Two weeks ago, Stefan (better known as MentalMisstep) took down the MTGO Quarterly Legacy Playoff with GWB Maverick. I had a chat with him to get his thoughts on the format, the Maverick archetype and the impact new cards are having in Legacy.
Hey Stefan – a huge thank you for your time and thoughts. Congratulations again on your win with GWB Maverick in the Magic the Gathering Online (MTGO) Quarterly Legacy Playoff.
Tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you, where are you from, and what do you do for work/study?
I live in Austria, about an hour away from Vienna. I’m currently 23 years old, I finished school not too long ago, and am generally interested in maths, statistics, computer science and the likes. But at the moment, I’m unemployed/still trying to figure out what I want to study (as I am very picky) so I’ve had more time to play Magic: The Gathering recently – as some might have noticed!
When and how did you first get into Legacy?
I started playing MTG casually at the very young age of 6 when a friend introduced me to the game. But my interest in Legacy and simultaneously in paper tournaments happened about 6 years later when I got into online forums and started making proxy “Legacy” decks. A certain legacy deck called “Ichorid” (nowadays simply known as “Dredge”) caught my eyes and I couldn’t stop thinking about building possible crazy Legacy decks during my free time. We also played with those proxy decks a lot in our casual playgroup at the literal kitchen table, as you might have imagined.
At that time, I wasn’t competitive at all (apart from the fact that I really liked to win, as probably everyone does) and was not even aware of the fact that playing crazy stuff like Dredge and other combo/synergy decks is not actual fair Magic as it is supposed to be. As you can imagine, Legacy at that time (even though it was cheaper back then) was a little out of the budget for a 13-year-old school kid, so even though I really wanted to build many different decks, I realised the most affordable one was in fact Dredge/Ichorid.
So I went forward getting it together piece by piece and finally ended up playing Legacy tournaments at the major store in Vienna while sometimes borrowing decks or cards from other players (the Legacy community is, for the most part, full of nice people that are happy to help – which is another reason why I like this format). Slowly but surely, I started to win more over the following months and years until I got to the point where I was able to basically win most of the duals I needed for other decks (e.g. Canadian Threshold or nowadays known as RUG Delver) just by playing Dredge and strange budget brews. This made me think about improving in Magic and playing actual fair decks/different formats in general.
Most players would know you for your extremely impressive results on MTGO. Do you also have an LGS where you play paper Magic?
Recently I haven’t been playing paper Magic at all, but I would like to do it again more frequently in the near future. Generally the stores I visit are either SpielRaum Wien, Magiccorner or ThreeforOneTrading, with SpielRaum being the biggest one and the others smaller but more specialised in MTG (all located in Vienna). I generally attend Legacy Grand Prixs within Europe and sometimes medium-sized Eternal Weekends like MKMs or BoM and the likes. Sometimes I might go overseas for a vacation in conjunction with MTG, though.
Looking at your MTGGoldfish, you’ve had a countless amount of 5-0s with different Legacy (and Modern) archetypes. Do you have a favourite deck you like to stick with from time to time?
As of now, I basically try out different decks and strategies as much as I can (shoutout to the Vegan Prison Deck). But when I look back at the past 9 years I would say whenever I don’t know what to play or feel burned out on other decks, I usually come back to either ANT or RUG Delver because those bring me some of the most joy while playing and I feel very comfortable with them – and I usually like decks that include Snapcaster Mage.
While Sensei’s Divining Top was legal, I mainly played Miracles since I thought it was the best deck and it was a lot of fun to play for me – my number one choice almost every time back then (it has changed now though). Recently I have fallen in love with Death and Taxes (which is one of the reasons why I also played a good chunk of Maverick lately). So I would say DnT, ANT, and Canadian Thresh are the decks I like to play the most aside from brews.
What’s your MTGO schedule like? What do you believe is a common characteristic of MTGO grinders?
Since I’ve become very competitive, regardless of MTGO or not, I usually try to prepare for upcoming constructed tournaments and then practise the decks that I believe to be good choices in the expected metagame, while mostly thinking about what could be good. This led me to brew more and more and play less and less, but MTG is almost the same right now, time wise. There is also the possibility of one deck clearly being on top of the metagame which then makes me practise that one deck over and over again (if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em) and just trying to beat your few offenders in the metagame and also the mirror a lot. This has been the case for me with decks like RUG Delver (shortly before Miracles and Deathrite Decks became popular), Top Miracles in Legacy and Deathrite Shaman Jund, Splinter Twin and Krark-Clan Ironworks combo in the Modern format, if we talk non-rotating formats.
It is not greatly different from other MTGO grinders, really – the biggest difference probably being that I mostly theory craft and brew nowadays but practise less. I had been playing an absurd amount of leagues last trophy season in Legacy while trying to beat Eric landon AKA ewlandon. That was about 4-5 leagues a day on weekends, which made me burned out, so I now average about one or two leagues a day, maximum. I don’t recommend that amount to anyone unless you are playing really fast decks where leagues are below 40 minutes (e.g. Black Red Reanimator).
I do believe MTGO grinders have many common characteristics, some of which I definitely share, like playing differently depending on what you are trying to achieve at that moment. For example, when I am brewing and trying out new strategies I don’t care extremely much about winning or losing, as I just want to learn and invent at those times. Contrary to that, when I practise extensively for an upcoming tournament, I try to play as clean and “perfect” as possible and occasionally get very angry at myself when I make mistakes or overlook lines. MTGO grinders definitely often fall into the trap of playing too much when they are emotionally or physically not in the best mood to do so.
A tip for playing MTGO from me would be that you should think about why you are playing right now and if it is really an efficient use of your free time when you are not in the best mood, or should maybe play a different deck/try different lists and not just play the same stuff over and over again. It is always contextual though.
I definitely have had lots of experience playing against Maverick but also playing it against my friends for testing purposes (mostly proxy Maverick back then) so everyone could have some reps against it. Sometimes I would play Maverick for fun on the platform “Cockatrice” but I also have played two small local paper tournaments with it in the past eight years (which is obviously not a lot).
The reason I played it despite my lack of experience compared to most of the other decks I usually play is that I thought it would fit perfectly for the expected metagame at the Quarterly Playoffs. URx Delver-Arcanist strategies are at the top of the metagame and after that, decks like Death and Taxes, Miracles, Grixis Control and even Maverick itself show up to prey on the Delver of Secrets decks. I expected combo decks to be on an all-time low (like mostly Sneak and Show, a little bit of Elves and a little bit of ANT and Black Red Reanimator as usual, but less in numbers). And if you look at the matchups/relations between the decks, you quickly realise that Maverick matches up very well against most of the decks in a more competitive metagame (which it was to be predetermined, since you needed to grind format points to play in it).
I would usually pick Death and Taxes in that metagame because it matches up better against Miracles than Maverick in my experience. But I thought that the resurgence of Grixis Control (which is clearly not a great matchup for both DnT and Maverick, but a little bit better for Maverick, I believe) and the popularity of Mother of Runes mirrors, especially DnT, would give Maverick a very relevant edge. I felt pretty comfortable playing Maverick mirrors prior to the tournament, and if I lost them it was mostly because of a mistake, or at least I found something I could improve on.
So the only downsides were Elves, Omniscience, and Miracles, though the latter is a matchup that seems vastly dependant on player skill to me so I wasn’t unhappy with my choice at all.
I saw the Maverick list you played in the Challenge leading up to the quarterly played Wrenn and Six. How did you find it and do you believe Wrenn is the future of ‘Punishing’ Maverick?
I found the list to be very good against control decks ( Wrenn and Six kills Baleful Strix, returns Wasteland vs. Grixis Control, provides a threat vs. Miracles via a card-draw engine with Horizon Canopy, and postboard threatening to ult + Council’s Judgment), and the addition of Renegade Rallier is great in combination with it.
Wrenn and Six is also pretty good in the Mother of Runes mirrors (I refrain from calling them Thalia, Guardian of Thraben mirrors or decks as many do, since Thalia is one of the cards you usually side out here), but in the end I realised that the 2-mana Planeswalker, while being very synergistic with the deck, does make your UR Delver matchup worse. I had to learn this the hard way losing to MzFroste – an exceptional MTGO player – in that particular challenge, and also the boost it gives you in the Mother mirrors isn’t as needed. That is clearly not what you want right now so I tried to improve on those fronts for the Quarterly.
I could see a metagame where Wrenn Maverick could become the “stock list” but it would have to include more Delver strategies that don’t play many basics or more 4c control/Czech Pile/Grixis Control/Elves and decks with greedy manabases. To conclude, since Maverick sometimes struggles against Combo Decks, Wrenn and Six also doesn’t really help in those.
Punishing Fire is hard to find since the printing of Wrenn. What were some of the reasons you left it out from your list? Does Wrenn just fit that role or is it a deeper issue?
I certainly do think that it is a deeper issue. Not only does the addition of our new toy eat up slots in our deck while costing red mana at the same time, Punishing Fire is not that great anymore either. You mostly want it against Mother of Runes mirrors, Elves and Planeswalker Decks like Grixis Control and Miracles, since Delver has a 1/3 must-answer threat nowadays and playing Wrenn + Punishing Fire in the same deck means playing less fetchlands/cards that synergize with Wrenn, since you need to have Grove of the Burnwillows in your deck + all of those cards don’t help you in unfair matchups mostly.
You could argue that P.Fire + Wrenn kills a Dreadhorde Arcanist, but that is already a 2-card combo and an investment of 1GRR which isn’t very likely to resolve either. So having both cards in your deck makes for further complexity during deck building, for which I haven’t found a better solution yet.
You went for the black splash over traditional GW Maverick, which has been pulling up great results. Why? And to build off this, most players go for the splash for Zealous P and Thoughtseize, which you didn’t play. Thoughts on these? Why’d you like Plague Engineer over Zealous Persecution?
So as I explained, I thought that Wrenn might not be what you want to do if you expect a field of Delvers & Delver predators + your problematic matchups get even worse. Consequently, one would like to play the stock GW Maverick variant because that means losing less to Wasteland + Removal blowouts, and also not needing a splashed card in particular.
Since I also tried the Wrenn variant, I tried a black version with Thoughtseize in the sideboard some time ago too, but I felt that it kind of overlaps with other cards you want to bring against control, and is unfair too often. For example, against delver, you would much rather have more Sanctum Prelate/Removal/Chalice of the Void in your 75, which are also good against combo, and against control you would much rather have other cards instead of Thoughtseizes, in my opinion. So I quickly moved back to GW in my thought process.
However, the main feature I was missing was more cards against Delver (in the form of flexible removal versus Pyromancer and True-Name Nemesis) and control decks/Elves where Zealous Persecution might come in handy. But while ZP has some advantages, it has one major downside over Plague Engineer: It is not a permanent effect.
What Plague Engineer allows you to do is not only to kill a bunch of tokens or a TNN, Mother of Runes, Strix etc., it also forces an answer from your opponent in case it would hurt their future threats. Protected by your own Mother of Runes, the Deathtouch ability of Engineer comes in very handy against opposing Knight of the Reliquary, Gurmag Angler and Germ tokens. It shuts off Arcanist out of UR Delver entirely as long as it stays on the board, and as nice bonuses, you can side it in against Grixis Control without feeling bad about having ZP in your deck vs. a control matchup, and it can even carry Umezawas Jitte and co. from time to time!
How’d you like the Chains in the board? Would you want to find room for more if you could? What would you change (if anything) to the list you played with?
Chains of Mephistopheles has always been a controversial card in decks that also run Sylvan Library (e.g. Jund, Maverick, 4c Loam etc.). I believe Sylvan Library is one of the strongest green cards legal in the format. Sadly, that card got worse due to the presence of Narset, Parter of Veils recently, and I also realised it’s not at its best against UR Delver, so I only decided to include one copy into my list. This opened the door for another hatecard against blue decks (Chains is also especially good against Dreadhorde Arcanist and Griselbrand, I would say) at the expense of the “once in a lifetime” nonbo between it and Sylvan Library (and yes, we have Tireless Tracker and Canopy too, but that should be negligible).
I could definitely see playing something else over it or playing even a 2nd one. It’s complicated to evaluate as it is also the splash colour (and you don’t want to play too many cards in your splash colour in my opinion – I even tried to “karstenify” my manabase and spells ratio, referring to Frank Karsten here, which means that I tried to only play black spells that I could reliably cast by turn 3-4, since I essentially only had 10 black sources in my deck + Birds and Green Sun’s Zenith on Bird.). Chains definitely has been proven to be a house against Cantrip-heavy decks, and I have no more insight to add here sadly.
The most “out of the line” things in my list are probably: NoPalace Jailer in the 75, no Ramunap Excavator and also maindeck Prelate + maindeck double artifact removal. Most of those things I wouldn’t change right now, as I felt Ramunap to be very underwhelming at the moment in a basic land-heavy meta, and also disliked it against Miracles/combo/DnT mostly (I could see it coming back as a sideboard card though, or to the main when the meta shifts again) and Prelate just did what I wanted (even though you can’t tutor for it, which is awkward), because it improved the matchups I would expect to face by a relevant margin. It also won me a game 1 versus Lands that would have been a loss otherwise – for example, where Ramunap would probably not have saved me.
Qasali Pridemage maindeck vs. Pridemage in the sideboard vs. not playing it at all and just slamming more Knight of Autumn is an interesting question to me, since generally the Knight is a better card overall. I just felt having an on board removal for Jitte etc. gives me a lot more room to work with my Green Sun’s Zeniths against Stoneforge Mystic Decks e.g. a DnT Player passes with an active Stoneforge Mystic and 2 mana up and a Jitte in hand. If you have GSZ in your hand but no QPM in your deck, you sometimes have to pass there and let Jitte connect first without using your mana. It obviously depends if you can afford to play around Swords to Plowshares etc. but generally, I found this angle to be very useful to have access to.
Finally: No Palace Jailer but Vivien, Champion of the Wilds. Vivien sounded appealing to me since Jailer is very awkward vs. Narset out of control decks and the risk of losing Monarch is real. Vivien also finds my me non-green bullets like Prelate, Engineer, Faerie Macabre (that was the intention, at least).
Vivien has proven to be a threat, but after a talk with one of my friends (who is very experienced with Maverick), it is probably too inconsistent and should be a 2nd Tireless Tracker, a Jailer, or even a gravehate instead. It is kinda hard to just cut her for GY-hate though, because then some matchups don’t sideboard map perfectly anymore, so I would have to further change the decklist. If I had to play it in a more diverse metagame or at an upcoming tournament, I would probably try to play either a Jailer, a 2nd Tracker or more gravehate in my 75, but that’s mostly it.
A huge thank you Stefan for your insights not only into your winning Maverick list but also the Legacy format. Best of luck in leagues to come – but it’s quite obvious it’s not needed. If you’re wanting to catch MentalMisstep on stream you can find his Twitch stream here.