A couple of weeks back, I was curious about my Magic brand. I mean, I’ve been writing about Magic for decades now and have certainly presented myself in certain ways over the years, but I figured the best way to get a sense of my brand is to see what people thought when they think about me and Magic.
So, I put the question out on Twitter, and the majority replies came back Commander, which made a lot of sense, obviously. But nearly as many people also mentioned Golgari, which pleased me too. Before I wrote regularly about Commander, I wrote a lot about decks I played in various competitive formats, and anyone who read me regularly no doubt noticed an affinity I had for green and black.
That goes all the way back to the beginning of my Magic story in 1994 when I opened up an Unlimited starter deck and found Force of Nature staring back at me. I quickly fell in love with big, bad green creatures and played them whenever I could. Of course, the big problem back in the wild early days of Magic is that spells were so much better than creatures. You could invest four and five mana and all your hopes and dreams on some big giant creature, and your much cleverer and smarter opponent would use two mana and counter it or kill it with something like Terror.
At one point when I was lamenting the woes of being a green mage with a friend of mine, he pointed out there were black cards that brought back creatures from the graveyard, and no matter whether they got there by being countered or killed, I could get them back. I quickly became a huge fan of pairing up the best green creatures with black recursion spells like these.
I remember the first game I played with Oath of Ghouls. I started out with a Birds of Paradise, and my opponent killed it with a Lightning Bolt. I cast Oath of Ghouls and passed the turn. On my upkeep, I got back Bird of Paradise and then I cast Spike Feeder. My opponent tried to kill it with an Incinerate, and I removed the +1/+1 counters to gain four life. Then on my next upkeep I recast Spike Feeder and Birds of Paradise, and the look on the face of my burn opponent was amazing.
The next game against a Draw-Go deck went pretty much the same. I snuck out an early Oath of Ghouls, and then each time he countered my creature I’d just get it back and cast it again. I was hooked on green and black.
When Ravnica: City of Guilds came out, Wizards codified the intersection of green and black in the Golgari guild, and suddenly I had an actual named Magic game philosophy that connected with my playstyle, and I’ve been Golgari ever since, starting with me making Top 8 at the Virginia State Champs with pretty much the first-ever Dredge deck!
You can read about it here if you’re curious what Dredge decks looked like before Future Sight came and turned the dredge mechanic into a combo deck with Bridge from Below and Narcomoeba. Here’s an excerpt:
“I bring good tidings! After a four-year hiatus I finally made a fourth Top 8 appearance at the Virginia State Champs… and I did it on the back of Stinkweed Imp. As I write this so far it looks like I may have been the only one.”
As a writer about the Commander format for many years now, I’ve made a conscious effort to write about, build and play many, many sorts of decks and color combinations, so it pleases me that people still think of me as a Golgari mage. It occurred to me that I haven’t really written about a full-tilt Golgari Commander deck, so why not now?
The first thing I did was to go to EDHREC and search up every single black and green commander available, and here’s the list ranked from the most popular to the least:
Ah, seeing all these green and black legends together on the page just warms my Golgari heart! So many cool legends… could I put them all in the same deck? That certainly makes an interesting puzzle. Many are just standalone good cards, but some need some additional support. Thelon of Havenwood needs some number of Fungus cards to really be worthwhile. Iname as One is super-expensive to cast and requires some number of Spirit cards. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons needs some amount of -1/-1 counter synergy and maybe some evasion to do some work.
I started sketching out some ideas but then something occurred to me. Most of these aren’t technically related to the Golgari guild. Does that matter? Well, if I made the claim that I was building the Ultimate Golgari Commander deck and people came to read something Ravnica-centric and instead found all these weird black and green legends from other worlds in their Ravnica guild soup, would they be upset?
I decided to put the question to Twitter, and the response was overwhelming: people expected an Ultimate Golgari Commander deck to be pretty much tied to the Golgari guild from Ravnica.
So back to the drawing board! Though building the skeleton of such a deck is pretty easy: just go to Gatherer on the Wizards home page and search for the Golgari watermark and you get plenty of card choices. In fact, way too many for a 100-card deck, so let’s see what we have to work with.
The first thing I want to look at are cards with the original Golgari mechanic, dredge. The other two mechanics and many Golgari cards in general work great the more cards we have in our graveyard, and dredge certainly fills our graveyard fast. I’m including Svogthos, the Restless Tomb as an honorary dredge card because eventually you’ll find Svogthos with Life from the Loam and then Svogthos becomes a huge threat that’s difficult to stop. Even though many of the dredge creatures are individually mediocre, the fact that your opponents may be loath to kill them so you can dredge again lets them punch above their weight.
Stinkweed Imp doubles as a removal spell on defense, and Golgari Thug is an awesome way to recover a creature from the graveyard you may not otherwise be able to get back.
The other two mechanics aren’t nearly as good as dredge but they certainly get better alongside dredge. Any cards with scavenge that get put into the graveyard become spells of sorts that can add +1/+1 counter boosts to creatures on the battlefield. Corpsejack Menace doesn’t have scavenge but does a great job enhancing any other scavenge abilities. Doubling Season doesn’t have a Golgari watermark but it was first introduced in Ravnica: City of Guilds and it plays well Golgari +1/+1 counters as well as Saprolings, so I’m okay with Golgari adopting the card as our own.
The most recent Golgari mechanic, undergrowth, simply loves filling our graveyard with cards from dredge, which turbocharges their power higher than they’d otherwise be through the course of a normal game. In particular I like how Hatchery Spider can dig deep for something awesome and Lotleth Giant could take out a player in one shot.
Fill the Graveyard
Dredge cards aren’t the only way that Golgari has for filling the graveyard, and we’ve got quite a few with the Golgari watermark that can do the job. Underrealm Lich and Deadbridge Chant in particular do fantastic work here.
Sticking with Golgari watermark cards, our removal options are a bit strained compared to what we could typically put in our black and green Commander decks. Plague Boiler does a poor impression of Oblivion Stone, but if you’ve got enough mana, you can keep your opponents from developing their battlefield too much and buy time to enact your own fiendish plans.
I’m cheating a bit with Vraska’s Contempt, since it’s a card from Ixalan, but since Vraska is the Golgari guild leader, I’m okay with bending the rules a bit to squeeze another removal spell into the mix.
Speaking of Vraska, there are a ton of Vraska cards with the Golgari watermark (and a couple without), so let’s go ahead and put them into the mix. Some of the planeswalkers are from supplemental products and aren’t as potent as the ones made for expansion sets, but I do like their companion spells that let you search up a copy of one of the Vraska planeswalkers from either the library or the graveyard. Many of these cards are effectively removal spells, so I’m willing to deal with the lower power level to handle problems.
Other Golgari Legends
Even though Vraska is the guild leader, she can’t be our commander. Still, the Golgari guild has plenty of other legends to choose from. All of these are pretty good all by themselves. Interestingly, Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest actually doesn’t have the Golgari watermark, since it wasn’t actually printed in any of the Ravnica expansions. However, it is clearly from the Golgari guild, so I’m including it here.
Sticking with Golgari cards, the mana acceleration isn’t all that plentiful, so I went ahead and threw in Sol Ring because, hey, it’s a Commander deck after all. I do appreciate all of the Golgari mana rocks that we have available these days, since they give us options if we flood out on too much mana.
Golgari Good Stuff
I’ll round things out with a bunch of other good cards with the Golgari watermark. The various guildmages provide some nice utility if you don’t have any spells you want to cast. Gleancrawler provides some nice but slow recursion when combined with a sacrifice outlet.
I’m going to include Skullclamp and Sylvan Library as honorary Golgari good stuff cards since both work so well with so many other cards in the deck. Sylvan Library in particular works wonders with replacement draw effects like dredge or Underrealm Lich.
Sweet deck! But wait, there are too many cards. I’ll start by looking at our mana curve:
7+ / X
70 total cards plus 39 lands equals nine cards too many, so we need to make some cuts! Let’s see what we can trim, starting with the top of our curve.
Vulturous Zombie is a sweet flier but it does much better in decks with more discard or deck milling abilities. Sticking with the Golgari guild doesn’t give us too much there. I’d also like Undercity Uprising if I had more ways to give all my creatures trample too. Jarad’s Orders is a great card if you want to put a specific card you want in the library for reanimation, but I don’t really have that sort of thing going on.
Even though I’m going to keep all my other Vraska cards, Attendant of Vraska isn’t going to do enough to really warrant a spot in the deck. Dreg Mangler and Golgari Brownscale are also not at the top end of power scale for the scavenge and dredge cards, so I’m okay with those cuts.
Swarm Guildmage is hands-down the least of the three Guildmages, so I’m okay with cutting it. I don’t know how many actual Forest cards I’m going to have in the deck, so Dark Heart of the Wood isn’t too tough a cut. Grisly Salvage is a fine card for some strategies, but the power level is quite low in Commander, so for the ninth and final cut I’m fine with it hitting the sidelines.
Okay, so here’s how the deck ended up:
- 1 Elves of Deep Shadow
- 1 Gleancrawler
- 1 Golgari Grave-Troll
- 1 Golgari Guildmage
- 1 Golgari Rotwurm
- 1 Golgari Thug
- 1 Grave-Shell Scarab
- 1 Greater Mossdog
- 1 Necroplasm
- 1 Savra, Queen of the Golgari
- 1 Shambling Shell
- 1 Sisters of Stone Death
- 1 Stinkweed Imp
- 1 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
- 1 Korozda Guildmage
- 1 Deadbridge Goliath
- 1 Corpsejack Menace
- 1 Lotleth Troll
- 1 Slitherhead
- 1 Deathrite Shaman
- 1 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
- 1 Rot Farm Skeleton
- 1 Mazirek, Kraul Death Priest
- 1 Underrealm Lich
- 1 Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
- 1 Molderhulk
- 1 Golgari Findbroker
- 1 Glowspore Shaman
- 1 Lotleth Giant
- 1 Hatchery Spider
- 1 Kraul Foragers
- 1 Kraul Harpooner
- 1 Vraska the Unseen
- 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker
- 1 Vraska, Scheming Gorgon
- 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen
- 1 Vraska, Regal Gorgon
- 6 Forest
- 1 Llanowar Wastes
- 3 Swamp
- 1 Slippery Karst
- 1 Polluted Mire
- 1 Tranquil Thicket
- 1 Barren Moor
- 1 Mikokoro, Center of the Sea
- 1 Miren, the Moaning Well
- 1 Golgari Rot Farm
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Svogthos, the Restless Tomb
- 1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
- 1 Dakmor Salvage
- 1 Twilight Mire
- 1 Jund Panorama
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Woodland Cemetery
- 1 Golgari Guildgate
- 1 Temple of Malady
- 1 Myriad Landscape
- 1 Blighted Woodland
- 1 Mirrorpool
- 1 Hissing Quagmire
- 1 Drownyard Temple
- 1 Westvale Abbey
- 1 Desert of the Indomitable
- 1 Desert of the Glorified
- 1 Endless Sands
- 1 Memorial to Folly
- 1 Sylvan Library
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Skullclamp
- 1 Darkblast
- 1 Doubling Season
- 1 Golgari Germination
- 1 Golgari Signet
- 1 Life from the Loam
- 1 Moldervine Cloak
- 1 Plague Boiler
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Abrupt Decay
- 1 Golgari Keyrune
- 1 Golgari Charm
- 1 Golgari Cluestone
- 1 Deadbridge Chant
- 1 Gaze of Granite
- 1 Vraska's Contempt
- 1 Vraska's Scorn
- 1 Necrotic Wound
- 1 Find
- 1 Assassin's Trophy
- 1 Golgari Locket
- 1 Vraska's Stoneglare
I certainly had to cheat on the Golgari theme when it comes to the manabase, but you can only go so far with a single copy of Overgrown Tomb, Golgari Guildgate, and Golgari Rot Farm. I did debate on just filling the rest of the manabase with basic lands, but ultimately, I felt that restricting the nonland spells to (mostly) Golgari guild cards was already keeping the overall power level down, so adding the best lands I could to the deck was fine. I particularly wanted to have plenty of cycling lands to ensure Life from the Loam could do some powerful things before someone’s graveyard hate card puts a stop to the fun.
Of course, there’s one thing left to choose—what card is going to be our commander? Sisters of Stone Death could fill in for Vraska, I’d think, so that’s going to be my official choice for this decklist, but I’m curious to hear which legend you would pick!
By the way, if you’re curious how I’d build my original plan of having every single potential black and green commander in one deck, I’m going to post it on my Facebook writer page. Be sure to go over there to check it out, and follow the page for other Commander goodies.
Do me a solid and subscribe to my channel too! I’m posting Top 5 cards from many of my Star City Games columns as a preview for each article, but I plan on adding other content too. Also, I’ve gotten some cool video editing software that I’m slowly learning, so the video quality will improve as I learn better techniques.
Below I’ve got links to decks I’ve written about going back to January 2017. If you want to read the associated article, just put “Bennie Smith” and the commander name into Google and it should pop right up. I’ve written a lot about Commander — and Magic in general — so if you want to explore further, the Star City Games article archives have my articles all the way back to January 2000!
The Haunt of Hightower, Teysa Karlov, Prime Speaker Vannifar, Rakdos, the Showstopper, Nikya of the Old Ways, Lavinia, Azorius Renegade, Judith, the Scourge Diva
SCG CON Winter 2018
Yuriko, the Tiger’s Shadow, Grothama, All-Devouring; Kynaios and Tiro of Meletis; Feldon of the Third Path; Ramos, Dragon Engine; Inalla, Archmage Ritualist; Prossh, Skyraider of Kher; Brago, King Eternal
Guilds of Ravnica
Niv Mizzet, Parun, Emmara, Soul of the Accord, Lazav, the Multifarious (decklist in the comments), Tajic, Legion’s Edge, Etrata, the Silencer, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Aminatou, the Fateshifter, Xantcha, Sleeper Agent, Lord Windgrace, Brudiclad, Telchor Engineer
Core Set 2019
Sai, Master Thopterist, Goreclaw, Terror of Qal Sisma, Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, Chromium, the Mutable
Teshar, Ancestor’s Apostle, Grand Warlord Radha, Arvad the Cursed, Muldrotha, the Grave Tide, Slimefoot, the Stowaway, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, Squee, the Immortal, Firesong and Sunspeaker, Jodah, Archmage Eternal, Tiana, Ship’s Caretaker
Rivals of Ixalan
Azor, the Lawbringer, Etali, Primal Storm, Nezahal, Primal Tide, Zacama, Primal Calamity, Tetzimoc, Primal Death, Zetalpa, Primal Dawn, Ghalta, Primal Hunger
Grusilda, Monster Masher, Dr. Julius Jumblemorph
Vona, Butcher of Magan, Tishana, Voice of Thunder, Admiral Beckett Brass, Gishath, Sun’s Avatar
Nazahn, Revered Bladesmith, Inalla, Archmage Ritualist, Mirri, Weatherlight Duelist, O-Kagachi, Vengeful Kami, Mairsil, the Pretender, Taigam, Ojutai Master
Razaketh, the Foulblooded, Zur, the Enchanter (Mummy’s Curse), Djeru, With Eyes Open, The Locust God, Karona, False God (All the Deserts), Nicol Bolas, Neheb, the Eternal
Oketra the True, Temmet, Vizier of Naktamun, Atogatog (Cartouches & Trials), Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons, Samut, Voice of Dissent, Rhonas the Indomitable, Hazoret the Fervent
Yahenni, Undying Partisan, Nicol Bolas, Child of Alara (Five-Color Energy), Rishkar, Peema Renegade, Kari Zev, Skyship Raider, Sram, Senior Edificer
Breya, Etherium Shaper, Atraxa, Praetors’ Voice, Tymna the Weaver // Ravos, Soultender
Other Commander Decks
Anafenza, the Foremost (shutting down shenanigans), Momir Vig, Simic Visionary (no green creatures), Kytheon, Hero of Akros (Tribal Gideon), Tasigur, the Golden Fang
Commander Compare & Contrast: Feldon of the Third Path