Card Spotlight: Assassin’s Trophy in Modern Jund

Recently, I wrote a tournament report for a Jund deck that featured three copies of Assassin’s Trophy and I stated that my one-of Maelstrom Pulse should probably have been a Trophy as well. However, the day my report was published Reid Duke put up an article that was about Assassin’s Trophy and how it did not live up to its hype. Duke went on to say that he would only advocate for one copy. Today I will explain why I advocate running so many Trophies.

First, lets get one thing clear: I do not register Abrupt Decay, Cast Down and Terminate, Maelstrom Pulse, or Assassin’s Trophy to answer Noble Hierarch. I register them to answer the problematic permanents that Fatal Push and Lightning Bolt do not kill. Abrupt Decay answers artifacts and enchantments, Cast Down and Terminate cover larger creatures, and both Maelstrom Pulse and Assassin’s Trophy answer some of both and larger artifacts and enchantments and planeswalkers. When I construct a removal spell suite, I am looking for X answers to Reality Smasher, Gurmag Angler, and Hollow One; Y answers to the artifacts and enchantments; and Z answers to Jaces, Teferis, Karns, and Ugins.

Abrupt Decay
Recently, in Modern, the cards I am most willing to let seep between the cracks are the artifacts and enchantments. However, Abrupt Decay as the primary answer to cheap artifacts and enchantments is not actually good against many of the decks playing cheap artifacts and enchantments. For example, Search for Azcanta and Oblivion Stone are easy to Abrupt Decay but are played in decks that Decay is poor against. You might can justify leaving Decay in against Tron and UW but it is miles worse than a card like Maelstrom Pulse and especially Assassin’s Trophy most of the time. If you are on Jund you have Kolaghan’s Command and access to Ancient Grudge post-board so artifacts are not typically super problematic. Furthermore, the artifacts that do see play are not actually cards you care about or they are cards that you may not have the opportunity to kill. Mox Opal and Aether Vial are great cards but a lot of times you will have to use kill spells on your opponents’ creatures instead of these cheap and powerful artifacts. Also  Abrupt Decay is a two-mana way to kill things that Bolt and/or Fatal Push kill. Even before Assassin’s Trophy I did not register the card as you can see here. I would have recommended people to register more Pushes for mana efficiency or Pulses instead to cover the same bases that Decay does while covering larger permanents.

Maelstrom Pulse
This brings me to Maelstrom Pulse. I will cede that having to Trophy a creature early is not great and if you must set up Liliana it is even worse. It gives them the ability to put more threats on the board with the mana you gave them and it lets them potentially discard extra lands more easily. BGx is certainly a resource denial deck when it has Liliana, but Maelstrom Pulse is also not good with Liliana because you cannot curve one of them into the other well and Pulse is also not great at answering threats early in the game because you cannot actually cast it early in the game either. Even without the upside of hitting lands, Trophy looks potentially better than Pulse because it is instant speed, you can cast it on Turn 2 if you need to, and it potentially lets you cast two spells a turn on Turn 4 or 5 when Pulse might be one mana too much and once you get to that stage of the game, giving your opponent another land is not super likely to be a huge concern. The cuteness of taking out a swath of tokens is worth talking about, but I just do not think it compares to Trophy’s advantages and for these reasons, I doubt I will register Maelstrom Pulse in the future.

Other Options
Finally, there’s Cast Down and Terminate. Unlike other reactive counter-measures, I do like these cards a lot. They are not dead at most points of the game in the match-ups we need them. Take Abrupt Decay against UW for example. We want an answer to Search but we also need to pressure them, and we also need to potentially answer other threats like Jace and Teferi. Against Shadow, Eldrazi, and Hollow One, we are never upset drawing a Cast Down or Terminate because they have text even when our opponents do not have Angler, Smasher, or Hollow One. I could possibly be talked into playing some number of Terminates, but I would still need some answers to artifacts, enchantments, and planeswalkers so that might mean playing something 1 Terminate and 3 Trophies. At that point, however, it seems easier to just make it another one-mana removal or fourth Assassin’s Trophy because it lets you play Treetop Village early without having to worry about drawing that one Terminate; it lets you fetch a basic Forest incrementally more often; and it makes Twilight Mire almost never awkward.

The Removal Suite
Overall, I want to have approximately three answers to large creatures, two answers to large non-creature permanents, and three answers to smaller artifacts and enchantments. I could try playing something like one Terminate, one Decay, and two Pulse. Alternatively, I could just play three Trophies and make room for another one-mana removal spell. Also playing more Trophies means I do not have to play as much mana denial in the sideboard, giving me room for potentially another sweeper. Sure, Trophy is worse against creatures than the other two mana spells. On the other hand, it lets you configure your deck in such a way that you are actually better off against creatures strategies. This configuration also does not make you more vulnerable to other card types and the decks that play them. Trophy lets me have answers to Search, Jace and Teferi, Colonnade, and Lyra in just one card against UW. Then against Tron it covers Karn, Ugin, Oblivion Stone, and any Urza Land in just one card.

My philosophy now with Jund is to jam at least three Trophies to cover my bases and run maximum amounts of one-mana removal to free up more sideboard slots. It’s tough to say if this is the best way to build a BGx deck, but it’s been good to me and I hope it can be good to you too. To keep up with my latest Jund builds and results you can find me on Twitter here. Tomorrow we will be back with an introduction to one of the format’s most underrated decks: Titanshift. Until then my friends.

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