Golgari Midrange doesn’t seem to be slowing down. This value-laden deck has continued to steamroll Standard tournaments since rotation, and as the archetypical black-green “Rock”-style deck, it’s difficult to meaningfully contest. It’s filled with powerful cards that operate independently of one another, while still exploiting minor synergies that slowly but surely pull it further and further ahead.
It’s highly unusual for decks like these to have a glaring weak points. Jund, in Modern, is a classic example of a deck with few overwhelming weaknesses (and, consequently, few overbearing strengths), and Standard’s Golgari deck is a reasonable analogue. But you’ll notice before that I said it is “very difficult” to meaningfully contest it, but not impossible. There is, in fact, an innocuous bulk rare from Ixalan that single-handedly neuters almost every proactive play Golgari decks seek to make.
Tocatli Honor Guard
The walking, talking Torpor Orb hasn’t gotten much love. There hasn’t been a point at which its effect has been hugely relevant in Standard, and even white Death and Taxes lists in Modern and Legacy haven’t adopted the 1/3 as part of their disruptive creature package.
This new Standard, dominated as it is by both Golgari and Mono-Red, offers a unique opportunity for this unassuming card to finally reclaim its honor. I was introduced to this technology by my friend Martin “Harry” Porter (he’s known as Harry because there are four Martins in our friendship group. Harry was the most recent acquisition, at which point the group decided there were “too many” Martins and assigned him a new, less confusing moniker), and initially, I’ll confess that I was skeptical.
After putting Tocatli Honor Guard through its paces, however, I cannot put this card in my deck fast enough. Harry isn’t the only one proselytizing this new innovation, however—Carson Lewis cleaned up over the weekend with his Boros Aggro deck, featuring a 2/2 split of Tocatli Honor Guard across the main deck and the sideboard.
Even the most superficial examination of the Golgari creature suite reveals just how utterly ruinous Tocatli Honor Guard is. Filled as it is with “value” creatures, Golgari Midrange is packed to the rafters with creatures that have ETB effects. Merfolk Branchwalker, Seekers’ Squire, District Guide, Jadelight Ranger, Deathgorge Scavenger (ish), Golgari Findbroker, Ravenous Chupacabra, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed… even Wildgrowth Walker, after a fashion, as it’ll hardly ever be anything other than a vanilla 1/3!
On top of this, you have a look at what’s left behind when these creatures come into play with no effects. Except for the Scavengers and Findbrokers, every single one of them can be blocked by the Honor Guard with impunity—it even gobbles up 2/1s like Jadelight Ranger! Doom Whisperer is just about the only creature Tocatli Honor Guard doesn’t deal with. It takes care of almost half the Golgari deck just by sitting there!
Of course, yes, it dies to removal (lots of creatures do this, by the way). But if the Golgari deck is firing off their Assassin’s Trophies or Vraska’s Contempts at your 2-drop, that’s terrific. Golgari Midrange doesn’t play a lot of removal, and it’s a disaster for them to have to point it at puny utility creatures rather than your heavy hitters.
Tocatli Honor Guard is a beast against Golgari Midrange.
Against Standard’s other premier deck, Mono-Red Aggro, things are a little different. Clearly, it’s nowhere near as good, but I was surprised to find just how much utility it can have. After all, it has a nice defensive set of stats, can come down early to soak up damage, and its stasis ability is far from useless. It blocks more or less all the small creatures—completely embarrassing Viashino Pyromancer on all fronts—and even negates Chainwhirler triggers.
While it doesn’t turn the matchup on its head like it does against Golgari Midrange, Tocatli Honor Guard still does more than enough heavy lifting (or heavy blocking, to be precise) against Mono-Red for it to justify inclusion.
Against the Format at Large
Seeing as Tocatli Honor Guard matches up so well against Standard’s two most popular decks, how are things against the wider format? Rather obviously, not quite as terrific. A 2-mana 1/3 is a pretty bad card, and outside of these two matchups, that’s what Tocatli Honor Guard is most of the time.
Against Grixis, it prevents Nicol Bolas’s discard effect, and Dream Eater’s surveil, but then does very little else. Against Selesnya, it holds off 1/1 tokens and stops Venerated Loxodon from going fully ham, but again, does very little else. Against Teferi control decks, it pokes in for a few irrelevant points of damage, then dies. Not ideal.
Still, it’s not such an embarrassing inclusion. For a card that is so heavily impactful in two important matchups, I feel it’s more than worth its mediocre performance against other decks. For that reason, I’m putting forth Tocatli Honor Guard as a main deck inclusion in aggressive white strategies.
Maindecking a Sideboard Card
This doesn’t happen for free. Most critically, we can no longer play ETB creatures of our own, but after scanning the white creatures that popularly see play in aggressive decks, this actually shouldn’t be a problem. Venerated Loxodon suffers, but that just means we’re not getting full value from our 1- or 2 mana 4/4.
Clearly, Tocatli Honor Guard is an excellent inclusion in white creature decks. I don’t think we should stop there, however. I’m looking to play this card in any deck it will fit, including a post-board playset in my favorite deck, Azorius Control.
When played in control decks, you can view Tocatli Honor Guard as a Blood Moon or Stony Silence type card against Golgari Midrange. It’s just that good. And again, blocking random small red beaters is a nice bonus, too. This card has overperformed for me out of the board, particularly because opponents typically board out their removal. Again, if a Golgari player casts an Assassin’s Trophy on your Honor Guard, you should be ecstatic—that’s one less answer for your Teferi later!
All in all, Tocatli Honor Guard is the real deal. If Golgari Midrange continues to perform strongly in Standard, Tocatli Honor Guard’s presence will only grow in the coming weeks. Get ahead of the curve and adopt this technology early!