The first deck brew I ever had published on this website came almost nine months ago, with me writing a love letter to one of my favorite cards, Casualties of War which I was attempting to play fairly in a GB Rock deck.
Back then, the deck had a 30-24 record on the Arena ladder, but in those nine months, a lot has changed. We’ve seen three standard set releases, as well as another Explorer Anthology, and with those releases, the meta has shifted and the decks that were already good got new tools, and new decks now also exist.
One thing I did not mention in that first brew is that there wasn’t any real incentive to play GB over the much more popular RB, which has Bloodtithe Harvester, Bonecrusher Giant and Fable of the Mirror Breaker, or even WB, which now uses Wedding Announcement and The Wandering Emperor. And for those couple set releases of Dominaria United and Brothers War, the main support still funneled into the color black specifically, thanks to the now multi-format all star Sheoldred the Apocalypse, the former all-star turned roleplayer Liliana of the Veil, and Go for the Throat, which in my eyes serves as the best Doom Bladevariant we have in Pioneer.
But the incentive to play GB specifically still wasn’t really there, or at least it wasn’t until the release of Phyrexia: All Will Be One, when Glissa Sunslayer was printed. And with a card deemed to be a three mana do nothing on release, the incentive to play GB was finally present.
I want to briefly mention the results first. Of games I tracked, both manually and on Untapped, I was 12-9 with GB Rock. However, right as the January season on Magic Arena was ending, I used GB Rock to swiftly climb from the very bottom of Platinum all the way to Diamond in one night playing on an iPad, and while I don’t have the exact numbers, at the bare minimum it’s another 12 wins, and while I didn’t lose many matches during that stretch, I did drop a few. I don’t want to randomly guess my win total but the record I have with the deck is much better than the 12-9 I have recorded. And for full disclosure, the reason I did not track my games played on the ipad during that stretch is because I didn’t anticipate actually doing well. Oops. At any rate, here is the final list I used while playing this deck.
I started to get a little experimental toward the end, and I’ll go into other card choices later, but Glissa is really the star of the show here. I can’t really express that enough that the evaluation of believing she is a straight up do-nothing is wrong. It’s not Sheoldred level of wrong, which is something I was guilty of at the time, but it’s wrong nonetheless. I’m going to address a few of the common complaints I have heard about Glissa.
- She doesn’t have an ETB
No, she doesn’t, that’s right. But Sheoldred did teach us a lesson that a higher cost creature doesn’t have to have an ETB, as long as the wait is worth it. And for Glissa, it is.
- She doesn’t have an ETB and she has no protection
This is the criticism that’s much easier to dissuade. She does have protection, and that protection comes in the form of the ever deadly combination of First Strike and Deathtouch, which efficiently stonewalls any profitable attack that could come from your opponent on the next turn. She’s a brick wall. There was one match where I played her against Mono White on turn three and the game just ended. I recognize it would have been different had they drawn Brutal Catharor Ossification, but they didn’t, and they lost. And for what it’s worth, a three mana 3/3 isn’t actually the easiest thing to kill in Explorer, as revolting Fatal Push can sometimes be challenging, while she also does not die to Stomp. She’s still a prime Doom Bladeor Leyline Binding Target, but she’s not the easiest thing in the world to kill. Combine that with the forcefield she puts around attacking into her, and it’s not fair to say she has no protection. It’s just a more subtle form of protection.
- Her abilities aren’t impactful enough
This is something I’ve seen about her and considering the fail case is “draw a card,” I don’t really get it. When you’re playing a midrange deck, that alone is impactful. Removing three counters can simulate a Questing Beast effect as well, as you can attack the player while removing three loyalty counters from a Planeswalker, and destroying an enchantment in an age of Fires of Invention decks is incredibly impactful, all while she basically reads as an unblockable creature, unless your opponent wants to consistently chump block, which is fine too.
At the end of the day, Glissa is a must answer threat, and while she does get answered a lot, she is not the only threat the deck has. Considering Sheoldred is right after Glissa on the curve, oftentimes a removal spell will be used on Glissa, which allows Sheoldred to come down and have a similar impact on the game as a card that absolutely must be answered. The two cards open up space for each other to survive, meaning Glissa almost makes Sheoldred more valuable, and vice versa.
As for the rest of the list, I’m sure many of you will have also noticed that I still have not cut Casualties of War If you expected me to do that, I will point you back to the first piece I did on GB Rock last June. It’s just not going to happen. Several people have insisted that Invoke Despair is a better version of Casualties of War and while it may seem true, it is not strictly true.
While playing this deck, Casualties got me out of a couple situations that Invoke Despair would not have, including a full 5-for-1 against Mono Green that included hitting a Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. If the card was Invoke Despair instead, I’d have lost easily, but Casualties brought me from death’s door to winning the match. It also rot in my hand many times and I still lost several games where I cast it. I’m not sitting here and saying it’s good, because it isn’t, and anyone looking to play this deck should almost certainly not play Casualties. But I’m not here to heed my own advice, so in the deck it stays.
I’m sure the other thing that looks weird here is Misery’s Shadow not being in the list. I tried them in an earlier iteration and I truly believe it to be incredibly underwhelming. It sucks to play it on two, and it’s pretty low impact after that. I had some good games with it, but I want my cards in this list to be as impactful as possible (outside of Casualties), and that one wasn’t. Tenacious Underdog on the other hand has been excellent. It’s an easy creature to block with if you have to play defense, and it’s a wildly strong recursive threat in grindy matchups. I can’t imagine playing any Bx Midrange deck without it to be honest. It’s been that good for me.
Armored Scrapgorgeralso looks weird, but with how insistent I am on playing a six drop sorcery, I wanted a little acceleration. I’ve had a weird relationship with this card. It’s a terrible top deck, like any mana dork is, but early on, it’s pretty cool. The consistent graveyard hate is neat and you are able to attack with it after a few turns. It’s a card that’s worth a little more experimentation.
I feel like the rest of the main deck is pretty stock for what you see from GB Midrange. You of course start with four Thoughtseize and four Fatal Push, Graveyard Trespasser is still here, Liliana of the Veil is here to help in the control matchups, and while the one of Sorin might look like a relic of the past, it’s been a very valuable piece in this list. Reckoner Bankbuster is also a must play card, which is right out of the current Rakdos playbook.
The sideboard plan here should likely be pretty simple.
Duress comes in for the control matchups and the discount Creativity decks that are running around on the Explorer ladder.
Back to Naturewas put in after I lost to Enigmatic a few times in a shorter time frame, and after I put it in the sideboard, I haven’t seen the deck again, so needless to say, it’s doing its job.
Noxious Grasps are for UW Control, Mono W Humans, Mono G, GW Angels, and a few other niche things. I’ve always liked Noxious Grasp and it fills its role well.
Weathered Runestone has turned into my favorite sideboard card in this format, as it hoses a number of things from Collected Company to Greasefang to Storm the Festival to Enigmatic Incarnation and several other things. While it does stop Transmogrify from functioning, it does NOT stop Indomitable Creativity, so be cognizant of that.
Tear Asunder is just an awesome card. It provides a lot of flexibility for a pretty minimal cost and it could itself be in the main deck. While it isn’t necessarily an incentive to play GB, it is a very valuable tool, similar to Vanishing Versein BW.
I despise sacrifice decks, so Culling Ritual will never leave my sideboard. It’s also very good against Mono White, Mono Red, and Spirits if it actually gets to resolve. There was one game where I played it against Humans on turn four, killing four of their creatures and allowing me to play Sheoldred all in the same turn. That was pretty fun.
I think this deck needs a sweeper and I think Extinction Event is the most intriguing one. There are times where it’s close to a Plague Wind. Event is mainly used against Mono Green but has other uses as well, similarly against Humans, Angels, or any other high creature deck.
Kalitas is still a useful card but I’m more willing to admit that this is a relic of the past. He still plays his role and does his thing well, and he might still be worth the slot, but of all the cards in the sideboard, he’s the one I’m least sold on.
Boat and Thrun are just fun cards to play, and they’re both good at what they do. Thrun is just really hard to kill, impossible even outside of sweepers and edicts, and Boat just ensures a victory against any low to the ground creature deck. I refer to the, but especially Thrun, as my emotional support five drops. You need your emotional support five drops.
I think a good chunk of this list could be considered stock. GB Rock is showing up sporadically in Pioneer right now even, thanks to Glissa, and there are a couple different iterations, with one featuring a lot of Llanowar Elves and one featuring none. One card you could play is Esika’s Chariot, which is high on raw power level but is a card I believe to be underwhelming enough that it may not be worth including, though it will never be a bad option.
Thanks to Shadows Over Innistrad Remastered, a new variant might make its way to the Explorer ladder, in the form of GB Delirium, which utilizes Traverse the Ulvenwalde and a one-of tool box style deck. This hasn’t shown up in Pioneer in ages, and is generally just not the best thing this deck can do, but it’s a fun option to try at least.
As for other cards coming in SIR, Liliana the Last Hope, Grim Flayer, and Collective Brutality make their way to Arena, and while both of these cards are pretty severely outdated, Rock players are nothing if not loyal, so you could see either of these show up in some people’s lists.
I’m going to pretty much give the same conclusion I gave nine months ago. GB Rock is pretty awesome. If you like a fun, fair midrange deck, then I recommend trying it out. One difference from last time to this time is that I don’t think being too fair necessarily has to be a problem if you have a plan. Rakdos has survived this long being a very fair deck and I think G gives you better tools to fight through a lot of the unfair stuff than R does. It’s worth noting that in my limited experience as well, this deck has a very favorable matchup against Rakdos, largely in part thanks to Glissa I believe.
As we get closer and closer to March of the Machine, which is expected to bring changes to the game as we know it, an old reliable pet deck might just be the thing to cope with the wave of change.