Wandering Into A Weird Place
Maelstrom Wanderer at it’s core is an all star Temur commander, enabling many different deck archetypes because his double cascade can fit many play styles. Some people play storm because blue and red are the two of the three best colors for it and double cascade is a powerful storm enabler. Aggro decks can utilize Maelstrom Wanderer because he gives your board haste and can create two ready to go attackers on cast. Control can run him as a finisher and he is perfect for Voltron because he himself is a bomb. However this decklist is something far different from the normal deck categories that such a versatile commander like Maelstrom Wanderer would fit into; he fits this one well, and it’s called Punisher.
What Is Punisher?
Punisher as a deck archetype is a hybrid of stax and burn, usually boosted by a control skeleton, but sometimes an aggro skeleton gets fitted into the core as well. Where stax prevents players from casting spells or attacking and burn focuses on direct damage, Punisher marries the concept by playing cards that force your opponents to make tough decisions. Punisher cards tend to do damage, or destroy permanents whenever a condition is met, and the spectrum ranges from all kinds of things from doing damage by playing or losing land, or even from drawing cards or attacking. Punisher forces situations on players that can put them in a losing position just for trying to win. Most decks run a few punisher cards here and there like Rhystic Study or Mind’s Eye, or even Norn’s Annex for the more defensive decks, but to run a full list incorporating the idea can be incredibly powerful and difficult to play around.
A Maelstrom of Inspiration
This deck’s core has three modes. The first mode is ramping up with a few sorceries, but mostly mana rocks. Besides the Hum of the Radix in the deck, this Punisher list lets artifacts and enchantments slip through the cracks as often as possible, and the majority of plays with this deck require fast reactions and controlled bursts of power and mana rocks – this curve gets pretty high. Mode two is controlling the board, through a few board wipes here and there and a few counterspells. Your midgame should be mostly about resolving Punisher enchantments and holding back some quick plays to get yourself out of trouble. Mode three is the aggressive early game strategy and the semi-aggressive late game strategy of punishing the opponents for going off. Most things in this deck react to destruction and then cause more of it, so the deck focuses on forcing the priority Punisher cards while holding the lesser ones for later.
Golden Game Plan
Aside from a life gain deck, think of this deck as a math problem. It’s focus is on doing little pieces of damage for actions that your opponents have the right to perform. Casting a creature, playing a land, something dying are all relevant ways for you to deal that 2 damage per instance. With this deck you are assessing the game before you play it, and knowing what decks will need which punisher cards to get you there as quickly as possible and capitalizing on those. Captain Sisay and her ramp spells could need Ankh of Mishra more than Citadel of Pain and vice versa for Oloro control.
The Next Best Thing
This deck honestly can’t beat an opponent with just punisher cards, this isn’t Mogis, God of Slaughter. The lack of black makes the damage smaller but you also have access to blue, a strong secondary punisher color. You will find yourself in a lot of situations that require you to clean up the messy board state that you have left your opponents in. Paths like Defense of the Heart into Ruric Thar, the Unbowed and Jin-Gitaxias, Core Augur can be absolutely devestating. If you don’t want to go that route, rely on your general. You play a good amount of spells that are amazing like Mind’s Dilation and Vicious Shadow, but cost 5 to 7 mana to resolve, which can be difficult to cast. Maelstrom Wanderer helps you out when it comes to that. Even if you cast him just for the double cascade, you can hardly go wrong in this deck, as just about everything you hit in your cascades is virtual card advantage. Weirdly enough, I playtested it a good amount of times, and another cool secondary win condition is Scapeshift into Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, just for the combo play with mountains to kill someone, just make sure you don’t punish yourself too hard for doing it.
My long winded description would be nothing without examples. One of the strongest moves I have ever seen in this deck is while Repercussion was out, I cast Blasphemous Act, because if you hit just three creatures on one player’s board, you do 39 damage to them, and that is an obscene amount for the costs. I have never heard someone say the words “that needs to be countered!” with so much ferocity before. Another example: pretend we have Ankh of Mishra on the table turn two, and an opponent drops a land, then Cultivates, then in the next turn casts Explosive Vegetation after dropping another land, an amazing start at turn four, or even turn five, but at the cost of being put to 30 or less life through simply playing land. Hum of the Radix needs no explanation as artifact decks make it a priority to cast Spine of Ish Sah for about 15 to 16 mana just to get rid of it, and I am positive that Ruric Thar, the Unbowed is a card that is a necessity for turning off most noncreature-oriented decks, and even if they do spend a card from hand to kill him, it’s often at the additional cost of 6 damage to the face. If you have Gratuitous Violence or Furnace of Rath, that’s 12, and a little too much for most players to be able to handle.
Problems and Solutions
One of the fun parts of deck building a stax-esque variant is that most cards that you put in the main board are cards you don’t have to think twice about because they help take care of a rival archetype. For example, Punisher plays well against control decks that hold back counter magic, or even just reactive magic by playing cards like Citadel of Pain and Impatience. Aggro lists need to worry about your board wipes when you have Dingus Staff and Burning Sands, and the most vicious part of this entire list is that it works even better if your opponents do the work for you. Burning Sands on the board and you have no creatures, but someone reacts to a full board state, effectively killing all of their lands? That’s how best friends are made. This deck does face issues when your spells can’t resolve, but what deck doesn’t suffer from that? Because of how essential they are, every one of the Punisher spells hurts a little more as it gets removed, so things like Asceticism would be a good include and if you choose to add more enchantment and artifact protection, it makes the deck even more resilient.