"Just play Jund."
It was once the rallying cry of a generation of grinders. Believe it or not, there was a time in Magic where the word Jund inspired fear in people. Jund was the best deck in Standard for quite some time. Years later it was the best deck in Modern, and then eventually it dominated Standard again. I wanted to keep this chain going by saying "and then Modern once again" but that would be a lie. After Deathrite Shaman was banned, Jund has never been the best in Modern.
"Just play Jund" became a motto. When someone didn't know what to play in a tournament, you told them "just play Jund." When someone was trying to talk themselves into playing a horrific brew in a tournament, you staged an intervention to tell them to "just play Jund." "Just play Jund" took on an even bigger meaning than the literal interpretation of "register Jund in this tournament." It started to mean "just play the best deck." Sometimes just play Jund actually meant "please don't play Jund, that deck sucks, play Abzan instead." When in doubt, you could always do worse than playing whatever the Jund deck of the format was, and often you couldn't do better, either.
Well, I've done it. When it came time to register my deck for Mythic Championship VII, I followed the hallowed and ancient wisdom passed down by generation after generation of warrior sages and just played Jund. Does that mean that once again Jund has risen up to claim its throne as the best deck in Standard? Is Jund back, baby? Should we once again just play Jund?
No. No, that is not the case. You should probably not do that.
I'm not even sure the deck is good, let alone the best deck in the format. But yet I registered it anyway for Mythic Championship VII for one simple reason. I kinda like it. I enjoy the deck. I dig its style.
None of my other teammates registered it. I worked on it pretty much by myself and I'm not very good at deckbuilding, so I'm sure my deck has lots of holes and problems. But frankly, I just didn't care. I liked the deck, I've been mostly winning with it, and I'd have a great time winning with it in the tournament and wouldn't mind so much if I don't.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don't really like messing around with cute cards. I just want to play the nuts and bolts version of a deck with only the best and most impactful card choices. You can tell that I worked on this deck by myself, because it's all four-ofs of just the cards that I thought were the best. I'm sure better deck builders would have found ways to refine this list and get some impactful one or two-ofs in there, but I sure did not. Multiple times I even considered cutting the Castle Locthwain and Mountain for a fourth Fabled Passage and a fourth Swamp so I could just register a deck of 15 four-ofs and call it a day. Wednesday. That's the day I'd call it.
I'm not really sure how I even got on this Jund Food deck in the first place. I played the deck in Twitch Rivals last week and went 4-2, but I lost twice to Jeskai Fires and the matchup seemed borderline unwinnable. After that, with Jeskai Fires being the best deck and most played deck in the format, I threw Food in the trash. Yes, I know, I'm being wasteful.
Many days later, I was tasked with playing the enemy and testing Jund Food against Jeskai Fires for our internal testing to help us better learn and tune the Jeskai Fires deck. I learned that Jeskai Fires was still beating the hell out of Jund Food, but that Korvold, Fae-Cursed King was actually insanely good against Fires and if you got to untap with the card, you almost always won. It's like they say...Fae-ke it till you make it. Or something like that.
And just like that, I got roped back in. I started occasionally jamming ladder matches with the Food deck, but with an ever-increasing number of Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in my list until I eventually just had the full playset of the Dragon Noble from Deece Street. My rate of play with the deck also ramped up to 4/4, with me eventually just full-on grinding Jund Food.
I kept trying to find reasons to throw away the deck and abandon it once and for all, but that just never happened. I found that Jund Food was actually pretty good against most of the other decks in the format, and I spent a good bit of time concocting a sideboard plan against Jeskai that left me only slightly behind in the matchup instead of what I was before—a huge underdog.
When the dust settled, none of my other teammates even entertained the idea of playing this deck. We had three decks we were choosing between (ok fine, it was two decks with me adding this as the third choice) and in all likelihood this is the worst of the three. Having a weak Jeskai Fires matchup is probably not where you want to be in a tournament where a lot of players will simply want to play the best deck. Yet, hope springs eternal and I still have an odd level of faith that this deck will perform well for me. I think I know it and play it well, and that combination has done me favors in the past even when wielding a somewhat suboptimal archetype.
Let's talk card and play choices.
There are two simple reasons why I think Jund is better than the Golgari versions of this archetype: flexibility and card advantage.
By flexibility, I mean that the Golgari version is entirely locked into a one-dimensional game plan of grinding the opponent out methodically and with a pace that can only be described as plodding. Golgari has a lot of powerful effects, like Casualties of War and impactful creatures like Wicked Wolf and/or Massacre Girl, but it can't change gears when the situation warrants it. It's locked into the slow grind of Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven, and sometimes that's too slow to get the job done or ineffective against the opposing strategy.
The Golgari version also lacks a lot in terms of card advantage. Trail of Crumbs is powerful and a wonderful engine, but beyond that card, they have a sparse few copies of Midnight Reaper and Castle Locthwain to draw extra cards. In games where those cards are not found, they are prone to flooding out or otherwise anemic draws.
Jund is multi-dimensional. You can still win games with the same Cauldron Familiar and Witch's Oven slow grind, but sometimes you get put in bad spots where you have to just kill your opponent immediately, and Jund offers multiple ways to do that. One way is to cast a Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, untap with it, and then one-shot your opponent with the Dragon. While seemingly ridiculous to suggest, it happens way more often than you would think. Much like how Bolas's Citadel would kill surprisingly fast in Esper Hero—sometimes the very turn you cast it, even with no board and the opponent at 15 life—Korvold kills the turn after you cast it at a fairly frequent clip.
Another method is to pair the sacrifice effects with Mayhem Devil. A Mayhem Devil turns a Witch's Oven and a Cauldron Familiar into 3 damage. Two are from sacrifices and 1 is from the cat. Often a game will look dire, but you're still live to drawing a Mayhem Devil paired up with some sacrifice effects to chain out enough damage and either clean up the board or kill your opponent.
I also like Jund because it draws way more cards than Golgari does. I do not consider that irrelevant in a deck that is entirely designed around assembling an ever-increasing number of synergistic pieces. I have one Castle Locthwain, four Trail of Crumbs, four Midnight Reaper and four Korvold, Fae-Cursed King. I rarely run out of gas, and can also recover more easily from crippling effects like Casualties of War as a result.
So Jund offers better card advantage and a versatility of effects for navigating and winning a game. Why would anyone play Golgari, then? Well, Golgari has way more removal and is far more straightforward. Golgari is a rock, literally and figuratively, whereas Jund is a little rougher around the edges. Golgari is likely superior against decks where Thrashing Brontodon and Casualties of War are powerful cards and in matchups where life total matters, as it takes far less damage from lands. Jund is better in matchups where Mayhem Devil shines, like against Edgewall Innkeeper strategies, in matchups where speed matters, and in boards states where you need to do something specific or powerful to win the game in short order.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is way more impressive than it looks at first glance, and that might still be the Junderstatement of the century. Casting Korvold with zero or small amounts of open mana will often result in drawing two to four cards. Casting a Korvold with lots of open mana and available effects can mean drawings upwards of ten cards off of it plus other effects. This may sound outlandish, but I assure you it is not.
The primary goal of every turn with this deck is to extract as much value as you possibly can. Sometimes this comes at the expense of your life total. However, once you have outvalued your opponent to where you've assembled the tools to win, sometimes it becomes imperative to throw away value in order to insulate your life total and ensure that they can't muscle together a combination of cards to kill you.
For example, early in the game, I would maximize my options to get full value out of Trail of Crumbs, even if it meant gaining less life or even assembling a slightly weaker board presence. Once I've starting churning my engines, however, I might use an extra two mana to sacrifice a Food to gain 3 life and insulate my life total, even though if I waited to untap for my turn, I could spend three mana to also get a card out of that Food with Trail of Crumbs. The deck is incredibly greedy for mana, and sometimes mana efficiency is more important than maximum value, especially when you're ahead with your life total under siege.
Gilded Goose + Trail of Crumbs is a combo. You can use Gilded Goose to sacrifice Food for a mana of any color and then spend that mana to activate Trail of Crumbs.
In nearly all situations, you want to use your Witch's Oven on Cauldron Familiar every single turn cycle. That being said, it's not always correct to return the Cauldron Familiar during your opponent's end step. Sometimes it's better to wait until your turn, because you might draw a Trail of Crumbs, which combos with sacrificing the Food to Cauldron Familiar to find cards for only one mana instead of the three it would normally cost to sacrifice the Food and also pay one. Perhaps you will draw a Mayhem Devil, which would give you a damage to throw around, or you might draw Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, which would net you an extra card.
You can sacrifice any number of Food in succession to the same Cauldron Familiar if you hold priority in response to its ability before it comes back into play. You sacrifice a Food to return Cauldron Familiar and with that still on the stack, you sacrifice another Food to return that Cauldron Familiar, and so on. Once the stack eventually resolves, the Cauldron Familiar only enters the battlefield once, but you've gotten extra sacrifices out of it. This can be relevant in situations where you have an excess amount of Food in play and want to get more triggers out of Mayhem Devil or Korvold.
Sequencing and ordering triggered abilities with Korvold is really important. This requires going into full control on MTG Arena, but you can respond to Korvold's enters-the-battlefield ability to sacrifice a permanent by performing other actions first, which might influence what you eventually wish to sacrifice once the stack starts to clear out.
For example, let's say you cast Korvold and you're tapped out except for an uncracked Fabled Passage and you have a Food Token, Witch's Oven and Trail of Crumbs in play with a Cauldron Familiar in your graveyard. With Korvold's enters-the-battlefield ability on the stack, you can sacrifice the Cauldron Familiar to the Food Token. That will trigger Korvold and Trail of Crumbs. Draw the card from Korvold first and leave that Trail of Crumbs trigger on the stack. Still before Trail of Crumbs resolves, crack the Fabled Passage and draw another card from Korvold before Fabled Passage resolves. Those two drawn cards might influence whether you want to fetch a Forest or Swamp, as Forest casts Goose and Swamp casts Cauldron Familiar, which may have been drawn in the meantime.
Now that you've drawn two cards, you might want to use that land to cast a one-mana card you've drawn. But if not, then you can use that mana to activate that Trail of Crumbs trigger still hanging around on the stack. Eventually, the stack depletes and you get back to Korvold's original ability, which you can use to sacrifice the Cauldron Familiar itself and draw yet another card.
This example shows how absurd Korvold is and how many cards Korvold can draw, but it's also an example of how proper sequencing can help extract the most value out of Korvold and your mana for the turn. I even "missed" using the Witch's Oven to sacrifice Cauldron Familiar an additional time and bring it back from that newly created Food before resolving Korvold's original enters the battlefield ability. That would draw you two extra cards! However, it is possibly not even the right play, because leaving the Witch's Oven untapped could be more useful to have access to sacrificing Korvold in response to a removal spell, drawing one card and creating two Food Tokens. But then again, if those original two cards found a second Witch's Oven, then you would want to do this to draw two extra cards, decline the Trail of Crumbs trigger, and then deploy the second Oven to also protect Korvold and get the best of both worlds.
Something as simple as casting a Korvold with only a Food Token, Witch's Oven, Trail of Crumbs and unused Fabled Passage in play with a Cauldron Familiar in the yard had the potential to net six additional cards. Imagine how much more Korvold can scale when you draw it later in the game with even more of an engine online. I've had to decline Trail of Crumbs a number of times in testing where my deck was starting to look really thin and I had to be careful not to mill out.
Sometimes the threat of activating Witch's Oven is more important than the activation itself. One important thing to note about cards like Murderous Rider, Bonecrusher Giant and Brazen Borrower is that if you counter their Adventure ability, the spell doesn't resolve and thus it doesn't go into exile to be later cast as a creature. It goes into the graveyard. Sometimes holding up an Oven to counter a Bonecrusher Giant to avoid a future 4/3 is better than getting one extra drain out of a Cauldron Familiar.
Against decks with sweepers, be careful not to get blown out. Prioritize getting Midnight Reaper into play so if they do sweep you, you still recoup the cards. If you don't have access to a Midnight Reaper, it might be better to more slowly develop with cards like Trail of Crumbs or Witch's Oven + Cauldron Familiar and hold back cards like Paradise Druid or Mayhem Devil to not overextend.
Wicked Wolf: The card is good, but this deck already so hungry for mana and Food. Plus, thanks to Cauldron Familiar being the world's best chump blocker, investing mana to kill creatures instead of developing your own board is often not worth it. I end lots of games with numerous uncast Murderous Riders in hand and that even costs one less mana.
Vraska, Golgari Queen: The card is great in the sideboard against decks that have access to annoying artifacts or enchantments that cost three or less. Other than that, paying four mana to blow up a creature is inefficient, and her uptick to generate card advantage is good, but way less effective than cards like Korvold and Midnight Reaper. Vraska is versatile, but slow, and one of the key things I've done with this deck is only play cards that are really above the curve on rate. Vraska is below the curve on rate but makes up for it with versatility. I only want her in matchups where the -3 offers a lot of versatility and she isn't just relegated to the +2.
Casualties of War: Much like Vraska, I have it in the sideboard for the times where it shines as a multi-moded all-star. However, I did not enjoy it in the maindeck. It ran counter to the plan of combining an increasing number of synergy pieces to assemble a more and more formidable voltron. Much like my critique of Wicked Wolf, I would much rather spend six mana on developing my board than casting this.
An aside: Wolf and Casualties of War are great in a deck like Golgari Food. Whereas I've wrapped up my card advantage in Trail of Crumbs, Midnight Reaper and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King—effects that actually draw cards—Golgari wraps up its card advantage in two-for-ones. So I want to spend my mana to deploy multiple freshly drawn cards in a turn and Golgari wants to spend its mana getting virtual card advantage out of one expensive card like Massacre Girl, Wicked Wolf or Casualties of War that can deal with multiple opposing cards.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General or Garruk, Cursed Huntsman: See above. I don't want to spend my mana on flashy effects. I've already maxed out on the best flashy effect, Korvold, and I see no reason to make my deck clunky by adding others. There's no value in drawing extra cards if you have no time or mana to deploy them properly.
Thrashing Brontodon: Not a fan. It doesn't contribute to any synergies with the deck. It's ineffective and overcosted for what it does if you don't value the body, which I do not. The value of removal spells in general is that they either generate you card advantage, like Murderous Rider, or they generate tempo advantage by being cheaper than the cards they are blowing up. Killing a Shivan Dragon with Doom Blade is a one-for-one trade, but you got off ahead on the exchange on mana invested. The extra mana you have available can then be spent to do other things.
This is the inherent balance of removal and threats. Threats are more powerful than removal because they always "line up." Threats always at the very least put pressure on the opponent, whereas removal is situational, not always good, doesn't always kill what you want, and sometimes leaves you behind in card advantage if the threat that was destroyed generated an advantage first. The way to make up for this is to have removal be cheaper than threats.
Thrashing Brontodon costs more than most things it wants to blow up. Most of those things are more important than the 3/4 body, like Trail of Crumbs, Witch's Oven or Fires of Invention. It's valuable to deploy the card early and then have it in the holster to use later on something, but that value is greatly diminished if its body doesn't play a valuable role on offense or defense. I don't believe it does, and I'd rather spend those early turns on a Mayhem Devil or Midnight Reaper.
A different deck : Good question, and one I don't have a compelling answer for.
In the immortal words of Angelina Jolie: "I'll never tell. Any of you!"
You may think me cruel and heartless for withholding that magma-hot sideboard tech, but I've given away enough information as it is in this article and I can't afford to give my competitors at Mythic Championship VII even more of an edge should they be paired against me. If they know how I intend to approach and sideboard in every matchup, then they will be adequately prepared to counteract it. I would apologize about the inconvenience, but I think this article already has quite a bit of useful intel, so I don't feel bad at all.
Ok fine, I do feel bad about it, hence the above flimsy justification. But only a little bit!
Next for me is spending the upcoming week perfecting and mastering my play with this archetype before ultimately competing in Mythic Championship VII, roughly a week from when this article comes out.
I will also be spending that week doing things outside of Magic. For example, I have tickets to attend an NFL game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Minnesota Vikings (my favorite team!). I'll also be grappling with tough moral and existential questions that plague my every waking moment, reading books, watching television shows and spending time with lovely people who I enjoy having in my life.
I note the above, because I think it's important to take breaks from Magic and surround yourself with other interests, because Magic can be a cruel master and destroy your psyche if you invest too much of yourself into it. That's especially true if you invest too much into results, which come sporadically, or even not at all. I learned this lesson many times and I learned it the hard way each and every time. It broke me in many ways. Take care of yourselves, fellow magicians.
To get back on track, if you're a Jund fan, this upcoming event might be the best shot you get to see a Jund deck rise back to glory. And like many great storylines, the champion of the downtrodden Jund archetype might be the least likable or least expected character. It might be someone who has spent years verbally defecating on Jund. It might be someone who has rejected Jund as a playable archetype time and time again, only to eventually turn around and embrace it in the waning moments of the story. It might be someone who is undeserving of the Jund legacy.
It might be me.
But it probably won't be. Like I said, the deck is probably pretty mediocre. But who cares. Just play Jund, baby.