Rock Roc

The results of the initial weekend of Khans Standard presented a wide open metagame. Sure, green decks were all over the place, but there was a great deal of variation in the green lists. Monogreen, RG Monsters, Constellation and various wedges were all present. The rise of Jeskai Burn presented another notable deck and the low curve aggro decks were not to be forgotten. On top of all that, there were the Ascendancy combo decks that had to be considered as well.

In such an environment, I looked back to the old staples of [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card]. They’re powerful and flexible, which was exactly what I was looking for. However, I wasn’t having much luck getting them to work in the shells I was trying. The wedges didn’t really take advantage of them that well because of their other options and awkward mana. Monoblack aggro was just too underpowered, and the enablers weren’t there for Gray Merchant to push devotion. I was ready to just shelve the search for the [card]Thoughtseize[/card] deck until I came across this little number from Brad Nelson.

[deck title=BW Midrange – Brad Nelson]
[Lands]
4 Temple of Silence
4 Caves of Koilos
2 Scoured Barrens
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
9 Swamp
6 Plains
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
3 Wingmate Roc
2 High Sentinels of Arashin
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
4 Hero’s Downfall
3 Bile Blight
3 Sign in Blood
2 Devouring Light
1 Read the Bones
1 Banishing Light
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
[/Other Spells]
[/deck]

The deck had some flaws, but it was very promising. It had great mana, powerful spells and a reasonable game plan against everything in the format. I wasn’t totally sold on the Rams, but they had some utility and it seemed worth trying. Of course, you may know that Brad himself ditched the deck in favor of Sultai Delve for the SCG Open, and I can’t blame him. This version suffered a bit from durdling in the early turns, being unable to follow up a turn 1 [card]Thoughtseize[/card] with anything relevant. If you’re going to do that, why not just play one of the wedges and get some extra power from [card]Butcher of the Horde[/card], [card]Siege Rhino[/card] or Sidisi? However, the SCG Open also revealed the hidden piece, sitting in the Jeskai decks.

[card]Seeker of the Way[/card] is what the deck was missing. It provides a surprising amount of pressure when backed by [card]Thoughtseize[/card] and Downfall, and makes [card]Read the Bones[/card] an incredible turn 3 play even against aggressive decks where your life total matters. I slotted in 4 immediately and got to work. Here is the result.

[deck title=Rock Roc – Robert Moore]
[Lands]
4 Temple of Silence
4 Scoured Barrens
4 Caves of Koilos
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
6 Plains
6 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Seeker of the Way
4 Nyx-Fleece Ram
3 Brimaz, King of Oreskos
3 Wingmate Roc
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
4 Thoughtseize
4 Read the Bones
4 Hero’s Downfall
2 Utter End
2 Bile Blight
2 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
2 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
1 Liliana Vess
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
4 Drown in Sorrow
2 End Hostilities
2 Despise
2 Last Breath
1 Bile Blight
1 Elspeth, Sun’s Champion
1 Erase
1 Revoke Existence
1 Empty the Pits
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

THIS is the deck I was looking for. Yes, it is basically a Rock deck. You have the classic weakness of hoping to draw the right mix of spells and creatures and leaning on powerful mid-late game cards. But you also have some excellent options in the early game and [card]Read the Bones[/card] is the best draw spell for finding the exact card you need (with the possible exception of [card]Dig Through Time[/card]). There’s also a surprising amount of synergy lurking in the deck, beyond the obvious Ram + Roc. I’m playing the full 8 tap lands to enable both Brimaz and [card]Bile Blight[/card], and the mana is generally very good. It’s possible a 26th land is right though. I’ll provide some quick explanations on card choices.

[card]Nyx-Fleece Ram[/card]
4 maindeck Rams is likely to elicit some raised eyebrows, but they are reasonable against a large slice of the meta and excellent against some. They provide you with an attacker that will rarely die to trigger raid. It also buys you time and life to offset your [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s and [card]Read the Bones[/card]. When good, they’re even better in multiples. I’ve had a couple Jeskai players concede very early after multiple Rams by turn 4. Opponents will often be forced to remove them just out of fear of [card]Wingmate Roc[/card]. It also happens to match up very nicely against [card]Siege Rhino[/card]. It is often boarded out, but not as frequently as you might think.

[card]Seeker of the Way[/card]
The card that made this deck turn the corner. A turn 2 Seeker, if unanswered, will usually provide about a 12 point life swing. [card]Read the Bones[/card] goes from being the worst turn 3 play against aggro to a pretty solid one. It even lives through [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] thanks to the prowess trigger.

[card]Utter End[/card]
This is just [card]Hero’s Downfall[/card] 5-6. Again, the name of the game is flexibility. I like this over [card]Banishing Light[/card] because of its instant speed and the ability to take out opposing [card]Banishing Light[/card]s. The 3 slot in this deck is also a little clogged while we are light on 4s, so the higher casting cost is not as much of a concern.

[card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card]
Sorin was underrated initially, then vastly overrated. He’s a fine Vampire to have on your side, but I think 3 would be excessive. He threatens a fast ultimate, and if this happens it is nearly impossible for most decks in the format to win if you are doing anything else of consequence. You will often stabilize against aggro decks at a low life total, hoping not to get burned out. The life swing after his +1 with Brimaz or Elspeth puts the game away. Elspeth + Sorin also ends the game very quickly against decks where your creatures are unlikely to survive.

[card]Wingmate Roc[/card]
I’m not quite as high on the Roc as I was initially, but Broodmate Birdo is still the best possible top end in conjunction with Elspeth. You can enable raid pretty reliably, and once he comes down you are never losing a race thanks to the attack trigger. The ability to live through Elspeth’s -3 is also great, turning her into a [card]Plague Wind[/card] in certain matchups like Monsters or Monogreen Devotion where you might get overpowered otherwise.

Your opening hand will dictate the role you take in each matchup, so it’s important to be flexible. You might be presenting early pressure with [card]Thoughtseize[/card] + Seeker or Brimaz. You might be killing everything and hiding behind Rams until Elspeth shows up. You might be ignoring their guys and creating huge life swings with Seeker, Sorin and Roc. The beauty of the deck is that the flexibility of your spells lets you take whatever role you need to take, whether you’re getting aggressive, outracing or playing control.

The sideboard is continually in flux right now, but every card in it has been useful. Note that my list is geared towards the MODO meta, where Rabble Red is probably the most common deck. 4 [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] makes a full match against Rabble Eed or Black Aggro very easy. [card]Erase[/card] and [card]Revoke Existence[/card] can be fine just as “Exile target Courser”, but they are also excellent against the Ensoul Aggro deck and Ascendancy Combo. [card]Despise[/card] serves as [card]Thoughtseize[/card] 5-6 against green decks. [card]End Hostilities[/card] is the card I’m least sold on and the most likely to be cut. It doesn’t play well with your guys like [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] and Elspeth do, but there are some draws from Monogreen that you just can’t beat without the card and it does serve as a way to pull your nuts out of the fire when everything goes wrong.

I’m excited about Roc Rock in a way that I haven’t been in a long time in Standard. Given the number of pros I’ve beaten online this week (and a handful of mirror matches), I fully expect some version of this deck to show up in Hawaii this weekend. It fills the void left by the departure of Monoblack Devotion quite nicely, and while [card]Seeker of the Way[/card] is no Pack Rat, he’s no slouch either. I highly recommend trying it out, and I will be happy to answer any questions in the comments. Good luck and happy hunting!