The “Rock” is a B/G midrange deck that relies on a triumvirate of ramp, disruption, and 4cc-5cc bombs. The first incarnation of this deck emerged with Urza’s block, where it was built around the synergy of two cards: “The Rock” (Phyrexian Plaguelord) and “His Minions” (Deranged Hermit and Co). These two cards were ramped into play and wiped out the board under a hail of -1/-1 tokens. However, what is more important for cube drafting is noticing how this deck prototyped a balance of ramp, discard, mid-range fatties, tutoring, and reanimate spells to create a hearty mid-range deck.
The next notable version of this deck appeared in another fantastic block: Apocalypse. Here, the deck replaced Dwayne Johnson with Spiritmonger and Pernicious Deed. This incarnation of “The Rock” continued the effort to balance the creature power and ramp of green with the disruption and search of black along with the access to powerful golgari spells.
Perhaps the most impactful version of this deck within recent memory was at the 2008 Pro Tour Hollywood, where Charles Gindy piloted a Time Spiral-Lorwyn block version of “The Rock” to victory. Lacking the tutors of past deck lists, Gindy maximized the value of his ramp and created consistency through repeatable effects, modal spells, the newly minted Planeswalkers, man-lands, and aggressive 2 drops like Tarmogoyf.
Looking back on the history of this deck, there is a lot of potential to draft a very strong 40 card pile in the cube. The majority of cubes have access to a lot cards that have made “Rock” so successful throughout magic’s history. When the colours are open this deck is usually easy to draft, runs smoothly against the field if drafted smartly, and is highly rewarding to play.
As mentioned above, “The Rock’s” core strategy is to ramp out powerful green creatures while using black to disrupt the opponent. In addition to this, “Rock” decks often incorporate some reanimation to reuse powerful threats and also use 2 or 3cc creatures that help defend in aggro match-ups or apply pressure against control.
In magical Christmas land the ideal line of play is playing a bird or elf into another ramp spell on turn two combined with disruption (ie. Sakura Tribe Elder and a Thoughtseize), and finishing off with a four or five drop on turn three. The deck maintains control of the game with discard, removal, and grinds out value with cards that interact with the graveyard or planewalkers that are often easy to defend with your green fatties.
Keep in mind, however, that this is not a combo rec-sur deck. Your goal with this deck is not to fish out huge bombs for reanimation, but rather to use reanimation or other graveyard manipulating cards to reuse your 4-6cc creatures. Meanwhile, combo style rec-sur builds often require a more controlling build to be successful (Grixis Reanimator, for example). Nonetheless, cards like Survival and Recurring Nightmare are still very useful in this deck for searching up and reusing your midgame bombs and 187 creatures.
- Mid-Ranged Bombs (4-6cc): Green and Black offer up fantastic options for closing out the game when playing a mid-ranged deck. Cards like Thragtusk, Ob Nixilis, Kalonian Hydra, Tombstalker, and even Genesis fit the bill. Primevil Titan is also quite solid in this deck (you will want manlands, Volrath’s Stronghold, Strip variants, and could be packing a Profane Command).
- Mana Ramp: What green does best. We need enough birds, elves, and druids to make this deck work consistently. Prioritize 1 drops, but also scoop up some of the higher costed mana generating spells.
- Black Disruption: Thoughtseize, hymn, hypnotic spectre, and friends will cause headaches for opponents, especially those slinging control. These spells will help keep your 4-6 drops alive and well.
- Removal: You can draft removal spells, but your deck will be better served with 187 creatures like Skinrender and Shriekmaw.
- Graveyard Manipulation: If we investigate “Rock” decks of the past, they invested 3-4 slots for these cards. This was in the form of recurring nightmare, Genesis, single use reanimate spells, and Eternal Witness.
- Tutoring: With access to both Green (creature tutors) and black (general tutors) there are a lot of options for our “Rock” deck. Survival tops the list, but we can easily pick up a few other tutors like Green Sun’s Zenith to capitalize on the amount of mana acceleration our deck packs.
- 2-3cc creatures: 2cc creatures similar to tarmogoyf facilitate powerful second turns when you have a mana dork in play. This allows you the option to summon your 2 drop and another mana dork or discard spell. (another “fun” option is the hymm + mana dork/discard second turn… ugh!). 3cc creatures are also fine and can crush aggro matchups when played on turn 2.
- Lands: Our spells will often be intensely coloured, so we need to make sure that we draft the Golgari duals and other fixing aggressively. In addition to this, our deck is thirsty for manlands to help finish out games, and we can always use a Volrath’s Stronghold.
- With white splash we can decide to augment the deck with either a sprinkling of removal, or go all in and create a “Junk” deck. Junk decks are goodstuff.decs that operate on the same principles as “The Rock”, but they often trade ramp cards for more aggressive curves (I will dedicate a whole entry to Junk at a later time).
- Red splash is often done for access to additional removal or even an Imperial Recruiter if we pick up a Kalonian Hydra. Another great add is Thundermaw Hellkite, which can quickly close out games. (Jund also requires its own complete entry)
- Blue can be a very strong addition to this deck with just a light splash. For example, cards like Edric get extra value out of our mana dorks. I usually add blue if I get access to amazing cards like Time Walk or Gifts Ungiven.
From the outset it is very, very, VERY tempting to draft a rec-sur deck that packs all the highest costed fatties and ways to dump them in the yard. Especially if you have access to Survival of the fittest early on. Perhaps the hardest drafting decision you will make is whether or not to go big and play a more controlling deck, or play this mid-ranged build. This decision will often be made, in part, for you depending on what strategies are being cut off at the table. The advantage of playing “The Rock” is that you dedicate less slots to rec-sur combo pieces and tend to draw smoother hands (you don’t have to worry about getting fatties into the yard or stuck in your hand, as you can play everything in your deck FAST).
This doesn’t mean we shy away from rec-sur cards, but rather we try to fit them into a more aggressive game plan. To achieve this plan we will need to prioritize creatures that have a high-impact to cc ratio, something that green is pretty good at. Going back to our ideal scenario, we need enough ramp and 4 or 5cc creatures so we can play our threats on turn 3 with some regularity. Then we can use planeswalkers and rec-sur to grind out games and come back from removal to seal up wins through card advantage.
Keeping this in mind, here is a rough idea of what we are prioritizing during a draft:
- 5+ Mana Ramping spells: This deck hungers for ramp.
- 5-8ish 2/3cc creatures. You’re going to have an eclectic mix in this part of your curve. You want creatures to apply pressure like Goyf, Troll, or Ooze, but Eternal Witness, Elder, and Sex Monkeys are all great inclusions.
- 4+ mid-range creatures/planeswalkers: Fill up on 4-6cc creatures that can close out games. Planeswalkers are fantastic finishers and work very well with Deed. Prioritize 4cc spells and be mindful of your curve so you can play threats on turn three.
- 3+ Removal Spells: These can be in the form of Golgari’s excellent suite of deed like effects, or with black spells, or with 187 creatures like Shriekmaw. Profane Command always feels amazing.
- 2+ Disruption Cards: You would want more, but in a typical draft you will likely only see 2 or so cards that attack hands. Hypnotic Spectre will work if you have enough duals/dorks that produce black.
- 2+ Reanimator/Grave yard Spells: As spells or in the form of creatures.
- 1+ Tutors, especially survival of the fittest.
- Lands: Pick em up as you see em.
Channeling Dwayne Johnson:
“But”, you say, “I want to play something a bit more spicy?” Well, what if I told you you could. You could play something very spicy, in fact, so spicy it was Dwayne Johnson levels of spicy?
That deck at the top of the page, the one from Urza’s, we can rebuild it, make it stronger, better, faster. All we need are cards to take on the mantle of the Plague Lord and assemble the minions. Enter Liliana, Braids, Smokestack, Tangle Wire, Plow Under, and friends. Essentially, we can tune the mid-range “Rock” discussed above into a mid-range “pox” (with no actual poxes) build that overruns opponents with minions (token generators) and global sacrifice/mana base hate. Combined with ramp, this can be a deliciously devious deck to play, but very hard to draft. I will often draft the standard “Rock” outlined above, and try and pick up these extra pieces if they come late.
This deck is pretty resilient if you can get enough of the pieces. However, nothing hurts your game plan like a burn spell on your mana dorks – especially when that burn is coming from a control deck. The deck has the tools to mess with control, stomp on aggro, and compete with other mid-range decks. This deck is packed with answers, disruption, and great creatures for any matchup. You are playing a deck called “The Rock” after all, and it sure is steady against the field. Just be ready to grind out a lot of value.
The articles on this blog aim to discuss cube archetypes in a fairly narrow scope. What defines ‘The Rock” for me is how it has been constructed across magic’s history. For this article I relied on Apoc and Lorwyn formats to see how the deck should be designed (formats that I played in with “The Rock”). Keeping this in mind, “The Rock” is a focused deck with a tight curve that plays as an aggressive green ramp deck augmented with rec-sur spells, removal, and disruption.
Or you could just go all in on Dwayne Johnson.