Commander Varolz & His Scavenging Minions

For his first Commander deck with Dragon’s Maze, Bennie stays true to the Golgari Swarm by building a deck around Varolz, the Scar-Striped!

I typically try to alternate week to week between writing about Commander and writing about my tournament Magic adventures, but Dragon’s Maze presents an interesting challenge because we’ve got ten new legends to build new Commander decks around! So for the next two or three columns, I’m going to be brewing up some sweet Commander decks featuring some of the guild Maze Runners before pivoting back to my deck ideas for the new Standard.

First up has got to be my home guild Golgari, and luckily we’ve got a really interesting new legend with Varolz, the Scar-Striped!

When you have a card with an ability like this one, it’s helpful to keep in mind the Gatherer Card Rulings on it:

1. Exiling the creature card with scavenge is part of the cost of activating the scavenge ability. Once the ability is activated and the cost is paid, it’s too late to stop the ability from being activated by trying to remove the creature card from the graveyard.

2. While Varolz, the Scar-Striped is on the battlefield, the scavenge cost of a creature card in your graveyard is equal to its mana cost, including any colored mana requirements.

3. Abilities that reduce the cost to cast a creature spell or alternative costs you can pay rather than a card’s mana cost don’t apply to activating a card’s scavenge ability.

4. The number of counters that a card’s scavenge ability puts on a creature is based on the card’s power as it last existed in the graveyard.

5. If the creature card you scavenge has {X} in its mana cost, X is 0.

6. If a creature card has multiple instances of scavenge, you can activate either ability (but not both, as the card will be exiled when you activate one of them). Varolz’s ability doesn’t affect the scavenge cost of a creature’s other scavenge ability.

The important takeaways here: no one can "fizzle" the scavenge ability by taking out the creature you’re scavenging in response since it’s a cost you’re paying. Casting cost reducers (say, Jet Medallion) in no way reduce the scavenge cost even those it’s based on casting cost. And "the card’s power as it last existed in the graveyard" certainly makes Skullbriar, the Walking Grave potentially interesting!

Scavenging For Fun & Profit

I decided to go through the card database looking for creatures with low mana costs relative to their high power. There are certainly a lot of them, and the list below is not comprehensive but rather the cards that jumped out to me as potentially interesting.

One Mana

Death’s Shadow (will usually sacrifice itself, thirteen counters for B)

Phyrexian Dreadnought (can sacrifice itself, twelve counters for 1)

Circling Vultures (pitch to graveyard for free, three counters for B)

Kjeldoran Dead (plays into any sacrifice theme, regenerates, three counters for B)

Rogue Elephant / Scythe Tiger (can sac itself when played, three counters for G)

Sleeper Agent (potential to annoy opponents, three counters for B)

Wild Dogs (cycling for 2, two counters for G)

Gravecrawler (can keep coming back if you have a Zombie in play, or two counters for B)

Two Mana

Boneyard Wurm, Skyshroud War Beast (X counters for 1G)

Hunted Horror (seven counters for BB)

Sheltering Ancient (can sacrifice itself, five counters for 1G)

Barrow Ghoul (can sacrifice itself, four counters for 1B)

Oona’s Prowler (can pitch cards to the graveyard, three counters for 1B)

Albino Troll (can sacrifice itself, regenerates, three counters for 1G)

Three Mana

Dungrove Elder (X counters for 2G in a Forest-heavy build)

Splinterfright (X counters for 2G)

Terravore (trampling body, X counters for 1GG with enough work)

Phyrexian Soulgorger (can sac itself, eight counters for 3)

Nyxathid (can sort of sac itself, seven counters for 1BB)

Spined Fluke (plays into any sacrifice theme, regenerates, five counters for 2B)

Four Mana

Dauntless Dourbark (X counters for 3G in a Forest-heavy build)

Drift of the Dead (X counters for 3B in a Snow land-heavy build)

Fungal Behemoth (X counters for 3G with X counters on our creatures)

Mortivore (regenerates, a good threat on his own, X counters for 2BB)

Soulless One (X counters for 3B in a Zombie-heavy build)

Hunted Troll (regenerates, eight counters for 2GG)

Desecration Demon (solid undercosted creature, six counters for 2BB, warning: don’t play on Magic Online!)

Five Mana

Lord of Extinction (X counters for 3BG, possibly just an insane number of counters)

Darksteel Juggernaut (good target for counters, X counters for 5 in an artifact-heavy build)

Kagemaro, First to Suffer (good creature, sacrifice itself, X counters for 3BB with enough card-drawing)

Psychosis Crawler (good creature, X counters for 5 with enough card drawing)

Endless Wurm (sacrifices itself, could play with enchantments like Rancor, nine counters for 3GG)

Spectral Force (solid undercosted creature, eight counters for 3GG)

Ayumi, the Last Visitor (good Commander card, seven counters for 3GG)

Six Mana

Masumaro, First to Live (good creature, X counters for 3GGG with enough card drawing)

Multani, Maro-Sorcerer (nonbo with scavenge, X counters for 4GG with enough card drawing)

Silvos, Rogue Elemental (regenerates, trample, eight counters for 3GGG)

Hydra Omnivore (gets better the bigger it is, eight counters for 4GG)

Xathrid Demon (can sacrifice creatures for profit, decent sized threat, seven counters for 3BBB)

Seven Mana

Allosaurus Rider (decent creature, X counters for 5GG with enough land acceleration)

Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer (decent creature, trample, X counters for 4GG with enough land acceleration)

Cards like Phyrexian Dreadnought and Death’s Shadow are certainly no-brainers for a Varolz, the Scar-Striped deck, offering gigantic returns for an extremely low mana investment. But the cards that are really interesting here are the ones that provide a variable number of +1/+1 counters, noted by "X counters" above. It may feel a little strange, but creatures that have variable power and toughness still check those variables even while they are in the graveyard.

Looking specifically for those cards, certain themes can be explored in a Varolz, the Scar-Striped deck if you want. For instance, you could play a deck that’s mostly Forests for mana and land acceleration where Dungrove Elder, Dauntless Dourbark, Allosaurus Rider and Molimo, Maro-Sorcerer—even Gaea’s Liege—could be quite fun to just play and to scavenge later. Lord of Extinction and Mortivore could play nicely alongside black mill strategies.

Don’t Forget The Regen, Ed!

Let’s not forget that Varolz also has the ability to regenerate, which makes it a resilient recipient of its own scavenge ability and also able to live through a lot of sweeper spells that don’t have the "can’t be regenerated" clause. If we want to roll with other regenerators, we can stuff a lot of those sweepers in our own deck.

Keep in mind though that the regeneration, while cheap, doesn’t come for free: Varolz, the Scar-Striped demands a blood sacrifice in order to live to fight another day, so we’ll want to have plenty of creatures ready to give their lives. Thankfully, black has a ton of creatures that readily come back from the graveyard.

Here’s what I’ve cooked up for my first Varolz, the Scar-Striped Commander deck:

Varolz, the Scar-Striped
Bennie Smith
Test deck on 05-05-2013

Phyrexian Dreadnought is a big glaring hole in my decklist, but I don’t own one unfortunately. Death’s Shadow and Riftsweeper will have to do the heavy lifting!

Here are some of the other things I’ve got going on:

Experiment One, Gyre Sage, Fertilid, Mindless Automaton, Thought Gorger, Mycoloth, Cauldron of Souls: One thing we need to consider with a deck like this is whether we want to take advantage of the +1/+1 counters from scavenging other than just building a big monster. I looked long and hard at some of the Spike creatures—Spike Weaver came real close to the final cut, but with all my mass removal I decided it wasn’t necessary—and considered Triskelion, but the problem with these guys is that their power in the graveyard is either miniscule or non-existent. Sure, they make good targets for the scavenge counters, but they can’t provide any scavenge counters themselves.

Two did make the cut:  Fertilid for the mana acceleration it can provide, and Mindless Automaton for its card drawing power and ability to pitch creatures into the graveyard. Cauldron of Souls can protect your team from mass removal that ignores regeneration, and the persist counters can be canceled out by the Scavenge counters. The rest of these cards provide a nice benefit with the additional +1/+1 counters while also having power to scavenge. I’m particularly looking forward to how much mana I might be able to make with a really huge Gyre Sage!

Oblivion Stone, Plague Boiler, Pernicious Deed, Nevinyrral’s Disk, Life’s Finale: These sweepers all allow regeneration, and a fair number are artifacts so I went ahead and included Glissa, the Traitor (and some other self-sacrificing artifacts) to be able to easily recur them.

Lotleth Troll; Troll Ascetic; Mortivore; Hunted Troll; Thrun, the Last Troll; Asceticism; Mossbridge Troll: These cards all regenerate too and go along with all those sweepers and Varolz, the Scar-Striped’s own regeneration. The fact that there are a lot of Trolls also pleases me from a flavor standpoint.

Dark Depths, Vampire Hexmage, Expedition Map, Fauna Shaman: The combo of Dark Depths plus Vampire Hexmage (alongside ways to assemble the combo) is strong in any deck with access to black and really goes without saying, but I wanted to point out that a 20/20 flying indestructible Avatar (maybe using the new Gerry Thompson token) makes a great target for scavenge counters!

Greater Good, Deathrender, Weatherseed Treefolk: I’ve written about this sweet Commander combo before, but it’s even better in this deck since the scavenge counters you put on a creature translates into even more cards drawn from Greater Good. If you’re not familiar with how these cards work together, here’s a run-down: you’ve got Weatherseed Treefolk equipped with Deathrender, and you sacrifice it to Greater Good. Deathrender and Weatherseed Treefolk both trigger, and those triggers resolve before the Greater Good draw ability does. You can resolve Weatherseed Treefolk’s ability first, so when you resolve Deathrender you can put Weatherseed Treefolk right back into play equipped to Deathrender or a creature you already had in hand instead. After that resolves, you can then draw your seven cards (and discard three).

I’ve included some "Maro" cards that have power and toughness equal to the number of cards you have in hand that get really good with Greater GoodKagemaro, First to Suffer and Masumaro, First to Live—along with Psychosis Crawler, which can technically be a "Maro" for card drawing. But if you’ve got Greater Good online, you probably want to keep Psychosis Crawler in play to kill everyone with.

Lord of Extinction; Xathrid Demon; Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord: Lord of Extinction is a fine card on its own in multiplayer, getting larger and larger the more the game progresses. With all the sweepers in this deck, hopefully I can keep everyone’s graveyards stocked well. Sacrificing Lord of Extinction to Xathrid Demon or Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord can dish out a lot of life loss to your opponents, and with a Varolz, the Scar-Striped in play, you can scavenge Lord of Extinction to make another creature just as big and do it again.

What I really like about this particular build is that it’s got a lot of powerful synergies and a lot of individually powerful cards without relying too heavily on Varolz, the Scar-Striped being in play to win. If you have any questions about the card choices I made or suggestions for a different approach to Varolz, the Scar-Striped in Commander, please hit me up in the comments below!

Take care,


I am Golgari Swarm!

I was born into Magic a green mage. Summoning gigantic monsters to fight for me was the ultimate rush! And yet time after time my opponents would slay these magnificent creatures and leave them useless, rotting in the grave. That’s when a friend suggested I add black magic to the green so that death was only a temporary inconvenience, and I realized – life and death aren’t points along a journey but a cycle of power that never stops!

My Darkness. My Horde. My Guild. Golgari! Join me, won’t you?

starcitygeezer AT gmail DOT com

Make sure to follow my Twitter feed (@blairwitchgreen). I check it often so feel free to send me feedback, ideas, and random thoughts. I’ve also created a Facebook page where I’ll be posting up deck ideas and will happily discuss Magic, life, or anything else you want to talk about!

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