It's Golgari Week, and since there are few who love black/green as much as I do, I figured I'd talk about Golgari in Standard this week.
When the Return to Ravnica spoilers came out, people anticipated that B/G Zombies would be a powerhouse in the new Standard. As a green/black mage who already owned the core Zombies—along with my precious playset of Cavern of Souls—I was looking forward to being at the top of the metagame heap. And yes, B/G did make some waves initially…but it very quickly fell off the map from the hate people brought to bear and really hasn't made much of a peep since. In fact, conventional wisdom is that B/G Zombies is really bad in the metagame, which makes talking about Golgari decks during Golgari Week just a tad awkward.
Thankfully, Derek Boyko gave us a little something to talk about at the SCG Standard Open in Seattle a few weeks back when he made Top 4 with…B/G Zombies!
Here's his decklist:
- 4 Blood Artist
- 3 Bloodthrone Vampire
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 3 Lotleth Troll
Sadly, the written coverage of SCG events has really diminished, but we luckily got one for the Top 8 match featuring Derek Boyko vs. JR Wade (Frites). Game 1 Derek got JR down to five before he died to a Reanimated Craterhoof Behemoth and friends for 34 trampling damage. Game 2 a fairly aggressive start plus Deathrite Shaman pushed him through despite the Thragtusk. The third game went a little bit slower, but Derek played three Geralf's Messengers and three Rancors to finish the game off before any Reanimation action got started.
I watched the SCGLive coverage of Derek Boyko in his Top 4 match vs. Jacob Thiessen (Bant Control). He crushed in game 1 with an aggressive start—turn 1 Gravecrawler, turn 2 Lotleth Troll, turn 3 Geralf's Messenger (which got hit with Detention Sphere), and then turn 4 Messenger, which ended the game shortly thereafter.
Game 2 Derek had to mulligan, started with Diregraf Ghoul, Sign in Blood, and Jacob played Detention Sphere on the Ghoul. Turn 3 Sign in Blood, Deathrite Shaman (which also got hit by a Detention Sphere). Turn 4 Gravecrawler, Rancor, Blood Artist. Turn 5 another Blood Artist, attacked with Rancored Gravecrawler (which got hit with Azorius Charm). Jacob dropped a third Sphere on the two Blood Artists. Derek played Golgari Charm to hit the Sphere to get back the Blood Artists. Terminus bought time, then he started chaining into Sphinx's Revelations, cast Thragtusk, and pretty much was comfortably in the driver's seat from there.
Game 3 Deathrite Shaman into Lotleth Troll, and Jacob cast Farseek. Derek played Blood Artist, and Jacob cast Supreme Verdict (Troll regenerated). Dreg Mangler, swing for 5. Derek applied some pressure and got Jacob down to two life, but Garruk, Primal Hunter came down, drew him some cards, Thragtusk came down, and the game just slipped away, with a Sphinx Revelation for four pulling the concession.
- The Zombie core makes for a really devastating early game that can punish any slow or awkward starts by an opponent. This is why it's remained in the Rakdos version, though that deck goes over the top with its Vampire friends. The green version brings the powerful Lotleth Troll and Dreg Mangler to the mix, which makes it more early game focused while maintaining a good resistance to sweepers. However, I'm not sure the trade-off is worth it—Falkenrath Aristocrat goes through the air and has resistance to sweepers (providing there are other creatures), and being able to sacrifice your Zombies keeps them from being tucked with Terminus.
- Rancor is crucial to keeping the early Zombie core relevant against midrange cards like Restoration Angel and Thragtusk.
- I think 22 lands is probably too few. Despite the aggro slant, the deck does need a lot of mana to operate smoothly—from the Troll regeneration to being able to run Gravecrawlers into blockers and replay them to Dreg Mangler's scavenge to Deathrite Shaman's activated abilities.
- Blood Artist looked pretty sad when matched up against Sphinx's Revelation and Thragtusk. The little life drains can sometimes get there, and I can see the combo finish potential in a deck with Bloodthrone Vampire or Killing Wave and Blood Artist, though I didn't see or read that happening in the coverage and I'm not sure it comes together enough to dedicate slots to them.
- B/G Zombies doesn't seem consistently fast enough to be a great aggro deck and currently lacks a way to go over the top of the strong midgame and late game spells.
With just one recent Top 8 showing, I think that Derek must have gotten some good matchups and a few lucky breaks along the way to do as well as he did. There's strong potential here, with some obviously powerful cards, but going forward I think B/G's got some reconfiguring to do.
I thought it might be helpful to look over the tools that Golgari decks have available to them in the current metagame, both battle-tested and proven cards as well as fringe or untested cards that still haven't found a home yet.
Green is still the color of mana acceleration and color fixing, and plenty of other color combinations make good use of green's mana cards to execute their plans. A new Golgari brew should keep that in mind. Deathrite Shaman really only fits this role if we have ways of pitching lands into the graveyard (Grisly Salvage), but it does other good work as well.
One thing I think is neat about Mana Bloom is that you potentially get one mana of any color on your opponent's turn, so you can tap completely out to play Mana Bloom and still have one mana up for something like Tragic Slip or tap all but one mana for the Bloom and be able to cast a two-mana instant on your opponent's turn. It's not quite as good as my beloved Wall of Roots, but it's got a similar vibe. I've heard people talk about Mana Bloom being extra copies of Farseek, and I can certainly see that in a very different sort of Golgari deck.
Heartless Summoning has dropped completely off the radar now that we no longer have great artifact creatures to cast, but it's still a very potent mana accelerator for higher-end creatures. Would it be totally out of the question to have Farseek, Heartless Summoning, and maybe a couple Mana Blooms to accelerate into Thragtusks and Griselbrands?
The core Zombie team plus the less proven Lotleth Troll. Troll plus Gravecrawler is a pretty sweet, one-shot combo, but in my experience the Troll needs some extra oomph to really push it over the edge. Some way to fill up your hand with creatures to pitch that also doesn't set you up to be blown out by Azorius Charm.
Outside of Derek's deck, Dreg Mangler hasn't gotten much love in Standard, but having haste and being a Zombie is quite a nice combination. The scavenge ability is gravy but is dangerous in a world with Azorius Charm. I'm still not so sure Veilborn Ghoul and Jarad can't play some sort of key role in a new style of Golgari Zombie deck. Jarad's potentially quite large, he gives you something nice to do with excess land (which can be offset by activating Deathrite Shaman), and he doesn't mind sacrificing Veilborn Ghoul or Lotleth Troll—with or without Rancor—for a game-winning finish.
One thing that's interesting about removal right now is (outside of white and blue) just how conditional and awkward it is. The best is sorcery speed, which makes dealing with hasty creatures problematic. Victim of Night can't kill Zombies or Vampires, and Ultimate Price looks pretty sad when facing down multicolor creatures. All three issues help explain why Falkenrath Aristocrat is simply amazing right now.
I know no one wants to play Murder because it feels like Cancel when we've been used to playing Counterspell for years, yet you've got to play with the tools available. Yes, pinpoint removal sucks pretty bad right now, but there are definitely creatures that you need to kill dead at instant speed and Murder has the least conditions upon it (mana being pretty much it). If the creatures you're worried about cost more than three, even at three mana you're still gaining some mana by trading the resource.
I'm also wondering if we shouldn't be more strongly considering the "fight club" style from Innistrad block (along with Ulvenwald Tracker) to take advantage of green—and black—often having larger creatures than what your opponent is playing. Deadly Allure and Revenge of the Hunted are similar, though again I think the presence of Azorius Charm—even Selesnya Charm—makes some of those types of cards likely for the sideboard at best.
Thragtusk deserves it's very own category since it's so good. Although I am sometimes a slave to synergy in my G/B decks ("Thragtusk is not a Zombie"), we still have to acknowledge that, if we're playing green, we need to have a really good reason not to play Thragtusk, even though everyone is working really hard to make Thragtusk less relevant. Guess what—it's still relevant, and that's probably not a good enough reason to have him ride the bench.
Battle proven: Knight of Infamy, Vampire Nighthawk, Mayor of Avabruck, Bloodthrone Vampire, Rakdos Cackler, Elvish Visionary, Craterhoof Behemoth, Blood Artist, Skirsdag High Priest, Wolfir Avenger, Wolfir Silverheart, Strangleroot Geist, Disciple of Bolas
Green is known for being the color of good creatures, but black's got a lot too. Just finding a good collection of value creatures in black and green—of which there are plenty—might at some point be a winning strategy. One thing that's tough is how difficult it is for five-mana cards to make the cut when there's almost no reason not to start any G/x deck with four Thragtusks. Wolfir Silverheart is such a great card, but it fights Thragtusk for slots.
For consideration: Desecration Demon, Bloodline Keeper, Predator Ooze, Black Cat, Ravenous Rats, Champion of Lambholt, Mwonvuli Beast Tracker, Splinterfright, Demonlord of Ashmouth, Roaring Primadox, Mikaeus, the Unhallowed, Soul of the Harvest
One thing that's interesting when strolling through the lists of black and green creatures is how many great cards aren't even seeing play right now! If your G/B deck is having problems holding the skies, why not think about Demonlord of Ashmouth? Roaring Primadox is an "improved" Stampeding Wildebeest in that it can bounce a creature of any color. Are there enough green and black value creatures to think about building around bounce/replay?
While none of these planeswalkers are what anyone would consider overpowered, they are all decent enough for at least sideboard considerations against certain decks.
Battle proven: Rancor, Appetite for Brains, Duress, Underworld Connections, Sign in Blood, Cremate, Acidic Slime, Triumph of Ferocity, Golgari Charm, Sign in Blood, Crushing Vines, Grisly Salvage, Mulch, Ground Seal
I love that Triumph of Ferocity has started seeing some love lately from the pros (Conley Woods and Brian Kibler); it's definitely a card that warrants sideboard slots for just about any green and black deck. Appetite for Brains has done some good work lately, though sadly it misses the best expensive spell in the game right now, Sphinx's Revelation.
Mike Flores recently talked about Cremate as being a surprisingly decent card in some of his decks, which makes me think that Vile Rebirth might do some good work, especially if you can benefit from having a Zombie in play at instant speed. I mentioned above that I'd like some ways to restock my hand with creatures for Lotleth Troll—what about Creeping Renaissance? You'd get +2/+2 for each creature you had in hand to pitch and +1/+1 for any creature that had already died, which could very well be enough for an alpha strike out of nowhere. And if your opponent happens to be representing Azorius or Selesnya Charm, just replay the creatures you got back instead.
Demonic Rising and Homicidal Seclusion are two cards that certainly tickle my brain and have me wondering. If any color can self-regulate to make sure there's only one creature in play, it's black. And we've got Keyrunes that can turn on as creatures if needed or remain inactive if not. I like how Demonic Rising "has haste" as an enchantment, letting you potentially get that Demon at the end of the turn you cast it. Predatory Rampage strikes me as a way to let Zombies "go big," potentially killing creatures and ending games fast without the "eggs in basket" problem of Rancor / Revenge of the Hunted problem of Azorius and Selesnya Charms.
Last up, in a world of Falkenrath Aristocrats and Thundermaw Hellkites, should we start thinking about Silklash Spider? What about Deadly Recluse, whose deathtouch pairs up nicely with Rancor? What about Spider Spawning in creature-heavy decks?
Whenever we have creature-dominated environments, "Turbo Fog" strategies often pop up and sometimes compete, and I've heard some rumblings about it lately. However, while researching for this column, I realized that there are a lot of Fog effects in green, and we've got creature control cards and card drawing in black. Do we really blue and white for Turbo Fog?
Consider some of these cards in conjunction with Fogs: Elvish Visionary, Ground Seal, Otherworld Atlas, Trading Post, Staff of Nin, Tree of Redemption, Thragtusk, Chalice of Life, Elixir of Immortality, Cellar Door, Gnaw to the Bone, Mutilate, Barter in Blood, Zombie Apocalypse, Elderscale Wurm, Sign in Blood, Stab Wound, Underworld Connections, Vampire Nighthawk, Ghoulraiser, Bloodline Keeper, Young Wolf, Strangleroot Geist, Vorapede, Worldspine Wurm
There are lots of different moving parts and I'm not sure if there's definitely a viable Turbo Fog deck strictly in green/black, but check out this idea:
Yes—a Lost in the Woods deck! What's cool about that enchantment here is that it does double duty: "Fogging" a creature while putting land on the bottom of your deck and improving your odds of drawing action cards without shrinking your deck. Hopefully Otherworld Atlas, Cellar Door, and Elixir of Immortality will eventually deck your opponent.
The idea here is that chaining Ghoulraisers operates as a mini Fog with buyback that will occasionally "miss" and get you back Lotleth Troll, which is also pretty darn fine as a blocker. Fogs buys time as always, but in this version you've got a sweet sweeper in the form of Mutilate.
Anyway, I've gone on long enough, but I hope you found this article interesting. Perhaps it will get your brain churning with ideas to get Golgari back on the Standard map!
starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com
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New to Commander?
If you're just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)
- Skullbriar, the Walking Grave (how big can it get?)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck's somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Yeva, Nature's Herald (living at instant speed)
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius (new player-friendly)
- Trostani, Selesnya's Voice (new player-friendly)
- Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo' Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)