It's been years since I've played Elves in Legacy, but I still get asked for advice on the deck and how to adapt it to the current Legacy metagame. That's what happens when you become so closely associated with a deck. It never really leaves you. Even though I've been consistently playing Storm in the rare times I actually play Legacy these days, I always had the idea of switching back to Elves at some point in the back of my mind.
You see, Elves and I have some unfinished business. Despite it being the deck I'm most associated with, I don't yet have a trophy with it. Two finals losses, including the heartbreaker against Dave Shiels in Providence, are what I have to show with my time with the deck, and that just doesn't sit right with me.
But amidst all the talk about Goblins and Temur Delver being unlocked by the banning of Deathrite Shaman is the fact that Elves lost one of the key pieces that elevated it from fringe archetype to a deck to beat.
Deathrite Shaman was more than just a mana creature for Elves. In fact, that functionality can be easily replaced with a combination of Fyndhorn Elves, Llanowar Elves, and Elvish Mystic. But Deathrite Shaman was a key part of the deck's aggro plan. Between Quirion Ranger and Wirewood Symbiote, you could activate Deathrite Shaman multiple times per turn, producing a significant clock that didn't care about blockers.
Elves isn't a good deck at actually attacking. Even with several Elves on the battlefield, they are small enough to be held in check by a Stoneforge Mystic or Tarmogoyf. Wirewood Symbiote can help by bouncing a would-be chump attacker after blockers are declared, but that's not something you can rely on since Wirewood Symbiote is always the first target for removal.
In addition to its role as your primary aggressive element, Deathrite Shaman was also important for its second point of toughness. Mini-sweepers like Electrickery and Marsh Casualties are among the most common sideboard cards against Elves, and being able to develop a large enough battlefield to force it while still being able to quickly recover was one of the trickiest aspects of playing Elves. Having a couple two-toughness creatures made that balance much easier to find, but now you'll often be forced to play into the sweeper and hope it's not there.
Simply put, Elves took a big hit from these bans, and I fully expect it to return to its fringe status from before Deathrite Shaman was printed. Unless something significant changes, my days of playing Elves in Legacy are completely over.
But there's a silver lining here. The reason I picked up Elves in the first place was because the deck I had been playing previously was invalidated by the printing of Deathrite Shaman. That deck is the unfortunately named Maverick. For the uninitiated, it's a G/W disruptive deck that plays similarly to Todd Stevens' G/W Company deck in Modern, just with a significantly increased clock since Legacy is a more powerful format.
Maverick was the deck I played alongside U/W Delver in Standard during my first year playing the SCG Tour®. It brought me my first Open top 8 in Baltimore, way back over six years ago. I looked a little different back then…
I promise I'm the person on the right and not someone acting under an assumed identity to enter Magic: the Gathering tournaments.
The long hair is gone, but my love for Maverick never died. Knight of the Reliquary is among the most powerful creatures ever printed, and few decks utilize Wasteland better than this one, a card that should get a lot better in a post-Deathrite Shaman world. Deathrite Shaman gave the fair blue decks a mana creature that's better than Noble Hierarch and an easy way to insulate yourself from opposing mana denial effects, which is the core of Maverick's Disruption suite.
Without the asymmetry of starting on a mana creature or the ability to easily leverage the mana denial effects, Maverick lost its positive matchup against the fair blue decks of the format, and as a result became unplayable almost immediately. At the time many players saw the rise of Miracles after Terminus was printed as the bigger factor in Maverick's demise, but in reality, it was Deathrite Shaman.
- 4 Knight of the Reliquary
- 4 Mother of Runes
- 4 Noble Hierarch
- 2 Qasali Pridemage
- 1 Ramunap Excavator
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 1 Scryb Ranger
- 1 Gaddock Teeg
- 4 Thalia, Guardian of Thraben
- 1 Dryad Arbor
The updates from 2012 are fairly minimal, but there are some key decisions that led me to this list.
You'll often see Maverick lists splash a third color for various effects. Blue can give some counterspells against combo decks. Black offers discard and some added removal. And splashing red allows you to play Punishing Fire and Grove of the Burnwillows. However, with all these splashes comes an added inconsistency in the manabase.
Playing Knight of the Reliquary requires you have a significant number of fetchlands to protect it from Lightning Bolt and enough Forests and Plains to sacrifice to it. Fitting those in with four copies of Wasteland and other utility lands is a challenge. Adding any more dual lands means cutting down on basics, which in turn makes you more vulnerable to opposing Wastelands.
For some minor upgrades in disruption, I don't view the inconsistency as a positive tradeoff. In the Temur Delver matchup, a deck poised to be among the most popular in the format with Deathrite Shaman gone, it's absolutely critical to not fall behind early, so fetching basic lands is important, as is Cavern of Souls, a land that three color lists can't find space for. Your primary creatures are all Humans, so Cavern protects them from Daze and Force of Will. Blanking Temur's free counterspells is the easiest way to stop them from pulling too far ahead and run them out of actual removal.
The splash colors typically help most against combo decks, but right now it's Reanimator that's getting the most hype among the combo decks, and that's the one archetype where Maverick enjoys a favorable matchup. Between Karakas, Scavenging Ooze, and sideboard copies of Surgical Extraction, only the most explosive of draws from Reanimator decks pose a significant threat.
There's no need to get fancy. Just make sure you can cast your spells.
No Dark Depths Combo
Thespian's Stage wasn't around the last time I played Maverick, and the combo with Dark Depths is fairly easy to include since Knight of the Reliquary can tutor for both pieces. So why then did I leave it out of the above list?
I don't know how many of you have played with Knight of the Reliquary, but if you have, take a moment to think about the times you activated it twice in a game and lost.
You should be thinking of a very low number. Knight is one of those threats that demands an immediate answer, or you will quickly bury the opponent in Wastelands or simply attack them to death with your three mana 9/9. So, the Dark Depths combo is almost assuredly a win more, and once again, I'd rather have better individual cards. Eschewing it leaves space for a singleton Maze of Ith, a card that can hold off a Delver of Secrets or Umezawa's Jitte-wielding creature or untap your Knight of the Reliquary on the end of combat step so it can both attack and activate in the same turn.
Once again, there's no need to get fancy.
This is a staple of Maverick lists and has been for years, but for the uninitiated, it may be hard to realize why. Sure, in a deck with Mother of Runes and Knight of the Reliquary, having a creature that can untap them is valuable, but isn't that another way to get fancy?
Not exactly. Scryb Ranger is the card that locks up a game once you're ahead and have established your more important creatures. In that respect it's akin to the Azusa, Lost but Seeking in G/W Company, a card that supercharges the deck's synergies and takes away the opponent's slim outs.
With access to Scryb Ranger, you can begin using Mother of Runes aggressively to close out the game quickly or find multiple Wastelands in a turn to cripple the opponent before turning the corner. Legacy decks are powerful enough to break out of the most difficult soft locks if given enough time, and Scryb Ranger is the card that takes away that time.
As for the question of playing Scryb Ranger over the cheaper Quirion Ranger, the flying and protection from blue make the former another way to stall an early Delver of Secrets, which is the easiest way to lose to Delver decks.
Maverick decks typically have Choke in the sideboard for midrange blue decks as a way to supplement the mana denial plan. But these decks typically have enough non-Islands to play through a Choke and their removal comes from non-blue cards anyway. Armageddon, despite being symmetric, is much better suited to this job, especially against Miracles.
And all of this ignore the Lands matchup. I've never cast it against them since Lands wasn't too popular back then, but I have think that a card that says "Destroy All Lands" is unbelievably good against the Lands deck. Sometimes Magic really is easy. [ It sure is, Ross. It sure is. - DWest]
The last card I want to discuss is the one that isn't in the deck but gives me the most pause about a return of Maverick. True-Name Nemesis can play offense or defense against almost all your creatures and often comes with equipment attached. The best removal spell for it is Council's Judgment, so I've included two copies in the sideboard, but having to put two copies of an otherwise mediocre card in your sideboard to answer a single threat isn't ideal.
There are going to be some growing pains in figuring out how Maverick fits into a format years' removed from when it was last relevant. Mono-Red Prison and Goblins could force some other cards into the sideboard, and maybe something new emerges. This is the most interesting Legacy has been in years and while I may have lost Elves, regaining Maverick and getting back to a Legacy metagame that is varied and interesting as opposed to being dominated by a one-mana creature would be a fine trade.
The one constant in Magic is change. You can't play the same deck for ten years (as much as Shaheen Soorani might try) and while going back to the deck I played in 2012 may not seem like much of a change, it is. It's a whole new ballgame in Legacy and I'm excited to see how everything plays out.