All roads lead to revenge (or ‘What I played at the PTQ’)

I had a great time at the PTQ in Santa Clara a little over a week ago. My appreciation for PTQs is something I’ve written about before. They’re this great combination of seeing friends you don’t always get to see in person and getting to play against folks who have, by and large, brought their ‘A’ games.
Heading toward the PTQ week, I was working on a Fauna Shaman deck in Extended that didn’t pan out, but which led directly to this Standard list that I presented two weeks ago over at In Development. However, I knew that I wanted one of my options to be a list that used Fauna Shaman, as I have such an affinity for that card. As it happens, the lists that get the most use out of Fauna Shaman in Standard are Naya, which I dislike as being somewhat underpowered, and Jund, which uses the Shaman to pitch and recur Demigod of Revenge.
But I still wasn’t super-excited about Jund lists until Mike Flores posted his most recent take on “Animal Jund.” And while the specific build he presented didn’t quite do it for me, that did give me a test build to be the more aggro half of my pair of decks — the other being a slight update of the Immortal Engine, a blue/white control build.
Click through to Extended to read more about the Fauna Shaman list, what I did with it, and how it performed.

The inspiration

This was the basic list Mike presented in an SCG article:
Animal Jund (Mike Flores)

60
Fauna Shaman
Putrid Leech
Bloodbraid Elf
Shriekmaw
Spitebellows
Vengevine
Kitchen Finks
Demigod of Revenge
Boggart Ram-Gang
Cunning Sparkmage
Verdant Catacombs
Blackcleave Cliffs
Copperline Gorge
Savage Lands
Mountain
Forest
Swamp
Raging Ravine
Fire-Lit Thicket
Ancient Ziggurat
15 Sideboard:
Obstinate Baloth
Thought Hemorrhage
Thoughtseize
Shriekmaw
Great Sable Stag
Spitebellows

The setup here should be clear. The deck is, to use a Flores-ism, “mono-creatures” (Josh Silvestri called it “mono-dudes” when we talked at the PTQ). That part’s pretty exciting — I’ve been wanting to Fauna Shaman up some evoke creatures anyway, and the idea that every Bloodbraid always re-buys your Vengevines is pretty sweet…as is the idea of running eight recurring creatures in the first place.
So far, so good. But I saw, and then tested to confirm, some problems.
First, and perhaps most subtly, the deck does not have enough utility creatures. It is more all-in on a “beat face” Plan A than it really needs to be.
Second, and less subtly, it has a problematic matchup with Valakut.
Third, and critically, the mana base is really bad.

Updating the mana base

Now, I’m not one to just call something “bad” and leave it at that. “Bad” is a fuzzy, utterly non-actionable term. Instead, I’ll walk you through the thought process that led to deeming the mana base “bad.”
At a glance, those four Ancient Ziggurats seem awesome. After all, the deck is mono-creatures, how can this not be the best possible place for that card?
But check out the rest of the mana base. It has four copies of Fire-Lit Thicket. Ancient Ziggurat can’t provide mana to filter through your Thicket…even if you eventually plan on casting a creature with it. So that means that a good 15% of your non-Thicket lands can’t power up your Thickets…which is a problem if, say, someone drops a Spreading Seas on your Savage Lands and Thicket and Ziggurat are all you have left. Even outside of these critical situations, it simply constrains what you can case in a turn, and what combinations of mana you can use, or use some of while leaving others up.
Second, check out the key engine card of this deck, Fauna Shaman. Then reread Ziggurat.
Yup, it only pays for you to cast creature spells. If you want to activate abilities, you’re out of luck.
There’s a third, perhaps more subtle issue at work in the mana base as well. It has too many ETBT lands. I know it doesn’t look like it — after all, the only strict ETBTs are Savage Lands and Raging Ravine. However, once you’re up to seven Scars duals, you’re really guaranteeing a lot of games where your fourth or fifth land drop must be a Scars dual…and all of a sudden you’re playing a tapped land and not casting that Demigod of Revenge.
So I did not appreciate the mana base at all. Those Ziggurats had to go as a starter, and then the rest would be changed up from there.

Valakut

The basic game plan for Animal Jund against Valakut has to be “kill quickly.” Post-sideboard, the deck tries to do buy itself more time to do this via Thoughtsize and Thought Hemorrhage.
The problem with this approach is that it’s a mix of fast and slow disruption. Seize is fast but has a moderate effect, whereas Hemorrhage is slow but somewhat crippling. Essentially, Thoughtseize hits early and buys you some time, whereas Hemorrhage hits later and buys you lots of time.
But Hemorrhage is too slow. And just four Thoughtseize alone means that you don’t reliably get the “early but modest” effect either.

Utility

You could actually make the deck as aggressive as it is right now, but with more utility packed into it. More on this below.

The update

Adrasteia Jund

60
Fauna Shaman
Lotus Cobra
Cunning Sparkmage
Kitchen Finks
Bloodbraid Elf
Vengevine
Demigod of Revenge
Shriekmaw
Cloudthresher
Spitebellows
Savage Lands
Raging Ravine
Fire-Lit Thicket
Verdant Catacombs
Swamp
Mountain
Forest
Blackcleave Cliffs
Copperline Gorge
15 Sideboard:
Duress
Thoughtseize
Anathemancer
Obstinate Baloth
Caldera Hellion
Ingot Chewer

Don’t mind the name — it’s just me being ridiculous. Adrasteia is one of the nicknames for Nemesis, the “impacable” one from whom “there is no escape.”
Or, in more prosaic terms, I have eight big dudes who recur a lot and have some variation on “revenge” in their names.
Enough of silly naming issues — here’s why the list looks like it does:

Those lands

Having spurned those Ziggurats and surplus Scars duals, I decided instead to also spurn Putrid Leech in favor of Lotus Cobra, suddenly making more fetches a lovely plan. The logic here is that (1) Putrid Leech may be good, but I kind of hate using it whereas I adore Lotus Cobra’s acceleration and (2) I’d rather play some actual basic lands in there to deal with various potential land destruction-based attacks on my mana base.
We have the standard eight-pack of ETBT lands in those Ravines and Savage Lands, and then just five Scars duals instead of seven. I specifically have four copies of Blackcleave Cliffs rather than going with more Gorges because I want to enable first-turn untapped black mana as frequently as I reasonably can. Conveniently, the Cliffs can produce red to filter through those Thickets into green, so even with Cliffs as your opener, you’re all set to cast a Fauna Shaman or Lotus Cobra on turn two.

Valakut

I tested many, many options against Valakut, including sticking with the too-slow Thought Hemorrhage (hint – it was too slow) and land destruction. At the end of the day, my best bet was doubling up on the fast, targeted discard, which is why I want those Blackcleave Cliffs at the ready. The sideboard features a full four each of Thoughtseize and Duress, looking to snag Prismatic Omens, Scapeshifts, and Primeval Titans (the last one only being accessible to half of my discard suite, of course).
With the focus firmly settled on “buy myself modest time,” I can now expect that I will be able to do so, and then plan to win within that time.
Note that when you’re siding into the discard suite, you side Vengevines out, as Bloodbraid is no longer an automatic re-buy at that point. In fact, it’s pretty bad at the job, hitting a discard spell perhaps 40% of the time. On the plus side, you cascade into a discard spell 40% of the time, turning Bloodbraid into an aggressive beater that also disrupts their combo.

Utility

As I mentioned, the list seemed to have more room for utility without backing off significantly on aggression. To that end, after much testing, I went with a full four Shriekmaws and one Spitebellows in the main deck. The great thing about both cards is that they’re fast removal, coming in at CMC 2 and 3 respectively when evoked…but you never cascade into them. So there’s none of that “cascading into removal on an empty board” nonsense.
The other big utility options are Cloudthresher (covering Faeries, but also Splinter Twin combo), Caldera Hellion (sweeper!), and Ingot Chewer (to kill Sword of Feast and Famine, most of the time).

The PTQ

I went X-2 and then “play some more stuff for practice” at the PTQ, which is why this isn’t really a tournament report. My round one and two pairings were U/W Mystic Hawks (Caw-Go, CawBlade, etc) and 5CC, both of which are favorable for me. Round three was Valakut, and after a reasonably predictable loss in game one, game two saw me do the early Thoughtseize thing only to see Oracle of Mul Daya, Scapeshift, and Primeval Titan (I wrote about this last week, actually). I had to take the Scapeshift (it was an instant kill with any land drop the following turn) and so Titan killed me instead.
I then collided with Josh Howe playing Faeries in round four. In general, I like the Faeries matchup…but not against Josh, who knows it quite well and decoded the secret solution to beating my take on Jund within the first few turns of the first game.
So that had me almost certainly out at X-2, but I stuck around a bit longer to glean more insight for the next PTQ (which is in late March, so there will be a lot of metagame shift between then and now).

Updating the list

The weakest performers on the day were the Sparkmages. They did some useful things, but didn’t work as machine guns in the matchups where you’d expect them to be able to, such as Elves. Those little green men get up past one toughness way too fast, and then Sparkmage is essentially a dead card. The Sparkmages are also less than effective in the Faeries matchup, where you’d expect them to suppress Bitterblossom’s effectiveness…except not really, and not so much that you’d want to have them in the deck over other cards that might help boost other matchups.
I also realized, partway through the PTQ, that I’d missed out on an obvious card choice for the deck — especially given that I was running relatively few ETBT lands. Oran-Rief, the Vastwood can be added, perhaps replacing the single Copperline Gorge, offering the possibility of “rebuying” those Kitchen Finks repeatedly, which is pretty solid.
If we go ahead and cut the Sparkmages, that leaves three slots open in the maindeck to work with.
Cards I’ve considered here include:
Sygg, River Cutthroat — Sygg has the upside of sometimes drawing you into more action, but the significant downside of “not doing anything in particular for your bad matchups.” Drawing too few cards has never been the issue in my matches against Valakut and good Faeries players.
Tunnel Ignus — Although the Ignus theoretically makes it painful for Valakut to combo out against you, in practice it mostly means you maybe buy a turn while they tkae the time to Fallout or Pyroclasm it away before killing you.
Hypnotic Specter — Don’t laugh. It’s like the janky-yet-potentially-scarier version of having an equipped Sword of Feast and Famine out. Or, properly, a Sword of Famine, since it’s just half the ability, albeit a supercharged half that takes away your opponent’s choice about what to discard. Except Hypno is generally weak and dies to everything.
Flame Javelin — I don’t know if this improves either the Faeries or Valakut matchups, but it’s a fun card to consider. You can often cast it for three mana and almost always for four, but with a true CMC of 6 you never cascade into it, which once again keeps it from being a hindrance to your Vengevine buyback.
So how would I actually update the list?
I’m not sure that I really want to. We have a few weeks to the next PTQ, and in the interim, I have some other thoughts for decks that get value out of Vengevines and Demigods, but they might not stay in Jund colors.
We’ll have to see.
In the meantime, this is a fun deck, if you’re okay with a deck that essentially hands game one over to Valakut much of the time.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *