0 drop (25)
- 4x Blightstep Pathway Flip
- 3x Blood Crypt
- 4x Blooming Marsh
- 4x Cragcrown Pathway Flip
- 2x Hissing Quagmire
- 2x Hive of the Eye Tyrant
- 2x Overgrown Tomb
- 3x Stomping Ground
- 1x Swamp
1 drop (8)
2 drop (11)
3 drop (10)
Let's Build Jund Midrange for Pioneer
My name is Sky_Blue_Skies and I am a nerd for Magic's mechanical past and present. While I love the game's artwork and flavor, I am also very passionate about what Magic's lead designer Mark Rosewater has called "the craft of design," from "the color pie to the mana system to the rules to the templating to the mechanical needs of the set." (For more on this, see Rosewater's article "Vorthos and Mel," in Making Magic, August 31, 2015). Call me a "Melvyn," a "casual spike," or some other thing, I really like to think about how a given card, deck, deck archetype, or format fits into the broader historical tradition of Magic as a game system, as well as how changes in design philosophy have influenced the way games of Magic have been played over the years. To put things into perspective for you, if I could use Maelstrom Pulse as my commander in EDH, I would do so in a heartbeat.
In any case, my love of quality removal spells and efficient planeswalkers has lately inclined me towards contemplating the deckbuilding horizons of the Pioneer format. What follows are my thoughts on the possibility of furthering one of my favorite deck archetypes that I believe to be somewhat underdeveloped in Pioneer.
For those who are here just for the decklist above, the current version of my build has been tuned with the following considerations in mind:
-Having a decent matchup against control variants (Azorius, Izzet, etc.) in the main and an outright favourable matchup post-side without compromising play against aggro decks. Here I borrow from Pro Player Reid Duke's approach to Modern Jund Midrange in 2018-2019, wherein the main deck is largely designed to beat up on other reactive decks.
-Having 8-10 forms of powerful graveyard hate in the maindeck (and more in the side) to hedge against Phoenix variants, Greasefang Combo, and other graveyard-based strategies without making any sacrifices in overall card quality.
-The ability to outgrind other premier midrange decks in the format, most prominently Rakdos Midrange, using powerful green threats and flexible answers that those decks cannot access.
-Having a removal suite that can interact readily with virtually every meta-deck regardless of their specific strategy. I have noticed that the range of threats in Pioneer is beginning to include more and more artifacts and enchantment, a trend which may increasingly privilege Jund Midrange over Rakdos Midrange builds given Jund's ability to interact more readily with these cards types.
For more information about the ambient considerations that I use to construct my Jund builds, see the deck tech section below!)
NOTE: Liliana of the Veil has just been introduced to the format as part of the new Dominaria United expansion. I am still in the process of updating my primer to accommodate for this METEORIC shift in the parameters of Jund deckbuilding in Pioneer, so stay tuned for changes in the coming weeks.
"Jund" is the name given to a spectrum of midrange decks that play cards in the Black, Green, and Red colors ("BGR") of the color pie. While decks that utilize this color combination have seen significant play in a variety of formats over the last decade or so, they owe their name (and to some extent their composition) to the Alara block of sets (Shards of Alara (2008), Conflux (2009), Alara Reborn (2009)) which introduced Jund, the plane (or "shard"), as a predominantly Red-aligned world represented by the colors Black, Green, and Red. "Jund" was thus originally a term from the lore of MTG that players have transformed into the go-to slang for BGR decks--and especially those that play midrange strategies--following their popularity and competitive success upon the release of Alara Block. Hence, Jund originally saw play in the Standard format (previously known as Type II) of c. 2008-2010, meaning that it began its competitive life in a rotating format comprised only of cards released in the preceding 1-2 years. However, Jund midrange decks have since seen the most play in non-rotating formats like Modern and Legacy which have very large card pools that grow larger only as new expansions are released. While Jund has seen and continues to see the most widespread popularity and greatest competitive success in Modern, a format with a card pool stretching back to Mirrodin Block (Mirrodin (2003), Darksteel (2004), and Fifth Dawn (2004)) in 2003, this primer is devoted to encouraging discussion of Jund's prospects in the Pioneer format, which includes cards printed since the release of Return to Ravnica Block in 2012.
To be sure, the Pioneer metagame already houses a number of decks comparable to those I will be discussing below. These include decks like Jund Sacrifice, which make full use of the BGR shard of Magic's color pie but focus more on synergy between cards, or Rakdos Midrange, which plays similarly to Jund but lacks access to Green mana, and hence, the complete mechanical spectrum available to Jund. As such, "Jund Midrange" conceived as a primarily reactive, value-oriented, attrition-based deck built to play "control" against the entirety of its home format that is comparable Modern Jund remains under-theorized in Pioneer despite the fact that its card pool is now at least as large as that of Modern when the latter format was promulgated in 2011. With this in mind, I will first define the core aspects of Jund Midrange as it has existed in other formats before delving into my thoughts on the construction and tenability of the deck in the Pioneer meta.
Players use a mutually inclusive array of definitions to describe how MTG decks function. For instance, from its early days (see Michael J. Flores 1999 article "Who's the Beatdown?"), one strand of MTG game theory conceived of "aggro" and "control" as binary categories through which to understand how gameplay often unfolds either by accident or design. In any given game, a player may find themselves in the role of "aggro" player (or in Flores' words, "the Beatdown") if their path to victory lies in putting the most pressure on their opponent's life total (or another comparably relevant, game-winning resource) as possible with the intention of winning in the early turns of the game before the opponent (the "control" player) can win in the late game by doing something overwhelmingly powerful or grinding out a win through card advantage and/or gradual resource attrition. The respective role one plays in a game is often times determined by deckbuilding decisions: if your build is full of low CMC cards that crowd the board with creatures or inflict direct damage on an opponent's life total, chances are you have a deck designed to be fast and aggressive (i.e. "aggro"); on the other hand, if your build is full of removal, counter magic, and card-draw effects, these decisions reflect a more reactive (i.e. "control[ing]") strategy bent on preventing an opponent from winning until they have exhausted their resources and winning in the long run. However, the complexities of MTG gameplay can often trouble these neat boundaries and game outcomes can be decided by which player best understands the role that has been allotted them in a particular game, though these roles can change multiple times throughout. In other words, the ways in which two decks interact with each other may mean that a deck designed to be "aggro" has to play a more controlling role in order to win (say, in the case that it is faces another aggro deck for example) or a deck built to win on turn fifteen has to speed up its clock to defeat another reactive deck. For this reason, even those who put stake in this system of categorization readily admit that it is at best a form of shorthand which is useful for understanding MTG gameplay but nevertheless cannot fully explain its full range of outcomes.
There are yet other ways of understanding how games of MTG unfold. One involves conceiving of three to four deck archetypes--most often aggro, combo, control--as existing in a sort of "rock, paper, scissors" relationship with one another in terms of how they try to win the game. In this view, aggro decks can often outpace and overwhelm control, but are weak to combo (which usually favors putting together a game-winning combination of very specific cards instead of interacting with an opponent), combo has an edge against aggro but is easily foiled by the interactive power of control, while control itself has an edge against combo given its ability to disrupt combo's grand plans although it has difficulty matching aggro's speed and efficiency. Be this as it may, the vagaries of variance (an important part of how MTG works as a card game), as well as the influence of skill, experience, and the complexities of deckbuilding are such that these theoretical categories frequently break down in practice. For example, many players argue that the best decks often defy easy categorization in this way as they can singlehandedly contain elements of two or three of these types. What's more, Flores' concept of "Beatdown" can in fact be mapped onto this more complex system of understanding deckbuilding and gameplay such that a combo deck might still be either "aggro" or "control" depending on the pace at which it intends to assemble its combo or the means through which it erects a "Plan B" should its initial win condition fail. Therefore, one can conceive of any given deck, albeit with many caveats and exceptions, both in terms of the point in the game it typically intends to win (Flores model of Beatdown versus Control/early game versus late game) as well as the means though which it achieves this end (is it though things like fast damage, a combo, card advantage? etc.).
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and his demigod form Maui.
This is where the notion of a "midrange" deck comes in. At its most basic level, the term can be interpreted simply as referring to a deck that banks on winning in the "middling" turns of a game (which can vary depending on the format played), therefore falling somewhere between aggro and control. Interpreted in this way, a great many Standard decks would fall into the category of "midrange" irrespective of their particular strategic orientation, as Standard's relatively small pool of legal cards tends to allow only a narrow selection of decks to be competitively viable. As such, the format rarely permits a large diversity of deck strategies. However, "midrange" is also widely used to refer to an as yet unmentioned strategy (a "fourth archetype" if you will) that has its origins with Black and Green decks (a.k.a. "Golgari" decks based on the name of the BG guild from the urban plane of Ravnica) played in Standard upon the release of Urza Block (Urza's Saga (1998), Urza's Legacy (1999), and Urza's Destiny (2000)). These early midrange decks (lovingly dubbed "The Rock" in reference to the demigod Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, a.k.a Deranged Hermit) would employ a combination of discard effects, efficient threats, versatile removal, and cards that produce significant in-game value to engage opponents in a kind of "war of attrition" in which they are forced to essentially trade each one (or more!) of their cards for one (or less!) of yours. Thus, instead of defeating opponents with a flurry of efficient cards played as quickly as possible (like aggro), a potent combination of cards that create an alternative or unorthodox win condition (like combo), or a choice deployment of a minimum number of cards to defeat the maximum number of an opponent's (like control), midrange decks of the era were filled with cards that were a) efficient to deploy, b) disruptive to the widest possible range of strategies, and c) able to generate (at least slightly) more value than the average card. This was the ancestral recipe for Jund Midrange.
This multifaceted regimen for card inclusion ensures that the "a war of attrition" instigated by The Rock and other comparable decks almost always ends in their favor should they manage to get their grindy engine going. This tends to be true for three reasons: 1) midrange players fill their decks with cards that shift the axis of games to make them about exchanging resources "1 for 1" (or ideally "1 for 1.1" in their favor); 2) these same cards are also meant to be useful for gaining advantage in this kind of gameplay; and 3) the average card quality of cards in their deck is very high, while the average synergy between cards (i.e. their tendency to mechanically interact favorably with one another and snowball towards a game win) is typically quite low. This means that midrange decks do not rely on cards that are situationally good in the right deck (though they do often contain very powerful decks that capitalize on this quite well), but rather on cards that are good in a vacuum, virtually irrespective of an opponent's strategy. This produces the result whereby the cards midrange players are likely to draw from the top of their library late in the game will generally be more powerful and/or more useful in the wake of a "1 for 1" "war of attrition" than those of an opponent playing another kind of deck. The affect produced by playing and playing against this kind of deck has incited MTG players to evoke the imagery of attrition when describing midrange decks like Jund: for example, to play midrange effectively is thus to "grind someone out," or, among Modern players, to "Jund someone out" (that's right, "to Jund" is now a verb!). More on this later, but the point here is to note that the theory and practice of midrange decks (a.k.a. MTG's "fourth archetype") is premised on their ability to transcend the "rock, paper, scissors" game entirely such that they can disassemble virtually any opponent's strategy by playing the role of aggro or control as the situation requires. They are thus designed to be highly customizable and adaptable to any metagame. In short, Midrange does not plan to be very effective against any one thing, but rather to be reasonably effective against anything. For a more in-depth discussion of this definition of midrange, see MTG Rock, "The Fourth Archetype," MTG Rock, August 2nd, 2019.
Though Midrange decks have their origin in BGx builds, midrange need not be necessarily restricted to any particular color pairing. This said, BGx midrange decks are arguably premised on exploiting the interactive power that stems from the ways in which Black and Green complement each other's mechanics strengths and weaknesses. Hence, in a sense BGx variants function as "two color Black" decks inasmuch as their core strategies are facilitated by the considerable extent to which playing Green alongside Black allows players to wield removal spells that target almost all permanent types as well as some of the most powerful and mana efficient creatures in the game. Alone, Black can easily kill creatures and planeswalkers, but struggles with enchantments, artifacts, and lands; furthermore, while there are a great many excellent threats in mono Black, they tend to have more limitations and outright downsides than Green ones. In any case, Jund and other Black-based midrange decks like "Abzan" (Black, Green, White) and "Sultai" (Black, Green, Blue) expand on this foundation by adding a third color to the BG base, and by extension, another entire dimension of mechanical interaction between colors to the mix. Hence, while good old Rock benefits from the confluence of Black and Green, Jund can also draw on the spectrum of mechanics available to both Black and Red as well as Red and Green.
Personally, I think we can think of Jund Midrange as perhaps the most theoretically powerful expression of "three-color black" midrange, or at least so in a vacuum, as Jund's particular combination of highly interactive colors gives players access to a critical mass of the most powerful, efficient, and broadly applicable disruption in all of magic. Modern Jund, for example, can chose cards from among an embarrassment of riches in terms of removal, including spells like Abrupt Decay, Assassin's Trophy, Dreadbore, Kolaghan's Command, Maelstrom Pulse, and Terminate. The same applies to some of the very best threats and value-generating spells in the game such as Bloodbraid Elf, Grist, the Hunger Tide, Seasoned Pyromancer and Wrenn and Six.
Star-spangled though Modern Jund's current range of card options may be, the emergence and long-term competitive success of the deck was largely due to the powerful, archetype defining cards it had access to at the outset. Here I am thinking principally of cards like the following, :
To my mind, the particular slice of Magic's design history that was selected to make up the Modern format's card pool played a crucial role in defining the future of Jund as a top tier strategy, and especially so in the format's early days. While the power level of individual Magic sets has ebbed and flowed over time, the latter half of the 2000s saw Wizards enter a period of considerable experimentation in design that involved, among other things, an increased willingness to take risks with the power level of creature cards, the introduction of planeswalkers as a new permanent type highly conducive to value generation, and a rarely matched comfort with printing cards that generate value through resource depletion instead of resource generation. These tendencies were baked into the DNA of both Modern and Modern Jund, and the more powerful cards from this era (think Snapcaster Mage, Emrakul, the Aeons Torn, or Stoneforge Mystic) went on to distinguish Modern from other formats until the advent of Wizards' "Fire Design" approach and its attendant power-creep in 2019, which has since contributed to an overall homogenization of all of Magic's formats. For perspective, most of the cards played in competitive Jund lists as late as early 2018 were mostly composed of cards printed between 2005 and 2012. Strangely, in a sense, this also includes the iconic and powerful Lightning Bolt, which is legal in Modern only because it was reprinted into Standard in 2009. In sum, Jund emerged as Modern's premier midrange deck in the format's first years largely because Modern's card pool was crafted to contain very powerful cards in Black, Green, and Red that closely fit the midrange archetype like Liliana of the Veil, Tarmogoyf, and Lightning Bolt, all of which are still touchstones of Jund deckbuilding more than a decade later.
Theorizing Jund Midrange for Pioneer
Having spelled out much of what makes Jund midrange tick and briefly discussed its Modern provenance, it's time to turn directly to Pioneer and examine how Jund might be built using the tools available to us given the format's much smaller card pool (c. 2012-present). As far as I can tell, "Jund," constructed as a midrange deck in the terms in which I have defined it above, has yet to be significantly established in Pioneer. This is not to deny that many player's have been building lists that overlap with the field of criteria I have outlined above and playing them to some success, but rather that there is no generally agreed-upon version of the deck that has managed to break into the top tier of the metagame like Modern Jund. Furthermore, while many of the Jund lists I have seen thus far do focus extensively on efficient disruption and value-generating permanents, in my opinion few of these lists appear to conceive of Jund as a deck fundamentally designed to answer the maximum number of prominent strategies in a format in a vein similar to its Modern counterpart. Again, I'm not so much saying that one should build Jund as a "control deck," per se in that it should always be a reactive strategy bent on winning the game in the advanced turns, but rather that the Jund colors, which collectively permit an expensive range of both format "questions" (i.e. threat) and "answers" (i.e. removal), can permit one to design decks that can be very finely tuned to succeed well against an entire metagame rather than focusing on advancing an individual strategy. As I will argue below, gearing Jund further in this direction may help make Jund more of a meta deck in Pioneer.
As I have noted above, Modern Jund makes sense as a deck in no small part due to the power level of cards available to Modern players in the Black, Green, and Red colors, though the core shell of Liliana of the Veil and Tarmogoyf (two of the most powerful midrange cards ever printed) made it such that competitive Modern midrange decks based on Black and Green could be built using a variety of third colors. In all cases, these three color builds are made possible by the excellent mana that the Modern format has to offer: the fact that all 10 of the cards in the fetchland cycle (i.e. Verdant Catacombs, Wooded Foothills (KTK, Bloodstained Mire), etc.) are legal in Modern make it relatively easy to construct three color decks that rarely suffer from mana screw. However, when we shift our gaze to Pioneer, a format in which the fetchlands are banned and many important land cycles (such as the so-called "fastlands," i.e. Blooming Marsh) are incomplete--and furthermore lack cards in the Jund colors (no Blackcleave Cliffs!), it is clear that three-color midrange, and Jund in particular, face additional obstacles to deck construction that older formats do not. What's more, while Black-based midrange decks have historically been largely Black/Green focused from the earliest Rock builds of Urza Black Standard, Pioneer appears to lack efficient Green threats that are comparable (relatively speaking) to Modern staples like Tarmogoyf or Bloodbraid Elf, which have long justified the Black/Green pairing in most metagames.
As a result of both of these factors, midrange decks in Pioneer have tended toward two-color pairings, most commonly Black and Red, unless they take advantage of powerful combos like Niv-Mizzet Reborn + Bring to Light, which has indeed incited players to brave the perils of five color manabases in the format. Other notable exceptions to Pioneer's historical gravitation toward Black/Red include Black/Green Delirium decks, which take advantage of having four card types in the graveyard at once in order to get powerful abilities online, as well as Jund sacrifice decks, which can tend toward midrangy strategies despite its highly reliance on a highly synergistic Plan A (i.e. sacrificing creatures for value). This said, decks in the "Rakdos" colors (i.e. Black and Red) remain the principal model for traditional (non-combo) midrange in the format largely because the mana bases available for Pioneer Jund are somewhat problematic (as noted above) and must therefore devote most if not all of their land slots to mana fixing, and in doing so, lose out on the use of utility lands as threats (in the way that Modern Jund uses Raging Ravine) or means of card advantage (think Nurturing Peatland).
Finally, broader shifts in Magic design over the course of the last decade has resulted in an overall dearth of cards that provide powerful resource depletion, most prominently in the form of efficient and/or versatile hand disruption. In my view, much of what has made Modern Jund such a "grindy" engine over the years has been its use of cards like Thoughtseize, Inquisition of Kozilek, Kolaghan's Command) and (most importantly) Liliana of the Veil, which have collectively allowed it to fair quite well against control decks even before the printing of Wrenn and Six in 2019's Modern Horizons expansion. Though Thoughtseize and Kolaghan's Command are both legal in Pioneer, the format has yet to receive such a critical mass of options for targeted and repeatable discard, has proven to be an essential and indispensable part of Jund's game plan until very recently). As such, the Pioneers among use must make do with a smaller toolbox for Junding on this axis. Keep in mind that the value-generating potential of Green spells are made exponentially better in Jund when coupled with oodles of efficient and versatile disruption. The ability to effectively interact with an opponent's hand as well as their board is largely what allows Jund midrange to engage favorably with control decks in a format. However, the printing of Liliana of the Veil into the Pioneer card pool with 2022's Dominaria United expansion has fundamentally changed this pattern given her considerable game against reactive, card advantage-based strategies. More on this development below!
My Build: Jund as "Format Control"
Having stipulated some of the core issues that confront us when we contemplate building a traditional Jund midrange deck in Pioneer, I'd like to devote the rest of my space here to a detailed primer for Pioneer Jund that focuses on the build I am currently running, yet also speaks the the range of other cards that I see as tenable options for Jund. As always, multiple builds of the deck are certainly possible, and one should always regard any given Jund build, or for that matter, any midrange build in general, in the context of the current metagame because of how important it is to tune your list with ready "answers" to the format's contemporary "questions".
I typically devote between quarter and a third of my maindeck to one drops. I fill these slots with (what I see as) nearly universally applicable forms of disruption that allow one to start Jund's "war of attrition" strategy on the very first turn of the game but do not lose much, if any relevance as topdecks if you draw them in the later turns. In my view, you simply cannot afford to take your first turn off from trading resources (like a true control deck might), nor can you risk playing too many cheap spells that are only relevant in the early game. With these considerations in mind, my one drops have been furthermore selected to address two core dimensions of the format:
1) Pioneer, like Modern, is an aggressively-driven format. This means that any deck hoping to rise to the upper tiers of the metagame must be prepared to weather whatever the fastest and most synergistic aggro decks can throw at them. For Jund, this means packing at least six versatile removal spells at the one drop slot in order to stay afloat until the middling or later turns when your high overall card quality and the gradual accretion of card advantage through resource depletion and two-for-ones can help you "turn the corner" towards a win. I have opted for four copies of Fatal Push, perhaps the best overall creature removal spell available to us at a single mana no matter when it is played (its revolt ability should not be forgotten nor underestimated!). Depdending on the state of the metagame, I also like to run two copies of Bloodchief's Thirst, a card that can serve as Fatal Push copies five and six (albeit at sorcery speed) as well as a broader form of unconditional removal later in the game. (It is, to my mind, a far better top deck than its far more popular instant-speed cousin.) Repeated reps against aggressive strategies has convinced me that a full playset of Push is an absolute MUST given the presence of creatures with haste and/or the tempo advantage gained when you can kill an opponent's turn-one creature after you have passed on the play. Having experimented a fair bit with different numbers of one-drop kill spells in the main, I won't leave home without at least six in faster metagames (hence the two Bloodchief's Thirst, though I might leave Thirst in the board in slower formats either to bulk up your game against aggro (wherein you'd board out some number of Thoughtseize) or control/midrange (wherein you'd board out some number of Fatal Push). While there are few matchups where Push is completely unuseful, Thirst, on the other hand, is almost always welcome post-board, though the fact that it operates at sorcery speed makes me a little reluctant to play more than 0-2 copies maindeck given the cards available in Jund's two mana slot (i.e. Dreadbore, Assassin's Trophy, and Abrupt Decay).
2) Turn-one, targeted discard is essential for midrange decks to have game against decks that operate on other (i.e. predominantly non-aggressive or non-interative) axes. It also allows us to leverage our playskill by choosing the most operative lines based on the information it provides us. While knowledge of the cards in an opponent's hand and the ability to preemptively disrupt any opponent's strategy makes Thoughtseize a great card for midrange decks whatever the format, the significant presence of classic, proven control strategies like Azorius (i.e. Blue/White) Control, as well as powerful combo decks like Hidden Strings makes a full maindeck playset of this card an indispensable part of Pioneer Jund. Without Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize is the only card we have access to at the one-drop slot that can reliably interact with non-creature decks in the early turns and thus plays a pivotal role in allowing Jund to function as a "format controlling" deck that can draw the tools to disrupt truly any strategy. To be sure, hand disruption spells can make some of the worst topdecks in the late game, and this remains true even in the case of cards as versatile as Thoughtseize. Be this as it may, they are a necessary evil in Jund despite not fulfilling this core criterion of the midrange strategy, and can always be boarded out for targeted or mass removal against aggro or more efficient/versatile permanent removal against other midrange decks. Although we lack the critical mass of one-mana hand disruption of Modern, the printing of Liliana of the Veil into Pioneer has brought us one step closer to wielding Thoughtseize with the disruptive potential of eternal formats like Modern, Legacy, and Vintage.
Stonecoil Serpent: An effective sideboard card against Niv-to-Light given Niv's focus on multicolored spells. Many thanks to the Throne of Eldraine expansion (2019) for giving us such a pushed artifact threat.
Cut Down: A well designed addition to Black's suite of one mana removal spells that is noteworthy for functioning on an entirely different axis than virtually all of its peers. While the number of important threats that Cut Down kills falls somewhat short of desirable in our format given the math involved, the fact that this is one of the few instant-speed alternatives to Push means to we are obligated to keep our eye on it as the metagames shifts.
Deathrite Shaman: A great, yet fragile value engine that can provide life gain, reach, graveyard hate, and sometimes mana fixing, though it is not as much of a "must kill" threat as it is in other formats that can easily put lands in graveyards. As such, I'm not sure it's worth giving your opponents such a vulnerable target for their removal spells (other folks play removal too after all!). This said, DS does gets better the more copies of Fabled Passage you run, and I'd recommend keeping a close eye on it as future expansions add more powerful cards to the format.
Duress: A useful addition to our one-mana hand disruption suite in lieu of Inquisition. As far as I'm concerned, Duress is always an option in the main or the side. Sure, it doesn't hit creatures, but it's still really good against control.
Evolved Sleeper: A scalable threat well suited to long, grindy games, this card's design is a throwback to Magic's past on both flavourful and mechanical levels. "Sleeper agents" were the evil Phyrexian's hidden assassins who walked among à la Invasion of the Bodysnatachers from back in the Urza's Block storyline of the mid-nineties, while the activated abilities present here are a strictly better adaptation of the sorcery-speed "level up" mechanic introduced in the Rise of the Eldrazi Expansion (2010). While I feel like this card is most at home on the more aggressive end of the midrange spectrum if played at all outside of traditional aggro decks, the versatility of cost available here makes Sleeper a decent, if mediocre draw in the early to mid game and an excellent one in the later turns because of its ability to recurrent grow itself and net further cards. I find that the bar for one-drop creatures in midrange decks is very high because of their typically poor showing in mirror matches (i.e. they tend to result in significant losses of tempo and card advantage due to the prevalence of Bonecrusher Giant), though having access to Sleeper as a high-upside mana sink makes it worth considerable in deckbuilding.
Flame-Blessed Bolt: While a bit too weak to see mainboard play save for metas where Izzet Phoenix is absolutely ruling the universe, this is a unique and important printing for the Pioneer format in general.
Light Up the Night: Perhaps the closest we have to a turn one Red removal spell that is effective enough both early and late. Unlike most scaleable burn spells that can hit any target, LUTN can be functional as a kill spell on your first turn AND be recast from the graveyard by removing loyalty counters from planeswalkers (a permanent type we really like in Jund). However, its early game functionality can be undermined by the presence of one drop creatures with two or more toughness, and its scalability can diminish in efficiency in the late game if opponents play very large creatures or high loyalty walkers. A worthy option, though I have as of late traded two of these in for Bloodchief's Thirst.
Strangle: Pioneer's Lightning Bolt. It's sorcery speed and doesn't have the option to give us extra late game reach by hitting players, though its ability to kill most creatures early on allows us to play more spells on average during turns 1-4, thus allowing us to "Jund em out" with greater efficiency. I see Strangle as competing directly with Bloodchief's Thirst in Jund, though in either case it will likely change the way in which we evaluate X/3 creatures in the format given that a single symbol:Red can now trade upwards significantly better than in the days of Good Old' Shock.
Torch Breath: A MUCH NEEDED way to kill otherwise game-winning control finishers (at instant speed no less) without heeding countermagic whatsoever. Not the greatest card given the mana required to kill most large threats, though its scalability, its ability to dodge counterspells, and the discount provided when targeting blue permanents make this a serious consideration in my book, especially in metas when Azorius Control is prevalent.
I rarely devote less than a third or so of my maindeck to two drops. This is in order to ensure that I always have a good chance of drawing hands with relevant cards to play on the first c. three turns of the game even if I'm significantly flooded with land draws afterwards. Much like my one drop slots, the cards I have chosen in the two mana range reflect my approach to Jund as a "format controlling deck": whether an opponent is playing aggro, combo, control, or midrange, I want to have cheap and effective answers to their overall strategies that I can begin deploying in the early game. However, in contrast with the one-drop slot, Pioneer's card pool allows for a much wider spectrum of high power level options at two CMC, many of which have seen a lot of play in Modern Jund.
I typically reserve c. 3-5 of my c. 10-12 slots at 2CMC for removal spells chosen to collectively answer the maximum range of opposing strategies in a given metagame. While I have experimented with running less targeted removal at this range, I now think that Jund requires a great deal of remomal at this CMC in order to both keep pace with the fastest aggro decks and effectively disrupt midrange and control decks that leverage power permanents or varied permanent types. What's more, although pricier options (say at 3CMC) can certainly offer greater versatility, modality, or instant-speed applicability (think Bedevil for example0, I find that these spells tend to be too slow to help Jund stay afloat in the face of mounting board pressure from aggressive strategies and must therefore be used sparingly and with broader format considerations in mind. This said, the trick appears to lie in removal that serves this, as well as all other purposes to which Jund may need to leverage answers against decks that may run fewer, or even no creatures at all. To this end I often run some combination of Abrupt Decay and Dreadbore (SLD, though meta-dependant considerations could easily incline me to lean on other comparable spells or exclude one or both of these options altogether. Abrupt Decay thrives in an environment where aggressive decks run rampant, controlling decks employ relatively cheap finishers, and/or any deck relies significantly on cheap artifacts and enchantments. (It is also a great mirror-breaker against other midrange that run Graveyard Trespasser as it utterly bypasses the ward effect!). Dreadbore (SLD, on the other hand, is one of the best answers for larger creatures and planeswalkers in Pioneer. I think Jund would run a full playset of these in a "perfect world" where instant-speed interactions was not at a premium and few if any decks relied on uncommon card types, though the fact that it only functions at sorcery speed does somewhat hinder its use-value. In circumstances where one expects to encounter MUST ANSWER permanents that neither of these spells can reliably deal with, I'd recommend resorting to 1-2 copies of Assassin's Trophy, albeit while being wary of the perils that come with ramping an opponent and/or fixing their mana. Trophy is a complicated spell to deploy to your advantage and must be considered carefully as such, yet I disagree outright with those who consider it utterly unplayable in the format.
I also run seven very powerful creatures to round out my two-drop slots. Here, as well as higher up on my mana curve, my choices reflect the philosophy that Jund Midrange decks should only play cards that are both generically powerful AND answers to problems posed by the format, though unlike the cards played in many control decks, Jund's answers should also be able to serve as threats whenever possible. (To quote Masters of Modern Podcast host Alex Kessler, in Jund "the things I am doing to stop you also kill you.") With this ethos in mind, I run three copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and a full playset of Scavenging Ooze. Aside from being generically powerful cards that improve the Jund's late game prospects, both cards serve as great answers/threats to control and combo decks respectively while fairing decent well against other strategies.
Kroxa is one of the few available options from the realm of Modern Jund that can give us play against "draw go"-style control decks running oodles of countermagic and removal by virtue of attacking opponents hands, and later, perhaps, their life totals as well. While counterspells are not nearly as good in Pioneer as they are in modern, our lack of access to cards like Inquisition of Kozilek, Dark Confidant, Tarmogoyf, Wrenn and Six, or Bloodbraid Elf makes the control matchup considerably harder for us in that we cannot be as quite as proactive and value-generating with creatures or disruptive with sustained discard. Nevertheless, Kroxa is a decent option early on against control as well as a potential "lights out" in the late game if you manage to sufficiently exhaust their resources throughout. At the same time, it's important not to underestimate his enter the battlefield trigger: even in cases where you can't escape Kroxa for maximum value, the life lose component of his ETB effect can sometimes give you much-needed reach to close out games that opponents may not always expect. Synergistic cards like Satyr Wayfinder and Grisly Salvage can also help us get Kroxa into the yard, then onto the board as soon as possible, though I am personally not a fan of diluting Jund's overall card quality for the purposes of synergy, unless that synergy is either EXTREMELY powerful or works equally well with the rest of the deck.
Sorry haters, Scavenging Ooze is a house. It can be a fantastic threat against both creature and damage-based aggro decks, a means to stabilize your life total (not to be underestimated!), and a highly efficient means of targeted hate for combo builds or any deck for that matter that leans heavily on the graveyard--like for example other midrange decks! Scooze may be vulnerable to CMC-based removal and can fair rather poorly when played on turn two, but the range of strategies it can hose as both threat and answer makes it a must include in my book, especially given the relative paucity of great BGR threats in Pioneer at two CMC. While Scooze's reliance on Green mana can sometimes make it unwieldy to employ in Pioneer alongside both Black and Red spells, its inclusion allows one an edge against any midrange matchup that relies on the graveyard for value, and provides much needed redundancy in combatting graveyards strategies in general. As such, I'm inclined to argue that the power level of two drops like Abrupt Decay and Scavenging Ooze as complements to a midrange deck's palette of early game answers makes it well worth it to run cards in all three Jund colors despite the ways in which relying on Green mana can tax your mana base (more on this later though!).
*Conditional creature removal for 1: Cards like Cast Down, Heartless Act, Infernal Grasp, Power Word Kill, and Ultimate Price offer cheap, instant-speed creature removal with a variety of conditions and/or additional caveats at mana costs highly amenable to Jund's three-color spell suite. In lieu of unconditional options like Terminate, these are our options for dealing with creatures that can win the game for opponents unless dealt with immediately upon cast. Each is meta-dependant, and with the notable exception of Infernal Grasp, which can be difficult to justify in highly reactive builds of Jund because of the inherent life loss, all are blank in the face of many important threats in the format (artifacts, planeswalkers). As such, these can be very useful tools in metas where particular creatures emerge as the win cons of popular decks, though each removal slot they fill makes one less equipped to deal with control decks or other strategies that run planeswalkers over creatures, and as such, less able to fulfill the role of "format control" that Jund can be so adept at performing. I have yet to see a version of this design that has convinced me not to run Assassin's Trophy instead, though I'd be hesitant to discount their utility altogether. Different strokes for different folks.
Abrade: A flexible instant-speed answer either to small creatures or ANY artifact. Athough I personally can't imagine a great many metagames where I would play this over more copies of Jund's signature two-mana removal spells, or for that matter Kolaghan's Command, it's probably killer tech in a world where a single artifact surviving a turn or turn step/phase can make or break a combo.
Baleful Mastery: My first instinct was to include this card in the generic "*Conditional creature removal for 1" category above. This interpretation was shaken, however, by further contemplation of the fact that it can act as either a slow (4 CMC) but permanent answer to creatures or planeswalkers at instant-speed, OR an undercosted (2 CMC) version of this same effect whenever an opponent presents you with a game-ending threat at a less-than-convenient point in the game. Sure, netting an opponent a random card in the process is a serious consideration that must be made with due attention to the current game state, yet the optionality available here (lacking, for example, on card's like Assassin's Trophy) coupled with the finality of an exile effect, makes Baleful Mastery a potential include in metas where such a vital if problematic "escape button) effect (much like Trophy) can solve a critical mass of pertinent problems for Jund.
Bloodthirsty Adversary: I recall being very excited about this card shortly after it was spoiled because of how closely it can resemble something of a scaleable Bloodbraid Elf in decks that play lots of haymaker removal spells like Dreadbore (SLD and Kolaghan's Command, or anti-control, anti-combo spells like Go Blank. Hence, 1-2 copies in the main seems great given its use value against both creature and non-creature decks, though the two mana 2/2 with haste may be too low of a floor to justify it's inclusion in most builds.
Cemetery Gatekeeper: As a hatebear-style threat in red that provides both one-time targeted graveyard exile and recurrent pressure to an opponents life total, I think this is a surprisingly versatile package of options for a two-drop creature. To quote MTG hall of famer and Modern Jund blackbelt Reid Duke, "Jund’s creatures need to play a diversity of roles. It’s true that you wind up winning your games by attacking with creatures, but in many ways that’s an afterthought. Your creatures need to be stabilizing the ground, protecting your planeswalkers, and (when possible) generating card advantage or disruption." (See Reid Duke, "The Complete Guide to Modern Jund," Channel Fireball, August 12, 2019). With this ethos in mind, there may well be a place in our deck for Cemetery Gatekeeper. Given the diversity of axes on which it affects the game, there may well be metagames where its status as a poor topdeck, or the fact that it trades primarily in life and not in cards, is a fair exchanges for its ability to snipe important cards from graveyards and/or punish opponents for playing their cards.
Collective Brutality: A very powerful answer to Burn strategies that is also decent against most other decks at virtually any point in the game. As it serves Jund's "1 for 1" game plan quite well, it is always worthwhile in the sideboard, though I have at times played it in the main to meet the challenge of particular metas.
Extract the Truth: An interesting part of the ongoing design initiative to provide enchantment removal in Black. Building on previous versions like Pharika's Libation and Feed the Swarm, this card offers the possibility of dealing with enchantments through an edict effect, which is great in circumstances where indestructible and/or hexproof enchantments are important, though it shines somewhat less against enchantress-style decks that leverage many such permanents all at once. However, the real value of this card comes from the fact that it offers enchantment removal as a Plan B stapled to a Plan A that works well in Jund, i.e., targeted hand disruption. While I feel like other, far more maindeckable spells like Abrupt Decay and Assassin's Trophy are often better options, I'm sure there is a hypothetical metagame where you'd be happy to beef up your hand disruption suite as well as your chances against Jeskai Ascendancy and the like simply by adding a single copy of Extract the Truth to the main.
Mizzium Mortars: A staple in Red/Green or "Gruul" midrange builds because of its usefulness early (as spot removal) as well as late (as a one-sided board wipe), Mortars is a very powerful maindeckable answer to aggro strategies that want to put as many creatures on the board as possible. However, the fact that it cannot hit planeswalkers or other permanent types reduces its maindeck versatility somewhat, especially because Jund's access to Black (a resources that Gruul decks lack) allows us to play other very powerful maindeckable answers like Dreadbore which, unlike Mortars, is rarely if ever truly dead in any matchup.
Outland Liberator //Frenzied Trapbreaker : A more efficient version of Thrashing Brontodon, I think this is a great sideboard card for artifact and/or enchantment-heavy metas that could also see maindeck play in some cases.
The Raven Man: An efficacious and synergistic two-drop creature for attrition-heavy interpretations of Jund. He's a little on the fragile side as threats go, and I'm a bit disappointed that he does only a rather poor impression of Young Pyromancer. However, his repeatable discard effect and general splashability incline me towards thinking he could be fine as a singleton copy, or perhaps even good in multiples in a decks that want to make maximum use of Liliana of the Veil and other comparable disruption-oriented threats.
Scorching Dragonfire: As an instant-speed Arclight Phoenix killer that can hit both creatures and walkers, this may be the most playable anti-phoenix tech, though I'm still pretty reluctant to maindeck this unless I'm deathly afraid of firebirds.
Valki, God of Lies /Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor : A very powerful card in a vacuum that may be too situational for maindeck play in Pioneer Jund. The Valki side does lend us more hand disruption with upside that theoretically complements our discard package (something that Pioneer builds are hungry for!), but the fact that his reach is limited to creatures is somewhat counterproductive for our purposes: in the maindeck he is unlikely to effectively disrupt creature strategies (because the card he exiles is returned after he dies) nor, in these circumstances, is he likely to survive long into the game, protect our life total very well, or provide us with good trades with opposing creatures. He is even less impressive in the side given the wealth of dedicated anti-creature tech we could otherwise resort to. Valki does however seems like a fair tempo option against other midrange decks that play more creatures, especially when one considers the walker-option on his flipside, although control decks are frankly unlikely to fear either.
Tibalt, Cosmic Impostor is a VERY powerful and well designed planeswalker that I really want to work well in Jund, but his mana cost may be slightly too high to compete with some of our more efficient options. However, the versatility inherent in this card being a "flip walker" should not be underestimated. As such, playing a single copy in the main may be a decent way to add more grindy power to our lategame while providing a two mana creature in emergency cases. I've definitely got my eye on this one!
Werewolf Pack Leader: A powerhouse in Standard at the uppermost level of efficiency in two drop creatures, I think this is card is CLOSE to being a solid include in Jund. It can provide early pressure (3/3 stats can often trade up in combat), late game relevance (ability to gain 5/3 stats), and the possibility of either replacing itself during combat or drawing you into back-breaking card advantage when paired with removal spells. I'm personally on the lower end of the creature spectrum when it comes to theorycrafting Jund midrange, though I do think 2 of these could be great in the right build as it is perhaps the only cheap and powerful threat in the Jund colors that requires virtually no accommodations in deckbuilding.
Angrath's Rampage: While technically not "spot removal," this is an interesting kill spell that trades the ability to target a specific permanent for versatility in the permanent types it might force your opponent to sacrifice. This is a meta call in my book, though it makes a great deal of sense as side tech against decks that leverage heproof or indestructible permanents, or those that run one or two very problematic artifacts or planeswalkers. The fact it can double as creature removal in the latter case is gravy. Situational, but I'm a fan.
Assassin's Trophy: A beautifully designed card that has elicited some controversy because of the fact that it often ramps an opponent. While some consider Trophy to be outright unplayable in Pioneer midrange (why give a midrange or control opponent another resource? why speed up an aggro opponent's clock?), I think it is a great weapon of choice for particular matchups where "must kill" threats of uncommon permanent types are important. It's essentially a very reliable safety valve that is far better late than early, though it's nevertheless there for you in turns 1-2 if you really need it. I therefore really like to play a one-of in the side or the main as dictated by metagame considerations. If you're still skittish, perhaps just play another copy of Dreadbore!
Bloodtithe Harvester: An excellent choice for decks that run Blood Token or artifact synergies and/or are dedicated to answering x/2 creatures. Though it is both less resilient and a worse topdeck than other cheap threats like Werewolf Pack Leader, it is still capable of trading up in mana and can, if your deck is built right, be a real menace to other creatures given its activated ability. While it is also often a resource positive spell because of the token it creates upon resolution (which both loots and enables revolt on Fatal Push)), I'm a bit lower on the Harvester than most other players. This is because I prefer to build my Jund decks to be as resilient as possible to opponents' interaction, and a two mana creature that dies to a spell as bad as Shock, not to mention opposing Harvesters, is too much of a liability in my book. Sure, even Tarmogoyf dies to the likes of Push, but this card is no Goyf, nor is its raw power level close to justifying its inclusion on comparable grounds. To be sure, Bloodtithe Harvester an important step toward more playable two-mana threats in Pioneer Jund, though I think future release will prove it to be more of a staple in Rakdos decks that lack access to cards like Scooze by definition.
Chevill, Bane of Monsters: Something of a card-advantage and lifegain engine when online, Chevill may be the closest we have to a "two-mana planeswalker" in Pioneer. I think he REALLY shines against aggro (but, quite importantly, not so much against flyers!) but the fact that he only has one power makes him a 20-turn clock, and by extension, a pretty bad maindeck option for the more creature-light, controlling end of the strategic spectrum. I'm currently not that into the thought of boarding into him against aggro instead of board wipes or planeswalkers, but a one-of in the main seems more than tenable at present.
Cindervines: This strikes me as a fair sideboard card against spell-heavy decks, and especially those that are on the slower side. I'd personally rather play more copies of Klothys, God of Destiny, but the mana efficiency and optional artifact/enchantment hate here makes it worth considering.
Grim Flayer: A great option for more aggressive and efficiency-oriented interpretations of Jund and/or those that seek to capitalize on graveyard synergies like Delirium. He is quite good alongside Kroxa and Witherbloom Command, and pairs well with any removal-heavy build, much like Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer does in Modern. As I've hinted above, I'm a little reluctant to play vulnerable creatures at the lower end of the curve (unless they are VERY easy to use for board pressure) as this gives opposing reactive decks more value out of their removal spells and reduces their dead draws in game one. However, there is certainly a place for Grim Flayer in Pioneer Jund, albeit in builds constructed to consciously take maximum advantage of what he has to offer.
Tenacious Underdog: A pushed, low-curve threat in the vein of Bloodghast, Gravecrawler, of Skyclave Shade that can help us with both early pressure and late game reach against control decks. While most of the two mana options available to Jund suffer from problems of vulnerability, Our Boy The Underdog keeps coming back for more until he is exiled for good (hopefully in an exchange in which an opponent trades down on mana!). While I suspect he likely shines brightest in outright aggro decks alongside Rankle, Master of Pranks and Co., I like that he allows us to leverage our life total for cards, value, and tempo. Please Wizards, make more cards like this.
Witherbloom Command: An underrated, versatile removal spell with (albeit narrow) two-for one potential as well as the ability to give Green/Black Rock some of the tricks typically reserved for Red-based midrange decks. It's a metagame call, but a good one when small creatures and cheap non-creature permanents matter, or perhaps in decks that plan to mess with lands and graveyards.
The Meathook Massacre: This, I think is a sideboard card, and a great one at that. This said, the sheer grind potential involved IN ADDITION to it being a scaleable boardwipe (i.e. an out for virtually any boardstate you can afford to bomb) makes 1-2 copies a serious consideration in planeswalker-heavy interpretations of Jund.
Given the immense wealth of options from Pioneer's considerable card pool, I interpret the three drop slots in Jund as the first place on the curve where potential inclusions should hit ALL of the core criteria that make up the traditional "rules of Jund": i.e. anytime you tap three mana for a spell in Jund, whatever you cast MUST be 1) good early as well as late, 2) a versatile answer to as many popular strategies as possible, 3) able to serve as a threat when possible as well as an answer, and perhaps most importantly, 4) be conducive to two-for-ones! Though I think there are some true all-star three drops that look like indelible must-includes, this is also the point on the curve where the diversity of powerful options allows one to experiment with a great many cards that can all get the job done reasonably well, depending on the state of the metagame. For me, the way to choose eight to twelve options from among this broader pool of bangers is to craft a combination of cards that are never truly dead against any opponent, collectively cover all of the strategies you expect to encounter in the current meta, and, most importantly, _cannot be readily answered before they generate card advantage in your favor. While trading a Scooze for a removal spell early in the game can be worthwhile, any card worth inclusion in Jund that costs more than two mana MUST be resilient to blowout inasmuch as it MUST generate additional value that is guaranteed so long as it resolves.
Bonecrusher Giant: Yup, this card is really, really, really good. As a very playable "any target" burn spell that "draws" you an undercosted threat, it's a guaranteed two-for-one that you virtually always want to draw. It kills small creatures, provides pressure via a five-turn clock, and can even close out the game if opponents' life totals are low enough. I'd run a full playset in most metas because of its high tempo (note that the removal side can be played on turn two!) and card advantage value against aggro (it can kill a small creature then guarantee you a huge threat that pings an opponent if targeted by a spell) and decent play against more controlling strategies in game one. In this connection, the fact that it is basically a 2.3-for-one makes it an ideal choice for Jund.
Fable of the Mirror-Breaker : This multi-format powerhouse is a slow, but guaranteed two-for-one (or more given the treasure token!) with the potential for generating much-needed card selection alongside considerable pressure when paired with good creatures. Pioneer's mini Seasoned Pyromancer, FOTMB is an important option to consider in grindier matchups and metagames that is increasingly earning a place in both Pioneer and Modern. I am personally wary of playing many copies of this card lest we fall victim to sideboard hate against artifacts and enchantments (our opponents should ideally find siding against us to be quite tricky) but cannot argue with successful record in Rakdos midrange decks.
Graveyard Trespasser /Graveyard Glutton : Midrangy creatures that explicitly help us beat control are rarely printed at lower mana costs these days. Trespasser, however, does far more than this. Not only does he forces opponents to go down on cards in order to deal with him, our favorite nocturnal gourmand also provides targeted graveyard hate on both etb and attack, and while doing so, widens the gap between life totals in your favour. As if this wasn't enough, Trespasser also flips into a large, more efficient werewolf version of himself whenever a player casts less than one spell on their turn. I've seen midrange decks without access to Green run four of these and I doubt they regret doing so. However, Jund's access to Scooze means that we are already quite adept at managing the graveyard, and the additional possibility of including more powerful Green threats higher up the curve makes me a little wary to run a full playset. This said, a very heavy balance of control and/or graveyard decks in the meta is a good reason to trade in anti-aggro cards for more Trespassers. Amen!
Kolaghan's Command: A stone-cold classic of midrange builds, KCommand is Jund's most universally applicable instant. It is virtually always relevant at any stage of the game against almost any deck and is almost always a two-for-one. There is by now a textbook-sized canon of discourse penned about the use value of this card, so I'll leave that to the rest of the internet, but suffice it to say that I don't think you can ever go wrong with running two of these in the main (and perhaps even 1-2 in the board to further hedge against control).
Murderous Rider: A thing of beauty. Like Bonecrusher Giant, Rider is a removal spell with a creature attached to it. This is a very powerful design that has, understandably, only been tested in the preposterously high-power-level Throne of Eldraine expansion of 2019. As I have noted above, Jund is always interested in running removal spells that double as threats. In contrast with Giant, however, Rider offers more versatility in its removal half, albeit at the cost of additional mana and 2 life. Furthermore, the creature it "draws" for you is somewhat weaker than Giant, although its lifegain ability make up for this somewhat, as does the option of simply casting the creature half first as a bulwark against aggro in game one (this for me, is part of what makes Rider such a maindeckable option!). Taken together, these factors have inclined me towards playing one or two copies of Rider in the main at times when "must kill" creatures can handily decide games despite its clunkiness (three mana can be too slow in some cases) and built-in life loss given the fact that Rider can itself finish games in corner cases. While I feel that 2 copies is more or less the limit, he Jund purist in me dreams of running a full playset in the main: what midrange player doesn't love the sound of "removal with teeth"?
Riveteers Charm: This is a very powerful modal spell that can serve as a welcome complement to Kolaghan's Command. Though it does not provide the same degree of reliability in generating two-for-ones, 1-2 maindeck copies seem very attractive for covering a number of bases that Kmand misses at instant speed. These use cases include three great modes: either one-sided graveyard hate (EXCELLENT against Izzet Phoenix), an "impulse" draw three (literally unique in the format at instant speed), or an at-cost "highest CMC" edict effect for creatures or planeswalkers. Sure, none of these options are amazing in of themselves, but, I remind you, that is the tradeoff inherent to the design of model spells: one trades raw power to some extent for a range of less efficient choice in situ. For our purposes here, this tradeoff can often be very much worth it inasmuch as it can allow us to run targeted hate effects in the main because they are stapled to other effects that are useful in other cases. Nevertheless, Riveteers Charm is actually quite powerful in spite of being a key example of the modal tradeoff effect. In addition to the fact that the card is never dead so long as you still have cards to draw from your library, with the exception of its third mode (graveyard exile), most of its options are more or less at or even above rate. While the cmc-based sac effect is essentially at rate when one considers a card like Soul Shatter (which does not require a target), the three card "impulse" draw is actually the best version of this effect in Pioneer for three mana, with Act on Impulse, the most comparable parallel, only working at sorcery speed. To my mind, it therefore seems best to view this card as offering maindeckable tech against either midrange or control with a side option to hate on the graveyard that is somewhat weak to outright aggro strategies. Hence, Like Kcommand, its printing allows us to save on valuable sideboard slots which would otherwise be needed to ashore up our matchups against midrange and control.
I furthermore greatly appreciate that Wizards appears to be willing to make cards with intensive, multi-colored mana costs operate on high power levels. This may seem like an obvious point, but recent design trends in the era of the ever rising price of the Modern and the increasing popularity of Commander has tended in the exact opposite direction over the last three years. Let me explain. The earliest multi-color cards were from the Legends expansion, wherein Wizards made all of these cards far too weak and far too overcosted to merit the downside of requiring two or more colors of mana in their casting costs. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that virtually all of these cards were legendary permanents, and as such, replete with built in downsides connected to the game's so-called "legendary rule" (in its current iteration: "If a player controls two or more legendary permanents with the same name, that player chooses one of them, and the rest are put into their owners’ graveyards. This is called the “legend rule"). While Magic's designers have changed their philosophy toward the multi-colored mechanic to accommodate for the drawbacks inherent to multi-color costs throughout the succeeding decades, the popularity of the Commander format has incentivized Wizards to make more creature cards that are multi-colored (and legendary for that matter) with their playability in that format primarily in mind as opposed to non-rotating constructed formats. As such, the choice to make creatures one or more colors is often more connected to whether or not they can be played in a particular commander deck, or, if they are themselves legendary creatures, facilitate a particular slice of the color pie in the 99, than whether their power level or mechanical identity merits this choice from a traditional (constructed) design perspective. At the same time, Wizards has also been printing more generically powerful mono-colored cards for constructed formats like Pioneer and Modern in order to ensure that these cards see play as must-have "superstaples" (in the words of one prominent content creator) playable in the widest possible variety of decks. As a result, there are a great many multi-colored, legendary creatures printed with little-to-no applicability to non-rotating, constructed formats, while many of the truly powerful cards printed for these audiences (Dragon's Rage Channeler, Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer, Urza's Saga) can be slotted in virtually any deck, and so especially so given the versatile state of mana fixing in formats like Modern or Legacy. I first noticed this with cards like Questing Beast and Oko, Thief of Crowns: i.e., how is it remotely plausible that cards this pushed for their CMC require no more than double mana symbols in their cost? Consider Phyrexian Obliterator in contrast. Here we have IMMENSE power level, albeit at a color-cost restriction that is arguably commensurate with this added power (i.e. you are likely restricted to mono Black, or at most, BX). In sum, I think the printing of cards like Riveteers Charm is a good thing for the game: more power should be more costly in terms of pips and colors, and, vice versa, more cost should bring more power.
Tireless Tracker: Tracker is a tried and true staple of midrange that is especially good in decks that play any form of fetchland (think Fabled Passage) or lean on any kind of land synergies. She may be somewhat weak to decks that play a lot of counterspells and/or removal, but her ability to draw cards by sacrificing Clue Tokens, create relevant permanents (Clue Tokens are artifacts), scale upwards in later turns, and trigger Fatal Push's revolt effect makes her a powerful incentive to play Green in Pioneer midrange. Playing a few copies is rarely ever a bad move!
Go Blank: Ingenious design in the vein of card advantage by resource depletion as well as an excellent interpretation of Mind Rot for Pioneer's power level. The fact that this card exiles the cards it forces opponents to discard alongside everything else in their yard, and therefore eliminating their ability to exploit a full graveyard to their own advantage, makes GB a pretty clean two for one against slower, more controlling strategies and a decent mirror breaker against midrange in game one. I'd maindeck this in control-heavy metas, though I think Trespasser is a better overall include because it also serves as a great threat.
Jewel Thief: A highly castable and on-curve beater that generates immediate value, ably protects planeswalkers, offers mana ramp, and can easily turn on Fatal Push's revolt effect. Additionally great in decks that run Tireless Tracker and/or Vraska, Golgari Queen.
Nissa, Vastwood Seer : A powerful option for slower decks that seek to exploit land synergies. This said the fact she is just a good card in a vacuum makes me think that Nissa could be viable way to improve the overall value potential of some builds. If you are willing and able to run a few basic forests, she is a three-mana 2/2 that draws you a card (that will always help you curve out!) at any point in the game and becomes a pretty solid walker on turns 7+. Who knows, perhaps Nissa can help us live the dream of building a planeswalker-heavy version of Jund in Pioneer.
Radiant Flames: A underrated sweeper. In Jund it can be tailored to hit X/1, X/2, or X/3 creatures depending on the number of colors you use to cast it, and as such it can serve as a one-sided board wipe if deployed in the right context.
Rotting Regisaur: A very well designed card. Reggie is an insanely pushed beater that can both easily accommodate Jund's three color plan and very effectively pressure an opponent's board (much like a slower but more consistent Tarmogoyf), albeit at the cost of pitching a card at each upkeep. He is very well suited to traditional aggro decks, though some highly aggressive builds of Jund Midrange (perhaps the same builds that might consider Hazoret the Fervent?) could use him to good effect. This said, he does come at the cost of card disadvantage, which, to my mind, makes him something of a build around and thus not the most intuitive choice for Jund Midrange in a vacuum.
Ashiok, Dream Render: A multifaceted hate piece out of the sideboard, Ashiok is one of the first planeswalkers ever printed with a static ability. She is also among the subgroup of walkers from 2019's War of the Spark expansion that have proven to be extremely powerful in older formats because their static effects provide punishing, one-sided hate against strategies that are highly relevant in non-rotating formats. While fetchlands are not near as prominent in Pioneer as elsewhere, Ashiok still hates on both graveyards and tutor effects of all kinds while offering the potential to synergize with your own graveyard antics.
Anger of the Gods: This is a great sideboard card as well as a potential maindeck inclusion in metas that are highly aggressive or whenever Izzet Phoenix decks are popular. It can provide an important out when you find yourself behind on-board against tribal decks or even creature-based midrange mirrors.
Chandra, Acolyte of Flame: The card that made "Chandra-tribal" decks something of a viable discussion. She definitely has a place in some form of planeswalker and spell-heavy build, though that build is not what I am going for here.
Liliana, the Last Hope: One of the all-time Queens of Jund (QOJ), LTLH is one of the most objectively powerful Pioneer planeswalkers at three CMC. While she is no Liliana of the Veil, as MTG Rock has pointed out in her 2019 article "The Time’s They Are A-Changin'," it is perhaps best to think of her as a kind of repeatable Kolaghan's Command that can win the long game if not dealt with by creating a zombie apocalypse of Shakespearian proportions. I like her as sideboard tech against aggressive, go wide decks, though she is certainly maindeckable in builds that exploit graveyard synergies or whenever aggro decks running fragile creatures are overly dominant.
Witch's Vengeance: A context-specific option that is great as a sideboard card or even a one-of in the main when tribal decks run rampant. Its 3 CMC also makes it not all that embarrassing as a hedge against aggressive metagames given that paying three mana to kill an x/3 is a very decent worst case scenario.
Hidetsugu Consumes All : Another amazing design in the vein of "removal with teeth," and a lot of teeth at that. This is a conditional boardwipe with built-in graveyard hate AND a 3/3 creature with considerable upside. The printing of this card has proven to be fairly important for Modern, where the average CMC of permanents is far closer to one than in Pioneer, though the fact that Pioneer Jund is, at least at present, somewhat less graveyard dependant than its Modern counterpart makes HCA's second chapter less of a hazard for its controller. As with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker , I think this is highly matchup and metagame specific choice that is nonetheless worthy of your consideration because of its x-for-one potential, overall uniqueness, and the sheer number of strategies it can hose all at once.
Klothys, God of Destiny: One of my favorite permanents of all time, and one of the first cards that comes to mind when I consider the options that other midrange decks lose when they opt not to play Green. Klothys is a slow attrition machine that lends even more power to the overall anti-graveyardness of Pioneer Jund while also helping us grind against slower control decks. I do think she was somewhat better positioned before the printing of March of Other Worldly Light (NEO), as she can now be unfortunately exiled out of existence before she gets much done. This factor, coupled with her lack of immediate impact on the board the turn she is cast, makes me think she is now mostly a sideboard card these days. This said, Klothys is a unique tool for solving particular problems and a great overall example of how the Gruul colors (Red/Green) can contribute to the Jund gameplan just as much as Rakdos (Black/Red) or Golgari (Black/Green). Finally, while her devotion-based ability rarely comes up, there is always the chance that Klothys can become a 4/5 indestructible killing machine of your board is wide enough!
Ob Nixilis, the Adversary: Though somewhat inelegant and difficult to understand upon first read, I think "Mob Nixilis" is another interesting example of Wizards exploring new design space for planeswalkers. When casting Ob you can either play him as a 3 loyalty walker who can -2 to create 1/1 devils who ping upon death triggers or +1 to pressure an opponents life total or hand (unfortunately the choice if often theirs) and tick towards a Griselbrand effect (draw seven cards, lose seven life). However, one can alternatively opt to sac a creature upon casting Ob and creature a non-legendary token copy of the demonman with starting loyalty equal to that creature's power. Besides the fact that you can immediately get to Ob's ultimate if you sac a creature with seven or more power (Perhaps a Rotting Regisaur or a big Scooze!!), getting two walkers (or more with Esika's Chariot!) who make tokens and/or pressure an opponents life total/hand every turn is a very powerful move even when one factors in the loss of the sacrificed creature. A unique tool for decks that run enough creatures/chariots.
Bedevil: This card Bascially reads "destroy target threat except Shark Typhoon" in Pioneer. Although the Melvyn in me LOVES the color theory and design space here (i.e. your Dreadbore can hit artifacts and be cast at instant speed when you add an additional Black mana!), three mana removal is a bit expensive for Jund unless it comes with either added value (Murderous Rider) or valuable flexibility (i.e. Riveteers Charm). Be this as it may, I think I would seriously running a similar card that also hit enchantments.
Here we enter bomb territory. Quite frankly, I'd argue that Jund is perfectly justified in forgoing cards above 3CMC given the importance of efficiency in enabling its edge against other decks. This said, I think Pioneer IS a four-drop, and even a five-drop format where more expensive spells can be played in competitive circles. If Modern Jund could readily justify playing a playset of Bloodbraid Elf until the early 2020s, Pioneer can still make great use of a considerable selection of four and five mana planeswalkers as well as a few high power level creatures. Personally, I take the stance that 4-6 permanents in this upper range of the curve are permissible, though the cards you choose to fill these slots MUST, in my view, check all of the "rules of Jund" stated above and, in addition, have a good chance of taking over the game in short order if left unanswered. I take this last ethic to be the core guiding principle for my Pioneer Jund deckbuilding at the top of the curve.
Having tested a number of options, I have arrived at a short list of value threats that I like as curve-toppers for Pioneer Jund's maindeck. These include:
Chandra, Torch of Defiance: A "removal spell" that can handily win games, CTOD is one of the most powerful walkers available to us both in the Jund colors and in the Pioneer format at large. As she can net us cards, mana, player damage, or relief from an X/4 creature while threatening a game-ending ultimate that is often well within reach, Chandra has play against both controlling and aggressive strategies and is never a bad draw at any point in the game. However, though she checks all of Jund's boxes, she is also a bit more of a risky investment as a four mana play than a card like Sorin the Mirthless because she cannot effectively protect herself on curve (especially in a Phoenix-heavy meta) and her first+1 will likely not draw us into a castable card unless we have other sources of mana on turn four. Thus, in addition to being difficult to cast at times given the manabase available to Jund in Pioneer (we tend to be able to lean in only one, and rarely two directions besides Black in terms of double pips in mana costs), Chandra is also an uneasy path toward two-for-ones unless she is cast later in the game. As such, she feels like more of a "finisher" than a card that can help us turn the corner in the first place. True, it is often worthwhile for us to kill creatures with walkers and present opponents with the uncomfortable choice of either using tempo resources to removing them or attacking you directly with their remaining board. This said, I think it is always a risk to include high CMC spells in Jund that do not shine on curve as well as in the later turns of the game. All of this aside, Chandra is nevertheless a grindy powerhouse of a walker that is highly maindeckable in metas where decks like Azorius Control, Izzet Phoenix, and Spirits variants are not in the uppermost tier of popularity.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet: Though very powerful in a vacuum, Kalitas is perhaps the most situational of our higher CMC options. His static ability provides graveyard hate for opponents' creatures and creates 2/2 zombies when they die, thus synergizing very well with removal spells. He is therefore an absolute house against creature decks in that he rewards your kill spells with both card advantage and board presence, not to mention the fact that he can gain you life when he deals damage (great against burn!) and can "go tall"--as well as "wide"--through his activated ability (also great against burn!). I personally need a good reason to maindeck Kalitas in significant numbers as he can be a deadish draw against control and non-graveyard-oriented combo but I don't think you'll regret running a single copy in the main, especially in circumstances where his many abilities are relevant in popular matchups.
Sorin the Mirthless: A welcome addition to the venerable tradition of Necropotence variants in Magic, Sorin the Mirthless is a combination of Dark Confidant, Phyrexian Arena, and Vampire Nighthawk that is well suited for Pioneer's power level. As an excellent, guaranteed two-for-one against control and a decent two-for-one against aggro (he protects himself! And even against flyers!), I like him in the main in more control-heavy metagames where Chandra, Torch of Defiance is less impactful on curve or when flying creatures like Arclight Phoenix are very popular. Wizards seems reluctant to give us unconditional card draw on four mana walkers, but Sorin's +1 provides one of the best effects of this kind yet printed: i.e. whenever the option of netting a 2/3 vampire with flying and lifelink (not to be underestimated in Jund!) isn't all that attractive, Sorin can show you the top card of your deck (independent of hate from Narset, Parter of Veils) and give you the option of using the Dark Confidant effect if you have the life to spare. Crucially, this ability does not force you into life loss when you can't afford it, and as such can feel like you are immediately benefitting from a Phyrexian Arena effect that has already started paying out card advantage. Sure, Sorin is far less resilient to removal than Arena (enchantments can be hard to deal with in this format). This said, he is also a virtual "Arena" that can either win the game outright or put a win out of an opponent's reach if he is allowed to ultimate. As if this wan't enough, Sorin is far from embarrassing against almost all of the aggressive matchups you might reasonably expect in Pioneer because as he is also capable of functioning as a barrel full of vampire tokens that can protect him, net you life, and/or (potentially) trade with attacking creatures. In sum, Sorin may not be an outright bomb that can help you turn the corner on the spot (this seems to be the purview of five mana spells in Jund), nor is he guaranteed to help with Jund's resource attrition plan--something at which Chandra, Torch of Defiance very much excels--but he is a powerful and multifaceted value-generating threat that constitutes an excellent mana investment at any stage of the game.
Vraska, Golgari Queen: For our purposes here, Vraska is essentially a repeatable Abrupt Decay (her -3) stapled to a means of "permanent filtering" (her +2) that can win the game if left unanswered (her -9). Though Pioneer may have higher average mana curves than older formats like Modern, Vraska still has a great many relevant targets for her removal effect on ETB and the fact that you can always sack a land or a less-than relevant token for cards and life against creature-light decks. This plurality of uses cases is, as I have stressed throughout, one of the most essential qualifications for higher CMC (i.e. 4CMC+) threats in Jund. Be this as it may, her value is diminished somewhat when four and five CMC threats like Arclight Phoenix, The Wandering Emperor, and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are ascendant in the meta. What's more, the fact that Vraska doesn't protect herself very well against creature-heavy boards can make her vulnerable to aggro decks after she has ticked down, though using her -3 is arguably part of your Plan A against these decks. As such, she is a fine maindeck option in most metas that can give you decent grind power against virtually any strategy, though unlike some other walkers on this list she is best deployed later in the game as a means to pull ahead or, less commonly, on curve against relatively uncrowded boards.
Ziatora's Envoy: One of the most convincing Bloodbraid Elf impressions in the format. This is almost exactly what we want to see in a four-drop threat. It's aggressively costed, very powerful in a vacuum (i.e. independent of any synergies or setup), able to generate value the turn it is cast, and able to run away with the game if left unchecked (free spells, card draw, fast damage, etc.). While this card reads like the ultimate incarnation of "what Jund wants in Pioneer," it is nevertheless quite vulnerable to exiled-based spot removal before it is able to see it's first combat. Be this as it may, anything short of an exile effect will likely not be enough to stop Envoy from either running away with the game or generating enough pressure and value for you to do so on consecutive turns. A very, very worthy addition to Jund's (somewhat shallow) suite of playable four-mana threats that can enable clean two-for-ones, though the fact that it is a creature (and not a planeswalker) places it among the more vulnerable end of the threat spectrum.
Lolth, Spider Queen: One of the coolest midrangy walkers printed in recent years and one of the very best options in mono Black. In some respects a strictly better version of Ob Nixilis Reignited, albeit without the option to kill creatures, Lolth makes a significant impact on the board when she ETBs through her Phyrexian Arena effect, can protect herself very well via MULTIPLE bodies with reach as well as a static loyalty-boosting effect like Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, and offers the potential to win the game on yet another axis through her -8. To be sure, Lolth is not the most interactive planeswalker. Nevertheless, she is a five mana three-for-one that protects herself and serves as an (admittedly slow) threat in terms of both card advantage and life total. Awesome against controlling decks (those spiders are themselves a five turn clock!) and fair against agressive ones so long as she resolves, 2-3 copies of Lolth are excellent in most metas despite her being a legendary permanent. This is because her "must kill" status makes her an important target for opponents' removal and her tendency to (at least) replace herself upon ETB through spider tokens and her 0 ability means that she always leaves significant additional value behind even if she is instantly removed. Extra copies are therefore rarely dead in hand. THIS is what five mana should buy you in Jund!
Wrenn and Seven: Having experimented with using a number of high impact permanents as curve toppers in Jund, I am convinced that this Queen of Jund is The Truth. Hear me out: they are our BGR Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
Much like Bloodbraid Elf, W7 is a very powerful permanent in a vacuum that requires no setup whatsoever to be impactful, and is therefore an excellent sink for 5 mana whether played on curve or long afterwards. (For perspective, their +1 ability is literally unique in all of Magic at the cost of five mana, and the fact that it is basically stapled to a utility planeswalker with lots of lands synergy is pretty wild). They can often singlehandedly swing the game in your favour, or, in the case that your opponent is able to unwind all of the value they have provided you, eventually net you a significant tempo (and sometimes card) advantage that can help you edge ahead in later turns. While W7's abilities present important synergies with both lands and graveyards, the main thing to note here is that so long as W7 resolve they provide a very impactful two-for-one that gives us both a powerful (and scalable) threat as well as a value engine that plays well with utility lands and recursive creatures. (Thus unlike Elder Gargaroth, which can provide a big body + additional value if it survives a turn, Wrenn gives us both of these things right away!) Perhaps most importantly, this two-for-one exists across two permanent types (creature and planeswalker), making it durable against both board wipes and targeted removal, and is furthermore designed such that the creature half can protect the walker half effectively given its considerable size and ability to block flyers. Hence, if you fill your deck with enough copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger and/or manlands like Hive of the Eye Tyrant, Wrenn and can sit back behind their treefolk friend(s) and draw you into mana fixing, lands to grow your treefolk tokens, cards to pitch to Collective Brutality, and/or additional threats (most prominently Kroxa!) to close out the game in a hurry. Needless to say, such power and versatility tends to bind opponents into making less-than-advantageous plays in order to immediately remove Wrenn. This is exactly where you want to be in Jund!
Wrenn's exalted status is also solidified in my mind because additional copies are unlikely to rot away unused in your hand. This is due to the fact that casting extra copies can still net you an additional loyalty activations for turn and leave behind a sizeable treefolk body. W7 thus shine as a four-of despite their legendary supertype, as consecutive copies can help you pile up monster treefolk and/or dig toward more card advantage. Moreover, the threat potential posed by both the creature and/or walker half of W7 most often entices opponents with tenable answers to try and deal with either half as soon as possible (at the expense, I might add, of their own potential tempo advantage). Hence, Wrenn's "must kill" status on board means that you can reliably plan to have one or both halves of their in built two-for-one removed ASAP (as a "complete" W7 can run away with the game in this deck if left alone), therefore making additional copies welcome draws in many games. However, as I note above, whether your opponents succeed in undoing your Wrenn play in whole or in part, you are rarely if ever punished for casting another Wrenn while one copy is already in play, and the gradual buildup of board presence, card advantage, and tempo accrued through resolving multiple Wrenns is more than worth the occasional awkwardness of drawing too many too early.
In sum, I think that Wrenn and Seven can help us go "over the top" of other decks more consistently than most other threats in Black, Red, and Green. This inclines me to view W7 as perhaps the signature threat of Pioneer Jund midrange and a formidable addition to the considerable list of payoffs that come with playing Green as our "third color" in "three color black." If Jundy midrange strategies tend to rely on early disruption to pave the way for mid and late game threats, it is important for us to maindeck cards that generate enough value to help us turn the corner against any opponent. After initially starting with one maindeck copy and gradually working my way up to four, I have decided that W7 fill these shoes spectacularly.
Esika's Chariot: Chariot is a hilariously overpowered card in formats like Standard and Historic that also sees four-of play in Pioneer decks. It's a four-mana three for one that is great at applying pressure if it resolves against control, allows for very versatile approaches to combat ("shall I attacked with one 4/4 or two 2/2s?," etc.), and generates value through additional creature tokens if left unanswered. I personally like it for its raw aggressive power as well as the dream of making multiple tokens after casting either Ob Nixilis, the Adversary or Wrenn and Seven. Indeed, as Chariot stands among the most powerful threat in the format, it may well constitute another important incentive to play Green in your Pioneer midrange decks, yet the ubiquity of Kolaghan's Command (a virtual counterspell against Chariot) in a number of popular metagame decks makes me a bit wary of running it in the main.
Extinction Event: A highly relevant piece of conditional mass removal that helps us survive against meta decks like Izzet Phoenix postboard, though it can also function as a generally good anti-aggro card with some game against midrange strategies. As Phoenix tends to run very important spells at even mana costs (Thing in the Ice , Crackling Drake (GRN, Arclight Phoenix, etc.), I like to keep my builds relatively light of even CMC creatures to make Event into a truly one-sided mass exile effect.
Hazoret the Fervent: An extremely powerful option for more aggressive (i.e. disruption and efficiency-oriented) interpretations of Jund. Though she may be somewhat vulnerable to exile effects, Hazoret is an absolute menace in builds that include lots of cheap spells and can reliably empty their hand by turn four. My theory is that Hazoret is still somewhat untapped in the Pioneer format and may be quite useful as a one-of in decks not actually tuned to make maximum use of her due to her high ambient power level. Needless to say, any deck that runs multiple copies MUST be prepared to avoid circumstances where having too many cards in hand renders her unable to attack or block. At the same time, her activated ability can help a great deal with this, as does Jund's main gameplan of maximizing mana efficiency while curving out such that you rarely plan for cards in hand in the later turns.
Atsushi, the Blazing Sky: Very Jundy. Atsushi is evasive, pushed for his mana cost, and difficult for opponents to advantageously remove without him generating additional value either in the form of cards, mana ramp, color fixing, or permanents on board. Hence, he really shines in an environment without many exile effects, and as such is a bit to much of a liability for my taste given the ubiquity of March of Otherworldly Light. Definitely a card to keep your eye on!
Henrika Domnathi : There is an argument to be made that Henrika strictly belongs in vampire-tribal. However, her ability to draw you a card and gnaw away at an opponents creatures (albeit in exchange for your own) makes her well suited to relatively creature-heavy builds that are somewhat more focused on overall resource attrition than generating value. True, when flipped she doesn't exactly win the game, but there's a world in which a slow edict effect that replaces itself and nets you a decent body with evasion is worthwhile.
Languish: An alternative to Extinction Event that works to the advantage of builds that run few small creatures or creatures in general. It's often great on curve and can even answer indestructible threats.
Ritual of Soot: A CMC-based board wipe that is great for reversing explosive starts from aggro. A bit slow, but good to keep in mind alongside the other comparable options.
Liliana, Waker of the Dead: The mere mention of Lily's name always peaks interest when new sets are spoiled, though it's been a few years since the printing of a Liliana planeswalker has significantly changed the parameters of Jund deckbuilding. This version is the closest to the design of the classic Liliana of the Veil than any other in that she can attack both hand and board. Her +1 provides bilateral discard and pings opponents for 3 life if they have nothing to give, while her -3 can kill creatures depending on the size of your graveyard. Much like Angrath, the Flame-Chained below, Waker of the Dead is probably a great choice for interpretations of Jund that focus on hand disruption elements as a total package. Nevertheless, this attempt at scaling LOTV up to a four drop is a bit too safe to be worth the extra mana, especially when we account for the fact that LOTV has been deemed suitable for the Pioneer power level of the early 2020s. Her ultimate may be powerful and within reach in some cases (it being -7 and not -8), her creature removal ability is far too graveyard dependant for her to serve as the versatile, attrition-based four mana threat Jund needs. Given that one-sided discard is likely too strong for 4 mana walkers in Pioneer, I think that Lily's removal mode is too weak for her to sit at the highest tier of curve-topper options for this format.
Questing Beast: An extremely pushed aggressive threat that can factor into our attrition strategy against control. It can generate "virtual card advantage" through its unique ability to hit players and walkers at the same time, and the fact that it can serve as both (hasty) attacker and blocker (trading with anything) in the same turn sequence is not to be underestimated. I'm reluctant, however, to consider it a slam dunk in Jund because it does not generate an immediate return on your four mana spent and can die to removal before it gets much done. Hence, in lieu of any sort of ETB effect, QB is not the complete haymaker it would be if it cost, say, , in spite of it being a part of the worst phase of Wizards "F.I.R.E. Design" insanity.
Rankle, Master of Pranks. One of the "Jundiest" cards available to us in Pioneer. Rankle has the ability to force opponents to trade resources 1-for-1 with us whenever he deals combat damage. This said, we are always in control of the various axes on which these exchange occur, thus ensuring that we usually come out ahead in the end. This makes Rankle one of the most powerful attrition-based options we have to complement our discard package, and I very much respect anyone inclined to maindeck 2-4 copies of The Master (he's EXCELLENT in multiples!) in creature heavy builds of Jund where we can make opponents sacrifice creatures to our benefit. However, I am personally not playing him at the moment given the ubiquity of powerful flyers in the format, though I tend to be generally wary of running creatures in Jund that cost more than 2 CMC unless they generate immediate and significant value. Don't forget: creatures tend to be far more vulnerable to spot removal than planeswalkers in Pioneer even though Wizards has greatly improved our suite of walker kill spells since 2019. Don't get me wrong though: I love this card and it has a lot of potential.
Rekindling Phoenix: One of the rare powerhouse designs from the Ixalan era of Standard expansions, Rekindling Phoenix is an evasive AND recursive threat that most often requires opponents to two-for-one themselves lest it return from the graveyard (with haste) to trouble them once again. Very powerful in a vacuum, yet (once again) not as playable in the present meta given the printing and consequent popularity of March of Otherworldly Light.
Shifting Ceratops: A tenable piece of sideboard tech control decks running lots of countermagic. While most uncounterable threats are relatively underpowered in Pioneer (we have nothing close to Thrun, the Last Troll), I've been tempted to maindeck this to help combat Izzet Phoenix and Azorius Control.
Storm's Wrath: One of the few playable wraths that hits planeswalkers as well as creatures. I like this card in midrange mirrors against decks that play a fair bit of creatures but also the occasional walker, though it could also theoretically help you regain board presence against walker-heavy control decks.
Arlinn Kord /Arlinn, Embraced by the Moon : The original Arlinn planeswalker is a decent value-generating threat that can protect itself moderately well, interact with both creatures and players, and boast access to a total of five loyalty abilities across its two sides. However, about half of her abilities rely significantly on having creatures on board in order to be relevant or valuable, so she may be better suited to a more aggressive, creature-heavy build like Gruul ( i.e. Red/Green) Monsters. Although she can generate a 2/2 wolf token on ETB, she is still quite vulnerable to attack, and the fact that using some of her best abilities forces you to flip her over and use an entirely different range of effects makes her a little too unreliable to field a diverse array of opposing strategies.
Arlinn, the Pack's Hope /Arlinn, the Pack's Fury (MID:279): A unique threat that is not to be underestimated. After years of printing mediocre Gruul planeswalkers into the Pioneer card pool, Arlinn provides us with a four mana three-for-one upon ETB that can also become an absolute hazard against "draw go" control opponents. She may, however, be a little too vulnerable to flyers while a planeswalker and exile effects while a creature, though I am disinclined to write her off as a one-of include to be sided out against opponents who have access to her "silver bullets."
Culling Ritual: An excellent removal/ramp spell that can be either one-sided or well worth the risk in metagames full of cheap permanents. Think of it as a cheaper Pernicious Deed that can ramp you. Situational to be sure, be VERY powerful in the right context.
Polukranos, Unchained: A grindy, interactive, and recursive threat that would be very exciting for us Jundheads if he wasn't permanently weakened after every combat in which he participates. Instant-speed fight effects are rare and powerful, as are four mana 6/6s that can be brought back from the yard as 12/12s. I really like the design on this card and wish he was able to see more play in previous Standard and Pioneer formats (rotten luck for being printed in the thick of the "F.I.R.E design" era) as he feels slightly too mana intensive, graveyard reliant, and vulnerable to exile effects to sit at the top of my curve-toppers tier list. Still a beating, and maybe worthwhile if you have the means of generating lots of mana.
Unleash the Inferno: This is a very welcome addition to Jund's suite of removal spells that offer potential two-for-ones. This may thus be another sign that Wizards is now increasingly willing to give three-color spells the power level they deserve. While the purist in me wonders why this card isn't just Dreadbore stapled to Disenchant, the ability to kill (virtually) any creature or planeswalker AND a (likely low CMC) artifact or enchantment at instant speed without requiring a second target at cast is a beautiful thing. I would maindeck 1-2 copies in a meta where board presence across multiple permanent types is important, though it is a bit slow for Jund otherwise.
Elder Gargaroth: This creature reads like a thought experiment realized. It is the answer to the design question "how can we push the limits of Green five-drop creatures to the absolute limit without it automatically spiraling out of control?" As such, this Green version of the classic Baneslayer Angel threatens to run away with the game in a hurray if you are allowed to untap with it. Although Jund typically prefers immediate, guaranteed value, the advantage to be gained in terms of life, cards, board presence, and a fast clock can sometimes be enough to reward you for playeing this most pushed of curve-topping Green beaters. I'm a fan.
Glorybringer: The card that taught Wizards to be careful what they print at rare for the purposes of Limited gameplay, Glorybringer is a hasty threat that can come in out of nowhere, kill a non-dragon creature, then either kill an opponent's planeswalker or threaten their life total unless they have removal in hand. While not a guaranteed two-for-one, Glorybringer is close enough to merit consideration as a kind of demi Bloodbraid Elf effect in metagames where X/4 creatures matter and/or dragons are not (as) popular in meta decks. Not unbeatable, but somewhat underrated in my opinion.
Junji, the Midnight Sky and Kura, the Boundless Sky: Though both of these legendary creatures are more expensive, and therefore more clunky, than their cousin Atsushi, each offers powerful death triggers that help ameliorate the mana investment involved and contribute to Jund's overall value-plus-attrition gameplan in different ways. Junji can either severely punish an opponent with discard and life loss or reanimate any (non-dragon) creature from any graveyard, making it rarely if ever anything but a blowout for opposing players whatever their strategy. Kura's death trigger give you the choice between tutoring ANY three lands to your hand (including, for that matter, the recursion "spell" Takenuma, Abandoned Mire or creating a scaleable body in their wake. I personally think both dragons could have a future in Jund. However, the fact that their value effects come with death triggers, and not ETB triggers, means that you can still trade down in mana and lose considerable tempo if they are exiled by (you guessed it) March of the Otherworldly Light (NEO). Still, these look like solid choices for future metas unknown.
Stormbreath Dragon: A hasty, evasive beater and late game mana sink with highly relevant protection from some of the best removal spells and planeswalkers in the format. As an anti-control card with protection from white, SBD is actually pretty close to playable in the main or in the side whenever Azorius Control is popular, because, unlike virtually every other playable Jund creature, it is NOT gonna get exiled by March!
Urabrask, Heretic Praetor: I see this card as something of a more vulnerable version of Lolth that nets us less immediate value in exchange for a hasty body that hits pretty hard while putting some SERIOUS hate on opponents (and especially those playing a more controlling game!). I'm disinclined to invest in a five drop creature that can easily die before it gets us any value, but Urabrask's potential to run away with the game may help him get across the line to the realm of playability in some metas.
Workshop Warchief: Pioneer's version of Thragtusk. The Chief offers worse stats than peer threat Elder Gargaroth and is somewhat less of a terrifying "must kill" creature. This said, he does guarantee a solid two-for-one unless exiled, and is therefore a great choice against non-white decks when one accounts for the versatility baked into his blitz effect. This said, I think I'd prefer Ziatora's Envoy in this vein.
Angrath, the Flame-Chained: One of the very best Black/Red minotaur-pirate-planeswalkers in all of Magic, Angrath is a Jundy-looking threat with a powerful +1 ability that is very much on plan with what we want to be doing in "Three color black." It seems that Wizards is unwilling to give one-sided discard to walkers below 5 CMC, and it appears that Angrath offers one of the most punishing versions of this effect that is currently available. However, he also suffers from low starting loyalty, a distant and somewhat conditional ultimate, and a rather weak -3 ability. Sure, a (theoretically) repeatable threaten effect is excellent, as is the possibility of sacrificing your target at end of turn if it's below 3 CMC. Be this as it may, this effect is not guaranteed to put you ahead on board or on cards unless you are facing down a board of small creatures, and as such it is quite underwhelming as the "destroy" effect of a 5-mana walker in the Rakdos colors, a combination famous for its unconditional removal. As far as I'm concerned, he is likely better in a build that is all-in on discard and less focused on overall "format control" (more on this below!) as I am here.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King: A tried-and-true staple from Jund sacrifice decks that can trade-in permanents that have outlived their usefulness for much-needed card draw. The fact that he requires such a sacrifice upon ETB and every attack makes him more of a situational, build-around threat than traditional Jund Midrange decks typically run, although his status as both an engine and a large, ever-growing body keeps him under consideration in my book. There may also be a future where the synergistic, sacrifice-oriented builds meet traditional midrange in the middle, and Korvold could play a pivotal role in that world.
Tasigur, the Golden Fang: A good one-to-two-of threat in builds that aim for a high action economy (i.e. playing a lot of spells each turn and thus filling up the graveyard). Everyone's favorite boy king is also immune to much of the more commonly played cheap removal spells like Fatal Push and synergistic with the other graveyard-based aspects of Jund, though in this respect he arguably competes somewhat with Kroxa for access to cards in the yard.
Carnage Tyrant: A unique and powerful anti-control option for the sideboard. Likely too expensive and beatstickish for maindeck play, but a worthy hoser for controlling builds that play few mass removal effects. Decent threats that are resistant to both removal AND countermagic are few and far between in Pioneer!
Chandra, Awakened Inferno: Expensive but extremely powerful sideboard tech that I am frankly willing to try out in some metas. An uncounterable walker that can grind out slower decks, wipe the board of (most) small creatures, and kill most threats on cast has my undivided attention. Another piece of evidence that Chandra cards currently sit at the forefront of unique and interesting planeswalker design. Go Chandra!
Professor Onyx: This Lily is one of the cooler new planeswalker designs I have seen lately at higher mana costs. While she is in all likelihood too expensive to see maindeck play in a build like ours, she is essentially a one card "spellslinger" engine that widens the gap between your life total and your opponents whenever you play instants or sorceries in addition to having a suite of other excellent abilities. Her +1 can easily draws you into more spells and stock your graveyard for other synergies, all while plussing toward a great (though sometimes unwieldy) creature removal effect and an insanely powerful ultimate. All in all, The Professor is more of a classic control finisher than the grindy and efficient value engine we need, though I wanted to mention her as an option in case future printings and/or metagame shifts incline us towards questions that this powerful, build-around card can answer.
Thought Distortion: This card may be expensive, but it has the potential to be something of a "Lights out" against control decks. I'm happy to include up to two copies in the side when control decks are favored.
Tovolar's Huntmaster /Tovolar's Packleader : Another expensive threat proven in other decks (i.e. the imfamous Naya Winota) that should not be left off our radar. It's worth noting that Our Burly Boy is effectively a Grave Titan variant when he ETBs as Packleader. I'm not sure we could ever make as much of this card as the Winota decks did but this need not stop us from considering him in the future given the immense threat value and board presence he generates.
Garruk, Cursed Huntsman: For six mana this Garruk gets you a three-for-one replete with a repeatable kill spell that cantrips in the form of a walker. He also protects himself fairly well between the wolf tokens costing zero loyalty to generate and the fact that they add to Garruk's loyalty when they die (hopefully trading up in the process!). I do think 6 CMC is slightly beyond the upper limit of playability for maindeck threats in Jund midrange, but I'm willing to be proven wrong. If you can leverage the wolf tokens appropriately, I can see this guys taking over games through card advantage or the "Overrun" effect baked into his ultimate. A decent option for decks willing to play higher curves.
Vraska, Relic Seeker: Having played against Relic Seeker quite a number of times I am convinced she is an absolute beating in a topdeck war. This is because her +2 generates blockers which protect her while she ticks up towards a relatively broad removal effect (with added value via treasure tokens) that can be activated TWICE consecutively upon resolution or a virtually game-winning ultimate. I stand by what I said about 6 mana threats in Jund above, though I think Vraska is closer to being worth the extra cost than most other comparable options.
Garruk, Apex Predator: What can I say. Big Bad Garruk offers perhaps the most raw power to the board upon cast in exchange for a CMC that is almost surely too high for our purposes here. I would't write him off forever, especially as a batshit-level hate card against planeswalker, but for now he like looks like far too much of a mana investment to gel all that well with our plan to balance value with efficiency as we curve out.
There is no "one size fits all" when it comes to Jund manabases as the mana requirements of the archetype vary widely alongside the card selection choices made by each individual player. Does your build lean heavily on Red or is Red mostly a splash? Do you run several cards with double mana pips in their casting cost or none at all? How aggressive is your mana curve? can you afford to have lands that enter the battlefield tapped? Whatever your particular version of Jund, what follows is a rough "tier list" of the different land cycles available to us in Pioneer ranked in terms of their general usefulness for Jund Midrange.
Basic Lands: Yes, I'd highly recommend running at least one basic land in any Jund deck you build in Pioneer. This is because slower, reactive decks like Azorius Control have made friends with cards like Field of Ruin which is essentially a Wasteland effect if your library contains no basic lands. While running more than three may be unwieldy if some of your spells have double pips in their casting costs, I still think it is well worth your time to build-in some non-basic land destruction insurance of this kind, in addition to the fact that some of the recent full art Swamps, Forests, and Mountains are too gorgeous to ignore!
Shocklands: Overgrown Tomb, Blood Crypt(GRN) and Stomping Ground are arguably the best lands in the format for Jund decks as their only restriction is the aggregate life loss accrued from playing them untapped throughout a given game. For this reason, running more than six or so can put you in the danger zone too quickly to turn the corner against the most aggressive decks in the format, so I'd recommend using them sparingly unless you can (for some reason) consistently afford for them to come into play tapped.
Pathway Lands: Darkbore Pathway , Blightsep Pathway (ZNR), and Cragcrown Pathway offer an extremely versatile complement to shocklands in that they require no life loss and can supplement whatever colors are needed in a given game, albeit without the option of adding two colors when played. I'm personally very happy with running a manabase primarily based on shocklands and pathways as this approach allows one to effectively avoid lands entering the battlefield tapped, though this does come at the cost of missing out on any potential revolt and landfall triggers.
Fastlands: Pioneer currently lacks the allied fastlands. This said, Blooming Marsh is an excellent addition to any manabase with few spells that cost four or more mana. It is especially great in decks that need lots of Green mana for Scooze or W7.
Man Lands: Lands that can temporarily double as creatures have been a core part of midrange decks since the days of Treetop Village in The Rock. Much like the "spells with teeth" I have discussed above, these allow us to run a very high threat count without making sacrifices to other aspects of the deck. If our lands can also threaten an opponents life total, protect ours, or trade with opposing creatures, we have all the better chance of winning the topdeck wars that our builds are designed to facilitate and win. Though us Pioneers cannot play Modern Jund allstar Raging Ravine, which is a fantastic threat stapled to a land that suits our intensive mana requirments very well, we can nontheless choose from a decent range of comparable options including Hissing Quagmire, Den of the Bugbear, Hive of the Eye Tyrant, and Lair of the Hydra. While the fact that these lands tend to ETB tapped or offer sub-optimal options for mana in the early game can make them unwieldy given Jund's three-color requirements, I think we can afford to run at least two of them in order to maximize our threat potential in general and/or boost our aggressive game against control decks.
Channel Lands: One of the most powerful land cycles ever printed. Takenuma, Abandoned Mire, Sokenzan, Crucible of Defiance, and ESPECIALLY Boseiju, Who Endures are basically decent spells that do things Jund wants and happen to be stapled to lands that have virtually no opportunity cost for you to include in any deck running their colors (perhaps even in multiples). Were it not for the presence of Field of Ruin in the format, the channel lands could very handily replace basics in Jund.
Eldraine Castles: A very powerful cycle of rare lands that are (somehow) not legendary permanents, and as such make great additions to our palette of utility lands in Jund. Although I'm not sure that Castle Embereth or Castle Garenbrig are very much in line with Jund's gameplan, Castle Locthwain is essentially a Phyrexian Arena variant attached to a land that can help up pull ahead in late-game topdeck wars in exchange for mild lifeloss, or even emergency draw in any situation where cards are worth far more than life. Locthwain is likely best in decks that run a fair number of swamps, though it is generically good enough to be a consideration in virtually any build.
"Triomes": Jund has a "triome"! Although it's called Ziatora's Proving Ground for some reason! Like the original triome cycle in 2020's Ikoria: Lair of Behemoth's expansion (that's right, the one that unleashed the companion mechanic upon us all), this land taps for all three of Jund's colors, enters tapped, carries three basic land types, and can be cycled for three mana of any color. On the one hand, triomes are not yet fetchable in Pioneer as they are in Modern, and the fact that they ETB tapped can be a serious hindrance to your mana curve. This said, the printing of this card is a significant improvement to Jund's problematic manabase in the format and the fact that it can be cycled away for a random card if you are flooding out in the late game makes it a great include in 1-3 copies to tase.
Fetchland(s): Technically speaking, Pioneer has no proper "fetchlands," as the cycle of extremely powerful, format-defining lands like Verdant Catacombs was pre-emptively banned when the format was announced in late 2019. However, we do have a single, "fixed" sorta-fetchland in Fabled Passage which acts as a tutor for basic lands that enter untapped on turns four and onwards. This is a great option for us given our intense mana requirements and is especially useful in builds that run Fatal Push and Tireless Tracker because of its internal synergy with their triggered abilities. This said, it is not ideal in the early turns when the lands it tutors ETB tapped.
Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth: While Urborg is not yet part of a completed cycle (though Yavimaya, Cradle of Growth is available in Modern!), it is certainly a very viable option for Jund builds that leverage spells heavy in Black mana pips. True, it fixes your opponent's mana as well, though this can be a fair price to pay for smoothing out your mana and helping ensure that you can cast your Black spells on curve.
Slow Lands: Deathcap Glade, Haunted Ridge, and Rockfall Vale can serve as useful pieces of our overall mana suite as they typically ETB untapped after turn two. Hence, they are only truly "bad" when played on your second turn. However, the fact that they cannot be used on turn one in emergency circumstances (unlike shocks or pathways for example) puts them a tier below the aforementioned in my book given that they offer no additional utility aside from effective mana fixing. As I have noted above, it can be very costly for midrange decks to consistently take the first turns off from waging their "wars of attrition."
Checklands: Dragonskull Summit, Rootbound Crag, and Woodland Cemetery can offer effective mana fixing in builds that run a significant number of lands with basic land types, though they are often unwieldy in those that are more focused on pathways or various utility lands. As they need to be paired with other land types in order to offer mana fixing, they are less independently useful than other options.
Zendikar MDFCs: 2020's Zendikar Rising expansion revolutionized manabase in all of Magic's formats by creating "Modal double-faced cards" (MDFC), spells that can be played as lands if needed. Most of these cards are not very powerful in a vacuum given their built-in versatility as lands. However, Turntimber Symbiosis , Shatterskull Smashing , and Agadeem's Awakening stand out among the bunch as they can be played untapped for 3 life OR cast late game as very powerfull spells. They can thus be included in your build for very little opportunity cost as they only occupy a "land slot" in your 60. I also think one could make a case for other options like Valakut Awakening , Pelakka Predation , Kazandu Mammoth , or Malakir Rebirth which all offer unique or useful effects at the cost of a land slot, though the land you are getting is a far poorer one in that it ETBs tapped and cannot be used for mana fixing. In spite of this, I am especially intrigued about Spikefield Hazard , Bala Ged Recovery , and Hagra Mauling as they can provide use with very Jundy effects at a very reasonable cost.
Painlands: Unbeknown to most, Llanowar Wastes is legal in Pioneer! Part of a Premodern cycle of dual lands, Wastes offers the choice between mana fixing in Golgari colors--albeit in exchange for one life per activation--or a cost-free colorless mana for instances where the lifeloss is too much of a liability. While Jund is often more than happy to pay life for cards, life for mana (especially a single mana) can be a poor, or even a hazardous trade for us for us against aggro decks. I thus tend to be wary of using painlands unless I have already exhausted the available stock of shocks and pathways.
Cycling Lands: Canyon Slough and ((Sheltered Thicket (AKH) are part of an incomplete cycle of allied dual lands with basic land types from 2017's Amonkhet expansion that can be cycled for 2 mana of any color. To my mind, these often function as strictly worse versions of the Jund "triome" aside from the fact that they cycle more cheaply. They are certainly better in slower builds where tapped lands are not so much of a liability, though in either case I'm not sure why you'd choose these lands over Ziatora's Proving Ground.
Blast Zone: It is very dangerous for three color decks to run lands that cannot produce colored mana in Pioneer. This said, a one-of Blast Zone can provide versatile, albeit slow mass removal in situations where overcrowded boards stand in the way of victory. Metagame dependant, yet powerful and unique in the format.
Reveal Lands: Foreboding Ruins and Game Trail are part of an incomplete cycle of dual lands from 2016's Shadows Over Innistrad expansion. While perhaps not unplayable, they are quite likely to enter the battlefield tapped unless your build is very high on lands with basic land types, and especially so in the late game where both players are top decking. Not exactly ideal for Jund.
Eldraine Common Lands: Dwarven Mine, Gingerbread Cabin, and Witch's Cottage are part of a somewhat underplayed cycle of ETB tapped utility lands from the Throne of Eldraine expansion (that most powerful of standard sets) which can add additional value if you control three or more of a basic land type. While Mine and Cabin are both unlikely to enter untapped in Jund and not particularly useful for our core gameplan, I think there is a world (albeit a very strange one) in which builds leaning very heavily on Black find a use for Witch's Cottage as a means to gain value through creature recursion.
Battle for Zendikar Common Lands: This is not a particularly noteworthy land cycle in my view, and I have little to say about Fertile Thicket and Looming Spires. On the other hand, I do think Mortuary Mire (don't laugh yet!) is a bit of a sleeper. While surely worse than Takenuma, Abandoned Mire in that it ETB's tapped, cannot recur walkers, and doesn't actually add a card card directly to your hand, it does provide you a land AND a creature whenever you play it.
Really Slow Lands: While I frequently forget they exist, Cinder Glade and Smoldering Marsh constitute another rather underwhelming cycle of allied dual lands from Battle for Zendikar (how many times does Wizards plan on leaving Black/Green duals out of Pioneer-legal land cycles?). They do carry basic land types and can thus be theoretically useful (somehow) but the fact that they require two or more basics to ETB untapped almost certainly disqualifies them for Jund.
"The Third Color Hedge":
I have a heard a great many arguments to the effect that Pioneer's cardpool cannot effectively support Jund Midrange. Perhaps the most common version of this stance posits that the format lacks sufficient mana resources so as to allow us to play the best midrangy cards from Black, Green, and Red altogether in a single deck. As I have acknowledged above, our mana is indeed significantly worse than it would be in Modern given that we lack access to allied fastlands (Copperline Gorge and Blackcleave Cliffs would sure be nice!) as well as any of the fetchlands that make Jund work in that format to the extent that it can devote 3-6 slots to utility lands. This said, I’d argue that the consequences of these mana limitations are less of a restriction to Jund deckbuilding in Pioneer than one might think. Sure, it is a risk to build decks with cards that require double mana pips at lower mana costs. This is especially true if you include cards that require double pips in multiple colors, and even more so if those colors include Red and/or Green (double Black tends to be the easiest of the more intensive color requirements Pioneer Jund can handle). However, while running both Anger of the Gods, Liliana, the Last Hope, AND Shifting Ceratops in the maindeck can be tricky, running Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Lolth, Spider Queen is far less of a liability. What’s more, I honestly think that there are many, many EXCELLENT options in the Jund colors (see my decklist above for examples) that do not require us to strain our mana resources in this way in order to craft powerful decks that makes it worthwhile to run Black, Red, AND Green. To be sure, midrange staples like Scavenging Ooze, Bonecrusher Giant, and Graveyard Trespasser (MID:290) all ask for only a single pip from a single color (yes, Scooze wants as much Green as possible, but it can function just fine with only a single Green-producing land). While multicolored spells like Abrupt Decay (TSR) and Dreadbore (RTR) are a bit more challenging, their mana requirements can be managed quite well so long as you try to curve out with access to , , and respectively, plus an additional or etc. on turns 4+ depending on your card choices. Hence, so long as one is not too greedy or impolitic with the casting costs of one's entire suite of spells, I'm convinced that there are ways to build Jund's spellbase and manabase that largely mitigate issues related to Pioneer's much more limited scope of available lands to the extent that including cards in a third color can be most often a benefit and only rarely a detriment. While it is quite likely that most, if not all of the lands that constitute our manabases should be devoted to making our three-color build work smoothly in the first place, there does appear to be room to include one or two utility lands of your choice (manlands, cycling lands, etc.) if one goes by the manabase calculation method developed by Frank Karsten (see Frank Karsten, "How Many Colored Mana Sources Do You Need to Consistently Cast Your Spells? A Guilds of Ravnica Update," Channel Fireball, 10th Octobeer 2018). My own personal preference is for a combination of shocks and pathways, a single basic, and two manlands, though deviations from this standard are often necessary in particular metagames.
Connected to the problem of mana, however, is the question of whether the Green cards in Pioneer's cardpool make it worthwhile to run Green mana in the first place. This is another common argument against the tenability of Jund in Pioneer: even if we accept that midrange decks can indeed manage a third color using the manabases we currently have, the fact remains that Pioneer largely lacks the critical mass of extremely powerful Green midrange threats that were built into the Modern format from the beginning and have since made it easy to conceive of Jund as a premier midrange strategy. (Here I am mostly thinking of Tarmogoyf, which has proven to be in itself a fantastic argument for the continued existence of "three-color Black" in Modern despite the printing of very strong Red threats as of late; Wizards, please remember that BG is a thing!) This aspect of the format is very important for those of us interested in pushing Jund in Pioneer. Indeed, many Jund sceptics continue to argue, fairly convincingly, that adding Green to Black-based midrange decks does not open enough possibilities in terms of potential value cards and efficient threats to justify the sacrifice one would make in terms of utility lands. (For context, Rakdos midrange decks in Pioneer often run between 6-8 utility lands without overly hindering their mana curves.) However, while we don't have anything close to a "Pioneer Tarmogoyf"--i.e. a format-defining, auto-include threat that rewards us significantly for running Green mana all by itself--I do think there is a critical mass of excellent cards with Green mana costs that make our "third color hedge" a worthwhile gambit. Taken together, hedging for Green gives us access to important options including:
-A greater share of the more versatile and powerful removal spells in the format, including Assassin's Trophy and Abrupt Decay (TSR, which give us an additional edge against virtually all archetypes. Trophy must always be used somewhat sparingly, but is nevertheless a great outlet versus decks that run "must kill" threats as well as a perennially useful response to control decks and/or any decks that rely heavily on artifacts and enchantments (i.e. Jeskai Ascendancy, Jund Sacrifice, etc.)
-Additional play against graveyard decks of all kinds given the ubiquitous, maindeckable power of threats like Scavenging Ooze, grindy value engines like Klothys, God of Destiny, and removal spells like Riveteers Charm. These are very powerful cards that can cover one of the bases for which we would otherwise require multiple sideboard slots. As all three of these cards can hose graveyards when needed against Phoenix, Rakdos Midrange, or Izzet Control, but otherwise serve as generally useful threats/value cards that are decent against aggro (Scooze), midrange (Klothys) and control decks (Charm) respectively, they give us a significant incentive to add Green to our builds inasmuch as they allow us to save our sideboards for purposes other than graveyard hate. Sorry, but Jund (un)does graveyards far better than Rakdos!
-The crucial ability to "go bigger" than aggro and other midrange decks using Green haymakers like Ziatora's Envoy and Wrenn and Seven. To be sure, high CMC threats like these can only provide us with slower, typically mid-to-late game answers to problems we might face. This said, they are nonetheless very important cards inasmuch as their inclusion ensures that we are able to topdeck individually powerful cards that can bring us back in the game if we are somewhat behind or push us ahead enough to turn the corner in situations where both players are at parity. Both Black and Red do contain great top end threats (Glorybringer comes to mind!), but these cards can rarely match the generative card advantage that Green offers, and focus instead on virtual card advantage through resource attrition.
-Last, and perhaps most importantly, greater (i.e. three-colors worth of) flexibility, range, and customizability in answering the format's problems as new cards are printed into our deck as well as all others. Running three colors means access to another (theoretical) fifth or so of the format's overall stock of "good cards" at any point in time. For example, when Wizard's releases a card like Riveteers Charm, Jund can play it if, and when needed, while Rakdos is forced to pass. Indeed, as I will argue in the next section, Jund midrange can be built to function as a deck premised upon unwinding all of the other strategies practiced in the format, and the wide range of cards available to "three-color Black" is a core component of what allows it to function in this way.
Jund midrange CAN be assembled simply as a compilation of powerful "midrangy" cards, though doing so independent of the broader context of the metagame at a given point in time is something of a missed opportunity given Jund's potential to serve as a highly cutomizeable "fourth archetype" that reacts ("aggressively" or "controllingly") both to changes in the format as a whole as well as individual matchups in isolation. Take Modern Jund Midrange for example. What at first glance appears to be simply a "pile of good stuff" (here you should be pointing the finger at Four-color Omnath decks!) is most often a highly cultivated list of cards in Black, Green, and Red chosen because they have the greatest chance of having some kind of decent play against almost any meta deck in game one, then pivoting to a more focused strategy in the following games depending on the approach required. Hence, while the raw power of some of Modern Jund's core cards (Lightning Bolt, Tarmogoyf, Liliana of the Veil) have merited inclusion in the deck at virtually any point in its long history, others are included only when they make the most sense given the array of decks one might expect to play against. For instance, spells like Assassin's Trophy might see more play in Jund over Terminate when planeswalkers, artifacts, or enchantments need to be removed at instant speed or when Urza Tron decks see a lot of play, while threats like Phyrexian Crusader might make even more sense at the top of the curve than Bloodbraid Elf when every other decks is running exclusively White and/or Red removal. Believe me: this actually happened in early 2022 when Modern was basically Lurrus of the Dream-Den.format!
For this reason, after a certain point on the scale of power level and applicability, I don't really think it does much good for us to talk about midrangyish cards being "bad" in Jund. Instead, I'd suggest devoting one's time to deciding which cards make more or less sense in the context of a particular metagame by considering the range of opposing strategies we likely have to dismantle and unwind by the skin of our teeth in order to win games. This is why I like to think of Jund as a deck ideally suited to what I have called "format control" (not to be confused simply with "control"). Indeed, unlike virtually every other deck in a format, we do not posit a gameplan but rather negate those of other decks. In Pioneer, for example, Izzet Phoenix is actively trying to recur an army of birds from the yard in order to rain down hellfire upon opponents, and the deck is built first and foremost with this in mind. Azorius Control is similarly bent on countering spells, wiping boards, drawing cards, and riding planeswalker value to a late game victory, and these decks are always crafted for the most part with this goal in mind. Jund's "plan," however, is simply beating these decks and any others it might encounter by any means necessary. We thus rely on our ability to pivot towards a ("tap out") controlling stance against aggro and an aggressive stance (relatively speaking!) against control as need be, and in doing so we thrive by striving to "control" the format as a whole. We are therefore well served not by building our decks with an internal synergy between our own cards in mind, nor by attempting to mitigate specifically bad matchups (though all decks do do this) or even fair better against the format's current "best deck." We are instead trying to beat the format as a total collection of strategies. Period. Yes, our gameplan is NOT, as is commonly presumed, assembling a crippling barrage of discard spells (we are not 8 Rack!) or removal spells (we are not, strictly speaking, Control!) nor simply pursuing an unrelenting train of value plays. It is rather premised upon using all of these approaches, and whatever else is required, to win out against whatever we might find ourselves confronting, and it is this "non-strategy strategy" that makes it so difficult to sideboard against us or hate us out of the format. We offer no positive strategy, only a negation of yours. "Greatness at any Cost" and what have you.
With this understanding of midrange as "format controlling" "fourth archetype" in mind, I'd like to end by offering the following principles that I think serve one well in constructing Jund midrange for Pioneer in particular. To my mind, Jund Midrange decks in Pioneer are strong if they:
-Steer as much away from graveyard dependancy as possible. While powerful threats like Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger make graveyard synergies very tempting, overtly relying on them makes us unnecessarily vulnerable to graveyard hate. All midrange decks take advantage of internal synergies to some extent, but relying on any of them to make any of the cards in our deck function opens up weaknesses that we would't otherwise have. In an ideal world, our opponents should be at a loss as to what to sideboard against and/or how to tech against the matchup in the first place.
-Include maindeck options for creature-heavy, as well as creature-light decks. It is essential that Jund's maindeck have the ability to interact early with all strategies and you absolutely NEVER want to find yourself without the tools to construct a cursory, game one strategy against control decks that run very few, or even no creatures at all. While it is tempting to fill your deck to the brim with removal, we live in a metagame in which Azorius Control is not only a tier-one strategy, but one of the very top decks in the format. As such, we literally cannot afford to build Jund without a very healthy balance of powerful cards that can interact with control (hand disruption, planeswalkers, planeswalker removal, manlands, resiliant creatres, etc.) from the early game onwards and before sideboarding. This said, the format is also quite aggressively driven (much like Modern, albeit to a far lesser extent), and this means that you shouldn’t leave home without c. ten to twelve ways to kill small creatures on turns 1-2 lest you be overrun by the fastest aggro decks. This balance can be hard to strike, but it is well worth the effort.
-Tailor their suite of removal spells to match the most commonly played threats in the format. Dreadbore is an excellent removal spell in a vacuum and that makes it a great candidate for Jund in a vacuum. However, it is context that makes it worthy of inclusion in Jund in practice. In metas where instant-speed interaction is at a premium, opting for more copies of Abrupt Decay or Assassin's Trophy might make more sense. Believe it or not, if Pioneer becomes a format in which cheap planeswalkers run rampant (like Modern), we may even find ourselves inclined to run Bloodchief's Thirst or Strangle over Fatal Push to best react to the problems we encounter.
-Tailor their suite of threats to match the most commonly played archetypes in the format. Yes Grim Flayer is good, but is it good against Jeskai Ascendancy decks? Rankle, Master of Pranks is everything Jund wants in a threat, but how does it fair against Izzet Phoenix? I'll happily run Murderous Rider over Sorin the Mirthless in a metagame where a third of my opponents need only a single attack step with Winota, Breaker of Formats in order to clinch a game even though Sorin is probably the better threat in a vacuum (Thank God Winota is banned!). Again, unless we are talking about a Tarmogoyf-level of raw power, I think it's important to think of your threats in Jund not simply as win cons but as your opponents "anti-win cons": they are just as much answers to your opponents strategies as they are a means to advance your own. In other words, they help you win by ensuring that your opponents lose.
-Fill the maindeck with cards that are great in as many common matchups as possible. This helps us reserve our very limited, and therefore highly valuable sideboard slots for powerful cards that can very dramatically make up for the shortcomings of a given matchup with as few cards as possible. Hence, one is rarely punished for including multiple copies or even a full playset of Bonecrusher Giant in the main because it is both a removal spell and a fair sized "wall" against aggro and a good, if not altogether excellent threat against control. While there are certainly circumstances in which you may need to side out all copies of Giant, it is such a powerful and versatile card that the sheer span of its applicability helps you make the maximum use of your sideboard to cover the few bases in which cards like Giant are either useless or not enough.
Thanks for reading my primer! Here's hoping I've gone some ways toward convincing you that Jund can be a viable strategy in Pioneer given, or rather in spite of the format's limited card pool and challenging manabase. Let's Build Jund Midrange for Pioneer!
Rankle, Master of Pranks: Can he Jund or shall we leave him to Mono Black Aggro??
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|Date added||1 year|
|Last updated||1 week|
This deck is Pioneer legal.
|Rarity (main - side)||
10 - 0 Mythic Rares
38 - 6 Rares
7 - 9 Uncommons
|Tokens||Day, Emblem Wrenn and Seven, Night, Treefolk */* G w/ Reach|
|Folders||Pioneering, Pioneer, Competitive Pioneer, Pioneer Decks I Did Not Make, yes, deck helping list, Do You Play Pioneer?, Pioneer decks, Pioneer, Jund Ideas, See all 14|
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