Mis-assignment of Strategy = Options Amputation

I have gotten a flurry of questions about my opinion on Luis Scott-Vargas’s most recent article on ChannelFireball.com about mid-range decks and Jund Mana Ramp in particular. Luis is a player who for a long time came out of the tradition of The Rock. Even when he was not actually B/G on his colors, Luis played with Loxodon Hierarchs, hand destruction, incremental advantage in general.

Though Luis had a great deal of success with those strategies (US National Champion and all that), he did not enjoy the kind of colossal Pro Tour success that he is riding today until he changed from playing The Rock to combo decks. You will remember his Extended win was with a combo Elves deck; he has since played all manner of Swans, Storm, and so on with peerless results.

This is great for Luis! We have always liked him and wish him every fortune in the world.

The emails and Tweets, though, come from another angle. Luis says that mid-range is an intrinsically flawed strategy, and argues quite strenuously against the strategy that Will Price and I like the best today: Jund Mana Ramp.

To wit:

This is a classic example of the midrange non-blue control deck. It can’t compete with the Cryptic Commands and Cruel Ultimatums of 5-Color Control, and has to settle for running much worse stuff like Primal Command and Garruk Wildspeaker. You may consider this as a 5-CC deck that doesn’t lose to aggro Red, but in return for a better (and not necessarily even good) Red matchup you are so much worse against Faeries or Reveillark. I’m not even convinced that Jund Ramp (or any non-blue Ramp) even beats Token decks.

Well my reaction to this part — which is really the genesis as that is what readers have been asking about specifically — is that it must not apply to us. Let’s look again at our version of Jund Mana Ramp:

Jund Mana Ramp

3 Makeshift Mannequin
3 Shriekmaw

4 Broodmate Dragon
4 Kitchen Finks

4 Civic Wayfinder
4 Cloudthresher
4 Gift of the Gargantuan
4 Rampant Growth

4 Banefire
3 Volcanic Fallout

4 Fire-Lit Thicket
8 Forest
2 Mountain
4 Savage Land
1 Swamp
4 Treetop Village

sideboard:
4 Anathemancer
1 Shriekmaw
1 Terror
3 Caldera Hellion
1 Volcanic Fallout
4 Primal Command
1 Karrthus, Tyrant of Jund

I have for some time been a vocal opponent of the Garruk Wildspeaker version of Jund Mana Ramp as slow and clunky and overly vulnerable to Faeries. Heads up I am not convinced that Garruk does anything … Though it is obvious that the potential for a Violent Ultimatum fueled by the Fertile Ground + Garruk + seven drop draw that only occurs on daytime soap operas is quite the boogeyman. Before I get into details (and what today’s title means), I will address Luis’s paragraph on Jund Mana Ramp…

I would agree that this deck probably doesn’t want to get in a Cruel Ultimatum fight with Reflecting Pool Control. However that has not historically been a problem, and I anticipate it to be less of a problem this coming weekend. At New York States last year, I handily dispatched every Reflecting Pool + Cryptic Command deck I played in that tournament, albeit with the help of Mind Shatter + Gutteral Response (which was like the simpler, faster, Cruel Ultimatum). Point being, I respect the Ultimatum, but don’t anticipate the matchup as being a huge issue. In fact I would have been very happy to play Reflecting Pool Control all day at States; it was in fact the deck I tested against the most and I felt like I had a superb understanding of how to dominate.

For Regionals I am not sure how to consider the comparison. For one, I think that Reflecting Pool Control is a disaster. Not a disaster for Jund Mana Ramp… like it’s an unplayable time bomb waiting to blow up in the face of whoever has decided to play it. I don’t have Mind Shatter + Gutteral Response any more because I don’t plan to have to have those cards. If I did, I would commit the sideboard space. Instead I have a much improved main deck that can torch the opponent out at will and a sideboard that features the card that I believe should extinct the Reflecting Pool Control strategy: Anathemancer.

I already said I don’t like Garruk Wildspeaker… but I grandly disagree that Cryptic Command is in any way better than Primal Command. Remember I have included Primal Command as a four-of… but a sideboard four-of that only comes in when it is an appropriate tool. I have steadily increased the number of Primal Commands in my sideboard because I really want to draw them in these matchups where I want to draw them (beatdown decks, Sanity Grinding, and the mirror). When I played Blightning Beatdown, there was nothing I wanted to play against more than a deck with Cryptic Command, whether it was Reflecting Pool Control or Fae. In both cases I felt like I was a heavy favorite, and I got to play with Gutteral Response to force mana commitments while I still resolved my threats.

Perhaps in agreement with Luis, I actually don’t think Red Decks are that easy for at least my version of Jund Mana Ramp. I feel like I have a good chance, but I would much rather play Fae or Reflecting Pool Control or certainly G/W Tokens than a Red Deck. That is why I have Primal Command. I want to grind the Red Deck into the floor, and gaining seven life while loading up on Kitchen Finks and Broodmate Dragons is the most appropriate way to do that in this format. Against Sanity Grinding, a Primal Command is actual card advantage, trading for multiple spells the opponent has played, and hwen it resolves, demoralizing the Millstone strategy. And of course in the mirror Primal Command is arguably the single strongest card, setting the opponent back on a comes into play tapped land and putting Karrthus into my hand.

I don’t look forward to playing Reveillark, but I actually think Fae is a very easy matchup for this version of Jund Mana Ramp. I lost to Fae to miss Top 8 of States, but I think that that deck — and even more this deck — were and are heavy favorites against Faeries. In fact, I think that my version of Jund Mana Ramp is a nightmare for most Faeries players. I side into eight copies of Volcanic Fallout and Cloudthresher (seven starting) and I have very little dead weight (only Shriekmaw) and no obvious targets. The paths to losing are being manascrewed or the opponent drawing multiple uncontesed Mistbind Cliques. I respect the latter, though, and am considering playing a second Terror in the sideboard specifically to help deal with this draw.

But Tokens? In our testing B/W Tokens can be competitive but Jund is the favorite; I don’t think G/W Tokens has very much of a shot. Testing online (where admittedly G/W Tokens doesn’t have Dauntless Escort yet we have yet to drop a game. Will Dauntless Escort matter? Sure! It will have a non-zero impact but we don’t tend to rely on sweeping the opponent to win, more dominating with tempo plays until we can get the opponent to concede with Broodmate Dragons.

So we’ve already decided that Luis must have not been talking about us when he made his comment. After all, he invoked the name of Garruk Wildspeaker. But would he dislike our deck anyway? I think maybe not.

You see our version of Jund Mana Ramp isn’t a mid-range control deck. I think that that is the source of the misunderstanding. Jund Mana Ramp — ours anyway — is a Tinker deck (in the sense of “Finding the Tinker Deck”). This is a deck that is full of mana and bombs. It doesn’t really seek to interact with the opponent’s cards like most mid-range control decks so much as to dominate them. I don’t want to get a one-for-one on a Thoughtseize; I want you to commit four mana to your Wilt-Leaf Liege so that I can get a two-for-one on you with my Makeshift Mannequin. Once I hit turn five or six I am going to tap out for a card every turn, each copy being more dramatically powerful (not necessarily “better”) than any card in your deck.

That is not a “mid-range” strategy. That is a power strategy.

Is interesting because Luis’s passion in argumentation comes as someone who sees himself as having “recovered” from the plague of mid-range mediocrity. I would reiterate that I very much respect his opinion and recent accomplishments, but would argue that his stiff-backed model may ultimately lead down a path of inflexibility. Mid-range can be sub-optimal in some rooms (especially formats with good Extended options), but be the absolute best deck to play in other rooms. It might tend to be wrong, but removing mid-range from our palettes in its entirety teaches us essentially nothing. Magic is a game of options, and the players who preserve their options tend to be the most successful. Mid-range (even if the deck at hand is not necessarily mid-range) is just another tool to be used or left in the drawer. I see no reason to remove it entirely.

LOVE
MIKE

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11 comments ↓

#1 madmanquail on 05.13.09 at 2:29 am

I concur. Luis just wanted to be controversial.

Fair enough, but you can easily see that he has chosen the “midrangey-est” parts of the deck to argue against (primal command and garruk). He never once mentions the incredibly potent Nine Point Banefire Plan; which i believe is the equivalent of Reveillark’s namesake, or overrun, or cruel ultimatum, or any other signature spell.

#2 Dochetwas on 05.13.09 at 8:03 am

Heh. That was an amusing article to read, if only because LSV was arguing his point SO badly. Midrange doesn’t do anything, is unfocused, & can never win consistently? Well, if you define a deck like that, I guess it would be pretty bad.

I don’t know that GW Tokens is as easy a matchup as you think for the Mana Ramp deck, at least anymore. Overrun tends to quicken the clock a fair bit, as well as let 2/X dudes slap up Broodmate Dragon. Double Dragon is pretty awesome, but it isn’t at it’s best vs. lots of (suddenly) large guys. (Although I haven’t tested vs. Jund ramp, so this is all just rambling.)

#3 Amarsir on 05.13.09 at 8:10 am

Have you tested against Sanity Grinding? I’m not convinced Primal turns it quite the way you hope. Either they have One Big Turn or they’re in a positon to counter it. I think a good strategy is to make them fear early smaller hits + lethal Banefire, thus forcing the attempt sooner. Not that it will be highly played anyway, but I do think they still have the edge even with Primal coming in.

And red is the other deck I had some concern over, but I do think Primal makes the differene there. Interestingly, it seems some are turning back to slower models with Demigod, which I feel is better for Jund Ramp.

Thanks btw for addressing Garruk versions. I always wanted to hear why you didn’t go that way (since those who stuck with Ramp over the winter pretty universally did).

#4 messels on 05.13.09 at 9:24 am

did some fairly extensive testing against B/W tokens using your list yesterday. we were split 50-50. not bad. we still liked the jund agro build better than yours but that could just be familiarity speaking. results came in around 60-40 in favor of jund agro against B/W tokens. despite those results, i actually think that B/W tokens may still be the best deck. unfortunately haven’t been able to test much w/ fae and 5cc. (5cc during last week’s testing was getting its ass beat down by jund agro). gl.

#5 Heaps on 05.13.09 at 9:48 am

THANK YOU for a cohesive defense of Mana Ramp, which I’ve been playing since states. However, can you clarify on your hatred of Garruk and Primal Command main? I currently use Garruk and I feel like dropping him turn 3 is one of the strongest plays in the format, while I HOPE to draw Primal against reflecting pool control…bounce your tap land, get a monster? Please clarify.

#6 vpreacher on 05.13.09 at 10:09 am

How important is Rampant Growth to the deck? All of the important early spells seem to happen on turn 3. And topdecking one late is a punch in the nuts. In testing we I tried out your version minus the Growths, upping the land count to 24, playing the 4th shreikmaw and fallout and running maelstrom pulse as a one of, although it could be the 4th mannequin or 25th land. It seems to play out the same.

#7 lsv on 05.13.09 at 12:06 pm

I liked the article, and don’t actually disagree with most of it. While it does seem pretty hard to argue that Primal Command is better than Cryptic Command, the Standard format being what it is makes decks like this much more viable than they used to be. Most of the midrange decks I used existed during formats that had much better blue control decks (Rune Snag and Remand during type 2, Counterspell, Circular Logic, Fact or Fiction during extended), but this particular Standard format really doesn’t have too many great blue control decks. The recent metagame shift has drastically cut down on the amount of Faeries and 5cc, because the blue-based control decks are having trouble competing with the very resilient token decks.

Maybe it sounds like a cop-out, but if blue-based control is largely reduced in the metagame, a deck like this Jund Ramp deck might be shifting more towards being the control deck of the format. If you don’t have to worry much about counterspells, than a deck like this will actual do well. Most of the Jund lists I have seen aren’t good, but this certainly could be (granted I haven’t tested it), especially because you have an actual Plan, which the midrange lists I was railing against didn’t have.

Luis

#8 RidiculousHat on 05.14.09 at 12:53 am

mike, i love this deck. it’s just big thing after big thing. boom boom boom.

the biggest problem i’ve run into so far is a runed halo on banefire– once that hits, i feel like my lategame evaporates, especially if it’s from a lark deck.

#9 double_g on 05.14.09 at 7:22 am

My version of YOUR jund ramp seems great. I replaced the Civic Wayfinders with Farhaven Elves (since I probably want that land in play, not in my hand), and cut the whole gift of the gargantuan stuff, since it just didnt do anything for me (if it were a 99% 2 for 1, it would be good; but that’s not the case), and replaced them with 2 x Loxodon Warhammer (it seems good against anything but 5cc as of now) and 2 x Primal Command. I’ve also cut 1 Thresher and 1 Banefire for 2 Chameleon Colossus, since I probably dont wanna see them in my opening hand in multiples, and at least CC costs 4 mana (really important, because I mulliganed too many times drawing unplayable 7s) , and in many matchups it is just so hard to handle.
I also changed your sb a bit, playing 3 x Maelstrom Pulse, because you really need to destroy Runed Halo against 5cc because it completely shuts your deck/wincons (mainly Banefire and Anathemancer) down and it also destroys everything that you normally couldn’t destroy and gives you trouble (like Elspeth and Dauntless Escort, and also Forge-Tender and tokens).I also play Thought Hemmorhage in the sb as a 2of, but I’m still testing it whether it is needed or not (it gives you an edge against Cruel Ultimatum and Reveillark, both being hard to deal with).

Great job you did there with the deck, I hope you find my suggestions useful.

#10 Five With Flores » You Make the Play - Keep or No? on 05.14.09 at 8:32 pm

[…] Did you cats see that the great Luis Scott-Vargas (LSV) and long-lost RidiculousHat posted on Mis-assignment of Strategy = Options Amputation? Might want to check out the forums from the previous […]

#11 Monday Night Magic #155 - Llamas, Planechase and Regionals! | MTGCast - Magic the Gathering Podcast Network on 05.18.09 at 2:46 pm

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