Punishing Maverick

Punishing Maverick – Punishing Opponents

As the name gives away, Punishing Maverick takes advantage of the synergy between Punishing FireGrove of the Burnwillows within a traditional Maverick build. Citing the Maverick Primer from MTG The Source, “Punishing Fire was first adopted in Maverick decks at the end of 2011, primarily as a way of gaining an edge in the Maverick mirror. It turns out that the Punishing Fire + Grove of the Burnwillows combination slots very naturally into a GWx Maverick shell for several reasons.

This build is great against a fair metagame as the additional removal in Punishing Fire moves the maindeck Thalia, Guardian of Thraben‘s to the sideboard. This isn’t the only reason though; the 3 Grove of the Burnwillows and 1-2 Taiga ‘s also means your white sources are quite vulnerable.  If you know your local meta well and know it’s dominated by creature based decks, you’re going to have a good time. However against Combo archetypes you are really going to feel the absence of the distributive element that is Thalia in Game 1. The main reason you cut Thalia’s to the sideboard is because of how mana intensive the Punishing Grove synergy is. Thalia’s tax can keep you from firing off multiple Punishing Fire‘s in a turn and actually have more of an effect on your gameplan than your opponents.

The Grove / Punishing Fire synergy is great for shooting down creatures turn after turn, getting Planeswalkers off the battlefield or even slowly burning your opponent to defeat. The big difference between more traditional Maverick builds and Punishing Maverick is that Punishing Fire allows you to pressure your opponents life total, creatures and planeswalkers without adding to your boardstate. As the usual Maverick build plays very much on the battlefield, with this variant you don’t have to go wide and open yourself to sweepers.

Another advantage of playing the ‘combo’ in your deck is Grove’s synergy with Knight of the Reliquary. Through Knight‘s ability you can also tutor up a Grove of the Burnwillows on command so with a Punishing Fire in the graveyard, Knight can act as a removal suit too. This also means you don’t need to play the full playset of Groves giving you more room for forest and plains based lands for Knight to use at your will.

However Grove of the Burnwillows is not the only way to get a Punishing Fire back in hand. Swords to Plowshares gives you access to another way of returning Punishing Fire from your graveyard.

The additional of red in your manabase also allows you to play some strong control and combo sideboard cards such as Red Elemental Blast and Pyroblast. These and Thalia both shore up your combo and control matchups for games 2 and 3 most likely replacing the Punishing Fire‘s and some number of Swords to Plowshares.

Although over the past few years we’ve seen an increase in 4 colour variants that run the Punishing Fire Combo alongside Chalice of the Void, Mox Diamond, Life from the Loam and Dark Confidant. However this isn’t to say 4C Loam has taken the place of Punishing Maverick as although the decks have similarities, they also have some big differences which I’ll go over in a later article.

Mark Strassman is a well known Punishing Maverick player who’s had some really nice finishes with the deck. Below you can see him take on Reid Duke on Elves and well, I’ll keep the outcome for you to view yourself.

Below is Mark’s list from his top 4 finish at Dice City Games in Maryland’s Quest for Power event. You can also find his list from his 7th place finish at the 290 player Eternal Extravaganza in 2016 here.

StrassDaddy’s Punishing List [3rd Place]
Quest for Power Black Lotus – 30th March 2019
Sideboard

1 Birds of Paradise
4 Mother of Runes
3 Noble Hierarch
1 Gaddock Teeg
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Scryb Ranger
3 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Knight of Autumn
4 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Ramunap Excavator
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
4 Swords to Plowshares
3 Punishing Fire
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
1 Batterskull
2 Sylvan Library
1 Dryad Arbor
1 Forest
3 Grove of the Burnwillows
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Karakas
1 Plains
1 Plateau
2 Savannah
2 Taiga
3 Wasteland
4 Windswept Heath
3 Wooded Foothills

1 Gaddock Teeg
4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Knight of Autumn
2 Palace Jailer
1 Pyroblast
2 Red Elemental Blast
3 Choke
1 Bojuka Bog

Above the Horizon – Punishing Maverick with Wrenn & Six

wrenn and six

Wrenn and Six has had not only a massive impact on the format, but also on Punishing Maverick. Miranda Keith was one of the first to play with Wrenn in the deck and had some great points in this Reddit thread Wrenn gives the deck a new way to attack your opponent, a way to add another threat to the board without going wide with creatures. This is great against decks with sweepers like Toxic Deluge and Terminus which threaten the effectiveness of your go-wide beatdown strategy. Being able to answer creatures like Baleful Strix, Delver of Secrets, Dark Confidant, Mother of Runes (on the play), Young Pyromancer, opposing mana dorks like Noble Hierarch, Birds of Paradise and Dryad Arbor and even work alongside Punishing Fire to deal with x/3 creatures is a huge bonus.

Wrenn also opens up the possibility of running some number of cycle lands (Scattered Groves/Sheltered Thicket) and also Ghost Quarter in the slot of either Wasteland #4 or an additional utility land. The ability to go after basic lands in Legacy right now is highly relevant especailly against decks like UW Stoneblade and Miracles. Ghost Quarter can also act as a Strip Mine against decks that don’t run basic lands such as RUG Delver and sometimes Eldrazi.

Does Wrenn actually make some of our poor matchups better?

100% yes. This is the only real question that should be asked when looking to add a new card into your deck. Does this card improve our bad matchups and not just increase our win % against our already solid matchups? Wrenn is great against go-wide strategies such as UR Delver, Goblins or Elves, hard control like Miracles or Grixis and also fair matchups like Death & Taxes and the mirror. Where Wrenn doesn’t add too much to our gameplan is against fast combo archetypes like Reanimator, Storm and to a slower extent Sneak & Show.

 Below is a 5-0 list Miranda ran through a MTGO Legacy league. Renegade Rallier get back Wrenn & Six anyone?     

One card you will see missing from this list is Punishing Fire. In Miranda’s opinion, the mana intensive name sake synergy of the deck is just not worth it now that Wrenn is an option. I can understand this thought process and to be fair there aren’t many relevant creatures that Wrenn can’t deal with that Punishing Fire can (Monastery Mentor, a flipped Delver and Stoneforge Mystic is the main card that comes to mind but Maverick in general has a solid matchup against equipment based decks). I also agree that when Deathrite Shaman was in the format, answers like Punishing Fire were much more needed. Here’s Miranda’s take on Pushing Fire right now in Maverick; 

I think the card (Punishing Fire) just straight up sucks in Maverick. It’s a good card, but Maverick is generally trying to play almost a tempo game with Thalia‘s and Wasteland‘s, and Punishing Fire is like the anthesis of that. If it were possible to just have like two copies of Punishing Fire in the sideboard without f**king up our maindeck manabase I’d consider it, but I think it’s not even remotely where the deck wants to be and you’re better off playing 4c Loam if you want to go that route. Playing Thalia and Punishing Fire in the same deck is bad, don’t do it. – Miranda Keith, Top 8 GP competitor with Maverick

Reddit user RegularMother also had some great points about the advantages of both Punishing Fire & Wrenn in Punishing Maverick:

Punishing Fire Advantages:

  • Creates total inevitability against nearly all decks. The longer the game goes, the more favoured you are. Against most tempo and control decks, Punishing Maverick was the control deck. Only Entreat the Angels and Back to Basics was really scary. It feels good to literally deck a Miracles player because they have no more threats in their remaining 9 cards.
  • Kills things that are two toughness, such as, notably, Monastery Mentor, Stoneforge Mystic, flipped Delver of Secrets, and most Legacy-playable man-lands.
  • In longer games, deals with things that have four or five toughness, like Tombstalker.
  • Prevents opposing Planeswalkers from being game-ending if even or behind on board.

Wrenn & Six Advantages:

  • Significantly more stable manabase. I think people didn’t realise that Grove of the Burnwillows took every flex slot in Maverick’s manabase if playing Punishing Fire and, instead, tried doing cutesy shit like playing Horizon Canopy and Dark Depths and Maze of Ith. Having a pseudo-Life from the Loam effect in the deck allows Maverick to consistently cast its spells.
  • Better at the mana-denial plan that Maverick can often do.
  • The ultimate is still game-ending against most decks- unlimited StP is pretty darn great and, post-board, unlimited REBs is terrifying.
  • Still deals with some of the worst threats that Maverick has to face: Baleful Strix, Young Pyromancer, Mother of Runes, a few others.
  • Notably better against Elves and Death and Taxes- Razorfin Hunter is a lot better than 3 mana shocks against X/1s.
  • A Planeswalker on-board represents effective lifegain if an opponent attacks it.

I also took a similar list to Miranda’s (however with 2 Punishing Fire) through a MTGO league to a 4-1 finish via my stream.  

Conclusion:

If your local meta game has an abundance of fair decks, make sure you make room for the Punishing Fire / Grove of the Burnwillow’s synergy in your Maverick deck to really take your game 1 percentages to another level . The ability to have reoccurring removal isn’t something other Maverick builds have access to and can be very powerful in the right meta.

Wrenn & Six has also had a huge impact on the format and right now is the main reason to splash red in Maverick IMO. Wrenn has put pressure on Punishing Fire‘s place in the deck no doubt, however I believe they work really well together. The ability to take out multiple threats whilst keeping Swords to Plowshares and Punishing Fire  for larger threats. 

Being able to side in Pyroblast & Red Elemental Blast‘s against blue decks can really help you take down G2 & G3 where the lack of G1 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben might hurt your ability to close out a match in the first two games.