Duel Decks- Izzet vs Golgari: Golgari’s Deck Review (Part 1 of 2)
It was very clear from going through the Izzet deck that there was a certain continuity in the guild’s mechanical identity between its original Theme Deck, Izzet Gizmometry, and their construction in the latest Duel Decks release. The original deck, of course, was constrained by the customary rationing of rarity, so there was only so much that it could do. The Duel Deck, on the other hand, was the same built writ large. Gone were the shackles of Ravnica-block-only cards, and in were some of the more instant/sorcery-reactive options from across the span of the game. When you guild’s signature mechanic revolves around playing two of the game’s most fundamental card types, you have a template which is widely applicable.
To find out what happens when this is not the case, we now turn to the other guild, the Golgari.
In a sense, the Golgari are victims of their own success. Their original Ravnican mechanic, dredge, is tournament-level viable across the eternal formats, up to and including Modern. Indeed, when Modern was confirmed as an officially-sanctioned format in August of 2011, the Golgari Grave-Troll had the dubious distinction of being a member of its inaugural class of banned cards.
Dredge was panned by its critics (and loved by its adherents) largely because of the way it upended the fundamental rules of the game. For one thing, in a game that is heavily invested in the concept of variance, being able to manipulate the game to draw the same card over and over did much to minimise its impact. By flooding the graveyard with cards that you could get back whenever you wish, you also in effect vastly increased your virtual hand size while “drawing” multiple cards per turn. Many such decks are able to ignore playing lands, increasing the efficiency of their deck overall. And all of this is done using a game zone that is less vulnerable to disruption given the relative dearth of cards that interact with it. To top it all off, it was fairly un-interactive, something increasingly frowned upon by R&D over the course of the game’s life.
Perhaps the greater factor, however, was simply one of logistics. Ravnica gave us an even dozen dredge cards to fill out the guild- eight creatures, two sorceries, and one each of an enchantment and instant. A few years later when Time Spiral block gave us a nostalgia-drenched trip down memory lane, it added one last piece of the puzzle in the form of a dredge land. Certainly that’s more than enough to form the core of a solid deck, but not for the Duel Decks format. Duel Decks are loaded with singletons and are limited to a small number of repeated cards, largely to offer diversity and a wide variety of gameplay experiences which keeps the replay value fairly high. If the Golgari’s identifying mechanic was not sufficient to carry the deck, how then to flesh it out?
Certainly the new Golgari ability, scavenge, was a natural and immediate fit. Given that dredge has you mill a certain number of cards from your library to graveyard, anything that can then provide value from the graveyard would be a huge advantage. Scavenge allows you to exile a creature with that keyword from your graveyard by paying a scavenge cost, then putting a number of +1/+1 counters on another of your creatures equal to the scavenged creature’s power. Highly flavourful, this fits right in with the outlook of the guild, that nothing- not even the dead- are wasted.
So if we don’t have Golgari Deathcreep 2.0, what are we left with? In short, the Golgari deck is all about value from the graveyard. It might not be as mechanically tied to the guild as its Izzet counterpart, mainly because the Izzet’s mechanic is less ‘parasitic,’ but it is certainly a theme well represented here.
Bones of the Undercity
Because of the number of different ways the deck’s creatures interact with the graveyard, we’ll be breaking them up into smaller, thematic groupings to better illustrate the deck’s lines of play. Pride of place must surely go to the guild’s own unique mechanics,so we’ll open with Dredgers and Scavengers. One thing the Golgari appreciate is a fat, well-stocked pantry, though in their case of course by ‘pantry’ we mean ‘graveyard.’ Having cards with dredge let you burn the candle at both ends. Not only does the mechanic let you fill your graveyard at a rapid pace, but each time you dredge to get a card back you get more options in your graveyard to boot!
The least of these is the Golgari Thug, a two-mana creature with dredge 4. It’s a fine place to begin, for as with many of the deck’s cards it intersects with the graveyard in different ways, weaving a tight synergistic net over the zone as a whole. For the Thug, its dredge helps fill your graveyard, while its death trigger from play lets you retrieve a creature card from your graveyard and put it atop your library, ready for your next draw.
On the other hand, as we’ll see there are some cards that want you to have a full graveyard for other reasons, and so creatures that can put themselves into the graveyard at will- and give you a positive net effect for doing so- also have a place here. Enter the Shambling Shell, an all-star card from Golgari Deathcreep. Although the return- a single +1/+1 counter for one creature- isn’t massive for three mana, the fact that you can sacrifice it without any kind of cost attached can be very useful when the need to shuffle cards between zones arises. Also at the three-drop slot is the Stinkweed Imp, a 1/2 flier with a sort of deathtouch and a delightfully high dredge cost. The Imp has the singular honour of having been previously reprinted (Duel Decks: Divine vs Demonic), and its high dredge, combat utility, and low casting cost make it a potent package.
Next up is the Greater Mossdog, a simple 3/3 body with a classic bit of flavour text. For just one more mana, however, you get the big bad of the dredge set, the Golgari Grave-Troll. Another crossover creature, the Grave-Troll has one foot in the Dredgers and Scavengers camp, and the other in the Creatures that are Boosted by the Graveyard one. The fatter your graveyard, the bigger the Grave-Troll, while you get to dredge for a whopping six to get it back should it end up in the graveyard. Oh, and did we mention that it regenerates? It’s a superb card, and a slam-dunk inclusion.
The last creature here is a Return to Ravnica preview card, the Dreg Mangler. A three-mana 3/3 with haste, it’s already a solid deal comparable to the famed Watchwolf from the original Ravnica. The scavenge ability is a splendid mana sink for later in the game when you need to give one of your creatures a solid boost, and ensures that no matter where the Mangler ends up (in your hand or in your graveyard), it has some utility and impact on the battlefield.
Creatures that are Boosted by the Graveyard is our second category, and as mentioned above we already found our first member in the Grave-Troll. The next is the Boneyard Wurm, a two-drop from Innistrad that gets stronger with each creature you manage to salt away in the larder. Another contender here is the Eternal Witness. Although she doesn’t derive any bonus from the size of the graveyard directly, her ability to return a creature from the graveyard to your hand means that she’ll seldom be out of place except in the game’s earliest stages, and the more you have in there the better your options will be. The last member of this group is the guild leader himself, Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord. Like the Boneyard Wurm, he gets stronger the deeper the yard, but that’s only the beginning. Jarad can also give you incredible reach across the table, able to inflict life loss on your opponent just by sacrificing a creature. Of course, that sends the sacrificed creature to the graveyard, which makes Jarad bigger, can make your Wurm bigger, and so on- the Golgari life/unlife cycle continues on. Indeed, even death itself is no impediment for Jarad, who can return to your hand from the yard at the cost of just a couple of land.
Next we find Creatures that Feed the Graveyard. Again note the generous and intricate overlap of the Golgari, since both the Shambling Shell and Jarad perform duties here in addition to it being a by-product of the dredge mechanic as well. In addition to those avenues, we have plenty of other ways to keep the pantry full. The Golgari Rotwurm offers a cheap sacrifice outlet if you haven’t been able to find Jarad. Although it might only do a fraction of the damage, it also comes at a fraction of the cost- all this on a very relevant 5/4 body.
Another option here is the Plagued Rusalka, who can swallow your less useful creatures in order to kill off some of your opponents’. Taken together, these even become on-board combat tricks, for if your opponent is facing down the Boneyard Wurm or Jarad they will surely want to take note of how much mana you might have open as well. If popping your own creatures for life loss or creature kill isn’t attractive, you might instead appreciate the services of the Sadistic Hypnotist. A reprint from Odyssey, the Hypnotist can single-handedly cripple your opponent’s ability to keep relevant options in hand. To an ordinary deck, these options might seem painful- after all, how many creatures can you realistically afford to sacrifice before you leave yourself wide open- but to the Golgari, it’s part of the cycle. With so many ways to get creatures back from death, as well as some creature token generators we haven’t yet discussed, you’ll seldom have much shortage of ‘volunteers.’
Next up is the Brain Weevil, a sort of one-shot Hypnotist that can only pop itself. The inability to sacrifice it at instant speed can leave it vulnerable to some of the Izzet’s burn damage, though its intimidate can make it relevant in the red zone until your opponent deals with it. The last creature here is the Doomgape, a rare from Eventide. The Doomgape is a massive 10/10 finisher with that all-important trample, and while it does require the offering up of a creature each upkeep, there’s some consolation to the fact that you do get some life in return. Should the price become too steep, you can always sacrifice it to itself and reap a massive infusion.
Thus far we’ve been able to portion out the Golgari army into three camps, but the deck’s remaining bodies defy such easy classification and instead can be lumped together as Miscellaneous. We begin with a pair of Elves of Deep Shadow, a card originally from The Dark but reprinted in the original Ravnica. One-drop mana dorks, they’ll always be welcome early on, and later in the game they can always be, ahem, put to a nobler purpose. Another new preview card is the Korozda Guildmage, which helps feed the deck’s engine. Its first ability is solid, granting a power/toughness pump and intimidate, which will always be relevant against the Izzet. It’s the second ability, however, that bears special mention. Another sacrifice outlet, the Guildmage actually can return even more sacrifice fodder each time you use it, since you’re gaining Saproling tokens equal to the toughness of whatever you sacrificed. Since the deck has a ceaseless hunger for new volunteers for its sac effects, the Guildmage will be a welcome sight once you draw it since it can greatly extend your “creature economy.”
Another tricky option to get around the high price of living is the Gleancrawler. A solid combat-ready body, the Gleancrawler’s special treat is that it returns to your hand all creatures that went to the graveyard on each of your turns. This lets you sacrifice your foot soldiers with greater abandon, since you’ll get them right back at the end of turn- just make sure you do this on your turn, not your opponent’s.
One card you’ll be happy to sac and get back will be the Ravenous Rats, since it allows you to hit at your opponent’s hand. Should fliers be a problem, you also have recourse to a Stingerfling Spider. Though the Spider isn’t cheap, you can certainly eke out incremental value by assembling the right recursion engine here, and the Golgari deck gives you quite an advanced level of interactivity amongst its selections. A Reassembling Skeleton is a very solid option in sacrifice-themed decks, since you can get it right back for minimal cost. Finally, we have a singleton Putrid Leech from Alara Reborn, darling of Jund decks in its day, to help apply some extra beats at the cost of a little life.
The Benefits of Death
With so many creature options in the deck, the noncreature support complement is rather small in size. Still, some of your deck’s most potent options are found here, and many of them synergise with the elements we’ve already identified. Built yourself up a big, fat graveyard? Reap a well-earned windfall with Dark Ascension’s Grim Flowering, or surprise your opponent by giving a massive, game0ending boost to a creature that managed to slip past the defneses with a Ghoul’s Feast. Need more ‘volunteers’ for your sac outlets? Golgari Germination is here to help. Nightmare Void reinforces the toolbox of discard cards while giving you one more dredge option, while Life from the Loam helps you stabilise off of one of dredge’s mechanical weakness- missing land drops.
As you’d expect, there are also options for getting rid of your opponent’s pesky creatures. A pair of Putrefies lead the way, and can also be used to destroy artifacts. Yoke of the Damned is a cheap way to kill something off, though you have to jump through a hoop to activate it. Luckily, with so many sacrifice options in the deck, it shouldn’t be hard to do so. Finally, there’s the Alliances reprint Feast or Famine, which gives tyou the option to either destroy a creature or get a 2/2 Zombie token at instant speed, whichever is more needed at the time. The new art is also particularly unsettling, so well done to the artist.
The split card Life // Death offers two very useful options. One side of it turns all of your lands into 1/1 creatures, which is a fine way to get more grist for the sacrifice mill later in the game when you have more mana than need. Have a care when you play it, though, that you don’t leave yourself open for your opponent to turn a Pyromatics into a one-sided Armageddon. The other side lets you pull a creature from graveyard to play, but with a life loss component a la Reanimate. Vigor Mortis is twice as expensive, but it sidesteps the life loss and gives you the option for a +1/+1 counter.
Finally, you also have a single copy of Twilight’s Call. Like all symmetrical-effect cards, you want to be sure to break the symmetry so that you are the greater beneficiary of the effect, and this deck does that and then some! With all the ways of filling up the graveyard, you’ll be sure to have a few surprises in store for your opponent with this, and can always throw a few more into the graveyard in response with your sac effects to get a few extra uses from them since they’re coming right back anyway. Although it has some negative synergy with the deck (sorry, Boneyard Wurm), it’s a blowout card that can end games.
Naturally, the deck packs a Golgari Signet, but it has a few other treasures in store in the manabase. Like the Izzet deck, you get the requisite two cycling lands from Onslaught, Barren Moor and Tranquil Thicket. There’s also a pair of Golgari Rot Farms and a Svogthos, the Restless Tomb from the original Ravnica, and a Dakmor Salvage from Future Sight. The latter two in particular go above and beyond- they’re not just lands, but cards that actually help you further your deck’s strategy.
Overall, the deck looks surprisingly intricate and terrific fun to play, and we can’t wait to get started playing what’s shaping up to be one of the best Duel Decks releases yet. First up is the Izzet, and we’ll be back with their report card in two days’ time. See you then!