We’re well enough in to Return to Ravnica Limited that the collective wizarding mind is starting to sort out the format. On top of that, we have some major Limited events and a sizeable chunk of Magic Online data to give us insights. Many questions are still left unanswered. But we know one thing for certain: Golgari is the worst.
This hurts me deeply. I like nothing better in life than performing deeds of a pernicious nature and harvesting worms. As 2/3s of my cherished BUG wedge color combination, I just refuse to believe that it has to be true. Rage, rage against the dying of the … murky darkness. Something like that. I mean, win/loss rates are just statistics, right?
I’ve done well with Golgari plenty of times. To borrow a poker term, you might accuse me of results-oriented thinking here. That’s a fair point. I might be a little ROTty. But we’re talking Golgari. ROT is practically our middle name. And let’s be honest. I wasn’t sure I could scavenge up enough bad jokes if I wrote about anything else.
Fleshy, Rotting Pillars of the Golgari Strategy
These three cards represent the guild’s holy trinity. Golgari is a grindy, attrition-based strategy that plays for the long game. You could draft a deck that pounds out a quick victory with Dreg Manglers and unleashed Dead Revelers. But Mangler is an uncommon and your Rakdos foes should be taking many of the Revelers. No, you’re the guy who’s going to wheel Catacomb Slug.
And that’s fine. Scavenge is inherently slow. It’s also powerful, but you have to be alive to get value and you have to draft to maximize the impact of Scavenge. The question you want to ask yourself is “How do I make this Scavenge guy worth more than one card?”
Well, Imp’s our answer. At first blush, Imp isn’t very Imp-ressive (yes, I drome on and on with these puns). A 1/1 body for two mana, even with evasion and lifelink, doesn’t have a huge board impact. The Imp loses fights with Concordia Pegasus. It can’t get much worse than that, right?
But Golgari is sneaky and likes to fly under the radar. There are no radars in the sewers. The real Magic happens when you Scavenge +2/+2 — or live the dream, +3/+3 — onto the Imp. Suddenly, we’re dealing with a flying [cardRakdos Ragemutt[/card]. A few connections, even into blockers, will turn a game around pretty quickly. If you play your ground game correctly, it can even outrace a strong Populate deck.
In other words, if you are drafting Golgari, be very wary of passing the Imp.
Now that we have our sights on the Imp, we need to Scavenge onto him. The grindy deck likes a creature that is both hard to block and hard to attack into. A creature like that with Scavenge would be perfect. We can jam up the ground while keeping pace with our opponent’s two-power flier by cracking back with the Imp. If someone wants to trade their Centaur for our little Scorpion, they suddenly get to contend with Ragemutt Aviator.
In other words, Sluiceway Scorpion is pretty much perfect. He has a very reasonable Scavenge cost to boot — the same CMC as Common Bond. You want to think long and hard about your plan before you pass one of these guys. And you shouldn’t be sharing him with any other guilds unless they decide to go for a three-color strategy.
You may be thinking we’ve just described Magical Christmas Land. (Say hi to Conley Woods while you’re there, OK? Thanks.) You might be right. We landed our Imp on Turn 2, we landed our Scorpion on Turn 4, we traded it with their attacker and then we buffed up our Imp. It usually doesn’t go that smoothly. Grisly Salvage is here to help.
Salvage performs several critical functions for a reasonable price and a fast stack insertion:
- It finds a land when you’re at curve-risk.
- It finds the best creature in your next five draw steps (your Imp OR Scorpion).
- It bins your other Scavenge guys for “card advantage junior.”
I keep seeing this card wheel, which signals that either people are not evaluating it correctly or I really am the only person stupid/masochistic enough to move into Golgari when it’s there.
Key Golgari Cards
We’ll talk about this a lot: Golgari is weak to fliers. When assembling your deck, you need to have some kind of plan to deal with Azorius, Selesnya and Izzet fliers (and those simply in Pursuit of Flight). The Indrik’s 2/4 body with Reach is a pretty good way to shore that up. Trestle Troll is another popular card, but I put Indrik here for a few key reasons:
- Troll isn’t hard to wheel. Only Golgari players should want one, and there usually aren’t many Golgari players.
- Indrik can attack.
- Indrik can actually kill Vassal Soul in combat.
Now, obviously adjust according to your curve and other factors.
Again, we’re weak to fliers. Locust trades with most fliers and comes with a reasonably priced and powerful Scavenge count. Six mana is a lot, but you should be getting there frequently since Golgari games generally go long.
While I have mixed feelings (and mixed success) with the Axebane strategy, it is a popular one. With your Trolls, Gatekeeper Vines and Guardians, you can play a higher curve, higher impact strategy that has access to multiple colors. This can be a good Ogre Jailbreaker strategy. I look forward to exploring it more. I would consider it high risk/high reward. But it is an option and in some cases may be a way to scavenge a Golgari deck if you end up getting cut later on.
Golgari really hurts for evasion. Paying four mana for a 3/3 is not great in this format because other people are generally paying three or even two mana. However, the Scavenge on this is high impact (if expensive). On top of that, Scavenging onto one can present a solid threat which, if dealt with, makes your next threat even more solid. I will admit that Monitor is a hard threat to build to critical mass if you are on the back foot, however.
Decoy is another very Golgari-exemplifying card. It sucks on the vanilla test, but can grind like TMJ. Combined with earlier Scavenge effects or pump spells, you can often trade up or trade with a smaller creature and then Scavenge-chain further on to your next threat. Having one on the board can force some awkward attacks and blocks that throw the opponent off their plan.
This guy does some work. He’s a reasonable price for pretty reasonable power. Four toughness is enough to get past Centaurs and require some double blocks. It also punches through Frostburn Weird, Voidwielder and Doorkeeper defenses. You don’t need to pick him too high, but he’s a pretty good, easy to find five-slot card.
Dead Cards (the Bad Kind of Dead)
Unless you have a hyper-aggressive, freak-of-nature Golgari deck, this glow stick-wielding zombie raver is not nearly as good for you as he is in Rakdos. Your plan is to grind out a long game at which point you end up with either:
- A creature that can’t block or attack profitably OR
- A Gray Ogre
Also, keep in mind that Scavenging onto this guy causes him to be Unleashed, at which point he can’t block as if you played him Unleashed to begin with. Granted it’s an uncommon, but I think you’d rather just have a Dreg Mangler.
It’s a trap. Stop doing it. Or don’t start. I know that I said we’re weak to fliers, but we’re also extremely weak to never having a draw step again for the rest of the game. Pretend this card doesn’t exist.
At first glance, this looks like a high-impact, two-for-one card. In practice, this is rarely true. Let’s look at the knocks against it:
- It costs six mana. This is a lot to spend for pump and a lot to spend for conditional removal. I’m not sure the combination makes up for the cost. Compare that converted mana cost to Giant Growth and Augur Spree that have to be played as sorceries and tell me you aren’t a little emo about that.
- It is sorcery speed. This is not a combat trick. Your opponent gets to choose how to block with full information. If you shrink their best blocker, they still have the option to take damage or chump. You almost never kill a bomb with this, unless the opponent is desperate.
- The +3/+3 and -3/-3 are both temporary effects. Compare this to the five mana cost of Scavenging a Dreg Mangler for permanent board impact without spending a card.
- Plenty of late-game (Turn 6-plus) targets cannot be killed by -3/-3.
I do not think this card is unplayable by any means. But I’m fairly sure I would almost always prefer to have a decent Scavenge creature or a decent creature on which to Scavenge instead. Or, I’d probably rather have a Giant Growth or Savage Surge, which might as well be removal in this format.
Are you tired of hearing about our weakness to fliers yet? I always feel much safer with an Aerial Predation in the sideboard. Especially given that many of the Azorius and Izzet bomb rares and mythics are fliers. You don’t want to take this over a card that is critical to your maindeck strategy, but I would certainly take the first and possibly second copy over a maybe-playable.
This is another card I will generally pick up somewhat late in Pack 3 but feel comfortable having around. While artifacts are not a terribly significant threat in this format, cards like Knightly Valor, Pursuit of Flight and even Deviant Glee can give our strategy a headache. Also, cards like Collective Blessing are nigh-unbeatable. A safety valve is nice. I would not take this over Aerial Predation, though.
Goldgari – Putting the R and M Back in SwaRM
Like all the guilds, Golgari has access to some powerful rare and mythic cards. It shares some with Rakdos and Selesnya, while some of them are exclusive to the sewers. Many of these cards are obviously good (Pack Rat) and plenty of them are not (Worldspine Wurm).
- Abrupt Decay: I obviously view this card as quality removal, but I must say that I’ve been underwhelmed. It hits early-game cards, which is not where the Golgari deck tends to win or lose. If you have the chance to nail a Keyrune with this, it’s not a bad play. The Keyrune itself is a threat on offense or defense and it ensures that the Abrupt Decay will become increasingly irrelevant.
- Corpsejack Menace: You can’t go wrong with an efficient 4/4 creature. If you get an early Corpsejack Menace, it may change your evaluation on Unleash cards. Suddenly, a 3/3 Grim Roustabout and a 4/5 Dead Reveler are a different story. Also consider splashing for Common Bond if you can get away with it. But no need to push.
- Deathrite Shaman: This card is a house. I have defeated Selesnya decks where 24 damage — the only damage of the game — were dealt by a single Shaman. In the long game, the card advantage, reach and survivability you get from a Shaman is huge. If you get one early, prioritize Grisly Salvage even higher.
- Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord: You are definitely on the stall plan with this guy, where you want to get in some damage where you can, but prioritize keeping your life total high. He is a tough endgame to beat when you can throw a Scavenge creature at them, put the tokens on another creature, fling that and keep chaining. If you get a Jarad early, prioritize Grisly Salvage even higher and make sure your creature count is quite high.
- Lotleth Troll: He is quite good and plays well with Scavenge. However, be careful going all-in against Azorius and Selesnya and even Izzet. You are one Arrest, Trostani’s Judgment or Voidwielder away from serious regret. I have found the Troll to primarily be a trump card against Rakdos and powerful in the not-very-frequent mirror.
- Underworld Connections: I like this card quite a bit against Selesnya and Izzet, and especially in the mirror. It excels in the long game, which is our plan anyway. However, against Azorius, I feel like the life lost and their ability to choke up our curve with Detain and aggressive fliers makes this less useful than a good creature. Be careful leaning on it in matches like that.
- Wild Beastmaster: Not a good Turn 3 play. Unless you scavenge, it’s usually a one-shot Anthem effect. If you scavenge, it’s a 1/1 late game play that needs another turn and a ton more mana to power up, while also requiring you to have a relevant board already.
Weaknesses, Not Counting a Sale on Pre-Owned Limbs
I mentioned before that Golgari has a low win rate on MTGO. This is partly because it is less forgiving to draft and partly because its natural enemies tend to be Tier 1 cards and strategies that everyone knows about.
Here are some of our biggest issues:
- Fliers (with or without Knightly Valor) – We’ve beaten this one to death with our wings already.
- Voidwielder – See below.
- Pursuit of Flight – The creature 1) becomes a flier and 2) usually becomes larger than our Reach creature’s toughness.
- Rogue’s Passage – This breaks up our stalled boards and makes cards like Risen Sanctuay just deadly.
Azorius is our biggest issue, which might seem obvious from the list above. They have the easiest access to fliers. On top of that, they have Detain to push them through our Reach creatures. They also have access to our nightmare scenario: multiple Voidwielders. These guys are hard to power through and punish Scavenge without blinking. They also have Dramatic Rescue. This is a match where you want Aerial Predation and Golgari Longlegs for sure.
Things I Don’t Know Yet
While that’s a wrap on the pros and cons of drafting the Swarm, I did want to mention a few other experimental, Golgari-related thoughts that I am hoping to validate in the future. If you come across the chance to try these out, definitely hit me up with what you find:
I mentioned this before when talking about Axebane Guardian. If you went this route and had success, what colors did you focus on, how did you build your curve and what were you ramping into? Did you play Axebane Stag? How about Risen Sanctuary? I think there’s a deck here, but I’m not sure if it’s one you can seek out or simply one that you can move into on the rare occasion that it presents itself.
I’m intrigued by the possibility of a gimmick deck built around Grisly Salvage and Psychic Spiral. Stop groaning and bear with me. The idea here is a BUG control deck that kills with the Spiral, while stalling to that point via cards like Inaction Injunction, Voidwielder, Ogre Jailbreaker and Syncopate.
Other than being heavily dependent on uncommon cards, the biggest concern here is that you run the risk of milling your own Spirals when you Salvage. Therefore, this deck may also rely on one or more copies of Treasured Find to get back Spiral. Seriously, I asked you to stop groaning. It’s unprofessional. If I ever get the chance to do this, I’ll let you know how it goes. Until then, may you shamble your way to victory.
Yours in decomposition,
@justin_dz on Twitter
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