Welcome to a deck primer on Abzan Midrange, also known as ‘Junk’ in 7 Point Highlander! Junk is a part of the Equipment-based midrange Archetype using Green Black White colours. Junk has been an enduring part of the meta due to its consistent success as well as its ability to adapt to a changing landscape. The decks generic ‘good stuff’ approach lends itself to be accommodating to new card printings, new archetypes in the meta and points changes. This article will give you some basics on how the deck works as well as some specific tips on decisions during match play and side boarding.
Pointed Cards in Junk
One of the benefits of Junk is that it is well loved by the points committee. It ticks a lot of their boxes – it is affordable, interactive, fair and enjoyable to play with and against. I wouldn’t say that Junk has been broken at any point in the format, but since I’ve been piloting it (about 6 years) it has lost more points than it has gained despite achieving results in big events. This makes it a really good investment deck for those who want to hone their skills in a deck that will always be competitive.
These points are the baseline for pure Junk. Junk’s solid core allows it to splash different strategies or even entire archetypes, typically a Junk/Lands Hybrid which might include a Life From the Loam and both Strip Mine AND Wasteland; or a Junk/Combo Hybrid using creature based combos in the colours (Melira/Murderous Redcap – Heliod/Ballista – Archangel of Thune/Spike Feeder). So if you see someone rolling a Junk list with an extra Strip Mine or Survival of the Fittest, I wouldn’t consider it wrong; just a slight variation on the core.
Decklist – Junk – (My Current list as of 28th November 2021)
Junks Game Plan
Abzan Midrange or ‘Junk’ is an iconic midrange grinder designed to get 2 for 1 value while contributing to the board. Unlike control decks which typically get their value from reactive spells, Junk will play proactive cards like Stone Forge Mystic, or Renegade Rallier to generate value and impact the board. The deck has a smattering of the best removal spells in its colours, (Sword to Plowshares, Abrupt Decay, Prismatic Ending) but is primarily a creature based deck.
To successfully pilot Junk you need to play on curve as much as possible. This means tapping out on your first 4 turns is critical. If you look at my curve it goes down from 1cmc spells being the highest represented to 5cmc being the lowest represented (two of my three 5cmc spells Solitude/Batterskull can be cheated in). The curve is low and it is smooth. I’ve seen Junk variations run bigger spells such as Primeval Titan, Sun Titan, Recurring Nightmare etc to success, but I would highly encourage you to keep the cap at 5cmc. This deck can grind but you need to be disciplined and respect the speed of the format. Your spells need to be able to contribute in the first 4 turns of the game. 6CMC is often a luxury this deck can’t afford. Instead, you will want to spend your excess mana on equipping and re-equipping; activating Treetop Village, levelling up Hexdrinker, activating Birthing Pod, or simply casting two spells in a turn. All of these cards are primarily efficient in the first 4 turns, but their less efficient side can be utilised as a mana sink later in the grind.
Other than a turn 1 mana dork, it doesn’t matter too much which proactive spells you are casting at which stage; as long as you are contributing to the board. If you do get the luxury of having a choice between multiple spells then just use common sense based on the matchup. For instance, I might elect to play Kitchen Finks over Blade Splicer against Jund because they have less exile based removal and I won’t get blown out by K-Command. If I am afraid of a sweeper I might elect to play an ETB value creature such as Stone Forge Mystic over the faster Tarmogoyf. Where you can, try to commit to the board before dealing with threats. If my opponent plays something decent, but not an immediate must answer; I will deploy my Siege Rhino first so that it can start swinging, and THEN I play my Skyclave Apparition to remove the threat. If you start playing this way you will often find you have now trumped what they were doing anyway, so you don’t need to remove their original threat. You can now save your Skyclave for something better, or go ahead and use it to push your tempo advantage. When you have the biggest threat out and it is actually able to swing, I call it ‘Winning the Board’ and it’s critical when playing midrange.
Generally speaking whoever is able to swing has won the board. You could have better creatures, but if none of them will trade well in an attack then you haven’t won the board yet. Beyond having a better curve than an opponent, some great ways to win the board in Midrange is to play Umezawa’s Jitte, Restoration Angel (flying) or Mother of Runes. Keep in mind some opponents such as hard control and combo won’t try to compete with you on the board at all.
Winning the board is really important – lets look at some of the things it does for us. Winning the board means:
- An opponent’s Planeswalkers’ are always under threat and often not worth playing.
- We win monarch battles.
- We don’t have to continue committing cards to the board if we are concerned about a sweeper
- We generally will win the race which limits our opponents tactical ability to swing at us and this means our Planeswalkers are protected and we can use our life as a resource (Shocking/Podding/Thoughtseizing
- It’s a win condition
Aggro Decks don’t need to be winning the board when they win the game. This is one of the biggest distinctions between a Proactive Junk list with aggressive elements, and a true Aggro deck. Besides cards like Hexdrinker/Restoration Angel that have evasion or a Siege Rhino ETB to finish someone off; generally Junk wins the board to win the game.
Key Cards in Junk
Junk’s main strength lies in its mana dorks which if played on turn 1, can jump the curve and allow you to snowball. Think, a turn 2 Kitchen Finks on the play vs Tempo, or a turn 2 Inquisition of Kozilek before deploying Stone Forge Mystic vs Control on the draw. Outside of jumping the curve, mana dorks generate their own board presence by threatening attacks, chump blocking to win a race, or starting a Pod chain. Simply put, mana dorks help us to win the board and then win the game.
The inclusion of the ‘equipment package’ (Stone Forge Mystic, Batterskull, Steelshaper’s Gift, Umezawa’s Jitte, Skull Clamp) is another big boon to the deck. Mana dorks become relevant again in the late game grind when you can threaten to instantly cash them in for 2 fresh cards off a Skull Clamp. Umezawa’s Jitte is a breaker in a stalled out board state with lots of creatures on both sides and is nearly impossible to race once it connects in combat. Cheating in Batterskull off a Stoneforge Mystic on Turn 3 is a simple way to skip the curve and win the board early. Against an Aggro deck, an early connection with Batterskull is usually the end of the game; and of course Batterskull can be used as a massive mana sink in the very late game to equip otherwise bad creatures and turn them into must answer threats.
Unlike Jund, Mardu, or even hybrid Junk lists; Junk really wants to keep the pressure on. For this reason it has fewer answers than these decks. There are a lot of great removal spells out there that can be enticing to play (Council’s Judgement, Assassin’s Trophy, Kaya’s Guile, Vindicate) but be ruthless with your removal suite to keep the deck proactive. Too many removal spells in hand can risk ‘not contributing in the first four turns of the game’ which goes against the game plan.
If you are desperate to resolve cute synergies then Highlander Junk is not the deck for you. I see Junk as ‘Playing without constraints’. Constraints in this sense being, a magic player’s obsession with identifying and then forcing synergies. Junk is about playing great cards without having to ‘hope’ for the supplementary card that will make it work. Junk is constantly asking questions of the opponent, and by playing the strongest cards in its colours, it usually forces its opponent to establish THEIR game plan early, or be crushed by superior stand-alone card choices.
That being said; there’s still some pretty cool stuff you can do –
- Wasteland, Renegade Rallier get back Wasteland to quickly devastate your opponents mana base and provide a tempo threat that can capitalise with damage while they recover.
- Strangleroot Geist, equip to Skull Clamp, draw 2, Undying trigger, Equip to Skull Clamp, swing a 4-1 Haste that will draw 2 more if the opponent blocks it.
- Green Sun’s Zenith/Pod for Collector Ouphe (oop’s too late for you to respond it’s already in play)
- Titania Protector of Argoth, get back a fetchland, fetch – trigger, get Dryad Arbor and block, Arbor Dies, Trigger. OR Equip the Arbor to Skull Clamp for 2 cards and 2x 5/3 tokens.
- Karakas your own creatures in response to removal or for ETB triggers.
- First Striking Golem Token Equipped to an Umezawa’s Jitte to get counters on the Jitte before damage is dealt to the Golem from the blocking creature. This lets the Golem beat 5 toughness creatures without dying.
- Activate Stone Forge Mystic, hold priority, activate return mode on Batterskull to play around creature removal targeting Stoneforge and get a new germ.
- Parallax Wave your own creature in response to removal. This is particularly good if you Parallax Wave your own ETB creatures and Wave your opponent’s tokens or non ETB creatures.
The Mana Base
You want to play all 3 dual lands, Bayou, Scrubland, Savannah so I wouldn’t exactly call it a budget land base since Bayou has Skyrocketed at the time of writing this primer, but it’s better than most other 3 colour + lists.
The mana base is simple. I’ve been running 23 lands for the longest time. You want to play plenty of Fetchlands, at least one of each basic, both green shock lands. Dryad arbor is a must play as it’s another T1 Mana Dork when you have Green Sun’s Zenith in your opening hand. It also means that you can use a fetch land to start a Pod chain or equip and pose a genuine threat. Your lands don’t have to do a lot of fancy things since resolving cards on curve is the most important thing. I wouldn’t go below 21 lands unless you’re committing to an Aggro Strategy. Likewise, I wouldn’t go above 23 lands unless you’re adding 6 drops in an attempt to dominate the midrange mirror. The lands in my list that I consider flex slots are Treetop Village, Indatha Triome and Godless Shrine. These could be replaced with Gaea’s Cradle, Kazandu Mammoth, Nurturing Peatland – Whatever floats your boat.
The deck can get Mooned, and your moon opponents will keep it in vs you in Game 2 and Game 3. On one hand, it’s tough since we run only a few basics, need to curve, and don’t naturally play red. But the mana dorks are a saving grace here and it is very reasonable that you will be able to deploy at least one, and fetch a basic before being mooned. A Moon/Back to Basics on turn 3 on the play is pretty devastating, as is a moon when you weren’t expecting it (not fetching around it). Outside of that though, the moon can often be ignored as your deck can easily have a couple of dorks, a couple of basics and a board presence. The deck also has the tools to get rid of the moon. When your opponent spends a critical turn deploying a moon instead of answering a threat, and you have been aggressive up until that point, then you can often finish them off with the creatures you have already deployed. This is another reason to keep the deck proactive!
The Sideboard Guide
Most of the sideboard can be changed depending on your meta and your preferences but I will go through my sideboard choices so you have an idea of why they are there, except for the carpet of flowers just trust me on that one.
- Carpet of Flowers. I could write an essay on why this card is so good. Just play it.
- Choke. Pretty much the Blood Moon for Green except Moon Decks don’t (usually) get to do it on turn 2! It will get you some ‘free wins’. I side it in against most blue decks except for fast decks that aren’t primarily blue (4c oath/4c Aggro) I also won’t side it in vs blue artifact/Tolarian Academy decks.
- Collector Ouphe comes at the cost of shutting down your own equipment, but being able to Green Sun’s/Pod for something that completely shuts down artifact ramp decks is important. When these lists aren’t as prevalent I would replace this with the greedier Reclamation Sage.
- Endurance was exactly what this sideboard was missing. I side it in vs Thoracle Decks (as it shuffles the Graveyard into the Library causing their trigger to fail to win them the game). I side it in vs any dedicated Graveyard deck such as Reanimator, Dredge, Flash/Hulk, Underworld Breach. I also side it in vs any deck that uses the graveyard heavily but is not necessarily dependent on it (Kess Pile, Uro Titan of Nature’s Wrath, RB Aggro, Storm).
- Faerie Macabre. Basically a bad Endurance. The good thing about Macabre is, it’s an activated ability, so it can’t be countered. This makes it decent vs Oracle decks if they are going off confidently with counter back up. I will side it in against dedicated graveyard decks and maybe some of the others but not Kess or Uro decks where card advantage matters.
- Force of Vigor. It’s really good at getting yourself out of Moon/Back to Basics since it doesn’t require mana, so if you’re already locked and you top deck it, it’s what you want. Otherwise it puts a big dent in the artifact ramp decks for 0 mana. Once again, if I was confident the moon wasn’t in the meta, I would exchange this for the greedier Reclamation Sage.
- Kambal, Consul of Allocation is good vs storm including the Underworld Breach decks but it’s also good vs Aggro. If your opponent is trying to bolt you, bring this guy in.
- Lone Missionary. Another good one vs aggro, but Lone Missionary is also good vs Tempo. I found that pure life gain spells such as Chaplain’s Blessing, or Weather the Storm were good vs burn, but not tempo. The 2/1 body means I can get out of bolt range as well as block their Goblin Guide. It also means I can start Podding without burning through my life total.
- Obstinate Baloth. If you read Dillion’s Primer on BR Aggro he says that 4 Toughness creatures are difficult for him. Once again, pure life gain spells will stop you from getting Boros Charmed to death the next turn, but they won’t win you the board. Like Lone Missionary, Baloth gains you the life to stay out of bolt range as well creating board presence. In Baloth’s case, forcing the opponent to remove it or go around it at the cost of an attacker. It also crushes Mind Twist, Tourach Dread Cantor, Hymn to Tourach, Liliana of the Veil, K-Command so bring it in vs Jund/Mardu.
- Parallax Wave. An absolute necessity that shines vs Neeman Burn (BR aggro recursion decks) and Midrange Mirrors. Side boarding vs the midrange mirror can be really tough because your deck is already made to get 2 for 1 value and you just want to win the board, not answer specific threats. I think people get turned off by the fading counters, but the card is so powerful the game is over before it’s relevant. You need to trust the speed of your threats to close a game vs an empty board. Parallax Wave encapsulates everything Junk is trying to achieve in the midrange mirror and the concept of “Winning the Board”. If you don’t want to play this card then you are viewing pure Junk wrong. This card is also decent vs Aggro. I’ve also played Winds of Abandon in a midrange heavy meta.
- Plague Engineer. This card is good against the midrange mirror as it can sweep dorks to continue the snowball. The deathtouch also means it can stall out a board state to allow time for your board state breakers (pod/equipment) to deploy. You can side this in vs aggro decks as they usually have a few 1 toughness creatures.
- Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. Thalia is in the deck for Combo and Control. Just make sure you are playing against pure control, and not a control/midrange Hybrid as these have a deceptively large number of creatures and Thalia doesn’t generate 2 for 1 value. At 2cmc though, Thalia is a great one to Karakas and re-deploy in response to removal! I also board in Thalia vs committed Aggro decks where I just want to lower my curve and put out a high quality blocker that usually becomes a must answer for 1 more mana.
- Thoughtseize. Board in vs Control and Combo. The information is valuable when working out which threats to deploy post board.
- Thrun the Last Troll is great against control and specifically Control/Midrange Hybrids since you can blow an opponent out if they are keeping up mana for counter magic, but it doesn’t HAVE to blow them out for it to be good. It still feels great against a midrange opponent who is running a few counter spells and a few extra removal spells.
- Zealous Persecution. A Plague Engineer with a much bigger chance of blowing out your opponent but you don’t get the convenient 2/2 Deathtouch body. Bring it in vs midrange and aggro decks that run a lot of 1 toughness creatures (Elves/Goblins). The +1+1 clause on this spell is surprisingly useful at altering the board state when an opponent commits’ to multiple blocks.
I will go through what some of the cards I take out are, dependent on the matchup. Take it all with a grain of salt though, if I say I am taking a card out against combo, then naturally it’s very dependent on which combo. For the most part I am referring to combo decks such as storm that don’t commit a lot to the board. It’s more important that you understand generally what your cards are trying to achieve.
- Grist the Hunger Tide is good against all fair decks because they struggle to pressure it. It’s slow though, so side it out against combo decks.
- I shave a mana dork (usually Avacyn’s Pilgrim) if I am expecting sweepers or against most blue decks since I am adding a carpet of flowers. Keep your dorks in vs blue moon decks and instead board out a Godless Shrine.
- I shave Qasali Pridemage if my opponent has no devastating artifacts/enchantments. You can also shave a Knight of Autumn, but keep Knight in against Aggro for that 4 life!
- Mother of Runes can be cut vs Combo
- Scavenging Ooze can be cut against Combo that does not use the graveyard (think Kikki Jikki)/Show and Tell/Colorless Ramp)
- Kitchen Finks is great vs Aggro, tempo and Control decks that can’t exile. Take it out otherwise.
- Most Combo decks run permanents, but something like Storm or Breach that will deploy its permanents the turn it wins, means Skyclave Apparition (and other removal) can go.
- Voice of Resurgence can be cut against Combo and sometimes midrange.
- Inquisition of Kozilek can be cut vs aggro and fast midrange decks. I keep it in on the draw against slower midrange lists though to consolidate my card advantage and mess with my opponents curve.
- Lingering Souls can be cut vs Combo – Although It’s actually decent at killing Planeswalkers and I don’t mind it for chump blocking Ashen Rider when playing against reanimator.
- Blade Splicer/Birthing Pod can be cut if your opponent is over boarding artifact spot removal (this can be hard to tell but occasionally obvious after Game 2.)
- Naturally Solitude can go vs Non Creature decks, although I keep Swords to Plowshares in most matches since a lot of control and combo decks still play a few critical creatures and the card is just so efficient.
What is my opponent siding in?
Opponents will often bring in sweepers such as Toxic Deluge, Fiery Confluence, Perish. Sweepers can be played around effectively by not overcommitting to a board that has already been won and by diversifying your threats (i.e spending your turn casting non creature spells such as removal, Planeswalkers, Birthing Pod, Casting and using Equipment) This lets you follow the principle of tapping out, without overcommitting into a Deluge.
Your opponent may also try to attack your artifacts. You have some very nice artifacts and if you’re playing AGAINST Junk then boarding in artifact removal is worth it. But the great thing about Junk is it doesn’t need the artifacts to win. As long as you are mindful of not getting blown out by artifact removal in response to an equip (a huge loss of tempo) then often you’re just at parity. Feel free to cut a Birthing Pod even if it’s one of your points if you see your opponent quickly search up artifact hate in anticipation.
Keep in mind your opponent might side in Moons against you, so if possible fetch around it.
When to play this deck?
Junk is an all rounder. It’s basically competitive against every meta so I wouldn’t over think it too much. On paper, the deck is good vs Aggro and Tempo and Bad vs Combo. My experience with the deck has been the exact opposite though so who knows. For an in-depth look at how Junk fits into the meta check out Drew Carters article on the Rock and Junk.
The Flex Slots
There are plenty of flex slots available. I would suggest you can tune the deck to your personal preference or your meta game. Since this isn’t a combo deck, as long as you’re following the principles of the deck there’s plenty that’s viable/cuttable from the list I provided.
Potential cards include but are not limited to: Dauthi Void Walker, Lilliana the Last Hope, Tasigur the Golden Fang, Veil of Summer, Opposition Agent, Gideon of the Trials, Anafenza, the Foremost, Knight of the Reliquary, Path to Exile, Shadow Spear, Palace Jailer, Dark Confidant, Meren of Clan Nel Toth, Elves of Deep Shadow, Rankle, Master of Pranks, Aven Mindcensor, Deafening Silence, Ethersworn Cannonist, Tourach, Dread Cantor… the list goes on, and really it doesn’t matter what you choose – just follow the principle of winning the board, leaning on aggression over control, and keeping your curve tight.
Check out these games where Angus from CBR MTG introduced Pleasant Kenobi to the format and he has a crack with his take on Junk Midrange
Rajdeep Tokhi is a premier Junk player in South Australia. Check out his games over discord vs Sarven.