Behind the Tag - Deck Stories Part 1

Nowadays, most new decks have reasonable names like "Izzet Phoenix" or "Golgari Midrange," which more or less describes what the decks do/contain. But what about deck names from days gone by? Where does "the Rock" come from? What does "Death and Taxes" have to do with a white weenie deck? This is a series meant to discuss, briefly, the history behind these names.

When I look at the current meta in Modern and Standard, I see a bunch of different decks with similar names. Most of them are built in the same logical way: You combine the colors / guilds of the deck with the way the deck is played… or with key cards / key abilities and et voila: You have deck names like "Golgari Midrange," "Jeskai Control," or "UB Death Shadow".

Assassin's Trophy Deafening Clarion Death's Shadow

Of course, this is not always the case, some newer decks are named in another way, like KCI, which is an acronym for Krark-Clan Ironworks, the key card of the deck. But some decks, especially in older formats, still cling to the old ways, having names that literally make no sense - Tron? The Rock? Death and Taxes? How about Nic Fit? There are plenty of decks (especially older decks) that have weird names with very interesting backstories.

But before I start, I want to put a little disclaimer here: There are rarely official sources about the origin of deck names, and sometimes, there are multiple stories behind a deck name, which means some might not be true. But they are all interesting, so take them with a grain of salt and enjoy some historically minded entertainment – true or not.

The Rock (and his millions)

Phyrexian Plaguelord Derange Hermit

The Rock is a green and black midrange deck that currently sees play in Modern. The original name of the deck was "The Rock and his millions," a T2 deck in Urza block designed by Sol Malka. The name is a tribute to the wrestler Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson, whose pose looks similar to the artwork of Phyrexian Plaguelord. The win strategy was the Plaguelord (the Rock) combined with Deranged Hermit and his tokens (millions). Since then, the name is synonymous for B/G midrange strategies with variations throughout Extended, Modern, and Legacy. 

The Rock and his millions – Sol Malka

Death and Taxes

Thalia, Guardian of Thraben Rishadan Port

Today, Death and Taxes is a white creature-based midrange / control deck in Legacy that denies the opponents' resources with Wasteland, Rishadan Port, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.

I found two stories about the name "Death and Taxes." The first one deduces the name from small efficient creatures (representing Death) and the abilities on cards in the deck, which "tax" opponents, like Thalia or Wasteland. Even before the printing of Thalia, White Weenie strategies used taxing effects like Wasteland or Port.

Death & Taxes - AvocadoToast, MTGO Legacy Challenge, Nov. 2018

The second story references a quote from Benjamin Franklin: "…in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes." While White Weenie was a popular deck since Alpha… and was never a particularly fun deck to play against, people started to add a third thing to Franklin's list of certainties: "There are only three things certain in life: death, taxes and this one dude that's going to play White Weenie at the tournament."

I personally like the second story, because everyone who has played against the deck understands it and it's… more poetic, much like the man responsible for the original quote.

Stax ($T4KS)

Smokestack Trinisphere

Stax is rarely seen nowadays in Legacy and Vintage. The deck is a "prison" archetype, which locks out the opponent by completely preventing any action through Trinishpere, Chalice of the Void and taxing his resources with cards like Smokestack and Wasteland + Crucible of Worlds.

Stax - Michael Coyle, SCG Legacy Open Washington, Oct. 2017

The common story is that the name "Stax" comes from the card "Smokestack," which is one of the signature cards. This is not completely true. Stax is originally written "$T4KS", also known as "The Four Thousand Dollar Solution," a vintage deck by Scott Lemenager that cost nearly $4.000,00 at the time it was created in 2005.

In addition to the acronym $T4KS, it also stacks its use of Smokestack to lock the opponent out of the game. The deck originally ran eight of the "power nine" pieces and four Mishra's Workshop. When you take a look at todays card prices, the deck is worth over 28.000 €! If you are interested in the complete history of Stax, including the original four thousand dollar solution, I'd recommend this article.

Tin Fins

Griselbrand Tendrils of Agony

As the last deck of part 1, I'd like to present the Legacy graveyard-based combo deck "Tin Fins". Similar to Reanimator, the deck reanimates Griselbrand as quickly as possible, but mainly to draw as many cards as possible with help of Children of Korlis to play a big Tendrils of Agony.

Tin Fins - Jacob Simmons, Alabama Legacy League Invitational, Aug. 2017

The creator of the deck gave it the very unusual name "Tin Fins", based off an episode of the Series "Sealab 2021" with the same name (Season 2, Episode 19). "The crew of Sealab star in a sneak preview special for the movie "Tinfins", complete with plenty of ads for the restaurant Grizzlebee's." The name of the restaurant is obviously very similar to the deck's signature card - Griselbrand.

I hope you enjoyed the little journey to the past. Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or want a source of something I wrote in the article, feel free to comment below.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily Cardmarket.


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drehmo(18.12.2018 18:07)

The selection of decks is unfortunate, to say the very least.

I'd really like you to set a criteria for your selection first.
There could have been 2 possible criteria for me. The first would be a metagame share at some point, the second would be a chronological order.

For example DnT was very present in 2015-2016, while the last really successful iteration of the Rock in Legacy goes back to 2012. Also I don't feel that Stax ever was as present in legacy metagame than some of the others were. I'd also like a transfer from Stax to the archetype of "Chalice Aggro" deck, which adapted the idea of fast mana+disruptive spell.

As far as I know, the origins of DnT goes back to Karakas+Magara of Corondor, so like 2005ish (?), same for Stax, the first iteration of the Rock came with Urza's Legacy, so around 1999? Whereas Griselbrand was first printed in 2012 (?)
Also you present updated list for DnT and Stax, but not for the Rock? Why?

I just don't see any central idea or order in this.

Sergeon(17.12.2018 14:37)

What about 'slight', 'trinity', 'trix', 'the deck', 'junk' or 'peebles'? Maybe there's room for another article, I enjoyed this a lot!

komTTa(13.12.2018 18:27)

Great article! Another reason of the "death and taxes" name is related to the Benjamin Franklin quote because first versions of the deck played Land Tax as a draw engine ;-)

Wilecoyotegb_EUR(13.12.2018 17:40)

Great idea for an article, was thoroughly hooked as several deck names have always mystified me ..

It's Junk, no it's a really good Abzan deck, no I mean Junk was what it was called before Abzan .. Huh ..

malekith99(13.12.2018 16:47)

Great article! When I saw the title and the brief entry I was sure "Tin Fins" will be commented. It is not only part of the MTG's past. I'm preparing now a legacy deck that is a Tin Fins version that is normally named as "Tin Fins Depths" or alternatively "Ice Station Zebra", other bizarre name inspired by an old film! The "Zebra" probably is because the deck is essentially black with few white cards ( Children of Korlis, Loyal Retainers) but you can also find one fantastic green spell: Living Wish (one of my for ever favourites) and one blue creature in the SB. Do you guess who? Yes, the Laboratory Maniac. Happy days to all MKM staff and users.

sluggy10(13.12.2018 15:21)

Stax, or the cancer-deck.
There is absolutely no kill in the deck. It kills you with boring 4h game...