Naming is a quirky thing. Specific fields generate jargon over time that operates as an effective shorthand for people who already know what’s going on, but serves to obfuscate the topic terribly for someone just getting into it.
In its decade and a half, Magic has picked up its share of moderately to completely impenetrable jargon. Ask someone what they’re playing, and if they say “Red Deck Wins” you might nod knowingly, or say, “What? That’s an assertion, not a title.” That someone might then resort to the more descriptive “mono red aggro” label (which assumes you can figure out what “aggro” means in this context, but is otherwise pretty clear).
As I got back into the game over the last couple years, I found out that the type of deck for which I have the greatest affinity — a green/black/sometimes other affair with a mix of disruption, removal, and threats — is called “The Rock.” This is a pretty stable label these days, such that someone can ask what you’re playing, and you can say “The Rock” and they’ll have a good idea what you mean.
What? Why? That’s substantially more opaque than “Red Deck Wins,” and drastically less clear than say, “Teachings,” the shorthand description of the Time Spiral block blue/black/other deck that was built around Mystical Teachings at its core.
Of course, names come about in quirky ways. Some decks are named by their creators or populizers. When Manuel Bucher designed a five-color control deck he got to name it after a menu choice at a French-Belgian fast food chain. Entirely opaque. The Rock has a similar story.
Intuitively, people like to relate the name to the Rock-Scissors-Paper idea, especially to the wonderful Bart Simpson quote on the reliability of “rock” in kai bai bo. Consider Russ Davies’ Good Old Rock from the recent UK nationals top eight.
As related by Frank Karsten at the end of this article, The Rock is named after Dwayne Johnson. Yeah, that Rock. In other words, as Mr. Johnson appears in more and more movies away from his wrestling persona, the name will make even less sense.
In the original naming model, The Rock was fully named “The Rock and its Millions,” normally a reference to the wrestler and his fans. In this case, The Rock is Phyrexian Plaguelord, and the “millions” are the tokens generated by Deranged Hermit. The deck (here’s a list) is a black-green build that features extensive color- and mana-fixing, disruption, reanimation, and a creature-chewing engine in the form of feeding the Hermit’s Squirrels to the Plaguelord to liberally hand out -1/-1 counters.
Since then, any green-black deck that takes a “midrange” approach (itself a piece of jargon), combining removal, disruption, and incremental advantage through N-for-1 trades, has been termed a “Rock” build. More broadly, decks are often called “Rock” decks even when they aren’t cleaving very closely to this approach, yet still have black, green, removal, and some creatures.
This is the case, of course, even when a modern Rock deck lacks a solid Dwayne Johnson core, as most of them do. Garruk could be Mr. Johnson’s stand-in for the newer builds. For me, I prefer to hearken back to my youth and center my decks around Miss Soco and her magic mirror (which appears to be rather more focused on discard and less on which kids will be appearng on the show next week, but no matter).
Click through to the extended for an up-to-date, non-Elf Rock / Romper Room build for Coldsnap-Eventide Standard.