Red Rockin’ the PTQ Scene

What’s a boy to play in a diverse environment rife with aggro-control strategies? At first Terry wasn’t sure, but then he honed in on the idea of playing his favorite card ever in the environment (Eternal Witness), and soon found himself developing a Red Rock deck designed to bash the PTQ field to bits. In this detailed Primer, Terry gives you all the details you need to know in order to take this deck to a PTQ and do well.

Today’s Extended environment is defined by 3 different archetypes. The most popular one is the aggro-control strategy, followed by combo, and then control, which is the least popular archetype in the current environment. You are probably wondering, why aren’t the beatdown or pure aggro decks listed? It’s simply because all the aggressive decks in the format are filled with disruptive cards to order to help grind a path to victory. Example: even a deck like Red Deck Wins pushes thorugh damage by disrupting opposing board position through burn and land control cards (Pillage, Rishadan Port, Wasteland). The deck wouldn’t be successful without those disruptive elements. However, I’m not going to go through about Red Deck Wins because it has been discussed plenty of times by better players than me. I’m going to discuss a deck that I’m pretty familiar with, as that’s the only deck where I could fit 4 of my favorite cards of all time: Eternal Witness.

Without further ado, here’s the list:

4 Birds of Paradise

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

3 Wall of Blossoms

3 Solemn Simulacrum

3 Flametongue Kavu

4 Eternal Witness

1 Ravenous Baloth

1 Deranged Hermit

4 Cabal Therapy

3 Duress

1 Recurring Nightmare

1 Terminate

2 Vampiric Tutor

4 Pernicious Deed

4 Treetop Village

4 Llanowar Wastes

1 Volrath’s Stronghold

6 Forest

5 Swamp

2 Mountain


1 Duress

1 Coffin Purge

1 Flametongue Kavu

4 Phyrexian Negator

2 Artifact Mutation

1 Diabolic Edict

2 Persecute

1 Engineered Plague

2 Spike Feeder

Okay, I have to admit that I didn’t have any solid finishes with this deck. However, I did put lots of effort into studying the current metagame shaped by PT: Columbus for upcoming GPT’s or PTQ’s for my teammates. This list is something similar to the Red Rock deck that placed 10th in Columbus. There are some flaws in that list though, hence I have modified it with several cards that I felt would be better in current environment. I’ll explain card roles to try and give you a better understanding of what the deck is trying to do.

4 Birds of Paradise, 4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

These are the best accelerators in the current format without any card disadvantage attached. While Birds are self explanatory due to its casting cost , its ability to produce any mana in this 3 color deck and the possibility to chump block some huge flier later in the game, Sakura-Tribe Elder needs some explanations. It allows you to accelerate a turn faster without taking any risks, as Birds and Llanowar Elves get burned away easily, or even Submerged after sideboard against U/G Madness. Most importantly, the land that was found by it will stay after Pernicious Deed activation, which is a very crucial point to consider. The Rock player will often need to blow some Deeds in the game to stay ahead of cards and board advantage, and you’ll understand the true value of Sakura-Tribe Elder in the deck.

4 Cabal Therapy, 3 Duress

The best one-mana disruption cards in the game – the Rock would not function without these babies. Rock game plan always prioritize prevent opponent from winning, instead of winning. These seven cheap discard spells act as a disruptive plan to foil opponent’s game by taking their key spells away. From that point, your opponent will find it difficult to kill you, and the additional discard that usually follows really hurts, especially against mid-range tempo decks or combo.

3 Walls of Blossoms, 3 Flametongue Kavu, 3 Solemn Simulacrum, 4 Eternal Witness, 1 Deranged Hermit, 1 Ravenous Baloth

187 Soldiers
Your loyal 187 soldiers. Each of them provides you a reasonable body, and a variety of comes into play effects. That makes each of them a two-for-one card advantage engine, and Rock needs the card advantage to keep the game under control. Rock’s game is to survive through the mid-game and if you make the late game, you’re probably winning. If you’re doing fair trades with your opponents all the time, you’re not going to win that game, since you’re not gaining any edge in the game if the fair trades continue. Yeah, you get to keep the board and hand even, then both players try to topdeck something good to get ahead, but that’s not the way the deck should be played. Maintaining board control is vital, and you need the card advantage to do it.

4 Pernicious Deed, 1 Terminate

This is your removal. Terminate is just plain better then any Diabolic Edict or Smother due to its versatility, excepting the fact that it can’t kill Akroma, Angel of Wrath. That doesn’t mean Edict would successfully do that at all times, either. Reanimator decks have 4 Putrid Imps, to act as Edict fodder. The purpose of only 1 Terminate in the maindeck is simply because it doesn’t earn any card advantage – it simply gives you a fair trade and a reasonable answer to one creature. It’s pretty impressive in Limited, but not in Extended. However, you still need one copy of it as a viable tutor target in case anything went wrong, despite the fact that you’ll probably go for Flametongue Kavu when you want to get rid of a creature.

Pernicious Deeds are your main weapon to combat any creature strategy deck. Blowing everything is never bad for you, as most of your creatures are considered free (they always do two-for-one, remember?) except for the eight accelerators. Again, to minimize the harm Deed does you, the Sakura-Tribe Elder is invaluable here compared to a dying Birds. There are two ways to play with Deed. Either you laid it down early to affect your opponent’s game play while developing your fortress position by accelerating with Elders and Solemns, and damaging him with Treetop Villages. And also take note that your Cabal Therapy gets better if your opponent holds back. The other way to play Deed is to force your opponent to over commit his board, then drop down an unexpected Deed and blow it right away. Again, experience counts when it comes to playing the Deed at the appropriate turn, so always practice hard with your deck.

2 Vampiric Tutor, 1 Recurring Nightmare

Your path to victory shines bright with these cards. Tutor is basically an all in one card, it gets you any part of the deck that you need for the cost of a card and 2 life. I felt that two should be the right number, as you never want to draw two of em. The purpose of tutor is to get your one-of-a-kind silver bullets, but the deck itself is filled with pretty solid cards and couldn’t really afford any more space for cards that do nothing on their own while you have to wait for another turn to get what you really need. Usually your main tutor targets are the ones that provide inevitability in the form of recursion, like Recurring Nightmare or Volrath’s Stronghold. Recurring Nightmare is the ruler of the deck. You always win with it when the game goes long. The reason is that all of your creatures work well with recursion as they provide utility comes into play effects. Nightmare is the card you want when you are looking to seal the game.

4 Treetop Village, 4 Llanowar Wastes, 1 Volrath’s Stronghold, 6 Forest, 5 Swamp, 2 Mountain

Usually Rock plays around 23-24 lands, but I only run 22. I felt that between 4 Birds, 4 Elders, and 3 Blossoms you should not have mana problems with the deck. 4 Treetop is inevitable for me, as they are easily the best lands available for Green decks and have been for years. Llanowar Wastes is there to smooth out the mana, avoiding a struggle for Green or Black mana, as you need to get both colors early in the game. The Stronghold acts as a source of recursion that is invulnerable to both discard and counterspells. 1 copy is strictly enough, as it doesn’t produce any colored mana and it certainly harms you if you were to draw 2 copies of them due to the legendary status.

Matchup Analysis: Goblins

This is a slightly favorable matchup for you. Simply play out your blockers to soak up damage. Try to Therapy for Ringleader or Warchief, as their deck is nothing impressive without ’em. When the time comes, blow up the world with Deed. Most Goblin decks have no direct damage, so you don’t have to worry about being burned out. You will have to find ways to deal with their creatures, which is much easier this way since Deed should be pretty painful.

After board you bring in removal, Persecutes, and Spike Feeders. Try to Persecute them early and take control of the board later. You can afford to do so after board simply because you’re overloaded on removal and life-gaining creatures. Discard is next to useless here, thus you sideboard them out, though I would keep a couple of Therapy in if I didn’t have the Persecutes in the board. You would like to keep some discard, but not too much, thus Persecute is the ideal choice. You only need to hit once and that’s enough.

Out: 4 Duress, 3 Cabal Therapy

In: 1 Flametongue Kavu, 1 Diabolic Edict, 1 Engineered Plague, 2 Spike Feeder, 2 Persecute


This is one of the matchups you’re looking forward to playing against. Flametongue Kavu gives you an out when Meddling Mage messes with your Deeds, and don’t forget the single Terminate in the deck. You have a lot of chump blockers. Every one of your creatures is meant to trade or chump block to buy more time – you’ll be happy to block with your Blossoms, Elders, Witness, Solemns, Flametongues or even sometimes an occasional Birds! This game is all focused on chump blocking and trading creatures, then get a Deed into play and proceed to game 2. Recursion is another key here, as your creatures is pretty much annoying to them, but you’ll always glad to tutor a nightmare when you have loads of 187’s in your bin.

After sideboard the game gets even better with the ultimate hoser: Artifact Mutation. This card is ridiculously insane in this matchup, if you get to blow a Myr Enforcer, that’s probably game. Additional removal in the form of the 4th Flametongue, Diabolic Edict and Engineered Plague should be boarded in. Discard is worthless here, they should be shipped to the sideboard as they are next to useless. Since you have 7 discard spells, and you are only boarding in 5 removals, and you don’t really want to keep anymore discard in the deck after board, I would board in 2 more Spike Feeder to play if the game goes longer.

Out: 4 Cabal Therapy, 3 Duress

In: 2 Artifact Mutation, 1 Diabolic Edict, 1 Flametongue Kavu, 1 Engineered Plague, 2 Spike Feeder

Red Deck Wins

Another good matchup for you. The strategy of this game doesn’t makes much difference with Affinity matchup. You want to use your discard spells to get rid of his Blistering Firecats and Cursed Scrolls then keep trading your 187’s for his burn spells (even better if he’s willing to trade creature for creature with you!) Birds die easily, while Elders and Blossoms play a big role of defense in this game. Try to find your lone Baloth as fast as possible (you have tutors). Then, in between 4 Witnesses, Nightmare and Stronghold, it should not be hard for you to gain some life. Deed is pretty good here too, as you often two-for-one them and it’s the only way to deal with Scrolls.

After sideboard, the star is Spike Feeder. He ‘s an additional 4 life attached to a 2/2 creature. The reason it got the nod over additional Baloth is simply because the 4/4 or 2/2 size doesn’t matter much in this matchup, but the mana difference is definitely significant. RDW always tries to foil your game plan with its mana disruption, remember? It’s always good to drop your life stick onto the table early, and an early Feeder will always draw another burn spell (Seal of Fire / Firebolt) from RDW player in order to clear the path for his creatures. 2 damage + 4 life from the Feeder… that creates such an awkward position for the RDW player to win quickly. And remember, he just used a card to trade your Feeder (that’s 1 for 1) but the four life makes up the trade tremendously good for you. Again, more removal should be boarded in for the redundant Duresses. You should keep a couple of Therapies and always try to hit for Firecat, as that’s the best weapon for them. The game should not be hard for you unless a Firecat smacks your face for a full seven damage (always use your Blossoms or even Solemn to chump block, forget about keeping it!)

Out : 3 Duress, 1 Cabal Therapy

In : 2 Spike Feeder , 1 Engineered Plague , 1 Diabolic Edict

This is bad, mmkay?

U/G Madness

This game is definitely not a bye, its more like a 50/50 shot depending on build. If they have a lot of Intuitions and a Gigapede, that really represents some problematic cards to handle, especially Gigapede. Flying (with Wonder) untargetable 6/1 is something this deck just loses to. Always Therapy for Wild Mongrel or Circular Logic, but if you feel something fishy when your opponent leaves like three mana open and no Arrogant Wurm appears, you should try to hit Intuition, as a Intuition for Wonder, Gigapede and Deep Analysis often spells doom. The reason why your Therapy should not always go for Intuition is because they only run two copies and you have a much higher chance to grab the dog or the counterspell. You can still let the Duress do its job to handle Intuition.

Flametongue Kavu is the key card here, I would says it’s more powerful than Deed in this matchup due to its versatility in both defense and offense. Sometimes it just outraces those Aquamoebas or Basking Rootwallas, even though the life score is favoring your opponent. The game is looking good for you until the point that a Wonder reaches graveyard, which you have to switch your game plan from offense to a defensive role. You board in more removal after board, while they have get Submerges. Not worries about that, because all of your creatures are too good to return them to the top of the library (your opponent will not submerge your Flametongue!) except Birds. You’ll eventually remove a Birds or Elder in this game, as you want more quality than redundancy in the deck. A Solemn has to go too, as he just chump blocks and dies all the time without killing anything. The discard spells are quite important here to combat the madness God draw, Intuitions and counters.

Out: 1 Sakura Tribe Elder, 1 Solemn Simulacrum

In: 1 Diabolic Edict, 1 Flametongue Kavu


Here’s the bad matchup for game 1. It’s pretty hard for you to kill them fast without Negators and you have less discard as well. Try to mulligan into hands with discard, as they can consistently go off around turn 3 or 4 and will definitely be ready to explode by turn 5.

After board you have your fastest clock in Phyrexian Negators. Your plan is to hit his combo pieces with your discard and end the game as quickly as possible with Negators before he can possibly recover. The 4th Duress is coming in, and I think the Persecute should be sided in too.

With 8 cheap discard spells in your deck, you should be able to have a clear glance at his hand and know what to aim for with the Persecute. Usually, you go for Blue, but there might be a chance to hit Green when you knows what is in his grip.

Deed is next to useless here, you don’t want to blow it to kill their walls and Birds, and it’s a little too late to wait until Aluren comes down, as they can always respond with their combo pieces. Engineered Plague comes in after board as a no-brainer inclusion, since it shuts down their combo. Recurring Nightmare has to leave after board, since your plan is to hit hard with Negators and discard, not with the long game recursion plan.

Out: 4 Pernicious Deed, 1 Ravenous Baloth, 1 Terminate, 1 Recurring Nightmare, 1 Wall of Blossoms

In: 4 Phyrexian Negator, 1 Duress, 1 Engineered Plague, 2 Persecute


Again, a pretty bad matchup here for game 1. The reason is almost the same as the Aluren’s matchup. Remember, mulliganning aggressively is crucial against combo decks! If your grip doesn’t open with any discard or tutors, you should go for a fresh six cards. You can never beat them without discard. If your discard didn’t show up by turn 4, it’s probably time to shuffle up for game 2.

After board, Persecute is a nightmare to them. You send their whole grip to the bin, as they are defenseless. They have no access to any permission (except what Cunning Wish provides). Clear the path with your cheap discard first, then go for the throat with Persecute. The 2 tutors essentially function as the 3rd and 4th Persecute, as they are the most important card in this matchup.

Again, hit hard with the Negators to minimize their chance of coming back into the game. Artifact Mutations also come in to mess with their Medallions. Coffin Purge deals with their Intuition, as you destroyed their dream of drawing 3 cards and make it only one card instead.

Out: 1 Terminate, 1 Recurring Nightmare, 4 Pernicious Deed, 1 Wall of Blossoms , 1 Solemn Simulacrum, 1 Flametongue Kavu, 1 Ravenous Baloth

In : 4 Phyrexian Negator, 1 Duress, 1 Coffin Purge, 2 Persecute, 2 Artifact Mutation


People claim this matchup is unbeatable. I beg to differ. Life’s goal is preventing theopponent from beating them with damage and thus creating as unwinnable game for them. Rock’s plan simply prevents opponents from winning. Life could gain a trillion life, but how could they possibly kill you? They have a single Test of Endurance for the win, but they can’t win right away. You have Pernicious Deed to stop that nonsense. They have Eternal Witness to bring it back, but so do you, and you even outnumber their Witnesses!

Soon the game will drag and your Recurring Nightmare should appear by then. From that point, you basically decimate the opponent’s hand and board slowly, turn by turn. Life deck will eventually be left with nothing but a trillion life.

The question is how you grab your victory? Deck him out. You have no chance to kill him with damage. But you have a single Volrath’s Stronghold. Life will run out of cards, but you don’t. Unless you can wreck his combo early and kill him before that, but that’s a hard task to accomplish with all those tutor power Life decks have access to. This game will drag on for a very long time, unless either player concedes. You’re not going to concede by any means. If he is willing to give up a game, that’s 1-0 in your favor. I don’t really think the game could reach game 2, but if it does, here are the cards I would board in:

Out: 3 Wall of blossoms, 3 Solemn Simulacrum

In: 2 Persecute, 1 Flametongue Kavu, 1 Engineered Plague, 1 Diabolic Edict, 1 Duress

Reanimator of all variantions

I would give a slight advantage to them, due to lack of multiple Edicts / Terminate in the deck. Again, mulligan hands without discard. Game 2 and 3 are looking good for you, as you bring in more disruption and Negators. This matchup is not something you looking for, but you still have a decent shot of winning. One of the main reasons I run 1 Edict in the sideboard instead of the 2nd Terminate is for versatility and variations. Edicts kill Akroma, and when you run one of each, it’s harder for your opponent to hit with their Therapy. You should keep a Deed or two to blow away those annoying Imps/ Chrome Mox, or Welders or En-kor dudes.

Out: 3 Flametongue Kavu, 2 Pernicious Deed, 3 Solemn Simulacrum , 1 Sakura Tribe Elder

In: 4 Phyrexian Negator, 1 Duress, 1 Coffin Purge, 2 Persecute, 1 Diabolic Edict

Scepter Chant / Psychatog

You love to play against control decks. They can’t kill you fast, they can’t apply pressure to you. They just wait to for you to run out of cards while they still have some counters in hand. However, it’s important to lay a Deed down early to ensure their Scepter doesn’t mess up your long term plan. It’s fine to use your discard early to throw their card drawings away, as you have 4 Witnesses in the deck waiting to reuse them. Don’t wait until they have cast Accumulated Knowledge a couple of times, or cast several Fact or Fictions. It’s too late then. After board, Negator and his good friends called disruption come in. Practice this matchup more because the game gets really, really long and the better player always has an edge for the long term game.

Out: 1 Terminate, 2 Sakura Tribe Elder, 1 Flametongue Kavu , 2Wall of Blossoms , 2 Pernicious Deed , 1 Ravenous Baloth

In: 4 Phyrexian Negator, 2 Persecute, 1 Duress, 2 Artifact Mutation

Mirror Rock

This matchup is really dependant on the opponent’s build. He might be with Red, Blue or just plain Black/Green. Card Advantage is the most crucial element in this matchup. I had once kept a one-land hand, stuck for a couple of turns, yet turned the game in my favor, but that happened about 20 turns later. It’s so hard to gain an edge because both players have access to the practically same cards. Try not to keep multiples of the same cards in hand to avoid being Therapied.

I usually Therapy for Witness or Vampiric Tutor in the mirror, because those cards will stay for some time in the hands of a good player. They will not waste those cards for some irrelevant crap. While they wait, hit them hard with your Therapy. It usually comes down where the player who has the recursion going wins the game. I can’t give a specific guide, as there are many versions of Rock available. Use your Duress early and keep your Therapy slightly later unless you have a Witness in hand and are ready to wreck his entire hand.

Negators and friends are once again welcome to join the feast. I would board out 1 Birds and 1 Elder. I always side out mana producers because you want more threats after board, you don’t want to be threat-light, since both players will be hitting each other with discard and threats. As the game proceeds, you’ll gain an edge with the virtual advantage created within your deck.

Out: 1 Birds of Paradise, 1 Sakura-Tribe Elder, 3 Duress, 1 Cabal Therapy, 1 Wall of Blossoms

In: 4 Phyrexian Negator, 1 Flametongue Kavu, 2 Persecute

The Rock has no exceptions just like any other deck, it has its strength and weakness within it. This version is certainly much stronger in a heavy creature environment, fares well against control, due to the card choices being played, and control decks never like to play against a deck that is tuned to win in the long game, while this version of Rock has a slight disadvantage versus combo decks. You’ll probably notice that Red Rock will often lose its game 1 to slower decks or combo with this build, but at the same time, this version just trashes creature decks.

And one of the best parts of playing Red Rock is, your opponents won’t have any hoser cards against you. Think of it again. Are there any cards that would really harm Red Rock? The answer to this simple question is no. But Red Rock has plenty of good hosers in the sideboard waiting to slaughter its opponent in game 2 and 3. Persecute, Engineered Plague, Artifact Mutation, Coffin Purge, Spike Feeder are all annoying cards to deal with. While your hosers mess with your opponent’s game plan, kill them quickly with Negators.

I strongly recommend this build, since there are a lot more creature decks then combo in the environment (most PTQ decks have adjusted away from Boston, for whatever reason). Though The Rock hasn’t been the top deck in any environment for some time, I do believe it’s the right deck to play now.

If you believe that your local metagame will have lots of combo instead of creatures, replace the Terminate and a Flametongue Kavu with 2 maindeck Persecutes. The reason I run Persecute over Cranial Extraction is mainly because a lot of decks out there are prepared for Extraction now. Even Desire could go off manually without Desire given some time to build their hand! But Persecutes put a stop to all that crap. Hit them once and kill them fast with your soldiers, especially Deranged Hermit.

Until then, have fun casting your Eternal Witness !