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The Old Bait and Lich

Written by LegitMTG Staff on . Posted in Casual Magic, Commander

Editor’s Note: Legit MTG is participating in Golgari theme week alongside Daily MTG and other websites in the Magic community. Look for articles about the green-black guild to join our regular features. And don’t worry. The other Return to Ravnica guilds will get equal treatment in upcoming weeks.

For Selesnya theme week, I wrote about my Sigarda, Host of Herons deck that featured some fantastic metagame hatred. This was my first real foray into playing Commander decks which did not prominently or exclusively feature the color blue. I wanted another taste, but this time a little more subtle. Lucky for me, Golgari Week was just around the corner, I had a ton of good black and green cards and Return to Ravnica provided me with a clear direction: Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord.

Design Goals

Of course, there are as many variations to a Commander deck as there are flavors of Baskin Robbins … times a BAJILLION. I have a particular style to building my decks, as I’m sure you do too. Rather than engage in a debate about why [obvious card X] isn’t in there and [underpowered card Y] is in there, I like to explain the philosophy up front. While I definitely think Commander has staples, I do not think you’re obligated to use them. If you read my Sigarda article, you’ll remember that neither Sol Ring nor Sensei’s Divining Top were in there. And it was correct.

In my opinion, Jarad is an honorary Goyf. For flavor reasons, they couldn’t make him a Legendary Zombie Lhurgoyf. But you know despite his Elven blood, he’s at least 5 percent Goyf. He probably had a great grandfather who had an illegitimate child with a half-Goyf woman or something. Since I’m a fan of building around tribal synergy, I decided to make this deck …


I wanted to include as many Lhurgoyf cards as possible, excluding Tarmogoyf. They all have synergy with Jarad’s natural desire to fill the yard with post-mortem dudes. Also, I have very fond memories of the power of Lhurgoyf both in mid-to-late-90s casual multiplayer and in mid-to-late-90s flavor text competitions.

Not Reanimator

Focusing on graveyard interactions in black and green, it would have been very easy to stray into Buried Alive/Animate dead territory. I wanted to avoid being 1) doubly over-reliant on the ‘yard and 2) building a tempo-based combo-ish deck. I want to kill my own guys for value, not simply bin them to bring them back while going down a card in the process. This was not going to be an Entomb deck.

The Deck List

Key Cards

Lord of Extinction

We’ll cover this guy thoroughly in a bit. Suffice it to say, he’s the Lord of Goyfs. The uber-Goyf. Although he has no evasion, you probably are already aware that it doesn’t matter.

Cut this card and you are forever banned from Goyfdom.

Grave Betrayal

In addition to giving us our Lich Lord, Return to Ravnica also provided the insane Grave Betrayal. This card makes the game exceedingly awkward for whomever’s name does not begin with [your name here]. If you don’t believe me, cast it. Then watch people read it. Then pay close attention as droplets of sweat start to form on their brow.

Basically, Grave Betrayal shuts off mass removal and nearly stops combat dead even if you don’t have a Stinkweed Imp on the field. Any trades in combat are now advantage: you. This is especially true if someone else currently has the target on their forehead. Be careful, though. When this hits the field, anyone with half a brain is going to dump paint thinner on the current target and repaint it on your forehead.

Momentous Fall

This may seem like a strange card to highlight. However, it does a bunch of things at once that we really value:

  • It kills a dude, which makes our other cards better.
  • It draws a bunch of cards, ideally. Sometimes, you get to eat a Goyf for way too much #value, but often I will tutor it up with Rune-Scarred Demon, swing once and then cash him in for a new hand.
  • It gains life. That’s not super exciting in Commander, but we are trying to grind out a long game and play attrition to make big graveyards. So the added life gain bonus turns out to really matter more than I would have thought.

I seriously will tutor for this quite often. I like to play the “look non-threatening” game to an almost pathological degree, and this is the perfect card to do it.

Birthing Pod

It kills a dude, while getting another one that is often bigger as a result. I would really like to pretend that I have some deep, mystical, ancient panda-wisdom to pass onto you here, but I don’t. Pod is crazy-go-nuts in Commander and it’s even better when you are thrilled to see the first creature hit the ‘yard. One of my favorite Pod chains in this deck is Solemn Simulacrum into Lord of Extinction. Podding with [card]Harvester of Souls[card] out is similarly rewarding.

Lessons Learned

After a few plays of the deck, I realized that several cards were not very good:

  • Life from the Loam – I knew this card was iffy going in, but I’m required to play it in any legal format even slightly beyond the point of it being any good. There’s just much better stuff to be doing in Commander. If you want to be a jerk and Strip-lock people, just play Crucible of Worlds. I was after #value, but I would have honestly been better off with something like Harmonize.
  • Worm Harvest – This is another card that I have an unhealthy love for and try to force way too often. Tokens are not useful in a deck with no token synergy. The fact that Loam wasn’t good meant that Harvest was even worse.
  • Golgari Charm – I originally ran this as part of the Golgari flavor requirement. It’s actually better than I thought, but still not good enough. It was definitely the last cut and I’m tempted to put it back in. I would flex on this depending on how theme-driven you want to be. The mode that eats enchantments pulled the most weight, which means that it could probably be something like Relic Crush if you just want more #value.

After a few more, I realized that several cards were on the chopping block even though they were still in the deck:

  • Terravore – I really didn’t want to cut this because it flies in the face of the mono-goyf design plan. However, this guy isn’t all that effective. Some games result in a yard full of mana (Hint: Hateful red players), but most aren’t as chock-full as I would have thought. He just doesn’t do enough and dies very easily. In practice, you could say that he’s Terra-bad.
  • Green Sun’s Zenith – this card was very good in Sigarda because I was using it as an extra Enchantress in practice. In Jarad, however, there aren’t any critical creatures that you want to tutor up cheaply. I cast this card probably a dozen times and almost all of them were early game searches for a Sakura-Tribe Elder. I think this would just be better as another ramp spell.

How Games Go Down

Scenario #1: The Accidental Douche Out

Scene: I’m hanging out at my friend Jamie’s house, playing Commander with him and Ryan. I resolve a Defense of the Heart, which lives a full turn cycle and activates on my upkeep. I grab Mikaeus, the Unhallowed because he is basically always good. And then I go searching for my Triskelion so that I can off a few small creatures that are worrying me. And then the light bulb goes on. That’s an infinite-damage combo.

Now, I am not on Team Tooth and Nail. I actually felt shame as I held these two cards in my hand. I commented on my shame and stuffed Mikeaus back into the deck. Later, I removed Trike from my deck. If you’re not familiar with how this works, Triskelion comes into play with three ping counters. You shoot two at people for damage, and then shoot him with his own final counter. He dies with no +1/+1 counters, Mike brings him back and you rinse and repeat ad infinitum. It’s a bottomless box of Mike and Trikes, except that it tastes like evil instead of candy.

Don’t be that guy.

Scenario #2: The Intentional Douche Out

Scene: The game has been going on for a while and each player has 10 or more cards in there graveyard. Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord has been deployed. You cast Lord of Extinction and immediately sacrifice him to Jarad, thereby Goyfballing(tm) each opponent for 30-plus life. The game ends and people feel miserable. However, this time you meant to do it.

Be that guy.

Scenario #3: Grave Consequences

Scene: You have out Grave Betrayal. Your opponents don’t have answers. Your enormous Goyfs have favorable attacks. They cannot block you or profitably counter-attack. Everyone feels like there are bugs crawling on them.

In reality (not in movie land), what really happens is that the board stalls out completely until someone finds an answer. However, you want the game to go long and for graveyards to fill up, so this also plays to your plan. During this time, doing things like setting up a good Momentous Fall are pretty sweet. This isn’t really a “win the game” scenario so much as it is a pivotal point in a well-crafted game where you can set up for an advantageous long position.

Scenario #4: The Lich Mob

I always like to include the scenario where you lose. You know, so you can try to avoid it. Luckily, the Goyf deck is surprisingly resilient to graveyard hate. This is primarily because cards like Birthing Pod, Mikeaus, the Unhallowed and Rune-Scarred Demon are completely powerful without any extra help. What I’ve found to be the primary issue is the extreme lengths to which you durdle.

This is not a fast deck and it very much requires setting up for a long game. Most of my blowouts were either to getting ganged up on (see: Grave Betrayal without sufficient defenses) or to decks designed to have a faster combo or extreme synergy plan. Also, I would not recommend playing it in 1v1 because many of your cards benefit from having multiple active graveyards as well as people being distracted by more powerful plays while ignoring your “weird” stuff.

So, play multiplayer. Then look non-threatening. Keep your hand full. Contribute to stopping anyone from “going off.” If you want to Betrayal people, make sure their hands are fairly empty and you have a good board presence. Otherwise, you may be hosting a tea party for several guests. Except instead of tea, it’s your blood. And the guests are your pitchfork-wielding playgroup.


I’ve now wielded two non-blue Commander decks in a row. I won’t lie: it was hard. But between Sigarda and Jarad, I can confidently say that I feel like the old Rock is home turf.  The BG color pairing gets my vote for honorary blue deck.

So what’s next for me? I realized that I like really goal-oriented decks. It’s not enough to play good cards. I need to have a few plans that I’m working toward. I’m addicted to the strategic maneuvering much more than I am to the bald haymaker. With Golgari Week wrapped up, it’s time to go running home to the old mono-blue deck for a family visit. I will be applying what I’ve learned about myself in reconstructing the list. I feel like I’ll be better for it, in the end. Thanks, Jarad.*


Justin (@justin_dz)



* Make sure you consult with your doctor before starting any diet program

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