Beating A Golgari And Jeskai Meta With Selesnya

Seeing Golgari Midrange and Jeskai Control take the meta by storm hasn’t given Ross doubts! That just means he gets to do what he loves most: adjusting his strategy to prey on the unsuspecting opposition at SCG Dallas’s Standard Classic!

A couple of weeks ago, I made the bold claim that
Selesnya would prove to be the best guild in
Guilds of Ravnica
due to its combination of good mana, depth of powerful cards, and
versatility. After it took both slots in the finals of the

Columbus Team Constructed Open

on release weekend I was looking pretty good to be proven right. That was
barely over a week ago, but with how popular this set is the Standard
format is changing rapidly, and after a dominant performance in

last weekend’s Magic Online PTQ

, Golgari is the new king Standard, with tons of variation between builds
so there’s room for the archetype to grow.

The Golgari decks are built around a seemingly endless stream of value from
explore creatures, Ravenous Chupacabra, Golgari Findbroker, and
planeswalkers, letting them gain plenty of card advantage over the course
of a game without falling behind on the battlefield. With access to
Conclave Tribunal as a clean answer to the planeswalkers and swarms of
creatures that can trump the small ball value from theirs, the matchup for
a traditional Selesnya Tokens strategy looks to be solid, but there are two
significant issues:

First, Golgari decks pack tons of maindeck hate for enchantments. Conclave
Tribunal dies to Vraska, Relic Seeker, Vivien Reid, and Assassin’s Trophy,
so you’re unlikely to keep their planeswalkers off the battlefield that
way, and your early tokens aren’t great at attacking them through the
various explore creatures and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed.

The emphasis is on you to go over the top with March of the Multitudes,
which brings us to the second issue: They have a maindeck sweeper to in
Finality and a potential sideboard sweeper in Ritual of Soot. And since
they have plenty of planeswalkers, they’re the deck that’s going to recover
faster from those sweepers. Thus you have to combo kill with a single
attack step too often.

Yes, the Golgari deck has to find the right answers, and Selesnya Tokens
has ways to grind with them, but they tear through their deck very quickly
with explore, and none of Selesnya’s attrition elements are as powerful as
the planeswalkers in Golgari. You could try to play some more planeswalkers
of your own, like Vivien Reid and Karn, Scion of Urza, but between
Assassin’s Trophy, Duress, and Vraska’s Contempt, the Golgari decks are
better than you at fighting along that axis.

The Selesnya Tokens deck was built at a time when no one was sure how
Standard would play out, and thus built to maximize the inherent synergies
of the Selesnya guild, but now that we have a better picture of the format
(albeit a still early one) we can build with a target in mind.

The first target is going to be these Golgari decks, so we’re going to want
to stay away from singleton large threats that don’t generate immediate
value, like Shalai, Voice of Plenty and Lyra Dawnbringer, because they are
too weak to Ravenous Chupacabra.

But it’s also looking like Jeskai is the control deck of choice, so we’re
going to want threats that are good against Deafening Clarion, which those
decks lean heavily on to defeat creatures. The squeeze between Deafening
Clarion and Ravenous Chupacabra is a tough one to navigate, because they
pull you in opposite directions, but it’s one we can ultimately solve. Note
that since Golgari Midrange and Jeskai Control are both excellent in the
lategame, I’m looking to be more aggressive than Selesnya Tokens, which
means finding the threats that aren’t answered easily by the common

The first step is to avoid running underpowered cheap creatures, which
don’t attack well into Golgari’s creatures and get swept up by Deafening
Clarion. We want to play two- and three-drops that attack well against the
explore creatures and follow them up with large threats that don’t leave
you vulnerable to Clarion and don’t get easily answered by a Chupacabra.
Cards like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Lyra Dawnbringer don’t stick
around often enough. I want expensive threats that are hard to kill or
provide value while still pressuring the opponent.

After some lengthy gatherer searches, here are the cards I want to build

Adanto Vanguard is the two-drop that Jeskai decks are deathly afraid of. It
isn’t answered by any of their damage-based removal or Cleansing Novas, and
the cards that do answer it, Seal Away and Settle the Wreckage, aren’t
seeing much play right now. It also attacks with impunity into all of
Golgari’s creatures while surviving their maindeck removal. Moment of
Craving matches up well against it but most of Selesnya’s cards are good
against that removal spell so it’s easy to turn Moment into a necessary
evil that rots in their hand if you don’t draw the one target for it.

With exile-based removal at an all-time low, Conclave Cavalier is poised to
do some damage. It’s a liability against Lava Coil, but that’s about it. It
has great stats to pressure your opponents and is very difficult to trade
with effectively. The leftover tokens should be staring at a near empty
battlefield against Golgari while Jeskai decks are going to hope to counter
this or have Justice Strike into Deafening Clarion ready, which is exactly
the kind of stress I want my four-mana play to give my opponents.

Militia Bugler is fine on its own, and it leaves behind value in the face
of removal, but it’s also the perfect recipient of a counter from Venerated
Loxodon, making it survive most damage-based removal and rumble in combat
with most creatures at its cost. Curving Adanto Vanguard into Militia
Bugler into Venerated Loxodon is a great start against both Golgari and
Jeskai, making Militia Bugler my three-drop of choice after History of

Against both Ravenous Chupacabra and Deafening Clarion, Trostani leaves
something behind, and at one power it plays very well with Militia Bugler.
It’s a great threat to deploy post-Cleansing Nova against control and the
anthem effect is something Selesnya will always look to in creature
matchups. I’ve seen a lot of Selesnya decks go heavy white for Benalish
Marshal, which is the more powerful card for its mana cost, but those decks
necessarily have to lower their curve and are thus, very weak to Deafening

With these threats in mind, here’s my take on a more aggressive Selesnya

The only threats here that die without producing value is Emmara, Soul of
the Accord, which is great if it stays on the battlefield for more than a
turn or two, and Knight of Autumn cast as a 4/3, and I’ve mainly included
Knight here as a versatile three-drop that’s a hit for Militia Bugler. It’s
going to shine in the matchups outside of Golgari and Jeskai, notably red
decks and Selesnya mirrors. It’s still too early to completely gun for the
top decks, and should Jeskai move towards something like Seal Away to
answer Adanto Vanguard and Conclave Cavalier, Knight of Autumn can still do
work there.

It’s a fine line with Militia Bugler and nineteen hits, which means you’re
going to miss about a fifth of the time, but I don’t want to sacrifice much
in power to play it. I’d aggressively trim them when trying to sideboard
out any of the hits for it to help compensate, but it’s possible you need
to commit a couple more slots to make it consistently effective.

Tendershoot Dryad is another high-end card that Bugler finds, but it
doesn’t leave behind much value if removed quickly and is cleanly answered
by Deafening Clarion, so I’d look to that as a sideboard option against
other Selesnya decks that won’t have much removal. I’d more likely look to
District Guide to make up the gap, since it provides immediate value and
can help fix your mana to consistently cast Conclave Cavalier.

If you move away from Militia Bugler entirely, you open the possibility to
sideboard Tocatli Honor Guard against Golgari, a very powerful effect that
stops all their value creatures, essentially forcing them to use a removal
spell on their next turn, potentially putting them off curve.

Knight of Grace, while not that good against Jeskai, is excellent against
Golgari since it’s very difficult for them to kill or block, especially
once it’s pumped by Venerated Loxodon or Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.
Ultimately I think it’s a better two-drop than Thorn Lieutenant, which was
mainly effective against red decks that are falling in popularity.

The sideboard lets you shift into a less aggressive role, with Carnage
Tyrant being the standout. Both top decks can struggle to answer the
Dinosaur, giving you a potential trump as the game goes long. I’m high
enough on Carnage Tyrant that I tried to incorporate Llanowar Elves into
this list, though it’s tough to make the mana work with History of Benalia.
That led me to thinking of moving in a more green-centric direction, but
with the same high end rather than creatures that too easily die to spot

The two-drops are definitely a downgrade here from the white-centric list,
but Llanowar Elves is a great gain. This list also plays plenty of hits for
Militia Bugler, a healthy 25, now that History of Benalia is replaced by an
actual creature in Jadelight Ranger. It’s not going to be as good against
Deafening Clarion specifically, but the speed lets you get to your top end
faster and potentially make Clarion irrelevant by turn three, or at least
not backbreaking. Something as simple as Llanowar Elves into Militia Bugler
into Venerated Loxodon sets you up very nicely with nine power and an
opponent at eighteen life.

What worries me most about these Selesnya lists is their lack of removal. I
trimmed on Conclave Tribunal in both since I don’t want to draw too many of
them and force a long game where they eventually die, rather using one or
two as a significant tempo swing to close the game out or answer a key
planeswalker. But in Magic, things don’t always go according to plan and
you need some removal to get out of tight spots.

Both decks could potentially splash red for Justice Strike or black for
Cast Down or Assassin’s Trophy, but in an aggressive shell any hit to your
consistency is going to be felt pretty badly. If there’s one thing that
could doom Selesnya, it’s the lack of non-enchantment removal.

As it turns out, red has some threats that are well positioned against the
top two decks as well, namely Tajic, Legion’s End and Rekindling Phoenix.
The latter is a proven powerhouse that was part of the reason exile-based
removal was so popular last season, while Tajic matches up very well
against Deafening Clarion. The 3/2 body isn’t ideal against Golgari’s
creatures, but the threat of first strike makes it tough to block anyway,
and the mentor counters on a Knight token or Knight of Grace are quite

The same core of Adanto Vanguard, History of Benalia, and Venerated Loxodon
we saw in the first deck can be supplemented by red instead, leading to the

With only Venerated Loxodon for enters the battlefield abilities, this deck
can pretty easily sideboard Tocatli Honor Guard, which is another boon. As
for the maindeck, Emmara, Soul of the Accord is replaced by Remorseful
Cleric, which I like against Golgari, not due to its ability to interrupt
graveyard interaction, though that is still useful, but due to its flying.
Golgari wants to contain early threats with blockers, and Remorseful Cleric
dodges that plan while being a prime recipient for +1/+1 counters. Should
you need to stop a Find or Izoni, Thousand-Eyed later in the game, it’s
there for you, but I wouldn’t use the ability too aggressively.

It would pain me to move away from Selesnya so quickly, but relying
entirely on enchantment-based removal is a significant liability until the
format shifts. This deck still carries a lot of the flavor of Selesnya with
Venerated Loxodon while being well-prepared for what’s out there. It’s a
hybrid of sorts between Boros Angels and Selesnya Tokens, two decks that
were more successful on week one than on week two of this new format.

With all the anticipation of this set that occurred during preview season,
it feels like we’re much further along in this format’s evolution than a
scant two weeks, but really it’s just been an opening parry by Selesnya
Tokens and Mono-Red Aggro that has been repelled by Jeskai Control and
Golgari Midrange. How long Golgari stays on top is unclear, but right now
you need to beat it consistently to have a good chance of winning a
tournament, and while I think Selesnya Tokens falls short there because it
doesn’t have the necessary removal to play a long game, going more
aggressive should keep the Selesnya Conclave more than competitive.

This guild is more than a one-trick pony. Its density of powerful cards
allows it to adapt to different strategies, which is the hallmark of a deck
that lasts over the life of a format rather than one that relies on
favorable metagame conditions. The tools are always going to be there, we
just have to find them.