Setting the Stage for Standard – The Rock’s Last Hurrah and a Foray into Standard

What is it with good players getting corrupted be the lure of White Weenie in Standard lately? Even the normally reliable Rick Rust gets in on the act today, proposing an aggressive Weenie build that eschews the Jitte. Can this deck possibly be good?

So long, Extended season. I shall miss thee greatly. Never before have I seen such a healthy and balanced format. Let’s rewind to Sunday, 20 March. I had to make one last run for the coveted PT Philadelphia slot.

I played Rebirth (check this link for an update) and Rock (you can find my previous list here) all season. For a few moments, I was tempted to sell out and go with Goblins. Then I debated whether or not to play Psychatog. Fortunately, I wizened up. Why switch? Why suddenly go with a deck I’m unfamiliar with when there’s nothing wrong with the Rock? There’s a reason people affectionately refer to “good old Rock.”

I tried to metagame in response to three trends, 1) The rise of Goblins, 2) Rock and aggro B/G gaining popularity, and 3) An apparent decline in combo (at least in my local metagame). With these trends in mind, here’s what I built for my final PTQ of the season:

Retuning the Rock

9 Forest

4 Treetop Village

6 Swamp

4 Llanowar Wastes

1 Volrath’s Stronghold

4 Sakura-Tribe Elder

4 Wall of Blossoms

3 Eternal Witness

2 Call of the Herd

3 Ravenous Baloth

1 Genesis

4 Cabal Therapy

3 Duress

2 Vampiric Tutor

3 Smother

1 Chainer’s Edict

1 Cranial Extraction

1 Kokusho, the Evening Star

4 Pernicious Deed


4 Engineered Plague

3 Coffin Purge

3 Oxidize

2 Cranial Extraction

1 Duress

1 Smother

1 Tsabo’s Decree

Even now, as I write this article, I’m getting nostalgic. This list looks so good. Dropping the Birds is controversial for sure, and I’ll admit that I didn’t have the courage to do it until Mike Flores condoned a build of Rock sans Birds. It made sense. Despite being a great color-fixer, the Rock has few impressive three-drops to play on turn three. Plus, Birds are easily killed by the omnipresent Mogg Fanatic and Fire / Ice.

Call of the Herd gets the nod over Troll Ascetic because it’s easier to cast they are very good versus Psychatog, Red Deck Wins, and Goblins.

Genesis comes in to fill the role of Recurring Nightmare. Without Birds, it’s harder to feed the Nightmare efficiently, and the beauty of Genesis is that it’s a solid threat all on its lonesome.

Chainer’s Edict grabs the slot formerly occupied by Diabolic Edict because it’s better for the mirror, which is basically neverending.

The sideboard changed very little. I gave up on the lone Naturalize. Oxidize is strictly more efficient and now that the Rogier Maaten Affinity build has been popularized, having a card that can kill Myr Enforcer through Welding Jar is important.

Die Goblins, Die

Then there’s the card that reads: If your opponent is playing Goblins, that opponent sacrifices all his or her creatures and discards his or her hand. Yes, six mana is a lot to pay. But with Wall of Blossoms, Sakura-Tribe Elder, Call of the Herd, Smother, Pernicious Deed, and Ravenous Baloth stalling Goblins until you can tutor up the Decree and cast it is quite possible. One Engineered Plague will not stop Goblins and many Goblin decks are splashing green for countermeasures like Naturalize. When six mana isn’t an issue and one Engineered Plague isn’t enough, the Decree is a tactical nuke against the little green men.

Taking all these changes together, what do you have? It’s supposed to be a build of Rock that is especially great against Goblins, RDW, Psychatog, and Aggro B/G. I wasn’t really targeting RDW, but the changes happened to cause it significant splash damage-a nice bonus. And my plan in the Rock mirror was to overload my opponent with threats and swing use Kokusho to great effect.

The loss of Birds (speed and Cabal Therapy food) does hurt against combo, but this seemed like a fair price to pay in exchange for improving virtually all the other matchups.

Tournament Report

The venue is Rockville Maryland. It’s a 40-minute drive from Arlington, VA, but I can usually make it there in about 30 minutes flat.

Round One

There are about 150 hopefuls at the event. It starts roughly on time, while I’m fast asleep in bed.

Round Two

I’m still not at the tournament, but I’m struggling out of bed, searching for Tylenol and trying to delude myself into believing that I don’t have a hangover. Eventually, I find the bottle, take two (I think it was just two, but my memory is a little fuzzy), and collapse back in bed.

Round Three

By now, I’m waking up for the second time and it’s no longer morning. On the bright side, I’m feeling fine and my splitting headache is gone. Maybe I shouldn’t have gone out last night. So ends the tale of the Rock deck that never really was. Born into this world with the best of intentions it vanished without so much as a whimper. I’m sorry, Rock. You (and my liver) deserved better than that.


Affinity is dead. No, not dead like when Cranial Extraction got printed and was supposed to erase Tooth and Nail. Not dead like when Aether Vial “killed” Psychatog in Extended. Unlike so many other decks that have supposedly died and risen from the ashes, Affinity really is gone for good, at least until next Extended season. The world of Standard is without a doubt a much better place now. Thanks you, Wizards.

I’ve been testing Standard heavily ever since the good news. It feels so good to actually test the format again and be able to try out all sorts of new decks. Suddenly there’s so much space potential and I’m busting with new deck ideas.

So far I have four contenders in the gauntlet. There are bound to be more additions, but I can only handle so much testing at once.

White Weenie

18 Plains

1 Eiganjo Castle

4 Aether Vial

4 Bonesplitter

4 Lantern Kami

4 Suntail Hawk

4 Tundra Wolves

4 Savannah Lions

2 Isamaru, Hound of Konda

4 Leonin Skyhunter

4 Leonin Shikari

3 Samurai of the Pale Curtain

4 Glorious Anthem


4 Auriok Champion

4 Terashi’s Grasp

4 Umezawa’s Jitte

3 Second Sunrise

Magic players can be divided into two groups: those who like WW and those who don’t. I’m a member of the latter. Then why the hell am I testing it? The deck plays six Jackal Pups and an artifact that lets you dodge counter magic while putting creatures into play for free. Now that Affinity is gone, there must be some aggressive deck that will set the standard for beatdown and this seems like one of the major contenders.

Mark Young (or rather some local kid at Dreamwizards) gets credit for the Tundra Wolves technology. (For reference, Mark recently wrote about White Weenie and you can find his more controlling build here). Mark liked the synergy the Wolves have with Umezawa’s Jitte and that certainly does make them sexy, but I like the Wolves even more for the less fancy things they do. Hold on a moment. Pause. I can’t go further without mentioning James.

Somebody Order a Pizza?

James is a close friend of mine who used to play Magic. He loves (note the present tense) the Wolves, and they were the centerpiece of a W/G beatdown deck he played back the Mercadian Masques/Invasion days. Those little Wolves got pretty impressive when they donned an Armadillo Cloak, and they also enjoyed Waxing (as in Wax/Wane) unsuspecting blockers. Anyway, James eventually quit Magic and gave me all his cards. What a guy. Thus, I acquired his black border Wolves. They’re still as sexy as ever and James will be happy to hear that the Wolves are still devouring opponents.

There are quite a few bothersome one-toughness creatures running around, and the Wolves are always ravenous. I’m serious. They are the hungriest one-drop ever printed. Check out the artwork if you don’t believe me. Quinton Hoover did the artwork too! Darn it, I should have gotten them signed when I was at U.S. Nationals last year. Sorry, James.

You knew I’d get to the strategic part eventually, right? Well, the Wolves are great in the mirror and some of their favorite snacks include Sakura-Tribe Elder, Eternal Witness, Slith Firewalker, Hearth Kami, and Akki Raider.

Yeah, I’m writing a lot about this dumb deck. Don’t mistake my diffuse antics, though. This is a miniature tribute to the Wolves, not White Weenie.

Numerous people have been writing about White Weenie lately and my build differs quite a bit from what I’ve seen on the Internet. Originally, I was obsessed with getting Hokori, Dust Drinker into the maindeck. It looked like the perfect solution against control decks and Tooth and Nail. It might even be enough to tie up Vedalken Shackles so that the good guys can finish off the evil Blue mage.

It didn’t work out. Hokori’s mana cost and legendary status were too burdensome. To be effective, the Dust Drinker had to come out early and that meant ramping up to four mana consistently. White Weenie doesn’t like to make four land drops in a row. Even if you play 23 lands, which is a lot for the deck, you often miss that fourth land drop. Even when the Winter Orb-on-a-stick did hit the board, my hand often cluttered with additional copies, which translated into a decline in offensive momentum, which allowed my opponent to deal with Hokori.

Without Hokori, your only hope against Vedalken Shackles, Arc-Slogger, and Platinum Angel is to race your opponent at ludicrous speed (if you don’t get the reference, stop reading and go rent this Mel Brooks film). [We’ve gone plaid! – Knut, a huge fan] I don’t think that White Weenie has the time or mana to invest in Steelshaper’s Gift, Umezawa’s Jitte, or Sword of Fire and Ice. You’ve got to spend your first three turns loading the board up with creatures. And after that you want to pour on more damage with Glorious Anthem or Bonesplitter.

White Weenie is an all-in, all the time deck and you shouldn’t mess around trying to control the board or gain card advantage. You’ve got all those Jackal Pups; turn them sideways!

Right now, the Jitte is all the rage and there’s no doubt that it’s really powerful. My original build had Chrome Mox, Jitte, Auriok Champion, and Raise the Alarm. Gradually, I discovered that none of these cards were doing enough. Sometimes they were excellent, but at least as often they were just bad. The biggest reason to play White Weenie is its consistency, or redundancy. Those four spells were not living up to that reputation.

The Mox may give you a mana boost, but it comes at the cost of a threat in hand. One of White Weenie’s strengths is that it is so threat dense. Even if your opponent plays several removal spells or even a board sweeper, the white dorks just keep streaming out of the castle gates. It’s hard to properly explain this issue, but time and again against Mono Blue Control the Mox proved too Blue-mage friendly. Each Mox meant one fewer threat that had to be countered, bounced, or stolen.

The Jitte is an incredible weapon. Any permanent that allows you to convert one resource (creatures) into another (removal, life, and pumping) tends to be very good, and I’m sure that the Jitte is essential for the mirror match. That doesn’t change the fact that the Jitte costs four mana. Then you swing with a Jitte-wielding creature and (unless the Wolves are using the Jitte) you don’t get to actually deal more damage to your opponent (through removing blockers or pumping the Jitted attacker) until the following turn. Four mana and a one-turn delay. That’s terrible when you need to win before your opponent’s anti-White Weenie bomb is online.

An axe to the head is beautifully blunt. For two mana, Bonesplitter goes online and deals an extra two damage right away. Best of all, with the inclusion of Leonin Shikari, Bonesplitter is usually in the hands of an unblocked creature.

Next up on the chopping block is Auriok Champion. Two mana for a 1/1? Houston, we have a problem. Yes, she’s great against Red decks and in the mirror, but any time you want to turn your men sideways and win with a blitzkrieg she’s bad. That said, she does earn a place in the sideboard, because she loves using Bonesplitter to crack the skulls of red mages.

Finally, we have Raise the Alarm. I can understand why it looks good. Being able to ambush attacks without Aether Vial is nice. It’s also a solid play during the control mage’s end step. Plus, there’s the obvious synergy with Glorious Anthem. If you have Auriok Champion in play, Raise the Alarm nets you an extra point of life. Whoopee!

Do you have any idea how annoying it is when your Aether Vial has two counters on it and you have a fist full of Raise the Alarms? With Raise the Alarm, putting that second counter on Aether Vial was sometimes risky! What if I draw Raise the Alarm with my mana-tight hand that’s filled with one-drops? Another problem is that this spell has a nasty little drawback in small print, which reads: “Any player may play Echoing Truth to counter Raise the Alarm.” Finally, and I’ll admit that this one is a little situational. Raise the Alarm plus one Glorious Anthem still leaves you open to get wrecked by Pyroclasm. Samurai of the Pale Curtain, on the other hand, gets singed badly but managed to survive.

The sideboard changes on a daily basis. The only card I’m certain about in the sideboard is Terashi’s Grasp. It’s crucial in the mirror and you need some sort of hope for when Vedalken Shackles resolves.

Auriok Champion is great versus Red decks, Black aggro (if such a thing materializes), and it’s also great in the mirror, making it tough for your opponent to race you. Other options include Sword of Fire and Ice and Test of Faith. The Sword seems a little too expensive, and Mark makes a cogent argument for Test of Faith.

Second Sunrise is passive and it costs three mana. In other words, I don’t like it very much at all. Nevertheless, it is one hell of a response to some of the most troublesome mass-removal, like Pyroclasm, Wrath of God, and Hideous Laughter. Should those spells prove troublesome enough, this spell will retain its sideboard slots.

I’m not sure what to do with the final four slots. It’s hard to imagine winning a mirror match where your opponent has Jittes and you don’t, and the Jitte is nice, in general, against opposing aggro strategies.

What happened?

I was supposed to talk a little bit about several of the other contenders for the new (i.e. fixed) Standard metagame, but I guess I got a little carried away, and all this talk about dorky White creatures has sapped my strength.

What? Say again? Carried away on White Weenie? What’s gotten into me? In my defense I can only say two things: I am a very open-minded person, and I enjoy a challenge.

Take it easy,


rick at rickrust dot com