Legacy Maverick vs Ninjas: Matchup Analysis
Welcome back to the fifth instalment of the GreenSunsZenith’s Maverick matchup series! This monthly series is a breakdown of how Maverick pilots should approach different strategies in the Legacy format with the assistance of an archetype expert.
Lyle Rolfes (Lylogoyf on MTGO) is well-known in the Ninjas community and has some impressive results with the deck. “I’ve been playing magic for more of my life than not. I’ve been playing Legacy since 2014 and MTGO since 2019. I did some pioneering work with Ninjas after Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow was first spoiled“. Lyle took 3rd place in an SCG Classic with a unique Ninjas list and also had success at the Syracuse SCG Open finishing in 59th place. He’s also had some recent success with a Top 8 finish in a Legacy Challenge going 7-0 in the swiss!
Lyle went above and beyond what I asked from him for this article. A huge welcome and thank you for coming on the GreenSunsZenith.
Lastly, thank you to my Patreon supporters for supporting this article and the on-goings of keeping the site alive. The Zenith is coming up to its third year and your support is very appreciated. If you’d like to see more of these write-ups or support the platform in general, you can become a Patreon or show your support in many other ways.
Table of Contents:
1. Decklists for reference
Below are two 75s considered stock decklists for both Maverick & Ninjas. Although this article will focus on the Abzan build of Maverick, I will touch on the other builds where relevant.
This article was created before MH2 was legal in the Legacy format, however we’ve added a section discussing some of the new printings and how they affect the matchup in section 5.
GWB Maverick decklist
2. Introduction into Ninjas
The primary goal of Legacy Ninjas is to deploy an evasive creature on T1 (Ornithopter or Changeling Outcast), then ninjutsu T2 to begin accruing card advantage and clocking the opponent. The other engine in the deck is Retrofitter Foundry, which can create 4/4 constructs early on thanks to Ornithopter or Changeling Outcast to quickly win games. It’s planeswalker-esque in the way it can grind out the long game, too. Ninjas compliments these win conditions with free counterspells, removal, and discard (usually out of the board).
3. Matchup History
How have you found the matchup between Maverick and Ninjas?
While Ninjas is a relative newcomer to the Legacy scene, I’ve been playing Legacy Ninjas since late 2018 – I began brewing as soon as Yuriko was spoiled. Before Modern Horizons 1 and the printing of Retrofitter Foundry, Maverick was a much tougher matchup for Ninjas. Ninjas didn’t have much evasion then and Maverick dominated the ground. The version I played ran a set of Gurmag Angler, which Maverick outclassed with Knight of the Reliquary and Mother of Runes.
With the current builds of Ninjas and Maverick I believe Ninjas has the advantage in the matchup.
In its current iteration, Ninjas is a tough archetype to navigate for Maverick players. This is a matchup where you really need to focus on each opposing creature and understand how big of a threat it is. Do you go after the enabler, or wait for the real threat to show its face? Having removal at the right time is key to making sure your Ninjas opponent doesn’t run away the game. Most of the time Ninjas can drown you in card advantage via engines in Ingenious Infiltrator, Yuriko or Foundry. Maverick doesn’t have the luxury of digging for removal in most instances, so every single piece you find needs to hit the threat.
The non-ninjutsu plan in Retrofitter Foundry also lines up poorly with Maverick’s removal. Unless you can land a Collector Ouphe or find a quick Abrupt Decay or Knight of Autumn, you’re going to have an uphill battle trying to deal with the Foundry. Ornithopter and Changeling Outcast might seem non-threatening, but with a Foundry in play you need to find an immediate answer before you start getting hit by 4/4 tokens. The printing of Prismatic Ending is a HUGE boost for Maverick as it deals with any turn 1 play from Ninjas and can also exile all threats thanks to 4th colour options through mana dorks.
The mix of clean removal including Fatal Push and Murderous Cut also makes it difficult for Maverick to stick a threat. Post-board you can’t rely on Mother of Runes to protect your creatures due to cards like Plague Engineer. It’s just an awkward matchup where half your deck fights well against one of their strategies, but for that to happen you not only need your opponent to be on that line of attack, you need to have drawn into the side of your deck that shuts it down.
Which cards out of Ninjas do you find key?
Retrofitter Foundry – Reduces the effectiveness of Mother of Runes because the creatures it makes are colorless. It can also blank equipment like Jitte and Batterskull since you can sacrifice the blocker before damage.
Fatal Push – Clean, efficient answer to most every threat Maverick deploys. Ninjas does an outstanding job at enabling revolt (fetchlands, ninjitsu, Retrofitter Foundry). Yes, Plague Engineer is great, but not as excellent as it would be vs Death & Taxes or tribal strategies.
Changeling Outcast – Great way to keep card advantage rolling with a ninja in play since the ninjas can have a hard time getting through on the ground. Notably this card is much worse, and wouldn’t make the list, against the black splash of Maverick because Plague Engineer kills it regardless of what they name.
Fatal Push is such a strong removal spell against Maverick has it’s clean and versatile. I am much more scared of Foundry lines than ninjitsu most of the time and is a big reason why I tend to keep Collector Ouphe in post-board (similar line of thinking when keeping in Ouphe against Hogaak to keep Altar wins off the table).
Which cards in Maverick do you think are notable in the matchup and why?
Scryb Ranger – Such a tricky card to play against. It blocks our ninjas, gets extra activations out of Mother of Runes or Knight and provides multiple surprise blockers.
Plague Engineer – While it may be a sideboard card for some lists, it’s certainly a card to be on the lookout for in G1 if you see black mana. It can be devastating to Ninjas. Thankfully it can’t be tutored by Green Sun’s Zenith. Servo is typically the correct creature type to name.
Swords to Plowshares – such an efficient and powerful removal spell. Keeping Ninjas off its card advantage engine is important to beating it.
Umezawa’s Jitte – An unchecked Jitte can run away with the game. Ninjas has Retrofitter Foundry and Petty Theft to possibly keep it in check.
Fortunately Punishing Fire doesn’t answer our ninjas. It does answer our enablers, but that isn’t a problem once we have Retrofitter Foundry in play.
Swords to Plowshares is our best removal spell and is crucial to have in your opening turns against Ninjas. When you’re facing down an Ingenious Infiltrator, you can feel pretty hopeless with Punishing Fire or Abrupt Decay in hand. Swords is also very mana-efficient and plays around Daze very well. As mentioned above Prismatic Ending is also going to be very strong at keeping Ninjas opponents off most of their threats.
If you’re playing a Mother of Runes build of Maverick, I’d find getting her online more appealing than building out mana in G1 if I have the option. Being able to protect your win conditions in threats like Knight of the Reliquary is key to staying ahead in the matchup as you need to pressure Ninjas into keeping creatures on defence.
4. Sideboarding Strategy
How to do you sideboard against Maverick?
+3 Plague Engineer | +1 Fatal Push | +1 Thoughtseize
-2 Daze | -2 Force of Will | -1 Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow
Pretty straightforward sideboarding. You’ll want more removal. Daze can become ineffective rather quickly and you’d rather not suffer the card disadvantage of Force of Will. However, some cards are must answer like Umezawa’s Jitte and Choke (although 3 Swamps go a long way). Skyclave Apparition is strong vs Ninjas, but isn’t found in all Maverick builds; it’s usually worth forcing. Karakas can reduce Yuriko’s effectiveness early on, but by the mid to late game you should have enough mana and unblocked attackers to ninjitsu again post Karakas activation. Keep in mind that creatures are still attacking after they’ve been Mazed of Ith, so they can be ninjisued. Retrofitter Foundry is key to pull ahead in grindy matchups like this.
VS. Abzan Maverick
+3 Plague Engineer | +1 Fatal Push | +1 Thoughtseize | +1 Back to Basics
-2 Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow | -2 Changeling Outcast | -1 Daze | -1 Force of Will
It’s mostly about Plague Engineer. You’ll want to answer it before it hits the board usually because it clears Changling Outcast, and to a lesser extent Baleful Strix. That’s why I want more Force of Will and a Thoughtseize, even daze has a chance to stop Plague Engineer. I don’t want too many copies of Thoughtseize because it’s still a grindy, top deck affair. Petty Theft isn’t an impactful play vs Plague Engineer, but it’s still important to get a reprieve from Choke or interact with equipment. In concert with our own Plague Engineer on mana dork duty (and other humans), Back to Basics can be debilitating vs 3 color versions of Maverick.
5. Modern Horizon’s 2 Considerations:
While Ninjas really didn’t get any new tools from MH2, Maverick certainly did.Prismatic Ending is a versatile removal spell that answers Retrofitter Foundry with mana efficiency. While Maverick already had tools to fight artifacts this card is more impactful in the matchup, as it always has relevant targets.Endurance isn’t at its best in the matchup as Ninjas largely ignores its own graveyard. However, it is a surprise blocker that can ambush a ninja or flyer looking to connect. It also dodges push without revolt which is relevant, although Ninjas enables revolt with the best of them.Grist is another card that Maverick now has access to. In my limited experience the card has been good against me. Although it was a matchup in which I was far behind to begin with facing down Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath, Plague Engineer, Ice Fang Coatl, and plenty of removal.Overall I believe the largest difference maker from MH2 in the matchup to be Prismatic Ending. I’ve only played one legacy league since MH2 (4-1) and I didn’t face Maverick, so I’m not sure how the matchup is now. I’d bet it’s closer to even.The only MH2 card I’ve incorporated into Ninjas is a sideboard Sudden Edict, which I like, but it’s not stealing the show by any stretch.
Prismatic Ending really eases some of the tension on having the correct removal. The flexibility of this spell continues to amaze me and I know will have an effect on the Maverick vs. Ninjas matchup post-MH2.
Endurance is also a huge printing for the Ninjas matchup. Reach is very underrated and something Maverick hasn’t traditionally had access to outside of actual flyers in Birds of Paradise and Scryb Ranger. The 3/4 body also lines up well against Infiltrator to buy time and make sure the engine stalls.
If you’re wanting some post Modern Horizons 2 Maverick decklists for reference, check out Achillies27’s GWB lists. I know Mark Strassman has been testing out some spicy Maverick lists with Ragavan.
6. Tips & Tricks:
Here are some tips I covered in the content above:
Retrofitter Foundry’s ability allows you to block then sacrifice to nullify Umezawa’s Jitte and Batterskull.
You can ninjutsu a second time after a Karakas activation on Yuriko if there’s still an unblocked attacker.
Often times I’ll ninjitsu Ingenious Infiltrator before Yuriko so that I can hard cast Yuriko the next turn. This isn’t as relevant if you have Ornithopter as your enabler since you can redeploy it turn 2 after ninjitsu. Infiltrator plays around Decay, Karakas, and the 2nd point of power can be relevant when brawling in combat.
Against Punishing Fire it may behoove you to hold back enablers until Retrofitter Foundry gets online. Also when transforming servos into thopters with Retrofitter Foundry you’ll want to hold priority to untap the Foundry if you have the spare mana. That way they won’t get an opportunity to Punishing Fire away the thopter before you can sacrifice it to make it a 4/4 construct.
For Maverick there aren’t too many interesting lines but here’s some general tips: (shout out to marsonfire in the Maverick discord for pointing some of these out)
Note from above is than Changeling Outcast is every creature type, so name servo with Plague Engineer. Note that naming ninja does turn Yuriko into a 0/2, nullifying her completely.
Be cautious of Back to Basics in the post-board games. Ninjas usually runs up to 7 basic lands and can operate on them without any issues.
Ninjas is a matchup where you want to announce your blocks (or no blocks) before using your removal. This is to see if they have a ninjutsu effect which you can then reassess how you want to use your removal.
Don’t run removal into a Foundry. I’ve been caught one too many times where I’ve tried to remove an Ornithopter or Changeling Outcast and in response my opponent has activated Foundry to create another threat through sacrifice.
Punishing Maverick players can aggressively target Ornithopter or Changeling Outcast with Punishing Fire and leave Swords to Plowshares for the bigger threats.
A huge thank you to Lyle for coming on the GreenSunsZenith for this matchup discussion. Ninjas vs Maverick is a really tough matchup to navigate from both sides so your insights are really appreciated. A big shout out to the Ninja’s Discord! Lyle only has great things to say about the Ninja’s community which is great to hear.
If you’re looking to improve your matchup on either side of the table: Practise. Practise. Practise. Try a mix of 3 pre-board games then 3 post-board with a friend or player in your local area to get a really good understanding of how each deck performs.
Have a thought that wasn’t covered above? Comment below and let me know!
As always – play well, play fair, and I’ll catch you soon.
8. Previous Matchup Series: