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.
Romper Room – Coldsnap-Eventide
|4× Kitchen Finks|
|3× Graveborn Muse|
|3× Raven’s Crime|
|3× Search for Tomorrow|
|3× Slaughter Pact|
|3× Liliana Vess|
|4× Llanowar Wastes|
|Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth|
|4× Treetop Village|
|4× Twilight Mire|
|3× Sudden Death|
|3× Squall Line|
|4× Augur of Skulls|
I’ve been putting together a lot of potential Rock builds lately, looking a pure B/G, W/B/G, B/R/G, and other color splashes. Of all the variations, the build above has by far worked out the best. Let’s take a look at a few of its key features.
In the current environemnt, it’s very important to be able to deal with Magus of the Moon, critters with protection, and being swarmed. To that end, the Room packs a full set of maindeck Damnations, letting me sweep the board at will and tank all those pesky Chameleons and Oversouls. I also put in one of my favorite utility creatures, Shriekmaw, to allow early Terroring of Figures of Destiny and, if a Swamp is in play, Magus of the Moon. Finally, we have three copies of Slaughter Pact to again let us kill those crippling Magi and to let the deck play out aggressively rather than holding back with removal in hand.
Here we’re packing the usual (for me) quad of Thoughtseizes, as well as a full set of three Lilianas. In addition, I’ve included three copies of Raven’s Crime. When I first saw this card previewed, it seemed like a solid choice. Turn extra cards into discard? Sure. In practice, it’s exactly that good. This deck’s curve tops out at five mana, meaning that anything past that point is pure bonus, and can be converted into ripping through your opponent’s hand. In fact, this is why I’m running 24 rather than 23 land in this deck, to have a bit more fuel for the Crimes.
Also, as a welcome bonus, the first time you Retrace a Crime, you’ve made your Tarmogoyfs bigger. Nifty.
Mana fixing in this deck is limited to three Search for Tomorrow, but that has proven to be good enough. The Searches combine with the Seizes and Crimes to give this deck 10 first-turn plays, and to let you get to that fourth mana by turn three to wipe the board with Damnation, or kick out an unexpected Muse.
Other card advantage
In addition to a lot of discard (Seize, Crime, Lily), this deck runs three Graveborn Muse to allow for positive card advantage. Phyrexian Arena was a solid choice back when Ninth was the core set, as most B/x control decks can afford to trade one life per turn for an extra card. The Muse is more fragile than an Arena, but she’s what’s available and, as a bonus, can beat for 3. In testing, if I can get a Muse to stick, I usually win.
Note that if you go ahead and just randomly stick the Muse into your Rock deck, you may accidentally stick yourself on a “go faster” draw plan, as each Chameleon Colossus is also a Zombie.
For this take on the Room, I’ve gone for the G/x standy critter — Tarmogoyf. Especially in a deck running Retrace and a Planeswalker, the Lhurgoyf of choice can be pretty big pretty quickly, and is a cheap and solid choice for a finisher. The Tarmogoyfs are backed up by a full set of Kitchen Finks, to provide life gain and stall the ground. Finally, the deck has two Tombstalkers (remember those?), which can come out awfully early and end the game just as quickly. And, as always, they let you “dial down” any opposing Tarmogoyfs (and they can trade with Demigods, but more on that below).
In an environment with no Magus, we might be enticed to max out the non-basic nature of any mana base. In this case, I have either the Elves nor the Changelings to support Gilt-Leaf Palace, so that’s out from the start. Instead, I’m taking the painful option with Llanowar Wastes, supplemented with one Urborg and four Mires for fixing. In addition, we have four Treetop Village (still amazing) but no Mutavaults — we need to save that space for eleven basic lands, with an emphasis on Swamps, so we have the maximum opportunity to kill a Magus and keep our mana base up and running (or, alternately, to simply be up and running even with a Magus in play). Given the power of the Treetops, I haven’t missed the Mutavaults.
The current sideboard is pretty heavily oriented toward the metagame as represented by the recent spate of Nationals, most notably the UK nats, which, in turn, was a response to US nats. The full set of Extirpates serves both to disrupt combo decks (e.g. Lark, Swans) and to remove Demigods from mono-red decks. Either you kill the first one and then Extirpate them out, or you hit one with discard and then rip them out. The Sudden Deaths similarly serve against both Demigod and Swans, letting you break a combo chain in the latter case and, well, kill a Demigod in the former. Against combo and certain breeds of control, we can also bring in four Augurs. I used to play these in Standard Rock decks back well before Shadowmoor came out, and they can be a beating if you stick and immediately pop one in the early game. They usually come in for the Finks. Finally, there are Squall Lines to help sweep little Faeries from the sky and a single Krosan Grip that Lily can tutor up in case of problematic artifacts and enchantments.
As I mentioned in the lead-in, this has been the most successful of my Rock builds right now. I’ve tried WBG and BRG, and the benefits the added colors bring are definitely outweighed by the added clunkiness of their mana bases and the concomitant vulnerability to Magus. This option is stable, and quite a bit of fun as well.
For the curious, here’s Sol Malka’s Rock list. You’ll probably want to click through to figure out what all the cards do.
|4× Birds of Paradise|
|4× Albino Troll|
|4× Yavimaya Elder|
|4× Yavimaya Granger|
|4× Deranged Hermit|
|4× Phyrexian Plaguelord|
|3× Diabolic Servitude|
|4× Rapid Decay|
|2× Dust Bowl|
|4× Treetop Village|