The “Rock” and his minions.

Not that kind of minion

Not that kind of minion

Introduction:

Can you smell.... the -1/-1s?

Can you smell…. the -1/-1s?

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.

Grind that value

Grind that value

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.

Deck Strategy:

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.

When single shines the triple sun/What was sundered and undone/Shall be whole, the two made one/By gelfling hand or else by none.

When single shines the triple sun/What was sundered and undone/Shall be whole, the two made one/By gelfling hand or else by none.

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.

Draft Picks:

  • 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.

    Squirrels... Squirrels EVERYWHERE

    Squirrels… Squirrels EVERYWHERE

  • 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.

    Dance magic dance

    Dance magic dance

  • 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.

Splash:

  • White
    • 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:
    • 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:
    • 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.

Draft Strategy:

Wolf hugs?

Wolf hugs?

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.

    Your gonna want to stock up on these.

    Your gonna want to stock up on these.

  • 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?

The second coming of DJ?

The second coming of DJ?

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.

For example:

Dwayne Johnson 2.0

Weaknesses:

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.

Conclusions:

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.

All the way in...

All the way in…

Example Decks:

Rock with white

Rock with Red

Rock with Blue

Rock

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Naya Lightsaber – Lifegain Midrange

The aggro annihilator!

The aggro annihilator!

Introduction

Naya lightsaber has been around since the printing of Wild Nactal, but it took center stage during the 2009 Worlds. There it beat out the all-powerful Jund decks to capture the top spot. A slick combination of powerful 1 drops, burn, Ajani Vengeant, and Baneslayer angel, this is a deck that plays fierce aggro creatures within a mid-range shell. Nevertheless, the majority of critical spells reside in the four mana slot, which results in the deck playing more like a mid-range deck than an aggro build. In the cube, you may find yourself drafting this deck if you opened or obtained a very early Ajani Vengeant, Baneslayer Angel, Thragtusk, or even Wild Nacatl.

"Bwa Ha Ha!"

“Bwa Ha Ha!”

Deck Strategy:

        The goal of this deck is to play the best cards across the three Naya colours, which results in a highly synergistic pile of face-stomping, life-gaining, mid-range craziness. Naya Lightsaber crashes out of the gates with Wild Nacatl caliber one drops and mana dorks, follows that up with powerful three drops, four drops, and seals the deal with life-gaining five drops. While throwing down all this creature power, the deck runs a suite of burn and removal, along with a few planeswalkers such as Ajani Veng ant and Elspeth 1.0.

        This deck beats up on aggro quite well, and takes apart any deck that cannot compete with its combination of efficient beats, lifegain, and removal. For control matchups, this deck will want to mulligan for 1 drops, shifting its role to that of an aggro deck that rides on the coat-tails of Nactl and friends. Against other mid-range decks, this deck packs a wallop of potent mid-game creatures, and can grind out matches with its removal and lifegain.

Key Picks:

  • Wild Nacatl + Friends (One drops) – These will put you into this deck, and justify the colour combination (Kird Ape, Loam Lion, Figure of Destiny, Savannah Lions).

    Ice cold mana fixing

    Ice cold mana fixing

  • Dual Lands – Three colour decks require a prioritization on mana. City of Brass will do some serious work in this deck.

  • Guild Spells – These may wheel, but it is often a safe bet to draft the highly sought over cards such as Ajani Vengeant or Bloodbraid Elf right away. These cards make or break your deck.

  • Burn – A suite of burn spells to clear the way. Starting with Lightning helix, and moving onto bolts and dividable burn spells.

  • Spot Removal – Because this deck will go into the later stages of the game, swords and path to exile will help against larger creatures.

  • Mana dorks – Hierarch and Birds are the best, but the others will help you cast the various naya spells.

    Well... no duh

    Well… no duh

  • Two Drops – Try to get stoneforge mystic, pridemage, and tarmogoyf. Otherwise focus on three and four drops, using mana dorks to ramp up.

  • Three and Four Drops – Just grab aggressive creatures that are easy to cast in terms of colour. Ranger of Eos and FTK, for example, are very, very strong in this deck.

  • Baneslayer/Exalted Angel, Thragtusk and other five drops – After you pick up a few three and four drops, make sure to grab these angels or other flyers to top the curve off and finish the game. Lifelink is especially important for this deck, so try to get the angels/thragtusk.

  • Equipment – Equipment can be quite strong in any creature based deck, but this deck really wants Batterskull!

Draft Strategy:

Grom! Grom! Grom!

Grom! Grom! Grom!

Drafting a three colour mid-range deck requires a focus on spell curve and maintaining the proportions of casting costs of your creatures. This starts with drafting 4-5 one drops that are similar to Wild Nacatl in power and function. Next, make sure to pick up a few mana dorks, especially Noble Hierarch, so that you can reliably play your higher cc spells. While this deck does not revolve around two drops, do not pass up very strong cards like Tarmogoyf or Stoneforge Mystic. Curve up into the 3cc slot with around 2-3 creatures such as Kitchen Finks, Troll Ascetic, or Mirran Crusader. Next, grab 2-3 more for the 4cc slot, especially Bloodbraid Elf, Ranger of Eos, FTK, and Exalted Angel (yes, she is a four drop). Finish this off with 2-3 5cc creatures, focusing on those that have lifegain – like Baneslayer Angel, Thragtusk, and Batterskull.

Meow?

Meow?

With a well rounded creature curve in place, you can also focus on drafting key removal spells. Try to pick up three burn spells and three spot-removal spells. In addition, grab 2-3 planeswalkers, especially Ajani Vengeant. He is a critical part of this deck, and does everything you could want. Meanwhile, also continue to grab dual lands, and also pick up a Slayer’s Stronghold if it tables.

This build can also be adjusted into a more aggro shell if you are not seeing any finishers, with your curve ending at three or four instead of five and including more one and two drops. This style of deck is often referred to as Zoo. It plays a huge amount of 2/x’s and burn spells to quickly dispatch opponents. However, in an aggro shell their is more impetuous to draft lands so you can play your cards right away and maintain pressure. Either way, Naya is an excellent deck to craft.

In summation, your goal is to build a deck that focuses on lifegain, strong beaters, Naya synergy, planeswalker support, and an excellent removal package. Make sure to draft the lands you need, and try not to make your curve too top heavy.

Weaknesses:

The main weakness for this deck and a lot of other midrange decks is control decks that go bigger. Try to use your removal well, and pick up some land destruction for the sideboard to bring in against control or other late-game decks. Without access to discard, permission can be crippling, so a Thrun may also be a valuable pick up for control matches.

Conclusions:

Naya Lightsaber is a very specific deck to draft, and may not always be the best pick. It’s reliance on lifegain creatures and cards that are highly drafted by other decks make it vulnerable to being ‘hated’ out by accident. Nevertheless, the deck itself is very strong, as the three colours can come together to form a fantastic midrange build that beats up on aggro with ease. With the power and prevalence of level of aggro decks constantly rising in the cube, Naya Lightsaber (a.k.a. KITTIES) might just be a deck you want to draft at your next cube event.

KITTIES!!!!!

KITTIES!!!!!

Sample Deck Lists:

Lots of one drops

One drop screw… but Jitte!

Naya AGGGGRRROOOO