When it comes to sleeving up black fair decks, your options for Modern basically come down to Jund, Abzan, and Grixis. The goal when sleeving up any fair midrange deck in Modern is to give yourself the best chance at having a good chance in every matchup.
When not playing fair in Modern it’s very easy to sleeve up a linear aggro or combo deck and lose having done nothing wrong; you can walk away saying "I just hit the wrong matchups and my opponents had the sideboard cards to deal with me.”
For me, that’s not good enough.
When I walk away from a tournament, I want to do so saying I won or lost on the back of my play skill, knowledge of the format, and decision making. Everybody has their own flavor of deck, but my favorite flavor is interactivity.
So what’s the best variant to play, as there’s no shortage of people asking "Do I play Jund, Abzan, or possibly even Grixis?" What should you bring to the next GP/SCG Open/big event in your area? What should you play in your local meta? The answer to those questions can vary greatly.
The graph’s numbers are fairly arbitrary, I merely wanted a visual for general matchup breakdowns.
Reid Duke has called Jund "old faithful,” and for good reason. Jund has been around since the inception of Modern, and few midrange decks, or any deck really, can claim to have had the consistent success that Jund has.
"When in doubt, Jund ‘em out” -Everyone
"Jund can be built in countless different ways, and can be geared to beat just about anything.” –Reid Duke
"Wheresoever you go, go with Jund” –Confucius
While I’m not sure what your local meta may look like, Jund is almost always going to be the correct choice at a big event with a relatively average meta (unless we see another incredibly skewed metagame, something akin to Pro Tour Fate Reforged where almost 30% of the field was Abzan and it became the deck to play, and beat).
The thing that Jund has going for it in these 500+ person events is that Jund has the most even matchups across all of the possible decks you can see in Modern. All of the other midrange options lean more towards beating certain archetypes. MTGGoldFish has since stopped keeping track of matchup percentages, so the current graph is outdated, but the graph below from late 2015 will show you what I’m talking about.
You can see how Abzan fluctuates into the high 50s, and mid 30s in terms of matchup percentages, while Jund boasts an average 40-50% across the field.
Jund is at its best when you want a no questions asked, lean, low to the ground midrange deck that can handle a wide variety of matchups. Jund has a much cheaper and more aggressive creature base than Abzan and Grixis that allows it to steal games from even its worst matchups, like RG Tron, where other midrange decks would durdle until their demise.
Short of the previously mentioned incredibly skewed metas, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying "well there’s going to be a lot of X this weekend so I’ll play Grixis/Abzan because that has a better matchup.” That’s a trap, and I’ll tell you why.
Let’s assume that a deck is 10% of the field, a percentage higher than any deck currently even has right now, the likelihood of you playing it two times or more throughout a 15 round event is only around 45%. This doesn’t even take into account all the matchups you will play that are worse matchups for Grixis or Abzan.
If your local meta consistently has 20% of the field playing Jund or Grixis, by all means sleeve up Abzan. Unfortunately, in a big tournament, you’re just playing the numbers and the numbers just don’t add up. That’s not to say you won’t have success with other choices at bigger events but for the average meta where you can play against anything it’s almost always best to go with Jund.
To put it simply, and to give a little history lesson at the same time, Abzan is basically a metagamed GBx variant that’s meant to beat the "mirror.” That’s actually how it first came about, splashing white for Lingering Souls was the tech to beat the GBx mirror. When Deathrite Shaman was legal, we even saw Jund decks splashing white for Lingering Souls.
The strength of Abzan basically can be answered with another question in "how good is Lingering Souls right now?” There’s very little middle ground. When Lingering Souls is good, it’s really good, and when it’s bad it’s almost the first thing you grab to side out for game 2.
Abzan really shines in a metagame that is skewed towards more midrange and control. Lingering Souls and Siege Rhino can just be laughable against most combo decks, RG Tron, Merfolk, and even some aggressive decks where turn 4 Siege Rhino, especially on the draw, can be too slow. When you sit across from decks like this, you’re basically left with a slower, clunkier Jund deck with 8+ dead cards in it.
As I said, if your local meta calls for it, you can… Abzan ‘em out, but it’s going to take a fairly substantial metagame change before I sleeve Abzan up at a bigger event. What you gain in favorable matchups is almost always going to be outweighed by the random factor of facing almost anything at bigger events, especially in the earlier rounds. I would be more inclined to run Abzan if I had byes as well.
(no chart for Grixis, matchups vary greatly depending on how you build it)
I want to give the nod to Grixis even though it hasn’t established itself as much as it’s GBx cousins. Grixis has surged in popularity since March of 2015 with the printing of Tasigur and Kolaghan’s Command and found new found love with the unbanning of Ancestral Vision.
Grixis is in a weird place deck construction-wise because its maindeck is not nearly as solidified as Jund and Abzan’s. Where Jund and Abzan may only have 8-10 flex slots, Grixis has an entire spectrum on how to build it. You can build it with just a light black splash for some spot removal and Kolaghan’s Command in your UR deck to the opposite end of the spectrum with much more black which I’ll begrudgingly call "Blue Jund.”
Each of the variants have their own strengths, but they don’t come without their weaknesses. You can build Grixis to beat just about anything, but it’s never going to beat everything or be as versatile as the green midrange variants. Grixis variants with a light black splash can give you the best chance against big mana decks like Scapeshift and Tron as well as the combo decks of the format. However, you lose points against Jund, Abzan CoCo, and Burn when you build in this manner.
Going deep with the black in Grixis gives you Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and a much higher chance at beating decks like Burn, Jund, and Abzan CoCo. These variants unfortunately lose almost all their game against big mana decks like Scapeshift and RG Tron and combo decks like Living End. Their whole game plan is very slow and centers on grinding out their opponent and then sticking a threat. That plan is not going to work against decks not turning creatures sideways.
Many pros who have championed the deck have echoed these same sentiments about the problems with Grixis. Gerry Thompson pointed out the problems with Burn and RG Tron in his deck tech at SCG Charlotte. Michael Majors then later said this in an article on the deck, and I’ll let this quote sum up my thoughts on Grixis, that…
"Pivoting towards Kalitas does not come without significant costs.
As good as the Traitor of Ghet is at dominating creature matchups, he is about as bad as it comes when your opponent isn't interested in traditional interaction on the battlefield.
When you're forced to try to clock someone with a vanilla 3/4 for four mana, the old problems Grixis had of "no closing speed” come out in full force in the worst possible way. Playing against Tron this past weekend felt like the most unwinnable match I've played in six months.
This continues to be a massive issue with Grixis Control in general – there's almost no way to configure your deck to have a variety of even and positive matchups against a plethora of strategies.”
While I may sound very definitive in my statements, at the end of the day I don’t want you to get caught up in the numbers and focus of playing "the best deck.” Heck, sometimes you just have to play a deck because it looks sweet regardless if it’s actually good. Whether you’re playing a midrange deck like Jund or something completely unrelated to this article like Affinity, "just pick a deck and practice with it a bunch.” Your knowledge of the format, the knowledge and skill with your deck, and your preparedness for the weekend is going to give you much more percentage points than trying to edge out points by playing "the best deck.”
If that doesn’t work, do what I always do. I just ask myself WWRDD (What would Reid Duke do)? Well, he would probably play Jund so maybe that’s not the best advice.
Whatever you end up playing, Jund ‘em out even if you’re not playing black, red, and green. Jund is a lifestyle, not a color combination. Thanks for reading.