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State of the Jundion



Since we last spoke about Jund, Wizards has come a long way in terms of designing cards at common that really elevate midrange decks in the format. No doubt as a result of a closer eye given to the 60 card pauper metagame, but whenever there is a new direction in development for commons, whether limited or constructed, there is a significant bleed into pauper EDH. Over the last year, there has been a substantial improvement to the tools we midrange players have at our fingertips, culminating the truly inspired Modern Horizons released this past summer. When we last discussed Jund midrange, I wanted to use the madness mechanic as a focal point to illustrate how the archetype functions on a larger scale. This time around I want to use some of the cards we’ve seen released recently to show how all the pieces can fit together and really broaden what the archetype is capable of.


Midrange decks are defined by their ability to pivot. From one turn cycle to the next, they can play offense and defense, aggro and control. Because of the flexibility necessary to encapsulate these disparate roles in a single game, they utilize cards that specifically reflect this paradigm. The trick in building these decks for pauper EDH is recognizing which cards best fit that mold and weaving them together with the proper enablers.


Because we always need to be able to adapt to what is going on at the table, we are going to be relying on the ability to play multiple spells per turn in order to generate the necessary tempo to keep up with more streamlined decks with a more linear game plan. We can do this in three primary ways:


  1. Playing hard to the board. This could be any combination of ramping or deploying threats. This is tempo positive against each individual player, and oftentimes tempo neutral against all three opponents combined. These lines are obviously more aggressively slanted, and best used to turn the corner on longer games.

  2. Advancing your board and leaving up interaction. These sequences involve either ramping or deploying threats while maintaining the ability to interact with your opponents. These lines are the most balanced, and also the most common -- they leave you with the greatest ability to pivot strategies.

  3. Leaving up multiple interactive spells. These are your most defensive lines and are generally favorable when you are up against a combo-heavy table or you are forced into a position where you will need to be able to respond to multiple threats. These lines are at their best when you have a good idea of what to expect out of your opponents for that specific turn cycle.


This is where a lot of midrange decks can falter, and where Jund can consistently succeed. Madness is a big part of the puzzle, as we have previously discussed, but there are a number of other cards and mechanics out there that really elevate this strategy and compound on the framework that madness cards can provide.


Getting Aggressive



The ability of Jund midrange to deploy relevant threats has seen a big improvement over the last year with a number of creatures that play really well with the tools that we already had. Madness is a significant part of this archetype’s aggro plan, and we are at our most aggressive when we are able to leverage madness into multiple threats per turn. We already had Arrogant Wurm, but now we have Reckless Wurm from Ultimate Masters. We also have a brand new threat and enabler in the form of Rank Officer. This card really does hit all the notes of what we want in a deck like this. It provides two bodies for four mana, an ability that gives us some reach, and enables madness creatures to really turbocharge our aggressive turns. It is not unreasonable to cast this, discard and cast a Reckless Wurm or Arrogant Wurm, and be left with a 3/1, a 2/2, and a 4/4 trampler for seven mana spent (not to mention NOT being down a card to the Rank Officer ETB trigger). This is a huge tempo swing, and can really help us turn the corner into closing out games. Even discounting that optimal scenario, there are a lot of synergies that we can set up with that trigger, and the two bodies from the Officer alone can set up some powerful turns alongside the discard trigger.


Creatures with the unearth mechanic function in a similar capacity, and we recently saw the printing of First-Sphere Gargantua as a really great example of what these designs are capable of. On its face, we have a pretty fairly costed creature that is fine to play on-curve if you get the opportunity. However, it unearths for a significant discount and gives us the ability to line up aggressive attacks, particularly with the option to set up that unearth with the large amount of self discard and self mill we have as our best enablers. Unearth creatures shine when we are able to get a discounted rate on the back end, and when we can take advantage of the fact that these creatures gain haste when we pull them out of the graveyard. They make for really solid role-players and are perfect for when we are deploying multiple threats for an explosive turn.


Offense and Defense



For those turn cycles where you need to play to board while keeping up interaction, we need to look at different subset of spells. Obviously, undercosted creatures that provide solid stat rates are ideal if we’re trying to keep mana open. Since we’re already committed to running a lot of the infrastructure to abuse madness cards, what does the delve mechanic look like? Gurmag Angler, Hooting Mandrills, and Sultai Scavenger are three great threats for this archetype that I feel get overlooked on the virtue that they are just simple bodies without the ability to impact the game outside of attacking and blocking. For us, these are single mana threats that allow us to leave the rest of our mana up for any number of interactive elements. Efficiency is the name of the game for us, and even though these creatures don’t do much more than attack and block, they do so at such an efficient rate that we really don’t have much else to ask of them. Think of them as the closest thing we have to a Tarmogoyf. These are creatures that do a lot of legwork in terms of setting the pace of the game, and are at their best when you have removal spells to pair alongside them.


As far as removal spells go, Jund is perfectly suited to cheap and flexible removal. This is best exemplified by Terminate, the premiere catch-all removal spell available to us, but also through other cards that can utilize our graveyard as a resource to amplify their efficiency. Something like Harvest Pyre, for example, can double as a functional second Terminate, since the size of our graveyard, with proper support, becomes arbitrary. The same holds true for a more recent entry into the card pool: Magmatic Sinkhole. Sinkhole is a really great compliment to a card like Harvest Pyre because it scales on an axis of cost whereas Pyre scales on an axis of damage. Always remember that using our graveyard as a primary resource opens us up to a huge amount of potential resource advantage, so maximizing cards that can play to that resource (cards like Harvest Pyre, Gurmag Angler, et al.) are at a premium, and oftentimes allow us to play both offensively and defensively at the same time with both cheap creatures and removal.


On Interaction



Finally we have to keep in mind that there are those turn cycles where we are going to have to hold up multiple forms of interaction and pivot into a control role at the table. The fundamental dynamic at play here is that we are trying to interact with up to three other players in a single turn cycle, and it becomes taxing on resources. As far as these forms of interaction go, we need to prioritize cards that either replace themselves or generate additional value through other means. Looking back to Modern Horizons, the card Shenanigans is a pretty stellar design. It destroys only a single artifact for two mana at sorcery speed (which isn’t a particularly compelling package) but we have the option to rebuy it by putting cards into our graveyard, feeding into our primary resource while also providing a repeatable form of interaction. While most spells can’t perform in the same way that Shenanigans can, we can look to it as a collection of desirable traits to pursue in the other cards we sleeve up.


The other half of this is that we need to have cards that provide interaction, but can be repurposed if we need to swap roles. Something like Shred Memory, for example -- it’s a solid card against Drake combo, but if we don’t need to position ourselves to interact with something like that, we can cash it in to tutor for something else with its transmute ability. In the same vein we have Faerie Macabre, a personal favorite. Not only is this a fantastic graveyard hate card, but we can recur it through various means since it’s a creature rather than an instant or sorcery and provide some amount of pressure on the battlefield. Even Shenanigans can function without any legal targets, since we can find ways to discard it and utilize the dredge to put a card in our graveyard. It’s a pretty marginal application, but those sorts of things do come up and can give us things to do if our draws don’t agree with us.


The idea is simply to not have cards rotting in our hand. There are a lot of powerful, albeit narrow, interactive spells out there, but if those conditions don’t present themselves, we don’t want a spell we can’t cast profitably. Sometimes taking a hit on power level to facilitate efficiency and flexibility is the road we can’t be afraid to go down.

 

With all said and done, Jund midrange can certainly be tuned into a fringe-competitive archetype with a lot of room for customization. This is one of the best things about playing a midrange deck, after all -- you get to really put your knowledge of the card pool to the test. And now it seems as though Wizards is better positioned to give us a hand with some pretty courageous card designs for common rarity; it really is an exciting time to be a midrange player.


- Derek

@PDH_Homebase

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