Legacy Week – The Three Flavors Of Maverick

Want to attack with creatures in Legacy? Drew Levin provides you with a primer on Maverick, a green/white aggro creature deck. Play it if you want to be the beatdown at StarCityGames.com Open: Dallas/Fort Worth.

If you don’t know what Maverick is at this point, you just haven’t been paying attention. A few months ago, you would’ve had an excuse: “It’s just some stupid green/white creature deck that the Euros play, it’s not very good at all,” for instance. Or: “All the blue decks are way better, why bother playing with Mother of Runes?”

Why bother playing with Mother of Runes? Well, by the numbers, it’s a better one-drop than Wild Nacatl right now. That’s got to count for something. Want to know what else counts for something? That Maverick can claim consistently positive matchups against the other two best decks in the format.

There’s no other deck in the format that is a favorite against both RUG Delver and U/W Stoneblade. Maverick was built to beat Brainstorm strategies, and it does so very well. How does it do it? Let’s look at what every single Maverick list has in common.

The Core of the Deck

4 Mother of Runes — This all-star comes across as pretty innocuous to anyone without much format familiarity. “Mother of Runes? What’s that do? Oh, it just sits there and protections a guy sometimes? Seems okay, not great.”

Once someone plays against Mother of Runes with almost any deck, though, the description turns into: “Oh my god, how does anyone EVER beat that card?” Often, the answer is: “They don’t.” Mother of Runes is a defining part of Legacy by being white’s cheapest two-for-one. If you ever untap with Mother of Runes, she becomes a conditional Archivist. Your opponent now needs two removal spells just to deal with Mother of Runes. Your deck is filled with creatures that they want to kill. If they think that Knight of the Reliquary is a more pressing concern, Mother of Runes makes them have a second removal spell for the Knight and then two more for your second Knight. Things get out of control pretty quickly for anyone relying on spot removal against Mother of Runes.

The actual beauty of Mother of Runes shines through against combo decks, though. Green and white decks have a long history of relying on “hate bears”—typically 2/2s for two that have a static ability that beats a specific combo deck (think True Believer, Gaddock Teeg, Ethersworn Canonist)—and combo decks have a long history of bouncing or killing those hate bears right before they kill their hapless green and/or white opponent.

Mother of Runes changes that dynamic, though. Silent Departure and Chain of Vapor aren’t good enough against a Mother of Runes-protected 2/2. Mother of Runes + Ethersworn Canonist or Mother of Runes + Gaddock Teeg is close to a hard lock against Storm. While they’re scrambling to pull two answers together, though, you still get to hit them in the face with your Knights and assorted bears. If you dedicate four to six slots to beating combo—that is, you play honest-to-god Ethersworn Canonists and Gaddock Teegs—you can reasonably mulligan to a hand that plays a protected hate bear on turn 2.

In the Maverick mirror, Mother of Runes is either the best or second-best card, depending on who on you ask. The reason that Mother of Runes is so good is that almost every creature that matters is white—as is the only removal spell that kills a Knight of the Reliquary—so Mother of Runes makes the mirror naturally unstable, since relying on blocking is unreliable. In a matchup where either player can set up a turn where they falter their opponent’s team and get a 12/12 past enemy lines, it’s important to understand that you need to be aggressive.

Against U/W and RUG, Mother of Runes is the sickest Flagbearer ever. Since Stoneblade’s game plan is to spot-removal you out and never let you activate a Knight, Mother of Runes is a must-kill, meaning that your Knights sometimes live and your Mystics pretty much always live. That’s a good place to be and a big part of why you win the matchup as much as you do. RUG’s game plan is to tempo you out, but Mother of Runes is a huge roadblock for them since they need to Bolt or Chain it immediately. If they don’t, they’ll lose to a protected Mystic or Knight or Scavenging Ooze or literally any substantial threat in your deck.

If you cut any of this card, you don’t want to win the tournament.

4 Noble HierarchNo matter what format you play, you understand the power of green one-drops that tap for mana. Noble Hierarch happens to be the best one-drop ever printed that does that. Our curve goes fairly high—we want to Zenith for Knight of the Reliquary as soon as possible—and we’ll always have a lot to do with our mana, whether it’s moving equipment or using Wastelands or casting more creatures. As a result, we want to get a good amount of mana on the table pretty quickly. We aren’t really a Mythic Conscription-style deck, so we’re not playing more than four green one-drop accelerators, but playing the set of Nobles is an easy call. In a Punishing Fire setup, it’s plausible to go down to three Noble Hierarch and add one Birds of Paradise, although I wouldn’t advise it. If there’s a ton of Hive Mind in your expected metagame, Birds gets a little better, although this deck also gets a lot worse if people are casting Intuition against you.

4 Knight of the ReliquaryThis is the reason to play the deck. Knight is one of the best creatures in Legacy and is usually the biggest creature in the game. The reason that Knight is one of the best creatures in Legacy, though, is that she’s secretly a planeswalker. You +2 Knight for a while in your opponent’s end step, Knighting away lands for fetch lands and fetching for more lands. After a while, your Knight gets big enough to one-shot them, so you Mother it through your opponent’s creatures and kill them. If they could have a Swords to Plowshares or Go for the Throat or something, you can just settle for Abyssing them until they die.

Your Knight activations can get a bit more complicated when your opponent is threatening to do something that puts pressure on you, but for the most part you can stick with the plan of +2ing Knight by sacrificing a land (fetch your basics early if you don’t want them late!) to find a Wasteland and Wastelanding your opponent to keep them off of Jace mana. Once you have a Knight of the Reliquary in play, you don’t have a huge need for your lands since you’re way ahead on board anyway. Wastelanding an opponent four times will generally be enough to win a game, but you can also get cute with your Knight activations depending on the matchup. Here’s my two-minute no-looking list of lands that I would consider playing as part of a Knight of the Reliquary mana base:

Maze of Ith
Dryad Arbor
Tower of the Magistrate
Bojuka Bog
Grove of the Burnwillows (in multiples)
Horizon Canopy
Gaea’s Cradle
All four Wastelands, obviously

Of those, only Tower of the Magistrate is a really out-there land. Tower is pretty exclusively for beating up on Stoneblade, although you could give a creature protection from a Mishra’s Factory or an entire Affinity deck if you so desired. Gaea’s Cradle is also not played that much, as it’s bad early and only great in a late game where you have a Scavenging Ooze in play. Absent those conditions, it’s not wildly impressive and can be dead from time to time, which would be a disaster.

Karakas is more or less a must-play. It’s a very low opportunity cost for a huge upside—without it in your deck, you can’t consistently beat Emrakul strategies or Jin-Gitaxias strategies. With it in your deck, your Reanimator or Show and Tell opponent has to sweat you having a Knight of the Reliquary whenever they cast Show and Tell. If they have a slow start, you can just jam on a Zenith for three and get Knight in play before they commit to a creature, making their legends pretty bad. You can race Inkwell Leviathan, Swords a Blazing Archon, Swords a Sphinx of the Steel Wind, Pridemage or Swords a Platinum Emperion, and beat a Terastodon in a fair fight. Without Karakas, though, Iona on white becomes a threat, as does Jin-Gitaxias.

There are other cute Karakas tricks that you can figure out by looking at your decklist, scanning for the legendary creature type line, and imagining what happens if they try to kill your legend. I won’t demean us both by sitting here and listing them.

Dryad Arbor is your fifth through ninth Noble Hierarch, thanks to Green Sun’s Zenith. Play one. You really want to have three mana on turn two with this deck. Knight of the Reliquary is just that good. Ambushing an unsuspecting x/1 with Dryad Arbor at any point, by the way, is every bit as good as it sounds. If you want to play a sideboard Natural Order package, your Dryad Arbor gets to do some extra work. Don’t forget that it’s still a Forest for Knight of the Reliquary, so if you need to deny someone Jitte counters, you can block with it and Knight it away before damage. The same type of trick works with Karakas and one of your legendary creatures. Keep those sorts of things in mind when playing against Jitte, since the card is really good against you.

Bojuka Bog is your standard sideboard Tutorable graveyard hate. Not much to see here, but be aware that you should have this in your deck for the mirror, since winning Knight battles is important. As with Brainstorm, wait until the last possible moment (no, seriously, like “I will die if I don’t do this” last possible moment) to get your Bog, since you want to get maximum value for it.

If you have questions about any other Knight of the Reliquary options, feel free to ask in the comments. 

4 Green Sun’s Zenith — This is the most powerful green spell in Legacy, and Maverick is the deck best set up to use it. Since this will come up sooner or later, I want to address this up front:

Successful players do not get cute with their Tutor slots. If you have a one-of in your deck, you will draw it sometimes. If you have a lot of them in your deck, you’re not playing a Green Sun’s Zenith deck; you’re playing a Legacy-legal Commander deck. This is not Commander. Play a consistent deck.

If any of you have ever played Enlightened Tutor control, you know the temptation to jam a bunch of situational cards into your deck because “you can Enlightened Tutor for them.” In the end, though, the people who win with the deck mostly just get the same four cards over and over:

Sensei’s Divining Top
Thopter Foundry
Sword of the Meek

If they need to avoid dying to a ton of creatures, they get Moat or Humility, whichever is better in that format. If they need to lock someone out of the game, they get the half of Counterbalance/Top that they’re missing. That’s it. They just get the card that wins them the game. They use their Tutor to play eight of their best card, not five of their worst.

Okay, now that that’s over with, let’s look at what you’re most likely to Zenith for in a given matchup.

Against Stoneblade, Knight of the Reliquary is your best card since it kills them and destroys their mana base. Qasali Pridemage is very good as well, but I would use it reactively—that is, wait for them to get a Batterskull in play and have less than three mana available before you Zenith for Pridemage. Exposing a Pridemage to Swords to Plowshares is a risk not worth taking, given how big of a game it is to kill Stoneblade’s Batterskull in game 1.

I would still fire the turn 1 Zenith for Arbor, but I’d be less happy about it against Stoneblade than I would in other matchups.

Against RUG, Knight is also your best card. Don’t put one into play until you have two lands in your graveyard or a Mother of Runes in play, since it would be real embarrassing for you if it just got Lightning Bolted and died. In the late game, Scavenging Ooze is better than just about anything else you could be doing, since it shuts off their Snapcasters, eventually eats their Threshold away, and puts you out of burn range in the meantime.

In the mirror, Knight is (again) your best card. Seeing a pattern here? There are a bunch of other cards you could theoretically Zenith for, but the two cards that matter in the mirror are Knight and Mother of Runes. Play accordingly.

Against Reanimator, Scavenging Ooze is your best card. They really can’t beat it. After that, Knight is your best card, since it gets Karakas. That’s really just about it. Ramp on turn 1, Zenith for Ooze, pray they don’t turn 2 you. If you don’t have Zenith, just cast Knight, get Karakas, and attack them.

Against Storm, Gaddock Teeg is your man. You probably won’t live long enough to tell the story of how some dude with a big forehead followed a green star to come protect you from a dark mage with a tentacle fetish, but sometimes you get lucky and live to see turn two.

Against Merfolk (or the one dude who still plays it), Scryb Ranger is awesome. Since no one plays Merfolk anymore, you can probably leave Scryb Ranger at home. Yes, Ranger still does awesome tricks with Knight of the Reliquary and yes, it will probably blow out some guy who you were going to beat on the merits, but you’ll still tell the story of how “Scryb Ranger won me that game” and “did you see the look on his face when I flashed in Scryb Ranger and untapped my Knight and slammed in on his creature and snapped his dude off because I did and man was that awesome, high-five me bro.”

Against weird fringe decks, there’s probably already some part of your deck that they can’t beat. High Tide seems like it would need a Cunning Wish to beat a Gaddock Teeg, Painter struggles versus Pridemage, decks with bad mana and conditional removal struggle against Knight of the Reliquary, and so on. You almost certainly do not need:

Thrun, the Last Troll
Silhana Ledgewalker
Eternal Witness

Wait, Tarmogoyf? That guy who’s a zillion dollars? This is a green deck, right? And Tarmogoyf is green? Why don’t I need Tarmogoyf?

Tarmogoyf is not so secretly a blue card. I don’t mean that the border is blue, although I wouldn’t pitch it to Force of Will if it was. I mean that Tarmogoyf has always been the most playable in decks with Tropical Island. Tarmogoyf is far worse in decks with Bayou, Taiga, Savannah, and basic Forest than it is in decks with Tropical Island. The reason for this is that Tarmogoyf thrives on being in a deck that casts cantrips and activates fetch lands and casts removal spells that kill opponents’ creatures. Let’s look at what Maverick does:

  • Plays a sorcery that shuffles itself back in.
  • Plays an instant-speed removal spell that doesn’t put a creature in the graveyard.
  • Plays a three-mana creature that gets way bigger than Tarmogoyf really quickly.
  • Plays a two-mana creature that starts winning fights with Tarmogoyf within two turns and beats Dredge and Reanimator on its own.

So why do we want to play Tarmogoyf? It’s just a big dumb idiot. This deck is not in the market for a big dumb idiot. Don’t play Tarmogoyf. Or any of those other creatures I just listed that are worse than Knight of the Reliquary, for that matter.

4 Swords to Plowshares —You don’t have reach. Zoo plays Path to Exile because if they were to Swords one of your Knights, they would effectively Mind Twist themselves. You play Swords to Plowshares because you’re interested in gaining an advantage on board, something that Swords lets you do efficiently while Path is counterproductive. It’s the best removal spell you can play, so play four.

Beyond those core twenty cards, though, there are some other numbers that are fairly consistent across lists:

3 Stoneforge Mystic — I still won’t claim to understand this. I feel like if Maverick were to add a 61st card, it would be the fourth Stoneforge Mystic. Since almost all of the lists are super tight, people tend to play three Mystics. People are also very consistent in playing three equipment. I’ll get into that a bit more when we start branching off into different decks, since G/W Maverick wants different equipment than Punishing Maverick which wants different equipment than Bant Maverick. For the time being, however, know that three Mystics is industry standard and that playing four is an okay thing to do.

I’m digging a little here in trying to explain why people are playing three of a card that was banned in two other formats, but here’s one possible explanation: since Maverick doesn’t have Brainstorm, it needs its Mystics to always be live. Stoneblade can Brainstorm and Jace Mystics back into its deck if they’d be dead. Alternatively, it can shuffle the equipment back in, turning their Stoneforges into quasi-Silvergill Adepts and making subsequent Mystics better.

Maverick lacks that luxury, so it cuts down on Mystics so that the three Mystics it does play will be live draws more often. Just spitballing here, but that feels like the best explanation.

2 Qasali Pridemage — In recent weeks, I’ve watched successful Maverick lists go from one Pridemage to two. This change isn’t accidental. It reflects a superior understanding of how the Stoneblade vs. Maverick matchup works. A strong Maverick player will hold their Qasali Pridemages to use as Disenchants on opposing Batterskulls and Sword of Feast and Famines. If Stoneblade plays Jitte, the two players’ Jittes will usually legend-rule each other.

That means that Maverick players have realized, more and more, that a major part of the matchup involves answering the equipment on the other side of the table. Without equipment, Stoneblade has only its planeswalkers with which to win the game, a proposition that Maverick should be more than happy to accept and beat.

1 Gaddock Teeg — A hedge against Storm, Hive Mind, and a bit of help against Stoneblade’s late game. Easily cut for better cards in sideboarded games, but can steal wins that would’ve otherwise been impossible. Teeg does shut off your Zeniths, so understand the risk inherent in casting him against a non-Storm opponent.

1 Scavenging Ooze — This is definitely better than Tarmogoyf in Maverick. I would love to see two Oozes in Maverick, given how powerful it is against Snapcaster Mage, any graveyard-dedicated strategy, and even against opposing green mages. Powering down their Knight of the Reliquary, their Tarmogoyf, and their Grim Lavamancer is nice. Free wins against Reanimator and Dredge are pretty nice, too.

Now that we’ve gone over all of the mainstays of a Maverick list, how about some actual lists? First up is a straight up G/W list that I found on a French website. The deck won a 105-person tournament in Belgium. The guy who piloted it is some random dude, though. I don’t think anyone has ever heard of him…

This is my favorite list of the three that I’m going to talk about here. Marijn is obviously a very smart deckbuilder and a strong player, so it’s no surprise that he has a list that makes a ton of sense.

His decision to play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is great. Thalia is a huge problem for RUG and Stoneblade alike while also giving you the time you need against the more degenerate decks to find a more powerful hate card. If a combo deck doesn’t kill you on turn one, Thalia has a very good chance of stealing a game from a more degenerate strategy. Since Marijn eschews some of the more controlling, spell-based elements that Maverick has available to it, Thalia is a great addition. If I were playing Maverick this weekend, I would have a very good reason for not playing Thalia in my list.

His equipment decisions also make perfect sense. Umezawa’s Jitte is amazing against all three of the major matchups and is likely your go-to card against combo. Sword of Body and Mind beats RUG Delver singlehandedly and protects your creatures from Jace’s -1 ability, which is a big deal. Sword of Light and Shadow is a huge trump in the mirror, getting your creature past almost everything and regrowing fallen Pridemages. It also protects your best creature from black removal while making your black control opponent’s remaining black spot removal more or less irrelevant.

Sylvan Library is another great card that takes advantage of how often you shuffle the deck. Beyond being just a Sensei’s Divining Top, though, it’s a huge trump card against decks that rely on Snapcaster Mage and Swords to Plowshares. If an opponent doesn’t want to care about your life total and is just trying to grind you out, Sylvan Library gives you another angle of resource conversion. The rate isn’t great, but if they’re Swordsing a 12/12 Knight, you get to Ancestral with your Sylvan Library. Ancestral Recall, by the way, is usually enough to beat a Stoneblade deck. Let’s not even get into what happens if they Snapcaster their Swords to Plowshares…

Elspeth, Knight-Errant is another great card that I’ve written about multiple times before. She’s at her best right now in Legacy, since a lot of what’s going on is creature wars. Elspeth wins those handily. Don’t believe that Elspeth and Knight of the Reliquary are good ways of winning creature wars? Ask Brian Kibler about Pro Tour Austin. Or Pro Tour Philadelphia. I heard there were some Knights and some Elspeths in those Top 8s.

Marijn’s sideboard decisions let me segue into the last of the popular questions about Maverick, which inevitably are some form of: “Hey, so in the sideboard, some people play Enlightened Tutor…should I do that? If so, what should I do with it? What artifacts and enchantments do I get? There are so many options! I don’t want to mess up!”

I’m here to tell you that you should not play Enlightened Tutor in your green/white beatdown deck. Don’t get fancy. It’s really tempting to get fancy because this is Legacy and a lot of other people are getting fancy, but you’re not going to get fancy. Here’s why.

You don’t care about most matchups. The reason for having a Tutor-driven sideboard is for when you have a couple matchups that are really bad unless you have a very specific card that also doesn’t have marginal value or crossover value, and then that matchup becomes very good for you.

Stony Silence is a great example of this. Let’s say you’re really, really soft to Affinity (you’re not, but we’re pretending). You could just be okay losing to Affinity, or you could play Stony Silence. Since you’re not going to face Affinity that much, you only want to play one since the second and third copies have zero marginal value and Stony Silence is a blank most everywhere else. Now let’s say that you also have a problem with Reanimator and Dredge. That’s okay! You can play Grafdigger’s Cage, right? Just Tutor that sucker up, put it in play, and you turn your matchup around. Blue decks? Choke them! Red decks? Circle of Protection: Red! We can go all day!

The thing is, you can beat almost any deck with your normal game plan. You already have two of the best Tutors in Legacy as four-ofs in your maindeck. Why add more? Here’s what you’re actually scared of:

  • Dredge and Reanimator
  • Dedicated blue control decks (not Stoneblade)
  • Storm combo (T.E.S., ANT, Belcher)

That’s it. You don’t need Enlightened Tutors when you only have three targets. You have Scavenging Oozes on the Zenith angle for Dredge and Reanimator, but Wheel of Sun and Moon can help. You need a bunch of Chokes to actually stick one against a blue deck, so playing the three that you need and Enlightened Tutors to get them is a surefire way to lose since you’re just discarding a card against a deck that has the capacity to kill your Choke anyway. The point of Choke is not to go all-in on landing it; the point is to play a normal game of Magic and then Choke them when they tap out for Jace or something else that they have to cast. Against Storm, you have Thalia already and will board in Canonists, since they’re the best thing you can be doing against Storm. That’s it. Done.

You don’t need Enlightened Tutors if you’re just playing three different cards. Don’t make your life hard. Don’t be an answer deck when you’re much better at being an aggressive deck.

If you’re interested in being an even more aggressive version of Maverick, I’d suggest playing something similar to this list:

I hate his Aven Mindcensors and would cut them for a Pridemage and another equipment. Mindcensor is kind of like the Stifle of white aggressive decks in Legacy—you remember the stories where you blow out some guy, so you keep it in your deck and forget about the times where it didn’t do anything important when you drew it on turn fifteen.

I would also cut one or both Jaces for one or two Elspeths, since Elspeth + Geist of Saint Traft is incredible whereas Jace + Geist of Saint Traft is fine but not amazing. Edric also seems more cute than good. The sideboard probably wants some of William Cao’s Spell Pierces, since this is where they’d be at their best. I would obviously cut the Enlightened Tutor setup for a more coherent plan, but the core of the deck—Geist of Saint Traft as a way to answer planeswalkers and a way to kill creature-light opponents—seems very viable in a Maverick shell. If you’ve ever put an Angelic Destiny on a Mirran Crusader and loved that feeling, this is pretty similar except your supporting cast got a nice upgrade while you weren’t looking.

Finally, if you want to be a more controlling Maverick deck, you could look to Punishing Fire:

I would cut the Tarmogoyf and Mindcensors from Gerry Thompson list for another equipment—probably a Sword of Fire and Ice—another Scavenging Ooze and probably either a Life from the Loam or the fourth Wasteland. Since the deck is interested in a longer game, I would want to be able to rebuy my Groves when they get Wastelanded. Since you’re playing Punishing Fire, though, Sword of Feast and Famine is definitely one of your equipment slots.

William Cao’s Tampa-winning list is a weird hybrid of the above two decks, and I don’t really love it. It can change roles at a moment’s notice, but it’s not amazing at doing any one thing. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Finally, if you want to beat the mirror, I have two thoughts to leave you with.

Punishing Fire is a good card in the mirror, but it’s not better than Mother or Knight. It can kill Mother, but you can still lose to a bigger Knight if you don’t also have the Mother/Knight hookup. Kenny Mayer—a man who certainly knows his way around Forests far better than I ever will—suggested Cunning Sparkmage out of the board of Punishing Fire Maverick.

I don’t like it. It’s cute and you can add Basilisk Collar for even more fun, but it’s not Tutorable, it’s not good outside of Maverick mirrors (whereas Punishing Fire is amazing at attacking creatureless blue control decks that rely on Jace too much), and it gets killed by Punishing Fire. In that way, it feels like Fledgling Mawcor in the Faerie mirror. Why play a removal spell that loses to another removal spell? You’re basically boarding two or three Jacks in a deck that already has Kings and Aces. If you both have Aces (Punishing Fire), your Jack (Cunning Sparkmage) doesn’t play. If neither of you have Aces, it’s another high card, which is cool if they have a Mother or a Hierarch and pretty dead otherwise.

If you really want a sideboard card to beat the mirror, try Linvala, Keeper of Silence. It beats Mother and Knight and Stoneforge and Pridemage, you can protect it with your Mothers, and it even flies so you can clock them without needing to tap a Mother to get damage in.

As always, if you have more questions, I’ll be in the comments section, I’m always on Twitter, and I’ll see you in Indianapolis!

Good luck at the Grand Prix and SCG Open,

Drew Levin

@drew_levin on Twitter