I’ve been on a real Golgari kick since Guilds of Ravnica came out. The card I was the most excited about was the new Vraska, and when I started drafting the set, it seemed like I would just start every other Draft with an Izoni, Thousand-eyed—sometimes even two!
While I played my first few Leagues of Standard with Teferi decks, I wasn’t loving blue. I went 1-3 drop with Esper Control, then 4-1 with Turbo Fog, but it felt like a very lucky 4-1. I’ll admit that my version of Esper was probably way too controlling and geared toward beating other blue decks as I was trying to play as few removal spells as possible, favoring cards like Thought Erasure. It seems that the versions of control that have been doing well haven’t been skimping on removal.
I decided to set Teferi aside and picked up Black-Green Menagerie after seeing a tweet from Todd Anderson recommending the deck for the first week of Standard. It looked really cool, and I decided to give it a shot.
My first League with the deck went poorly, but I was hooked. The deck was fun, it did powerful things, and I felt like I had gotten unlucky and there was room for improvement. I don’t recall exactly the first few changes I made, but I remember Izoni being the worst card in the deck by far. I also felt like I wanted some kind of spot removal to deal with annoying permanents, so I added a couple of Vraska’s Contempt to the main.
I’ve been playing with the deck for a few days now and my overall record is 27-10, but the deck really improved when I decided to cut Plaguecrafter for Midnight Reaper. Reaper has been incredible in pretty much every matchup, generating a constant stream of card advantage, being a solid 3-drop at worst and turning combat phases into nightmares for my opponents, and completely taking over the game at best. A particular aspect I’ve been appreciating is the ability to “chump block” with Squires, Branchwalkers, etc. in the early turns, filling up my graveyard and setting up Gruesome Menagerie.
I have tried a bunch of different cards, and I’m sure that by the time this article goes up, my build will have changed, but here is what I plan on trying next:
Llanowar Elves, Wildgrowth Walker, Jadelight Ranger, and Midnight Reaper should be 4-ofs. The other contenders to be 4-ofs are Menagerie and Find // Finality. The new split card is absurd, and I was shocked to see that Yamakiller had none in his PTQ-winning deck. As a side note, and I hope he doesn’t take it personally, but while looking great against control, I felt that his build was poorly positioned against Red and Selesnya Tokens. I was also surprised to see that he beat Menagerie decks multiple times. His list has been very popular online and I’ve been beating it pretty consistently, though the Midnight Reapers help a ton and I can see the matchup being much closer if the Menagerie deck plays Plaguecrafter instead.
I’m not sure how many Branchwalkers/Squires you should be playing or which is better. The reasoning for maxing out on Squires is that it is better against the red decks in general and Chainwhirler in particular, but Branchwalker is better against control and more likely to trade in combat, which you want with Midnight Reaper in play. Probably anecdotal, but Branchwalker is a bit easier on the mana.
Perhaps the most important and hardest part about the build is striking the right balance between pushing the synergy and playing “good” cards like Chupacabra, the planeswalkers, and spot removal. Typically, the more you push a synergy, the more busted your draws can be, but the more one-dimensional your deck becomes, and the more likely you are to leave yourself vulnerable to specific cards and strategies. That’s true with this deck and it’s true when high-impact cards like Doom Whisperer, Lyra Dawnbringer, or Teferi, Hero of Dominaria are played. If you move all-in on Menagerie and the graveyard plan, you might suffer if players start packing graveyard hate.
While I said the deck became much better when I added Midnight Reaper over Plaguecrafter, I think Plaguecrafter is still good and may still belong in the deck. It synergizes nicely with Reaper, but your curve is important and the competition is stiff.
I’ve played with one or two Doom Whisperer for most of my games, and the card is very powerful. I thought that it might not be as good as something like Menagerie when you’re behind, but I’m not even sure that’s always true. Even if they deal with it with a removal spell, surveilling a few times can be game winning. The card is so good that it most likely belongs in the deck but I’m currently more interested in trying out the planeswalkers.
Speaking of planeswalkers, I haven’t been super impressed with Vraska, Golgari Queen. While it can be very good, running away with the game when you’re already slightly ahead, you do often find yourself in scenarios where you are unhappy to cast it on curve. It is not a good sign if I’d rather play my 3-drop creature than Vraska when I have 4 mana available. So far, the only permanent I’ve been really excited to use the -3 ability on is Search for Azcanta.
I’ve had Vraska, Relic Seeker in my sideboard for most of my testing, and I find myself bringing it in for almost every matchup, so I want to give it a try in the main. Most of the decks in the format are grindy, even mono-red, which relies heavily on Experimental Frenzy to close out games.
I haven’t tried Vivien Reid at all yet but I’ve been impressed when I’ve faced it. Proactive answers to cards like Lyra or Frenzy are always helpful.
Assassin’s Trophy started off as Vraska’s Contempt, but I eventually decided to try the cheaper option and I’ve been happy with it so far. Even though you almost never cast it on turn 2 or 3, the cheaper mana cost lets you play it along with another spell later in the game and the ability to be able to target enchantments or lands (read: Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin) is valuable.
I’ve been asked a lot about other 1-drops, especially Pelt Collector, but I think they’re probably all bad and it’s not a big deal if you don’t always bring back three creatures with Menagerie. Most of your 2-drops don’t even pump Collector and it can’t really grow much bigger than a 3/3. I’ve actually tried Pilfering Imp in my sideboard over Duress and it was awful, as expected (sample size of one, but in this case, that will do as far as I’m concerned).
A few thoughts: these are for the current builds I’ve been facing, so take them with a grain of salt. For instance, most of the Golgari Midrange decks I’ve been facing have been very close to the Yamakiller list. I’m also not confident on how to approach sideboarding against control. It is also always tricky to sideboard with decks that rely on synergies and sometimes, trimming a card here and there is your best option even if it doesn’t look pretty.
I usually go heavy on spot removal and Harpooner post-board so I don’t get cheesed by Lyra, etc.
The deck has been really good for me so far. I haven’t had trouble with any specific matchup. If GP Lille, which is my next big Standard event, were tomorrow, I’d be happy and excited to register the deck, but I’m also not sure how hot I’ve been running and how much of my success is due to people being unfamiliar with the deck. Standard evolves fast. People adapt, and I’m curious to see if the Menagerie deck can stand the test of time, but it’s been great so far and lots of fun to play on top of everything.