Why We Play: Johnny

After discussing the motivations behind why Timmy plays last week, I figured we should continue with another player archetype this week.  We’re going to be examining how Johnny finds fun in Magic: the Gathering, and seeing if we can’t figure out which formats tickle the right spots for someone looking at complexity, combo and challenges.

When most people think of a Johnny player, they assume they’re only in it to combo off- and while that’s likely the majority of self-identifying Johnny players, it’s definitely not all of them.  Johnny usually enjoys a deckbuilding challenge, something that will provide a complex play experience with some mechanically complex interaction as a payoff.  Usually the easiest way for a Johnny to win the game is through an infinite combo, but as an experienced Johnny myself, that is not the only way to win.

Johnny thrives in eternal formats with large card pools.  If you have access to thousands of cards you’ll likely have a ton of interactions to explore.  Vintage, Commander, Modern and Legacy all fall in the category of “Has a ridiculous number of available cards”- which makes them the perfect jumping off point for an enterprising Johnny.

I’m going to discuss Legacy and Vintage in one group, although they both have very differently priced “high power combo decks”, they share a lot of the same philosophy in deck construction.  Legacy and Vintage both allow for some of the more innovative and ridiculous combo decks- I’ve seen a lot of crazy things played, and I’ve played a few myself.  I must immediately caution that net-decking a Legacy or Vintage combo deck can cost you upwards of $10,000.00 which is definitely more an enthusiast purchase than a value-oriented choice.  Now that’s not to say you have to net-deck your idea, you can build something yourself on the cheap, test it out at local events (or on Magic Online if you can stomach the interface), improve and refine it over time and expect to spend much less than an established list price.  I built what basically equates to combo Infect way back before it was a recognized archetype- it cost me just over $1200 and after testing and refinements, I had a highly competitive Legacy deck.

If you’re looking for a much lower budget option, I’d highly suggest looking into building yourself a Johnny commander deck.  Start with a combo you like or a commander that has a ton of sweet interactions (I play this Ghave, Guru of Spores deck), then pile in cards that work well with it, or can help you get to the pieces you need.  Commander is a very fluid format when you’re playing as a Johnny- you should always be testing new cards and pulling out stuff  you don’t like.  I find that if I let a deck evolve for a few months, I can build an entirely new deck from the things I’ve rotated out, which can sometimes be a fun challenge in and of itself.  Commander decks range massively in fun and price, so I’d suggest starting cheap and building a few to test out what you like most.  A big thing to remember if you’re playing commander with Johnny decks is that non-Johnny players can get a little fed up with you comboing off every game, so keep your deck in line with your group’s power level and play something different every few games.

Modern is a Johnny playground I’d suggest if you’re looking to play competitively while not having to sell internal organs on the black market for Vintage staples. Modern has a long history of banning sweet Johnny decks, don’t let it scare you- just keep in mind, if your deck takes a very long time to win games, or you find yourself going to time/ drawing often- it might be a good idea to look somewhere else for a backup deck.  One of my favourite modern Johnny decks is “Lantern Control” or “Barber Shop”, so called for its use of Lantern of Insight and kin to shave off the top cards from your opponent’s deck, so they don’t draw anything but lands/ useless cards the entire game.  It’s definitely not a combo deck, but it features a very skill intensive interaction suite that makes for challenging decisions and lots of foresight opportunities.  If you are looking more at a strictly combo deck, you might be interested in Scapeshift or Ad Nauseum decks, both of which spend some time setting up an explosive turn that wins the game.

Now, Johnny isn’t limited to just those eternal formats- Standard usually has something for the adventurous Johnny player (Aetherflux Reservoir “storm” deck anyone?), I’d recommend testing any standard deck you want to build in proxy format or using tappedout.net’s playtest feature before committing to anything.  Sometimes you might stumble onto the secret strategy nobody’s expecting, I did for a while with my “Biovisionary + Populate” deck back in Gatecrash standard, I won a few seasons’ Game Days with different iterations of that deck.  I highly encourage you to play around in Standard, because it usually has a fairly unexplored playground of Johnny-specific cards that you can pick up on the cheap.

Overall, Johnny will likely spend more money on iterations of the same deck than the initial deck construction than any other player archetype.  So if you’re a Johnny player, remember to set yourself a budget- you don’t want to be testing out multiple $20+ cards a month and deciding that none of them work for your deck.  Johnny players can have a fair bit of fun goldfishing, but don’t forget to play with your friends, sure you can win against a ham sandwich on turn 6 most games, but what happens when that ham sandwich punches back? some food for thought, there.  I won’t keep you from your deck construction any longer- have fun fellow Johnnies, and please, be a responsible/chivalrous winner.

Signing off from under a mountain of test decks,

Steven Hamonic

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