A Brand New Infestation

Todd Anderson tells you about the Maverick deck that he placed ninth with at SCG Open Series: Birmingham last weekend. He also reveals the deck he’s most excited about in Standard after Avacyn Restored is released: Reanimator!

In the days leading up to the release of Avacyn Restored, I’m supposed to tell you what cards I think are awesome and how to use them. I’ve been skirting this topic for the last few weeks because that type of article isn’t really my bag. I like tangible topics that are based on my experiences, such as decks that I’ve played in a recent tournament. I’m not awesome when it comes to theorizing about new formats, but I do love to take a good idea or two and run with them.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been watching the spoilers, and I’ve come to a few conclusions of my own. I’ve also read a lot of what people have to say about some of the more powerful additions to Magic. Standard is going to be getting a major overhaul. As I’m sure you’ve all seen:

While U/W Delver decks continue to dominate in the current environment, Cavern of Souls will do a lot in the way of relieving that pressure. While Delver decks aren’t necessarily reliant on Mana Leak to function, it’s an important piece of the puzzle to help them stabilize against a lot of archetypes.

Although I don’t think Cavern of Souls will go into every deck, I do think it will help revitalize enough archetypes against Delver in order to help even out the format a bit. Titan decks will probably be dominant in the early stages of post-AVR due to the fact that their biggest weakness is no longer a problem. Naming "Giant" on Cavern of Souls is going to make Dissipate and Mana Leak quite terrible. With so much efficient acceleration in the format, it should be easy for ramp decks to outrun most aggro decks.

I’m not here to tell you what decks Cavern of Souls goes into. That should be fairly self-explanatory. It’s a tribal land that works with all tribes and gives the added benefit to wreck any strategy that’s too reliant on control elements. Awkwardly, Zombies is using other colors to splash non-Zombies, so it won’t make much of an impact in that archetype unless they’re just using it to help keep their Geralf’s Messengers from getting Leaked.

I’m here to tell you that people will be trying out Cavern of Souls in a lot of decks over the next few weeks. Some of them will be bad and some of them will be very good, but that isn’t what’s important. Delver will no longer be the best deck in the format, at least until it adapts to this new menace.

So now that Delver decks aren’t going to be on top anymore, how can regular decks beat ramp? The short answer is, "They can’t," which is kind of awkward. Ramp decks were mostly kept in check by counterspells, but now there really isn’t all that much holding them back. This means that every other deck in the format is going to have to adapt in order to beat ramp strategies in one way or another. They’re going to be packing Whipflare. They’re going to be slamming Slagstorm. You’re going to have to be able to race a Primeval Titan. If you can’t, then you’re not going to last long in such a hostile environment.

While the pressure of Delver decks on Standard is going to be lifted, I feel like this new threat is going to be much more oppressive. Anyone who remembers Valakut dominating Standard will know exactly what I’m talking about, except Cavern of Souls makes the deck much stronger against its bad matchups.

No, the sky isn’t falling. Standard isn’t going to be ruined forever. At the very worst, it will be boring for a few months until Wizards decides to ban something, but hopefully we’re all just overreacting a little bit. At the very least, Cavern of Souls will lose a lot of its power when the Titans rotate out of Standard in the fall. I think the biggest problem here is that players will want instant gratification, and they won’t want to get smashed by Titans over and over for the next few months.

For reference to power level, just compare Cavern of Souls and this card:

Cavern doesn’t come into play tapped, doesn’t deal you damage, taps for any color of mana, and isn’t legendary! I know that spells are traditionally more powerful than creatures in the older formats, but that just isn’t true in Standard at the moment.

But enough about that stuff; let’s talk about some other cards that are going to make me very happy! As most of you don’t know, I’m a huge fan of Zombie Infestation. Brad Nelson recently played Zombie Infestation in a Reanimator deck featuring Griselbrand, and I became absolutely giddy at the prospect.

While there isn’t anything really resembling Upheaval in the format (though Devastating Tide is pretty close), Griselbrand allows you to do some cool things with Necrotic Ooze. Alongside enough graveyard interaction, the deck does some really awesome things. I liked his initial build, but I have some changes that I think would be pretty sweet. Check out this brew!

For those wondering, here’s the combo:

The goal is to get Griselbrand into the graveyard, stick a Necrotic Ooze or Unburial Rites, then go nuts with Zombie Infestation. You have a lot of powerful cards that help fuel the combo but are also very good by themselves. Lingering Souls and Timely Reinforcements are powerful cards that can buy you a ton of time while also being able to kill the opponent when you toss an Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite into play. You have so many different angles of attack; it will be pretty hard for a lot of decks to cope with what you’re throwing at them.

As you can see, the deck lacks removal. This is mostly because I think that ramp will be the most popular deck, and any removal you throw at them is going to be mostly useless. Titans usually leave their mark on the game even if you can kill their Titan after it resolves. If Delver begins to falter as the best deck, then removal becomes pretty meaningless anyways. Just look at every other archetype and you will see creatures that are resilient to sweepers and spot removal. Your best bet is just going to be to go over the top. You’re able to put up some reasonable defenses in the early game with Liliana, Lingering Souls, and Zombie Infestation.

The sideboard is completely up in the air, but if Delver begins to slack off then this deck is going to be absurd. Timely Reinforcements doubles as a measure to buy you time to set up your reanimation cards while also providing enough life to draw more cards from Griselbrand. You even set up a small army when you bring Elesh Norn back from the graveyard!

Something to consider is Mental Misstep for the sideboard, since most decks will likely have Surgical Extraction, Grafdigger’s Cage, or Nihil Spellbomb to throw a kink into your plans. Even if they do, you can often play around some of these effects since you can sandbag your Griselbrands until you have Necrotic Ooze in play then discard them to Zombie Infestation, draw a bunch of cards, and make a bunch of creatures. I think it’s interesting to note that Grafdigger’s Cage doesn’t affect Necrotic Ooze or Zombie Infestation, so don’t get frustrated if your opponent opens the game with it. You can still win fairly easily.

Shattered Perception was a card that we worked with quite a bit for Pro Tour Dark Ascension. We tried all sorts of decks that looked similar to this, mostly using Sun Titan and Ratchet Bomb and having a control shell that focused on dealing with creatures rather than goldfishing. In the era of Cavern of Souls, I think goldfishing is really what everyone should be doing.

Shattered Perception helps your goldfish games since you’re really just trying to dig for your combo. Perception isn’t really amazing or anything, but it’s just another enabler that can put your entire hand into the yard when necessary or discard dead cards and dig harder for the combo. I don’t think it’s realistic to ever think you’re going to flash it back, but stranger things have happened.

The mana base could probably use a little work, but it seems consistent at the moment. Cavern of Souls could be a consideration just to make your Necrotic Ooze uncounterable, but that seems like a bit of a stretch since you’re already playing three colors. Evolving Wilds is the glue that holds the mana together because you’re playing so many of the duals that are reliant on you controlling basic lands of all sorts.

Older versions that focused more on casting your big spells played Sphere of the Suns, but I’m not really sure it’s necessary. I might consider playing another land or two since you really need to hit your land drops for the first four turns. With Faithless Looting it shouldn’t be too terribly difficult, but the hands where you don’t draw Looting will seem much worse when you don’t hit land drops.


For those wondering about my recent exploits, I’ve had a few weeks off thanks to a lull in local tournament activity. I did want to try and fly to Salt Lake City for the Grand Prix a few weeks ago, but the plane tickets were approximately infinity dollars and I couldn’t really justify going. What I have been doing is relaxing, since this is a nice little break before a long stretch of tournaments that start in the summer. I did get the chance to visit my hometown of Birmingham, AL this past weekend for the SCG Open Series!

While Standard didn’t really go as planned, with me starting off a paltry 1-2, Legacy was a little more promising. I decided that Maverick was going to be my deck of choice until someone could consistently beat me, but that hasn’t really been the case over my last few tournaments. Sure, the deck has some bad matchups here and there, but you’re very well positioned against a large portion of the metagame.

After Adam Cai convinced me to play Fauna Shaman after handily destroying me with it in some test games (and our finals match in Baltimore), I felt like the deck had a bit more versatility. With Green Sun’s Zenith and Knight of the Reliquary, the deck already does a fair amount of Tutoring, but Fauna Shaman allows you to play a few silver bullet creatures like Linvala, Keeper of Silence. Adam still continues to play Loyal Retainers and Elesh Norn, but I’m not really sure if they’re good enough. In the mirror it’s obviously bonkers, but I don’t foresee a lot of those cards resolving or mattering in a lot of matchups.

For the future, if I’m going to be playing Fauna Shaman I will definitely consider the Elesh Norn combo though. The mirror is pretty miserable without some way to break it open, and Fauna Shaman searching up Linvala and Elesh Norn is definitely a great start!

For those wondering, here’s my list from last weekend:

As you can see, this list is pretty similar to the list I played in my Magic Online videos from last week. Going forward, there are a few changes I want to make in order to help improve your average draws as well as fitting in some cards to help in matchups that are particularly hard. Sylvan Library hasn’t really been pulling its weight, and Scavenging Ooze isn’t nearly as good when no one is playing graveyard-based strategies. Cutting down to one might be fine, but it really just depends on how the metagame looks.

Right now the metagame is full of fair decks, which means that Maverick should be very well positioned. Mana Denial is a potent strategy when everyone relies on dual lands to function, and even more so when backed by Thalia, Guardian of Thraben. The deck has so many powerful creatures that an opponent relying on spot removal will be quickly overwhelmed. 

I think a singleton Phyrexian Metamorph would be a nice target for Fauna Shaman, since it can double as a Knight of the Reliquary or act as an additional way to deal with legendary creatures like Emrakul and Progenitus. Without the Elesh Norn package in the maindeck, cutting down to a single Fauna Shaman to Green Sun’s Zenith for probably isn’t bad. All that really does is give your Green Sun’s Zenith the ability to fetch out Linvala or Aven Mindcensor, both of which can be pretty sweet in certain matchups.

Overall, I feel like Maverick is still awesome in Legacy. I’m not really sure what cards (if any) from Avacyn Restored will help the archetype, but Thalia definitely gave it a boost against pretty much everything. The sideboard might still need a little bit of work, but I really like all of the cards, just not the numbers.

The additional Umezawa’s Jitte can probably go and I did feel a little naked against Enchantress, but I’m not sure if that’s just an inherent problem with Maverick in general. You don’t have any real way to break through their lock, as Qasali Pridemage just isn’t enough. Perhaps having a way to recur Pridemage over and over would be sweet.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be mostly focusing on Block Constructed for the Pro Tour, but I’ll keep playing Standard on Magic Online and try to bring you guys some new tech before SCG Open Series: Providence next weekend.

Thanks for reading.


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