Conflux: Jund Appetite for War Review (Part 1 of 2)
In his book Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes and published in 1651, the author famously describes life in the absence of a strong central authority as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He might have saved himself a few words if instead he said simply, “welcome to Jund.”
To be certain, there are no shortages of ways to die on any of Alara’s shards, though some are certainly more lethal than others. Bant’s orderly society may be martial and militaristic, but most battles tend to be decided by ritual combat between champions. Indeed, the concept of honour is so ingrained there that the armour of such warriors frequently has no plating on the back. That’s a much safer haven than the necroscapes of Grixis, where the dead hunt the living for their vital essence, or vis. Things may be somewhat contemplative and tamed in the etherium-infused and artifice-obsessed shard of Esper, but that is the very opposite of Naya, where giant behemoths thunder the ground in the wake of their passage through the jungles. But even there you have the protections of well-established society and a system of doing things.
On Jund? Not unlike the popular stereotypes (and song) about Australia, death can come in an instant, and its all around. Carnivorous plants. Voracious predators. Gouts of lava. Goblin incursions. Viashino packs. And soaring above it all, Dragons in the sky. During the Conflux, in many ways things only seemed to get worse. With Grixis on the one hand and Naya on the other, it opened up the opportunity for even more ways to die, as the walking corpses of Grixis and Naya’s behemoths both checked out the new landscape, each hungering for what they might find there in their own slightly different fashion.
By the same token, however, the denizens of Jund aren’t taking these new developments lying down. The hungers of Jund are relentless, and new territories mean new prey. The war drums have begun to sound, as Jund Appetite for War prepares for the feast.
Feed on the Weak
The cycle of life and the food chain are well represented here within these 41 cards. Taking advantage of Jund’s signature mechanic, devour, the deck is structured somewhat like a pyramid. At the base level are your basic building blocks, token creatures which provide an easy snack for your devour creatures. From there the creatures grow ever larger, capping out at the apex with some hard-to-beat closers. We’ll begin our analysis first with a look at these lower-tier morsels which fuel the rest of the deck.
The first item on the menu is the delicious Tukatongue Thallid. A 1/1 for which replaces itself when it dies, it is the perfect creature to offer up for devour since it can be used twice. It also makes a suitable chump blocker to buy you some time should your opponent begin to mount some early pressure. Next we have a sorcery which similarly provides food for the feast, the aptly-named Dragon Fodder. A pair of 1/1 Goblins for two mana, these can be used for some early damage against a slower opponent until they stabilise their board. Finally, there’s the Sprouting Thrinax. Though a 3/3 is a bit more robust a body than we might expect to see here, the fact that it replaces itself with a trio of 1/1’s upon death gives it significant utility in this deck. It can reliably trade with a similarly-sized creature, then give you a new crop from which to grow your devouring beaters.
That, of course, brings us to our next class of creatures, the devourers. The deck gives you three of them, beginning with the ambushing Gluttonous Slime. A base 2/2 with flash, it can give you some value for creatures already on their way to the graveyard by being cast in response to removal or after blockers are declared. Next is the Hellkite Hatchling, which like all the creatures here give you a +1/+1 counter per creature devoured. In addition to that bonus, the Hatchling gains flying and trample, and it should go without saying that you’ll want to avoid casting it without something for it to eat.
One of deck’s two rares also checks in here, the Voracious Dragon. The Dragon packs the usual devour punch atop a 4/4 flying body, but it also has an extra bit of burn baked in. For every Goblin you devour to it when it comes into play, it deals twice that damage to a creature or player. This isn’t always an ability you’ll get to take advantage of- get in the habit of holding off and waiting to draw a Goblin can lose you games- but with four Goblin cards in the deck you’re bound to get some value from it as often as not. Finally, there’s the Scarland Thrinax. Not a devour creature per se, the Thrinax gives you all the benefits of the mechanic without having to worry about committing yourself right away. Instead, you can pop a creature at any time and still get the +1/+1 counter, which like the Gluttonous Slime makes it a great last-use of any creature that’s about to die.
Beyond that you get a more general smattering of extra-value creatures to round out the deck. Not a vanilla in sight, each brings a little extra to the table. The Toxic Iguanar is an unassuming 1/1, but once you have a Green permanent in play it gains deathtouch, making it a formidable presence on defense. A pair of Goblin Outlanders give you protection from White. The Viashino Slaughtermaster not only packs in double strike, but has a mana sink built in to pump to to a 2/2. The Ember Weaver is a 2/3 Spider with the customary reach, but it also gains +1/+0 and first strike if you control a Red permanent.
At the top of the curve alongside the Dragon are a trio of creatures that are designed to mitigate some of the disadvantage you’ve incurred through use of the devour ability by giving you ways to pull cards out of your graveyard. Carrion Thrash have a triggerable ability upon death that allows you to return another creature card to hand, and the deck gives you a pair of them. That leaves the last creature of Jund Appetite for War and the deck’s foil premium rare, the Charnelhoard Wurm. Whenever it deals combat damage to an opponent, you’re able to return a card (not just a creature) from your graveyard. Thanks to its trample, the Wurm has a very strong chance to make good its threat unless it is dealt with immediately, and if you manage to make it stick it should be a very solid momentum boost in your favour.
Feast in the Unprepared
Although its creature complement has a bit of a hodge-podge feel to it, the good news here for its noncreature support is that it’s remarkably consistent. From top to bottom, it’s all burn! Representing seven cards in a 41-card deck means you’ll have frequent recourse to it, and it comes in a number of varieties. First, you have a pair of Incinerates, the staple of the era for your 3-damage instant. A pair of Dark Tempers cost a touch more and do a touch less- unless you control a Black permanent, in which case they outright destroy your target! A Branching Bolt gives you the opportunity fora two-for-one, and give you the ability to answer an aerial threat.
Finally, a pair of Fiery Falls check in as Red’s version of the expensive basic landcycling card. This might well be the best member of the cycle, as 5 damage to a single creature is very strong. While Blue’s is a counterspell, Black gives you a life syphone and White has a combat trick, Green gets the distinction of having the worst of the lot with Sylvan Bounty. Perhaps more than any of the others, the Fiery Falls exert pressure on you to keep them for their expensive purpose rather than their cheaper one- after all, who wants to throw away removal? Try not to fall into that trap, for there will be many games where fixing your manabase will be more correct than simply killing a creature.
Like all of Conflux’s three-or-more-colour decks, the manabase is the great leveler. Many games will be decided not on who has the better cards, but on who manages to hit their spread of all three colours. Towards that end you have the expected mana fixers present here as well in the two Terramorphic Expanses, and you also can draw upon a pair of Savage Lands.
In our next piece, we’ll be looking at devour in the field. Can it live up to the hopes of the deck, giving you creatures of unstoppable power as you move them further and further up the food chain? Or will it fall prey to its own gluttonous excesses, seeing you two-for-oned (or worse) with a single Terror or Unsummon? We’ll find out in two days.