When a deck becomes a creative art project....
Sometimes you build a deck to be competitive. Sometimes you build a deck for fun. Other times you build a deck around nostalgia. Then there are the times that things get weird. Such is the story of this deck.
I am a collector at heart. It is one of the things that makes Magic so appealing. With over twenty years of history there is a lot of extraneous product floating out there - and there is no greater rush of excitement than stumbling on a bunch of those Magic cards for sale at a flea market or yard sale. You never know what is in that box.
Second to that "crazy find" is the hunt through the "quarter box". Every store dedicated solely to the collectible card genre has one - and you can always find a few in the dealer's room when the comic book or science-fiction conventions come to town. This is the box where cards go to die. Retailers practically give these cards away, begging you to "Take as many of these as you want for twenty-five cents a piece. Just get them out of my inventory". While you won't hit the "Black Lotus jackpot" in these boxes - you can find some great cards in them that are in a condition that makes them "less than acceptable" to the standards set by rigorous collectors.
I love these cards - especially when they are in "well loved" condition. The rounded corners, whitening of the edges and pockmarks on the face are unique. These are cards that have seen battle. These are cards that have been shuffled from deck to deck because they were a favorite of the player. These cards tell stories. Stories I spend hours thinking about as I flip through the boxes in the corner of the store. Several months ago I was flipping through the bin and I came upon a rare - and it was a legendary creature - Holy Cow! As I grabbed Namata, Grove Guardian and moved her to my buy pile, I was hit with a bolt of inspiration. I was going to take this slightly terrible card, and build a Commander deck around it. Using the most worn-out, beat up survivors that I could find in quarter bins all over town. So began the quest that ended with the deck known as Moldy Jank.
If you are going to replicate my little experiment, you can't be too choosy on the Legendary Creature you build around. You get what you get and you need to pull it first, before you really scour the quarter bin for your deck. In fact, you may not get lucky finding a commander in the quarter bin at all and may have to <gasp> pick one from the dollar bin. What has our game come to?!? This particular Nemata card is a bigger mess than it first looks. See all those black spots on the face of the picture.... Yeah, that's not all John Avon's art. those black speckles extend across the entire face of the card and they are raised - whatever it is you can feel it when you slide a finger down the card. Germaphobes need not attempt this project. This card has definitely seen a kitchen table or two.
So here is where it got fun. I pulled up a chair to the quarter bins at CCGHouse and got to work pulling any card a mono-green "good stuff" deck could reasonably run and anything that had the word "saproling" on it. This deck would be desperate for synergy and beggars cant be choosers. So pulling anything that looked like ramp, spot destruction (hellloooo... Mercadian Masques printing of Desert Twister) I got to work. As I realized how bad of shape these cards were, I went "all in" - anytime I found a card that I had already pulled that looked worse than the one in my pile I substituted it for it. Yep, I kept the one in the poorest condition. As the stack began to grow it started to take on a personality all its own. This deck was going to be a veteran of the kitchen table. Pockmarked and whitened, but still standing tall. I was loving it. This is really when the deck went from fun diversion to art project. I wanted the deck to speak of the casual Magic game. Sure, the deck had to be playable, but it came second to the look and feel of the cards.
Every once and a while I would stop to look through my cards and cull the stack. Because when you are sitting at the quarter bin you always pull more than you need. Flipping through my selections, I realized they could be considered "marked". The backs of these cards are, shall we say, as unique as the fronts. Here is where I made another decision... I figured if I was going to play a Commander deck with a Dreampod Druid and just 6 enchantments, The table would just have to concede whatever advantage I could derive from all the crazy marks. I did draw the line on backs that were different - sidelineing a sweet gold bordered Llanowar Elves and a Basking Rootwalla that inexplicably had "Blood" scrawled on the back in Sharpie. (I did buy that guy though. It was too weird to pass up). Look at a couple of those folks in the pic above. That Weatherseed Treefolk has been through the wars, and who the heck played a Goliath Spider to the point that it looks like that?!? Those two cards instantly earned a spot in the deck.
On I marched, pulling cards and "upgrading" as I went, selecting the "most jankiest" of each. In the end I pulled just shy of 200 cards. 50 bucks. I could have sat in the store and built a rough draft and only bought 120 or so, but I wanted to build the deck at home; and since this deck had endeared itself to me I wanted to keep the extras. After all, if I ever discovered a better commander in a future quarter bin, I may need to rebuild the deck. Ha!
I did find a few "actually useful" cards in the bin. Tribal Unity makes for a legitimate, if somewhat expensive, win condition. A worn, brown Urza's Armor provides a bit of protection from a field full of tokens and a lot of character. Finally, while there were plenty of Tranquil Thickets in the bins, it was pretty cool to find an original black-border version amongst the chaff.
Building the deck was easy, I had done most of the heavy lifting sitting in the store. A cut here, a cut there, and I had the deck. It was even somewhat playable; I mean it won't win, but it was playable. I considered this a victory. The final step was locating 30 forests that didn't stand out too much from the quarter bin cards. My solution was to go to my local (and somewhat closer to home) game store where I play FNM and trade thirty brand new forests for the thirty worst forests that were in the box of loaners that we use each week. It worked well enough, and as I find janky forests upgrades will occur. The deck was complete. It only needed a name to find a space on my gaming shelf. With the fungus theme running through the deck and the fact that the edges of the cards looked so dirty when stacked, I christened it "Moldy Jank". Here is the entire list on Tapped Out. Sleeving the deck was out of the question - it would almost be a crime. There was only one thing left to do - wrap a giant rubber band around them like it's 1993. The art project was complete.
I wish I could scan and post all 64 of the "non-Forest cards" in the deck. They are amazing to see as a group. I always talk about how some cards that you include in a cube or a deck design are valuable because they "make the stories" that you will remember long after the night of gaming is over. This entire deck is an example of that. Built solely for "the love of the game", if each of these cards could talk they would all have memoirs worthy of publication. From the kitchen table to the sandy ground of a schoolyard, these cards have seen it all. Its a reminder to me that most Magic cards are meant to be played and not encased in plastic or bought and sold like stocks on Wall Street. This deck strengthens my connection to the actual game and it is one that I will keep together for the rest of my days. Hopefully I can put a little more wear on each of them too.
Until next week, find the time to take your own journey through the quarter bin - and celebrate Magic!