Mishra's Bauble, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, Lurrus of the Dream-Den —oh my! Look at recent Jund lists in Modern and you'll quickly see how drastically the deck has changed over the past six months.
Jund is no stranger to adapting lists or adopting new cards into the typical lists, whether they be new cards or recently unbanned ones like Bloodbraid Elf. Over the years we've seen numerous new inclusions to Jund: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, Fatal Push, Assassin's Trophy, Wrenn and Six, Kolaghan's Command and Grim Flayer just to name a few. Some of these have clearly made a lasting impact on the archetype, while others haven't. So where does that leave the cards that have found a home in the archetype in 2020?
Before Ikoria released a couple weeks ago, Jund had already adopted Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger as a staple in the deck. Some people, including myself, were also making room in the 75 for Klothys, God of Destiny.
Jund was starting to solidify its new form, leaving a lot of people surprised with the new direction—especially with many fundamental changes to the manabase to incorporate the added reliance on red mana. Flash forward a few weeks later, and Modern is almost unrecognizable to those of us playing before Ikoria.
Ikoria introduced a new mechanic called companion, which has immediately had a bigger impact on every format than any mechanic since planeswalkers were introduced to Magic. On the surface, none of the companions appeared to fit into typical Jund lists out of the gate because of the deck-building restrictions. However, that didn't stop the Jund-lovers from changing and adapting the deck to accompany a powerful companion, specifically Lurrus of the Dream-Den.
The obvious changes include cutting Liliana of the Veil and Bloodbraid Elf from Jund.
Yes, you heard me correctly. Cut Liliana of the Veil and Bloodbraid Elf from Jund. Most people didn't consider Lurrus of the Dream-Den an option as a Jund companion because of its strict deck-building restriction: no permanents over a converted mana cost of 2. While that makes Jund supporters nervous, it's important to think of this list as the same deck with a different function. Lurrus Jund has the capacity to be a grindy midrange deck like a typical Jund list. However, with Lurrus Burn being at the top of the meta, Jund has to have a primary focus on being aggressive when necessary. This calls for a heavy reliance on Tarmogoyf and Kroxa, Titan of Nature's Wrath.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den enables you to play Mishra's Bauble or Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger twice in the same turn for card advantage while you attack with all your hard-hitting creatures. Mishra's Bauble being free to cast is important because you don't want to expose Lurrus of the Dream-Den to any removal spells without getting value from it first, and the Bauble helps with that problem.
Lurrus of the Dream-Den has also made Seal of Fire a Modern-playable card. Seal of Fire has slowly been replacing Lightning Bolt in the list because you can continuously re-cast it from your graveyard with Lurrus of the Dream-Den once a turn. On top of that, Seal of Fire is just another card that pushes Lurrus Jund to be more of an aggro deck. Not only does Seal deal 2 damage a turn, but it also fuels Tarmogoyf's power and toughness. Tarmogoyf now gets to count enchantments thanks to Seal of Fire, along with artifacts due to Mishra's Bauble. These have led Tarmogoyf to frequently be a 5/6 or 6/7 without much effort. Crashing in for 6 damage every turn isn't something many decks can deal with easily.
In addition to being more aggressive, Lurrus Jund also has the ability to smother the opponent in card advantage, which we see through cards like Mishra's Bauble, Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger, Wrenn and Six, and even Dark Confidant in the sideboard. (Yes you heard me, Dark Confidant is back!)
Kolaghan's Command was starting to die in popularity in Jund lists before Ikoria came out, however in Lurrus Jund, Kolaghan's Command mostly functions as additional copies of Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Lurrus of the Dream-Den is likely to draw removal to it quickly, therefore (outside of exile spells like Path to Exile) the best function of Kolaghan's Command is often to return Lurrus of the Dream-Den to your hand from the graveyard.
It is important to note that the typical sequencing that Jund players are used to has drastically changed in this deck, most of which comes from the inclusion of Mishra's Bauble. It is more important than ever to envision what you think the next couple of turns will look like. Do you want to Bauble yourself to decide if you want to fetch away the top card of your library? Do you want to Bauble your opponent on their upkeep to see what they draw? Do you want to hold Bauble until you cast Lurrus so you can Bauble twice in a turn? These are some simpler examples of sequencing, but even these decisions help form the fundamentals of playing with a card that has so many micro-decisions.
Initially I tried a list similar to the one above, and I was not very impressed with it. I missed Liliana of the Veil and Bloodbraid Elf like any die-hard Jund girl would. However, after messing with the list and figuring out the new sequencing and lines, it started to feel a bit better. Lurrus of the Dream-Den continuously proved its power, as well as the power level of companions in every format. When building a Jund list in the current meta, I would encourage developing lists geared toward beating Lurrus Burn, as it keeps putting up consistent and strong results every week.
Moving forward, I think there is a world where playing with Lurrus of the Dream-Den in the maindeck of Jund instead of as a companion is the correct line. Liliana of the Veil and Bloodbraid Elf often seem far too important in the list to get rid of all together. So what does a Lurrus Jund deck look like without Lurrus of the Dream-Den as the companion? Maybe something like this:
If companions and Lurrus of the Dream-Den are here to stay in Modern, then Lurrus Jund is going to continue to be a top contender for the foreseeable future. Jund has proven time and time again that it can adapt to almost anything Magic can throw at it, which is probably why it is my favorite Modern deck. I'm excited to keep watching it evolve and change as the new Modern format develops throughout the next months.