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Deck Evolutions: Modern Jund


Decks are living, breathing, changing organisms in Magic. As new cards enter formats, old archetypes — even very strong archetypes — are forced to adapt or die. At the same time, players' knowledge of the game, its theory, and the metagame is constantly evolving and improving as well. Cards that we willingly played in our main decks yesterday seem laughable today. This evolution, both of the game and of its players, is quite interesting. Today I want to look at the evolution of one deck in specific: Modern Jund.

If one deck has become synonymous with the Modern format over the past four years, it is probably Jund. Although it didn't put up an impressive performance in the first ever major Modern event (Pro Tour Philidelphia in 2011), it was played from the beginning of the format and had its coming out party soon after at Worlds in November 2011. To understand the evolution of Jund in Modern, we need to look at its origins. For this we need to go back even further, to Shards of Alara Standard. 

Average CMC: 1.76

While maybe a notch below all-time great Standard decks, there is no doubt Jund was the best deck in its respective Standard format. As you can see from the list, it gets to play a manabase that consists primarily of fetchlands and manlands (making it a few shocks way from being a Modern manabase), while the rest of the deck is built to be a 2-for-1 machine. Apart from Putrid Leech which is just a 4/4 for two mana, every other creature in the deck is either a straight up 2-for-1 or creates the potential for a 2-for-1. Bloodbraid Elf was always a two-for-one, and hitting Blightning, Sprouting Thrinax, and even Maelstrom Pulse offer 3-for-1 potential. Broodmate Dragon generated two massive flying bodies and Siege-Gang Commander offered a ton of damage if left unchecked, or at the very least made combat miserable for an opponent thanks to its activated ability. 

While the larger card pool offered by Modern offered more possibilities for the deck, the theory of the deck remained the same with the introduction of the Modern format: Play the best, most efficient threats that green and black have to offer, throw in the removal from red, run as many 2-for-1's as possible, have answers to everything and grind your opponent down with an endless stream of card advantage. 

The earliest version of Modern Jund was very similar to Standard Jund. The creature base was exactly the same with the exception of Tarmogoyf replacing Broodmate Dragon and Siege-Gang Commander; threats that were great in Standard, but too expensive for the fast Modern format full of various Zoo and Twin decks. The biggest addition to the deck was another grindy source of card advantage: the Punishing Fire/Grove of the Burnwillows combo. For the low cost of just of three slots in the deck, Jund players now had an infinite source of damage in the late game. 

Maybe more interesting were the cards not in the deck. Dark Confidant was nowhere to be seen in the 75. Liliana of the Veil (which, to be fair was just printed in Innistrad a month before the event) was a one-of. While a full set of Thoughtseize appeared in the sideboard, the maindeck discard was Rise / /Fall, which is basically the worst Hymn to Tourach ever printed. Plus the "Rise" half of the card required the deck to play a copy of Watery Grave, further weakening the strategy to Blood Moon. This version of Modern Jund didn't last long, however, since the first wave of bannings was targetted towards Jund.

Major Additions: Tarmogoyf, Punishing Fire, Treetop Village, and Rise // Fall

Major Subtractions: Broodmate Dragon, Siege-Gang Commander, Garruk Wildspeaker, and Lavaclaw Reaches

Average CMC: 1.33

In December 2011 Punishing Fire was banned in Modern because the combo with Grove of the Burnwillows was too consistent and reliable. Wizards felt it was keeping tribal decks (which often rely on two-toughness lords) out of the format. The first post-Punishing Fire Jund lists probably look quite familiar; the archetype started to evolve towards its present day form. With Punishing Fire gone, the power of cascading into Liliana of the Veil quickly became apparent. One of the most noticeable changes in the deck was upping the planeswalker count to three. Players also started to figure out the discard package. While the debate between Inquisition of Kozilek and Thoughtseize remains to this day (and is heavily influenced by the metagame itself), players realized that getting the one right card from their opponent's hand was much more important than getting one or two random cards. So naturally the underpowered and inconsistent two-mana discard spells like Rise // Fall were cut. 

Maybe most importantly, Dark Confidant was adapted as a four-of in the slot formerly occupied by the aggressive, but not always game-breaking Putrid Leech. The ability to play eight potentially game-winning threats (Dark Confidant and Tarmogoyf) on turn two quickly became one of the hallmarks of the Modern Jund deck.

Major Additions: Dark Confidant. Jund Charm, Terminate, Inquisition of Kozilek, and more Liliana of the Veil.

Major Subtractions: Punishing Fire, Grove of the Burnwillows, Sprouting Thiranx, Rise // Fall and Blightning

Average CMC: 1.33

This build of Jund never caught on, but I figured it was worth highlighting because it goes to show just how powerful the Jund deck really is. Mattia Rizzi made the top eight of a 196 player PTQ in Italy by removing two of the best cards in the deck (Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant) and replacing them with three copies of Through the Breach and a single Emrakul, the Aeons Torn. While I'm sure the "gotcha" potential is high, I would imagine that nine times out of ten you end up putting a Tarmogoyf into play with Through the Breach and spent the rest of the game questioning your deck building choices. 

Major Additions: Through the Breach, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, and Eternal Witness.

Major Subtractions: Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant

Average CMC: 1.63

Remember how it took a while for Liliana of the Veil to catch on in Jund after she was printed? Well, this certainly didn't happen with Deathrite Shaman. Team ChannelFireball (and others) realized right away that being able to incidentally hate the graveyard and gain life while casting Liliana of the Veil on turn two was good and went full speed ahead with all four copies of Deathrite Shaman for their Pro Tour Return to Ravnica Jund list. The second major change to the deck, the inclusion of Geralf's Messenger, seemed strange. At first I assumed it was to beat the mirror since undying is quite strong against Liliana of the Veil, Lightning Bolt and the freshly printed Abrupt Decay (which was only a two-of in most Jund lists at that point), but it is so bad against Deathrite Shaman I don't really know what to think.

The other noticeable change was in the sideboard where we see the first appearance of Fulminator Mage. The Celestial Collonade and Tron-land killer quickly became a sideboard staple for the deck and has remained a go-to option over the past three years. 

Major Additions: Deathrite Shaman, Abrupt Decay, Geralf's Messenger, and Fulminator Mage (sideboard). 

Major Subtractions: Jund Charm, Maelstrom Pulse, and Treetop Village

Average CMC: 1.23

Even though GP Denver 2013 was Legacy, I think there is a strong argument that this event represents the peak of Modern Jund. Not only did Pat Cox come in second place at the event, but Josh Ravitz, playing Jund as well, lost in the semis. While a few vaguely Jund-esque decks had shown up in lesser Legacy tournaments over the years, GP Denver showed that Modern Jund was so good that two high level pros could directly port the deck over to Legacy (a format that is magnitudes more powerful than Modern) and have success. 

The changes they made to make their Modern decks Legacy worthy? Apart from a manabase that got to play real duals over shocks and the addition of Wasteland over the too-slow-for-Legacy Raging Ravine, the changes were actually quite minimal. The creature base was almost exactly the same as in Modern, with the only real difference being two main deck Grim Lavamancers (which do show up in Modern Jund from time to time). As for spells, the big change was the addition of three copies of Hymn to Tourach (another automatic 2-for-1) and a single Sylvan Library. All in all, discounting the mana base, the deck that put two player in the Top 4 of a Legacy GP was between four and six cards different from the deck that was crushing Modern GPs. 

Of course Wizards couldn't let Modern players have a straight-up Legacy deck, so when the next Banned and Restricted announcement came around they hit Jund again — and this time they hit it hard. 

After dominating Pro Tour Return to Ravnica, winning the next three Modern GP's, and being the deck of the tournament at the Legacy GP Denver, Wizards decided that something needed to be done about the Jund menace. This something was the banning of Bloodbraid Elf. While this raised some questions in the forums as to whether or not Jund could continue to exist, it didn't take long for people to discover that the answer was yes: Jund was still a very good deck, players just needed to be a bit more creative. 

One of the adaptations in response to the Bloodbraid Elf banning was a trend towards splashing white for Lingering SoulsAjani Vengeant, and eventually Path to Exile. The biggest issue here was the manabase (this was before the Onslaught fetches entered the format with Khans of Tarkir), but the numerous dual lands in Modern made it workable if risky, since manlands were trimmed and the deck went all the way down to two basic lands, making Blood Moon even more unbeatable. 

Taking over in the four-cmc slot vacated by Bloodbraid Elf was initially Huntmaster of the Fells, but this change was never universally accepted with everything from Thrun, the Last Troll to Olivia Voldaren popping up in this slot depending on the meta. 

Biggest Additions: The white cards and Huntmaster of the Fells

Biggest Subtractions: Bloodbraid Elf and any three drop creatures (Kitchen Finks, Geralf's Messenger, Eternal Witness). 

Average CMC: 1.26

Relative to its past success, 2013 was a poor year for Jund. Apart from GP Detroit which took place in September and featured four Jund decks in the Top 8, the number of high level finishes were minimal. The deck wasn't stagnant; it was growing and changing behind the scenes and out of the spotlight. In the end, this brought about the lowest-to-the-ground version of Jund ever to have tournament success, with the average converted manacost of the deck coming in at 1.08. 

Magic 2014 brought about two important additions. The first was Scavenging Ooze's entry into Modern. Players were already familiar with the power level of the 2-cmc threat from its performance in Legacy, so it was slotted into the Jund deck almost as soon as it was spoiled. The other addition was a bit of a surprise.

Over the course of Magic's history, Chandra has traditionally been one of the least playable planeswalkers, so when Wizards announced that M14 was going to be all about Chandra, Pyromaster, it wasn't surprising that most people took a wait and see attitude regarding her potential. Fortunately for Chandra, it didn't take long before her newest version was not only seeing play in Standard, but making Top 8's in Modern Jund as well. 

Major Additions: Scavenging Ooze and Chandra, Pyromaster

Major Subtractions: All four-CMC creatures (Huntmaster of the Fells, Olivia Voldaren, Thrun, the Last Troll

Average CMC: 1.08

Even though traditional Jund had a tough 2013, BGx decks were still putting up strong numbers based on the power of Deathrite Shaman. On preparation for the 2014 Modern Pro Tour in February, Wizards announced the banning of the one-mana pseudo-planeswalker. This lead to the absolute darkest period in the entire history of Jund in Modern, highlighted by Pro Tour Born of the Gods where only Big Z managed to perform well enough to get his list published on the mothership. 

With Deathrite Shaman gone, the deck headed in a strange direction, opting for maindeck Courser of Kruphix and Anger of the Gods along with traditional Jund staples. On paper this version of Jund was probably the worst since the days of Sprouting Thrinax and Putrid Leech. The number of two-for-ones available in the deck dropped significantly, relying on a single Maelstrom Pulse, the inconsistent Anger of the Gods, and two copies of Liliana of the Veil. Through the rest of 2014, Jund managed only two Top 8's at GPs without a single win. 

As they say, sometimes things look darkest just before the dawn. Throughout 2014, and especially towards the end of 2014 when the printing of Siege Rhino pushed BGx decks almost exclusively towards Abzan, Jund, one of the founding fathers of the Modern format, was basically left for dead. There was just very little reason to splash red anymore, and going four-color was too risky in a format very heavily influenced by Blood Moon and Tectonic Edge

The later half of Khans block however, changed the fortunes of the Jund deck for the better. First, Tasigur, the Golden Fang, a big-bodied, efficient, card-advantage generating threat was printed in Fate Reforged. Then, even more importantly, Kolaghan's Command was released in Dragons of Tarkir. While Kolaghan's Command slipped under the radar when it was printed, in hindsight it is the perfect Jund card: an automatic two-for-one with a low-opportunity costs that just so happens to hose some of the most popular decks in the Modern format. Kolaghan's Command allowed Jund to (at least to some extent) return to its roots as a deck that could relentlessly two-for-one its opponent until its efficient and powerful threats took over the game. 

Major Additions: Tasigur, the Golden Fang and Kolaghan's Command.

Major Subtractions: Courser of Kruphix

Average CMC: 1.3

Conclusion

Over the past five years Jund has come full circle, survived several bannings aimed directly for it, and is still among the most played and powerful deck in the format. And while the future is never assured, it seems a smart bet that Jund will still be gracing the top tables of GP's and Pro Tour five years from now. 

Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, options and ideas in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter (or MTGO) @SaffronOlive. 


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