Yarok, the Desecrated was at the very top of our list of cards we wanted to play once Core Set 2020 arrived. The card seems custom-built for the sort of nonsense we love to put on display every week, and some alert viewers immediately highlighted it as a card we should be very interested in.

To make the most of this Panharmonicon on legs, all we wanted to do was cook up a spicy list filled with high-value cards–after searching Scryfall for Sultai cards that say “enter the battlefield,” we threw together this little number.

Yarokharmonicon

4 Drowned Catacomb
4 Watery Grave
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Breeding Pool
4 Hinterland Harbor
4 Woodland Cemetery
4 Wildgrowth Walker
1 Ravenous Chupacabra
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
1 Prime Speaker Vannifar
4 Yarok, the Desecrated
4 Jadelight Ranger
1 Biogenic Ooze
3 Elvish Rejuvenator
1 Agent of Treachery
2 Hostage Taker
2 Fblthp, the Lost
1 Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
1 Golgari Findbroker
1 End-Raze Forerunners
1 Cavalier of Night
1 God-Eternal Rhonas
1 Growing Rites of Itlimoc/Itlimoc, Cradle of the Sun
1 Path of Discovery
2 Command the Dreadhorde

Card Choices

The hardest thing, in all honesty, was deciding which cards not to play. Notable cards that didn’t make the cut include Roalesk, Apex Hybrid, Dungeon Geists, Zegana, Utopian Speaker, Spark Double, Pelakka Wurm, Massacre Girl, and one card I was particularly reluctant to cut: Disinformation Campaign. Yarok triggers on permanents, not just creatures, and the idea of getting a four-for-one with a Disinformation Campaign was so sweet!

In any case, when it comes to the cards that did make it, there are still plenty of sweet options. There are a few utterly boring ones, as well–the explore package is an incredibly unexciting inclusion (and we’re very sorry about this), but we reasoned that it would allow us greater room to do silly things with the inherently defensive nature of the way these cards play out. Aside from these 12 cards, we were looking for an express service on the value train.

The huge number of one-ofs represent the wild, experimental aspect of the deck. We wanted to have fun with as many cards as possible, so everything from Cavalier of Night to Agent of Treachery is just sweet “filler” that isn’t designed to do anything specific–just provide insane turns in conjunction with Yarok, while still being defensible without the deck’s namesake card. In fact, this is one of the hidden strengths of the deck, that- even without its marquee card, it’s still a decent, creature-based midrange list.

Cards like Fblthp and Elvish Rejuvenator represent the more “sensible” side of the deck. As cool as it would be to jam infinite five-or-more-drops, having good-quality cheap creatures means you don’t get steamrolled in the early turns. For that reason, I think it’s important to bolster the explore package with other value plays like these. Similarly, Hostage Taker and Chupacabra are there to provide real interaction in the mid-game, and it’s actually difficult to say which is better. Hostage Taker has the higher upside, of course, but when cast on turn four and then removed, it does stone-cold nothing (or, worse, new triggers opposing ETB effects). For that reason, Ravvy Chups is a safer option.

Finally, Command the Dreadhorde was a late addition, suggested by Toffel, and it proved to be an excellent one. Enabled by the explore package, a late-game Command can undo a lot of damage done by slower decks over the course of a game and gives you real outs against control in the late game. I was skeptical at first, but Command is a great inclusion, especially as if you return two Yaroks, despite one dying immediately, you get three triggers from everything else!

Gameplay

Much of the deck plays out like the classic Golgari/Sultai Midrange lists we’ve seen since Guilds of Ravnica released, although without noncreature interaction. Obviously, you want to play to the board, and the biggest piece of advice I would give when playing this list is to make sure you don’t turn yourself inside out when trying to get the most out of Yarok.

I like to play Overwatch, and there’s a piece of advice that always stuck with me when I was trying to learn how to play one of the heroes, Pharah (I quickly gave up and went back to maining Moira, however, because you don’t have to aim). Pharah has an ultimate ability that a lot of players will “save up,” waiting for the perfect moment to get maximum value and eliminate three or four opponents. The advice I was given was to “smoke ’em if you got ’em.” In other words, eliminating two or even just one opponent with the ultimate is often better that trying to wait for the perfect moment for a play-of-the-game rocket barrage, as you might lose too much ground before it arrives, if it arrives at all.

I’ve translated that advice into Magic, where it has served me well when figuring out how to manage resources correctly. For example, if they have two 3/3s, and you have a sweeper, it’s not a bad call to clear the board. Some players, however, might be keen to wait a turn, bait out another creature, and get more value by “saving it up” – while this can sometimes be the right call, it means at a minimum you’re taking another six, and on top of that they might play a lethal haste creature, or a planeswalker, or just nothing to force you to have it.

Of course, you can never say with 100% certainty that you should always do one thing or the other, but the point I’m making here is that with decks like this one you should almost always smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em, and cast your Jadelight Rangers and Ravenous Chupacabras early rather than waiting for Yarok so as to get extra triggers. Don’t run the risk of falling behind, especially as the deck is chockers with plenty of value plays to make after you’ve landed your Yarok.

Outside of this, you want to just play a smart midrange game. Here are a few quick tips for playing the deck.

  • A graveyard full of creatures is excellent if you’re going to play Cavalier of Night, Command the Dreadhorde, Golgari Findbroker, or Izoni, Thousand Eyed.
  • Remember that smart trades and a high life total will allow you to make massive Command the Dreadhorde plays later on in the game.
  • Keep small creatures around if you have Cavalier of Night, so as to sacrifice them to its Bone Splinters ability.
  • Hostage Taker synergises nicely with Agent of Treachery, contributing cards towards its Ancestral Recall ability.
  • Path of Discovery “works” with Yarok, and makes your Wildgrowth Walkers extremely valuable once online.
  • Prime Speaker Vannifar allows you to “pod” all the way up to End-Raze Forerunners – be mindful of which links in the chain you’ve already drawn!

Moving Forward

There are so many ways to build this deck, it’s difficult to provide a rock-solid “improvement” on the list we played with this week. Based on my experiences so far, I can provide a small update, but if you want to take this deck and make it your own, more power to you. Here’s where I’d start.

Yarokharmonicon

4 Breeding Pool
4 Watery Grave
4 Overgrown Tomb
3 Woodland Cemetery
4 Drowned Catacomb
3 Hinterland Harbor
1 Temple of Malady
1 Temple of Mystery
2 Prime Speaker Vannifar
3 Fblthp, the Lost
4 Merfolk Branchwalker
4 Wildgrowth Walker
4 Jadelight Ranger
4 Elvish Rejuvenator
3 Ravenous Chupacabra
2 Hostage Taker
4 Yarok, the Desecrator
2 Biogenic Ooze
1 Massacre Girl
1 Izoni, Thousand Eyed
2 Command the Dreadhorde

I think the first deck we played suffered from Fancy Play Syndrome, which makes sense as our primary objective is to entertain rather than play perfectly correct decklists. If you want to dive down on some Serious Magic for Winners, however, then lowering the curve, consolidating your threats, and making the deck a little leaner and meaner is definitely the way to go.

We beef up the lower end of the curve with extra cards that replace themselves–Fblthp and Elvish Rejuvenator–while adding extra interaction in the form of Ravenous Chupacabra, Hostage Taker, and new inclusion Massacre Girl. Our threat package is trimmed and streamlined, with Biogenic Ooze and Izoni as the curve-toppers. Meanwhile, an extra Prime Speaker Vannifar helps to find Yarok and eke out extra value besides.

I still think Command the Dreadhorde is the best finisher available for this deck, and thus it warrants inclusion even as another six-drop. I don’t think, however, the deck needs a higher threat density, for a range of reasons. Firstly, Wildgrowth Walker can grow to silly sizes and can be a game-ending threat on its own. Secondly, both Command the Dreadhorde and Hostage Taker can steal opposing threats and ride them to victory instead. Finally, this deck is capable of grinding and grinding post-Yarok–whose defensive stats help you stabilize and survive–that with some games you can just win with whatever is lying around.

That’s it for this week! Next week, we’re plunging back into the new Standard with another spicy brew, ready to put our enemies to the fire and the sword. See you then!