In a few days, one of the biggest gatherings for Magic players in the Philippines will be assembled under one roof, playing the game and the formats they love. Yes, Gold Rush is happening again. Across two days, hundreds of players will battle it out to get a shot at big cash prizes and bragging rights and be called one of the best players in the country.
Back in 2018, I ranked 29th in the Gold Rush attended by 400 players. A few months back that same year, I ranked 27th in the Nationals. I played jank decks on both events, playing Golgari Undergrowth and 5c Sifterwurm Aftermath respectively. The results were unbelievable because you normally face very competitive meta decks in these large tournaments so I was very happy with how the games went.
In this article, I’d like to share the preparation I do whenever I play in these large events while playing jank decks. I will say this, however, that my preparation isn’t as different as a meta deck pilot’s preparation. But since our deck is not one that you would see have the rich commentary you’d normally find in SCG or CFB articles with sideboard guides, the process is a bit more cumbersome.
I’m sharing this because I take pride in playing Jank decks exclusively, and I want to encourage those who also want to play jank decks to continue brewing and testing weird synergies or 4-card combos because that’s what Magic is about. Winning is great, and in large tournaments also quite important if you want your money back, but there’s also nothing wrong in putting your idea out in the world and seeing if it’ll stand firm against the field, even if it means losing and coming back next year to try again.
Here are the micro chapters we’re going to go through today:
- Card selection
When I chose to play BG Undergrowth during the 2018 meta, the field was riddled with Chainwhirlers, Mono White Vampires, Izzet Drakes, Golgari Midrange, UW Azcanta Control, Boros Reinforcements, and Selesnya Tokens. With this meta, the goal was simple – hit hard, hit fast, and keep hitting.
The field had decks that preyed on slow decks. Mono Red Keld and Vampires were very quick decks that can have you down to single digits before you could muster enough mana to sweep the board or set up a defense. I had to survive the first 5 turns if I wanted a fighting chance. The field also had midrange variants that preyed on decks that relied heavily on their early game. I need to sustain field presence if I want to get over them. And lastly, the meta also had strong control shells that punish decks that allow them to get their land drops and stay at a healthy life total to deploy their sweepers and planeswalkers. I had to also have a deck that is resilient enough to recover after a board wipe and keep the pressure on every turn.
Because I wanted to build a deck that runs the Undergrowth mechanic, the cards that had that mechanic helped narrow down the pool immensely. But you have to recognize that cards with Undergrowth will not be enough to build a cohesive and powerful deck. It needs cards that help activate the mechanic, or boost the mechanic’s synergy. Since its benefits depend on the number of creatures in your graveyard, you had to play a lot of creatures and can make ways to put a lot of creatures into the graveyard inside and outside of combat.
Thankfully, the legal sets at that time offered a good variety of graveyard enablers. From Ixalan we have the Explore mechanic helping put cards into the yard. From Guilds of Ravnica, we have Glowspore Shaman serving as the secondary copy of Stitcher Supplier from M19 which accelerates the accumulation of our bodies in the graveyard.
As you can see, without going too deep into the deck tech (you can read the article in the link above), you can see where I’m coming from. Borrowing the deck-building strategies from highly optimized meta decks, you can use it to your advantage as well when building jank decks. You just need to know the sets and the cards that are legal in the format you’re playing in.
Every deck needs 3 fundamental components: Support, Enablers, Threats, or SET.
Support cards are the tools that help you stabilize while in a game. These include removals, countermagic, or discard spells.
Enablers are the cards that push your deck closer to your goal. These include ramp spells, tutors, or millers in our case.
Threats are the cards you win the game with. These include creatures, Planeswalkers, or direct damage spells.
Selecting cards for a jank deck can be tricky because we normally gravitate toward using the most powerful cards in the set. Nothing wrong with that honestly, but as a Jank player, I usually pick powerful cards and use them differently.
For Pioneer, I’m toying around with the idea of ramping with Cabal Stronghold and casting a huge Bladecoil Serpent, and forcing the opponent to discard a lot of cards leaving them vulnerable to a massive Torment of Hailfire after.
For Standard, I’m thinking of abusing Fight Rigging and cheating a Phyrexian Portal or Cityscape Leveler into the field. Take note that Fight Rigging allows you to cast the card it’s hiding which lets you trigger Cityscape Leveler’s cast ability.
You can definitely use a good playtest group if you have one, or are part of one. The only disadvantage is that meta deck pilots won’t get as much experience from battling you because you won’t be representing the meta they’re trying to beat. But you on the other hand will benefit immensely from testing your brews against the gauntlets of the format.
There are no shortcuts to testing. You can’t also assume you’ll only be matched up to certain decks. Especially in a wide field like a 100-player tournament, you can’t predict who you’ll be paired with so you need to seriously do your homework.
The unique advantage Jank decks have is that your opponents won’t necessarily pack the right sideboard cards against you. This means you can use that to your advantage and abuse their weakness on certain cards like playing with enchantments in a creature removal-heavy meta, or playing reanimator strategies in a meta with little graveyard hate. Novelty is a jank player’s unique asset in the field so test your deck and check if your asset truly is working for you or not. If you’re flopping more times than you’re winning, your strategy might be too loose or your card choices are not optimized, or your play sequencing is wrong.
With enough testing, you should be able to smoothen some wrinkles in your deck. You may already know which gauntlet decks you have the most chances of winning and losing. For the most part, Jank decks typically win game 1 because your opponent doesn’t know how to react properly yet. Make sure your mainboard is tight and cohesive to nail that first win.
The problem mostly with jank decks is that their sideboard is clunky. Because jank strategies typically use the entire deck to keep the strategy together, swapping even a few cards can drastically impact the deck’s performance. You may want to play sideboarded games as well to see if your deck is still behaving like how it should in pre-board games.
As for this writing, I still don’t have a deck I’m 100% comfortable with bringing to the Pioneer and Standard events this weekend. Still torn with some card choices myself and I really need to get some testing done in Arena. But what I like most about the days leading to the gold rush is the excitement to showcase a brand-new strategy that will give my opponents a great show!
If you and I will face off during the gold rush, I hope your games would be memorable!
Till then, good luck everyone and see you this weekend!