Updated: Dec 6, 2020
Welcome to a new series on Jankmander. What is Jankmander you might ask? Jankmander is a type of deck building that uses self-imposed limitations, aka Jank, in building commander decks. In this series, I’ll take you through my process of deck building and how I honor the limitations of the Jank while trying to build decks that are fun to play. I also hope to address the idea that just because a deck is Jankified, that it can’t be focused or optimized.
There are some things to keep in mind when building a deck. Commander is a format that uses a legendary creature to command your forces against another mage who has their own commander. Unless a planeswalker card specifically states that it can be a commander, you’ll have to get permission from your playgroup to use one as your commander (Rule 0 in commander is to always discuss expectations about the game with the group you are playing with prior to beginning a game). Then you’ll make a deck with 99 other cards where each other card may only be used once with the exception of basic lands. Also, the color identity (the mana symbols found on the card in the casting and abilities) must match those found on your commander. For example, if your commander has the casting/ability symbols for blue, red and green you can’t use any cards with black or white mana symbols. Hybrid cards also count for both colors for color identity, so you wouldn’t be able to use something like Footlight Fiend in a mono red deck (the casting cost is either red or black mana aka Rakdos). However, this has the same caveat as before that if you want to run a hybrid card in a mono color deck you need to discuss it with your playgroup. You can’t assume that most playgroups will automatically be okay with this, so communication is key for any game.
I thought I’d kick the series off by discussing one of my favorite Jank methods: The Repack. With the repack method, you need to find a source of repack to use as the source of cards for your deck. For those not familiar with repacks, these are essentially used bulk cards that are bundled together and resold. The quality of these repacks varies based on the source with some being unusable. You also need to find repacks that include either legendary creatures or commanders from the Commander preconstructed decks. As a minimum, you need 300 to 500 cards as a pool to build the deck from. In a pinch, you could buy a bundle of bulk rares/mythics and a bundle of 1000-2000 common/uncommon cards. Many game stores sell those as a way to move excess cards from mass box openings. Once you find a good source of repacks, you can always buy more from them.
I’ve found that the commons and uncommons from the Masters sets, Modern Horizons, Battlebond and other supplemental sets are the most ideal for use in building these types of decks. Some regular sets also work well for this if there is a lot of synergy between cards, such as the proliferation in War of the Spark or devotion in the Theros sets. Generally speaking, even with a good source of repacked cards it’s difficult to build a smooth running deck as mana bases are often difficult to assemble from repacks as the best commander lands aren’t bulk cards. As a result, if you are building something other than mono-color decks, you’ll likely need to do some adjustments to the mana base. This is generally okay as many who build Jank decks will exclude the mana base from the restrictions as sometimes it is a nearly impossible task to assemble. Just decide on how far you are going to take the Jank in the deck you are building.
Okay, you’ve procured a repack of suitable quality (I was buying mine from Exotic MTG until he sold them all), now what? The first thing is to pull out your legendary commanders and look at their abilities. What do they do? What synergies do you need for them to work? Then I separate the cards by color. Look at your cards and see if they have the synergies that will work for the commanders you have. I’ll use a recent deck I built from repacks I got from Exotic MTG.
After looking at my legendary creature options, I selected Zegana, Utopian Speaker. Looking at the text, I noticed that Zegana has synergy with +1/+1 counters. Looking at the cards that were in the pool I obtained I noticed many green/blue cards that were related to +1/+1 counters. With Zegana, creatures with +1/+1 counters get trample so any spell with amass or will add counters to creatures would be useful. I also had several cards with kicker costs (a mechanism from Dominaria and other sets where casting with an additional payment nets an additional effect) that results in the creature entering with added +1/+1 counters. I pulled these cards out of the stacks and set them aside.
I then looked at alternative win conditions and how I might use them. I settled on using token generation from elves to help win. For this, I pulled out all of the elves that were in the repacks. I found quite a few of them and noticed that they fit in with the primary +1/+1 strategy beyond just the secondary token strategy. The three elves that help in this include Immaculate Magistrate, Lys Alana Huntsmaster and Wirewood Hivemaster. The Huntsmaster makes a 1/1 elf token whenever you cast an elf spell. The Hivemaster makes a 1/1 insect token whenever an elf comes into play (also counts for opponents and elves are a common mana generating creature, aka a mana dork). The Magistrate is the most useful of these because you can tap it to put a +1/+1 counter on a creature for each elf you control. With the Zegana +1/+1 counter strategy, this fits nicely.
From there, I focused on the remaining needs for a commander deck:
Tutors and Ramp
Utility artifacts and Lands
Green has quite a few land tutors and mana dorks available for ramp. Some of these only fetch forests, but some will get other basic lands too which is a necessity for a smooth running multi-color deck. Being in blue, the removal includes unsummon and counter spells. Green removal spells include Return to Nature, Titanic Brawl and the kicker from Territorial Allosaurus. There are a few options for card draw that I included spell for card draw, such as Contentious Plan, and cycling lands like Remote Isle and Lonely Sandbar. Card draw also comes from permanents like Zegana and merfolk Looter and enchantments like Font of Fortunes. For artifacts, I included mana geode. The full decklist can be found here. You don’t always have to build around commander synergy to do well with repacks. Another strategy is to pick the commander that you feel has identity for the best pool of cards and not play to the commander's abilities. I took this strategy with another repack deck I built around Garna, the Bloodflame. As with Zegana, I had to smooth out the mana base for optimal gameplay. However, other than Garna giving my creatures haste, I didn’t build any commander synergy. Instead I focused on multi-purpose creatures and removal spells. Being in Rakdos, the deck has a fair amount of them. The deck is surprisingly fun to play because it includes cards that aren’t typically used in commander decks and opponents have no idea what is coming next. I’ve managed to hold my own against much more optimized decks and the deck is fun to run. I should caution that not all commanders and color combinations lend themselves towards this type of gameplay and deck building strategy.
Building a full commander deck from a repack can be an interesting challenge. If your playgroup is looking for something new, I highly recommend trying it as the decks should be close to the same power and not everyone will build decks the same way even if they use the same commander. Getting used to building from a limited card pool will be great practice for when Commander Legends drops and drafting for commander decks will be a mainstream event. Thank you for reading and I’ll see you next time on Jankmander with Sona. Have a Great Janking!