Welcome to week two of 37/23, or however many spells and lands you typically have in a 60-card Standard deck. This week I gave Mono-Black Devotion and Jund Monsters an (admittedly rudimentary) spin, in the MTGO tournament practice room, some Standard eight-mans, and a bunch of two-man queues. Just as a reminder, here are the decklists I’m working with:

Mono-Black Devotion

Maindeck (60)
Bile Blight
Gray Merchant of Asphodel
Temple of Silence
Hero’s Downfall
Lifebane Zombie
Devour Flesh
Desecration Demon
Underworld Connections
Pack Rat
18 Swamp
Sideboard (15)
Bile Blight
Drown in Sorrow
Dark Betrayal
Read the Bones
Whip of Erebos
Erebos, God of the Dead
Pharika’s Cure
Doom Blade
Pithing Needle

Jund Monsters

Maindeck (60)
Courser of Kruphix
Temple of Malice
Xenagos, the Reveler
Temple of Abandon
Sylvan Caryatid
Stormbreath Dragon
Polukranos, World Eater
Elvish Mystic
Ghor-Clan Rampager
Domri Rade
Abrupt Decay
Mizzium Mortars
Scavenging Ooze
Blood Crypt
Stomping Ground
Overgrown Tomb
Sideboard (15)
Nylea’s Disciple
Mistcutter Hydra
Primeval Bounty
Ultimate Price
Rakdos’s Return
Golgari Charm
Mizzium Mortars
Vraska the Unseen

I didn’t like Mono-Black. Part of that was me just not knowing the game plan, including what to Thoughtseize away. I’m sure this knowledge comes with time, and getting familiar with the big matchups, but I was lost on my own.

Case in point: One time, on the play, I drew Thoughtseize on my second turn and cast it. My opponent had one land on the field. In hand I saw Sylvan Primordial, one land, Sylvan Caryatid, and a bunch of spells that he couldn’t (presently) cast. I reasoned that I should take his mana, um, tree (?), since if he subsequently bricked off on lands or accelerants, then the Primordial would also effectively be dead/discarded. And that’s what I did.

I was in control of the game for a while, but sure enough my opponent soon drew into lands and more accelerants, and Primordial came down anyway, killing my Mutavault, which set my Pack Rat attacks back enough to prevent me from winning.

What should I have done there? I know it all depends on my and his hand, and a million other little decisions—but I can’t help but think I made the wrong choice.

I guess it all comes down to what half of the mana ramp/big threat equation my opponent is more likely to draw. Knowing popular archetypes and decklists helps in that decision—but it’s a definite truth that any given deck has more mana-producers (be they lands or elves) in it than big threats … so I think I should have snapped off the Primordial instead. The Caryatid in hand or on the field doesn’t do much without something to ramp into—while the Primordial, given enough time, will always do something, eventually.

This has got to sound like such rudimentary shit to you 60-card grinders out there, so thanks for bearing with me. But it’s these little decisions I’m having to think and learn about now, and honestly I’m kind of enjoying it. I feel like I’m making big conclusions and jumps in my Constructed play skill, which is not something that’s happened (big jumps, I mean) in my Limited game for some time.

So anyway, after a few cracks at Mono-Black in eight-mans (and some extra saltiness from more than one opponent … are Constructed tournaments/opponents just naturally more tilted than their Limited counterparts?), I switched over to Jund Monsters for some two-man queues.

Now, it’s worth noting that I did this on Sunday evening, after the results of SCG Invitational were in, with Tom Ross and his “Boss Sligh” mono-red deck at the top of the hill. So I encountered quite a few of those decks while I was playing.

I kind of liked Jund Monsters. I felt like I intuitively understood its game plan better than I did Mono-Black’s, perhaps because it’s naturally similar to a RG ramp strategy in Limited, whereas Mono-B has less of a direct 40-card analogue. I also got a little into the rhythm of Courser of Kruphix, where you are playing lands from the top in order to see a creature, at which point you plus Domri Rade to get the creature that had previously been buried one card down, and so on. That felt fun. I also liked how, as others have noted, Jund Monsters can win from behind with a random Stormbreath Dragon or some such off the top.

Sideboarding was difficult for me. In many cases I readily saw the five or so cards I wanted to bring in, such as Golgari Charms and Nylea’s Disciples against those Sligh decks, or Mizzium Mortars and Ultimate Price against Mono-Black … but beyond that I was lost. Mistcutter Hydra was obvious, but I didn’t play any blue decks. But when the hell do I bring in Rakdos’s Return, Vraska the Unseen, Primeval Bounty, or (seemingly most random to me) Putrefy—and why?

I forget how much I won or lost, but I think it was about 50 percent. More importantly, at the end of the run I wanted to play the deck more, which I couldn’t say for Mono-Blue or Mono-Black.

Another point worth bringing up: This week for StarCityGames Anthony Lowry wrote a really good article about how—given Standard’s pretty well-balanced metagame—the best deck for any given tournament is the one you are most familiar with. That makes a lot of sense to me, as it definitely seems like Standard is kind of a shell game between three or four big archetypes, none of which are able to claim permanent dominance, and thus be preyed upon by hard-in-the-other-direction strategies. (Of course, you could argue that’s just what Tom Ross did at the Invitational this past weekend, but hey—I don’t claim to be a Standard theorist.)

With that in mind, I’m thinking more and more—despite some friends’ counsel to the contrary, and unless GP Chicago significantly changes things up this weekend—that I’m very soon just going to pick a deck and run with it for the Pro Tour. That may or may not be Jund Monsters, but I’m kind of thinking it won’t be Mono-Blue or -Black.

Another small piece of theory: Mono-colored decks, by definition, include cards of just one color, with perhaps the ability (as in recent builds of Bg Devotion) to have a small splash for a second color. But Jund is three colors through and through. One thing that says to me is that, when M15 drops, there will be a lot more potential game-changing cards—approximately 3/5ths of all the cards in the set—that could be slotted into a Jund shell. Whereas with Mono-Blue or -Black, you’re looking at only 1/5th to let’s say 2/5ths of potential M15 cards being an option. That’s got to be a mark in Jund’s “pro” column, right? Especially when we are talking about the Pro Tour, and about someone (me) who is not supported by a big testing team.

That’s all I’ve got for this week, kids! Next Friday I’m heading down to GP DC with some Hipsters and friends-of-Hipsters, where I’ll be battling in full Theros block sealed on Saturday and hopefully Sunday, too. On Friday and maybe Sunday I’m also going to try and jam some IRL games of Standard courtesy of a Jund Monsters deck I think I’m borrowing from Matt Jones. Who knows? If all goes well I might pull the trigger and buy the deck at the end of the weekend!

23/17 is a Hipsters of the Coast column focused on Limited play—primarily draft and sealed, but also cubing, 2HG, and anything else we can come up with. The name refers to the “Golden Ratio” of a Limited deck: 23 spells and 17 lands. Follow Hunter at @hrslaton.

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