Down And Dirty – Rockin’ The Weekend Away

Read Kyle Sanchez every Thursday... at StarCityGames.com!
Thursday, March 20th – This past weekend, Gerard “GFabs” Fabiano rocked out Grand Prix: Philly, armed with an old-fashioned Barra-style Rock deck. Today’s Down And Dirty sees Kyle Sanchez take us through the rather strange card numbers in Gerard’s build. He also reasons that Rock decks may not be the best choice this coming weekend, and offers an alternative…

Two Grand Prix tournaments took place this last weekend, one in Philly and the other in some city in Europe.

While the European Pros didn’t do their best to defend the Top 8 scene to the massing amateurs, in Philly quite

the opposite happened. We had a Top 8 packed with veterans like Luis Scot-Vargas, Gerard Fabiano, and Jon Sonne,

plus PTQ standouts and PT regulars Adam “Fugly” Yurchick and Matt “Cheeks” Hansen. All in all, it was a great day

for American Magic. I’m a wuss and couldn’t go, but I still have a PTQ this weekend to prepare for…

So what happened this weekend?

Well, there was a high showing of Rock-based decks in the Philly Top 8, featuring three distinct versions: Doran,

Death Cloud, and Gerrard Fabiano’s winning Barra Rock deck from Pro Tour: Valencia. I almost resent him calling

it Barra Rock, since the original version wasn’t nearly as finely tuned as the finished product, and featured

(vomit) Chainer’s Edict and only three discard spells.

It’s very rare for me to sit down with a decklist, analyze it, play a few games, and then not want to change

anything. But Gerard’s build is almost flawless. Misbuilds and metagame adjustments are natural, as everyone has

their own expectations and card evaluations in their head… damn anyone else if they are gonna laugh at me for

playing one maindeck Sensei’s Divining Top. But there is some potent logic behind that singleton Top. Here’s his


At first glance, some of the numbers look sketchy and awkward. One Duress? One Sensei’s Divining Top? Those are

good cards, and naturally you’d want to draw them. Two Therapy? And what the hell is Gerrard’s Verdict doing

there? The method behind the madness is a deckbuilding trick I call Slot-Based Configuration.

(I just made that term up, but it sounds professional enough and describes what I’m going for.)

When you have a large number of cards that have similar but slightly different effects, it can be hard to

determine which is more beneficial for you in the long run when paired against all the various decks of the

current format. So you sit down and test with all the different discard spells available, and come to the

startling realization that they are all good, just at different times. You have eight slots for discard spells.

In a vacuum, Thoughtseize is the best discard spell, but given the life loss you only want three. Gerrard’s

Verdict is a mauling against aggro decks, but given that it costs two mana, and coupled with the lack of early

drops in this deck, you can only play two. Cabal Therapy is probably the second best discard spell, but you don’t

have very many creatures you’d want to sacrifice for the Flashback, and if you were to run three you would only

have three other effects in the deck that let you see your opponent’s hand to provide a profitable Therapy. So

you play two. That leaves one slot left open, and since it has to be a one-drop, Duress is the clear choice.

8-Slot Discard Suite

3 Thoughtseize
2 Cabal Therapy
2 Gerrard’s Verdict
1 Duress

That explains the seemingly random discard spells, but the Top is a bit more subtle. When you look at Giulio

Barra’s deck from Valencia, you’ll see that he played 24 land, while Fabiano only has 23. The conclusion Fabiano

probably came to was that you could shave a land for the Top, which is a virtual land, while also bringing up his

first turn plays up to ten.

One of the best things about running this much discard is the pseudo-combo it forms with Pernicious Deed,

creating an awkward “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. If the aggro decks leave back some burn to

chalk to the face later, or some extra duders for post-Deed, you can cripple them with a Gerard’s Verdict and

then take care of their board anyway.

10-Slot One-Drops

1 Sensei’s Divining Top
3 Thoughtseize
2 Cabal Therapy
1 Duress
3 Treetop Village

Sure, you could make the point that Village isn’t a one-drop, but it’s a card that will deny you a mana at any

point in the game when you play it. And you’d much rather lose the first turn than any of the others, where it

could be crucial to advance your mana.

10-Slot Big Beaters

4 Tarmogoyf
4 Loxodon Hierarch
2 Ravenous Baloth

These slots are pretty simple. Loxodon Hierarch is one of the best creatures in the format right now, and

Ravenous Baloth is #5 and #6 while also giving you ten saccable creatures (including Tribe-Elder) for the Dredge

game 1.

10-Slot Permanent Removal Suite

4 Pernicious Deed
4 Vindicate
2 Smother

Deed is there to combo with the discard, and is also very good at keeping Dredge in check if the game lasts a

while, along with being a dagger to the heart if resolved against all those Next, Previous, and Current Level

Blue Decks skipping around. Vindicate is probably the most versatile spell in the format right now, since it does

everything you want a true removal spell to do. It takes out Tron’s legs by dismantling their fragile manabase,

kills every non-Pro Black creature around, and can even take out a Form of the Dragon to enable a lethal attack.

Smother is another awesome removal spell, but I’m not too jazzed about it in this deck. Sure, you potentially

need a way to kill opposing Confidants and Goyfs early, but I think there are better options here.

His mana is definitely wrong, as you’ll never be in a situation where you’d like to have three of either Ravnica

land, and it’s not like he can’t afford to play two more Bloodstained Mires.

We have all the slots down, and the numbers are clean, but what does the deck actually do?

It’s a strange sight seeing this deck in action, compared to that of a Dredge, TEPS, or Enduring Ideal. It’s a

tribute to the old school, much like GFabs himself. A slow discard-reliant control deck that kills the opponent

with large Green creatures after demolishing any attempts to win, by using board control and heavy doses of cheap

discard to render the opponent impotent. Deed and Vindicate make it very hard for any permanent-centric deck to

beat you, and the discard tears the heart out of any control decks that wanna get frisky, along with being

extremely potent against combo decks too.

So, it’s covered all the bases, it beats control, aggro, and combo… if you draw the right half of your

deck. Which has been the trouble with Rock ever since Rocky Rockwright invented the archetype back in the mid-

90’s. And if dear Rocky were alive today, I would surely consult him on the matter, but sadly he died in

Rocksville in a tragic rockslide on September 2nd (International Rock Flipping Day).

I said earlier that I rarely look at a deck without changing it after testing and analyzing just what the deck

does. The truth is that this deck just won’t hold up this weekend. There is going to be a large wave of Rock

players this weekend, which means we have to update the deck to be more Rock un-friendly.

The biggest addition to this deck is Sensei’s Divining Top, which is a perfect fit since you usually don’t cast

spells that take up all your mana until turn 4. In the meantime, you can be using one-mana discard spells and Top

activations to dig to the necessary components for whatever matchup you’re facing. Deck manipulation is one thing

that Rock decks have always been short on, which was the main reason Gifts was such an awesome splash in formats

of yore. Top is also one of the few permanents available that can work around Pernicious Deed, while also being a

handy target for post-board Krosan Grips.

By taking out Smother and Gerrard’s Verdict, the value of Eternal Witness dropped slightly. This made

her an easy cut to make room for Shriekmaw, who is eager to chomp his elemental fangs down on some Baloth and

Elephant bums. The Maw also provides a way to remove Bridge from Belows while also taking out a Tireless Tribe,

Narcomoeba, or the occasional Grave-Troll.

Treetop Village annoyed the crap out of me, so I cut it for Mutavault. This spurred me into cutting a Loxodon

Hierarch for a third Ravenous Baloth, to enhance the chance for some beastly synergies.

The sideboard for the GFabs deck was a little too tight, so I loosened it up a bit. Haunting Echoes is strictly

better than Cranial Extraction, and now that Top is in the mix it makes the perfect finisher in the Rock mirror.

It’s also quite good against N/P-LU, Dredge, and any of those idiots still piloting Loam tactics from a million

years ago.

Damnation serves as Deed numbers 5 and 6 against decks like Goblins, Affinity, Zoo, or that little nine-year-old

kid playing his Standard Kithkin deck.

Speaking of Kithkin, my sideboard has seven more Kithkin than GFabs, and for good reason. In the last PTQ down

here, there was something like twenty copies of that stupid RG deck running around. I’m not taking any chances

this time. That slot was going to be Circle of Protection: Red, but thanks to LaPille I found a much better

replacement. COP: Red was often too clunky and mana intensive, especially when you take into account that they

will probably have some kind of mana denial plan post-board.

Gaddock Teeg is the other Kithkin, and I’m not sure why GFabs didn’t play him. There are a host of ways to

protect the bulbous Advisor with discard and Eternal Witness. He just seems too good not to play right now. The

best part is that he’s not just there for Big Mana decks. He effectively stops any Dread Returns for an otherwise

unanswerable Akroma.

The rest of the sideboard is mostly filler. You want the max number of Elephants against Red decks and opposing

Deeds. You want another Duress to board in with Teeg against spell-heavy control decks, and we’ve already

discussed the positive applications of Shriekmaw to deal with four-mana monsters and Bridges From Below. The one

bummer about the Maw is his inability to deal with Confidant, which could be a big weakness for this deck. In my

experience, it’s been better to set them up for a Deed and make up whatever cards they draw then by taking out

their Mox, Bob, and Goyf.

But perhaps Pernicious Deed isn’t the route for this weekend. Deed has always been a streaky card, meaning that

it never stays truly consistent in a format because whenever it does well people just start playing around it.

The card I most want to play with this weekend is actually Blood Moon. I mean really, how do any of the top decks

right now operate around it? They can’t!

I’m not sure how much I can say about this deck that hasn’t been said already. I’m really liking the additional

Sparksmiths in the sideboard, which is something I can call somewhat unique compared to other builds. He gives

you such a huge advantage against the mirror and any other creature decks that he’s worth having four copies to

ensure that you draw him. I didn’t wanna bother with splashing for Ancient Grudge in the sideboard because of the

Blood Moon, so Shattering Spree is my replacement. Not nearly as handy, but it gets the job done where you need


I’m not sure why more people aren’t switching over to goblins. It’s better now that its ever been with the

addition of the Squad, and a bit easier on the mana from the Hovel. Mutavault is another key addition that gives

you a little staying power, and gives you and unexpected source of damage.

I’ve no clue what I’m gonna pilot yet. Most likely the Rock deck since it gives you the biggest advantage to

outplay your opponent, wheras the Goblins deck just gets there or doesn’t. But regardless, I’ve already bought my

ticket to Hollywood from Southwest so if I don’t win now I’ll just plan on LCQ’ing. I’ve been out of the pro

tournament scene since Nationals last year, and I’m itchier than a hefty kid wrapped in a tight wool napkin.

The Sanchez Gallery


What the hell?

Yes yes yawl
To the beat yawl
Ain’t no sleep yawl
To the break of dawn
5 o’clock in the morn
We keep rockin’ on…


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