Long time readers here, first time writing in. (Things have been slow for us since Jarad took over, but fortunately Svogthos has great Wi-Fi, so we spend a ton of time on the Internet. And watching Iron Chef.) We really dig the column, and you guys do a heck of a job. You both put solid personal stamps on the stuff your readers send in, and the effort really shows. (And no, we’re not talking about Sean and his Winding Canyons obsession here. Besides, if you want us to be candid, don’t think we don’t notice Cassidy throwing In the Web of War at every red list he touches. You might want to check to make sure he’s not getting paid commission by Ron Spencer or something. Just saying.)
Anyway, we’re writing in because we were hoping you guys might be able to give us a hand with something. There’s a little Golgari inter-office Commander league happening down here, and the first week was a bit of a bust. We went with family ties and did a sort of Gorgon tribal theme, and it didn’t pan out too well. Here’s the recap:
To start, Gorgon Recluse didn’t even bother to return the RSVP. She’s impossible to track down. And we had to bench Masked Gorgon as soon as things got started. It turns out Glissa, the Traitor is a fun-wrecker; she spent the whole game doing nothing but playing Bojuka Bog targeting us then bouncing it with Storm Cauldron. We never managed to hit threshold, and all the other players had protection from us. It kinda sucked.
From there, Visara and Infernal Medusa got into it a little. Medusa was pretty enthusiastic at first, but Vhati il-Dal showed up packing a random Wall of Bone. After a few attack steps, she got tired out and just sat in the back murmuring about how things would be different if the stupid Wall had the guts to come at us instead. Visara finally got sick of the complaining and just destroyed her.
While this was happening, Xathrid Gorgon had an incident. We think she wasn’t quite prepared for things that don’t just turn to stone and stop doing stuff, and she decided Nath was an easy target. She grinned and said "I’ve got this!" and leisurely wandered over in his direction.
Apparently, whatever it is that she "got" didn’t involve an understanding of the difference between activated and triggered abilities. The tokens kept coming, and to add insult to injury, Xathrid managed to petrify Nath at the exact moment that he made a pretty rude hand gesture at us. (Where’s an Ogre Gatecrasher when you need one?)
Anyway, the rest of the game was a blur. It basically involved Skullbriar and Rogue’s Passage shenanigans (we’ve got a few choice words for whoever came up with that card, by the way…) and Sapling of Colfenor waving indestructibility in our faces until Savra found a sacrifice outlet and basically prevented creatures from happening. Then from out of nowhere Jarad showed up, dropped Lord of Extinction, and sacrificed it. We all lost about three-hundred life. We know he’s the boss these days, but man…what a jerk.
Despite the lame ending, everyone decided to give it another try in a few weeks, and that’s where you guys come in. We’re not about to deal with the family drama this time around, so we want you to help us out. We noticed that Cassidy put out a pretty sweet creature-less list when he started writing for StarCityGames.com that featured us; here it is for posterity:
Commander: Sisters of Stone Death
Now, don’t get us wrong… We love flattery, and this is as much vanity as we can realistically appreciate. (You know, the whole "Gorgons and mirrors don’t mix" thing). This list is a little long in the tooth though, and we think you could work on a few things to freshen it up for us. It seems like a pile of good stuff, a ton of removal, and an odd mash-up of Reanimation and Drain Life effects.
(Don’t get us wrong; making good use of graveyards is what the Golgari do best, but what are we, Olivia Voldaren or something? Come on!)
This is what we’d like to see:
Are you up for the challenge? We certainly hope so; we can’t take another Boom Tube to the dome from Jarad.
Thanks in advance,
Welcome to Golgari Week! I decided that I would give the theme week a proper treatment by taking a second look at my favorite Golgari deck, a Sisters of Stone Death list that I featured in one of my first articles as a full time Dear Azami contributor. (I was trying to think of a clever way to fit in quips about "dredging" up my old deck or "scavenging" the list for things to include, but my editors reminded me that Izzet week had already passed and that particular guild has contractual rights to bad puns. Moving on!)
Creative writing attempts aside, what I wanted to do with the ‘submission letter’ this week was to look at the typical ways Golgari commanders are utilized in our format and what drove me to use Sisters to begin with. I know it’s possible to take any commander outside of the box and do something unexpected, but some lend themselves to dictated strategies more than others.
Savra was arguably the go-to Golgari commander before Glissa and Jarad came along. Her relatively inexpensive cost and blend of synergistic abilities usually points to a dedicated control strategy. There’s some room for movement on a win condition (at least now that you can’t Tooth and Nail for Primeval Titan and Avenger of Zendikar anymore), but typical lists are really good at making sure the board stays clear of creatures.
That torch has been passed to Jarad for the most part. He comes packing what Savra decks usually live and die by finding: a sacrifice outlet. He doesn’t do the creature control thing as well, and he’s a bit of a mash-up of abilities. It’s nice that he gets bigger as more creatures hit the graveyard and it’s wonderful that he can recur himself, but I’ve seen quite a few Jarad lists since he first saw print in the Izzet vs. Golgari Duel Deck and let’s just say I have yet to see one that omits Lord of Extinction.
There has been a massive amount of Glissa, the Traitor exposure since she initially saw print as well. She’s a very popular commander choice in Golgari colors. In other news, the price on foil Executioner’s Capsules skyrocketed when Mirrodin Besieged was released. Glissa is a good example of a trend I’m not crazy about in card design; she’s inexpensive and the first strike/deathtouch combo could be a solid avenue to build around, but the artifact recursion is what gets the attention. It’s hard to ignore the synergy here, and I don’t begrudge anyone who doesn’t. I’d just love for her design to open some other doors.
Bennie Smith debuted his Skullbriar list a few weeks back in his column, in the process torpedoing what I intended to discuss here today. (It’s all good, Bennie. I stole some of your ideas for my own list, and I can’t thank you enough! My playgroup, on the other hand, might already be sending you hate mail. For the record, if anyone happens to mention that I told them you specifically suggested it to me, they’re bald-faced liars…)
I’ve mentioned this in the past, but my local metagame has never played with the commander damage rule. As a result, I’ve traditionally stayed clear of decks that win via commander aggro strategies. I found myself with a spare Bayou recently and decided to change that, and let me tell you, Bennie undersold how potent this thing is. If you’re looking for a straight aggro strategy, Skullbriar is an absolute house. (What he was spot-on about was how important sacrifice outlets are to prevent tuck effects and/or Black Sun’s Zenith. Do not skimp!)
When building Sisters initially, I also considered Sapling of Colfenor. I have a real soft spot for anything that says "indestructible" on it, but ultimately I decided against Sapling due to the fact that anything I came up with ended up strictly inferior to Doran, the Siege Tower lists that were already present in my meta. Nath of the Gilt-Leaf (and to a lesser extent Rhys the Exiled and Thelon of Havenwood) didn’t do much to excite me on a similar note, mostly because of the critical mass of token decks that also exist where I play.
I will say that one of our local regulars, Shawn, has a strong Thelon deck that might have me considering another look in this direction. More so what I like about this group of commanders is that they’re very underrepresented as a whole. (I’m a Commander hipster. What can I say?)
This brings us back to Sisters of Stone Death. Until my first attempt at her, I had never personally seen a Sisters deck. Period. I can understand why; the replayability of any commander that costs eight mana is negligible at best, and she doesn’t protect herself with regeneration or hexproof. Playing a commander like this is essentially just daring the rest of the table to keep spot removal ready for your eighth turn.
What had me intrigued was the word ‘exile’. Okay…so at the time ‘exile’ was actually pronounced ‘remove from game,’ but you get the point. The ability to innately and permanently get rid of problem creatures (at least ones that aren’t commanders) is my number one draw when it comes to choosing a legendary creature to build around.
Couple that with the ‘Commander hipster’ thing I mentioned and I was sold.
Today, we’re talking evolution. The list that the Sisters posted above is where I eventually landed, but it wasn’t where I started. Permit me to enter Exhibit A as evidence:
This list was (not at all) affectionately known as "Sisters of Good Stuff." When I sat down to make the deck initially, my to-do list looked like this:
- Pick up dry-cleaning.
- Send mom a birthday card.
- Toss every single good green/black card into a pile and call it my new deck.
I forgot the dry-cleaning, but I think I nailed the rest. (Hi, mom!)
Thankfully, cooler heads prevailed, and my cowriter and co-Wednesday-Night-Commander-League-creator (man, do we need new titles…) Patrick talked me down from the ledge, challenging me to take things in a different and more interesting direction. Looking at Sisters directly, I came up with the idea of the Gorgon sisters laying waste to the battlefield on their own and bringing back the corpses of their defeated foes to help assure total domination. Creature-less Sisters of Stone Death was born.
The Problem and The Solution
There’s not much else to say here that the Sisters didn’t mention above. I’m still a little heavy in the good stuff territory for no real reason other than I’d like to be, and the list is a little out of date. There’s also a weird confluence of major themes without much thought to the synergy between them. (Life gain needs to go!)
I’m going to try to take this deck to the logical conclusion I started with. Sisters of Stone Death will need to share the stage with a host of other creatures this time, and nearly every single one has some form of deathtouch. Add to the mix a myriad of ways to force opponents to block my creatures and we’re in business. To take advantage of all of this carnage, I’ll ramp up the Reanimation a bit; to make room for all of this change, everything else will go. Out goes the life gain theme, the good-stuff-for-no-reason includes, and the overflow of removal and Tutors will be taken down a notch.
The end result is a deck with a focus on theme that should be quite a bit more fun to play. I won’t lie here; it’s not a tier 1 deck, but it never was to begin with. What I want is something that tries to take a non-traditional Golgari road and ends up somewhere fun and different. It should still have some teeth too (since I’m not replacing good cards just for the sake of doing it) and there will be some strong options going back in as well, but at the end of the day, it’s a casual deck, plain and simple.
What…you were expecting Hermit Druid Combo?
A quick note before I get going here. Since I have to essentially free up space for an entire army of creatures that didn’t exist before, the way that I’ll approach this is to discuss the cuts by category first and then detail the additions together at the end. The goal is to hopefully train wreck this as little as possible, so please bear with me.
There are a lot of regular faces in here, but nothing is really blatantly out of place except for the dynamic duo of Coffers and Urborg. After I’m done with the changes, there’s not going to be much of a need to retain a ‘big mana’ engine, and there’s also the fact that Primeval Titan got the axe since I last had this deck together, so that avenue isn’t there anymore.
And then there’s also the fact that I wouldn’t run out that play even when it was in the deck for fear of massive retribution (or at least some well-deserved hostility and a Strip Mine or two.)
Lastly, this deck is going to be a bit mana hungry, so as much as I want to, I’m not going to be able to afford to cycle four lands away. I’ll keep two cyclers, but these others will see replacement by adding some basics.
This is going to be messy by comparison. I need to regain quite a few slots to repopulate the creature front and quite a bit of what is staying will need to be repurposed. There’s surgical precision, and then there’s hacking away with a chainsaw. Place your bets.
I want solid card advantage in my draws. Top is great, but it spends more time fixing draws than anything else, so it goes. Likewise, I don’t want to be exiling cards from my graveyard in a deck designed to go back and get extra use out of things, so Skeletal Scrying will be pulled for better options later on.
Finally, Abundance is in the deck because it plays really nicely with Sylvan Library and that’s about it. As you can imagine, the two don’t stay on the battlefield together all that often where I’m from.
There’s a certain critical mass in the Tutor department for any deck, and that ship came and went here a long time ago. This deck isn’t going to want to play the ‘silver bullet’ game it used to when I’m done with it, so I can lose some of these and replace others later on as needed.
The sticking points for me are Nostalgic Dreams and Holistic Wisdom, and since I can address both fairly easily (Dreams kills my desire to maintain card advantage for the most part, and the cards that I really want to be pulling out of the yard are not going to be plentiful in card type), so both can go.
I have no excuse for Life from the Loam being in this deck to begin with. It’s a Golgari card through and through, but there is simply no synergy with it in this deck at all. I don’t know what I was thinking.
I’m keeping Darksteel Plate because of the ease with which it can protect a key creature. Boots and Boots Squared will hit the bin in favor of some stronger equipment options for this deck. Finally, I’m cutting the weakest of graveyard hate options the deck currently has slotted.
I’m pretty much cleaning house here. There’s just so much excess in this category that I can’t really figure out where to begin. Since I want this deck to be more proactive and less reactive, I need to trim in areas that have way too much redundancy (Relic Crush, Plague Wind) or are corner-cases to begin with (Sickening Shoal, Consuming Vapors). And being a Skullbriar player, I can’t bring myself to keep Black Sun’s Zenith in the deck.
With less reliance on big mana, I can remove some of the redundant selections and some of the more egregious offenders here.
Sorry, Mana Reflection…it’s not like I can keep you in play to save my life anyway.
That’s a ton of cuts. Good lord. So this is what it feels like to be on the other end of the knife around here…
Going back in are a host of deathtouch creatures and some solid ways to make sure they’ll be connecting with my opponent’s creatures. Sprinkle in some new Reanimation tech and some standard utility to flavor and I’m in business.
As I said before, the extra cycling lands make way for some additional basics. From there, the Guildgate adds another no-frills way to fix both colors of mana, and Grim Backwoods adds a welcome sacrifice outlet that will help with the card advantage quest at the same time.
Harvester is pretty much a custom fit for this deck. Native deathtouch and it draws me cards when things do exactly what I want them to: die. Next to a certain enchantment we’ll be seeing later on, it’s as close to a snap-include as I get.
Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is a card I’ve been trying to fit into a deck for a while now. I feel sort of bad ignoring all but one of the search criteria, but it feels more thematic than a standard Tutor and sometimes it’s going to pick up a Lure effect and head off all of my opponent’s creatures so that I can get in with my main team.
Acidic Slime leads off the removal squad. It’s a gold standard, but the Slime never disappoints. Here it plays solid double duty, dealing with problem permanents while also being a deathtouch addition to the deck.
In a deck designed to make creatures die, Reaper should get some solid mileage while adding some targeted removal to help things along. The 6/6 flying body doesn’t hurt either.
Vengeful Pharaoh is another solid on-theme addition that gives me a measure of protection and removal, and since the creature count is still on the low end, self-recursion never hurts.
Finally, there’s the Wurm. At least in my metagame, tokens are a leading win condition, and I simply need to have a strong answer to that strategy. I’ve blown out more than one player with this card alone, and I’m really surprised that it seems to have fallen off of many a radar as of late.
This is the Reanimation squad. First and foremost, I’ve been dying to fit Lim-Dul into a deck somewhere for as long as he’s been in print. He makes the cost of Reanimation so affordable and easy, and he protects everything that I bring back from the dead. Of course, he costs seven mana, ironically making him a fantastic Reanimation target as well.
If you look out your window and it happens to be raining frogs, you’ll now know why. Me including Geth in a decklist despite my complete and extreme distaste for the card is a well-known sign of the coming apocalypse. Regardless, I’d be hard-pressed to find a creature better suited to my current mission, and with my love of effects that are immediately active when they hit the board, he’s a no-brainer.
(I feel so dirty…)
Coffin Queen is another solid option in this area. Besides being flexible and reusable Reanimation, her untap clause also means that I have a repeatable exile effect on tap. That’s a ton of value in a cheap little package.
Finally, there’s Ink-Eyes. While I doubt I’ll be surprising anyone with the ninjutsu ability, a reasonably sized regenerating body that can constantly threaten Reanimation is a welcome addition to the team.
I struggled with both of these. I know everybody and their mothers put Simulacrum in everything, but this deck wants warm bodies, mana acceleration, and added card draw. It’s really hard to pass over this selection as a result, and realistically, any card that covers three bases at once should not need an apology. Yavimaya Elder isn’t far behind on all counts, but the same rules apply.
Wizards, if you’re listening, I want a functional reprint of one of these two that also inexplicably has deathtouch so I can stop feeling bad about my choices. No pressure.
These three cards fill in the backbone of the deck. All adhere to my deathtouch theme, and all provide positive creature advantage through the various tokens they generate as well as some life gain and aerial support to boot. I fully expect these to be the workhorses of the deck, and I bet I’ll be Beast Trackering them up early and often.
Rounding out the creatures are the enforcers. Stone-Tongue Basilisk is essentially the deck theme incarnate once it reaches threshold, making it an easy include. Sylvan Basilisk runs a sort of ‘improved’ deathtouch when he attacks, making him very hard to deal with defensively; Engulfing Slagwurm is the next logical progression from there, taking care of things on offense and defense and adding a decent shot of life gain in the process.
In: Golgari Keyrune
I want to keep my mana acceleration moving forward; Keyrune lets me do that while also giving me another deathtouch creature in a pinch. It may not be Mana Reflection, but then again, Mana Reflection never took down something like Kresh the Bloodbraided on its own either.
While I did say that I needed to cut back on the flood of board wipes, it doesn’t hurt to have a few on hand, and better yet are the ones that go above and beyond to fill opposing graveyards. Exactly what this deck wants to have in a sweeper.
Following in the footsteps of Reaper from the Abyss, Tragic Slip is about as big of a bargain as you can get, so long as creatures keep dropping dead left and right. (This one I can still feel good about despite my Skullbriar allegiance as well!)
These two are my favorite additions to the deck. Grave Betrayal was the card my Sisters of Stone Death list wanted back when I built it for the first time, and it really becomes the marquee inclusion in this build. Free recursion and the creatures come back bigger than before as well. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. If there’s one weakness for the deck, it’s going to be managing to keep this in play while board sweepers are popping off and deathtouchers are heading into the red zone. Left unchecked, this card will win games and I want to leverage it as much as possible, but I know people will be targeting it like there’s no tomorrow.
Asceticism is a necessary evil for this deck. I’ve mentioned the low creature count, and people don’t often like it when other players head off with their stuff in tow. Being able to keep key creatures around and being able to prevent others from touching my stuff is going to be an important ability to have around.
Before we get to the meat of the combat modifiers, these two options will help to keep the deck functioning and moving forward in a few ways. Since it now has to balance between having threats and having answers to threats, this deck will want to pick up value by reusing cards. Elixir makes sure that is always a possibility, and a little life gain never hurts either.
Increasing Ambition is the replacement for the wide swath of cuts I took from the Tutor section. I like Vampiric Tutor and all, but I hate revealing cards to my opponents and hate putting them on top of my library. Ambition allows me to fill the gap left by a full three Tutors, gaining me some critical space for the creatures I’ve added in, and it’s straight to my hand every time with no reveals. Beautiful.
Making the deathtouchers relevant are the cards that force blocks. Some are as simple as Nemesis Mask, while others offer some extra perks in addition to the Lure effects such as double strike (Grappling Hook) or some pretty serious combat bonuses (Revenge of the Hunted) on top of everything else.
And then there’s the Licid. The grandfather of equipment with all of the functionality, some confusing rules text, and an added ‘creepy’ factor to boot. What’s not to love here?
Finishing things up are a trio of utility additions that add some needed spice to the deck.
Viridian Longbow is an easy include with this many deathtouch creatures floating around and should need little explaining. Along the same lines, deathtouch creatures in the red zone really want first strike to be able to survive battle unscathed, and haste is going to be very welcome to a slow deck like this as well, so Memorial is the right call. Adding trample also allows more damage to get through to opponents due to the interactions between it and deathtouch, making this card another triple threat.
Lastly, Vraska. I’m never crazy about planeswalkers in Commander, but Vraska is actually a nice blend of skillsets. She brings a deathtouch-like protection with her ‘plus’ ability, and her ‘minus’ ability is more available spot removal to deal with problem permanents.
I’d discuss her ultimate ability a bit more, but let’s face it—it’s never going to happen. People see "lose the game" printed on a card and go into overdrive trying to kill it off. Still, it’s a solid and interesting ultimate, and I’m dying to see someone live the dream and eliminate another player with one of the assassin tokens.
It’s certainly an evolution. As much as I enjoyed the novelty of the old deck, not having any creatures to do my dirty work and act as buffers would often come back to bite me, and realistically there simply isn’t anything more boring to play than a deck filled with good stuff inclusions that just wants to sit back and wait for other things to start happening.
These changes were done on the fly as I was writing this article, so I have yet to really how well they work together. My hope is that the deck feels a little more interactive and really allows me to tangle with other creatures during my attack phase, and I’m not at all unhappy to have something keyed a little more towards a casual game than my usual fare.
If you’re either me, a trio of Gorgon sisters who used to run the Golgari guild, or you happen to have built my original list and are wondering what it would take to update it to the latest and greatest, here’s the price breakdown for you:
|Gift of the Deity
|Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
|Elixir of Immortality
|Harvester of Souls
|Reaper from the Abyss
|Revenge of the Hunted
|Geth, Lord of the Vault
|Lim-Dul the Necromancer
|Ink-Eyes, Servant of Oni
|Vraska the Unseen
Looks like I’m going to be ponying up about $70 on this one. As a quick reminder, when we’re not in theme week mode, we’d be working on a deck submitted by a lucky reader here instead and giving a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com to that person to spend however they like. Please send us what you’ve got! (We love getting mail!)
That will do it for this week, folks. Thanks for joining me for what I hope was a fun-spirited look at Golgari. Since I went and messed up the schedule in order to take a stab at the green and black, Sean gets a much-deserved week off next week and I’ll be back to play catch-up. See you all next Monday!
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 DC’s Gwendlyn Di Corci deck or Eric Progenitus 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 us a deck submission using this link here!
Like what you’ve seen? Feel free to explore more of Dear Azami here! Feel free to follow Sean on Facebook… sometimes there are extra surprises and bonus content to be found over on his Facebook Fan Page, as well as previews of the next week’s column at the end of the week! Follow Cassidy on his Facebook page here, or check out his Commander blog – GeneralDamageControl.com!