The New Faces of the Swarm: Modern Neo-Jund, BUG & Junk – Spread the Sickness by Grant Hislop
So, since the last time I wrote, Bloodbraid Elf got banned. Regardless of whether or not I agree with the bannings, it happened. I understand why, in some respects, but I have to say I think they banned the wrong card if they wanted to stop people Jund’ing.
Here’s the thing; Bloodbraid Elf was never the best card in Jund. The Golgari core of Deathrite Shaman, Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, Abrupt Decay and the discard package, including Liliana of the Veil were what held the deck together, and were functionally the most powerful engine in Modern, providing disruption backed up with a fast clock, ala traditional Rock decks of old. With the majority of decks in Modern leaning towards mid-range and combo tendencies, Jund’s place as the best mid-range deck stapled its place at the top of the format, as it’s very tough for most combo decks to win when you’ve stripped two or three of their key cards at opportune moments and are beating them with a two mana 4/5 and/or drawing two cards a turn.
Bloodbraid Elf slotted into that shell nicely, as an additional way to get some card advantage in the Golgari shell, rather than just relying on Dark Confidant as a way to break parity. The nature of the card caused massive swings, which some people found frustrating to play against, and admittedly, it was probably a bit too good. For me,casting a card like Bloodbraid Elf was like having a girlfriend who looks like Krysten Ritter with a septum piercing, lots of tattoos and a complete disregard for her own anal integrity- it’s just the total package, but you don’t NEED all those things.
The swings generated by Bloodbraid Elf were the stuff of legend. Tales of cascades filled tournament halls up and down the country, and the ill-will towards the little four-drop that could, steadily increased over time, to almost Jace and Faerie levels, and in the end, while it could easily be argued that the wrong call was made, Wizards were left with little choice other than to ban it. Public perception is everything, especially in a burgeoning format, and one which we’re throwing at pros, semi-pros and PTQ’ers alike for a few months a year, a couple of Grand Prix and a Pro Tour, and challenging them to break it.
In my opinion, the reason that Jund enjoyed the success it did was largely down to laziness. It was a deck that was relatively easy to play, was forgiving, mulliganed very well, and was easy to pick up and play competently, requiring little prior knowledge of the deck, and indeed the format in general. Again, the disruption plus clock nature of the deck meant that there were few out-and-out terrible matchups, as few decks could withstand their best cards being ripped from their hands systematically every couple of turns. As I’ve said before, to me, Jund was like playing Limited; You attacked, you blocked, and you killed their guys. These were all skills that most Magic players should really have down by now.
Jund was always over-represented for its power level, and now that it’s gone, perhaps the format opens up a bit. Whether or not it opens up in a way that players like is a different question… In old standard, where Bloodbraid Elf was king, he was the only thing that stopped Jace, the Mindsculptor running roughshod over the environment. This could very much be a case of ‘out of the frying pan and into the fire’, where the cure is worse than the disease. The logical step for the format is a rise in Blue decks, and in my experience, if there’s something that casual players like less than a Bloodbraid Elf, it’s getting their spells countered…
Anyway, the Jund deck isn’t dead, just part of it. This now opens up the format a little, in that there will be less swings from the mid-range decks, people who weren’t especially invested in the deck can find something else to play with, and decks that were kept in check only by Jund’s prevalence may come sneaking out of the woodwork. Nivmagus Elemental, I’m looking at you….
Personally, I put a lot of work into Jund, so I’m not quite ready to sell my house on the Blackcleave Cliffs for a beach property on the Seachrome Coast quite yet. Even if I’m not going to be Junding people anymore, I have a lot of faith in the Golgari core of the deck, so my intention for the remainder of this article is to focus on the other three colours, and what they could potentially add to the deck.
Firstly, we take a look at the new version of Jund.
This should look relatively familiar to anyone who’s played Modern recently. The shell is all here, and we’ve promoted some of the traditional sideboard cards into the main deck, largely to try them out, and see if any of them deserve to be a straight swap for Bloodbraid. I’m guessing not, so we’ll mix it up, and give ourselves the opportunity to draw the perfect card at the perfect moment.
I like the way the red cards, like Lightning Bolt and Terminate complement the Golgari shell, and, full disclosure, this is my preferred starting point in the slightly new environment. I want to make sure that the deck that I’ve worked on so much is actually dead before I move away from it.
The sideboard is largely theoretical, to combat what I expect the format to look like. Another bonus with Jund was that sideboarding was typically very easy. Discard out vs everything that’s not combo, more removal and trumps in the fair deck mirrors, some semblance of mana denial vs the big mana decks etc, and this sideboard is an extension of that.
The next option would be to eschew the red cards for blue ones, and possibly attempt a port of legacy BUG into modern, moving to a more tempo based strategy than previous. An example of which made Top 8 at GP Lyon in the hands of a gentleman named Mathieu Hautot a few months ago, before disappearing without any sort of fanfare.
His list was:-
As you can see, in spite of the shift in colours, the deck looks very similar to the old Jund decks. If I had to guess, I’d say that the permission and Vendilion Cliques made the combo matches easier, while weakening the deck against aggro and midrange strategies.
The sideboard is obviously somewhat antiquated, though the logic discussed above remains true – we’ll see mirror trumps, mana denial, and some more permission in lieu of additional discard. I’d be inclined to switch up the Threads of Disloyalty in the maindeck for the third Liliana of the Veil, but other than that, this deck looks pretty good to me as is.
The Snapcaster Mages are probably the most direct comparison to Bloodbraid Elf, providing value out of a second card, and one that is more reliable. Haste isn’t as good as Flash, but two power is considerably less than three. Rebuying a kill-spell, or a second shot at a Duress or an Inquisition of Kozilek seems like it’ll be very good at stunting a combo player’s development in the early game. I wonder what caused Mr Hautot to only play three Snapcasters? Seventeen spells are easily enough to justify the full four, so that’s what I’d look to do, were I to pick up this deck.
I’m also pretty greedy, so I’d probably attempt to turn the Tectonic Edges into Treetop Villages or Faerie Conclaves, as I loves me some man-lands, and it doesn’t look like this deck is especially vulnerable to opposing ones.
Our last option today would be to pair White cards with the Golgari shell, in a colour combination typically referred to as ‘Junk’.
That might look something like:-
Again, the sideboard logic seems in place here. Fair deck trumps, combo hate, graveyard hosers. This deck seems to ignore the mana denial plan in a way, but uses Stony Silence as its trump for the big-mana decks like Tron, not to mention being pretty spicy vs Affinity, which is always nice.
I really like Hero of Bladehold in the current format. It dodges Abrupt Decay, Lightning Bolt, Electrolyze and most of the other commonly played removal spells in the format, and provides a game winning one-woman army all by herself.
This colour combination is a personal favourite of mine, so I’ll definitely look at exploring this in more depth in the near future.
I’m not really a fan of Doran, the Siege Tower in this deck, as I don’t think Jund was ever in the market for Tarmogoyf’s five through eight, which is essentially what they would be, and I don’t think there’s enough upside to Knight of the Reliquary with Deathrite Shaman so omni-present. This deck looks like a reasonable facsimile of old Jund, maintaining the old play style of the deck, with some logical replacements for the previously banned cards. It’ll be interesting to see how this one plays out.
There are clearly plenty of different options for building our midrange decks now, and I would be happy enough to try any of these three out were there a tournament tomorrow, and as such, I suppose the bannings have had the desired effect. Time will tell though if this is good for the health of the format as a whole or not. I enjoyed old Modern quite a bit, though I think it’s struggled a bit to gain widespread acceptance by the community as a whole. Hopefully these bans change that, regardless of my personal feelings.
Stay classy mtgUK,