The first Pro Tour of the season is always the most important. Despite the fact that the new Pro Points system makes the PT less important than it may have been in the past, there’s still plenty to fight for, like Worlds and the World Magic Cup.
As usual, I went to Valencia before the Pro Tour to playtest in real life with my teammate Javier Dominguez. We flew there from GP Lille, where we both played Golgari Midrange. He made the Top 4 while I Top 16’d. It was clear that both of us liked the deck, though I definitely felt more strongly than he did.
He wanted to explore Jeskai Control, and we played over 100 games of Golgari vs. Jeskai, changing versions and cards every time. Mono-Red, U/R Drakes, White Weenie, and Boros Angels were also in the gauntlet, but were all discarded rather quickly as each one of them had their weak spots.
On Friday we flew to Atlanta to meet the rest of the team and compete in GP Atlanta, where we both played Humans. The GP didn’t go well—Javier finished 9-6 and I missed Day 2 for the third time in a row piloting Humans, which I read as a clear signal to never play the deck again, at least in the near future.
This left more time to playtest for Standard, as a MOCS Monthly had just happened and there were a lot of results to digest. White Weenie was the most popular and most successful archetype. U/R Drakes came next, and Golgari Midrange was nowhere to be seen.
Teammate Kelvin Chew had some different ideas about Golgari Midrange. He was loving Plaguecrafter and The Immortal Sun. Both happen to be very good against control. Plaguecrafter is good versus U/R Drakes and The Immortal Sun is good in the mirror.
The problem was that with the latest MOCS results, we were expecting a lot of White Weenie, and those cards aren’t good in that matchup.
The Golgari team was formed by myself, Javier Dominguez, Kelvin Chew, and Petr Sochurek. The rest of the team ended up playing the Boros Tokens deck that Jeremy Dezani ended up Top 8’ing with. Jeremy and other teammates initially focused their testing on Jeskai Control and how to make it good versus White Weenie without hurting the other matchups too much. They failed, and settled on a safe choice.
This is one of the big advantages of having a testing team—you can divide your homework into groups to figure out the best deck to play, and which ones to avoid.
Andrea Mengucci, 67th place at PT Guilds of Ravnica
Five team members played the same 75 as I did. Javier and Petr finished 6-4, Kelvin went 7-2-1, and Calcano didn’t make Day 2.
I think Golgari Midrange was a good choice for this tournament, as it had a good matchup versus the aggressive decks and fine matchups versus the rest of the field. I call it “Medium Golgari,” as you are 51% against the field, especially thanks to your sideboard, which you can customize for the metagame you expect.
We started playing Midnight Reaper in just two copies, but then we realized how important it was against Jeskai Control and the mirror, and we upped it up to four. If the tournament were tomorrow, this is the only card I would cut from the main deck. I would go down to three copies from four to make room for another Cast Down, freeing a sideboard slot.
Cast Down has been amazing, not only versus aggressive decks, Tocatli Honor Guard, and Drakes, but even in the mirror it isn’t as bad as you might think. Llanowar Elves is the key card to win the mirror, so if your opponent starts with a turn-1 Elf you need to be at the ready with a Cast Down to make sure they don’t gain too much advantage.
Until a few hours before the deadline we were playing a copy of The Immortal Sun over the third Carnage Tyrant in the main deck, but then we figured that it would be too bad versus the aggressive decks, whereas Carnage Tyrant is still very important to shut down Adanto Vanguard and Experimental Frenzy.
Despite this deck dominating the PT Top 8, I don’t think it’s the best deck by any means. On the contrary, I’m not a fan of it. Our Golgari Midrange list had a good matchup against it. I had good results testing against the deck, and I defeated it the only time I played against it at the Pro Tour.
Wildgrowth Walker is a Tarmogoyf that gains 6-9 life, and if they don’t have a Conclave Tribunal right away they will very likely die to it. Finality is a beating that usually locks up the game when resolved.
Post-sideboard they add Tocatli Honor Guard, which needs to be answered. That’s why we play four copies of Cast Down and Vraska, Golgari Queen in addition to Vraska’s Contempt and Assassin’s Trophy, which are very important and need to be played in two copies as they answer Experimental Frenzy, Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice, and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants.
At the PT we chose not to play Golden Demise because we expected White Weenie to change plans and slow down a bit. If I had to play GP Milwaukee, I would add at least one copy, because it can let you catch a break if you have a weak hand without many early plays.
I’ve played against two Mono-Red decks at the PT and I beat both of them thanks to Carnage Tyrant. The biggest mistake you can make in this matchup is to sideboard even a single copy out. They go full control with four Treasure Map and four Experimental Frenzy. You can’t cut your late game or they will easily outgrind you.
Llanowar Elf needs to come out. Not only does it die to Goblin Chainwhirler, but it lets their Shocks and Lightning Strikes trade 1-for-1, whereas you want to make it so every single creature creates some sort of advantage.
Midnight Reaper seems good in theory if they go full control because it creates card advantage, but I believe it’s bad for two reasons: the first being that they might burn you out and they might use Reaper as a resource. The second is worth mentioning against U/R Drakes too: it’s too weak versus Lava Coil, you don’t want to trade 1-for-1 with their removal, and you need to generate card advantage with every single creature (other than Carnage Tyrant, of course).
Game 1 relies a lot on them not having an answer for every threat. If they do, there’s not much you can do. Ideally you want to curve 2-drop into Midnight Reaper to mitigate the effect of Deafening Clarion. Wildgrowth Walker into Jadelight Ranger is good in that spot too, and mostly for the same reason.
At GP Lille, both Javier and I were cutting Wildgrowth Walker versus Jeskai, but we found Walker is important in some games since it’s a threat that’s hard to kill.
Post-sideboard, the game is much different, and while you are an underdog in game 1, you become a favorite afterward. Duress and Carnage Tyrant are the name of the game. They have a limited number of answers to Carnage Tyrant, and you want to run them out of them.
The Immortal Sun is also very strong, and it’s the perfect followup for when they tap out at sorcery speed to kill your Carnage Tyrant. Not many decks have an answer for it, and it’s very hard for Jeskai Control to win once you lock down their Teferi, Hero of Dominaria.
The mirror match can be either a very one-sided game, involving one player drawing Llanowar Elves + fast threats, or a very skill-intensive one that’s tough to pilot.
At GP Lille and PT Guilds of Ravnica I played two great mirror matches versus Christoffer Larsen, one of the best players at the moment. They were true examples of how tricky and grindy the mirror can be.
You need to have all of these aspects under control and know your plan very well.
This is the worst matchup for the deck, but it still isn’t that bad. At the PT I managed to go 1-1 against it, but every game was close. Crackling Drake is their best card, as you have to kill each one with your spot removal, putting you down a card each time. Dive Down can be a huge tempo play, and Maximize Velocity can one-shot you as soon as you tap out.
Wildgrowth Walker is your best card, as it is hard for them to deal with. Only Beacon Bolt or Lava Coil work if it’s small enough, and it will gain enough life that it will become much harder for your opponent to one-shot you.
Deathgorge Scavenger, while it may look like an unassuming sideboard card, is huge in this matchup. It’s very hard for your opponent to play around it. Sometimes they have to get rid of their Arclight Phoenix and jump-start spell to hit land drops, and if you get to eat one of those for free while presenting a threat that needs to be killed, it’s great.
One tip is to make sure that your Jadelight Ranger grows to 4/3. Sometimes if you find a card on top that you don’t want and have the fourth land drop in hand already, you can keep the card on top with the first explore and put it in the graveyard with the second, so that your Jadelight Ranger will be a big threat that they can’t Shock and can’t block for free with Enigma or Crackling Drake.
Standard is in a great place and I would have loved to attend GP Milwaukee to play my favorite deck again. Unfortunately I won’t, but I’ll be at the Magic tables the week after at GP Warsaw for some Sealed Guilds of Ravnica!