Born in the great gaming state of Wisconsin, Jason was fated to be a gamer. Too young to drink Beer (well, not anymore) and lactose intolerant so he couldn’t eat the cheese, Jason turned to AD&D (1st edition). After that, many systems were dabbled in until he found his home in piles of cardboard. Since then he played at least 6 CCG’s and may be learning to play Harry Potter if he finds some free time and a few bucks (donations welcome).
"Is that jank in your deck or. . ."
Before I actually start in on my first article (Whoa Yeah!!!) I thought I would just lay down a couple things. This way you get to know me a little better and I get a few things off my chest. After I get this done, then we can start talking about jank and all that good stuff. Feel free to skip it. It’s long and has very little to do with the game. I won’t be upset if you don’t read it, in fact I will never know. The next article I write I hope to spare you from my personal life and just focus on the game we all love.
First, MTGnews.com is going down. That’s sad, really sad. This site was a lifeline for many Magic players, both casual and competitive. I know that I used it almost everyday and I was not alone (I think the spoiler site is my most visited web site). I, and I’m sure many others, wish Ray the best as he moves forward with his life.
The thing I really wanted to say is one of the things Ray mentioned in his farewell address. The Magic community is close knit and generally supportive. For many of us it offers us a whole new group of friends and, even more than that, it gives us a community to which we belong and with which we can identify. It also can hold us back. Our hobby (to some an addiction) is often misunderstood by friends and family. Really, there is nothing wrong with this. There is a time when our priorities change (the good news is that for many of us, including yours truly, this change is caused by the growth of a wonderful lifelong relationship) and Magic may not always fit onto that list of priorities nor should it.
For me, I have been in and out ever since I really started playing back in the day with the Beta release. Ahhh, those were the days and then my Mom threw out my cards when I went to college (yes, multiple copies of each of the power 9). After that I got out for a little while and then, slowly but surely, I started to get back in right around Tempest. After Masques I dropped out briefly until Invasion.
Now I live in a psuedo-Magic world. Because of my responsibilities in life I can’t devote myself to the game as I would like, but I still dabble in a few areas. Really, the passion for the game was re-ignited by two individuals who I would like to thank. Rob thanks for starting up Peasant Magic. It is the only thing that allows me to pay my bills and I love the format. The second person is Andrew. He responded to an article that I wrote (by pointing out a mistake I had made) and we soon became e-mail pals. He is a great guy and he inspired me to actually write down a lot of my thoughts about why experienced players do the things we do (Which is really what I hope to make my column here at Pojo all about). Thanks for making me really think about the game again, this intellectual stimulation is what the game is all about (for me at least).
The second thing I wanted to say is this: don’t do, or let your friends or family members, do drugs. I won’t go into everything, but more than once drugs have torn my life apart in one way or the other. Even if you are drug free if those that you care about use drugs your life *will* be affected. There is no such thing as a simple user. Drugs will make your life more complex than it ever should be.
Finally, as I alluded to earlier, I want my articles to be accessible to new players but valuable to old hands. I will try to define almost all of the jargon used in my articles. This, of course, is very hard since I have used many of the terms for so long I don’t even think of them as jargon. I will do my best and if I miss something let me know and I will get a definition for you. I will also list the text of every card I mention in my articles. Sometimes I will do this briefly (as with the Grizzly Bears below) or include the attributes of the card directly in the text, other times I will list the full text. If you can’t find the card in the article look at the very bottom, if it’s not there e-mail me and I’ll make sure we are all talking about the same card. I hope to do this for all my articles but this may prove difficult if I am analyzing a deck. For those who are familiar with the jargon and the cards I hope that I offer enough solid thought and analysis to make reading my articles worthwhile. If I fail in this, send me an e-mail and I will attempt to rectify the situation. Also, if there is anything specific you want me to cover, again, let me know via e-mail. Thanks and here we go. . .
Is that jank in your deck or . . .
Before I even start in on a definition of jank I must warn you that there is a difference between Jank and jank (no-caps). Jank is a deck also known as Pro-Tour Jank. It’s a good deck and fun to play but it isn’t the focus of the article. The real focus is on jank.
The definition of “jank” is a card (sometimes a whole deck or strategy) that is sub-optimal. Some players extend this definition to include cards (decks, and strategies) that are cheesy, cheap, and generally crappy. If you have been reading all the articles that refer to Grizzly Bears (a general term used to refer to any 2/2 creature) as what IBC (Invasion Block Constructed) is all about and you have been using real Grizzly Bears (1G, 2/2 creature with no special ability) that would be pretty janky (very much sub-optimal and very very crappy).
It appears that the term “jank” comes to us from either Truc Bui or Patrick Chapin. While the true originator of the term may now be shrouded in the dark mists of time (at least for this writer) the story is pretty much the same. One of these two great players (or another player who’s place in history has been stolen) was laying down a beating on his opponent; and then, with no warning, he lost. Not only did he lose, he lost to a card that no sane player (and certainly no pro-tour caliber player) would ever include in his deck. It was at this moment that jank was born.
What I want you to get out of this creation story is the fact that the jank won. While others see janky choices as sub-optimal crap, I see such choices as creative expression and strategic maneuvering at least as some thought went into making the decision. When I refer to jank I’m not talking about Carrier Pigeons (this is pure junk and not jank) I’m talking about cards that are good but underused. These are cards that can win the game but are often stuck on the side lines watching bigger, better, and often much more rare cards get shuffled around on the field of play.
The list of these cards goes on and on, I could never hope to cover all of them but I will cover the reasons to play with jank:
Adaptation to the meta-game (the style and deck
choice at a certain tournament or in a certain
geographical area): When Sligh (a red deck built around
the idea that each and every land should be used each
turn to exert constant early game pressure and control
via aggressive use of creatures and direct damage
spells) was a big bad contender for top deck on pro-tour
people started putting Bottle Gnomes into all of their
decks. Bottle Gnomes really terrified Sligh decks.
The Bottle Gnomes were such a horror because for three reasons. First, they were an artifact so they could fit in any colored deck (because artifacts use colorless mana). Second, they had 3 on the backside (toughness) so they could stand up to most of Sligh’s creatures (most of which had 2 power) and burn spells (many of which did 2 damage). Lastly, and maybe most important, they allowed the owner to sacrifice them to gain 3 life. This was bad news for Sligh decks because 3 life often translated into their opponents living an extra turn. Often, that single extra turn would be just enough for Sligh’s opponent to turn the tide of the game since Sligh had a tendency to run out of steam mid-way through the game.
The answer was a nice little piece of jank. It was a card that I hadn’t seen played since I began the game in about 7th grade or so. The answer was:
First, why is this jank? Generally, creature enchantments are not considered good cards. This is because they give your opponent the opportunity to gain card advantage. After all, if you just cast an enchantment on a creature and your opponent kills the creature by casting a single spell from his hand then you just lost 2 cards and your opponent only lost one.
Also, 2 mana for +2/+2 isn’t that great of a deal. Overall, an aggressive red deck that relies on speed and tempo to win the game wants cards that do more than give the possibility of 2 extra points of damage for 2 mana. After all if you can cast Shock (2 damage for R) or Incinerate (3 damage for 1R and the ability to stop a creature from regenerating) then that’s what should be in your deck.
Why did this work? Well, if you remember, most of Sligh’s creatures had 2 power and thus couldn’t overcome the 3 toughness of the Bottle Gnomes. All of a sudden, the Bottle Gnomes couldn’t stay around and hold off the Sligh’s creatures turn after turn since the red bad guys now had a power of 4.
Secondly, since the enchantment stuck around, unlike red’s instants and sorceries, the life gained by the opponent from sacrificing the Bottle Gnomes could be overcome in a single turn, whereas two turns would have been needed attacking with an un-enchanted version of the creature.
Lastly, the Giant Strength helped Sligh in the mirror match (a game against a similar style of deck). We had already discussed the fact that Sligh had problems dealing with 3 toughness creatures. Giant Strength meant that any of Sligh’s creatures (most of which had 1 toughness) could now exceed the 3 toughness threshold.
This wouldn’t always be the best choice, in fact the only reason this is a good choice is because almost every deck was either Sligh or playing Bottle Gnomes (an aspect of the meta-game). Adaptation is the single greatest reason to use jank.
Being different: As a Magic player you are
already a little bit different but then again aren’t
we all. In this day and age where so many feel that
net-decks (decks pulled straight off internet articles)
are so common place it often pays to be different. The
reason being different pays off is that experienced
players have learned to identify the different decks
they expect to play against and they have developed to
adapt their own play strategy to be most effective
against specific decks. I have actually been in games
where, after turn 5 or so, we each knew with 95%
accuracy every spell in each others hands. This wasn’t
because we cheated, we simply knew the environment that
we were playing in.
As I mentioned above, a good player adapts to the deck he is playing (okay, this isn’t always a good strategy but it could be argued that knowing when not to adapt your strategy is a form of adaptation). I just want to give a quick example. Player A is playing a Stompy deck (green deck that focuses on mana acceleration and efficient creatures usually with high power to casting cost ratios and trample or regeneration. Stompy is a deck that uses elephants and Stampy is a deck that doesn’t although they is usually interchangeable) against Player B who is playing a white deck. In this case, Player A doesn’t want to cast too many of his creatures just in case player B draws and casts Wrath of God (2WW, Bury all creatures in play). After winning that game player A plays his Stompy deck against player C who also has a Stompy deck. In this case, Player A may want to cast as many creatures as possible since this game will probably be more of a creature race. This is a little bit simplified but you get the idea.
Anyway, the strength of playing jank in your deck becomes the fact that your opponent simply doesn’t count on having you do what you just did. I don’t know how many of you watched 13th Warrior but in the movie that make a comment that a good strategy is forcing your enemy to calculate not only the strength they can see but the strength they can’t see. If your opponent knows you are playing a Stompy deck but you suddenly cast Armadillo Cloak on your Rogue Elephant your opponent will have to start wondering what other tricks you have up your sleeve. They may begin to wonder if you also have a Swords to Plowshares or a Wrath of God and this may force them into a more cautious style of play that is not right against an aggressive deck like yours.
The downside to such a strategy is that it often makes your deck weaker. In the above example, the Armadillo Cloak requires a white mana source. While this could come from a Nomadic Elf or Chromatic Sphere neither of these cards is as good as the card removed from the deck so that you can include them. A Savannah would have been just as good as a Forest (generally) but would have risked tipping your hand too early.
Basically, if you are going to use this strategy you better think hard about whether or not the card(s) that you add are really worth weakening the deck as a whole. It can be played to your advantage especially if you have a reputation for playing a certain type of deck. Many players stop paying attention to the game when they think they know what’s coming.
3) Sometimes the jank is just good: Okay, this is a little simpler (or maybe not). One of the things that makes Magic such a dynamic game is that new decks are almost always being “invented”. Part of the reason is that sometimes the cards that make a certain decks possible just hang around out there and never pick up a lot of attention and sometimes people just overlook really good cards.
I remember when I first started playing Magic, I had no problems trading a good ol’ Mox for a Serra Angel. At the time, it wasn’t a bad trade at all. The big story, which proves this point though is Necropotence.
For many of us, Necropotence had been sitting at the back of our shoe box for a fair amount of time. We thought that loosing life to draw a card, while not the worst deal in the world, certainly wasn’t any good if you had to skip your draw phase as well. At least, that’s the way that everyone thought until the played against the dreaded Necro deck (this was a black deck that featured efficient black creatures and balanced discard and control that used Necropotence to give a speed boost to the deck and also to make it more consistant). That summer when Necropotence first broke out was known as the “Black Summer” since everyone was playing the amazingly powerful Necro Deck. Even now, Necropotence (a card that spent a short stint in the jank category) is a card to be reckoned with and you will see it in many contemporary deck builds.
If you are looking for that one jank card that was overlooked perhaps you will be able to build the next killer deck. The odds are against you but never give up hope, keep on scanning those spoilers and keeping your eyes peeled.
4) Looking for utility: Here we aren’t looking for a single janky card, instead we tend to be talking about a janky deck. In deck building I define the utility of a deck as the ability of a deck to deal with a single situation in multiple ways. Often, when a deck is mono-colored it has poor utility, especially if it is an aggressive deck. Sometimes this is okay. After all, if your opponent is dead by turn five how many situations are your going to have to deal with. Still, deck utility is often a good thing.
The solution, at least for mono-colored decks, is to add another color. This is jank because a concentrated aggressive deck like White Weenie (a deck that uses small white creatures to overwhelm their opponents, the control elements and color protection make the deck playable), Stompy, or Sligh tends to rely on quick use of it’s mana and reliability of it’s draws. These decks really can’t afford to draw a card that they can’t cast because they have the wrong colored mana. Still, that second color can provide the path to victory just ask anyone who played Jank (that’s with the capital so we are talking about the deck PT-Jank).
Basically, Jank was a White Weenie deck that added the burn elements of Sligh so that it could maintain additional creature control and also to kill their opponent with red direct damage when they were low on life. The end result was that the combination worked well. I won’t discuss it too much here since PT-Jank is all over the web in a myriad of forms. Still, it got it’s name because at first it was considered a sub-optimal form of White Wennie.
That’s a wrap. Take a look at your cards and start looking at some of those that are just sitting around. Hero’s Resolve, Keldon Mantel, Immobilizing Ink, Betrayal all come to mind. Maybe they will find their way into your next deck. My message to the experience players out there is that just because we think we know what a “good” card is we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment. New players should go back and read reason #1 again. Think about the logic used in that example and try to apply it to the other 3 situations I gave in this article. This is the general type of thinking you should try to do whenever you are thinking about whether or not a card belongs in the deck.
I’ll write again soon (maybe not at such length) and then we can talk about some other topics (probably Threshold). For now be good and play hard.