I hope you and yours had an enjoyable Thanksgiving vacation last week. I was glad to break bread with my kids on Thanksgiving Day, and then over the weekend I got to take them on a road trip to Virginia Beach to see my parents, my step-sister, and her family. Remember when I talked about getting my new car (A Long-Overdue Pilgrimage)? It’s so nice to be able to gather up my kids in a car for a two-hour drive and not have to worry about the car not making it there or back.
It was super cool to get my kids together with my step-sister’s kids for a nice long visit. They’re younger than mine, but they’re not too young (or my kids too old) that they can’t all have a cousin good time. One thing that was surprising though was an activity that engrossed all four of them for a large chunk of the visit. Basically they take these rubber bands:
And turn them into these:
A lot of kits come with a plastic loom to help make these things, but my daughter was taught to do it by one of her other cousins using her fingers:
This isn’t just a girl thing either—there are plenty of boy-friendly colors to make wristbands too, including a package of camouflage-colored rubber bands.
I just really thought it was awesome that these kids—a five-year-old boy, a nine-year-old girl, my eleven-year-old son, and my daughter who’s nearly thirteen—all had a great time doing the same thing together and it didn’t involve electronics. It was crafty and fun. My daughter even made me one!
Big thumbs up.
Anyway, over the Thanksgiving holiday I got an email from a reader asking me about Standard. I haven’t written too much about Standard lately because unfortunately I haven’t had much time to play Standard. I was hoping to maybe make a run down to the StarCityGames.com Classic in Virginia Beach a couple weekends ago, but since I was planning on hitting the road Thanksgiving weekend, I decided it would probably be best if I stayed in town that weekend and took care of things around the house. Yeah, what a drag it is getting old and owning a home.
But I have been keeping a close eye on Standard and have been looking forward to playing it more often. I managed to run to an FNM a couple weeks back with a Jund brew that was mostly black and green with a red splash for Underworld Cerberus. I love that card, and it blows my mind that it hasn’t yet found a good home. Even though I went 3-1 in the Swiss and split the box with the final four competitors, I wouldn’t say my deck was a good home for the card since I lost most game 1s and had to work my butt off to win the next two games after I’d sadly sided out the big dogs.
The email put a big smile on my face. Basically, this is the sort of email any writer like myself lives to get. Check it out:
Thanks a lot for your help on the Commander deck. I’m still search for the right mix, but your guidance has given me a list to search for. I’m writing because of a singularly unique situation and a history we have that you’re likely unaware of.
I got back into Magic because I was stuck in Iraq on a . . . mandatory year-long vacation. Until that point, I’d been vehemently anti-Magic. A friend talked me into it because by way of Magic Online because when I was back home my wife and I would go on date nights to the local game shop. It gave me a bit of home. After duty, I would play online with my wife or friends or just do pickup games. I started researching the meta, and in the era of Caw-Blade your articles were the ones that weren’t just ‘Boy, Caw-Blade, huh?’ Variations of your Glissa deck were my decks of choice for the majority of the deployment.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been deployed, but allow me to describe it. Have you ever farted in a room full of people? Not an obvious one, but the kind where the ambient noise covers the sound but nothing can mask the stench? There’s a moment of panic where you feel like everyone knows it’s you but you’re praying they think it’s someone else. That moment of panic stretches on for a year and is usually only interrupted by the occasional explosion. Magic was a way to ignore the eternal moment, and your articles were always new and fresh and had brews that worked.
So that brings us to today. I have a friend who’s been in Afghanistan for almost a year. We were talking Magic, and I said I would build him a deck so he could hit the ground running even though he hasn’t cracked a pack since Return to Ravnica. His response? "It cannot be a netdeck; it has to be a Sparkles original!"
The plan is that we’re going to hit an event, probably an IQ, one of his first weekends back with the deck I build him. Here’s what I have:
4x Baleful Eidolon
4x Elvish Mystic
4x Sylvan Caryatid
2x Blood Scrivener
2x Gyre Sage
1x Agent of the Fates
2x Cavern Lampad
2x Boon Satyr
2x Reaper of the Wilds
4x Abrupt Decay
4x Hero’s Downfall
2x Bow of Nylea
4x Overgrown Tomb
4x Golgari Guildgate
The meta is shifting and it’s going to shift some more, but I believe one thing will remain constant: creature hate. The kind of hate so rich, thick, and bitter it’s like a shot of espresso for your soul. Let them hate so long as they also fear, as the saying goes. I need more card draw, but the point is to put so many creatures into play or attempt to that when one sticks it gets a +10/+10 Nighthowler the following turn and becomes a real problem. Every counter, every kill spell, every trade ultimately goes to make that Elvish Mystic that they didn’t care about the game-winning threat by way of Nighthowler. We have removal, mana acceleration, and a game plan based around losing as the victory condition.
I bring this to you because . . . I mean . . . he doesn’t have to make Top 8, but I want him to pilot a deck worth waiting a year to shuffle. Any ideas on how to make that a reality?
Sparkles, you had me at Glissa, the Traitor. Longtime readers know of my love affair with the Golgari badass from Mirrodin/New Phyrexia. I’ve actually been noodling around with a Glissa deck for Modern that might have some potential, but Sparkles and his military friend soon to be home aren’t interested in Modern; they want to rock some Standard Golgari!
Now, most of you know of my long-standing love for black and green decks; I’ve put the peanut butter and chocolate of Magic together in decks for decades. That color combination has some really fantastic cards in Standard right now . . .
But the mana sucks!
Take a look at the top of the metagame breakdown of day 2 at Grand Prix Albuquerque:
Mono-Blue Devotion 21
Esper Control 19
Mono-Black Devotion 17
Red Devotion 12
Green Devotion 10
White Aggro 8
B/G Midrange 7
Mono-Red Aggro 6
Red Burn 6
Yep, that’s Golgari swimming in a sea of decks with much better mana bases. Sure, you can keep your head above water with tight play and powerful spells, but eventually those horrible Guildgates are going to pull you beneath the waves.
I’ve been convinced that any midrange deck forced to use Guildgates in the current Standard is trying to go to an ass-kicking contest with one leg tied behind its back. Coming into play tapped with no choice in the matter is a huge liability that can be mostly overcome by attaching the scry ability of the Temple cycle. Decks that can use the scry lands as mana fixers five through eight or the devotion decks that don’t have to ever worry about lands coming into play tapped and can make use Mutavault come to the table with such a head start that I feel that Guildgate decks that don’t have sweepers have to have a healthy dose of luck to not have that horrible mana bite them in the butt.
When there’s video coverage of big events, I’ll do my best to tune in when I see a Golgari deck matched up, and time and time again I see them struggle with the awful Guildgates and lack of scry lands. Even Brian Kibler, trailblazer for the aggressive versions of Golgari, struggles and falls to the terrible mana. Just this week over on Premium, I was watching his videos and saw a couple examples of it. Kibler’s had some success with the deck because he’s Brian freakin’ Kibler playing with some very strong nonland cards, but for us mere Magic mortals, we often can’t afford to trip over our mana. Even I, one of the biggest Golgari fans on the planet, has vowed to stay away from G/B until we find our lost Temple.
Of course, that doesn’t really help Sparkles and the deck he’s pulled together for his friend coming back from the badlands of Afghanistan looking to have some Magic fun in the very near future. So let’s take a look at what he’s got cooking.
I really like the fairly large number of enchantment creatures in the deck. I’m pretty sure we’re going to eventually get a critical mass of good enchantment creatures that we should be able to put together a competitive Oath of the Ancient Wood deck. Blightcaster might even have a home there!
But back to the deck at hand. Here’s my advice:
1. Minimize your exposure to dying to your horrible mana. In the case of this deck, that would mean your black mana. As great as Hero’s Downfall is, I’ve seen that card rot in Kibler’s, Patrick Chapin, and others hands on too many videos to play it in any deck with Guildgates. I think a one-for-one swap for Putrefy is the best move until we get our lost Temple—it’ll kill all the creatures you want dead and also gives you some game against Bident of Thassa and Whip of Erebos. Sure, you can’t nuke planeswalkers, but that’s what your creatures are for. Similarly, I’d probably swap out Agent of Fates too, probably for an added Swamp (23 lands with no scry lands means you’re begging to get mana screwed).
2. I see what you’re thinking with the Witchstalkers—with lots of bestow guys, having a hexproof dude sounds like the perfect target to pants up and go to town. But the beauty of bestow is that you can’t get blown out anyway—worst-case scenario you end up with a creature rather than the Aura you paid for. I’d cut all three and max out on Nighthowler and Boon Satyr—Boon Satyr is a proven powerhouse in Standard, and Nighthowler plays nicely with your Baleful Eidolan deathtouch trading for early beatdown.
3. Some sideboard thoughts: Golgari Charm does a nice job of sweeping away tokens from Master of the Waves and Elspeth. Skylasher can come down early to hold the fort against Mono-Blue Devotion and can effectively wear the bestow dudes quite nicely. Dark Betrayal is a great weapon against Mono-Black Devotion decks, and Korozda Guildmage can potentially make a lot of little dudes to keep Desecration Demon fed off something other than your life total.
4. Maybe find some room for a couple copies of Jarad, Golgari Lich-Lord in the maindeck? Your stated plan seems to be having creatures dying left and right with eventually Nighthowler becoming a huge threat. Jarad only cares about creatures in your own graveyard, but you’re playing enough creatures that it shouldn’t be a problem giving him an extra couple points of power and toughness. Just think about how Jarad could close out a game with a Boon Satyr enchanted with a Nighthowler and a handful of creatures in the graveyards. If you sacrifice the Boon Satyr to drain a bunch of life, the Nighthowler comes into play, and then you can sacrifice that.
Speaking of Nighthowler, I know your friend said he didn’t want to play a netdeck, but Conley Woods recently unveiled a rogue deck he’d been working on at Grand Prix Albuquerque. While I don’t think he finished in the money—I’m not even sure he made day 2—the deck’s apparently been doing well for him online and in testing, and Conley is no deckbuilding slouch. Check it out:
- 3 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
- 4 Deathrite Shaman
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 2 Shadowborn Demon
- 4 Sylvan Caryatid
- 4 Nighthowler
- 2 Voyaging Satyr
- 4 Nemesis of Mortals
Note that Conley plays zero Guildgates in his Golgari deck—see, I’m telling you they’re terrible!
For those unfamiliar with Conley’s deck, it’s built to use the graveyard as a resource other than for reanimation. You use Grisly Salvage, Commune with the Gods and Drown in Filth to turbocharge Nighthowler, Jarad, Deathrite Shaman, and Nemesis of Mortals. His sweet endgame involves getting to seven mana so he can activate Whip of Erebos, bring back a big creature like Nighthowler or Nemesis of Mortals to attack, and then sacrifice it to Jarad. I’d personally be quite nervous playing just nineteen lands, though technically the deck has a ton of mana if you count the creatures and even Grisly Salvage as mana. Conley’s got the skills to get away with it, but I’d have to find room to squeeze one or two lands back in the deck (I’d be tempted to trim a Deathrite Shaman and Drown in Filth for two more lands).
I hope this helped out some, and if any of my other readers have more tips and advice on the decklist, please post in the comments below. The Swarm needs its Temple badly . . . but the good news is that Golgari already has got a lot of great cards just waiting for its scry land. In the meantime, I’ll probably be dickering around with Mono-Green Devotion, which is loads of fun!
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New to Commander?
If you’re just curious about the format, building your first deck, or trying to take your Commander deck up a notch, here are some handy links:
- Commander Primer Part 1 (Why play Commander? Rules Overview, Picking your Commander)
- Commander Primer Part 2 (Mana Requirements, Randomness, Card Advantage)
- Commander Primer Part 3 (Power vs. Synergy, Griefing, Staples, Building a Doran Deck)
- Commander Starter Kits 1 (kick start your allied two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 2 (kick start your enemy two-color decks for $25)
- Commander Starter Kits 3 (kick start your shard three-color decks for $25)
My current Commander decks (and links to decklists):
- Marath, Will of the Wild (Juicing up the Naya Precon)
- Anax and Cymede (Heroic Co-Commanders)
- Nylea, God of the Hunt (Devoted to Green)
- Nicol Bolas (Kicking it Old School)
- Polukranos, World Eater (Monstrous!)
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (Shadowborn Apostles & Demons)
- Sliver Overlord (Featuring the new M14 Slivers!)
- Reaper King (Taking Advantage of the new Legend Rules)
- Mirko Vosk, Mind Drinker (Outside My Comfort Zone with Milling)
- Vorel of the Hull Clade (Never Trust the Simic)
- Emmara Tandris (No Damage Tokens)
- Varolz, the Scar-Striped (scavenging goodness)
- Doran, the Siege Tower (All My Faves in One Deck!)
- Johan (Cat Breath of the Infinite)
- Lord of Tresserhorn (ZOMBIES!)
- Borborygmos Enraged (69 land deck)
- Aurelia, the Warleader (plus Hellkite Tyrant shenanigans)
- Oona, Queen of the Fae (by reader request)
- Karador, Ghost Chieftain (my Magic Online deck)
- Karona, False God (Vows of the False God)
- Skullbriar, the Walking Grave (how big can it get?)
- Phage the Untouchable (actually casting Phage from Command Zone!)
- Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind (Chuck’s somewhat vicious deck)
Previous Commander decks currently on hiatus:
- Yeva, Nature’s Herald (living at instant speed)
- Nefarox, Overlord of Grixis (evil and Spike-ish)
- Niv-Mizzet, Dracogenius (new player-friendly)
- Trostani, Selesnya’s Voice (new player-friendly)
- Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord (drain you big time)
- Riku of Two Reflections (steal all permanents with Deadeye Navigator + Zealous Conscripts)
- Phelddagrif (Mean Hippo)
- Sigarda, Host of Herons (Equipment-centric Voltron)
- Bruna, Light of Alabaster (Aura-centric Voltron)
- Ruhan of the Fomori (lots of equipment and infinite attack steps)
- Ghave, Guru of Spores (Melira Combo)
- Glissa, the Traitor (undying artifacts!)
- Grimgrin, Corpse-Born (Necrotic Ooze Combo)
- Damia, Sage of Stone (Ice Cauldron shenanigans)
- Geist of Saint Traft (Voltron-ish)
- Glissa Sunseeker (death to artifacts!)
- Jor Kadeen, the Prevailer (replacing Brion Stoutarm in Mo’ Myrs)
- Thelon of Havenwood (Campfire Spores)
- Melira, Sylvok Outcast (combo killa)
- Konda, Lord of Eiganjo (The Indestructibles)
- Vorosh, the Hunter (proliferaTION)
- Progenitus (Fist of Suns and Bringers)
- Savra, Queen of the Golgari (Demons)
- Uril, the Miststalker (my "more competitive" deck)