Jank – What It Is and How to Build It

Hello everyone, my name is Guy and I am here to talk about jank, and how to build “jank decks”.

There are many fantastic articles about how to build beautiful decks; decks that will take you to the glorious heights of winning GNKs, making cuts of Store Championships, competing at Regionals, fighting hard at Nationals or, who knows, maybe even doing well at Worlds. These articles are about taking the concepts of a great Netrunner deck and applying them with your own sense of flair.

They are brilliant articles.

This is not like those.

matrix-analyzer

This is about Jank. Beautiful, nutty, eccentric, surprising, befuddling, entertaining jank.

Jank isn’t exactly one of those words that is incredibly common outside of Netrunner and a quick google search finds that those out in this “real world” I hear so much about are using it to mean anything from evasive maneuvers on an aircraft to just generally meaning bad.

In Netrunner there probably isn’t total unity on its exact meaning but I would choose to highlight a few common strands. The first and most obvious strand of jank is that it prioritises other, sometimes esoteric, aspects of the game over pure effectiveness. These aspects can include simple creativity – the desire to explore the card pool and finally make use of cards that languish in the binder. To qualify as jank however, this creative spirit needs, to my mind, to be combined with a certain commitment to these cards and concepts, such that they are explored to their fullest degree. Equally I think most would expect their definitions of jank to include some aspect of entertaining flair. They would expect jank not only to not completely work competitively, but do so spectacularly. There are some who would specify that a great number of card combinations or interactions are required in order to qualify for “jank”. I would disagree; I would include in jank many decks that do things “the hard way” but aren’t necessarily firing nine nested triggers before the start of each player’s turn.

Before we go further though I’d like to do a quick little aside in the interest of clarifying something.

Building a jank deck doesn’t make you a “better” player than the person who consistently plays the best decks available – whether they netdeck or not. If you want to build jank it should be to enhance the experience of playing the game for you and for any opponent you come across. Jank shouldn’t be about building something super special and then turning your nose up at those players who are playing Tier 1 decks as if you are better than them.

For the record a lot of the very best players have the capacity to make both creative plays and creative decisions in deckbuilding. I have had the privilege of playing many players who it would be fair to name as the top players in the UK and on each occasion I have been impressed by their capacity to work with the game on an adaptive level. They aren’t just playing “the best decks” and getting lucky. That should go without saying, but saying it never hurts.

This can cut both ways as well; in order to get the most out of jank it is important that you understand the game on a fundamental level. To do this often means playing very good players playing very good decks. Hopefully in doing so you can surprise and entertain these players with your creation.

But enough about general principles – we have jank to create. Let’s get cracking!

Step 1: Concept

Why do you want to jank?

Maybe it’s for a “jank tournament”, a format pioneered by John of NeoReading Grid fame. In that format there are points to be gained for opponents liking and enjoying playing against your deck.

motivationIf you are struggling for an idea for such a tournament I would suggest that the best thing to do is to open your binder and look for those cards that have been abandoned there, unloved and alone. I would ignore IDs – there are few of them and they get enough attention, more or less. There are many other cards out there, particularly in the first cycle – when the design team were reasonably cautious and often over costed things – that are never going to be playable in a competitive setting. Find one, look at that card with the kindness it has never known and say “OK Bad Times/Leverage/Braintrust/Disruptor/Panic Button … today is your day to shine”. You can then build around how you could possibly make that particular card as effective as it can possibly be – no matter how convoluted the board state might need to be to make it work (although that board state is actually, typically, remarkably simple).

Or maybe you’ve had an idea for a combination of cards, or want to explore a certain card, and you are fairly sure from the outset you’re not looking at a “competitive” concept. It is probably important to determine that at this point. There are a lot of genuinely great ideas that have come from thinking outside the box.

But say you’re looking at what is, obviously, not going to be what one would fit into your 40/45/50 card slots if you were trying to be the best that you can be. Well then, now, we have some jank on our hands.

The important thing to take away from this article is this singular vision. It is very important, in my humble view, to have a single concept. Jank is, by its very nature, difficult to pull off. If you are simultaneously trying to pull something else off you are going to get none of it done.

You may have more than one concept you want to work with, and that’s fine. Stick them in separate decks.

A concept can be varying levels of complexity.

From the simple:

“A shell game deck using Matrix Analyser to make traps more dangerous as you run them”

“A Noise deck that only gets in through Blackmail”

“Escher/Copycat out of Ken Tenma”

To the complex:

“A deck that rezzes a Project Junebug early and heavily advances it, then uses a combination of Whirlpool, RSVP, Bullfrog and Marcus Batty to get the runner to hit it.”

The simpler ones are easier. If can restrain yourself go for the simpler ones.

Step 2: Putting the Pieces together

You’ll need to do your first deck build.

The first thing to mention is to start by maximising your chances of getting the key components of your jank in your deck. Start with 3x of these cards if you can, going down to easy tutors if it helps with influence or the likelihood of pulling off the jank. We won’t necessarily end up with 3x but starting here increases the likelihood of getting something done in your early games. 2x of something in a deck, especially if you need another 2x, or even 1 more 2x, is not a certain by any stretch.

Step 3: Committing to the jank

copycatCommitting to jank means tying your own hands. I have seen some wonderful jank concepts that never got used because the pilot found that there were far better paths to victory in their decks.

To use some examples from my own experience, I was forced to utilise my Escher/Copycat combo as I had no other way of getting into remotes – having, as I did, only central breakers to get through ICE. Equally my Noise deck was forced to use Blackmail because it did not have a single breaker.

This will often mean you have to write off specific match ups. Do this happily; you can’t build a jank deck that will get a chance to shine in every game. I have often found that most jank decks make presumptions about the opponent’s board state; they might assume that the opponent attempts to score behind ICE in a remote, or needs to make a series of runs to try and assess a remote server and steal agendas. These are fair assumptions to make in this style of deckbuilding. You will, undoubtedly, play against a super-fast fast advance deck, or a Blackmail/Apocalypse Adam deck that will ignore your entire board state. Do not plan for too many of these; jank has enough problems without trying to keep up with a diverse meta!

Step 4: Remember your fundamentals

It doesn’t matter how janky a deck is if you can’t draw what you need or can’t afford to play it. Once you have the cards that there to achieve your jank you should then add in the very best cards that take care of other functions of your deck.

sure-gambleIf you have a janky economy then make sure you have good draw cards, the best breakers, some damage protection & possibly a few early econ cards that might help if your econ has a high setup cost. For me, the methods of getting into servers has tended to be the jankiest part of my runner decks; I have therefore spent influence on the very cream of the crop of cards for economy & draw. Many entertaining decks play Sure Gamble & Daily Casts, Diesel or Professional Contacts.

On the corp side you will often find, especially with combo decks, you will need to secure both your economy and your central servers. When faced with nonsense in remote servers the most common response of runners is to slam centrals. To that end there is no shame in good taxing Ice, defensive upgrades & playing the strongest event economy influence can buy.

This is also why I would recommend, if you have the choice, playing Jank out of the stronger IDs. When you put Kate on the table it might not look like a jank deck. But it will be.

Step 5: Play some Trial Games

You’re going to lose.

That’s how you should go into each game. In terms of actually getting to 7 points before your opponent, you are going to lose.

You win if you get to use your jank. That is the new primary win condition.

In playing games you will find out if you can build your combination or set of cards required to demonstrate what you are doing. It may well be that you can’t. When you see this you will need to either find a way to bring out the cards you want quicker, adding draw, or play more of those cards.

The obvious elements are at play as well; if you’re too poor add economy, if you’re too slow add draw (or Stimhack!).

However, there are times when a combination is never going to fire. Ask yourself if you have been playing poorly or if the deck just isn’t capable of what you want it to do, even with refinement? If you are finding that it is just not working then it is time to move on.

Step 6: Arrival at Concept

If you have been building for a tournament then it is possible to build with a goal in mind. If, however, you are just taking this jank down to casual nights then know when it is time to stop and move on. The thing that most entertains people about jank is surprise and unpredictability. Once everyone has played against this deck a trio of times or so they may well not find the combination as interesting or as fascinating as they once did.

One thing that does work against a player of jank, as opposed to a competitive player, is that when you are playing jank you have to file away decks more quickly. A top quality player can get a reputation for winning by being consistently good with a shell of an NBN or Anarch deck (or even both in today’s meta) shifting a few cards here and there. That makes a lot of sense; it is probably one of the best ways to be strong at the game. Their opponents should not tire of them. When both players are trying to win, that tussle is the entertainment. Jank does not have that luxury; after only a handful of games your opponents may tire of beating your “off the wall” deck. And then, my friends, it is time to move on. And if you choose to move on to new jank? Well, then I applaud you.

I said at the start of this article that it was important to not get a sense of superiority about jank. This is true, but I think it is also important to take pride in it. I think the desire to entertain and share something amusing is an excellent one. Various places talk about their resident jank player with fondness and I think it is an enjoyable thing to do and for some it enhances the game. It can take a surprising amount of work to set yourself as the jester of your meta. But if you do it right you might occasionally get to enjoy playing the Shakespearean fool, dotting wisdom and truth in amongst all your nonsense.

Whether you jank often or jank little I wish you all the best, and happy running.

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