Welcome to the Legacy Weapon’s contribution to Selesnya week! GW cares about permanents and board presence, of lands and creatures. And, according to my Selesnya prerelease card, the color combination wants to give me some sort of weird churchy plant hug. Stranger danger!
In Legacy, GW sees play in aggressive creature decks and the slow, prison-like Enchantress engines. Since no one can afford Enchantress, and I’ve never written about Maverick before, this week seemed like a fitting time to touch on the format’s definitive Knight of the Reliquary deck.
I realize that there are plenty of Maverick primers floating around out there, and most people know what the deck does and how to go about doing it. This article will focus on the deck’s current place in the metagame and the trickier parts of piloting the archetype.
Maverick has stayed on top for a variety of reasons. It has one of the format’s most consistent mana bases, most of the best threats, and a slew of hate bears to keep brokenness in check.
Recently, the deck has run into a problem with UW Miracles. The UW deck’s ability to consistently Terminus the board for a single white is too much for Maverick to deal with. After all, Selesnya is the color combination of board presence, and Maverick can’t actually win without deploying multiple dudes onto the battlefield. Noble Hierarch into [card knight of the reliquary]Knight[/card]—the old one-two punch.
The above list is designed with the miraculous menace in mind. I’m not usually a fan of main deck [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeth[/card], but the card is decent at pressuring [card jace, the mind sculptor]Jace[/card]. Sylvan Safekeeper can protect Gaddock Teeg indefinitely, which keeps the Miracles player from being able to resolve Terminus. Cavern of Souls helps fight through Counterbalance. Post-board, there’s Pithing Needle for Sensei’s Divining Top (which can also come in against Pernicious Deed decks), and Choke. Other options are Luminarch Ascension, Armageddon, and Garruk, Primal Hunter.
If you’re playing in a more aggressive metagame, cutting [card elspeth, knight-errant]Elspeth[/card] and Sylvan Library for a main deck Fauna Shaman, Loyal Retainers, and [card elesh norn, grand cenobite]Elesh Norn[/card] package is ideal. Note that, while the chain sounds clunky, you can often skip the middle man and cast the Elesh off of Gaea’s Cradle. If this package is a good call, Gut Shots in the board are as well (and are much cheaper than Loyal Retainers).
Power Card Overview
I’m not here to tell you how Qasali Pridemage is useful for blowing up artifacts and enchantments, but some evaluation is warranted. After all, we have a fine assortment of Selesnya effects, from land tutoring to life gaining.
Knight of the Reliquary
One of the best creatures of all time. Knight is a mana engine, toolbox, and win condition all rolled into one. I’ve never been a fan of the Natural Order for Progenitus package—largely because a 10/10 in Legacy should cost three, not require you sacrifice a creature, be able to tutor up a Wasteland every turn, generate mana by floating, bounce a legend with Karakas, nuke a graveyard with Bojuka Bog, draw a card with Horizon Canopy, Fog an opponent’s attacker with Maze of Ith, and so much more.
A sweet thing about Knight is that she scales with the length of the game. The longer she stays in play, the better, and she even improves with multiples. I played a lot of Pack Rat this last prerelease, and found that making Rats the entire game was very difficult to beat. Knight of the Reliquary is kinda like that, and tutoring for extras with Green Sun’s Zenith is almost always correct.
Green Sun’s Zenith
Understandably banned in Modern, this card revolutionized the way green decks work in Legacy. The most common modes are X=0 and X=3, but the toolbox is there for a reason—and if you play the deck long enough all the bullets will prove useful.
Since the card’s printing, I’ve tried building green decks without it, but most of them fall flat. The ability to consistently find tempo, utility, or power in one card is hard to beat.
Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
Thalia is largely the reason that Maverick is so good. In conjunction with Wastelands, this card can shut down many of the format’s more spell-laden decks, giving Maverick a ton of game against RUG and broken strategies like Show and Tell and Reanimator.
Mother of Runes
Until you’ve actually played against an active Mother of Runes, it’s hard to realize how powerful the 1/1 is. On top of making combat impossible for your opponent, Mother can zone out game changers like Batterskull and Umezawa’s Jitte. Most importantly, your threats now take two removal spells to handle.
One mistake people make with Mother is attacking with her ever. It doesn’t matter if you know the opponent doesn’t have a removal spell in hand because you need to play around the removal spell on top of his deck. Consider this excerpt from the Top 8 of Grand Prix Atlanta, where ChannelFireball’s own Ben Stark was up a game with Maverick against Edelkamp’s UW Delver.
Both players kept their opening hands for the second game. Stark started the action with a first turn Mother of Runes. Without a turn-two play from Edelkamp, Stark cast a second turn Thalia, Guardian of Thraben.
Surprised that his opponent did not have an answer for the legend, Stark attacked for one with his Mother of Runes, but Edelkamp used this opportunity to Path to Exile the attacker.
There are a few problems with this line. For one, I didn’t see Edelkamp’s hand, but letting Stark untap with Mother of Runes sounds awful. I don’t care if Path to Exile ramps my opponent into Knight of the Reliquary a turn sooner, because letting him have Mother of Runes to protect Knight is much worse.
On the flipside, Ben probably lost his quarterfinal match on this attack. I should mention that Ben is an undisputed master of the game, and heralded by many as the best Limited player alive. That said, he has admitted to not having much Legacy experience, and that shows in this attack.
In other formats, that 1 point of life is valuable. I’ve played a slew of Standard Delver games where the 1 life made the difference. In Maverick, however, the ability to overkill with Knight is huge, and the early point of life is never worth risking an ever-so-valuable Mother of Runes. Not just to a removal spell off the top, but also to a surprise Snapcaster Mage.
Protect your Mother, and she’ll protect you(r stuff).
Lately, I’ve been declaring this card the best creature in the game, and haven’t gotten a lot of arguments to the contrary. Between disrupting, pressuring, dominating combat, and gaining life, Ooze does as much as Umezawa’s Jitte, but with fewer tricky decisions.
This card is incredible. Pay some life, draw some threats, and bury the opponent in your superior selection. Since Maverick lacks burn to dig for, like in Zoo or RUG, it’s not as good as it could be, but Library still serves to keep the gas flowing and help recover from a sweeper.
Recently, in a ChannelFireball.com forum, Matt Sperling credited Sylvan Library as one of the most difficult cards to play of all time. He mentioned that, since the card ranges from good to very good, the skill test can be hard to notice, and he’s right. Since playing the card correctly has a lot of depth to it, more than I can fit in here, I’m going to focus on the fringe cases.
Did you know that Library allows you to put back any two cards you’ve drawn that turn? This means that, if you cast a Brainstorm during your upkeep, you can put back any of the drawn Brainstorm cards off of your Sylvan trigger. It’s hard to see a strategic advantage to this trick, since casting Brainstorm after your Sylvan has resolved has a similar effect.
It does let you look one card deeper on the Sylvan, and that information could be valuable when deciding whether to pay life, I suppose. More often, you’re going to want to Library into a shuffle effect before casting Brainstorm.
I have found that cracking Horizon Canopy during my upkeep is often correct. Imagine that you need the fourth card down. If you resolve Sylvan and then crack Horizon, you’ll just draw one of the cards that were put back. If you Horizon first, you can keep one of the three bricks and shuffle the other two away that turn. This is only superior to cracking at the end of the opponent’s turn if the draw off of Horizon is one of the ones you want to shuffle away.
Note that, if you’re going to do anything tricky in a tournament, it’s necessary to call a judge so that someone can verify you are indeed putting back legal cards.
Sometimes, Maverick boards Life from the Loam, which interacts with Sylvan just fine. You can replace a Sylvan draw, but since you’re not actually drawing the dredger you wont be able to put it back on top of your library, and will have to choose whether to pay life for the other two drawn cards. If you managed to replace multiple draws, however, you would get to live in fantasy land and avoid putting cards back. Aggro Loam with Darkblast, anyone?
Tips and Tricks
I’ve seen strong players forget that Green Sun’s Zenith can give +1/+1 to an attacker by fetching up a dude with exalted. Don’t miss this line, as it often means the difference between eating a planeswalker or slowly dying to it.
Maze of Ith can target your creatures too! This is useful for saving threats that would die in combat. It can also push through lethal damage by targeting the attacker that was blocked by a lifelinker, say a Batterskull Germ.
Maze of Ith can be activated after damage is dealt. This lets your Knight both attack and keep tutoring. Amazing! People miss this trick a lot, but it’s important to both pressure the opponent while pumping the Knight every turn. It also helps you get value out of an otherwise dead land drop (Maze) if the opponent doesn’t have creatures.
If you need to cast a Green Sun’s Zenith and a pesky [card thalia, guardian of thraben]Thalia[/card] or Gaddock Teeg is in your way, don’t forget that you can bounce the hate bear with Karakas to resolve your spell. Since Karakas is a Knight of the Reliquary target, this gives the deck a remarkable amount of flexibility in regards to its legends.
The trick is useful in combat, too. Rather than chumping an attack, you can Fog it Maze of Ith-style by bouncing your legend before damage, thus hindering an opponent’s ability to get Jitte counters or gain life from Batterskull. Scryb Ranger has a similar interaction with Dryad Arbor, giving the deck a wide range of consistent options to control combat. Since Dryad Arbor can be grabbed from the library with a fetchland, and Scryb Ranger has flash, this play can actually drop out of nowhere to surprise even the most veteran of opponents.
Remember that every fetchland is a Dryad Arbor in disguise and play your lands accordingly! If you’re lucky you’ll get to eat a Dark Confidant or a Goblin Lackey, but more often you’ll just have another dude to carry a Jitte.
I questioned several Legacy experts on the largest mistake people make while playing Maverick. The pundits attributed most screw-ups to sloppy play, just as with any deck. In general, the mechanics of GW are simple and straightforward, though they might require more patience than your average creature deck.
There is one tricky interaction, however, having to do with one of the most powerful sideboard cards against green creature decks-
Playing Around Submerge
Sometimes, you have a pile of lands, and your opponent has a single card in hand, and all you need to do is bash in for a few turns with your giant dude. In these situations, playing around Submerge is as simple as not cracking a fetchland—but people do it anyways.
Other times, land management requires a more sophisticated touch, but still directly leads to winning or losing. An old trick in Legacy is Wastelanding your only Island to surprise block some islandwalking Merfolk. This same trick is applicable to Submerge, too. If you only have a single Forest and a Knight against RUG, for example, sacrificing it to go find a Horizon Canopy isn’t a bad idea. The opponent can’t respond by Submerging the Knight because sacrificing the Forest is part of the cost.
Submerge is often RUG’s only out to a Knight, and removing it as an option wins games. Since both players are Wastelanding each other in this matchup, the ability to make this play comes up more often than you’d think.
Another way to play around Submerge is to stick a Gaddock Teeg, which is how Pascal Maynard beat me in GP Indy. Not only did he have Teeg, but a [card sylvan safekeeper]Safekeeper[/card] to protect it, which then worked with Knight of the Reliquary as a sort of Arcbound Ravager-Disciple of the Vault combo to put me away.
I hope you enjoyed the Legacy Weapon’s contribution to Selesnya week! I’m going to be spending a few weeks traveling to SJ and Seattle, which might interrupt the column’s flow. We’ll see how things shake out.
As an aside, I’d like to thank Wizards of the Coast for putting SJ into my itinerary. I understand it’s still round trip for them, and a similar price, but it’s a service they don’t have to offer and I am grateful.