It’s hard to look at Maverick and not see Abzan as the best archetype for competitive play. With access to Abrupt Decay, Plague Engineer and a suite of powerful planeswalkers, the addition of black is very appealing.
But what if I told you the best version of Maverick wasn’t Abzan and is currently one of the most underplayed variants?
Punishing Maverick has been in the Legacy metagame for close to a decade. In the past, the biggest draw to the deck was utilising the synergy between Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows to obliterate opposing boardstates.
This combo gave pilots some real end-game advantages and a way to destroy opposing creatures, planeswalkers, or opponents themselves. Since the printing of cards like Dreadhorde Arcanist and Oko Thief of Crowns, Punishing Maverick has shifted away from relying on the Grove of the Burnwillows / Punishing Fire combo with a number of lists running Lightning Bolt in the maindeck.
Not only does the red splash give you access to additional reach and removal – you also get one of the most powerful Green Sun’s Zenith targets in Klothys, God of Destiny and interaction in blast effects out of the board.
When talking to most Maverick players, Uro, Oko and Ice-Fang are 3 clear pain points in today’s metagame. These cards don’t just produce value as soon as they come into play – they’re also very good against fair strategies like Maverick. Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast allow Maverick players to disarm these threats on the stack and stop any value they would create when hitting the board. There’s no better way for Maverick to deal with these threats than on the stack.
To get a better idea of the deck’s current position, I reached out to Mark Strassman. He then gathered the thoughts of some other Punishing Maverick experts to see how they thought the deck is currently sitting in the meta game. His list is below and looks to take advantage of some powerful blue spells in Oko and Meddling Mage.
If you’re looking for a straight GWR Maverick list, here’s a 75 I trophied with today. I played Lightning Bolt respecting Oko and Dreadhorde, and went with Carpet of Flowers in the board. This was to replace any mana-dorks I was siding out against Snow (Dead of Winter) and other control decks that tend to play sweepers.
Mark Strassman has been toying around with 4&5 lists for a while now and has been really enjoying this 4C list. This is the list I’ll be referring to in the Q&A below.
Why would a player splash red in Maverick?
The red splash provides more end-game power with Punishing Fire. Punishing Fire gives you something to do with your mana late game. It’s a 2-drop that can be played early, and it’s a great top deck late in the game. Often in the grindy games, I find myself often wanting to draw a Punishing Fire more than any other card. Punishing Fire also makes you opponent board awkwardly. Surgical Extraction and Leyline of the Void are okay options against Maverick, but sometimes they are dead cards.
Blast effects in Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast are some of the best cards in a busted and rather predictable metagame (which is where we are). A 1-CMC Counterspell / Vindicate is a great tempo swing, and the card has a lot of reach right now, hitting spells such as:
• Oko, Thief of Crowns
• Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath
• Ice-Fang Coatl
• Show and Tell
• Delver of Secrets
• Echo of Eons and many others.
Klothys is a meta call, and it’s great in the current meta in my opinion. It’s a solid choice against Delver, but best against Snowko and control decks as it’s like a Sulfuric Vortex that gains life and attacks the graveyard. Klothys also has some game against slower graveyard decks like Lands and fast, aggressive strategies thanks to the life gain.
Cards like Fiery Justice are meta calls. I loved the card in the Lurrus meta, but the Delver decks play big butt 2-drops instead of cards like Young Pyromancer, and Brazen Borrower. If the meta shifts to Elves, Mother of Runes mirrors, Delver decks that aren’t on Tarmogoyf / Hooting Mandrills / Gurmag Angler / Dreadhorde Arcanist, and Aether Vial decks, then it’s a good choice. I’ll also add my 3-drop count is high as I’m on Oko in the busted/broken/warped meta game.
What are some of the weaknesses of the deck?
The weakness is T0-2 combo decks, Enchantress, and decks that play 1-mana instant speed Wrath of God (nod and middle finger to old-school Miracles). It’s not worth playing cards to beat these decks in the board unless the meta game is stale and graveyard decks or storm decks take over. Put up a fight, but don’t expect to come out on top.
Like any other deck, Maverick can’t beat all it opposes. If you select Punishing Maverick, you’re increasing your chances of beating the slower combo, control and creature decks, and sacrificing your chances to beat T0-2 matchups.
Does the archetype have any clear flex spots?
It sure does. This is why I’ve been playing the deck for so long. White has so many options! You can set yourself up to fight nearly any deck.
If it’s a Mother of Runes Meta, play a Stoneforge Mystic build.
If it’s an Elves meta, play the 20/20 win-con and sideboard hate like Fiery Justice and Ethersworn Canonist.
If it’s a Show and Tell / combo meta, load up on blast effects and play Thalia, Guardian of Thraben in the maindeck. Due to Punishing Fire being so mana intensive, it’s normal to see a Punishing Maverick pilot play Thalia in the board.
Thanks to the flexibility of Green Sun’s Zenith, you can also work on your toolbox of silver bullets to make sure you have the right creature for the matchups you anticipate.
Sideboarding with Punishing Maverick:
Here’s how I generally find I board against different types of decks.
This can be a really tough one as most of the time, you just don’t matter. You can hope they get unlucky and you land a T2 piece of interaction (Thalia, Teeg, Ouphe). These are my least favorite matchups. Meddling Mage (in the 4c variants) and blast effects have been sweet against Doomsday. My matchup has still be rather poor. It’s a really poor matchup against ANT unless you load up on T0-T1 sideboard cards like Deafening Silence or Mindbreak Trap. However, I don’t recommend this due to this being a rough matchup, as I would rather focus my sideboard on more 50/50 matchups.
I tend to sideboard out silver bullets such as Gaddock Teeg, Collector Ouphe, and Qasali Pridemage and make room for all blast effects. Depending on my build, I might even cut a Punishing Fire due to the mana.
Snow / Pile archetypes:
Snow/pile is a deck where the blasts in the board shine. I currently board out all the mana-dorks, all the Swords to Plowshares, Teeg, Ouphe, and add a bunch of stuff. Meddling Mage has been pretty solid against removal or heavy hitters like Oko.
Maverick, Death & Taxes & Esper Vial:
I really like the blast effects against Esper Vial. Some of their best cards are blue. I board out a few mana dorks and the Teeg and Klothys.
I sideboard lightly against Maverick. I don’t currently have much for the mirror. I’ll take out the combo hate, and maybe a few dorks if I have a lot to add. I like being safe with an extra Knight of Autumn, and playing Bojuka Bog so I can kill Knight of the Reliquary with Punishing Fire or blocks.
I’m not set up as well against D&T as I’m not playing Mother of Runes. I add Ouphe when I’m on SFM and against Aether Vial decks as stopping Vial is sometimes enough for a concession down the line.
Tribal: Elves, Goblins, Eldrazi
The Elves matchup got much worse when they started boarding in Progenitus, as racing that card is hard. I like the 20/20 combo and more removal spells than I like the Stoneforge Mystic plan. If you run Mother of Runes, you can get through with Jitte and keep Teeg on the board. Without Mom, this matchup is much worse.
Goblins is in a cool place right now. I board about the same way for Goblins as I do against D&T. If I’m playing Meddling Mage, I’ll find room for it, as versions with Muxus change my sideboard plan. Some decks ramp to Muxus with Chrome Mox and Skirk Prospector. Meddling Mage is best against the non-vial versions that are playing the game like it’s a midrange combo deck.
Eldrazi is normally good for us. If you run Stoneforge Mystic, it’s really strong here. Without SFM, it’s all about getting a Knight of the Reliquary to stick. Being on the play is huge. Meddling Mage is solid against white versions running Eldrazi Displacer, and slower versions that run All is Dust.
Depths / Lands:
Depths is a solid MU for Maverick in general, so the red splash isn’t very relevant here. I might keep Klothys as life gain is important. 21 life is almost the same as 40 life. If you see Dark Confidants, and Sylvan Safekeeper, consider keeping Punishing Fire. If not, Pun ought to go. This is another MU where Meddling Mage is solid. Lands is all about getting a 3/3 online. You’ll likely win if you can T2 Knight that’s greater than 2 toughness. If you have graveyard stuff, this is probably an easy MU. Without grave hate, it’s harder. Field of the Dead is a nice addition for them. Tabby loops with Thespian’s Stage and Loam/Wasteland is how we lose. Meddling Mage is sold here as you can name Life from the Loam or Punishing Fire and shut down their engine.
Sneak & Show / OmniTell:
This matchup is not too bad. I’m better set to beat Omni with blast effects and Meddling Mage out of the board. Sneak versions have more diversity to get around blast effects and Pyroclasm is very strong against us. I feel like this MU is about 50/50 depending on the builds.
I think those are the big ones. If you have any you think should be on their own, added in or removed, that would be great to hear.
I want to talk about the blue splash and why I’m doing it. I find mana screw is an issue with any splash, so why not try some busted blue cards too?
I also want to brew a GWbu version with a similar concept to the GWru version. The mana might be better as it won’t have to run Grove of the Burnwillows. Leovold is that dude!
Questions from Discord:
Which silver bullets are worth it at the moment?
I still like Gaddock Teeg and find Collector Ouphe is amazing against the decks where it’s relevant. I find Thalia is currently more of a meta call as she isn’t as impactful as she once was against blue decks. Klothys is great right now, but if the blue decks dwindle in numbers (fat chances), it will probably sit on the sidelines. – Skizz
Gaeas Cradle – Is it worth it?
I haven’t been able to make room for this card. Punishing Maverick has mana issues and Mom isn’t too good right now, so getting the “free mana” with Cradle is less likely. I would not run it. – Skizz
Is the Dark Depths combo needed?
The Dark Depths / Thespian’s Stage combo is a meta call. I like it against midrange combo decks (Elves, Karn, Alluren, Foodchain) and it’s not bad against Goblins. Overall, I don’t think it’s needed, but it can be great in the right room. I board the combo out rather often. – Raytheon
GWR currently splashes red for Punishing Fire / Bolt, Klothys, and blasts effects. Are there any other red spells that could be worth testing in the future?
It’s nice to have access to one-sided sweeper effects in Fiery Justice and Blazing Volley. I’ve considered Flametongue Kavu, but it’s probably worse than Palace Jailer and Ajani Vegeant as a solid choice for a 4-CMC walker. I’ve considered Wear/Tear (in some weird reality where artifacts and enchants are abundant like D&T) and Cindervines as it was great against Breach.
The red splash is very powerful right now, negating your opponent’s ability to gain the value they’re looking for from cards like Oko, Uro and Ice-Fang Coatl. The extra removal in Bolt or Punishing Fire is great in the fair matchups and gives you the reach to finish off planeswalkers.
Klothys is near impossible to remove once resolved. Teferi bounce is going to be the main way of blue decks ‘deal’ with it as Council’s Judgment aren’t seeing much play. For matchups like Snow, Klothys is a very real plan to grind out a win. In short, Klothys is Maverick’s best threat in today’s meta game.
A huge thank you to the above members of the Punishing Maverick community for dedicating some of their time and sharing their thoughts.
Take care, play fair.