Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Mull to Five: Deck Tech - Jund Midrange Part 1

This is part 1 of my Jund Midrange Deck tech article. When I started writing this, I didn't think it would go overboard and be extremely long, so long in fact that it might have been unreadable and boring. I decided to just split the article in two, which also gives me an excuse not to write an article on Friday (kidding). Pardon if it doesn't feel like it was meant to be written in two parts, and I hope you would go back on Friday and read  the rest of the article.

Anyways, I hope that decision would allow you to have fun reading my article as much as I had fun writing it. Enjoy!

So I've decided on a new name. Mull to Five.

A little background on the name though, before I go to what I want to talk about. Mull is a colloquialism for the Magic the Gathering term "mulligan", which means to reshuffle your starting hand into your deck and draw one less card each time you do. Often done as a last resort when a hand doesn't have a land or has a bad mix of cards or colors, the decision to mulligan adds another dimension to competitive Magic; you get to redraw your starting hand at the cost of one extra card. While it might not be that devastating at first (and oftentimes, it's not), your opponent would still be up one card (provided he or she does not mulligan as well), meaning he or she will have more options than you.

So why "mull to five"? Well, going "mull to five" for me is the soft baseline for when you need to stop taking mulligans. Of course, there would be times when you just can't help but mulligan to four, but whenever that happens, you are already risking the outcome of the game, and very seldom do I see someone winning when that person has already mulligan-ed down to four. What am I trying to get at here? Basically, the decision to "mull to five" is one of the most difficult decisions when playing Magic, in my opinion, on par with picking your deck of choice and your card slot decisions, against whatever meta-game you are playing in or against. Which is basically what I like to talk about anyway: deck decisions and card choices.

Speaking of deck decisions and card choices, since last Friday I wasn't able to go to the FNM, I figured I'd just share one of the decks I am currently using for Standard, and the various card choices one can make should they decide to run a deck similar to mine. Bear in mind that I don't mean to include a complete deck list (you wouldn't find one in my posts), but just a rough skeleton and some arguments as to why I choose to play cards that I do. So, without further ado, I bring you...

Where Savagery and Ferocity Collide

Jund is deck named after the Shards of Alara shard that it shares colors with. Running Red, Green and Black, Jund midrange is a deck that aims to stick a huge creature earlier (earlier in a relative sense, which I would discuss later) and deal with opposing threats using cheap spot removals and mass removal spells. The deck can play bully, landing threat after unstoppable threat and winning on the back of big fatties, or play control-ish, should the need arise, dealing with opposing threats using cheap removal and acceleration to get ahead on the board. While the deck traditionally lacks any decent for of card draw, it gains a lot of virtual card advantage by getting more mana on the table earlier than most; more mana equals more things you can cast.

The deck spends its early turns casting acceleration spells like Farseek and Rakdos Keyrune, jumping from two to four mana on turn three and from three to five mana on turn four. You'd want to be dropping lands every turn as well, if possible, hence why I choose to go to twenty four to twenty five lands, even with all the acceleration. Missing a land drop is almost synonymous to missing the point when it comes to a midrange deck like Jund; try to keep that in mind when you wish to decide to mulligan or not. A hand that has two shock lands and a farseek might be good enough, but one that has three lands and a keyrune might be better, if to ensure you would be dropping lands and playing acceleration spells turn after turn.


Afterwards, the deck can choose to play offensively or defensively, depending on the match-up. Against slower aggro decks and token decks, Jund can drop Thragtusk or Olivia and completely dominate the game, gaining so much life and putting so much board presence that your aggressive opponents would not even get a chance. Against hyper aggressive aggressive decks and decks that can put you under a ton of pressure, removal spells and Huntmaster of the Fells and its Wolf buddy can buy you time and get you back in the game; the latter can even turn into a powerful threat later if left unattended. Planeswalkers add another dimension to the deck's multiple threats; Vraska can deal with permanents that get in the way and Garruk Relentless could overwhelm the opponent with his Lupine pets on his own. The deck even plays some disruption in the form of Rakdos' Return, stripping the opponent of options and nipping their life totals down to manageable levels. All this makes for a deck that has few holes and a lot of tools and options.

Of course, holes it does have. The deck struggles against American tempo decks and tempo decks that uses countermagic to stop the opponents from ever resolving threats. Since you would end up tapping out more often than not to power out your threats, you are very vulnerable to countermagic, although cards like Cavern of Souls can help mitigate this by making your creature threats uncounterable.

Still, if you are looking for a flexible deck that wins through fair beatdown and has good odds against most of the field, you can go worse than play Jund.

To get a better grip on the ins and outs of the deck, let's go through the card choices, starting with the most important...

Time to Invest on Some Real Estate!

Invest is not a euphemism of any sort. The Jund deck operates on an expensive set of lands; you cannot play Jund and not run at least eighteen to twenty dual lands, with at least two Cavern of Souls if possible. Expensive, yes, but such is the price of running a creature dependent, tri-color deck. Do not be afraid to invest on dual lands however, if you want to play Magic seriously (or even casually, heck, I don't know when it's not wise to invest on these duals). Even if you decide to change decks, or even change colors, you'd still find these lands useful in your other deck building projects. Worse comes to worst, you can sell these lands, as they'd often fetch a commanding price, prior to their rotation (and even after, in the case of the Ravnica shocklands).

Let's look at some of those dual lands, starting with the King of all Dual Lands (hint: it's not Evolving Wilds):


A set each of Return to Ravnica's relevant shock lands. The deck simply cannot function well enough without those. Both can be searched up with Farseek and would make sure that the next set of dual lands I would be talking about would never come into play tapped. Now, before I go on to those set of duals, a valid question to ask is whether to pay 2 life or not to play these lands. Fortunately, with Standard currently favoring slower decks, it's often unnecessary to pay 2 life to untap these lands on the first turn. In the later turns, it's basically determined by whether you would be using the mana on the same turn or not. 

Sometimes it's correct to play Huntmaster on turn 5 and play a tapped Blood Crypt or Overgrown Tomb; sometimes it's correct to just untap and gain 3 off of a Thragtusk. The first option nets you two life (with a potential five next turn), the second nets you 3 upfront, consider the board state and decide whether you can gain 2 life now and 5 later or you really need the 3 life (oftentimes, I pick the first option, as it can also bait out counterspells, and would net me an additional blocker and a potential 4/4 trampler later).


While certainly less expensive than their Return to Ravnica cousins, these duals are never the less necessary in making the deck work. It is imperative that you play a set each of Dragonskull Summit and Woodland Cemetery, although you may choose to play only 3 Rootbound Crags if you fear you are playing too many lands that could come into play tapped. Although that would be unlikely, given that you run 8 lands with Basic Land types on them, and probably a few true Basic Lands as well, it could still happen, especially if you choose to run some Cavern of Souls.

Along with the Basics, these lands make your first few turns a mini-game like puzzle, figuring out  how to sequence your land drops such that you are almost never playing a tapped land past the first or second turn. Especially with hands that have a pair of these lands or one of these and an off colored basic land (say a Rootbound Crag and a Swamp), you'd have to very carefully figure out how you can play your lands such that you'd be able to cast a Farseek on turn two or a Keyrune on turn three. Sometimes it's better to play a Crag, Summit or Cemetery tapped on turn 1 then play your off colored basic on turn two untapped, so you can cast a Farseek if possible, or a removal spell to deal with a pesky creature (most of your removals cost 2 to cast, so the second turn is more crucial than you might think).

Speaking of Cavern of Souls...


It seems the consensus right now among Jund players is to run 2 of these enablers, but I wouldn't think its far fetched to run 3 (4 might be stretching it however, so try at your own risk). Running 3 allows you to draw at least 1 per game in most games, and against a deck where pushing a creature through a wall of countermagic is vital, that 1 Cavern of Souls might just be your ticket to a free win.

Now, what do you name with Cavern? You wouldn't want to play this land blindly in the first place, so you would often name a creature type you already have in hand. However, when you do have to play one blind, it's often best to name Beast, to make your Thragtusk uncounterable. I've already talked about this devastating two card combo last week, and I cannot stress how strong this combination is, especially in game 1 when most people haven't boarded in their Clones or Dungeon Geists. After Beast, personally I would name Vampire, to make Olivia uncounterable. Olivia is just so strong if left on her own devices, and can turn into a veritable machine gun against 1 toughness creatures, or an interloping seductress, against creatures she couldn't kill.

If you are running Thundermaw Hellkite however, you might wanna name Dragon over Vampire sometimes (again, assuming you have to play Cavern blind). Of course, this is match-up dependent; decide on the merits of each creature and name accordingly. Olivia can win attrition games better than the Dragon, growing into a huge threat given enough mana. Thundermaw, however, can win games in a more surprising and impressive fashion, able to swoop in for five damage the turn it comes into play (and take out pesky Lingering Souls tokens too).

Either way, this next land would help you seal games, whichever creature type you pick...


Play at least 1 of this nasty land. While it does not produce any color, it's a great way to close out games. With all the mana you'd be having in the mid game, it's not unusual you'd get to pump a "lowly" Huntmaster or Keyrune for upwards of four power or more. Sometimes, even just granting trample is enough, pumping for zero. Be wary about tapping out for this land however, as players would sometimes let a 3/1 Keyrune slip through, but wouldn't hesitate to point a removal spell on a 10/1 trampling Keyrune. Try pumping only if you know your opponent does not have any way to deal with your threats, or if you are going for lethal.

The land can also be used defensively, providing a deceptively potent defensive threat alongside Keyrune's First Strike.


Ahh Basic Lands, when were you never good enough to make it to a deck. If you find yourself still lacking lands, feel free to run some basics. I recommend prioritizing Forests, then Mountains then Swamps, but keeping them as even as possible.

A word of warning however. Sometimes it is correct to play a Basic over an extra Wolf Run, or even a Rootbound Crag. Consider the fact that these lands do not come into play tapped, and does not have any drawback, and while it wouldn't be all too common to have to play these lands on the first few turns, it's still a very real possibility. Also, you'd want to have colors in your mana base, and while your most of your spells aren't that color heavy, you can still get mana screwed if you don't play enough colored lands.

How many lands should you play? Twenty four (24) is the bare minimum in my opinion, and I prefer 25 if possible. Do not go over 25 however, as you risk getting flooded. You may try going to 23, but you would be relying heavily on your acceleration, and you might find that you are dropping lands turn after turn less consistently.

So, now that we have assembled our beautiful land base, let's look at what we would be casting with these babies, starting with our acceleration suite...

More Mana! I Want More Mana!

Acceleration is the corner stone of Jund midrange. As mentioned, these cards allow you to cast your spells relatively earlier. Before I go into these cards however, I think it's right that we first define what "relatively earlier" means. See, Jund can, given the right card sequence, drop a Thragtusk a turn earlier, or an online Olivia two turns earlier than she should be. Sometimes, however, it's not how much earlier you drop a Creature or a Planeswalker in play, but how much more mana and options you still have left, even after casting said Creature or Planeswalker.

Sometimes it's all about consistency and timeliness. Nobody wants to drop a Thragtusk when it's too late for it to have any effect. Nobody wants to be stuck on two or three mana with a grip of four and five drops. Nobody wants to be staring at a zombie army with a Sever in hand but nary a Black mana source in sight. This is where Jund midrange excels the most; play your acceleration spells right and you won't be out of mana at any point in the game. I, for one, have rarely experienced being mana screwed, which is great for such a mana hungry deck like Jund!

Apart from this, it can also be intimidating for the opponent to stare at seven or eight untapped lands versus his four or five. There's just something unnerving about having an opponent that has access to more mana than you. Also, almost nobody counters a Farseek or a Rakdos Keyrune; having one get countered would either mean that you have successfully baited a counter (casting Farseek on three before dropping a land can sometimes do this), or they have countermagic to spare. They could also be bluffing or trolling, but those are rare (although sometimes I do that, you know, YOLO and what not...). Read your opponent, be mindful of the board state, and accelerate, accelerate, accelerate!


Four Farseek. Always. Farseek is extremely synergistic with the Return to Ravnica dual lands, as you can fetch any of them with Farseek. Now, the question is, which land to fetch? In my build, all of my other duals untaps to Blood Crypt, and Red is a very important color early on. I only ever need 1 Green mana early game (and even late game, Thragtusk and Huntmaster only need 1 Green each), since I don't play Abrupt Decay (more on this in a minute). Almost all my early game plays (removals, early creatures and Keyrune activations rely on having either Red or Black, which justifies my habit of prioritizing Blood Crypt over Overgrown Tomb. That said, it's bad to fall on habits, always check your hand and think about your follow up plays before picking a land to search up.

Rakdos Keyrune is your second acceleration spell. I was initially skeptical about the Keyrunes, as they are no Signets. They cost three and produce only one mana, and turn into frail creatures. But with the absence of 1 mana instant speed removal from most of standard (sure, Tragic Slip is legal, but when was the last time you've seen that card played?) and with it's First Strike ability, Rakdos Keyrune has won me over, so much so that I'm willing to play up to 3 Keyrunes in my deck. It blocks Thragtusk, it's token and Geist of Saint Traft profitably, and comboes really well with Huntmaster of the Fells, if ever you want to transform him. It gives you something to do on that turn you want to transform your Huntmaster, which means you are not wasting a turn (Planeswalkers also help in this regard, again, more on them later).

When do you attack with Keyrune? Like I said, 1 mana instant speed removal is far and few in between, and the top decks nowadays don't even play a lot of instant speed removal in the first place. Keyrune is immune to all forms of sorcery speed removal, immune to Ultimate Price, and is hard to block. Every time I'm sure my opponent would not have a way to deal with my Keyrune, and I'm not deterring a creature counter-attack, I would pretty much attack with my Keyrune. Don't forget your Wolf Run activation!

Once you've accelerated to a good amount of mana, what do you cast? Let's now talk about the threats the deck plays, starting with a card readers of my blogs have become rather familiar by now...

Enter the Monsters!

Jund plays around 11 to 15 Creatures, and around 1 to 3 Planeswalkers. All these threats provide a whole lot of value apart from being big bodies on the board. This is what makes Jund great; high quality lands lead to high quality acceleration which leads to high quality threats and answers. And what creature provides the most utility other than the ever powerful Thragtusk...


For a moment, I was considering putting 3-4 instead of a solid 4. However, playing less is really just a mistake. Thragtusk is the perfect creature for Jund midrange after all. It gives you so much options, so much utility and a huge 5/3 body to boot. Out of life and need to recover? Thragtusk. That creature pummeling you to oblivion and you need an imposing blocker? Thragtusk. Opponent playing some form of Supreme Judgement style mass removal? Thragtusk. I cannot sing any more praises to this 5 mana creature; I really cannot imagine running a Jund midrange deck without this guy, or with less than four. And now that Cavern of Souls is seeing play in more and more midrange decks (not just in Jund!), this card just rises in value even more.

That said, it's easy to misplay Thragtusk. Do not drop him if you know you are just going to eat countermagic. Countermagic nullifies whatever benefit Thragtusk can give you. If you can, wait. Wait until you can cast a Huntmaster or another Thragtusk alongside it. Accelerate until you can, and bide your time, or wait for Cavern of Souls. If you know your opponent does not have any way to deal with Thragtusk, drop him as early as you can, even if you are still at 20 life. Attack into another Thragtusk if needed, pump him up with Wolf Run if possible. Just be careful. A dead Thragtusk is a useless Thragtusk in Jund; you are not reanimator, nor are you Bant. You cannot reuse a spent Thragtusk.


I'm a big fan of running 4 Huntmasters in my Jund deck. This guy plays almost the same role as Thragtusk, providing a decent body, a bit of life, and another creature into the Battlefield. What makes Huntmaster stand out though is it's ability to transform into Ravager of the Fells, and to take out a creature (and a sizeable chunk of your opponent's life total) in the process. Plus, being a 4/4, it's out of range of Searing Spear, which is seeing quite a bit of play lately, and Trample never really hurt anybody (except your opponent that is).

Jake van Lunen had once described Huntmaster as a comeback card, and time and again it has proven to be so. When you are down in board presence, or your opponent just swept your board, there isn't any other more satisfying play than to plop down a Huntmaster and it's trusty wolf companion. There's just something about dropping two creatures in one go on the table that is just so satisfying. And it gains you two life too, and while it might not seem like a lot, it's often enough to buy you a turn or two, especially since your opponent would have to attack with more than two creatures (sans trample) if they want to get in for some damage.

When and how do you transform Huntmaster? Now that is a tricky question. Normally, I'd like to sequence my plays so that I'd have something to do when I want to transform my Huntmaster. Activate a Keyrune, or dump mana on Wolf Run, or even activate a Planeswalker ability; this way, I'm not wasting a turn just to wait for Huntmaster to transform. There would be times though when you can't do that; just don't stifle yourself just to wait for Huntmaster to transform. If you don't have any lands to drop, but you have Farseek in Hand, go ahead and cast that Farseek. If by casting Thragtusk or another threat, you would ensure your win next turn, by all means cast that threat. Remember that you don't have to transform Huntmaster if it means putting yourself in a worst position than before. Huntmaster helped you recover, don't waste his efforts trying to transform him in an inopportune time.

Now, when do you transform him back? A lot of the times, this doesn't happen to me anymore; only once have I transformed a Ravager back into Huntmaster, and let me tell you, it was extremely satisfying. Again, rule of thumb is to never stifle yourself just to transform Ravager. If its better that you hold back that removal spell, don't cast it for the sake of transforming Ravager. Think about what you want to do first, the net effect of your play once everything has been said and done, and how much more advantage you would have compared to pre-transformation. Play it cool.


Olivia, the Lady in the Black Dress, is a powerhouse and a workhorse for the Jund deck. Able to play a variety of roles, this four to cast legend is, again, an example of a true Jund creature; she can act as a machine gun removal with her first ability, steal large threats with her second ability, block flying creatures (and Geist of Saint Traft Angels!) with her sizeable (hehe) body (of course, after a few activations of her first ability), and swoop in for the win unopposed with built in evasion. Lingering souls tokens do not last long in her presence, and opposing Thragtusks can't help but switch sides.

Some games become unwinnable for your opponent with a resolved Olivia. Token match-ups or Humans aggro are examples of this. Her first ability can be really dominating, clearing the board and making sure your opponent would not be able to have a board presence. Her second ability just affirms this role for her, stealing threats to big for her to kill with her first ability.

Now, when should you use her second ability and when should you just stick to shooting? The answer is in what goal do you want to achieve and how would you best manage your mana. Remember that the Vampire type does not wear off at end of turn, so you can steal on your own turn should you wish to do that. Survey the board, consider how many creatures you need to kill, how much more power does Olivia need to win, and whether you have some ground troops you'd want to help get through. Then, look at your mana, consider all your options, and decide which option would best lead you to victory. Consider also if your opponent is sandbagging some sort of instant speed removal (Unsummon or Brimstone Volley comes to mind, or much more rarely Tragic Slip), as you wouldn't want to put all that effort into crafting the perfect plan to victory, only to have it be spoiled with one timely removal spell.

A little tip. If you want to end the game early or you just want to put a little more pressure on your opponent, you can use her first ability on your own creatures, just don't kill them. Shooting a Beast or a Wolf token (but not Garruk's Deathtouch Wolf, obviously) buffs up Olivia's stats. Lastly, if your opponent is running Olivias as well, you can use your own Olivia to legend out both, but be careful. As mentioned, you have no way of recycling creatures in your graveyard.

Now that we have tackled what I consider are the core creatures of Jund, let's look at some optional ones that would help your deck against particular decks. If your local meta-game are skewed towards some particular strategies, consider running a number of the following creatures...


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