Finally, The Rock Has Come Back To Standard

Based upon the powerful Black cards present in Champions of Kamigawa, however, if there was going to be a breakout deck, conventional wisdom stated that it was either going to be a new take on Mono-Black Control or a reprise of the classic Black/Green midgame deck first pioneered by Sol Malka, best known as The Rock. Mono-Black was out there, but it didn’t have the success at States that The Rock did.

[I’m just going to state for the record that I dislike calling the new B/G decks Rock decks, but it’s Dave’s article and he likes the title… – Knut]

I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting to crack that little chestnut of an article title out.

Normally, this would have been my States tournament report. Ah, States, my favorite tournament of the year. A fluid metagame, first big tournament with new cards, and should you win, your name forever remembered as a State Champion. Perhaps not the same cachet as a Pro Tour win, but let’s face it: Even if I win a PTQ, the odds of me taking down the likes of Gabriel Nassif are slim and none, and Slim is on the bus out of town.

For the casually competitive (or competitively casual) player, States is the tournament.

However, for those not in the know, I recently left the Magic-playing haven of central Oregon for the Palouse, where my fiancée is attending graduate school at Washington State University. And neither Moscow nor Pullman, the major metropolises in the vicinity (and, believe me, I use the term “metropolis” extremely loosely), have much in the way of game stores or Magic players.

Aside: If you are reading this article, and you live in Moscow, Pullman, Lewiston or Clarkston, please, please, please, drop me a line if you’re looking to get some Magic players together. I’m jonesing, man, and need my fix bad.

And, to top it off, money’s been a little tight lately, so I hardly have any Champions of Kamigawa cards. Just remnants from a couple of drafts.

To recap: No new cards, no playtesting, no cash. The odds of me coming to States were looking pretty poor.

However, Jay Schneider, he of rogue deckbuilding fame, offered me a chance to come over to Seattle and emcee the event for Cascade Games, the outfit that runs most of the events in Oregon and Washington.

I didn’t get to play, but I did get to see a lot of decks, both expected and unexpected, rogue and netdecked.

If you’ve seen the results from States, you shouldn’t be surprised: Affinity, Affinity, Affinity. There were a few other decks like Tooth and Nail that won, but well over half the winners were packing Ravagers.

This deviated from the norm, as usually States is much more wide open. There were two big reasons for this:

1) States was very close to the release of the new set: Normally, States is held in November, several weeks after the initial release of the new stand-alone set. This year, it was only three weeks after the street release of Champions of Kamigawa, and players didn’t have enough time to find new and broken combinations.

2) There are no “breakout” mechanics: Onslaught Block gave us Astroglide, based upon cycling. Mirrodin Block had Affinity, which was originally represented by Broodstar Affinity at States but evolved into the more efficient Ravager Affinity with Darksteel’s release. Arcane and Spirits may be powerful in a Block Constructed environment, but they seem lacking compared to the power level of the current metagame.

I did see one deck in Seattle that did try to use splicing, a new take on the U/W Scepter/Orb decks using Dampen Thought. It’s quite interesting and I’m sure an article about it will be coming from Jay’s group soon.

Based upon the powerful Black cards present in Champions of Kamigawa, however, if there was going to be a breakout deck, conventional wisdom stated that it was either going to be a new take on mono-Black Control or a reprise of the classic Black/Green midgame deck first pioneered by Sol Malka, best known as The Rock.

Mono-Black was out there, but it didn’t have the success at States that The Rock did. Many Top Eights and a few championships won, including Star City’s own Josh Claytor. The results were strong enough for me to say that not only is The Rock viable in the current Standard metagame, it’s a Tier 1 candidate, with serious game against both Affinity and Tooth and Nail.

Within the top States decks, there were many different permutations of The Rock, which can be loosely grouped into two categories: focused and versatile.

Joshua Claytor

Kentucky States Champion

1 Boseiju, Who Shelters all

12 Forest

10 Swamp

4 Eternal Witness

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Kokusho, the Evening Star

4 Kodama’s Reach

2 Sylvan Scrying

4 Echoing Decay

4 Oxidize

4 Barter in Blood

3 Death Cloud

4 Plow Under


1 Boseiju, Who Shelters All

4 Viridian Shaman

4 Naturalize

1 Death Cloud

3 Persecute

2 Rude Awakening

Joshua ran a very narrow, very focused version. Multiple copies of Kokusho, the Evening Star, are his primary win condition… heck, it’s pretty much his only win condition, unless he has a lot of luck with the backup plan of Eternal Witness beatdown. Kokusho, however, is good enough to be the lone path to victory. It’s a 5/5 flier that’s immune to most Black removal spells (it can’t be Terrored, Banished, or Decayed, and being as it’s a Dragon Spirit, targeted by Rend Flesh), and if killed, becomes a five-point Consume Spirit. That kind of double duty ability is hard to find in any other creature.

In versions of The Rock that are creature-light, like this one, Barter in Blood is an excellent addition to the suite of removal spells available to a Rock player. Kills two creatures dead, and the creatures the Rock has on its side of the board have already served their purpose. The other two creatures in Joshua’s deck should require no explanation-Eternal Witness and the best mana fixer (ever, or just this environment), Sakura-Tribe Elder. The Elder exists to be sacrificed, and the Witness generally does its duty when cast.

What other removal spells does The Rock need to run? Echoing Decay is common is most builds. Why Echoing Decay, and not Terror? Echoing Decay has the advantage of being able to kill creatures otherwise untargetable, most notably Disciple of the Vault and Arcbound Ravager. It’s also a cheap instant that can hit multiple creatures-once I managed to kill all my opponent’s Forests after an entwined Rude Awakening.

And what’s a Rock deck without Pernicious Deed? No, that hasn’t been reprinted, but we do have Death Cloud, which definitely shares a few traits with my favorite enchantment. Death Cloud serves as hand removal, board sweeper and win condition, sometimes all at once. Josh’s lone copy of Boseiju, Who Shelters All ensures that he can force a Death Cloud through against control. And let’s not overlook the choice of Plow Under as a control card-costing an opponent two draw steps and crippling their mana base can be just as good as a Death Cloud.

Not all Rock decks run Death Cloud. To optimize Death Cloud, you have to have a build that is able to get a significant lead on both lands and life. Josh, running Sakura-Tribe Elder, Sylvan Scrying (one of the few builds to do so) and Kodama’s Reach, ensures that he’ll win the most-lands-in-play battle, and thin the deck out considerably as well.

Ricky Boyes

4th Place – Washington

1 Shizo, Death’s Storehouse

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

7 Swamp

11 Forest

2 City of Brass

3 Viridian Shaman

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Eternal Witness

3 Phyrexian Plaguelord

3 Horobi, Death’s Wail

3 Kokusho, the Evening Star

3 Oxidize

3 Night’s Whisper

4 Rend Flesh

2 Echoing Decay

1 Rampant Growth

1 Rude Awakening


1 Phyrexian Plaguelord

2 Naturalize

2 Relic Barrier

3 Terror

4 Cranial Extraction

1 Rude Awakening

1 Duplicant

This is a more versatile version of The Rock, one I had the pleasure of watching absolutely shred Affinity at Washington States. This was one of the few decks I found that ran Horobi, but given the makeup of the deck, it’s an excellent choice. With no targeted removal, Horobi’s appearance dooms the Affinity player-the modular mechanic and Cranial Plating are rendered useless, taking a hell of a lot of sting out of the Ravager engine. Phyrexian Plaguelord and Horobi also form a very potent combination.

One reason I like this build is that Birds of Paradise is always a relevant card. The one drawback to the Birds is that in the late game, they’re a chump blocker at best. With a Plaguelord, they can at least trade with another creature.

Compared to the laser-like focus of Joshua’s deck, Richard’s is much more fluid, designed to control the board with his creatures, not necessarily his spells. It offers multiple paths to victory, usually with Plaguelord or Horobi beatdown, or a timely Rude Awakening. Since creatures (or lands) are your win condition, there’s no room for Death Cloud in this deck.

Richard’s deck doesn’t run the same amount of deck thinning that Joshua’s does, but has more card drawing in Night’s Whisper. Which is the better choice? You can make an argument either way.

What isn’t in either deck is Solemn Simulacrum. There were many versions that ran the Fat Robot, but I personally don’t care for Jens in the Rock. He’s too slow compared to “mini-Jens”-Sakura-Tribe Elder-and speed is critical in this environment. Tapping out on turn four can be a death wish when facing the Ravager and his ilk.

There’s a huge number of cards that you could slide into The Rock, and many players at States did, such as:

Molder Slug

Here’s the question: if you are already running Oxidize, Viridian Shaman and Death Cloud, do you really need this guy too? Or would Plow Under be a better choice in this slot?

Nezumi Shortfang

Against control decks, the new Cabal Interrogator is incredibly strong. Unfortunately, control decks, aside from Tooth and Nail, seem to be on the short end of the stick right now, so I’d consider my new favorite Rat an iffy choice for the maindeck.

Cranial Extraction

I wouldn’t run this card in the maindeck, but I sure as heck want four in the sideboard. Most Rock players did… those that could get their hands on four of them, that is. Simply the presence of this card forces Tooth and Nail players to have alternate win conditions in the main deck.

Greater Harvester

See Molder Slug above, and replace “Plow Under” with “Death Cloud.” Mind you, a 5/6 beatstick is nothing to scoff at.

Troll Ascetic

This guy I’m not sure about. It is a cheap 3/2, true, that regenerates and is untargetable. But it doesn’t do anything, and in this environment, a 3/2 really isn’t all that impressive. I’d definitely run him in a deck with Horobi, though.

Nezumi Graverobber

If you can get him rolling, he’s a house. But even when flipped, that two toughness worries me, and the ability is expensive. I might find room for him in the sideboard.


While Distress is a solid card, that double Black is troublesome, meaning you probably won’t cast it until turn 3 at best, which makes it really no better than Coercion. In mono-Black, run Distress. In The Rock, Nezumi Shortfang may be the better choice.


A rock-solid card (pun intended) that I have no compunction about putting in my sideboard. It’s just fighting with Distress and Nezumi Shortfang. Right now, it’s winning. Again, depending upon the metagame, any of these three cards might be the right choice.

Grim Reminder

If The Rock does end up taking off, this might be the sideboard tech. If…and I’m thinking, boy, if only we had a Withered Wretch in this environment. Rag Dealer won’t cut it.


I can’t think of any reason not to have this in the sideboard. Not only is it a good anti-Affinity card, but is your only out against troublesome enchantments like Ivory Mask.

Relic Barrier

It’s more permanent, but not a permanent answer to artifacts. Compared to Naturalize, it’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.

Boseiju, Who Shelters All

As mentioned previously, it lets you force through a Death Cloud or other spell against control. Too bad counterspells are few and far between right now. I’d consider running one in the sideboard, but it States has shown one thing, it’s that counterspells just aren’t that impressive.

Dosan, the Falling Leaf

City of Solitude on legs. Trouble is, City of Solitude mostly saw play in combo decks back in the day as a defense against heavy blue control, and Defense Grid fills that role now. There just isn’t enough need for this card unless blue-based control decks really make a comeback.

Hideous Laughter

If we still had Goblins in this environment, this mini-Mutilate would be more powerful than it is-but this card could be the answer to Adrian Sullivan Kiki-Jiki-based deck if that does indeed prove to be as powerful as he claims (I suspect it is, but I haven’t played it yet and shall reserve judgment). It may also rise in value depending upon what further splice spells future expansions have.

Oblivion Stone

If you want to run a really removal-heavy version of The Rock, the Stone will take you over the top. My concern is if it’s really necessary. If you’re worried about enchantments, run Naturalize. Death Cloud sweeps the board just as well, and the Stone is, well, expensive. There is the concept of “too much of a good thing,” for which the Stone may qualify.

So which version of The Rock is the best? Highly focused or highly versatile? I’d lean towards Joshua’s version. But remember these were the first major tournaments with in post-Champions Standard against a field of finely tuned Affinity and Tooth and Nail, and the decks will get better and more tuned with each passing week.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t include the winning deck from Washington, which was also a Rock build…sort of.

Brett Allen

Washington State Champion

1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers

11 Forest

5 Swamp

3 Island

1 City of Brass

1 Jushi Apprentice

1 Phyrexian Plaguelord

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

3 Birds of Paradise

1 Horobi, Death’s Wail

4 Eternal Witness

1 Duplicant

3 Viridian Shaman

2 Kokusho, the Evening Star

2 Solemn Simulacrum

1 Molder Slug

2 Meloku, the Clouded Mirror

1 Time of Need

2 Oxidize

1 Rampant Growth

2 Echoing Decay

1 Echoing Truth

1 Naturalize

3 Rend Flesh

1 Condescend

1 Rude Awakening


1 Echoing Truth

1 Gifts Ungiven

1 Viridian Shaman

1 Rude Awakening

2 Bribery

2 Cranial Extraction

1 Oxidize

3 Plow Under

1 Naturalize

1 Troll Ascetic

1 Minamo, School at Water’s Edge

Sure seems like a pile, doesn’t it? Jushi Apprentice? Gifts Ungiven? One Condescend And yet, it won States, and Washington isn’t hurting for top-level Magic players. And by Brett’s own admission, the deck was filled with cards stuffed in at the last minute, since he overslept and was missing key cards.

I don’t know if Brett’s victory is an indicator of the Rock’s strength and versatility-B/G/u Rock builds are nothing new-or if Brett was just really, really lucky. Draw your own conclusions.