Last updated on January 13, 2023

Bolas's Citadel - Illustration by Jonas De Ro

Bolas's Citadel | Illustration by Jonas De Ro

There have been Witch's Oven decks abusing the synergy between Cauldron Familiar, the Oven, and Trail of Crumbs since the cat’s printing. This combo along with fellow sacrifice cards like Mayhem Devil and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King pushed Jund Sacrifice into the upper echelons of Standard. Until the bans.

Now the best place to play these style decks switches between Historic and Pioneer. In Historic, a Golgari () Sac deck won a Set Championship. In Pioneer, Jund () Sacrifice (or Citadel) has won multiple PTQs, challenges, and put players into the MOCS (Magic Online Championship Series). Both are great choices to master, but today I’m going to focus on the Pioneer version.

Jund Citadel operates as one of the premier midrange decks in the format with a combo finish to help deal with true over-the-top decks like Niv to Light and Jeskai Ascendancy. The deck leans more towards winning with a large Korvold, Fae-Cursed King in the midgame without the Citadel finish. I’ll start with Jund Citadel and then delve into the newer version that replaces Bolas's Citadel with The Meathook Massacre as your pseudo-combo finish.

Ready? Let’s get started!

The Deck

Cauldron Familiar - Illustration by Milivoj Ceran

Cauldron Familiar | Illustration by Milivoj Ceran

The Strategy

Citadel uses cheap creatures and interaction to slow down opposing decks until you can land a top-end threat and end the game. You want to cut whatever cards don’t work well in the matchup post-board and max out your most effective spells just like in any good midrange deck. Where Citadel especially has an advantage is being able to change win conditions to better attack your opponent.

The Creatures

Cauldron Familiar

A hallmark of Standard before it was banned, Cauldron Familiar gives this deck a recursive threat that combos well with all the synergies in the deck. While a 1/1 for one isn’t the most impressive, you’ll understand the power this card wields once you’ve seen the cat find its way into and out of Witch's Oven once or twice.

Add to that the litany of Food and sacrifice synergies in this build and you have one of the major engines of all Jund Citadel decks. A solid rule for Pioneer is look toward cards that saw bans in Standard and see if they’re still powerful in a larger card pool. The Familiar definitely passes that test.

Gilded Goose

The backbone of every Food deck since Throne of Eldraine, Gilded Goose allows you to fix your mana and accelerate when you have spare Food. Goose also combos with Trail of Crumbs, generates extra Food for Cauldron Familiar, and helps you survive against aggressive decks with cheap creatures.

While it doesn’t have Oko, Thief of Crowns’s the power, this deck still leverages a strong 3-drop in Mayhem Devil and can start grinding advantage through turn 2 Trail of Crumbs alongside Goose. It enables many of the deck’s synergies and is one of the strongest cards in enabling your best draws with this deck.

Korvold, Fae-Cursed King

Battlecruiser Magic is a concept where both players play haymaker after haymaker and the last one standing wins. Korvold, Fae-Cursed King is the ultimate battlecruiser, and very few cards in Pioneer can actively stand punch-for-punch with this massive dragon. You get a +1/+1 counter on Korvold and draw a card every time you sacrifice a permanent. You can see how Korvold can quickly eclipse any life total while refilling your hand given that the creatures mentioned above have synergies with sacrificing (usually multiple permanents per turn).

One of Korvold’s bigger benefits is that you get to refill your hand, digging you closer to more copies of it or Bolas's Citadel to finish the game. You can kill someone from very few resources with this card alongside Mayhem Devil.

While many of the Citadel lists trim down on the number of Korvolds, Jund Sacrifice leverages the legendary dragon as its primary win condition and it’s easy to see why. Korvold is one of the strongest cards in Pioneer uncontested. Even when your opponent has an answer for it you can respond with sacrifices and activations to refill your hand and outpace burn-based removal. While Bolas's Citadel is the deck’s finisher, never forget the power of Korvold. Especially in swinging a race where you can’t pay life for spells from Citadel.

Mayhem Devil

Another card from the pile that easily won Mythic Championship VII with an undefeated match record. Mayhem Devil lets you deal one damage to any target every time either player sacrifices a permanent. This includes sagas, Fabled Passage, Omens, Food, Treasures, etc. It allows you to clear the board against creature decks, kill opponents with 20 or more life with relative ease, and it combos with Bolas's Citadel.

You can sacrifice 10 non-land permanents to have each opponent lose 10 life when you have Citadel. And if you sacrifice 10 permanents with a Mayhem Devil out, you get 10 damage triggers on top of the 10-life loss from Citadel, even if you sacrifice the Devil to this ability. This combo enables the deck to win from disadvantaged positions, especially against combo and other midrange decks looking to weather the storm and go over the top of Jund.

Few games end in your opponent winning when you resolve a Devil and untap with it in this deck. Korvold and Citadel are your end game, but Mayhem Devil speeds up those kills and lets you fight creature decks without having to overrun the list with spot removal.

Prosperous Innkeeper

This little halfling appears in several Pioneer decks. Prosperous Innkeeper helps bolster your life total and ramp into midrange threats. Using the Treasure to play an early Bolas's Citadel or Korvold, Fae-Cursed King can accelerate you in matchups where your midrange nature is a disadvantage. The incidental lifegain helps manage aggressive decks, especially since the ramp aspect isn’t tied to the Innkeeper surviving.

With Citadel out, the Innkeeper allows you to continue chaining spells without dying. It’s the best early hit off Citadel, and any spell that makes two permanents helps kill with Citadel much quicker. While this card doesn’t measure up in synergy to the creatures above it’s still an important player in why this deck continues to succeed.

The Instants

Deadly Dispute

A new addition that led to many players moving more towards Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and the sacrifice builds, Deadly Dispute can help you turn your excess Foods, Treasures, creatures, and creatures targeted with removal into mana and cards. Adding Dispute to a deck that only has Korvold and Trail of Crumbs as reliable card advantage accelerates the list into the midgame faster, helps you filter to your important draws, and can give you more sacrifice outlets for key turns where you need one or two more.

Dispute continues to impress every time I’ve cast it and I could see its stock rising even higher if the deck ever moved towards the more Standard-like Shambling Ghast.

Fatal Push

A long-time staple of Pioneer since its inception, Fatal Push is at its best in a deck that revolves around incidental sacrifices. Enabling revolt has never been easier than in a deck like this, and that means your 1-mana removal spell works better than everyone else’s. Fatal push is the best tool for the job in a format with powerful 4-drops like Winota, Joiner of Forces, Crackling Drake, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet.

The Enchantments

Binding the Old Gods

What if your opponent plays something that’s problematic for you that isn’t a creature? Something like Rest in Peace or Grafdigger's Cage?

Binding the Old Gods gives you outs to large creatures, planeswalkers, and post-board hate cards like Yasharn, Implacable Earth. The ramp ability can help you color-fix for Bolas's Citadel’s , plus you get Mayhem Devil and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King triggers when it dies. Keep in mind that Binding gives your creatures deathtouch and then you get to use Devil to ping things.

While this card isn’t flashy, it gets the job done when nothing else will do.

Trail of Crumbs

Trail of Crumbs dominates midrange and control decks. You get to look at cards and effectively draw the best permanent of the top two cards every time you sacrifice a Food with a mana left over. In a deck with the cat/Oven combo and Gilded Goose, you can chain Food to grind your opponent into dust.

While Bolas's Citadel, Mayhem Devil, and Korvold, Fae-Cursed King are the flashy cards, Trail is the backbone of the deck that enables it to grind out the midgame and hit land drops early. Most hands that have cat/Oven or Goose with a Trail can beat any deck that goes late into the game. While you can trim on this card in the most aggressive matchups, the deck’s Food sub-theme can help stall out until this enchantment can take over the game.

The Artifacts

Bolas's Citadel

The namesake of the deck, Bolas's Citadel is a 1-card combo that lets you quickly play several spells off the top before draining your opponent for 10 life. That 10 becomes 20 and kills most opponents if you have just one Mayhem Devil. While it’s a costly finisher at , Citadel often ends the game immediately or when you untap with it at worst. It’s likely you win on the spot, especially in midrange matchups where you can play it with a land drop to use from the top of your deck.

While Citadel also struggles if you play it at a low life total, there are sequences with cards like Prosperous Innkeeper that can allow you to chain low-cost cards and gain life. With so many cards that create multiple permanents, you rarely need to find 10 full spells to win.

Witch's Oven

You put the cat in the Oven then the cat devours the Food and returns from the graveyard. Rinse and repeat until your opponent dies.

Witch's Oven lets you protect your cards from removal, particularly Bonecrusher Giant’s Stomp, and create permanents that can fuel Gilded Goose, Trail of Crumbs, and Cauldron Familiar. Oven is a weak card independently, but it’s one of the most feared cards in this deck. Especially once you have a Trail and Familiar ready to fuel your card advantage engine.

We’ve seen this combo many times before and Pioneer’s card pool does little to weaken the cat/Oven combo.

The Lands

The modal Pathways allow you to have the best color whenever you play them. You can play these early on green (Slitherbore Pathway) or black (Darkbore Pathway) or in the midgame on black (Blightstep Pathway) or red (Searstep Pathway) to help your midgame and end-game cards. These Pathways continue to elevate Pioneer mana bases, and this deck gets a lot of value out of having access to different colors at different stages of the game.

Blooming Marsh

Green and black are the most needed colors in the deck, especially green on turn 1. Even though more copies of Blooming Marsh enter tapped, being able to play your early spells to accelerate into the midgame helps this build immensely. I don’t think you’d want Copperline Gorge or Blackcleave Cliffs, which is rare for Pioneer decks right now, but you have the optimal fast land already and having all four is essential.

Haunted Ridge

A new slow land from Midnight Hunt, this style of land is strongest in midrange decks that aim to regularly hit lands 3 to 5. Haunted Ridge replaced the number of Stomping Grounds and Blood Crypts to maximize black sources without sacrificing red sources. You want your turn 1 land to be green with Gilded Goose and Trail of Crumbs so that you don’t lose any percentage by leaning on your third land as the black-red land.

Stomping Ground

Shock lands remain a staple of the format. Especially in a 3-color deck, you need shock lands. You want to maximize on your turn 1 green sources, and you need much more black mana than red. With Binding the Old Gods you can fetch Stomping Ground, but overall you want to maximize turn 1 green with as many black sources as possible.

Tips and Tricks

Mayhem Devil - Illustration by Dmitry Burmak

Mayhem Devil | Illustration by Dmitry Burmak

  • Protect your cats. If you sacrifice Cauldron Familiar with Witch's Oven and your opponent has mana open, don’t bring it back without the ability to sacrifice it again. Decks like Izzet () have Flame-Blessed Bolt, and permanently losing the cat is a nightmare. You rarely need that one point of attack damage against the continuous value of using cat/Oven.
  • When counting permanents for Bolas's Citadel, make sure that you’re counting the double permanents made from cards like Gilded Goose, Prosperous Innkeeper, Trail of Crumbs, etc. These cards quickly get you to 10.
  • Deadly Dispute can sacrifice a creature or artifact. Remember that you can sacrifice excess Food, Treasures, or Witch's Ovens against cards like Rest in Peace.
  • Gilded Goose can sacrifice a Food to make mana and then use that mana to pay for Trail of Crumbs. This means that you can use Trail the turn you play it if you have a turn 1 Goose in play. This is a great strategy to dig for lands, Witch's Ovens, or Cauldron Familiar to play for cheap.
  • You can hold priority after sacrificing Food to Familiar to sacrifice more Food to the same cat. While the cat only comes back once, sacrificing multiple Foods for a single cat can kill via Mayhem Devil, draw extra cards with Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, or just activate Trail of Crumbs multiple times with a single cat.
  • Remember for The Meathook Massacre: their creatures give your life, your creatures ping them. This matters a lot when deciding lines of how to survive or kill in tight races.
  • You can play The Meathook Massacre for X = 0 to enable the gain and drain effects, or if you don’t want to damage your own board state with the -X/-X.
  • While this deck takes some time to learn and maximize your play, cards like Korvold, Fae-Cursed King, Mayhem Devil, and Bolas's Citadel can help you close out games quickly. Especially when you’re down in time or resources.
  • Understand when you need what colors. Green and black early, red in the midgame, and more black late. Especially with Bolas's Citadel, check off that you have access to at least in the mid to late game. Pathways stress these decisions and can lead to games lost because of poor color management.

Sideboard Cards

Binding the Old Gods

Binding the Old Gods

Need to answer difficult permanents? Now you have an additional copy or two of your general removal spell. Especially in matchups where the things that worry you are non-creature permanents, Binding the Old Gods is a great answer to reach towards.

Bolas's Citadel

Bolas's Citadel

In matchups where your opponent can answer your creatures or has strong answers to your recursive midgame strategy (including killing you before you can take over the game with a combo), Bolas's Citadel can win games from positions no other card can. When you need to go fast or maximize the number of haymakers in your deck the extra Citadel goes a long way in punishing your opponent any time they tap out or where you can clear the way with Thoughtseize.

Outland Liberator

Outland Liberator gives you game against cards like Grafdigger's Cage, Rest in Peace, or opposing Bolas's Citadels. Having access to Disenchant on a body is valuable, especially when you can turn the game to Night and get multiple uses of the disenchant. Liberator also gets around cards like Silence or counterspells that normally protect cards like Jeskai Ascendancy by sitting in play and pressuring the enchantment.

Ray of Enfeeblement

Ray of Enfeeblement

Ray of Enfeeblement helps keep white human decks in check along with small decks with x-1 creatures. Ray is for Winota, Joiner of Forces. While it has other fringe benefits like killing Yasharn, Implacable Earth, the card found its way into the deck to slow Winota down and can find use in matchups like Azorius () Spirits, Orzhov () Auras, and other white decks.

The Meathook Massacre

The Meathook Massacre

Some extra tech, The Meathook Massacre acts as a wrath or an extra Mayhem Devil to kill opponents quickly. You can wrath the board against creature decks and gain incidental lifegain every time you kill a creature. You can use your hard-to-answer cards like Cauldron Familiar against removal-heavy decks to quickly shock out your opponent.

While Massacre has made waves in Historic sac decks, the card doesn’t quite have the same power in Pioneer since the cost to wrath 3 or 4 toughness creatures is inhibitive. But against small creature decks? There aren’t many better cards for this deck to have.

Thoughtseize & Go Blank

Like most decks in Pioneer with black, having access to Thoughtseize can help you survive bad matchups or slow down decks like Lotus Field Combo, Jeskai Ascendancy, or Niv to Light that would otherwise be the better deck in the matchup. You can work to control your opponent’s hand with some help from Go Blank, which is important in Pioneer if you aren’t a blue deck that can control your opponent through counterspells.

How to Beat Jund Citadel

Witch's Oven - Illustration by Alexander Forssberg

Witch's Oven | Illustration by Alexander Forssberg

You want to kill Jund Citadel quickly without relying on creatures or combat. Decks like Lotus Field Combo and Jeskai Ascendancy can easily go over the top of Jund, especially if they can’t get an early Bolas's Citadel down.

Niv to Light is a tough matchup in the midrange mirror since they have so much removal. Their cards go well over top of everything, and Citadel doesn’t have a lot of clean answers to cards like Niv-Mizzet Reborn or The Scarab God.

Cards like Grafdigger's Cage, Rest in Peace, and Yasharn, Implacable Earth can all hurt the deck’s gameplan. While Jund has answers to them all, slowing them down can allow you to take over while they dig for a small number of answers.

Arclight Phoenix is a tough matchup. The amount of removal plus a lack of counterspells in Jund makes it hard to take over the game, especially with Thing in the Ice requiring immediate answers. The other issue is that Izzet can hold counterspells for Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and Bolas's Citadel and keep you playing small ball while they draw cards and rebuy their threats over and over again.

Cards like Rampaging Ferocidon and Roiling Vortex can let aggressive burn decks steal games against Jund Citadel even though it should be favored.

If you can trade aggressively with Jund’s life total they may struggle to end the game with Citadel, especially in game 1. This makes it important to put pressure on Jund either through aggression or time pressure via combo.

Honorable Mentions

Korvold, Fae-Cursed King - Illustration by Wisnu Tan

Korvold, Fae-Cursed King | Illustration by Wisnu Tan

While Jund Citadel was the standard build for a long time, newer builds that rely on Korvold, Fae-Cursed King and The Meathook Massacre instead of Bolas's Citadel have started showing results. It’s still too early to determine which version is the best or if there’s a perfect build somewhere between these two. Still, it’s important to know the variants of popular decks in case it becomes the better meta choice.

These style decks should punish aggressive lists with the number of combo-leveraging cards like Slaughter Games in the sideboard, and adding in more disruption in post-board games should help fix some of your closer matchups. While I really enjoy the power of Citadel it loses some luster when combo and hyper aggro are the main decks in the format. Citadel’s stock as a card would drastically rise if that changed, especially in the midrange mirrors.

Wrap Up

Trail of Crumbs - Illustration by Daarken

Trail of Crumbs | Illustration by Daarken

Jund Citadel is one of the many pillars of Pioneer. Along with decks like Niv to Light, Azorius Control, Jeskai Ascendancy, Izzet Phoenix, Winota, Lotus Field Combo, and more, you have to know how this deck works to play this format at a high level. While Citadel isn’t usually the best deck in the format, it often contends in any or every event in Pioneer.

We’ll see more of this deck moving forward as the various builds continue to evolve. The core of cat/Oven, Goose, Trail, Devil, and payoffs like Citadel and Korvold remain some of the most powerful options in the format. As Kanister proved at Mythic Championship VII, the core of this deck can easily carry you with reps and practice against the field no matter the format.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on Jund Citadel! Let me know what you think of this midrange Pioneer pillar in the comments down below and be sure to check out  Draftsim’s Twitter and the blog for other deck guides.

That’s all from me for now. Stay safe, stay healthy, and I’ll see you in the next one!

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