Legacy: A Good Retirement Home for Jund?

Welcome back to If it’s broken…my semi-weekly column, where, if it’s broken you are probably playing the right formats.

This week, I am going to discuss the new and recently successful Legacy port from Modern: Jund. I am also going to talk about why Jund was so successful at GP Denver, and finally, I will try to explain what conditions would be required for a Jund player to be successful again and why Legacy Jund is not a good choice for the average player.

The deck in question:

[deck title=Jund by Pat Cox]
4 Deathrite Shaman
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Dark Confidant
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Bloodbraid Elf
4 Lightning Bolt
3 Abrupt Decay
3 Hymn to Tourach
1 Sylvan Library
4 Thoughtseize
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Bloodstained Mire
3 Wooded Foothills
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wasteland
2 Bayou
3 Badlands
1 Taiga
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Swamp
3 Pyroblast
3 Engineered Plague
2 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Life from the Loam
2 Ancient Grudge
2 Duress
1 Hymn to Tourach
1 Nihil Spellbomb

For those of you familiar with the now late Modern Jund, this deck will no doubt look familiar. In fact, other than the mana base, [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card], and [card]Sylvan Library[/card], this deck is identical to traditional Jund builds in Modern. This can tell us a little bit about the matchups of this deck. Specifically, this deck is very good against the RUG and BUG Tempo decks that have been running rampant lately in Legacy.

If you look at top eights in Modern over the past few months, you will notice a lack of tempo decks, and Jund has a lot to do with that. Jund gets to run almost as many removal spells as tempo decks run threats, and many of the cards have either actual card advantage-Dark Confidant, [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card], and Bloodbraid Elf-or implicit card advantage-Deathrite Shaman, and [card]Grim Lavamancer[/card]. This matches up especially well with legacy tempo decks, which sacrifice card advantage in their main decks for card quality spells like [card]Brainstorm[/card] while at the same time running the powerful, but card disadvantageous [card]Force of Will[/card]. In a contest of one-for-ones between threats and removal spells, the Bloodbraid, Confidant, Hymn deck is likely to win out, especially when Jund’s best threats are as big as those the Tempo decks can run.

The tempo match-up aside, Jund also benefits from the move toward [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] as the removal spell of choice in controlling BUG decks and from the extensive use of Jace, the Mind Sculptor-based control that is a major slice of the metagame in Legacy. [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], is a fine removal spell, that doesn’t do anything to [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] and makes lower-casting-cost threats a little less inviting. It singlehandedly slows down aggresive decks to the extent that four-mana creatures seem viable.

As for Jace decks, we can just look to Standard for a hint how blue based control decks looked until Alara block, and as a result [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], rotated out. The Mind Sculptor practically nonexistent in the face of aggro decks running [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card] and the poor man’s [card]Hymn to Tourach[/card], [card]Blightning[/card]. Even not considering Jace specifically, it has always been the case that haste creatures, especially ones that come with built-in card advantage, are very good against most control decks. You will notice that control in Modern, is virtually nonexistent.

So given an expected GP metagame with a large share of Tempo and Control, especially at the top tables, and probably a high percentage of Dredge decks, against which this deck has some built-in help against, it seems like Jund was a very astute pick for Pat Cox. However, a few things distinguish Pat from the average player of Magic. First, he had three byes in this tournament, which, sadly, most players will not have. That means that his chances of facing odd metagame choices are much lower. Additionally, it means that he is more likely to play against pros and other folks with three byes, people who historically have favored control and tempo decks when playing Legacy. (Though who can really blame them? The pull of four [card]Brainstorm[/card]s is very strong.) Additionally, along with predicting the metagame for the tournament, notoriously difficult in a format where the most popular archetypes usually make up no more than 6-8% of the metagame, he got to face his best matchups six out of the nine rounds he actually had to play.*

So why does all this matter? After all, in Modern GPs Jund has put up very good numbers continuously, despite not always having the advantages outlined above. What is the difference maker in Legacy that made Pat Cox’s run so atypical?

I think there are two main strands that make Legacy so different from Modern. First, we have real combo decks. Now, I am sure there is someone who plays Modern who is reading this and wants to explain to me that Eggs, Twin, and the various Pod combo decks in Modern are no less powerful than Storm, Sneak and Show, Belcher, and the various two-card combinations that exist in Legacy. I am here to tell you that is simply not the case. While many decks in Modern are very powerful, none has the speed, consistency, or resiliency of a Legacy combo deck. That doesn’t mean they are horrible, but any combo deck that cannot consistently race aggro decks does not represent the same archetype as a Legacy combo deck. Jund has a good matchup against tempo decks in Legacy because it eschews counterspells for removal and slow two-for-ones. For exactly those same reasons, Jund necessarily has a worse matchup against the Combo decks. Additionally, since it is based on incremental advantage it has no way to keep up with some of the bombs available to those decks.

Consider for a moment a match I was watching at SCG Columbus between Jund and [card]High Tide[/card]. When I wandered over, the [card]High Tide[/card] player had no hand against the Jund player’s board of [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]. The [card]High Tide[/card] player drew a card, looked at his board of 4 lands and passed. The Jund player gleefully attacked and then played a second [card]Tarmogoyf[/card], representing lethal the next turn. The [card]High Tide[/card] player drew, played [card]High Tide[/card] and then [card]Time Spiral[/card], and proceeded to combo out that turn, ultimately casting [card]Blue Sun’s Zenith[/card] with X equal to approximately 80. In just two draw steps, combo went from a terrible position to a winning one. The sad thing for the Jund player, is that this isn’t just bad luck; the [card]High Tide[/card] player had [card]Brainstorm[/card]s, fetchlands, and Ponders in his graveyard, and they were not all put there because of discard spells. This is a perfect illustration of the aforementioned first problem for Jund.

The second major problem for Jund decks in Legacy is randomness. In Modern, Jund was not only a consistent deck with many good matchups, it also contained many of the most powerful plays in the format. However, in Legacy, it is at best on par with if not below the level of many decks. This means that, besides having a bad head-to-head match up with some specific powerful decks, it doesn’t cope well with decks outside of the expected metagame. It is impossible to prepare for every deck in a format that has as many as 30 decks between the first and second tier; however, when your deck maintains a high power level, it can power through some of that randomness.

Jund in particular is ill-suited to deal with random decks because, while tempo decks have [card]Force of Will[/card] as a safety net, Jund has no such protection. It instead can rely only on targeted discard in a format with four copies of [card]Brainstorm[/card] ready to hide important cards safely on the top of the deck. When a deck comes along with the unexpected, especially a strategy that is not heavily reliant upon attacking with creatures, Jund can be in trouble.

When then should we play a deck well-suited to the metagame, like Jund? I think there are two times when that is reasonable. First, when the metagame has been-likely temporarily-flattened out somewhat to exclude many decks normally played. Usually this happens when new cards are printed that drowns out some traditionally good decks as the format readjusts to presence of these cards.

This happened recently in Legacy with the huge uptick in strategies involving [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card] and [card]Abrupt Decay[/card]: BGx strategies leading up to the GP had been all over the place in Legacy top eights. Interestingly, this has already begun to correct itself with SCG San Diego and SCG Dallas having only two BGx decks between both top eights. However, when the Legacy metagame does end up in one of those perturbed states, it can be reasonable to play a deck like Jund.

Alternatively, it is reasonable to build a deck that answers the Legacy metagame when you can rise above the randomness factor with byes due to rating or winning a GPT. GPs have high concentrations of pros, who tend to adhere to a certain type of deck, and byes help ensure that our likelihood of playing against abnormal decks is greatly decreased, as they have, in all likelihood, experienced at least one loss in the first three rounds. If three byes are in your future Jund could, perhaps, be the proper metagame deck.

What this means for most of us, especially with what looks to be a lackluster set release in Gatecrash that is unlikely to affect Legacy to a great extent and no GPs for almost half a year, is a strong disincentive to play a deck like Jund. This article should also serve as a warning that, although Jund is a deck that can feel very powerful when testing for a tournament, that testing is very hard to do for a Legacy because of its diversity.

*With 14 total rounds in the tournament, 3 byes and 2 IDs at the end, that leaves only 9 rounds of playing during the tournament.