but after closer inspection I found Bolts were useless if not used on my turn. And Abrupt Decay STILL can’t kill an Inkmoth Nexus. Pyroclasm was absolutely useless and Liliana of the Veil’s discard ability actually was pretty good.

I still fared very badly, and resigned myself to go back to the drawing board. Justin provided some wonderful insight on how I should approach the matchup by talking about what cards are the scariest from his end. I went back to the tank and made a couple of changes, resulting in this:

Back to business

After discussion with Justin, we felt Blightning was an excellent tool to use against Infect. As Justin pointed out, it’s often “Gain 16 life and deal three damage.” (Infect is only 10 counters, and pulling two +4/+4 spells … oh, do the math!)

Slaughter Games felt terrible, and we wanted to add another discard outlet for potential Turn 1 play, so the fourth Thoughtseize and third Ancient Grudge made it into the board. Ancient Grudge is really, really good versus Inkmoth Nexus and its affinity for Affinity is well documented.

Justin stayed on the side of the good guys while we hopped into a Modern two-man event. Coincidentally, we were playing against his exact list! (Almost like I planned it or something …) Blightning really pulled its weight as expected, and I was able to force my opponent into bad positions early with my removal spells. As the game goes later, you may find yourself in situations where killing your own Geralf’s Messenger to deliver the extra two damage is correct. We missed the kill on board in Game 1 and instead gave our opponent another turn before closing the gap on the following turn. Sideboarding for this match was as follows:

+3 Ancient Grudge
+2 Abrupt Decay
+1 Thoughtseize
-3 Geralf’s Messenger
-3 Deathrite Shaman

We talked about initially cutting two Bloodbraid Elf because getting to four mana is traditionally difficult, but then we realized Deathrite Shaman is actually the trap card in the match. Your ideal turn sequence is Turn 1 discard/Bolt, Turn 2 discard and Bolt/Terminate/Dark Confidant, Turn 3 Blightning/Some combo of one- and two-drops, Turn 4 Bloodbraid Elf.

The only turn that Deathrite Shaman is good is Turn 3. On the surface, it looks like you want to ramp with it in order to speed up against the speedy infect deck. But in actuality, you are the control deck in this match. The Infect deck is designed to skip Stage 2 of a traditional magic game, going from Stage 1 directly to Stage 3 (endgame) in a turn or two. Jund still needs about three to five mana to effectively operate in Stage 2, so the acceleration gained through the Shaman is still too slow to keep pace.

It is more useful to instead maximize our mana each turn, choosing to spend it on targeted discard and removal. That will force the Infect player back into Stage 2, where our card advantage engines can propel us to victory. This plan yielded great results and got us a hard-fought and well-earned win.

Never satisfied

I noticed something important after closer examination today: I was only playing 23 lands. I’m not particularly comfortable with this fact, so I’m back to the drawing board again. I have been testing some of the other configurations, such as Kitchen Finks and Treetop Villages, but I really don’t like the effect Villages have on my manabase. The Finks have been fine, but the Villages leave a sour taste in my mouth. Most of my first three turns are important, and I have yet another relevant one-drop with the addition of Deathrite Shaman.

I have two Grand Prix Trials coming up in November, both feeding into much needed byes for Grand Prix Toronto. I will be attending as many as I can while playing a bunch of games online and in paper until then. One card that was heavily discussed on the show and will likely see extensive testing is Fulminator Mage. The card was put to excellent use at the Pro Tour and helps in some of the more troublesome matches like GR Tron, Inkmoth Nexus, and to some degree, the Jund mirror and Valakut.

This week we are running on Saturday again at 9 p.m. EST. We will test against the Zombie horde, fueled by Vengevines and piloted by none other than Jesse Smith, recently of MTGO Community Cup fame! (Most of you know him as @smi77y on Twitter.) Tune in to see us crush him terribly, and stay for the trolling him about it afterwards! As always, comments are encouraged. Leave them here or on Twitter (@mrscottymac), or email me mrscottymac@gmail.com.

Time is ticking. Time for the next gear.

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