Modern Time – Testing

“Is there a doctor in the train?” A woman rushes past me and stops a couple feet away, next to the man that some of the other passengers just laid down on the floor of the train car we’re in.

“What do you think is happening?” a girl whispers to boy next to her.

There are three people hunched over the man, who’s just lying on the floor, not moving. It was crowded in the train to begin with, and nobody seems to be planning to give up their seat to allow the off-duty doctors some room to work.

The train stops at the first station we get to a couple of minutes after the man went down. The three doctors are taking turns pushing down on his chest, trying to keep the blood flowing. Heart failure, then. Still no one is moving, and only by the time the doctors in uniform come in is movement brought about.

“I need everybody out, now!” barks the doctor in the bright yellow vest. People respond, finally realizing that having a seat is not the most important part of this story. I’m just outside the car, looking in through the glass door, hanging around a bit longer to see things develop.

It’s eight o’clock now, which means the man has been on the floor for well over ten minutes. I’m no doctor, but that doesn’t bode well for him. Reanimation equipment is being hooked up, and the police officers that just arrived usher everybody out of the car and, subsequently, out of the train.

Looking through the window from the outside while walking by shows a ton of wires but no more fervent movements like when the three volunteers were trying to keep the heart beating.

“He must be dead already,” I think. “Just keeping up appearances now.”

I sit down on a bench, trying to get my thoughts together. The people that were in the back of the train walk past me. They’re in a hurry, trying to get to the next train. It’s Monday morning; they’re trying to get to work. “Goddammit, there’s always something causing f****** delays,” someone says-his mood in stark contrast to the tears in the eyes of the young woman who was right in the midst of everything mere moments ago.

People die constantly. However close you are to them makes all the difference, though.

Why am I telling this story? Part of it is probably me, coping, but part of it is relevant for you too. The closer you are to something, the stronger your feelings towards that subject. That’s why I can’t recommend testing and playing with and against the decks you are considering for a tournament enough. While theory crafting gets you a starting point, there is no replacement for actual game play.

You won’t know if Jund is the deck for you if you’ve never played with it. Previous experience with similar decks might give you an idea of how likely that is, but environments change, and what felt like a good deck previously won’t necessarily feel like a good deck later. (For example, I wasn’t that big of a fan of BR Zombies in Standard when it was more popular, but I loved it during the last few weeks of Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard).

Anyway, let’s get to Magic the Gathering. In my last two articles, I looked at decks I considered playing in Modern. You can find part one here and part two here. By now, I’ve been to a couple of small tournaments, and there are a couple more to follow before the Grand Prix in Antwerp at the end of this month.

In the first tournament, I played four rounds with Jund. Sadly enough, I don’t think I hit the greatest matchups ever (RG Tron, Burn, Hexproof, and Burn), and I ended up 2-2, beating a newer player on Burn and a Hexproof player who ragequit the third game saying, “I just want to play some fun games.” Sorry, buddy, you were doomed when you decided to bring the deck you did.

Shortly after, I switched to Jund without red: BG Midrange. The general strategy is the same, which is why I didn’t mind switching after a single tournament. Obviously, switching [card]Lightning Bolt[/card]s for [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]s and moving around some numbers influences the deck’s matchup percentages, but that is not entirely important at this stage of the testing process. It’s more important to figure out how games play out and to see what is possible with a deck. I’d rather try a couple of versions to see what I like rather than stick with one (possibly bad) version of a deck.

What I Learned about Jund

[card]Tarmogoyf[/card] is still the biggest, baddest green creature around, and it’s still very good. It’s a roadblock, it’s a huge clock, and it’s cheap-you can’t ask for much more. The Jund deck in general still felt very good, which is why I wanted to try it out more after this first tournament. With all these super powerful cards, you rarely feel “out of it.” In all the games I played, I felt like I had a decent shot at winning. If I had just been a bit luckier, drawn some [card]Deathrite Shaman[/card]s and [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card]s against burn, I would’ve been more than fine. If I had just drawn that [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] to go with the [card]Rain of Tears[/card] against Tron, I would’ve had a clock to beat my opponent down before the Wurmcoils crashed the party.

That was also my biggest issue with Jund: you have all these awesome cards, and a lot of them are very versatile, but you cannot control the order you draw them. Obviously, you can’t do this in many decks, but because your deck has to have different types of cards to have game in different matchups, it sometimes feels like you don’t have control over the outcome of the games.

Let me link that to a more general problem in Modern: sideboard cards are often absurdly powerful and can almost singlehandedly shut down entire strategies. This makes for pretty miserable games of “does he draw it or not?” The problem is that you can’t control this in any way. I mean, you could mulligan, but you can’t keep shipping hands back or you’ll be out of resources way too fast, hoping to get some lucky topdecks.

Then again-now that we’re talking about topdecking-often that is exactly where Jund wants to be: in a topdeck war. When two people are trying to topdeck something good, the deck that is filled with the best cards ever printed, on top of having four or more manlands, will be winning more often than not. The general strategy Jund employs (strip opponents of threats with discard or removal; hope one of your own threats sticks; and let [card]Dark Confidant[/card] run away with the game) is a good one, punishing bad keeps and turning action-light draws from opponents into almost absolute wins.

What seems important when playing Jund is that you make a plan with what you have in hand. Focus on what matters. For example, against Burn, I could’ve run [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] out to battle with [card]Boggart Ram-Gang[/card]s and the like, but if I wanted to win, I needed that [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] to close the door quickly. I can’t get beaten down early and then give my opponent tons of time to topdeck a burn spell. Thus, I played my [card]Dark Confidant[/card] on turn two instead and kept Goyf behind until I was sure it would survive a bolt or something similar. Even when I played it, I didn’t use it to block the Ram-Gangs until I found an extra Goyf or removal for the creature.

I still lost a couple of games against Burn, which also might have to do with the amount of damage you inflict on yourself with shock duals, fetches, [card]Dark Confidant[/card]s, and so on. Burn might not be super popular, but if we could avoid taking damage from our lands, that would be great. Recently, I’ve been seeing the following variation on the BG deck online, which I like the look of quite a bit:

[deck title=BGW Midrange by settek]
[Creatures]
4 Deathrite Shaman
4 Dark Confidant
3 Scavenging Ooze
4 Tarmogoyf
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
1 Disfigure
3 Inquisition of Kozilek
3 Thoughtseize
2 Abrupt Decay
2 Dismember
4 Liliana of the Veil
4 Lingering Souls
2 Maelstrom Pulse
[/Spells]
[Lands]
1 Forest
1 Godless Shrine
4 Marsh Flats
2 Overgrown Tomb
2 Swamp
4 Tectonic Edge
1 Temple Garden
4 Treetop Village
1 Twilight Mire
4 Verdant Catacombs
[/Lands]
[Sideboard]
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
2 Deglamer
2 Stony Silence
4 Fulminator Mage
1 Sword of Light and Shadow
1 Thrun, the Last Troll
1 Batterskull
2 Fracturing Gust
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

It’s Jund, replacing [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] with [card]Lingering Souls[/card] but without having to bend the manabase as far, so we can still support [card]Tectonic Edge[/card]. Together with the [card]Fulminator Mage[/card]s, [card]Stony Silence[/card]s and the [card]Deglamer[/card]s out of the board, the Tron matchup should be a bit better at the very least.

[card]Lingering Souls[/card] does a good job at being good against creature decks and not completely dead against combo (it is a clock, after all). It’s a very good replacement of [card]Lightning Bolt[/card].

Infinite Life after Jund

Because of the previously mentioned issues, I wasn’t too happy with Jund. Getting repeatedly smashed by Tron in various events, even with the BG version of the deck (so many bad removal spells…) also left me feeling pretty sour. I wanted to be the guy doing the unfair stuff, but I also didn’t feel comfortable playing full-on combo, so I started testing the fairest of combo decks: Melira Pod.

I’ve played quite a bit of both Melira and Kiki-Pod, and thinking through Pod chains was a welcome change of pace. Every once in a while, you get into these board states where, as in a chess game, it’s a matter of finding the mate-in-two. [card]Birthing Pod[/card] does awesome things, and it’s fairly disruptive too. I especially like Andrew Cuneo’s list with access to two [card]Sin Collector[/card]s in its 75 and a [card]Blasting Station[/card] as a sacrifice outlet. These extra pieces of interaction are great in a deck like Melira Pod, where you are just putting pieces of the puzzle together until something clicks.

Overall, I felt like I wanted the minimum number of combo pieces in my deck, and as many “good cards” as I could possibly stuff in there: [card]Thoughtseize[/card] main, multiple [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], and only one of the combo pieces like Melira. I felt like I could go down to a single Melira, despite its being the namesake of the deck, because I added the [card]Archangel of Thune[/card] and [card]Spike Feeder[/card] combo, and I honestly thought it was pretty great. With them, you have combo pieces at every part of the curve, and Archangel is a better Melira on its own. You can still gain infinite life with a [card]Kitchen Finks[/card] and a sacrifice outlet, but your creatures also become enormous. The Angel can even do damage on her own, simply gaining life and growing and growing-way more exciting than a 2/2 that stops a fringe deck from working. You still want a Melira to combo with [card]Murderous Redcap[/card], but I imagine playing only one is likely correct now.

I liked playing Pod more than I liked playing Jund, but I’m still not excited about sleeving it up at the end of the month. I think it is a good deck, and it gives a player more control over the game than Jund does thanks to [card]Birthing Pod[/card] and [card]Chord of Calling[/card], but I think I should really be trying a blue deck, to see how those are positioned right now and because I traditionally like them. I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s in other formats anyway, now that they’re back in Standard.

As for you guys and gals: Seize the day, grab some thoughts, and get close enough to things to make them matter. I’ll be back soon.

Jay Lansdaal
iLansdaal on Twitter and MTGO