Tiny Leaders and Great Big Fun - Magical Junderland [Russell Rosales]
Hello friends, magic players, and random fans of the Internet who somehow ended up here. This is my debut article for Galactic Treasures, so welcome aboard; to me and to you! I would like to take this opportunity to establish where I am coming from, what my focus is, and elaborate just a bit on my current status as a magic player and how I arrived here. If you are simply looking for a decklist, please feel free to scroll on down. I won’t be offended or aware.
So, why should you listen to me? You probably shouldn’t. Ha! You didn’t expect me to say that, did you? But it may be true. Unless of course you find this content interesting, entertaining, helpful, thought provoking, or laughable in either the intended or unintended way. Maybe you’re just looking for something to pass the time while you’re on the toilet taking care of business. Or maybe you want to find something to deride. “This deck suxxorz, I’m the gr8est, I pwn noobz, h8 h8 h8!!!” That’s one way to live your life, but probably not the best way. On to the magical cards.
I first began playing Magic: The Gathering in the late nineties. The first set I was introduced to was Portal. Interestingly enough, my parents brought it home one day and were slinging spells on the dining room table when I came in. They were much cooler than average parents in my opinion. I was instantly hooked. After many years, invaluable friendships, countless boosters, hundreds of tournaments, thousands upon thousands of cards, endless hours of playing, reading and watching Magic: The Gathering; here I am.
I have recently found myself in an unfortunate financial situation. After a great deal of contemplation, hesitation and reluctance, I decided to sell off a substantial part of my collection. For one reason or another, I hadn’t played at all in quite some time, and it seemed the cards would be better used to bolster (now a keyword) my bank account than to sit in my closet. Through some prior savvy investing in standard staples, and more importantly, many of the hot modern cards just before the prices began to spike; I accumulated quite a collection and stand to make a reasonable profit. But as anyone who has sold their collection before knows, it is never an easy undertaking. There is quite a bit of work to be done, through organizing and reorganizing, pricing, comparing pricing, perusing buy lists, and so on. But as everyone who has a passion for the game knows without a doubt, the most difficult part is letting go. But what if I didn’t have to fully let go?
The Importance of Being Jundest
I’ll let you in on a little secret that everyone who knows me already knows. I like to play Jund. Something about this color combination has always spoken to me. I have played it in various incarnations at different times in standard, modern, as a focal point in 5-color (for those who are old enough to recall that) and more recently in Commander. My heyday with the deck was at points in standard when you could have some combination of Thragtusk, Garruk (of a couple different forms) and Liliana of the Veil in play, and finish completely ruining your opponent’s day with a top decked Rakdos’s Return or Bonfire of the Damned.
So Jund is where I like to begin when I look into any new format. Another motivating factor for me in choosing this deck type in multiple formats has been the existence of a single card. The mighty Goyf, Mr. Tarmo himself, the TG that gets the GG; Tarmogoyf. While it is true that he sees play in many decks, his home will always be Jund to me. Like many players, it is this guy along with his companions that fully lures me into this type of strategy. The triumvirate of Jund if you will: Tarmogoyf, Dark Confidant, and Liliana of the Veil. The big beefy beast beating down, the calculating tactician ruthlessly seeking out incremental advantages, and the clever, manipulative, powerful planeswalker controlling the battlefield and the players involved in the struggle.
*Personal Tarmogoyf Sidebar
All three of the cards mentioned above are amazing and have been huge in multiple formats. But Tarmogoyf itself holds a special place for me above the others. Like many players, I have left the game and come back to it on more than one occasion. On one of these occasions, Tarmogoyf was just starting to emerge as a force to be reckoned with, and I acquired a playset for somewhere south of $100, which was actually relatively pricey at the time. At some point after they spiked, and then at some point after that I started to lose interest in the game as things elsewhere in my life took precedence. Their value had decreased to me and the rest of the world by then, and I ended up selling them off for close to what I had originally paid for them.
Quite some time later, after the emergence of EDH/Commander, I was once more drawn to Magic, and after some minor investing, I once more sought the aid of this legendary (not in game terms) formidable creature. I picked up a single one for use in my deck and spent approximately three times what I had originally bought and sold one for. And this was a beat up Goyf that I got a pretty good deal on at Gen Con. As more time went by and I began to plunge further back into the world of MTG, I started seriously looking into Modern as a very appealing format. One of my favorite formats back in the day (as us old folks say) was Extended. There was so much fun to be had there in those days combining uber powerful old cards with newer slightly less broken tricks, building aggro decks that could seize victory by turn four and degenerate combo decks that could easily go off somewhere in the first three turns of the game. Modern reminded me of that, and the idea of a new eternal format seemed to be generating a lot of buzz which led me to believe that it would not only prove to provide a lot of fun, but would also be a worthwhile investment as a number of cards stood a good chance of gaining value.
So I went about the process of building a modern collection. It was a somewhat lengthy and expensive endeavor. But when I was finished, my collection was probably the most admirable and valuable it had ever been. And the most important part of it, in my eyes, was the playset of Future Sight Tarmogoyfs. This may give you an idea of how difficult the thought of parting with these cards is to me. But I found some solace when I began to consider keeping a copy of each card. Part of it is that it gives me something to hold onto. Some connection with this world that I am otherwise leaving behind. Maybe years from now some cards will be more or less valuable, but either way I will be able to treasure them, share them with friends, or just look at them myself now and then. And then of course, I came to the conclusion that I could still use these single copies of cards once in a while, and enjoy Tarmogoyf and friends in all their glory, in Commander and my favorite new format: Tiny Leaders!
For anyone who is not yet familiar with the format, Tiny Leaders is a variant of Commander, which is itself a casual variant of Magic. The basics are that each player starts at 25 life, only cards that have a converted mana cost of 3 or less are allowed, only one of any card may be used in a deck aside from basic lands, each deck is comprised of 50 cards, every deck must include a Commander as part of that 50, and every card in the deck must fall within the color identity of the Commander. I realize that’s not a very strong, comprehensive or detailed explanation. I will leave that to the professionals. You can find the full rules, banned list and explanation about the creator(s) and how the format came into existence here.
As stated, Jund has been my first and favorite foray in many formats. And so I decided to begin there. I began the age-old ritual that every magic player knows. Brewing, brainstorming, digging through boxes and flipping through binders searching for cards, but also hunting for ideas and inspiration. I began with a mighty pile of cards. And a pile it was. There was a lot of not so great stuff there. I approached the format as mini-commander. However, after doing some exploration and talking to friends, I realized that it should be thought of more as highlander Legacy, or singleton Legacy if you prefer. The format presents something unique with a general power level hovering somewhere beneath that of Legacy and perhaps roughly around that of Modern. This is what really appealed to me. While I do find Commander fun, the humongous decks, constant shuffling, and super long political multi-player matches can wear me out sometimes. TL allows me to play with Legacy level cards that I haven’t been able to use in years, and provides a tighter experience that feels fun and simultaneously appeals to the competitive player in me.
Thus began the process of culling some of the lesser cards. So long Wretched Anurid. I hardly knew you Wolfir Avenger. But don’t worry, you may yet find a home in black aggro and…elsewhere. You could even wind up back in here somehow. But not today. Which is not to say some questionable cards did not and do not remain. There were difficult decisions to make. But I began with a very strong core of what I felt were must have cards, and I built from there. As I went on, I tried to make sure that every card had a purpose, and felt cohesive in the overall function of the deck. It may not be perfect, but after much card culling, careful consideration, several revisions, and the breaking of a few more creatures’ hearts, this is what I ultimately came up with.
Magical Junderland - Russell Rosales
This type of strategy and most of the card choices will be familiar to many players. However, more information and analysis of specific card choices along with alternate considerations are provided below. My hope is that this will be beneficial to anyone new to this style of deck, unfamiliar with older cards, or anyone simply seeking more depth.
This is a fairly pure and straightforward Jund deck in many ways. It seeks to disrupt the opponent’s hand, remove any troublesome creatures or other dangerous permanents, and develop incremental card advantage through powerful planeswalkers, enchantments, and utility creatures. The deck is filled with answers, but also asks strong questions of the opponent. Ideally, you want to be able to remove any of your opponents threatening permanents, while using discard to remove troublesome spells from their hand, and also to reduce their options for addressing the threats that you are presenting. This is the path to victory.
Where’s the beef? Here’s the beef. This portion of the deck is here to do significant damage to the opponent, and I would consider them the primary win conditions.
Tarmogoyf – AKA Goyf, Tarms, T-Mo, and my personal favorite, Mr. T. If your deck has a game plan that involves attacking your opponent at some point, there is a very good chance you want this guy in your deck in essentially any format where he is legal. He does it all. Actually, he doesn’t do much other than having a habit of being incredibly efficient, and huge for his two mana cost. Oh, and bashing people’s faces. He’s very good at that. He has historically been great in Jund. The deck is packed with removal to clear away potential blockers, and particularly adept at getting cards in the graveyard (making Tarms larger) between the aforementioned removal, fetchlands, and discard effects. Especially Liliana. Tarmogoyf is the first MFAS on this list. The AS stands for all-star. The MF is for…multi-format. Though another phrase could also be accurate.
Sprouting Thrinax – Thrinny is a decent sized body for his cost. His ability to leave behind three 1/1 creatures upon his demise is a sort of resilience to removal. This is helpful against the opponent’s cards but it is also nice to have when we need to cast sweepers to clean up the board and our own guys get caught in the crossfire. A few 1/1 vanilla dudes might not take over a game, but they can get some damage in and help to hold down the fort until we can get something else going.
Scavenging Ooze – With approximately 17 cards that provide some form of creature destruction or discard, there is a good chance that a lot of creatures will end up in the graveyard during our games. That isn’t even taking into account whatever the opponent is doing to our team. As a result, the ooze will often have opportunities to grow to considerable size. This provides a big beefy creature that gains life and helps to keep any of the opponent’s graveyard shenanigans in check all at the same time.
Goblin Rabblemaster – The master of the rabble may not be considered beefy by some. But anyone who has been on the receiving end or the giving end of his beats can attest to his power. Our general strategy involves stripping the opponent's hand and eliminating their creatures. A Rabblemaster who can avoid immediately catching a removal spell upside the head and hang out on an otherwise empty board for a little while can quickly take over a game.
Rakshasa Deathdealer – This one may invite raised eyebrows and question marks. It’s possible that I was inclined to try it out after having fun with it in standard. It may not be powerful enough for this format, but so far it has lived up to my expectations. A solid two-drop that provides offense and defense and gets better as the game goes on. He can block all day and avoid most burn-based removal. When you top deck it late game, one or two swings equals victory. Also, it’s a cat demon.
Vampire Nighthawk – This is another creature that may seem questionable, but it serves several functions in the deck. Our deck has an unfortunate tendency to lose life. The nighthawk’s lifelink combined with a few other cards help to offset this loss of life. It has evasion and each time it makes contact with the opponent results in a four-point life swing; -2 for them, +2 for us. In addition to this, being able to block and kill any attacker or kill anything that gets in its way makes it a valuable member of the team.
The creatures listed below are not there to beat down on the opponent (though they can do so) so much as they are there to affect the board, gain card advantage, and provide benefits to us while making the opponent’s life miserable.
Dark Confidant – Another MFAS. Bob (nicknamed as such because it was created as Bob Maher’s invitational card and originally featured his likeness before the reprint went in a more gothic and S&M direction) is virtually a must have in any deck that can cast him in any format he is legal. The life loss is real, but like the flavor text says, “Greatness, at any cost”. The cost is also a little less than it might otherwise be due to the mana cost restrictions of the format. Drawing cards is good kids, and Bob is the man when it comes to drawing you cards.
Deathrite Shaman – It slices, it dices, it adds mana, it attacks the opponent’s life total, it bolsters your life total; all for the low, low cost of one black or green mana! You knew one of those cheesy infomercial type jokes had to be in here somewhere. But seriously, this card was just too useful not to include. As I’ll say for the 37th time, Jund has a habit of filling up graveyards, and DRS makes great use of that. Giving you a mana boost, stopping opponent’s graveyard shenanigans (yes, I like that word), killing the enemy, and preventing you from dying. What more could you ask for?
Courser of Kruphix – Card advantage and even pseudo card advantage is good. Getting through your deck faster is good (unless you’re up against mill). Gaining life is good. 2/4 survives lightning bolt. And blocks little one and two drops all day. But what if they bolt it after you block those little guys? Quiet you! I really like courser and it just feels great in this deck. The life gain is helpful, it combines well with fetchlands and temples as usual, and here you also get to enjoy using it in conjunction with Sylvan Library, as well as Xira and Dark Confidant. It does have the drawback of being vulnerable to enchantment removal, but as in other formats, its benefits generally outweigh that susceptibility.
Fulminator Mage – Essentially a hybrid of a Stone Rain and a Wasteland that has the option of hanging out on the board and doing some blocking or attacking. That is of course unless or until he is given the opportunity to aid the opponent toward the goal of being mana screwed, or until a time comes when a particular manland or other nonbasic land presents a problem. Obviously nonbasic lands are everywhere in a format such as this, and I feel that any deck that has the option should be running the Fulminator.
Xira Arien – And so we’ve reached the commander. Most discussions would begin here, but honestly, I didn’t play Jund so that I could play Xira Arien. I’m playing Xira Arien so that I can play Jund. I do like Xira though and I feel she fits the deck style. Granted, there weren’t many options for Jund leaders at the moment. But I prefer her over Adun Oakenshield , and not just because she costs significantly less money. In a grindy controlling Jund deck, I would rather have a creature that can draw me a card every turn than attempt to get involved in recurring creature graveyard sh…shtuff. Having Xira active is a nice feeling and once you’re in that board state and you’ve had a couple of activations, it feels very difficult to lose. On the negative side, she can be very slow and not have the chance to be impactful in some matchups. She is also quite frail and susceptible to many removal spells, which can be quite awkward for a commander. You’re leading the entire crew, but a random shock can send you packing? Having said that, she still can be quite powerful in certain matchups and board states and I feel she is the best option currently available.
Inquisition of Kozilek – The best discard spell in the format. With everything in the format costing three or less, this functions as Thoughtseize without the drawback of losing two life.
Thoughtseize – Thoughtseize with the drawback of losing two life. Of course, still very good.
Duress – Functions as inquisition but without the ability to take creatures. Planeswalkers, counterspells, removal spells, burn, enchantments and artifacts are all still fair game. Strong.
Hymn to Tourach – This card takes me back to the old days. Two mana to remove two cards at random from the opponent’s hand. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore, and there’s a good reason why. It’s nice to have a new format that allows us to take advantage of old school efficient random discard spells like this.
Blightning – For one more mana than the hymn, we get to do three damage to the opponent, but they are allowed to choose which two cards to discard. The damage may not be a big deal in some circumstances, but it is nice to have it tacked on to what is basically the sixth discard effect in the deck. If I was looking to cut a card to make room for something else, Blightning is on the list I would consider replacing. But for now I feel that it is good enough to make the cut. It is also worth noting how useful it can be to have the option of sending 3 damage at an opposing planeswalker. Three points has a good chance at spoiling a planeswalker's fun. Especially walkers that cost 3 or even 2 mana. Shout out to Tibalt.
Liliana of the Veil – The only planeswalker in the deck, and I believe the only one it absolutely needs to play. She forces discards, feeding Tarmogoyf and DRS in the process. She gets rid of creatures, and particularly is a great help against those we cannot target. Her ultimate is powerful, wipes away opponents permanents, and all but guarantees victory. She offers some of everything this deck wants to be doing. And yes, she’s a MFAS. If she had kids, she might also be considered a MILF.
Lightning Bolt – Another MFAS (don’t worry, there’s only one other spell I’m giving that distinction to). Bolt has been around since the beginning, and it has been used and appreciated in every format where it was available. Red spells, and spells in general don’t usually get much more efficient. One mana, three damage. Anywhere, any time. Historically considered the equivalent to Ancestral Recall. That’s fair, right? = )
Punishing Fire – I’m not 100% sold on the inclusion of this card. In the matchups where it is good, it can be great, but elsewhere it can be very mediocre. Of course the combo with Grove of the Burnwillows is always an option, and for now it seems worth including in the 50.
Dreadbore – Two mana to get rid of a creature or planeswalker will always be a good deal.
Terminate – Obvious similarities to Dreadbore but exchanges the option of targeting planeswalkers for the versatility of being an instant and avoiding the possibility of regeneration.
Diabolic Edict – Hexproof creatures and True-Name Nemesis are real concerns for a removal heavy deck. Edict style effects and sweepers are our only real ways to deal with them. I’ve gone back and forth between this and Chainer’s Edict, but I am currently favoring the instant to allow the option of keeping mana open on both turns and for those occasions where you can edict away a manland.
Go for the Throat – It’s possible that I’m not showing enough respect for artifact creatures by including this in the main deck, but here it is.
Smother – Destroys any creature in the format for 1B, and once again, without possibility of regeneration.
Abrupt Decay – The best removal spell in the format. As long as you aren’t trying to kill a land. It’s such a good feeling having this and knowing that you can essentially take care of any creature, planeswalker, artifact or enchantment without worrying about pesky things like counterspells.
Maelstrom Pulse - I initially undervalued this card due to the singleton nature of the format. But I really can’t get enough of the destroy any nonland permanent types of spells and this can also occasionally act as a mini-sweeper against decks generating lots of tokens. There is the potential awkwardness of having to 2 for 1 yourself to target an opponent’s copy of a card that you have in play, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do.
Pernicious Deed – Sweeping effects like this are important to help deal with creatures we can’t target and also aggressive decks that seek to quickly overwhelm us with hordes of little dudes. It’s also nice to have another card that can address enchantments and artifacts. I just wish it had errata to also get to wipe out planeswalkers. Yes, I’m greedy. On the bright side, activating this and leaving behind your Lili feels awesome.
Toxic Deluge – Another sweeper but for creatures only this time. I have been debating running Black Sun’s Zenith over this, or possibly in addition to this, but I haven’t made that change yet as I'm favoring the generally lower mana cost. Once more life loss is a concern but losing a little life to wipe the board can save you a lot of life.
Sylvan Library – A nice card from the annals of magic. Allows us to manipulate our draws, and draw extra cards (at a price) when desired. Interacts favorably with courser, fetchlands, temples, confidant, and also potentially Gaea’s Blessing out of the board. That’s a lot of good stuff for 1G. I have considered running Phyrexian Arena in addition to or in place of the Sylvan.
Bitterblossom – This is the most recent addition to the deck, and I am hoping for some feedback on this card. I was initially running another creature in this slot, but I was drawn to the power of the blossom (no, not the old TV show or the Powerpuff girl). I hadn’t played with the card since faeries were a thing in standard way back when and it just struck me as something that would be fun to try out. I wasn’t sure if it would be synergistic with the rest of the deck (other than the us losing life theme) but it felt more exciting than just having another creature and ultimately, although I want the deck to be competitive, it is important to me to have fun and try new things. Having said that, it is of course a very powerful card and does serve a nice function. The enchantment can take over a game on its own, or in other circumstances can provide a stream of chump blockers to help you survive long enough to get to other cards. It is also worth noting that while there are plenty of options for destroying enchantments in the format, they are not quite as ubiquitous as removal and sweepers that affect creatures. It also adds another enchantment to the deck as well as the tribal card type to help make Mr. T bigger!
There isn’t a ton to say about the lands here. Pretty much all of the usual suspects are present, including the classic Jund manlands. Twenty lands feels like the perfect amount here in a three colored deck of this nature that has a few lands coming into play tapped, and wants to play sweepers and otherwise control the pace of the game. I will say that my original construction of the deck included 0 basic lands, but I quickly realized this was not a great idea. It is nice to have a couple more lands that you don’t need to worry about taking damage from, but more importantly the basics are present out of respect for the prevalence of Path to Exile and nonbasic land hate like Wasteland and Blood Moon. If I ever decide that I’m not that thrilled with Punishing Fire, Grove of the Burnwillows will make a hasty exit. It’s also possible that Savage Lands is not necessary, and may be one too many comes into play tapped lands. This is why I am currently only running two temples even though I am a big fan of them. Other lands I’ve considered include Temple of Abandon, Twilight Mire, Graven Cairns, and Mana Confluence; which is of course superior to City of Brass when Urborg is in play. If it wasn’t for that, I would probably run ye olde city over it, just for that old school flavor.
1 Treetop Village
1 Raging Ravine
1 Blood Crypt
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Bloodstained Mire
1 Verdant Catacombs
1 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Savage Lands
1 Temple of Malice
1 Temple of Malady
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Command Tower
Can you tell that I’m frightened of weenie hordes and untargetable creatures? Those are definitely matchups that I’m trying to hedge against. The sideboard is very much a work in progress. With the format being relatively new and myself and others still exploring strategies and specific card options, I wanted to try to construct it in a manner that covered a lot of potential hazards. While there are some specific hosers, I tried to include a lot of cards that could perform well against multiple types of decks. Having said that, it’s possible that I went too heavy on board sweeping effects and I may need to find more help against control matchups. The general idea is that we have options that help deal with many creatures without targeting them; defense against those cruel folks who are trying to run us right out of cards; additional removal for artifacts, enchantments and planeswalkers; graveyard disruption; and additional sources of card advantage versus controlling or grindy midrange decks similar to ours. A few other cards I’ve considered include Grim Lavamancer, Lifebane Zombie, Spike Feeder, Chainer’s Edict, Glaring Spotlight, Pack Rat, Virtue’s Ruin, and Bonfire of the Damned. I know…I have a mass removal addiction. I’m seeking help.
The deck will of course evolve and be revised over time, but I feel very good with the core and most of the cards as a starting point. There are about a half dozen cards from the main deck that I could live without if other options became more appealing. Reducing the overall creature count or increasing the creature count are both directions that could be considered. The sideboard can definitely be tuned as time goes on and I get a better sense of the meta-game, and it will of course continue to fluctuate as sideboards and decks do in all formats. That’s one of the great things about the game.
And that is about all he wrote. Finally, am I right? Thank you for coming with me on this journey. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration into the format, the deck, my thoughts, and my own meandering experience.
Until next time…
May your mulligans be few and your victories be plentiful!