No Such Thing as Stock
“No way,” my friend shook his head with a hint of sass. “Yes, I’m serious Carl. I really think it would work,” I said, mustering up as much confidence as I could. “It’s not even a goblin! It will dilute my deck.” He wasn’t convinced. “Yes, I know, but the synergy is perfect. I can’t imagine Goblins not running this. You have to trust me.” Any other testing partner might have moved on, playing their usual 75. Being a fantastic friend and an open minded person, he listened. He took one of the cards in his deck and flipped it around displaying the ever-so-familiar back through the warn sleeves. “There. This can be Purphoros. Let’s see what it can do,” he sighed as he started shuffling.
It didn’t take long before he looked up at me with his I-told-you-so glance. I was disheartened. As a 1-of, Purphoros, God of the Forge almost never showed up and flipping it off of a Ringleader almost made me flip the table. He was right. Packing 3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben for the combo matchups and trying Purphoros was too much. But how can it be synergetic with a deck full of Goblins? I didn’t know. With much chagrin, I gave up. He was right. It didn’t seem to fit in the build.
I found myself at a tournament the following weekend. I had tuned my Maverick to beat a field full of control and I was ready to roll. When I sat down and faced my fifth round opponent, my deck failed. Or rather, I failed. I faced against RUG Delver and found myself drawing nothing but blanks. I made idiotic plays (such as keeping a five lander with no removal) and was completely decimated by the deck Maverick was designed to beat. After a quick one two punch, I scooped up and started to chat with my opponent about my misplays. As I stood up to get something to eat, a sound very familiar and horrifying ringed in my ears. “I cast Goblin War Marshall,” the voice said. But what followed brought chills down my spine. “Trigger damage for four.” I couldn’t believe my ears.
When the call sounded for the end of the match, I headed straight towards the man. “Are you running Purphoros?” I blurted out. The man flashed his teeth in his shy Japanese way and nodded. “How is it?” I asked before he had a chance to say anything. “It’s great. I have already won a tournament with it and I am in the top four today. Purphoros was custom made for Goblins.” “I knew it,” I whispered. “How do you make it work?” “I put Thalias in the sideboard as they are kind of underwhelming in many matchups. I also don’t run Goblin Piledrivers as they aren’t really synergetic with the god. My main deck includes four War Marshalls and two Krenko, Mob Bosses to maximize Purphoros damage. Basically, it’s an aggro-combo deck now.” That was all I needed to hear.
I quickly thanked him and whipped out my smart phone typing the following words, “Purphoros is sick!” I knew my gut feeling had been right. The god did deserve a chance. And with the Japanese man’s word, I was a believer. When Carl and I met for testing, he had already come to the same conclusion. He had done some preliminary testing and found that Purphoros provided some wins out of nowhere. After much discussing, testing, and tuning together, this is what we settled on.
4 AEther Vial
4 Goblin Lackey
1 Skirk Prospector
4 Mogg War Marshal
3 Gempalm Incinerator
1 Goblin Sharpshooter
4 Goblin Warchief
1 Goblin Chieftain
4 Goblin Matron
4 Goblin Ringleader
1 Krenko, Mob Boss
1 Tuktuk Scrapper
3 Purphoros, God of the Forge
2 Siege-Gang Commander
[Mana Sources] (22)
4 Cavern of Souls
4 Arid Mesa
1 Scalding Tarn
4 Rishadan Port
[/Mana Sources] (0)
2 Rest in Peace
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Tormod’s Crypt
Carl now adores Purphoros and consistently beats me in testing. Before the new build, I was able to pull off some pre-board wins here and there. Now, our testing yields almost 60-40 in his favor. His creatures playing two rolls, triggering Purphoros and providing the usual swarming beats, puts my deck in a tough spot. His surprisingly frequent play of “Vialing in Purphoros, casting Goblin Matron for two mana thanks to Warchief, you take two. Tutor War Marshal. Casting War Marshal for one mana, you take four damage. Swing for the rest with hasty 1/1s,” almost made me regurgitate my lunch.
Although I don’t claim this form of Goblins to be the best, it does open up a discussion worth having; “how stock is your list?” Perhaps the above set of Goblins might not be enough to beat blue or to provide some consistent wins. But it did give us a glimpse of a hopeful future; something new to test and discover. The Japanese guy was willing take out some key cards to test his hunch in a tournament. He was rewarded for doing so and ended up bringing home the trophy.
I think technology is good. People are now able to easily search for some advice for their decks and see how tournament results effect the metagame. But it has also robbed many of their imagination and their willingness to experiment. Players now opt out for playing stock lists and believe that certain card choices are unquestionable. After a few Top 8 showings in major tournaments a list often becomes the golden standard. Even the term “stock list” proves my point.
How does a Legacy deck become stock? If people use similar lists to great success? Does that always prove that the card choices or even deck choices are the right ones? Many act as though something can be officially “perfected.” In a convoluted format such as Legacy, I don’t think perfection is possible. Lists can only get better if people are willing to work on one deck.
As a lesson on culture, “honing” is the prevailing virtue here. As I said in my last article, Japanese people tend to work on something faithfully to make it better (as seen in the example with my friend who is constantly in a pursuit to make Deadguy Ale the best deck). Perhaps you have noticed this in electronics or cars. Japanese are not generally inventive, but they will perfect what they are given. A more famous historical example is the Japanese sword. Historians say that the katana is one of the most effective killing swords invented. As one scholar puts it, “the Japanese sword is the ultimate sword in the world. It has everything a perfect weapon should.”*(National Geographic: Forging a Katana). Japanese have immense pride in their weapon and they rightly should. It was an art form perfected after centuries of dedication and hard work.
This is something that we can learn from. Are you willing to shed stereotypes to try some cards that were never on your radar? Are you willing to work with a deck until it is perfected? Are you willing to cut cards which are considered “essential?” Or do you give up and immediately go to the latest, hottest deck?
I once played against a player who slammed an Elspeth, Sun’s Champion in his UW Miracles build. Many would be appalled and cry out, claiming that the original Elspeth is strictly better. It probably is. But have you tried it? I ended up beating him, and he conceded to the fact that the original was in fact much more useful. Many of you might have thought that he was simply a noob. He isn’t. He is one of the better players here. I respect his willingness to try even seemingly bad cards. I say, “at least he tried!” I believe this is the key to defeating blue decks and making non-blue decks better. There are over 10,000 cards floating around. We should try different cards and hone what we have. Next time, try Purphoros instead of brushing it off.
Forging My Weapon
And this brings us to my decklist below. I promised last week that I would breakdown why certain card choices were made for my deck. Let us review the list in full before we analyze individual card choices:
3 Knight of the Reliquary
3 Mother of Runes
4 Deathrite Shaman
1 Qasali Pridemage
1 Sylvan Safekeeper
2 Gaddock Teeg
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Scryb Ranger
3 Stoneforge Mystic
1 Umezawa’s Jitte
1 Sword of Fire and Ice
4 Swords to Plowshares
2 Abrupt Decay
1 Sylvan Library
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
4 Green Sun’s Zenith
2 Lingering Souls
[Mana Sources] (22)
4 Windswept Heath
3 Verdant Catacombs
1 Marsh Flats
1 Horizon Canopy
1 Dryad Arbor
[/Mana Sources] (0)
2 Liliana of the Veil
1 Garruk Relentless
1 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
1 Engineered Explosives
3 Zealous Persecution
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Wilt-Leaf Liege[/Sideboard]
I would first like to point something out. This is not “the perfect” list. As said above, there is no such thing. In fact, it may not perform well in certain metas (although it pulls weight in mine). What I would like you to notice is the experiments I am performing by excluding certain cards that are considered “stock.” These notable exclusions have brought some gentlemanly debate in a forum where I respectfully (hopefully) defended my choices. I don’t know if I was convincing, but this is what I said.
1) Why no Maze of Ith? This is a tricky question and one that I am not fully convinced with my decision…yet. Here is my thought pattern.
I noticed that in a Dark Maverick list there are many options for powerful black cards. I found that I needed some main deck answers to beat certain threats and black provided some much needed “silver bullets.” Examples of threats include most creatures in tempo matches, Stoneforge Mystic, Counterbalance, Ensnaring Bridge, Umezawa’s Jitte, Sword of X and Y, and Tarmogoyf. This nudged me towards including the instant catch all, Abrupt Decay. With the addition of 2 Abrupt Decays, my need to answer attacking creatures diminished. I know Maze of Ith also adds pseudo vigilance to a creature and provides much value when untapping a Knight after she attacks. However, I needed to evaluate whether that ability overrode what Abrupt Decay brought to the table. In a tempo dominated meta, I figured that an uncounterable permanent solution that caught other permanents provided more for the deck than an uncounterable semi permanent answer that dealt only with creatures. Adding both seemed redundant and ended up bringing it out.
2) Why no Thalia, Guardian of Thraben? This question was the most hotly debated. Most all lists include this wonder women and I was at first hesitant to ditch the card that provided so much pressure against combo and spell heavy control.
One thing is for certain; this card is powerful. I fully acknowledge the fact that Thalia plays a major role in many players’ decks. Heck, I even had games where a single Thalia won me a match up against combo, eventually bringing me to the top seed. The question is not whether this card is good. But rather, is it good enough to justify a slot in this version of Dark Maverick? Even more precisely, is it better than other options? For me, the answer thus far is no.
With my inclusion of Abrupt Decay, I noticed that my main deck suffered from the Thalia lock as much as my opponent. I have 4 Green Sun Zeniths, 4 Swords to Plowshares, 1 Sylvan Library, and now 2 Abrupt Decays (as well as equipments). These became much harder to cast when Thalia was on the field. I also noticed that the 2/1 first strike body was easily outclassed by a flying Insectile Aberration, Tarmogoyf, Nimble Mongoose, opposing Knight of the Reliquary, and even Kird Ape. It often acted as a lightning rod, essentially “discarding” opposing Sword to Plowshares or Lightning Bolts. Furthermore, drawing it in multiples was miserable and topdecking it late game was equally bad.
I see Thalias being effective in a deck full of creatures. A deck which contains lands that disrupt opponents from developing their board while developing your own. A deck with very few spells and one that is not easily disrupted. Read Death and Taxes. Every little annoying piece in Death and Taxes provides a form of disruption; whether it may be stopping opponent’s activated abilities or disrupting opponents from searching for cards. The compilation of these little disruptive pieces provides a focus for Death and Taxes, and the combined effect is powerful.
Maverick, I believe, has tried to copy this strategy without fully committing to it. We only usually add 3 Thalias, 3-4 Wastelands, and maybe a miser’s Aven Mindcensor. If we had powerful, fast, and efficient creatures that killed the opponent before they could recover, this may be fine. But Dark Maverick is not designed for quick games. We have a Knight that needs to grow, a planeswalker which may provide beats on the third or fourth turn, and possibly an Angel that costs five. Nothing screams ‘fast’ in our deck. This begs the question, “why are we trying to temporarily disrupt the opponent?” If given enough time, the blue opponent will draw their lands to come out of the soft lock. Simply, I don’t think we are fast enough of a creature deck to fully utilize the time being bought by Thalia.
I will add a note here that I believe a straight up GW build may benefit from the disruption. They naturally have fewer spells, and the Exalted triggers provide the much needed speed. The addition of Gaea’s Cradle also helps with negating Thalia’s disruption.
This disillusionment to Thalia ended up with her in the sideboard. But something needed to come in to supplement its gaping hole; powerful disruption spells that can “suck” opposing Swords to Plowshares and still help against combo matchups.
3) Maindeck Thoughtseize? This is where I landed. It is a catchall against most opponents, except maybe Zoo or Burn. It disrupts their plans, no matter if they are creature based or spell based. It peaks an opponent’s hand to know whether to drop a creature or wait. Most every black deck plays this powerful black one drop, so why don’t we? Since I am relying on my sideboard against combo anyway, I might as well add a spell that provides value against the field.
These three changes pretty much explains the rest of the deck. I added Lingering Souls as a way to get card advantage. This slot can easily be Aven Mindcensor, Mirran Crusader, or any other three drop. Perhaps bringing back the fourth Knight of the Reliquary is ok too.
The second Gaddock Teeg is to provide a sixth copy against combo (because they are fetchable by Green Sun’s Zenith). This alleviates the pain from losing Thalia, especially against combo and control. Yet, it still allows my cheap spells to resolve without disruption. The nonbo with Green Sun’s Zenith does bother me, and I am still uncertain if the sixth copy is necessary or not. Adding another Scavenging Ooze instead may produce some much needed punch against other fair decks while suppressing the opponents’ graveyard. Many lists have run two Oozes to some success. A wild idea out of left field that I have tossed around is bringing in a lone Liliana of the Veil. Her minus ability acts as another removal, especially against True-Name Nemesis, and the discard pressures control and combo. Bringing in another three drop may hinder early development, though, and I’m not sure Maverick can fully utilize her full potential. I do know that she is one of the most powerful planeswalker in the current meta and Maverick being able to splash black should at least consider her.
Finally, adding Thrun, the Last Troll was my concession to wanting a powerful creature at the four mana slot. I couldn’t justify adding a planeswalker as it was a nonbo with Gaddock, but perhaps that is better in some metagames. It is there as another edge against tempo decks with a non-targetable, 4/4 that cannot be countered. I can easily see this being something different.
Final Touch Up
I don’t know if this iteration of the deck is the best among the three major types of Maverick. Perhaps a straight Green-White version is more consistent. Aether Vial brings an uncounterable way to develop the board which may be invaluable against blue. Then again, the grindy card advantage engine that the Punishing Fire version brings may prove that a red splash reigns supreme. Red Elemental Blasts in the sideboard might be the needed element in defeating True-Name Nemesis. Though these questions are forever explored and probably never fully answered, I do know one thing. I’m not giving up on my deck. I’m going to question every card in the list and re-evaluate them with the shifting meta in mind. I will try cutting and adding cards that some may find blasphemous, but at least I am hammering away at it in an effort to perfect my weapon. Perhaps one day, I will be able to craft a deck that is as gloriously fine-tuned and dangerously sharp as the Japanese katana. I dream of bringing it to a meta dominated by blue and slicing it in half. Nobody will even notice that their deck was dismembered.
Stay tuned next week for “Odd Decks in Japan,” where I will share some interesting decks that have popped up here. I will also introduce a brew of my own which I shamelessly brought to a tournament for a surprising record.