Dear Azami – A Golgari Rhapsody

So you say we should take the kid gloves off and game hard with Savra, Queen of the Golgari? You had me at €“hello.€

Hi Sean,

I need help. Send backup.

I have a Savra deck I’m unsatisfied with. This deck is messed up beyond belief. I think part of the problem is that it’s existed for so long, in so
many forms, that it’s developed a severe identity crisis.

I’ve been playing Savra for a long time. I don’t think black and green is a particularly interesting combination, but I built the deck to provide me
with a differing experience from what I typically play, and it worked so well it gradually became one of my favorite decks. It started as something of
a B/G control deck with typical grinding incremental advantages, ramp, and lots of synergies.

It was mostly built as a response to a heavily creature-based metagame. It provided strong control against a field of midrange and beatdown creatures.
I really liked playing it. But over time, it ended up incorporating a bunch of different elements like Scapeshift / Worm Harvest, Dredge / Reanimation,
Mortal Combat (which was pretty awesome) and finally ended up at it’s meanest phase incorporating a Contamination lock with Crucible of Worlds / Strip
Mine backup.

Eventually, the deck warped around assembling this combo and people in one of my groups really hated it. I took out the Contamination and some of the
tutors… and now the deck sucks. It’s been through so many changes that it just has no real core identity anymore, and while it’s still together, I
haven’t played it in months. Every time I’m picking decks, I eyeball it and think “it feels incomplete… I’ll work on it later” and just play
something else.

Unfortunately for Savra, I have about fifteen active Commander decks. Between picking up a deck that feels finished, playing Cube, Big Box or Type 4,
and other games, she’s just getting left out. I want to bring the deck back, in a big way. The thing is, I think it’d benefit from a new set of eyes.
The problem with my deck in the first place is I have so many cards I want to keep, so many directions I want to go in, because of the deck’s history.
I basically need somebody to come in and point me in a definitive direction.

All I really want, ultimately, is for this deck to be badass and feared again. I want it to be strong enough to play against the more optimized decks
in my play groups, as I already have several less-intense decks. This one should be powerful. This means low blows, cheap shots, and mean plays are
absolutely on the table. Contamination locks, mass discard, Death Cloud, whatever. I will only be playing it in my stronger environments. Recommend
anything at all without either social or budgetary constraint, as those are things I can handle myself. I just want to see how strong you can make it
and what angle you take.

It’s been so long since I picked this deck up because I’ve just been happy with my other ones that I practically forgot everything about it (there’s
only 34 lands!). Here’s what I considered the strongest interactions in the deck:

· Massacre Wurm + Nature’s Revolt: Usually wins the game if it resolves.

· Perilous Forays + Bloodghast / Rampaging Baloths: Gets me lands.

· Scapeshift + Worm Harvest: The sheer number of worms I get after a good harvest fuels Savra, and can sometimes just beat down for the win.

· Contamination + Reassembling Skeleton: This used to win me games a lot on turn 3/4, so I took it out. I figure for the environment where this will be
played, it should be fine to put back in.

Here’s the existing train-wreck of a list:


Savra, Queen of the Golgari: Please don’t change this. I’ve had people recommend swapping to Ghave, Guru of Spores, but I don’t think they do the same

MANS: (26)

Sadistic Hypnotist

Withered Wretch


Skeletal Vampire

Phyrexian Plaguelord

Butcher of Malakir

Deity of Scars

Grave-Shell Scarab

Visara the Dreadful

Mold Shambler

Dimir House Guard


Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder

Fleshbag Marauder

Rampaging Baloths

Creakwood Liege

Farhaven Elf


Havoc Demon

Anowon, the Ruin Sage


Vulturous Zombie

Reassembling Skeleton

Massacre Wurm

Mitotic Slime

Yavimaya Elder

Sadistic Hypnotist


Garruk Wildspeaker

Liliana Vess

SPELLS: (18)


Explosive Vegetation


Decree of Pain

Living Death

Primal Growth

Ambition’s Cost



Worm Harvest

Natural Affinity

Suffer the Past

Insidious Dreams

Barter in Blood

Demonic Tutor

Kodama’s Reach

Syphon Mind

Bitter Ordeal


Explosive Vegetation



Birthing Pod

Helm of Possession

Ashnod’s Altar

Spawning Pit

Nim Deathmantle

Cauldron of Souls


Lightning Greaves

Crystal Ball


Centaur Glade

Greater Good

Perilous Forays

Lurking Predators

Black Market


Phyrexian Arena

Grave Pact


Grim Feast

LANDS: (34)

6 Swamp

8 Forest

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood

Mystifying Maze

Bojuka Bog

Khalni Garden

Pine Barrens

Overgrown Tomb

Twilight Mire

Terramorphic Expanse

Evolving Wilds

Verdant Catacombs

Phyrexian Tower

High Market

Polluted Mire

Slippery Karst

Urza’s Mine

Urza’s Tower

Urza’s Power Plant

Tectonic Edge

Ghost Quarter

Strip Mine

Any help would be awesome, because right now this thing is terrible. I want to love it again.

– Andy

Backup is on its way. Savra is an old favorite Commander from back before Commanders were even a thing, and there’s no way I’d want to mess with that
kind of history. Could it be Sapling of Colfenor? Could it be Sisters of Stone Death? Would I be answering this call for assistance if it were?

So you say we should take the kid gloves off and game hard with Savra, Queen of the Golgari? You had me at “hello.”

Lately, I’ve been trying to answer the question of what happens when you jam as hard as you can. Ethics is one of my favorite subjects to consider, and
Commander an interesting universe when it comes to ethics: in some places the rules of the road are one thing, and in another place it will work quite
differently, all underneath the same conception of what it means to play Commander and what the rules of the format are.

No one will disagree that a banned card is banned, for example… but everyone has their own playgroup to keep in mind, and every playgroup wants to jam
one way rather than another. Sometimes this means the social compact bans other cards without having to think too hard about it or even consciously
recognize the fact — Armageddon and Obliterate are two cards that come to mind as perfect examples — while others have a more liberal interpretation
and want to game as hard as they can with more of a “Come at me, bro!” state of mind.

So you say “Savra”… and “come at me, bro!” are the rules of the road? How hard can we jam a Savra deck is a question I’d love to answer, considering
I have been having a lot of fun jamming a high-powered Animar deck that I now want to build in real life (but can’t quite justify the $200 price tag on
an Imperial Recruiter for) because the New York City playgroup that meets at Jim Hanley’s Universe is a pretty high-powered environment, as can be seen
by one example of someone else’s deck that plays there,

Omar Hernandez’s
Adun Oakenshield

deck of Sneak Attack + Survival of the Fittest terror. We game hard. Someone new to our playgroup just showed up one day out of the blue for a Thursday
game, with an unsleeved deck, and I worried that maybe the power level we were gaming at was too high… after all, he was caught at a three-person
table with Omar’s retooled Adun Oakenshield deck and

my updated Numot the Devastator deck

, trying out Zedruu the Greathearted as the Commander that week but with the same focus on a Sunforger-centered control game. Then he combo-killed us,
two turns after Omar’s Myojin of Night’s Reach wiped both of our hands.

We game hard

I have a secret side project to answer the question of “What is the most broken thing you can do if you try?” that I am still exploring — an
interesting question, especially given that if I can definitively answer that there is a provable problem within the format, I can bring it to the
attention of the format’s Rules Council. In the meantime, I’m happy to work on making as brutally competitive of a Savra deck as you might want to game

First things first, I ran the numbers, and you’re over: 103 cards, because your twenty-six creatures are actually twenty-seven, and your eighteen
spells are actually twenty-one.

I then double-checked and saw this was still 99, and you just double-slotted Sadistic Hypnotist, Scapeshift, Explosive Vegetation and Recollect. Given
that I also note a few other problems — mostly that just thirty-four lands is going to be just not enough — some of this is going to be sent back for
retooling entirely and we’ll see what we come up with from there.

Identifying the core of the deck is easy, Savra suggests it all herself: Sacrifice for fun and profit. The interaction between Landfall and
land-finders is an awesome one, especially since I have never seen Perilous Forays pushed anywhere near as hard as you’re getting it to work at here,
since it combos with a lot of your cards to turn into a massive mana multiplier.

Savra works very nicely at controlling the board for creatures, but other permanent types she doesn’t handle on her own. You have to outsource that, or
otherwise go with the “preventative measures” school of thought, which with your ability to turn aggressively on other players’ hands and mana bases to
wreck their day seems to be the line of thought here. I’m down with this! After all, you say this is for a jam-hard kind of playgroup. So as long as
they are trying just as hard as you are to deliver low blows, we can build a “consenting adults only” sort of deck and not worry whether any innocent
bystanders get caught in the crossfire.

So a lot of the work you’re asking for, to my mind, is philosophical: with the ethical question out of the way, how do we streamline this as much as we can?

Considering that before I wrote about 99-card decks, I wrote for several years about sixty-card universes and how to maximize efficiency is critical to
success in Constructed formats, I think I have good enough credentials to at least approach the question. So everything here is going to be asked to
defend itself, first and foremost, and we are going to be looking for specific lines of play to build into the deck that might maximize efficiency even

For example, I note this deck does not have a Primeval Titan, but does have a land-assembly theme in which you use Scapeshift to reset your
manabase with things like the Urza lands providing more than their fair share of mana. Primeval Titan is likewise very good at giving you more than
your fair share of mana, especially if you search for two specific lands: Cabal Coffers and Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth.

So some of this will be streamlining lines of play to the most powerful thing you can do — Black Market can make a ton of mana if you build it up that
way, but if you replace that slot with a Primeval Titan you get all the mana the next turn but with none of the work. It’s not that I’m lazy,
I’m just all for doing the most you can do — so we’ll look at efficiency and role for each of your cards and see if there is not anything better we can

The Lands:

Your manabase includes a fair share of sacrifice outlets, a good number of land destruction effects, and not quite as much color fixing as I might
like. Your use of the Urzatron is very neat — Scapeshift can turn your manabase into a ton of mana — but you can use the more boring two-card
combo of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth / Cabal Coffers that is much easier to assemble than the three-card Urzatron combo, which will make it happen more
often just with a little bit of tutoring going on (as well as opening the possibility for other cards like Primeval Titan to assemble it for you).

I would actually look to Dust Bowl before I would look to Ghost Quarter. Tectonic Edge is well and good as a budget-oriented Wasteland replacement, but
Ghost Quarter gives something back when you’re trying to take something away, while Dust Bowl can stick around to solve more problems and thus
is the right card to get when you need to break up an opponent’s big manabase when they have recursion elements to help reassemble it.

I like what the deck is trying to accomplish with its manabase enough that I want to try and get it to do it more if possible. To me, half the
justification in pulling the Urzatron out is that if we replace them with in-color lands, those colorless mana slots open up for exploitation with
something else — and I want to add Miren, the Moaning Well to your lineup of Phyrexian Tower and High Market, giving you yet another sacrifice outlet
to help get Savra running.

I like cycling lands in general, and would want all four in specific here, so Polluted Mire and Slippery Karst want friends like Barren Moor and
Tranquil Thicket. (I thought about five, but don’t quite want Blasted Landscape enough, alas.)

With Strip Mine effects, cycling lands, and some fetchlands, Life from the Loam screams as an awesome addition to your spells — especially considering
how it works with (and can help power up) Worm Harvest all by itself. A little bit more in the way of fetchlands would help with color-fixing as well,
since each can count as your Overgrown Tomb. More fetchlands increases the chance of a drawn Life from the Loam being a card advantage engine all by
itself, and one that digs through your deck and brings you to that Worm Harvest you like to set up into while also giving you lands to discard to it. A
self-assembling deck is a wonderful thing to have, but Life from the Loam would need a little help, so I’d want to build that help in.

Additionally, if Primeval Titan is going to make the lineup, I have found an awful lot of success with Mosswort Bridge. Adding a Mosswort Bridge to the
deck allows a Primeval Titan to operate either as massive mana multiplier (get Urborg + Coffers) or function as additional gas by pumping up
free spells. And getting to use it twice, instead of once, thanks to a Golgari Rot Farm? Sign me up.

I’m also of the opinion that you’d need thirty-six lands, not thirty-four, so I’m going to keep an eye out for extra cuts along the way, and work with
the idea that a bit more mana will be forthcoming.

In addition, Pine Barrens would just be better as Gilt-Leaf Palace; presuming they both come into play tapped all of the time, at least the Palace
doesn’t deal damage to provide you with colored mana. If you’d said you had a Bayou, I’d say it was criminal to deny Savra the use of it, but I don’t
have any Revised dual lands either, so we’ll go with the lack of it and move along rather than worry about it. Other improvements come first, and give
you more bang for your buck.


Ghost Quarter

Khalni Garden

Pine Barrens

Urza’s Mine

Urza’s Power Plant

Urza’s Tower

1x Swamp

3x Forest.

2 Slots not yet opened up.


Dust Bowl

Miren, the Moaning Well

Temple of the False God

Marsh Flats

Misty Rainforest

Gilt-Leaf Palace

Golgari Rot Farm

Cabal Coffers

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth

Tranquil Thicket

Barren Moor

Mosswort Bridge

You’d be surprised how much more power and game you can add to a deck just by messing with the lands. The number of games you hit “unfair” mana will be
going up, since it’s much easier to assemble a two-land combo than it is a three-land combo, you’ve upped the mana count without needing to worry about
flooding out (the two lands added both cycle) and sometimes just sometimes you’ll go crazy with a Mosswort Bridge. All good things.

The Spells:

Starting with the artifacts, it’s time to put everybody up against the wall and see if they deserve to be shot. I have no problem playing literally any
piece of cardboard — if it makes sense in the deck and works towards that aim, it’s hired — but you want efficiency, and the underperformers have to
get cut sooner or later.

  • Birthing Pod — Part sacrifice outlet, part awesome tutoring engine, this is in fact the Survival of the Fittest “variant” I am most excited to see at
    work here. An easy keep.
  • Helm of Possession — One of my favorite cards that I just don’t get to add often enough. A sacrifice effect, plus opponent creature theft? Savra has
    to love this.
  • Ashnod’s Altar — Added purely as a sacrifice outlet, but good at its job. Not my favorite, but worth having all the same for those times it lets you
    do something crazy in addition to “just” being an enabler. Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder, I’m looking at you!
  • Spawning Pit — Another one of my favorite cards, this time because it is not just a sacrifice outlet, but also a potential source of token creatures
    for your army. Note that you’re allowed to sacrifice token creatures as well as actual cards, so if your tokens would die, they’re automatically worth
    half of a fresh token right off the bat. A card that should see more play than it does.
  • Nim Deathmantle — Excellent recursion, and a good card with your sacrifice enablers, not just Savra. Worth noting that as far as Savra is concerned,
    this turns the creatures black, letting your nonblack green creatures force a sacrifice… sadly, it overrides the pre-existing color, or it would just
    be pure awesome.
  • Cauldron of Souls — I think you can do better than this, actually. I like building recursion into decks, but don’t like so much having to rely on a
    permanent sitting in play to do it, so this isn’t really doing it for me.
  • Skullclamp — Obviously ridiculous.
  • Lightning Greaves — Unlike the first two equipments, I am not so sure this one’s pulling its weight. Yes, Lightning Greaves is often added to most
    Commander decks, and protects your team captain in a pinch… but unless you’re getting more than just the shroud out of it, I tend to not think it’s
    really pulling its weight. Your creatures average a very high price for somewhat low power, so the haste isn’t adding pressure, and I think you can go
    without the Greaves readily enough. Your deck has plenty of play even if bad things happen to Savra, so I’d say go without the safety net… Especially
    with as many sacrifice outlets as you have, so you really only have to worry about getting Hindered or bum’s-rushed, neither of which Lightning Greaves
    does anything about anyway.
  • Crystal Ball — Not as good as Sensei’s Divining Top, and I’m less sure that your deck would want both. More dedicated controlling decks can benefit
    from a long game with a Crystal Ball in play — but I think you’d rather just have the shot in the arm of power without having to invest an actual card
    in so doing, which means Top to me.

Also conspicuous in its absence is Sol Ring; you’re playing a deck with enough expensive cards to really benefit from the early speed, and you clearly
value acceleration enough to want Explosive Vegetation, so Sol Ring should be on your list of priorities. So between the Sensei’s Divining Top and Sol
Ring, we’ve made three cuts and only two additions, with the caveat that whatever we’re replacing your Cauldron of Souls with will be asked to be a
hard worker and include some element of recursion back to the deck.

Next up we’ll look at your other miscellaneous noncreature permanents, the enchantments and planeswalkers. Liliana Vess and Garruk Wildspeaker both
suggest themselves very neatly; I tend to not like Garruk too much, these days, but given you both like ramp and can actually benefit from an Overrun
effect, he’s actually working quite well here, unlike most of the decks I start with him in only to end up cutting him quickly. What can I say? I’m a
harsh critic, and don’t play token-oriented strategies most of the time.

  • Grim Feast — I recently cut this from Chris’s

    Ghave, Guru of Spores deck

    and was sad to do so, because it’s an awfully interesting card and one that doesn’t see enough play in Commander. His was more of a pure control
    deck, though, so all it was doing was being lifegain for lifegain’s sake and wasn’t really piggybacking off of any of his cards, as it was not so
    removal-heavy. In your deck, however, life has a use: it can be converted into Savra sacrifices. Considering that you can both ably trigger it and clearly benefit from it, it’s not “just lifegain” but part of a working engine… so I give it the thumbs up, even if it does just gain
    life. You convert life into other resources, so it’s doing good work here.
  • Attrition — A repeating removal effect plus a sacrifice enabler. An obvious keeper.
  • Grave Pact — Copies Savra’s effect and lets you do a lot of work to keep enemy creatures suppressed at the proper time. Just an excellent black card,
    but also strongly in-theme, it was never on the chopping block.
  • Phyrexian Arena — Card draw. I always favor more draw, not less, so again, not in question.
  • Necrogenesis — Token creation plus some graveyard suppression. Good with everything you’re good at doing, and a cute combo against stacked graveyards
    with Ashnod’s Altar, as the activation is reduced to “free” if you don’t need the token. Food for your army, sets up Living Death, good card is good.
  • Black Market — Not as hard a worker. As I’d said above, if the line of play you’re reaching for is “assemble a whole bunch of mana,” Primeval Titan
    does that job for you in one comes-into-play trigger and without having to jump through hoops, or losing the mana if a board wipe happens to remove it
    from play. Cut, to be upgraded.
  • Lurking Predators — This is actually not as great of a deck for Lurking Predators, but Lurking Predators is still free creatures a fair enough
    portion of the time that it’s worth including in any deck fielding more than twenty creatures. Not as impressive as it could be, but still good. Adding
    a Sensei’s Divining Top will improve it a fair bit as well.
  • Perilous Forays — A sacrifice outlet that benefits permanent mana, and (as you said) awesome with Landfall triggers that can just let you pull all
    the basics out of your deck. Sadly, you’re down to just ten of those, but if you need to accelerate from five to more than fifteen because twelve just
    isn’t enough, it’s probably not going to be Perilous Forays’ fault. Cute, and effective enough to keep.
  • Greater Good — A sacrifice outlet, plus card draw. Both good things.
  • Centaur Glade — I follow that you want another token-maker, but don’t think this is actually worth the high price to get the tokens. It costs nine
    mana to make the first dude, and that’s not cutting it for me. Garruk does the same job at four mana, and doesn’t ask for any the next turn either. To
    be replaced.

That’s two more cuts, and a solid set of sacrifice outlets and some decent card advantage effects already built into the deck. That’s seven permanent
sacrifice outlets already, plus three more in your lands, which means that ten out of your 99 cards can be used to trigger Savra over and over again,
and thus you can reasonably expect to have one or the other of them with some consistency even before counting creatures into that… which you only
sort of can, since things with legs can have them cut out from under them. Triggering Savra should be easy enough to do, so let’s focus on what the
rest of the deck is capable of doing and go from there.

Instants and Sorceries are up next, and this is actually where I start to dig into things pretty hard. Part of this is probably just play-style and
building for a non-specific playgroup. And even “picking on them,” I only wanted to substitute six cards (some of them for things that looked very
similar to themselves), so it wasn’t just me being harsh.

  • Recollect — In a deck without Regrowth, presuming price is no object, the one mana cheaper could be very important during a game. It’s not as big of
    a deal on turn 20 or when you’re buying back a cheap spell… but if the card you need is already an expensive one or is a Tutor because the card you actually need is still in your deck, that one mana can completely change the validity of a line of play. Alternatively, if it’s not the mana
    that matters, for the same price you can get Eternal Witness and have a body while you’re at it. Building more layers into the deck after the fact, it
    became clear that Eternal Witness does a lot that Recollect doesn’t, so the Witness gets the nod.
  • Explosive Vegetation — Not my favorite card, but it is quite effective at what it does. No complaints here, though I do often find I take
    this card out in favor of cheaper acceleration effects. You have enough acceleration overall that you just want every one that’s good enough to play,
    and Veggies is on the list.
  • Scapeshift — Oh, to see “fair” uses of Scapeshift put to work! In this case, Scapeshift only assembles Urborg/Coffers, sets up a free spell
    with Mosswort Bridge, gives you a repeating sacrifice outlet and a repeating land-kill effect, plus boosts future teams with Oran-Rief the
    Vastwood while protecting you with Mystifying Maze. Did I mention it even replaces itself, because you can get a cycling land plus Golgari Rot Farm?
    Now it does! It’s mostly here to ramp up your Worm Harvest, it actually does a lot of interesting things, and am pleased to see a surprising use of the
    card that I didn’t expect to. Well done, sir, well done. Even with just four lands, you can get Twilight Mire, Temple of the False God, Urborg, Tomb of
    Yawgmoth, and Cabal Coffers and have access to eight mana on turn 5 so long as you make your land drop, so this actually gets to count as
    acceleration too… And unlike your Urzatron setup, you still have a ton of colored mana when you do that.
  • Decree of Pain — Awesome card-drawing Wrath of God effect is awesome.
  • Living Death — I worried that this was a win-more card until I read that under current wordings you sacrifice with Living Death, not
    “exchange,” and so this very reliably should be buying back all of your dead creatures and giving your opponents absolutely nothing left over after,
    which is a good deal. One of the swingy staples of the format, but also one I tend to find others play more than I do — I want a little less set-up to
    the effect. That said, your Commander and what you’re doing already sets it up well, and you have support cards working on graveyard suppression, so it
    should work without taking too much work.
  • Primal Growth — It’s not needed just for another way to get a sacrifice effect, and not impressive enough compared to Cultivate in the late game to
    justify playing Primal Growth instead. What your ramp does on turn 3 is more important than what your ramp does on turn 10, so we’ll add the more
    boring card.
  • Ambition’s CostAmbition’s Cost is an odd duck at an odd mana cost, and that’s actually the sole reason it’s going to get cut here. because for
    just a little bit more you can get a lot more, and for half the price you can get almost as much. At four mana, you have to ask whether
    Ambition’s Cost would be better off as Harmonize… and a fair portion of the time the answer will be “yes.” Instead, asking whether this wants to be
    Night’s Whisper or Promise of Power, the answer obviously leaned to Promise of Power, especially since you have enough life-gain working on the side to
    make the life payment on any of them not a big deal. The option to entwine and get another threat is good, and it’s even a black creature at that for
    Savra to care about, but really it’s just one more black mana for two more cards, and the brawnier card rules the day.
  • Exsanguinate — I tend towards wanting to cut this. But then I see you with Endrek Sahr and Ashnod’s Altar, plus I don’t get to keep saying you have a
    sufficient quantity of life-gain if I cut them all, so this gets left alone despite my twitch reflex to cut Exsanguinate from almost every deck of mine
    that I’ve ever added it to. You get enough out of the life-gain to justify it, and can ramp to it enough for it to be dangerous, so it’s good here (and
    I’m not used to seeing it be good!). What can I say? I’m a pessimist. Good card is good.
  • Explore — Underused, and very good. The small things matter a lot, and I am glad to see this here.
  • Worm Harvest — Very important to the deck, and something already being bolstered with other additions like Life from the Loam. This is a key engine
    card to be built up even further, not cut.
  • Natural Affinity — The hilarity you expect to ensue clearly justifies this card. Worth noting to me is not just the Massacre Wurm interaction, but
    the fact that you’re already good at leveraging creatures off the table; against an opponent who tends to turtle up and waits to play big spells, this
    lets you punish their creatureless ways by going after their lands with Savra. This is more important to me than your statement gave it credit for —
    and so the question became “Can we get any more of this?” and the answer to that was “Yes!”
  • Suffer the PastSome lifegain, I will cut. This is that card. I don’t think you need the extra way to touch an opponent’s graveyard, and
    it doesn’t do quite enough for me as either a source of life or as a Fireball for me to love it enough to keep it. Cut.
  • Insidious Dreams — Too much investment for not enough reward. Tutoring is good, but good tutoring is better, and I’d rather have one good tutor than
    the ability to turn three cards into two tutors. Considering how much you can get out of searching for just one card — your best lines of play are
    things like “Primeval Titan” or “find Worm Harvest” — you should invest in a more reliable tutor.
  • Barter in Blood — Easy board control that happens to trigger additional sacrifices with your Grave Pact effects online. Never in question.
  • Demonic Tutor — Good card is good.
  • Kodama’s Reach — Just the right mix of ramp and card advantage, enough so that I want the second copy you’re allowed to play.
  • Syphon Mind — Included more for its card drawing aspect than for its disruption effect. Effectively, this is intended to be an Ambition’s Cost that
    discards the opponents’ cards instead of costing you life… And that’s all upside. A solid black card worth including.
  • Bitter Ordeal — If you need to attack a combo deck, attacking the resources they have to work with is better than attacking their deck overall. There
    is definitely that awesome Commander feel that you get when you point a Jester’s Cap effect at someone’s deck and tell everyone just how you’re going
    to neuter it… but there is a higher correlation between resource denial for things they’ve already drawn than for their potential future access in most
    cases. We’ll earmark this as a card that can attack those resources (or at least another tutor that lets you find one that does), and go from there.

That gives us six slots from the spells, plus two from the enchantments and one left over from the artifacts. Taking for granted that two of these were
already used to buy more land slots, that leaves us with seven slots to work with. Given that I have the benefit of getting to do all of this on a
spreadsheet before I talk about it, I know two of those slots are going to go to a creature spell, as Black Market is being swapped out directly for
Primeval Titan (as your massive-mana-maker) and Eternal Witness (as your new Recollect). That leaves us five slots to fill:

  • Cultivate — The efficiency replacement for Primal Growth. You always get two lands, just not always right into play.
  • Diabolic Tutor — The efficiency replacement for Insidious Dreams. It could be Beseech the Queen instead with reasonable aplomb, as you should be able
    to cast it for three mana and get the right spell most of the time — but between occasionally needing your most expensive spell (Decree of Pain) before
    you’re ready to cast it and the fact that Beseech the Queen can occasionally punish you for all the colorless lands you choose to play, the safer route
    was selected. I did, however, really want to Beseech the Queen of the Golgari.
  • Life from the Loam — Gets land drops when you need them, cards when you don’t, and is prone to churning through your deck to access all of these
    resources which gives you access to new and more interesting lands for free… and works with some of the self-assembly aspects the deck already has,
    like the Retrace on Worm Harvest. It’s great with your Strip Mine effects, good just with a fetchland to help get enough mana going, and can set up a
    solid end-game just like Scapeshift can, all while being a card drawer and occasionally nuts with Sensei’s Divining Top to boot. A whole lot of action
    for you, and a good way to make sure Worm Harvest is always working.
  • Contamination — You wanted a nut-shot? Here’s the nut-shot. You’d cut it previously, but considering that it’s something that can hose a combo deck,
    sometimes the low blow is worth taking. Worth noting is the fact that you actually have no way to make green mana with Contamination out, so you’re
    aiming to use it to punish combo players and buy you time, not just to lock down a game. It does that, too, but given how easy it can be to wriggle out
    of it you shouldn’t be relying on it as a one-card lock mechanism — and you shouldn’t be listening to complaints that it’s a low blow, when Oblivion
    Stone can answer it in any deck and any artifact that taps for colored mana lets them wriggle loose and turn it into a liability on you instead.
  • Death Cloud — Nut shot #2. Especially with Life from the Loam in your deck, you should be very good at recovering from a Death Cloud, and Death Cloud
    is likewise on the class of cards that lets you meaningfully hinder a deck that doesn’t use the red zone to achieve its goals. Not everyone is going to
    roll over to Savra and your host of Grave Pact effects, and Death Cloud answers a lot of problems with a kick to the nards.
  • Additionally, I put the following cards on my “consideration” list:
  • Malevolent Awakening — A good way to “juggle,” as this is a sacrifice effect that lets you turn pure mana into effective sacrifices, and can be good
    for the mid-to-late portion of the game.
  • Beast Within — This is just a versatile, instant-speed removal spell… But you need one. Your deck is sorely lacking in ways to interact with a
    non-creature permanent on someone else’s turn, and Beast Within handles most of the common problems adequately. I’ve left the deck on more of a
    “preventative measures” standpoint instead, so you’ll do a lot of your dream-wrecking on your own turn and asking if they can deal with it, rather than
    keeping up three mana and a prayer to the deity of your choice.
  • Nature’s Revolt — This was another way to go after people’s lands, but this one was both stoppable with a Disenchant effect and prone to do bad
    things to you at the wrong time. Between both of these facts, the happiness I got out of remembering this obscure card existed was faded away by the
    sadness of seeing all of your lands die to Wrath of God, and I left it on the bench. Other ways to go after lands more reliably went after just their lands, which was why Natural Affinity + Massacre Wurm was so appealing in the first place.
  • Death Mutation — For the lulz. A little too expensive even for my tastes, but funny when it works. I like efficiency a bit too much to suggest gaming
    with it, even if it would be a good token producer. Centaur Glade instead got replaced with “another even more efficient token maker,” but this one did
    come to mind and bring the laughs with it.
  • Regrowth — I added this originally instead of Recollect, just for pure efficiency — but a later pass through the deck added some tweaks that made it
    clear that Eternal Witness is better. Regrowing stuff is still pretty good, though.

The Creatures:

  • Sadistic Hypnotist — True story: the first time I played a Legacy Grand Prix, this creature was in my sixty, and was actually awesome for the same
    reasons you’re using it. I was discarding Basking Rootwallas to Survival of the Fittest and powering up Gaea’s Cradle to cast this bad boy turn 3
    against combo decks, and he works just as well at neutering Commander combo decks as he did at handling a Legacy one. If you didn’t have him already,
    you would by the time I was done with you…
  • Withered Wretch — A possible “efficiency” keep, despite the fact that I want to shift it over to a less efficient version. I like Scavenging
    Ooze for a bit of size and lifegain on the side — but in addition to requiring two mana to activate, it also isn’t a black creature for Savra, and we
    all know the forced sacrifice (not the lifegain to make it “free”) is the part that really matters. Additionally, Nezumi Graverobber can similarly
    perform the job, again at two mana and this time on a black creature, but with the extra upsides that come with flipping to Nighteyes the Desecrator.
    Mana efficiency wins for you here, though, especially since it can be so very difficult to get Graverobber to flip after the early turns of the game.
  • Sangromancer — A new favorite of mine as well for Commander, this is a non-trivial amount of life and a good way to go about getting it. I don’t like
    lifegain in general…. but I’m happy with lifegain for a purpose, and Sangromancer works hard to keep Savra working without depleting your life total.
    Having an effect like this takes all the strain off of wanting to have both black and green creatures at the same time to sacrifice, so you don’t have
    to start reaching for Shambling Shell just to combo with Savra.
  • Skeletal Vampire — Batman! Token creatures plus free beneficial sacrifices, all on the same card. An easy addition.
  • Phyrexian Plaguelord — Mostly included just for his sacrifice outlet status, he’s a fine sacrifice outlet, and can help put tokens to work
    if something bad happens to Savra. Good enough for me.
  • Butcher of Malakir — Another Savra replacement, or even just awesome when you get multiple effects operating at the same time. Clearly in-theme.
  • Deity of Scars — This one’s not in-theme, just “in-color.” Five hybrid black/green mana is difficult with all the colorless lands you’re playing, so
    this five drop is actually more like a seven — more if you want to regenerate it. It’s not quite good enough just on its beater status, so this is a
    free slot ready for the claiming.
  • Grave-Shell ScarabThe dream card to combo with Savra and enough mana to keep you happy. Clearly fits the deck.
  • Visara the Dreadful — I like Visara, really I do. But you don’t really need Visara. When Plan A is active, you should just be able to push on with
    the plan and keep the board clear… and when Plan A is not active, you need a better Plan B than keeping Visara alive. I have a better Plan B
    in mind, so Visara gets cut, even if she is good at taking control of a board. You didn’t say you love her, but you don’t really need her
    either, so I’ll put someone else to work.
  • Mold Shambler — Only cut because of the fact that I envision wanting to Birthing Pod for an answer to a problem permanent and being sad that your
    only answer happens to only work if you paid the kicker cost. The number of times that will come up should be considerably more often than the number
    of times you needed to target a planeswalker, especially since those are already vulnerable to the “man + kill your blockers” plan.
  • Dimir House Guard — Not quite good enough as a tutor, and not good enough (or really necessary) as a sac outlet. We’ve already replaced the tutor
    effect with Diabolic Tutor, so you’ll still have the same access to cards like Birthing Pod that this got, and we’ve added more sac outlets, so you’ll
    still be covered just fine.
  • Bloodghast — Cute tricks abound, and a black creature you can sacrifice over and over again does a lot of work for you.
  • Endrek Sahr, Master Breeder — I wanted to cut it. Then I decided to stop pretending he wasn’t awesome in your deck, and decided to leave him be and find more things that looked like him if possible. The things you can do with this guy and Ashnod’s Altar is kind of sick.
  • Fleshbag Marauder — Perfectly in-keeping with the overarching plan of making everyone sacrifice stuff, and also a black creature that sacrifices
    itself if that is what you want. A hard worker with Savra out, and just a hard worker without, too: not a lot of other cards out there kill one of each
    of your opponents’ creatures, and this one is easiest to recur.
  • Rampaging Baloths — Cute with your Landfall sub-theme, like the Perilous Forays trick, but it’s also just a powerful token generator in a deck that
    likes making tokens. Never in question.
  • Creakwood Liege — Another one of the few ways to generate both black and green token creatures. Not impressive, but definitely effective, and the
    Anthem effect is not to be underrated when you have as many token producers as you have access to.
  • Farhaven Elf — I don’t like this ramp effect as much as I would others, so I see this as a free slot. If you’d like, you can say that he died to
    become a Sol Ring, and call it an improvement.
  • Mycoloth — A fairly effective token generator. In.

  • Havoc Demon — A fuzzy-focus card that makes me wonder what problem he was intended to solve. Having failed to find an effective answer other than
    that he’s decent with all the sacrifice effects you already have access to, I’m looking at this slot to tighten up your themes instead of provide
    another possible sweeper effect. I don’t think you need more help of the kind this guy is offering.
  • Anowon, the Ruin Sage — Slow-motion sacrificing. I’m not terribly impressed, and would rather find a card that doesn’t have to wait until your turn
    to force the sacrifice, if instead you can get something with a more immediate effect. For two more mana you can get Sheoldred, Whispering One, who
    just has to be a nutty addition to your deck. Swapped for Sheoldred, and a massive improvement.
  • Skullmulcher — I’m not in love, but it’s card drawing that works with your themes. I’ll put the beer goggles on and let you keep it.
  • Vulturous Zombie — Just here for its size and effectiveness, but unlike the Deity it’s actually good at his job and eminently castable, so it stays.
  • Reassembling Skeleton — Cute tricks abound. Never in danger of being cut, I know what he does with Skullclamp in play.
  • Massacre Wurm — Cool combo card plus a possible game-ender at the same time. Not going anywhere.
  • Mitotic Slime — I’m also not in love with this card, but it does provide an awful lot of sacrificial bodies, and he puts up with a lot of rough
    treatment. Seems fine.
  • Yavimaya Elder — This card I am in love with, just for the pure shot of raw card advantage it provides. You were playing this guy whether you put him
    in your list or not… thankfully you did, so we both get to look clever.

That’s seven cuts, plus we have two more slots open from above with known substitutions coming in. Everything should make a little bit more sense when
you can see the engine I happened to sort of quietly assemble in here for you…

  • Primeval Titan — Just pure power, since it assembles Urborg/Coffers, can get a bunch of land destruction effects to grief the combo players out of
    the game, or just go for some card draw and utility by chaining two uses of Mosswort Bridge together while you’re light on gas. A ton of ramp, a ton of
    card advantage, a ton of bricks to drop on your opponent’s head. Boring? Maybe. But powerful as hell, and you said for me to turn it up to 11.
  • Eternal Witness — Your replacement for Recollect. It’s still three mana, but this time on a body, and bodies are the easiest thing for you to recur,
    as you’ll see in just a bit…
  • Genesis — Remember the “Loam Hard” plan and how I said you could just focus on that and it’d be like drawing a ton of cards for free? With Genesis +
    Eternal Witness, as well as Worm Harvest, at a certain point all that work dredging and churning through resources willy-nilly gives you access to
    powerful graveyard effects, and with Witness + Genesis you don’t have to worry about wasting your best cards — you’re just planning on drawing them
    later if you happen to mill them. Sure, you aren’t playing Survival to search for it and discard it at the same time, but you have enough ways to find
    it, and a deck full of sacrifice outlets can’t really worry too much about how he’s going to get in the graveyard.
  • Sheoldred, Whispering One — An “efficiency” replacement for Anowon, because she fires off Edicts immediately during their upkeep instead of having to
    wait until yours to do something. On your upkeep, though, she definitely does something, and that something is yet another layer of card recursion that
    should give you both extra power and a better ability to bounce back from board sweepers.
  • Acidic Slime — Your efficiency replacement for Mold Shambler. The Slime can hit everything the Shambler could except planeswalkers, can actually kill
    an artifact creature, and works off Birthing Pod as well as from your hand. The body isn’t as important as hitting the right things; thus, Slime over
    Indrik Stomphowler. Plus, the Slime being able to trade with any ground-pounder is more in keeping with your defensive requirements than a 4/4 anyway.
  • Avenger of Zendikar — Remember how I said you could do better than Centaur Glade for a green token producer? I was right. And I only thought of him
    because you said that landfall guys were good in your deck… I’ve been glossing over this guy for most of my decks lately, so it took me a while to
    even remember that he’d actually just be awesome in yours.
  • Grave Titan — Another powerful token-maker, this one is just a powerhouse of efficiency and cranks out more black creatures to sacrifice and force
    opponent sacrifices for no mana while you’re at it. I love Skeletal Vampire, but this guy’s just on a level above, and happens to also close a
    game out pretty quick — he starts at ten power for six mana, and adds four more power a turn if you just need to beat down.

The last two slots I’m a little proud of, going old-school a little here, one with a popular Commander card I’m surprised you forgot, the other with
one I’ve been trying to find a home for in a deck since forever now.

  • Kamahl, Fist of Krosa — Sure, sure. “Overrun guy in a token deck”? You’re real clever Mr. Writer-Guy. However, that’s not why he’s here: he’s here as
    a second shot at Natural Affinity, because he can take an opposing board with no creatures and actually hit that board with your Plan A, since you’re
    so good at keeping creatures off the table. He happens to also be an Overrun effect for your token deck, and can serve as Wrath protection,
    since a few green mana untapped means they can’t wrath without taking a blow to their manabase. You wanted more ways to beat up on degenerate people
    that weren’t vulnerable to Savra’s Plan A, and Kamahl does just that.
  • Hermit Druid — In your deck, a one-card combo. Part of the reason for cutting back your basic land count was working this guy in; he’s not here for
    the degenerate use he could be trying for… after all, you have basic lands in your deck. Ten basics means he’ll (roughly on average) flip past nine
    cards and put one in your hand, and a few times of doing that should find you quickly assembling Genesis + Eternal Witness, Genesis + whatever creature
    you need right now, and a powerful Worm Harvest that he just so happens to fuel himself by both putting a land in your hand… and plenty of nonbasics
    in your graveyard. A Hermit Druid on turn 2 that isn’t killed just nets you a ton of resources to work with, plus a free land drop each turn
    to boot. Your playgroup will come to know this guy as “kill that damn thing right now!” and that is the kind of fear you want to be building
    into a deck. He seems so innocent. He does absolutely everything you want, since by himself he just makes the rest of your deck self-assemble
    into your ideal mid-game.

I also want to tell you my almost-ran’s, I think you would find it very amusing… and might even actually decide to move some of them into your deck,
if you liked them enough. Most of them weren’t put in because there is such a thing as too cute, so we’ll start with the most too cute of them all:

  • Nim Devourer — A.k.a., “during my upkeep, BB: edict you all.” The fact that you can use this ability multiple times during the upkeep nearly sold me
    on it, but then I just went with brawnier token-making creatures instead of the cutest trick ever. But it was sooooo cute.
  • Sengir Nosferatu — This one was cute, too. Another Bat-plus-Vampire combo, this one blinks into bat form and the bat sacrifices itself to
    bring the Vampire back, so four mana whenever let you get a free sacrifice while you were at it. Perilously cute; cut for Grave Titan for the obvious
  • Braids, Cabal Minion — I ended up having to choose between this and Contamination, in my own mind, and went with the meaner card that was harder to
    remove. Braids can do some rough stuff — but like you said, it’s a rough room. Ultimately, when bad things have to happen to good people, Contamination
    would stop more people more reliably, so I went with that.
  • Bone Shredder — Pinpoint removal that happens to sacrifice itself when you fail to pay echo. Nearly added anyway, because it’s cool with Genesis —
    but if I’m willing to cut Visara because I don’t think you need the effect, this is just more cute and just as unnecessary.
  • Shriekmaw — Ditto, but this time with the sacrifice during the evoke trigger instead of waiting until your next turn. Still don’t think you need
    pinpoint removal, though this one is adorable.
  • Cemetery Reaper — It’s just good at making tokens, and very nearly won the scuffle for Withered Wretch’s slot. Unfortunately, it only exiles creature
    cards from the graveyard, so it doesn’t do Withered Wretch’s job as well as Withered Wretch does. With that same restriction already on Necrogenesis, I
    didn’t want to double up the same weak points, so this didn’t quite make it for me. It might still prove better than Mitotic Slime or something else on
    your B-team, but I didn’t push him in quite hard enough, you may still want to yourself.
  • Jolrael, Empress of Beasts — Another way to expose an opponent’s lands to Savra’s less delicate treatment, and an excellent way to punish anyone at
    all when a mass sweeper happens. But it costs too many cards to do it, compared to the same task when given to Kamahl, so Kamahl won out… helps that
    he also does it without summoning sickness, if you have mana to spare.

This completes the puzzle of 99 cards, and gives you the following decklist:

Savra, Queen of the Golgari
Sean McKeown
Test deck on 09-04-2011
Magic Card Back

As always, for your participation in this week’s Dear Azami, you will find in your email box a $20 coupon to the Star City Games online store,
to potentially help pay for any replacements and substitutions you might want to make. The cards I suggested as additions have the following prices,
for your consideration:

As a bonus, this Andy happens to be Andy from CommanderCast, and the weekend before this got posted he and I discussed Savra, Queen of the Golgari for
the upcoming Season Three of CommanderCast, which can in the future be found at http://www.commandercast.com. We recorded a talk about this deck — both his original version and my
suggested changes, and all the places it could go in between — for Episode Two of the upcoming fourth season of CommanderCast, which should be going up
in just a few weeks from what I grasp of their impending schedule. So if you like bonus content, in addition to the occasional bonus I post on my Facebook Public Figure Page, you can find more about this Savra, Queen
of the Golgari deck by pointing yourself towards CommanderCast.com for Season Four, which begins on September 19th according to their
current schedule.

Episode Two should thus be September 26th, keeping to that schedule, making September 26th Talk About Savra A Lot Day. I can only
hope that Episode One is faithful to Talk Like A Pirate Day, but we’ll have to wait and see.

And hopefully, after our talk about the deck for Episode Three, subsequent episodes will feature happy exclamations of how Andy used this new and
improved version of Savra, Queen of the Golgari to pummel his friends and eat their faces. I for one look forward to hearing all about it, and I’m sure
Savra has quite a few fans of her own all by herself…

Sean McKeown

Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We’re always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article, like Josh’s Elephant-themed Phelddagrif deck
or Edwin’s Dakkon Blackblade deck.
Only one deck submission will be chosen per article, but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azami includes not just deck advice but
also a $20 coupon to the StarCityGames.com Store!

Email Sean a deck submission using this link here!

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