Upon stumbling on and reading an article by Graeme McIntyre about writing Magic: the Gathering articles, it resonated with me since I’ve been saying that writing makes me think and reflect all along, but it was the way he explained it that motivated me to write this next piece. So today, I’ll think, reflect and talk about Chandra, Torch of Defiance, its cons, pros and possible applications in Modern Jund. There are other decks out there that (could) play her, but my focus will be on classic Jund as it’s the deck I currently employ.
The newest incarnation of Chandra is both loved and disliked by the divided members of Modern Jund community. Recently, Matthew Peace piloted a Jund deck with one in the mainboard to the 16th place at SCG Modern Classic Atlanta, while Miyawaki Yuusuke made the Top4 of a competitive Modern GP Trial Kobe among 61 players in Osaka, Japan, with two in the main. However, the Japanese representative packed 4 Blood Moons so playing Chandra in addition to Pia and Kiran Nalaar makes sense.
Speaking from my experience, I love having one in the mainboard as a hard to remove source of card advantage that doubles as a wincon. For four mana, you get a lot of text on one card. Lets go over pros and cons, and in the end we’ll compare it to Chandra, Pyromaster.
The Goods and the Bads
If you are one of those that like to play Blood Moon in a Jund deck, then it seems like it’s self-explanatory: she is easy to cast under the moon effect or helps to dig for one, but not being able to play lands off of her +1 is a con that can end up losing a basic Swamp or Forest, so Pyromaster might be an even better fit. However, as Blood Moon is rare in Jund, lets focus on the regular, classis midrange Jund.
One of the biggest pros has to be that for +1, you get card advantage or a clock of two damage per turn. As Jund is made for grinding (and Dark Confidant usually dies fast), this ability plays well with the whole gameplan of the deck. It also turns lands into two damage and the only time that is bad is when exiling a Raging Ravine. Dealing two to opponents planeswalker is also a big bonus, especially when facing Lilianas.
The second ability is ramping for double red and it is not something that comes up often. I’ve used this to help cast two spells per turn and it’s great when siding in Anger of the Gods or Thundermaw Hellkite, yet we all know red is the least needed color in Jund. While lackluster, don’t forget that for example, it can help you cast Kolaghan’s Command, Lightning Bolt and a returned Tarmogoyf at once with only four lands in play.
Her -3 is a mediocre sorcery speed removal as four damage is not enough to kill the likes of Reality Smasher, Drowner of Hope, Endbringer, Death’s Shadow, or a fully grown Tarmogoyf, yet it is an overkill when targeting Steel Overseer, Elvish Archdruid, or to a lesser degree, Lord of Atlantis. Removing three loyalty points is also quite expensive and hard to use twice in a match if you are behind on the board.
If her minus is mediorce to bad and her first ability is decent to great, than her ultimate is straight up gas and usually wins the game. The question is if it’s a win-more, and if you could win by playing some other 4-mana bomb instead. Reaching 7 loyalty is also not that easy nor fast and usually means you are doing well in a game. The point is that Chandra, Torch of Defiance wins games by herself if left unchecked while being hard to remove as it dodges most spot removal, including Abrupt Decay and Lightning Bolt, so naturally it preys on control and midrange decks with little to no creatures while it fails to take over games against aggro and go-wide strategies.
Torch of Pyromaster?
Both cost the same and do similar things, but if we look closer, we can find many a difference to their applications. They are both good when topdecking on an empty board, and neither of them handles aggro well all by herself. Pyromaster might be better when facing Affinity or Elves, but Torch of Defiance is more useful versus Zoo and Merfolk, yet both seem too slow to handle any of the aggro decks without the help of other cards and are more of a pull-ahead when stabilizing. In that regard, neither of them is Liliana of the Veil that can dismantle control, some combo decks and bogles all by herself. Still, any of the Chandras make fighting control decks much easier due to their raw card advantage, and both do their job similary good in this particular match-up.
Since we don’t view Chandra as a stand-alone (unless against control), lets examine other similarities and differences. They enter the battlefield with the same starting loyalty and both offer card advantage and some kind of a removal.
There are three big differences when comparing the two. First, one has better card advantage but doesn’t tick up (Pyromaster), while the other gets closer to her ulti and offers damage if you don’t need the exiled card (Torch of Defiance). Second difference is that Chandra, Torch of Defiance requires to tick down in order to shoot four damage at one target, but Chandra, Pyromaster ticks up and can do three things at once: damage the opponent, kill a mana dork, and provide a kind of an evasion for your creature(s) to push through fat or deathtouch creatures. Last but not least, one has a game-winning ultimate while the other lets you spam an instant or a sorcery from your deck, which is very underwhelming and can do next to nothing.
When looking at them, I feel like Chandra, Torch of Defiance is a planeswalker with better self-synergy and design, but not necessarily the better of the two. You tick up, do damage or get more cards while threatening the game-ending ulti. She can win games on her own, either by with her +1 or -7. On the other hand, Chandra, Pyromaster excells against smaller creatures as it clears X/1 bodies (and Spirit tokens) while somehow protecting herself against critters with plusing her loyalty. As far as pure card advantage goes, Pyromaster has an edge since you still wish to play lands, especially Raging Ravine, but once we consider damage, Torch makes your discard spells into Shocks.
Another interesting synergy is with Grim Flayer and its ability to set up the card to exile with both Chandra planeswalkers. It is worth noting the interaction despite Flayer sees little to no play in Jund decks.
Like every other flex spot in midrange Jund, it comes down to the prefered playstyle, and even more so to the expected metagame. Both are good against control decks, but Torch of Defiance does more and wins faster. However, as go-wide strategies are hard for Jund to beat without sideboard, I feel like Pyromaster helps a bit more against close or unfavored match-ups (Abzan midrange, Elves), or when facing Lingering Souls. Neither of them is exceptional against bad match-ups like Tron and Valakut decks, but I feel I would prefer the faster clock of Chandra, Torch of Defiance against Burn despite being a suboptimal card when facing lots of Lava Spikes. It can kill Eidolon painlessly, so there is that as well.
As for me, I seek a hard to remove card advantage, but Outpost Siege is not really where I want to be. Both Chandra planeswalkers offer me more, but the next time I’ll play at the big tournament or in an unknown metagame, I would probably lean on Chandra, Torch of Defiance for the job.
And what about you?
All images courtesy of WotC.