I chose Golgari for the Standard portion of Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. It wasn’t one of the most exciting decks I’ve ever sleeved up for a tournament, but it’s very solid, with a fighting chance of beating anything I might run into. I played it to a respectable 7-3 record.
Jadelight Ranger is the unsung hero of the color green in this format. Though unassuming, its effect is crucial for generating board presence and card advantage at the same time. It’s the best card for smoothing your draw, and any time you open on Jadelight and mana to cast it, you know your deck is going to deliver. I view it as this format’s Tireless Tracker or Courser of Kruphix.
The other important payoff cards are Vivien Reid and Find // Finality, which are both enormously powerful. Specifically, they’re both “brewkillers,” by which I mean they eviscerate any opponent who hasn’t specifically built their deck with them in mind. Built your deck around Angels or enchantments? Here’s Vivien to snipe your key card and leave behind a deadly threat. Medium-speed creature deck? Well, Finality is a one-sided Wrath that’ll hit every time the Golgari player gets up to 6 mana.
Golgari is beatable, but you don’t beat it by accident. The decks that have strong game against Golgari are the ones that go way underneath—like White Weenie with Adanto Vanguard or Tocatli Honor Guard—or the ones that refuse to play permanents that are vulnerable to Vivien and Ravenous Chupacabra. These include super-controlling builds of Jeskai, or Izzet Drakes decks that use the Maximize Velocity + Dive Down plan.
I believe that this “brewkiller” dynamic is simultaneously what caused Golgari to be the most successful deck in the first week of Guilds of Ravnica Standard, and what caused it to fade in popularity following Grand Prix Atlanta and Lille, once players began to adapt to it. Now, we’ve settled into a spot where it’s a known quantity, but not necessarily the deck to beat. In such a world, I think Golgari a pretty good choice.
Here’s the list I’d play:
Andrea Mengucci, my colleague here on ChannelFireball.com, already wrote an excellent piece on Golgari. So rather than walking the same ground that he’s already covered, I’ll focus on the spots where I can add to what he has written, or offer an alternative perspective.
My recommended deck list has 24 lands. 23 is enough for the main deck (and is what I played at PT GRN) but I think that playing an extra land gives you a bit more flexibility. The problem is that in many post-sideboard games, you’re either taking out your Llanowar Elves (usually matchups where the opponent has board sweepers or Goblin Chainwhirlers), or you’re suffering under the oppression of a Tocatli Honor Guard and can’t use explore triggers to help you. My 24th land is an extra Swamp, which helps with a huge fail-case of Golgari—struggling to find your 2nd black mana against aggressive white decks.
Speaking of Tocatli Honor Guard, I believe that the Wildgrowth Walker package is fantastic in game 1, but I advise against putting it in your sideboard. Wildgrowth into Jadelight Ranger feels closer to casting Tarmogoyf into Kitchen Finks than it does to anything people are doing in the Standard format. Walker quickly outsizes Deafening Clarion and Lava Coil, and it’s the best way to win game 1 against the aggressive decks. But people are simply prepared for it in the post-board games. The white decks will have Tocatli Honor Guard and Baffling End. The Izzet decks will have Lava Coils, and may even go as far as Entrancing Melody. Jam as much of the explore package as you can fit into your main deck, but then stop there.
Thrashing Brontodon is some technology from Standard luminary Brad Nelson. It provides utility you can dig for with Vivien Reid and recur with Memorial to Folly and Find // Finality. Specifically, it provides an out to The Immortal Sun, which is important because, sadly, Assassin’s Trophy is just not that good of a card. Equally important, 3/4 is a surprisingly great body that matches up well against Deafening Clarion, Goblin Chainwhirler, and Adanto Vanguard. The Brontodon is equally good in the main deck or the sideboard, but given its solid stats, I don’t mind starting it to free up some sideboard real estate.
Again, I’ll point you to Andrea’s article for great Golgari sideboarding advice. Still, I’ve included mine because my recommended deck list is a little different, and because there are one or two places where Andrea and I disagree.
Spot removal is important because many of your draws will crumble in the face of a turn-2 Tocatli Honor Guard. Ritual of Soot is a little bit awkward with Wildgrowth Walker, but is powerful enough that it’s still worth playing. Using Doom Whisperer to surveil into a sweeper is a knock-out punch that you’ll use often.
If you only remember one thing from all that Andrea and I have written, I hope you’ll remember that Mono-Red is going to go big against you after sideboarding. If you sideboard to beat their game 1 deck, you’re liable to get yourself into big trouble.
That said, you can feel free to adjust this sideboard plan based on what you think your opponent is up to. For example, I could envision having zero, one, or two Ritual of Soots against different Mono-Red sideboard plans.
Focus on card advantage, board presence, and getting ahead on mana. Avoid cards that can’t do better than trade 1-for-1.
Andrea likes to take out Llanowar Elves, but I like to keep them in. I believe that most Izzet players will tailor their removal suits to answer Wildgrowth Walker, and therefore may not have the Shocks and Fiery Cannonades that would really punish your Elves.
This is another matchup where sideboarding can be adjusted based on the opponent across the table from you. If they’re sticking with their game 1 plan, then Duress and Carnage Tyrant are non-essential. If they’re going full control with Entrancing Melody and Ral, Izzet Viceroy, then those cards are as good as gold.
Selesnya (w/o Tocatli Honor Guard)
There are as many builds of Selesnya as there are stars in the sky. Thankfully, it’s a matchup where you basically just want to do your thing. Focus on killing their stuff and gaining two-for-one advantages. You’ll want plenty of ways to destroy enchantments, and a small number of Duresses will make it hard for them to set up March of the Multitudes or The Immortal Sun.