Recurring Nightmares – Maze Runner

There’s a dynamic of the Magic world that I find fascinating. It has to do with the idea that certain decks or strategies are bad, and therefore they aren’t worth the time of the best players to investigate. Often this is just flat-out true, but there are some strategies I doubt were given a proper shake by players with both the skill and incentive to optimize.

Every time I’ve been at an event and seen a player piloting a [ccprod]Maze’s End[/ccprod] deck, I’ve wondered why I haven’t heard more about the strategy from content producers. On the surface, it seems like a joke/gimmick deck. You stall with [ccprod]Fog[/ccprod] effects until you win with your lands. And yet, I’ve seen the deck just stone blank a number of matchups, and have come dangerously close to losing matches to it myself. Since these decks were typically in the hands of players that are prone to making the kind of mistakes that allow an opponent to get back into a seemingly lost game, I can’t help but think about how my matches would have gone if the deck were in the hands of an opponent playing optimally.

But there’s a bias surrounding the deck that I don’t understand. I don’t see any top-level players talking about it beyond “that Maze’s End deck,” and it feels similar to how we used to discuss Stax in Legacy—there are some players who are going to play it, but we can afford to not take them seriously because the kind of player willing to play Stax in a tournament is the kind of player we don’t need to worry about losing to. I say this as a player who brought Stax to his first Legacy Grand Prix.

[ccprod]Kiora, the Crashing Wave[/ccprod]

With Born of the Gods bringing [ccprod]Kiora, the Crashing Wave[/ccprod] to the card pool, Maze’s End was often mentioned but barely discussed as a home for the new planeswalker—and the more I’ve thought about this, the stranger it seems. Kiora’s three abilities are all fantastic in a Maze’s End list, and she seems tailor-made for such a deck. Why, then, haven’t we given her a fair shake? I want to rectify this, and really put some thought into what makes the Maze’s End deck tick, and how we can optimally construct a list.

Let’s begin with the highest placing list I can find from a major event. A few weekends ago, John Torrez made Day 2 of GP Vancouver with the following deck:

Maze’s End – John Torrez (GP Vancouver)

[ccdeck=”Main Deck”]
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Boros Guildgate
2 Dimir Guildgate
2 Golgari Guildgate
2 Gruul Guildgate
2 Izzet Guildgate
2 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Rakdos Guildgate
3 Selesnya Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate
4 Maze’s End
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Breeding Pool
1 Temple Garden
4 Detention Sphere
4 Defend the Hearth
4 Druid’s Deliverance
4 Fog
3 Negate
4 Riot Control
1 Bow of Nylea
3 Merciless Eviction
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Urban Evolution[/ccdeck]
[ccdeck=”Sideboard”]
4 Crackling Perimeter
3 Gainsay
1 Bow of Nylea
1 Merciless Eviction
3 Turn Burn
3 Wear Tear[/ccdeck]

John’s list gives us a foundation to work from, though his list is pre-Born of the Gods. One of the interesting things I see in his list that diverges from my own experience playing against the deck is the lack of [ccprod]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccprod]s. In his tournament report from the event, John doesn’t address this, but he does mention that he’s looking for more card draw and actually cuts his [ccprod]Negate[/ccprod]s for [ccprod]Divination[/ccprod]s. I don’t necessarily agree with this swap, though he obviously has more experience with the archetype, it seems that you’re losing your only line of defense against problematic spells and adding some do-relatively-nothings that don’t advance your game plan.

I’d rather see Revelations which, while not as good in the early game, serve as pseudo-Fogs later and give you much more card draw than the Divinations. I’m also interested in his decision to add [ccprod]Bow of Nylea[/ccprod] to the list, though this makes sense if we’re concerned about land destruction, milling, or hand disruption interfering with our ability to find the correct lands, or about going long against control. Additionally, it allows you to gain valuable life against aggressive decks, and helps to prevent being one-shot killed by [ccProd]Gray Merchant[/ccProd]s and [ccprod]Fanatic of Mogis[/ccprod]. John cites the ability to completely forgo being decked by [ccprod]Jace, Memory Adept[/ccprod] as their best attribute, which is pretty awesome since most control decks will look to win against you that way.

Personally, I think John got a lot of things right with his build, but there are a few issues I’d like to address. Here’s where we’ll start:

[ccdeck=”Main Deck”]
2 Azorius Guildgate
2 Boros Guildgate
2 Dimir Guildgate
2 Golgari Guildgate
2 Gruul Guildgate
2 Izzet Guildgate
2 Orzhov Guildgate
2 Rakdos Guildgate
3 Selesnya Guildgate
2 Simic Guildgate
4 Maze’s End
1 Hallowed Fountain
1 Breeding Pool
1 Temple Garden
4 Detention Sphere
4 Druid’s Deliverance
2 Aetherize
4 Fog
2 Negate
4 Riot Control
2 Merciless Eviction
4 Supreme Verdict
2 Sphinx’s Revelation
4 Kiora, the Crashing Wave[/ccdeck]
[ccdeck=”Sideboard”]
4 Crackling Perimeter
3 Gainsay
1 Bow of Nylea
1 Merciless Eviction
3 Unravel the Aether
3 Saruli Gatekeeper[/ccdeck]

First, I shaved the list down to 60 cards. The theory John was working with, according to his article, was that you’re essentially a tutoring deck and you have 16 spells that do the same thing, so adding a 61st card (the Bow) was not statistically significant. Fortunately, Frank Karsten just wrote a piece that reminded us all that running 60 is just correct. I kept the sideboard Bow, since I do like the idea of having access to this card, but I don’t think you require it for game 1.

What John did get right was the mana base. 28 lands in a deck trying to put 11 in play as soon as possible is where I’d like to be. With Kiora in the mix, hitting multiple lands per turn is encouraged, so it’s even more important to ensure you have the lands coming steadily. Running 2 of each Guildgate gives you redundancy against [ccprod]Nightveil Specter[/ccprod]s and the like, and as a deck trying to cast [ccprod]Merciless Eviction[/ccprod], [ccprod]Supreme Verdict[/ccprod], and a bunch of green spells, the Selesnya Gate earns an extra slot. I also like the choice to run the duals over basics, because let’s be honest—we’re stone dead to [ccprod]Burning Earth[/ccprod] whether we have a Forest or not.

Beyond the mana base, let’s look at some of the changes I’ve made—starting with the ol’ gal herself, Kiora. Each of the abilities does something we want in this deck.

The plus ability allows us to mitigate a large part of the damage we would take from opponent’s attackers when we don’t have a Fog. It also mitigates the impact of a permanent-based damage effect (like the aforementioned [ccprod]Burning Earth[/ccprod]) for the whole turn cycle, meaning you gain the freedom to play Magic again in the face of such a devastating problem.

The minus ability has obvious applications in a deck whose main win condition is the activation of a land. It draws cards, which as stated above, was an effect we were looking to add, and it allows you to play two lands in a turn. Repeated use of this effect allows you to cut the time required to combo off nearly in half. That these two abilities are stitched together means you’re drawing into the lands you’re looking to play. All good things.

The third ability, while not related to your overall strategy, serves an important role in the deck, especially post-board. It represents an additional win condition that circumvents the use of one of the more effective cards against you—[ccprod]Pithing Needle[/ccprod]. The more diverse threats you can play in the face of such a targeted answer, the better. And as opposed to a card like [ccprod]Assemble the Legion[/ccprod] (which is fine in its own right) that doesn’t advance your primary strategy in any meaningful way, Kiora has direct and specific benefits to your plan A, with the backup plan of giving you an out to disruption.

In order to make room for Kiora, I had to shave the numbers in a few places. The first card cut was the third [ccprod]Negate[/ccprod]. I still feel there’s a home for the card in the main deck, but three may be excessive. Two gives you a reasonable shot at having it when you need it, but it won’t get in the way of your primary plan. The second cut was the seventh Wrath effect, Merciless Eviction number 3. The last two slots given up were a pair of Fog effects, which feels counterintuitive, but you have such absurd redundancy with them that it doesn’t feel the worst to go down to 14 instead of 16. To that end, we have [ccprod]Aetherize[/ccprod].

[ccprod]Aetherize[/ccprod] toes the line between Fog effect and Wrath of God. Sometimes your opponent will have a bunch of one-drops (or worse, a bunch of Burning-Tree Emissaries and a Fanatic of Mogis) and just dump their hand back on the table—but more often, they’ll have to spend a turn re-deploying their threats, and you can use this window to relieve some of the strain on your Fogs. It isn’t a permanent answer, of course, but this is a deck of temporary answers. This is a similar spell to [ccprod]Whelming Wave[/ccprod], which has been discussed as an option in the deck before. Neither spell will return your Kraken army to the aether; however Whelming Wave will clear out a line of blockers if you’ve gotten to that point. Ultimately, the fact that [ccprod]Aetherize[/ccprod] is an instant, and can return [ccprod]Mutavault[/ccprod]s, makes me feel it’s the better slot for a 4-drop bounce spell. Because of the significant mana cost, I wouldn’t play more than two, but it buys a lot of time.

I haven’t been 100% convinced that I’ve made the right choice in which [ccprod]Fog[/ccprod]s to cut to make room for these new spells, but there’s a real tradeoff between the increased mana cost of the [ccprod]Aetherize[/ccprod]s and [ccprod]Riot Control[/ccprod]s versus the fringe benefits they afford. I’ve kept [ccprod]Druid’s Deliverance[/ccprod] over [ccprod]Defend the Hearth[/ccprod] on the odd possibility that you can proliferate a Kraken, or perhaps a Frog Lizard if the situation arises. The advantages of Riot Control seem apparent—it serves as more than a single Fog effect, as you gain life that helps in the ensuing turns.

It also prevents all damage (not just combat damage), which can be critical when facing a problematic Burning Earth. Fog is obviously key, as you’ll want the maximum number of the cheapest form of the effect. Whether you trade off a set of the two-drop Fog, or run a 5/3 mix of Deliverance versus Riot Control, or just cut the most expensive effect and save mana is something I expect will largely depend on your field, but may be more cut and dry than I’m making it out to be. If it turns out that the increased cost of the Fogs in the deck make it difficult to activate a [ccprod]Maze’s End[/ccprod] the same turn as you Fog, then the cheaper spells will win out of hand.

I’ve chosen to add a pair of [ccprod]Sphinx’s Revelation[/ccprod]s to the deck, but I continue to go back and forth on them versus [ccprod]Urban Evolution[/ccprod]. With Kiora in the deck, you don’t rely on this slot to accelerate your win condition in the same way you did before—you have another playset of cards that largely perform the same role as the Evolutions did, and you can use these slots more efficiently. However, Evolution still does all the things you want to do in this deck, so it’s a tough call. Sphinx’s Rev is at nearly its worst in this type of strategy, because volume of cards doesn’t equate to much in comparison to having the specific cards you’re looking for. Revelation serves more as a way to come back from slightly behind, and to refuel your hand with more Fogs when you need them. Evolution does the same thing, but two things push me in the direction of Revelation.

First, the top end of Revelation is much higher than that of Evolution. For five mana you’re drawing one more card with Evolution, but you aren’t capped at five mana with Rev. You are more likely to sit on it and draw 6 cards than you are to go for three. Second, the instant-speed of Revelation means you aren’t forced to tap down to nothing during your main phase, trying to resolve a card that gets countered by every counterspell in the format right now and doesn’t actually impact the board. It seems like an enormous investment for very little return. So, for the time being the Revelations are taking the spot, unless there’s a dramatic shift in the metagame sometime soon.

One card I’ve been fretting over, that seems like a natural fit for the deck, is [ccprod]Courser of Kruphix[/ccprod]. In the ideal situation, you untap on turn 5 and play a Courser, revealing a Gate from the top of your library and play it—effectively “drawing” a card. Since your opponent has zero other targets in the deck, it immediately eats a removal spell, and you’ve gotten a 2-for-1. I don’t think that’s enough for me to want to play the card. There are obstacles in the way of integrating it into the strategy, and I don’t feel it’s as much of a no-brainer as it seems at first glance.

First, as stated above, it would be the only target in the deck for spells like [ccprod]Mizzium Mortars[/ccprod], which would otherwise sit dead in the opponent’s hand. This means you’re unlikely to get many activations out of it, even if you did stick it and hit lands on top. Second, your own game plan revolves around between 6 and 8 [ccprod]Wrath of God[/ccprod] effects, meaning you aren’t guaranteed to get value out of Courser before you’re forced to wipe the board. This is somewhat marginalized by the fact that an opponent will be required to commit more resources to the board to get around a 2/4, but the point remains—his largely defenseless body is contrary to your main strategy of board sweeping (and often). Both of these issues directly conflict with the type of card Courser represents.

Similarly to [ccprod]Dark Confidant[/ccprod], the longer a Courser stays in play, the more advantage you’ll generate. No one wants to play a Bob with the intent to block with it during the opponent’s next turn, because you aren’t gaining the resource advantage from it that you expect. If your Bob survives a few turns, it goes from a relatively anemic body into a card advantage machine. Courser isn’t quite on that level of value or anemia, but it isn’t dramatically far away, either. Neither of these cards are good in decks that want to consistently clear the board with sweepers. Where I could see Courser come into play is from the sideboard, with a game plan that involves them alongside the [ccprod]Saruli Gatekeepers[/ccprod], as a defensive man plan against midrange decks where sweepers aren’t as efficient. It’s much better coming in from the sideboard, rather than in the main, as many decks will board out a large portion of their removal against you. This means it won’t be as likely to sit in their hand waiting for a target.

Overall, Maze’s End is in a unique position in the metagame, in that it attacks from a dimension most decks aren’t built to interact with. It has excellent game against control, due to the capacity to win without the attack step, and lacking in important permanents that are easily dealt with through traditional control means. It has inevitability against even Cuneo-style win-condition-less control, which is a unique position for any deck. It has strategic superiority against midrange aggressive decks that try to win via the red zone, because overloading the board and winning with creatures is basically impossible when the opponent’s deck is 1/3 Fogs and board sweepers. Again, combat isn’t required to win, so an insurmountable board position doesn’t exist. And against disruptive black-based decks, it runs 14 effectively identical cards and tries to do nothing but buy time. Creature removal is dead, and an opponent can draw as many cards as they want, as long as they can’t interact with your mana base. The most difficult matchups are the ones that try to race, and those are decidedly fewer and farther between in the current metagame as the influx of better removal has left them scrambling for ground. It’s a good time to be doing nothing, and this deck knows how to do nothing well.

Adam
@AdamNightmare

Share this

Discussion

Scroll to Top