Welcome back to the second installment of Understanding the Maverick, a series where I interview prominent members of the Legacy Maverick community. Our last interview was with Maverick stalwart Achillies27, a player who seems to put up 5-0s each month with multiple versions of the deck. This time, we have Mark Strassman, a well known Maverick fan. And to be more specific, a very high-calibre player of Punishing Maverick.
Hey Mark, thanks for coming on the GreenSunsZenith. How did you first get into Magic the Gathering?
In 1988, my father opened a comic book shop called Comicards in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I grew up in a comic book shop, and I gravitated to the games more than the comic books. When the Fallen Empires set came out, the Magic: The Gathering card market crashed, and Fallen Empires packs were dirt cheap. At this time, my father took the risk, and bought into Magic: The Gathering. I remember looking up to the older kids, including my older brother who played the game. My dad noticed I was interested in playing Magic, and he gave me a starter deck from 4th edition and my mom read the rule book with me, and we learned some of the basics together.
After several months of collecting cards, I had assistance with building a deck from the local Magic: The Gathering crew who attended the tournaments my dad’s store held. I had a red and white deck that had a Shivan Dragon, a Serra Angel and a Colossus of Sardia, and I sort of knew what I was doing. Counterspell was legal in the type 2.0 format (what we call standard now) and this is where my hatred for blue decks started.
I moved to a new school in middle school, met new friends, and my dad worked at another hobby shop that sold Magic: The Gathering and held Magic: The Gathering Tournaments. This is when I really started to understand the game. I played type 2 in the Mercadian Masques block all the way into the Odyssey block. In Type 2.0, Counterspell was legal. More hatred for this card built as I was forced into playing blue decks if I wanted to be competitive. I felt that the card was too powerful and flexible and wizard agreed, and Counterspell has not been a type 2.0 legal card since 7th edition. Now I am a rebel in a format with a similar blue deck issue, and I am too much of a maverick (pun intended) to play a blue deck.
When did you get into the Legacy format? What archetypes and decks have you played around with since starting?
I started getting back into Magic: The Gathering around 2009 when I came home from college. I stopped playing World of Warcraft (recovering WoW addict since), and I had a close group of childhood friends who played older school fighting games like Street Fighter II and Marvel VS Capcom. In this group of friends, Timothy Saskiewicz (Sas), Mark Dovidio, Vito Asta, Augie Asta and Michael Murrieta also played Magic: The Gathering casually. Sas, Vito and myself really got into Magic: The Gathering, and we played in lots of events together from drafts to sealed events, and eventually Sas and I were playing in competitive Legacy events.
Sas was a much more experienced card game player than I was at that time. Sas played Magic: The Gathering competitively and he was an accomplished Yugioh player. Concepts like card advantage, tempo, knowing your role in matchups (who’s the beatdown article), mana curve, building a sideboard, etc. were concepts Sas was able to explain to me, and learning from Sas was instrumental in my development as a card game player.
Playing the burn deck was a great way for me to learn basic concepts, learn the format and learn the advance concepts of the game like how the stack worked. I was able to stay competitive at events with the burn deck and having someone to play with on a weekly basis kept me sharp and interested in the format. Sas played Stoneblade, and listening to him discuss the decisions he had to make and why he would choose certain tech over others was always interesting to me, and this inspired me to branch away from the linear burn deck into something new.
I picked up Legacy Goblins, Jund, an embarrassing homebrew. I learned a lot from the homebrew experience, and I encourage other players to try this. One day, Vito brought over a proxied version of Punishing Maverick and Sneak & Show, and Sas suggested that I would like the Maverick deck. Sas was correct.
What drew you into playing Maverick – more specifically, Punishing Maverick?
Punishing Maverick is by far my favorite deck. I saw a list from a successful Magic player named Fabian Gorzgen and I was drawn to the list. What drew me to the deck was how interactive the creatures were, how many ways the deck could be altered to fit a meta game, and how you could review a game and see how if you or your opponent made different choices, the outcome of the game may have changed drastically.
The burn deck had fewer decisions and less interaction, and games were often over quickly. Also, burn was getting wrecked in the Mental Misstep era of Magic. Goblins is another deck I enjoy, however, I do not think the deck is as competitive. Homebrews are fun, and I have experimented at local events with some builds. However, I have one day a week to play Magic, so I stick with playing Punishing Maverick.
I think the reason I have stuck with the deck for so long (since Deathrite Shaman was printed) is that I can change the main deck or the sideboard to fit a meta game, and still have success. I played Punishing Maverick in some dark times. I played the deck during Treasure Cruise, Dig Through Time, Sensei’s Divining Top, Gitaxian Probe, Deathrite Shaman, and Wrenn and Six , and I did not switch decks at all during these times. I just got wrecked, and I got wrecked a lot more than I would if I just played a Brainstorm deck!
I would adjust the 75 cards to stand the best possible chance, and I had a lot of success even when these busted cards were legal. Perhaps my most impressive performance was in 2016 at Eternal Extravaganza 5. I made top 8 when Miracles was the most played deck and Maverick was not a deck many players would consider when the meta game consisted of decks that played 4 main deck Terminus.
I’ve seen your matches against Reid Duke online. What’s your favourite tournament experience: memory or play?
Winning a camera match again Reid Duke was a great ego boost and provided me with an additional feeling of credibility to talk about the game. Most people would consider Elves to be a bad matchup for Maverick, however, Punishing Maverick has a lot more hands that can beat the Elves deck. Reid was a great sport about the match and he deserves all the success he has had over the years. At the time, I did not know who Reid Duke was. I have a chip on my shoulder that won’t allow me to look up famous players. However, after years of playing, I do know some of the big names who played the same decks as I do (like Jim Davis on Goblins, Patrick Sullivan on Burn and Fabian Gorzgen for being so successful with Punishing Maverick).
If you psych yourself out and do not believe in yourself, you are putting yourself at a true disadvantage. We are all just nerds who play the card game. I would recommend not knowing who these people are if you can. Ignorance is bliss. I recall asking Reid, “Am I the reason this camera match is happening?” I did just top 8 Eternal Weekend shortly before. How naive was I.
My favorite tournament experience was the top 8 at External Extravaganza. I won a camera match that day, did well in an event where my deck was not well positioned, and I felt like all the hard work I put in my amazing friend Jeremy Fehon on the Miracle matchup paid off.
A favorite play that I can recall was in the camera match against Reid. I used Garruk Relentless as a 4-mana removal spell to keep Reid off mana for Natural Order. I did this knowing Relentless was going to die the next turn to an attack from Nettle Sentinel.
I cannot recall an exact play where this comes up, but I enjoy reading my opponents and knowing if they have Daze, Force of Will , removal, or if they are terrified of a Wasteland. Making the right decision when you know all the variables is hard, but what separates the good players from the great players is “knowing” what you don’t know by making reads and playing intelligently with that information. If you cast something and your opponent pauses, you can be pretty certain they have a FoW, Daze, etc.
If you start the game and it takes your opponent 2 minutes to keep their hand, you are playing against a combo deck. You can almost always be sure of this, especially if you see them doing math, separating cards into piles, putting cards face down, and thinking. No fair deck needs to do this. You see mana and spells, and you keep or mulligan quickly.
How do you feel about the different Maverick archetypes?
Green-White Maverick: Probably should splash something. Wasteland/Loam decks, Bloodmoon decks, and Back to Basics decks are not that abundant. Only play this if these cards are abundant in your local meta.
Green-White-Black: Good choice, but not for me. I am not a fan of Leyline of the Void, Thoughtseize but Plague Engineer is amazing. That card makes the splash worth it, especially in a meta where True-Name Nemesis, Death & Taxes, Maverick, Elves, Goblins, etc. are played a lot.
I do not like Leyline of the Void for 3 reasons:
1) Graveyard decks are small portions of the meta game.I don’t think you want to run 3 or 4 of a card to beat matchups you probably wont see. I believe graveyard decks are weaker than other decks right now. They are tier 2, and we can beat many of these decks without going to extreme measures.
2) Leyline is not a clock. You are the aggro deck against combo decks. You need to shut the door asap before they craft a hand to answer the hate (especially game 2 – they will have an answer in the 75) and decks like Breach run so many cantrips, they will find an answer and they will kill you. Run hate cards with legs like Ethersworn Canonist, Cindervines, Collector Ouphe, Scavenging Ooze, Qasali Pridemage etc. if you want to beat Breach. The goal is to hit them for 20 or more damage, not lock them out of the game permanently. We do not have Force of Will, so they can remove our hate and kill us that turn.
3) This card is very narrow. I would not want to board this card in against decks that have graveyard strategies like Snapcaster Mage or Knight of the Reliquary. This card is only worth playing if the meta game is full of narrow graveyard strategies like Reanimate and Dredge. This card is worth playing against Storm/Breach if it’s already in your 75, but it’s not worth playing because of Storm/Breach. You have other options that are better against that deck, and as I stated earlier, you need to end the game and this enchantment does not deal damage.
TLDR: Leyline of the Void
Leyline of the Void does not deal damage (and you need to deal 20 damage to win). It’s narrow and only worth playing against Dredge or Reanimate, and it’s not worth sideboarding against decks that play Snapcaster or KotR – unlike cards like Scavenging Ooze that are great in those matchups, but worse against Dredge/Reanimate.
My beef with Thoughtseize echoes back to the Who’s the Beatdown article. We are not the control deck against combo decks. We cannot completely lock combo decks out of the game with Maverick. We must end the game by dealing 20 damage, and Thoughtseize does not have legs.
Thoughtseize is a 1 for 1 on card advantage, where you spend 1 mana, and your opponent spends 0 mana. This is a tempo-negative play in a match where we are the tempo deck. As the game is played, your combo opponent is playing cantrips and sculpting a hand in a superior way to what we can do without cantrips. The match progresses and your scumbag blue-deck-playing opponent will sculpt a better hand than your hand as the game progresses. Your 1-for-1 trade where you spent 1 mana and they spent 0 mana will not help you very much.
Pyroblast has a much better appeal. If your opponent spends 3 mana for Show and Tell and you spend 1 mana for Pyroblast, this tempo favors you much more than you spending 1 mana and your opponent spending 0 mana. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is so good mostly for the tempo swing. Even if they remove Thalia in the 1-for-1 trade, the mana they spend is likely equal or more than the cost of Thalia. This concept is why we get so salty when our 3 mana Knight (or 4 mana for the Green Sun’s Zenith to find Knight) gets removed for 1 mana with Swords to Plowshares. Or even worse, with zero mana on a Daze or Force of Will (of course Force of Will is card disadvantage, but it’s tempo positive).
Thoughtseize is tempo-negative, doesn’t help in the objective to make your opponent lose 20 life, and it’s a 1-for-1 trade when we are the aggro deck – which is not what you want as a tempo deck in the matchup.
Punishing Maverick: Play these colors. Pun is great, Pyroblast is great, Cindervines is great, and Klothys, God of Destiny is impressive.
BANT: Oko, Thief of Crowns seems good. 3-mana walkers are desirable. Don’t get too fancy. Maybe run a counterspell or 3 in the board, but that’s it. No cute stuff needed.
4/5C: Y’all trippin’.
What do you feel Maverick is missing to push it to T1 in the majority of players’ eyes?
The deck needs cards like these: Deathrite Shaman, Wrenn and Six, GSZ-able Baleful Strix, GSZ-able Thalia, GSZ-able Swords to Plowshares, and a GSZ-able good flying threat with a hate effect like Aven Mindcensor. It does not need all of these cards, but one would be nice. All of these cards should say ‘if you control an island card, sacrifice this permanent’ so blue decks don’t ruin the good tools we get.
Blue decks get cards banned, and restrictions like ‘destroy this card if you control an Island’ would prevent blue decks from using these cards.
What do you feel are Punishing Maverick’s best/worst matchups?
The worst matchups are (before sideboard) Sneak & Show, Omni-Tell, Miracles, Food Chain, Enchantress, Alluren, and Breach (if you do not run Ouphe main deck).
How have you personally tried to make some of your local matchups better? (Any spice cards, leaving out notable cards)
I have taken the philosophy of creating a sideboard to beat the decks I should beat, and maybe hedge only 1 or 2 for the most common bad matchups. This is why I run 3 to 4 copies of cards I cannot search for.
4 Pyroblasts to beat Show and Tell and help against control. 3 copies of Choke to beat the Miracles decks and Grixis Delver decks players in my area like. 3 Cindervines to help the bad Breach matchup and also assist with Food Chain, Alluren, Taxes, Cloudpost, etc.
I really do not like Maverick sideboards that run 1 or 2 of a card they cannot search for. If the card is good, run 3 to 4 of them. You cannot rely on finding the card as we do not run cantrips, and we do not stall combo decks long enough to expect to find a game-breaking card. Do not expect to get lucky, and run more copies of what you know is good!
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The Spice Rack:
- I know the people and the players in my area so testing out cards is something I have done a lot (I am more boring now. I do not do this as often).
- Against Elves, Maverick, Taxes, Agro Loam, and versions of Delver decks including Death’s Shadow, Fiery Justice is amazing.
- If you run Dark Depths in your main deck, Crop Rotation is a great sideboard card. Without Dark Depths, the card feels anemic.
- In a mid-range/control meta, I like Ajani Vengeant. Choke is probably better, but this card is great against loam decks, the mirror, and other non-blue mid-range decks.
- Cindervines is a great answer to Breach. I am all in on this card right now. If Breach goes away, I will likely ditch this card for something else.
- Palace Jailer is great against control. Right now, Breach and Delver get a lot of play, so I am off Jailers.
- Granger Guildmage could be neat in a Taxes, Maverick, Elves, Young Pyromancer, Goblins Meta game.
- Boil is a card I have considered, but I think Choke will more often be better.
Enlightened Tutor tech is something that gets overlooked. I think if your meta game is full of combo decks, players should take a second look at Enlightened Tutor techs. Here are some ideas:
- 2 Enlightened Tutor
- 1 Tormod’s Crypt
- 1 Null Rod
- 1 Pithing Needle
- 1 Phyrexian Revoker
- 1 Oblivion Ring
- 1 Choke
- 1 Engineered Explosives/Engineered Plague
- 1 Cindervines
- 1 Ethersorn Canonist
- 1 Deafening Silence
- 1 Worship
- 1 Humility (if and only if Omni-tell is the deck)
- 1 Runed Halo
- 1 Circle of Protection: Red , Circle of Protection: Blue , etc.
- 1 Story Circle
If someone asked you why a player would play Punishing Maverick over 4C Loam, what would your answer be?
This deck is a great choice over 4C Loam when Chalice of the Void, Dark Confidant and planeswalkers and worse than Mother of Runes / Scryb Ranger, Swords to Plowshares and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
A huge thank you for your time Mark. Any final thoughts to leave us with?
I would like to give a shout out to the Legacy community and the great friends I have made over the years. Jeremy Fehon, thank you for playing more games against Punishing Maverick than any other human being. You are a great friend, and I have learned a lot from our games, and I continue to learn a lot from our conversations.
Thank you, Timothy Saskiewicz, for getting me back into Magic, allowing me to store all my BS cards at your house for years, and for playing a million reps against the stupid burn deck. Thank you to my Maverick crew Tyrik Strachan, Jonathan Yanik, Merritt Elmasri, Matt Albecht and many others for discussing the deck, and challenging me to think critically about the deck and card choices.
Thank you to the Maverick Discord participants. I do not know your real names, but you have been a great group of people who add a lot of value to the community.
Thank you to the Punishing Maverick discord section contributors such as Okay Hand Symbol DADDY Water Drops Oliver and Suggestive Groaning Face, Pettdan, RAXRAXRAXRAX, Sestra, Lorkac, Echo_81, Ol’e Arty, and a special thank you to Douges! Keep playing fair my friends!
If you’re looking for some Punishing Maverick matches or really any archetype coverage, check out the GreenSunsZenith coverage page.