Monday, August 4, 2014

Jankville. Population 1.

              Magic is filled with some really niche slang. Honestly, it's addictive. When the jargon catches on, it's nearly impossible not to at least try it on for size. Sometimes, it sticks and sometimes, just by letting it slide passed your lips,  you feel like an utter lemming . Often, it just conveys an acknowledgment of the game state: "that's a thing", "blowout", "crack in", "exactcies", etc. Occasionally though, the lingo inspires a bit more where you'd like to live? Let's examine some of these exotic locales.

                Lots of players gaze longingly towards the horizon at the twinkling village known best as Magical Christmas Land...a place often sought, but rarely reached. "Just wait until I assemble these three cards, across four colors, create infinite mana and cast this creature that will almost certainly beat you!" It's not just the combo players either. The aggro players are looking to retreat to a vacation hideaway on the majestic beaches of Magical Christmas Land: "Okay, check it. Turn 1 Gobo Guide, Turn 2 Ash Zealot, Turn 3 Ram Gang, Turn 4 Hellrider. They will never recover. GG!" As you may have guessed, Magical Christmas Land occurs fairly rarely. You might get to pitch your tent there every twentieth game or so. I don't begrudge those looking to assemble something wacky, I love living the dream too, but the odds are forever not in your favor.

                There's also much talk about taking these nice excursions to a quaint part of the Multiverse: Valuetown.  Now, this is where it's at. Trips to Valuetown are exciting, but what does that mean exactly? I tend to think of these as small interactions, generally between two cards, that create enough synergy to net you some form of advantage. The best of these take place when the cards involved are individually strong, but synergize in a way that creates guessed it..."value." These interactions range from cute to downright powerful, but they are generally very attainable, and really, just fun to put together. They make you feel clever and they help you edge your way to a win. I can't recommend an extended stay in Valuetown enough.

                Enough exploring these well-known places. Let's get on to the main topic. Let's talk about a place that few want to visit. In fact, when going anywhere near this place, most prefer to roll up the windows, lock the doors, and tell the kids to hide any valuables. This place is seedy. This place is not for the faint of heart. This place is Jankville.

                Every Standard environment, especially those as large as it is now with M15 in the mix, has a myriad of cards that sit on the sidelines. Some are clearly for Limited. Some scream EDH. Some are simply underpowered. Yet others are really interesting, sometimes working on a unique axis, but get precluded from the format by cards that always invalidate them. I understand that not everyone feels this way, but to me there's always a strong appeal to taking one of these castaway cards and trawling the format looking for just enough synergies to elevate the jank into the realm of playability. Today, I'd like to look at a few cards from a couple of these camps. I may never even get a chance to sleeve up any of these cards, but the mental exercise of building the deck lists is always enjoyable.

                So, if you're so inclined, and think you can handle the jeers of your Magic-playing peers, buckle up as we take a detour through Jankville and look at some of the cards that didn't quite make the cut in this Standard. Many of the cards we're going to be looking at hail from the Return to Ravnica block or M14, as they 're the ones on the verge of rotation. Most of the jank from Theros will likely remain jank, but they do have a sliver of hope as new cards rotate in from Khans of Tarkir.

                The first deck I'd love to escort out of Jankville would look something like this:

Howl of the Jank Pack
23 Lands
8 Forest
4 Mutavault
2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
3 Plains
4 Temple Garden
2 Temple of Plenty

15 Spells
1 Howl of the Night Pack
1 Hunter's Prowess
2 Market Festival
2 Obelisk of Urd
3 Raised by Wolves
3 Selesnya Keyrune
3 Unflinching Courage

22 Creatures
4 Bassara Tower Archer
2 Briarpack Alpha
2 Elvish Mystic
4 Gladecover Scout
2 Heliod's Pilgrim
4 Nyxborn Wolf
4 Witchstalker

                I really enjoyed casting Raised By Wolves in Theros Limited. It felt pretty powerful, so I began pondering how it might translate to Standard. No doubt, there are a lot of things wrong with this deck. There isn't a critical mass of Wolves in Standard, so this looks to lean especially hard on the Raised by Wolves. Luckily, one of the Wolf creatures that does exists, Witchstalker, has hexproof, which really mitigates the risk of going in on an Aura strategy. That led me to explore some other hexproof creatures in the format in the form of Gladecover Scout and Bassara Tower Archer. The hexproof is also cute with the other main Wolf in the deck, Nyxborn Wolf. Bestow already removes much of the risk of attaching an Aura, but having hexproof makes going for it feel pretty safe. The white splash is mostly unnecessary, but gets us access to Unflinching Courage, Heliod's Pilgrim (for more cute Aura synergies) as well as another honorary Wolf in the form of Selesnya Keyrune, which does actually add a nice hedge against sorcery-speed removal and sweepers.

                Speaking of sweepers, besides playing relatively underpowered cards, this deck (and others we'll explore later) falls victim to a Standard staple that wreaks havoc on decks looking to win with a near-creature-only strategy: Supreme Verdict. I actually like casting Supreme Verdict myself from time to time, but it's presence makes wining with decks like the above very difficult. Still, if you enjoy tribal strategies, consider giving the Wolf clan a shot before the rotation occurs. If you can blow out one opponent by flashing in a Briarpack Alpha to up your Wolf count and unexpectedly growing your Raised By Wolves creature, it might just be worth it.

                Next up, I want to look at another strategy that I wanted to be good, but just never was. I've always enjoyed the "Swamps matter" style mono-black control decks. Sure, there's a top-tier mono-black deck in Standard, and even though it plays a lot of spot removal, it usually plays a little bit more like a tempo deck, with Pack Rats and Nightveil Specters picking up incremental advantages until Gray Merchant of Asphodel can seal the deal. The below deck, though, moves much further towards being a pure control deck, leveraging both spot and mass removal, mana ramp, and only a handful of ways to close out the game:

Black Betrayal
23 Lands
23 Swamp

30 Spells
3 Bile Blight
1 Caustic Tar
2 Corrupt
2 Devour Flesh
3 Drown in Sorrow
2 Extinguish All Hope
1 Fated Return
1 Grave Betrayal
4 Hero's Downfall
2 Liliana of the Dark Realms
1 Liliana Vess
2 Silence the Believers
2 Ultimate Price
4 Underworld Connections

7 Creatures
4 Crypt Ghast
3 Gray Merchant of Asphodel

                 Come on, even the spikiest of Spikes reads Grave Betrayal and thinks how fun it would be to land it on the battlefield and start turning all their removal spells into creatures. Yes, the card was likely designed with the EDH crowd in mind, but it would be no less fun robbing players in Standard of their Polukranos, Stormbreath Dragon, or Desecration Demon. Of course, your opponent might not be keen on playing nice with your seven-man, do-nothing enchantment. Maybe they decide to wait you out by not casting any creatures at all? They'll assume that after all the Underworld Connections activations, you'll surely deck yourself in short order. Right? That's when you land your six-mana, do-nothing enchantment! Caustic Tar is another janky card I'd love to see break out in Standard. It adds a couple of pips of black devotion to the board for Gary, plus if you're interested in splashing in some green, Voyaging Satyr is licking his chops at the thought of doing something other than producing extra mana. It's a rare occasion when the satyr gets to actively contribute to the demise of your opponent.

                One of the subtle downsides to employing a strategy like (one that puts a lot of the burden of winning on a handful of cards of the same type) means you suffer badly from incidental hate cards. Normally, you might think that being enchantments, your Grave Betrayal, Caustic Tar, and Underworld Connection would be relatively safe. Unfortunately, in a post-Theros world, the enchantment hate is plentiful and efficient. A single Back to Nature could single-handedly neuter this deck's primary game plan. There are still ways to win, but you might find yourself looking to extort your opponent to death with Crypt Ghast or trying to muster enough targeted life loss via Corrupt and Gray Merchant. An unanswered Liliana Vess could close the game quickly with her ultimate, but getting to ultimate with a planeswalker, even in Standard, seems to be a bit of a rare occurrence. Regardless, if you enjoy killing creatures and landing game-altering effects, you might enjoy a foray into this section of Jankville.

                I'll conclude with a deck very similar to one that I did actually sleeve up for an FNM. The event was prior to the release of Magic 2015, so it's not quite the same, but the core of the deck and it's game plan are all detailed below:

Hour of Pyro
22 Lands
7 Island
7 Mountain
4 Steam Vents
4 Temple of Epiphany

22 Spells
2 Essence Scatter
2 Frost Breath
1 Harness by Force
3 Hour of Need
4 Lightning Strike
2 Peel from Reality
3 Retraction Helix
1 Sea God's Revenge
4 Titan's Strength

16 Creatures
4 Akroan Crusader
4 Battlefield Thaumaturge
1 Purphoros, God of the Forge
3 Satyr Hoplite
4 Young Pyromancer

                 As you have probably deduced, this deck is looking to operate on a bit of a tempo plan. It's not a very pure tempo plan in the sense that you get a threat on the board early and stay ahead with counter spells and bounce, but it does aim to leverage small, speedy threats, bolstered by tricks, to make them incrementally better. Of course, the dream is to close the game out swiftly by upgrading several of your creatures into 4/4 flying Sphinxes by way of Limited all-star Hour of Need. Since we're playing a heavy assortment of Instants and Sorceries to produce maximum tokens from Young Pyromancer, we can also take advantage of some nice cost reduction action thanks to the distinctly odd Battlefield Thaumaturge. Given the slightly slimmer mana base that this deck craves, the little edges that the Thaumaturge provides are really nice and can keep your tempo plan moving forward. With two Thaumaturge in play, the Hour of Need and one-of Sea God's Revenge become absolute steals.

                As I said, I opted into this deck not-too-long ago for an FNM at our local (and awesome) Fanantix. When things were churning, it was really great fun, but unfortunately, things didn't seem to churn too often. On a few occasions, I just drew a lopsided mix of creatures and spells. This was often the plight of players pursuing a Heroic deck in Theros Limited and the problem is not completely removed in Constructed either. Two of my matches pitted me against decks packing (what I can only assume) was a full complement of the afore-mentioned Supreme Verdict. This deck has basically zero game against sweepers so I was not surprised to drop games against the decks that leaned so heavily on the uncounterable wrath. Blue-White based control decks weren't the only trouble. A friend of mine, Trevyn, was running a sweet Black-Green deck making use of all the new Constellation goodies in Journey to Nyx. At one point, I had developed a substantial board position with Young Pyromancer cranking out Elemental tokens at a nice clip. With a smirk, Trevyn said, "I hate to do this."
                "No you don't," I snapped back.
                "Doomwake Giant."
                The acidic flavor of a dinner gone by lurched into the back of my throat. "You sicken me!" I joked. All in all it was a fun outing, but I never quite got to smash face with Sphinxes the way I'd hoped. C'est la vie.

                Alright, that's about a wrap on this one. If you're looking for some upside to playing a deck that's not on the quite radar, here's a couple I can offer: Since the cards aren't major players, you can generally pick up most of the pieces you need relatively cheaply. Also, when you do pick up a "W" on a match, it's much, much sweeter. I enjoyed exploring some of the cards that will likely be lost to history in this current Standard format. I hope you did as well.  If you have some pet cards that are looking to take up residency in Jankville, brew up a quick list and drop it in the comments. It's always interesting to see what ideas are rattling around in the heads of fellow players.

                I'd like to close with a shout out to Faxatix owner Phillip Chalker. His willingness to foster the Dothan gaming community is unmatched. I appreciate the opportunity to write for the Team Fanatix blog and I look forward to sitting down across the table with you other spellsplingers! Until next time, don't be afraid to put a little jank in your tank.

Eric Peel has been playing Magic: The Gathering since he discovered the game in college, around the time of Invasion block. Most of the time Eric's simply a devoted family guy, but occasionally he finds time to sling spells or become temporarily devoted to a Therosian deity. He enjoys multiple formats, finding fun and competition in Limited, Constructed, and Multiplayer Magic. 


  1. I was well entertained by the thought of RBW tribal minotaurs back when Rageblood Shaman was released in Theros. Unfortunately there wasn't enough minotaurs to play with until Born of the Gods. I liked the deck list I made, but you essentially did nothing until turn 3 when you hopefully dropped a Boros Reckoner, Rageblood, or Kragma Butcher, respectively. Lack of time and money also prevented me from building this deck to test (I need to build more farms!) I had Ragemonger in this list at one point, but I wasn't really running any of the dual colored minotaurs except Mogis, which I was still skeptical about. I did ponder about putting him back in just because he's 3 CMC and a 2/3. Not to mention he rounds out my other creatures to a 3 CMC when he's on the field anyway, saving me precious mana, Here's the list I made probably around when BOG came out:

    4 Boros Reckoner
    4 Rageblood Shaman
    3 Fanatic of Mogis
    3 Felhide Spiritbinder
    4 Kragma Butcher
    2 Mogis, God of Slaughter
    2 Oracle of Bones

    4 Boros Charm
    4 Magma Jet
    2 Warleader's Helix
    2 Mizzium Mortars
    2 Rakdos's Return
    2 Thoughtseize

    4 Sacred Foundry
    4 Blood Crypt
    6 Mountain
    2 Swamp
    2 Plains
    3 Temple of Malice
    2 Temple of Triumph

    SB: 3 Skullcrack
    SB: 4 Dreadbore
    SB: 2 Pithing Needle
    SB: 2 Rest in Peace
    SB: 2 Ratchet Bomb
    SB: 2 Thoughtseize

    Also, light grey text on a white background makes the decklists had to read. Make the text black so it stands out from the background.

  2. A great read! Very informative...

  3. This article is the nut. 10/10 would read again. Maybe you could take us to the value village next time? I'd be happy to show you around, seeing as I'm the mayor ;-)