Get Your Mind In The Gutter(s Of Ravnica)

Michael talks about his recent adventures with Golgari in Standard and why you might want to consider playing the guild’s colors at #SCGOAK or #SCGCOL.

“Golgari Charm is quite possibly the best Charm in the worst colors.”
-Me in the comments of one of my articles

I’ve been singing the praises of Abrupt Decay in Standard for a couple of weeks now. You can find my reasoningin my article from two weeks ago, and my feelings haven’t changed a bit, though now I can also add Golgari Charm to the list of “cards I have an unnatural man crush on in Standard.”

The card just does so much.

So as of now I’m fully on the Golgari bandwagon in Standard; the only problem is that I don’t know which horse I want to pull my Golgari wagon. Today I’m going to walk through the different options, talking through the differences in the decks and why I like or don’t like each.

Last week at the conclusion of my Grand Prix Washington DC tournament report, I mentioned that I was going to travel to Virginia Beach to play in the StarCityGames.com Classic Series event. I did end up going, but as early as the night before the tournament, I was telling my car mate Rob that I wasn’t going to go.

Thanksgiving and Christmas time isn’t cheap with kids, my friends, and I just couldn’t validate the expense. However, with Rob assuring me that the trip would be completely free and offering to provide me with pretty much any Standard deck I wanted to play, how could I say no to a completely +EV event?

With a renewed focus on going, I had to decide what I wanted to play. I knew that I wanted to be playing Abrupt Decay and Thoughtseize; I just didn’t know what shell I wanted to shove those cards into. Rob was already playing the BUG deck we’d been working on, so getting all the cards for that would have incredibly difficult to accomplish without buying a lot of the cards myself.

I needed to look elsewhere.

The other deck I wanted to give a shot was the G/B Aggro deck built and championed by [author name="Brian Kibler"]Brian Kibler[/author]. Since I knew going into the Classic in Virginia Beach that I was planning on buying back into Legacy, I planned to use a chunk of my SCG store credit on the Abrupt Decays and Thoughtseizes I would need. Rob had the rest of the deck ready to go (with the exception of a couple of cards that another friend, JC Baker, helped out with—thanks guys!).

Here’s what I ended up registering for the event:

Basically, you can take Brian Kibler version and make the following changes:


-1 Polukranos, World Eater
-1 Forest
+1 Abrupt Decay
+1 Golgari Guildgate


-1 Vraska the Unseen
+1 Polukranos, World Eater

I moved the Polukranos to the board since I wanted a fourth Abrupt Decay in the maindeck. I also swapped out a Forest for a Golgari Guildgate because every game I ran before the tournament I felt that I needed more color sources, either green or black. Even when you have both colors, you can still feel strapped for mana since on turns you want to play more than one spell you’re going to feel the burn when you need to cast something as innocuous as Lotleth Troll and Thoughtseize and only have two black mana.

Even just casting Lotleth Troll and having regeneration mana up is tough sometimes. What if you have five mana and want to cast Abrupt Decay, Lotleth Troll, and hold up for regen? Even though the deck feels like it doesn’t have any extreme color requirements, the fact is that almost everything in your deck needs multiple colored sources of mana to play, leaving little room for mana that doesn’t fit in perfectly with your requirements. Thus I wanted every G/B land possible.

The Vraska just felt incredibly out of place in the sideboard, so I did that terrible thing where I changed a card out completely even though I’d never played a game with the deck. My thought process behind the move was that the fourth Abrupt Decay I moved into the maindeck would take care of most of the things I would want a Vraska for, with Hero’s Downfall and Golgari Charm to wipe up the rest.

So how did my changes work out?

Well, I was never unhappy with the Golgari Guildgate, so let’s go ahead and get that out of the way. The deck doesn’t really mind not having access to mana on turn 1 since casting Elvish Mystic on turn 2 isn’t the end of the world, and the ability to curve out with access to all the correct colors helped a ton.

I can’t say I was happy or unhappy with the Abrupt Decay, as I got use out of each copy that I drew.

As for the tournament itself, it started poorly and ended up in mediocrity. I dropped after going 3-3 with no chance of cashing; I just didn’t enjoy playing the deck. While there are most definitely intricate decisions to be made, the deck felt boring to me. When you’re not enjoying a tournament because you don’t enjoy the deck you’re running, it’s just going to be incredibly tough to have success.

My biggest issue with the deck was how it felt like it was doing things that were fundamentally worse than what my opponents were doing. My G/R Devotion opponents could have an entire board presence amassed by the time I untap for turn 4, and the best I could hope for was Lotleth Troll and Dreg Mangler. Also, the lack of decent evasion was a huge issue against the likes of Mono-Blue Devotion; Elspeth, Sun’s Champion; Heliod, God of the Sun; Assemble the Legion, etc.

The way the games played out, G/B Aggro used Thoughtseize and Abrupt Decay to keep the opponent off balance long enough to get them to a low life total—only to watch as the opponent stabilized with any of those assorted cards. While Lotleth Troll is a really good card, having only four ways to push through damage on a stalled board state isn’t great against those decks. Additionally, cards like Detention Sphere, Chained to the Rocks, and Azorius Charm really punish you for going all in on Lotleth Troll. Honorable mention goes to Devour Flesh as well.

So what’s the solution?

Well, the solution very well may be that I just wasn’t piloting the deck optimally. However, I truly can’t think back and come up with many ways I would have been able to play much differently. I tried thinking of various ways to optimize the deck based on how I played it, and here’s what I’ve come up with:

Mogis’s Marauder gives you that last little push of damage when the board states have stalled out; I’ve been looking for a home for a while for this card, and if I were to play G/B again, that’s the direction I would go.

You may notice the loss of Reaper of the Wilds; honestly, I was never happy with the card. Whether I was short on mana, colors, or time, Reaper just felt very underwhelming in this deck. I’m not saying Reaper is a bad card, but for four mana it just didn’t really cut it for me during the tournament. It couldn’t push through damage effective, and it cost way too much for a four-power creature that couldn’t get through a 1/1 token if it wanted to. The scry and hexproof were nice, but for four mana in a deck like this I want more. The best use I found for it was discarding it to Lotleth Troll and scavenging the four counters onto the Lotleth Troll via Varolz.

The deck definitely felt capable of winning more rounds than it did, as my opponents drew exceptionally well post Thoughtseize, but that’s the issue with Thoughtseize—you can’t control the top of their deck. I was just on the wrong side of the mini-game of variance created by Thoughtseize more times than not. It happens.

So how did Rob do with the BUG deck we’d been working on?

Well, not so hot; he finished out all eight rounds (he always does for the additional experience, something I truly wish I had the patience for) at 4-4. His losses were a bit odd though, so I want to examine that a bit further then go into the deck itself.

Rob started out 2-0 before losing to Mono-Black Devotion. A questionable scry decision and a bad mana flood led his opponent to victory when he topdecked a late Pack Rat on an empty board in game 1. For game 2, Rob kept:

Temple of Mystery
Four cards that cost more than two mana

Of course I’m only telling you this because Rob never hit his third land. He saw five cards before his third turn and never hit a land and proceeded to finish out the game still having never drawn a third land.

Hard to fault the deck for that when it runs 26.

Rob also lost to a local gamer who was running a control deck with Crackling Perimeter as the win condition. No, not Maze’s End—it was a R/W deck that used Perimeter as both a way to keep planeswalkers in check and a win con. Again, I can’t really fault the deck since we were woefully unprepared for the Boros Perimeter Control matchup.

Even still, the deck showed itself to have a few problems. One of the bright spots we’ve found is that essentially BUG has a near unlosable matchup against U/W/x Control variants. While that is quite a statement, I know, Rob and I both agree that we should probably never lose that matchup with anything other than a terrible draw.

BUG is able to keep pace with much of what Esper can do, but the differences in the two decks start showing up when Esper has to start removing your threats; while Esper clings to Detention Sphere to handle pesky permanents, Rob and I specifically chose to run Abrupt Decay to answer the permanents that cause us problems like the aforementioned Sphere. Therefore, U/W/x has to actually counter our threats individually; otherwise, we’re able to release our threats from their detention at the end of our opponent’s turns with or without their permission.

Do a quick count of the countermagic in U/W/x decks versus the threats in this BUG list:

Pre-board there is a small chance they can just answer all of our threats, but that both requires a lot of countermagic and Supreme Verdicts. Where the matchup really turns in our favor is post-board. Since our opponent can’t just let Reaper of the Wilds do its thing, they are almost forced to keep in Supreme Verdict to not just lose to Reaper. Usually control decks can board out pretty much all of their sweepers, but Reaper creates this subgame of “am I willing to lose to Reaper of the Wilds?”

This means we get to streamline our deck more than they can, bringing in Jace, Memory Adepts and countermagic in addition to some number of Golgari Charms, which act as both a counterspell for Supreme Verdict and additional removal for Detention Sphere. Pithing Needle also gives us ways to deal with Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and opposing Aetherlings since we have other ways of taking the game down. Basically, our plan post-board becomes “bait out counterspells with other threats and distract our opponent long enough to resolve Jace, Memory Adept.” Since U/W/x plays Detention Sphere as the catchall answer to threats, we can just sit back on Abrupt Decay / Golgari Charm and mill out our opponent.

You may wonder why you’d need more answers to Detention Sphere when we have so many Abrupt Decays, but post-board our Decays are taxed quite a bit by the Pithing Needles that Esper brings in. Rob was able to blow out one of his Esper opponents who had a Pithing Needle set on Reaper of the Wilds; when Rob’s opponent cast Detention Sphere (against a board state of just Reaper), Rob responded by Decaying the Needle, giving his Reaper hexproof, and allowed the Sphere to resolve.

The Mono-Blue and Mono-Black Devotion decks are still relative unknowns at this point, as the matchups can go either way depending on draws. You have all the tools to beat those decks, but you definitely need to practice the matchups before you go into a big tournament with BUG Control. Against Mono-Black your biggest concerns are Pack Rat and Underworld Connections, with the honorable mention going out to Nightveil Specter. Notice how each of those cards costs less than three? We also have Gaze of Granite, which can help clean up any late Pack Rat shenanigans if it gets to that point.

The issue as always is whether they have Thoughtseize to take away your interaction. If so and they can follow it up with a turn 2 Pack Rat, you’re probably best suited moving to your sideboard to save time. All hope isn’t quite lost, but it’s a very uphill battle. Luckily Pithing Needle and Golgari Charm give you additional ways to interact before Pack Rat gets out of hand (obviously the Charm would need to be cast immediately, but that’s the case with any removal spell on Pack Rat). Charm also helps against Whip of Erebos and Underworld Connections. We definitely take out the Omenspeakers since we just want to be drawing gas all game.

As for Mono-Blue Devotion, Golgari Charm is an all-star here as well. Taking out an early Cloudfin Raptor is nice, as is dispatching Bident of Thassa. Did I mention that Golgari Charm wipes away any and all Master of Waves (and their tokens) regardless of how many Masters they’ve played? Thassa, God of the Sea is the biggest issue here, and even though we can sometimes “get it” with a Far // Away due to Jace, Architect of Thought and Bident of Thassa, our only real way to interact is to simply counter it. It’s a very intricate matchup, one that again I would suggest putting a lot of time in on before taking this to a big tournament.

The only real issue I have with taking this deck to a tournament is the rough matchup with aggressive decks. The three colors in the deck means that most of the lands either come into play tapped or cost life to put into play untapped. This deck also doesn’t have any ways of recouping lost life, but all hope is not lost.

While we have no efficient ways of sweeping the board in the maindeck, we do run enough spot removal to slow down all but the fastest of draws from our opponents. Jace, Architect of Thought does some work keeping us alive, and Gaze of Granite is our endgame if we’re able to make it past Stage One. Reaper of the Wilds is an all-star in these matchups, providing a giant roadblock while also giving us a way to sift through our deck. This matchup is one where we’re thankful to have Omenspeaker in our deck, not only for the scrying but also the body.

Post-board we get access to that card I keep mentioning, Golgari Charm. Against the super-aggressive Mono-Red and W/R Aggro decks, people were boarding in Shrivel in Mono-Black Devotion to deal with the huge amount of cheap threats. Well, imagine they printed a Shrivel that also countered removal, killed enchantments, and were an instant; I’m telling you, if I were a person who might play Mono-Black, I’d definitely consider splashing green for Abrupt Decay and “Super Shrivel.”

I really can’t say enough good things about Golgari Charm in Standard right now, though I’m obviously trying.


Steve Kaufmann would be proud.

When the tournament was over, though, Rob was still a bit more worried about the aggro matchups than I was, so he started pondering other options. The conversation went something like:

Rob: “I really wish there were a sweeper in our colors. Maybe Grixis? It has Anger of the Gods.”

Me: “But you lose Decay and Charm.”

R: “Um . . . is there any good card draw in Jund?”

M: “I guess Read the Bones and Chandra Pyromaster.”

R: “That’s it? Hmm . . . “

We agreed to revisit the idea later in the week while driving back to northern Virginia.

Well, lo and behold, we didn’t have to revisit the idea and flesh it out; the next morning Matt Costa took down the SCG Standard Open in Providence with this number:

If only someone could have warned us that week that Abrupt Decay, Thoughtseize, and Hero’s Downfall were the place to be.

I haven’t gotten a chance this past week to put much testing time in due to the Thanksgiving holiday, but when our regularly scheduled testing time resumes, I’m certain Rob is going to want to jump ship to the Jund deck. I can’t say that I blame him, as that is a deck I can get behind. Nothing else in Standard really excites me right now, so I’m looking forward to something new and challenging.

If you’re playing G/B/x right now, leave me a comment; I want to know what you’re playing and why you chose to play it. And if you’re not playing “the best guild in Standard,” I also want you to leave a comment about what’s stopping you!