Field of the Dead was a mistake.
There's just no way around it at this point: the card is a huge payoff for little effort. Sure, there's some interesting deck building that goes into just what laundry list of lands to register, but that problem has basically been solved since August. Once the mix of lands is there, there isn't much more to do than get them into play after that. And it turns out it's pretty easy to get seven lands into play—there usually just isn't much point to doing so. But where other decks have 30+ spells that do something and 20+ lands that let them cast those spells, Field of the Dead gets to play 60 cards that all do something. Sure the first six lands don't make a 2/2 Zombie, but every land drop is a zero-cost, uncounterable spell that reads: Create X Zombies, where X is the number of Field of the Dead in play.
There is no reality where anyone can keep up with this. Other people sometimes draw one of those lands and it's effectively a dead draw. Sure, drawing a Breeding Pool with 16 lands in play isn't as good, but that's only because a card like Golos, Tireless Pilgrim or Hydroid Krasis looks obscene in comparison. Every other deck would love to be in a position where a land drawn on turn fifteen makes 8 power and toughness for free.
Gearing up for the SCG Philadelphia Team Open, I was trying a number of things to try to beat Golos as the word got out more and more about the deck. Despite my best efforts, I failed to produce something with a good Golos matchup that also had reasonable game against everyone else. Thankfully, my teammate for the event was Gerry Thompson, who was hard at work on the deck while I tried to beat it. Once I had eliminated other bad options and some bad sideboard plans for Golos, we arrived at this list:
After playing for the weekend there's really only two changes I'd be interested in making: changing the Devout Decree to Glass Casket so that the deck has more answers to Edgewall Innkeeper and finding a way to fit one more Agent of Treachery in the sideboard. I wouldn't change anything in the maindeck currently.
What I liked most about this list was that it was clean and efficient. Other people are building to try to take care of Fires of Invention or Fae of Wishes // Granted, or they're trying to fit in Kenrith, the Returned King to the deck. All of them have various costs to the manabase or sideboard that this deck doesn't have. The mana is especially important because the best spell in the deck isn't Golos, Tireless Pilgrim or Hydroid Krasis… it's Growth Spiral.
The games with a turn two Growth Spiral are so incredibly easy that I want to minimize the lands that can't cast it. This version does that as much as possible: the necessary four Field of the Dead, a Plaza of Harmony that only functions with Guildgates, and the Boros Guildgate that is a concession to Circuitous Route. Even with 22 other lands that can cast it, it is not uncommon that Growth Spiral is uncastable on turn two because of lands entering tapped or having to play one of the lands that can't cast it. The idea of adding something like Mountain doesn't interest me at all.
This deck is also incredible in the mirror. Main deck Agent of Treachery isn't exactly novel at this point, but two and a Deputy of Detention is. The reality is that, although the first Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off is incredible against the aggressive decks, the second, third and fourth really aren't all that necessary. An Agent of Treachery stealing a threat or a Deputy of Detention removing the evasive creature is enough that they pull their weight. In exchange, they are much, much more powerful in the mirror. The maindeck Deputy of Detention shuts down multiple problems that come up in game one, like a random Hydroid Krasis dealing 4–12 damage early on in the game or one player getting off to a quicker start by finding more Field of the Dead.
In the sideboard, the countermagic is something that other Golos decks are not prepared for. Disdainful Stroke is absolutely incredible on the draw especially, where countering the first Circuitous Route or Golos, Tireless Pilgrim can set them back massively in terms of getting started. Later, it beats most all of the "mirror breaker" cards: Agent of Treachery, Fae of Wishes // Granted and Kenrith, the Returned King, which Negate does not.
But funnily enough, that probably isn't even the most important countermagic in this deck. Mystical Dispute is an amazing spell because the problem with relying on countermagic in 2019 is Teferi, Time Raveler. Negate is often uncastable on turn two because of all the taplands, but Mystical Dispute can stop a turn-three Teferi with just one land or function as an expensive Mana Leak for their Circuitous Route or Golos later.
Both of these have plenty of incidental applications as well. The secret was out that Ashiok, Dream Render was an incredibly powerful option out of the sideboard to slow down Bant Golos going into the weekend, and, just like against Teferi, Time Raveler, Mystical Dispute can counter Ashiok with just one untapped land. Disdainful Stroke is incidentally great against many decks: Dance of the Manse, Questing Beast and Fires of Invention all get hit hard by the counterspell—and got hit hard by me over the weekend. Once Bant Golos buys back some tempo like that, it is so easy to play and protect Teferi, Time Raveler, because they haven't been advancing their own game plan in favor of slowing Golos's down, and from there the game becomes incredibly straightforward.
The "mirror breaking" tech here was mostly the ability to turn into the control deck post-board and force opponents to react to win the game through disruption rather than try to compete in the arms race of "bigger." People who were moving to huge spells like Casualties of War or Ethereal Absolution ended up invalidated by Disdainful Stroke, and I ended up several mana on the exchange. Aside from the countermagic, the other card for the mirror was the old standby from last Standard: Deputy of Detention. It's not fancy, it's not clever, but it is efficient, and it works incredibly well with Teferi, Time Raveler.
And honestly? Deputy of Detention is better than the things people are doing. Fae of Wishes // Granted eats up precious sideboard slots on cards like Ethereal Absolution, which can be stolen by Agent of Treachery, or Casualties of War, which gets dunked on worse by Veil of Summer than me playing basketball. The talk of the weekend going into the event, Kenrith, the Returned King, can essentially only be played while going for the win. Otherwise, Agent of Treachery can swipe their best card from them. Deputy of Detention has none of these liabilities, gets protected by Teferi, Time Raveler and can be picked up later by Teferi if they do have the Veil of Summer when it attempts to win the game by sending a dozen Zombies to the principal's office.
Most of the times these other plans look good are when that player is already quite far ahead. At that point, though, just about any card that uses a large amount of mana will win the game. When that player is behind or at parity, though, these cards do virtually nothing. If a player with Kenrith, the Returned King isn't already ahead by a few Zombies, they're going to have a hard time making enough Zombies in one turn that they can attack through all of them and earn the kill. Fae of Wishes // Granted before Golos, Tireless Pilgrim gets to ten mana is awful and, at seven mana, is probably an incredibly expensive Deafening Clarion. It's flexible to be sure, but at the cost of precious sideboard slots and the fact that the only thing this card does early in the game is look embarrassing.
Deputy of Detention does plenty early on. Ashiok, Dream Render? Not a problem. Teferi, Time Raveler? Not a problem. (What are they going to do… bounce it with their Teferi later?) A quick horde of Zombie tokens? Easy. Hydroid Krasis with no way to block it? Gone. And, as is a theme with this sideboard, it has applications in other match-ups: a Deputy of Detention can remove a Cavalcade of Calamity, Fires of Invention, Questing Beast or Sarkhan the Masterless. Kenrith, the Returned King might be able to attack planeswalkers down or gain life, but only once Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is so far ahead that it likely didn't matter what they did, so long as it used most of their mana every turn.
In short: don't get fancy, just win.
Technically, I was undefeated in the mirror this weekend. I will concede that, in round two, my Golos opponent probably would have won, as I was fairly far behind on resources due to missing land drops. In round five, when Gerry, Allison and I were on camera against eventual finalists Syed/Eapen/Bertarioni, coverage held my third game after I won a grindy game two and had lost game one to, again, missing land drops early. Every other mirror I played I won, and I credit that highly to the list being extremely well-built for the mirror. Addict that I am, I continued to play the deck Sunday and Monday and haven't lost a mirror on the Arena ladder either.
Additionally, there's a few things that might not be apparent if you're just picking up the deck:
Tip #1: Once Upon a Time frequently gets cast on turn two or later. That card in this deck is incredible, and that's largely because Bant Golos can afford to cast it much later than many other decks and get as much information about which cards it is missing and what the opponent's game plan looks like it will be. Don't fire it off earlier than you have to!
Tip #2: You do not have to tick down Teferi, Time Raveler. Putting Teferi to 5 loyalty is a good way to stop it from being attacked, or to survive a random Zombie later. I have used his +1 all the way to 7 before. This has the excellent benefit of building up Teferi bounces for later.
Tip #3: Speaking of which, manage when creatures are on the battlefield. Unlike some versions of this deck, there is no way to Regrowth a card with something like Tamiyo, Collector of Tales. Losing Agent of Treachery might not seem significant, but one of the most powerful things this deck can do is recast the same Agent of Treachery multiple times. Deputy of Detention resetting their Zombie count multiple times can keep you from getting run over or let a Field of the Dead-light setup get in enough damage to pressure the opponent out of the game.
Tip #4: Agent of Treachery does not have to target Field of the Dead. Want to know one of my most common plays in the mirror? Stealing a Teferi that doesn't have Veil of Summer to protect it, and immediately using it to bounce Agent. They now have to waste time killing Teferi, or be defenseless against the second cast of Agent.
Tip #5: You can pick up a Deputy of Detention with Teferi, Time Raveler before a Cast Off to permanently deal with a creature, or before a medium-sized attack to permanently deal with a planeswalker.
Tip #6: Try not to use Fabled Passage. This is a weird point, but unless there is a compelling reason to do so, actually activating Fabled Passage is probably wrong. Hold it in hand if you need it for mana and have another option, or just let it sit there for 15 turns until you're ready to ambush them with 6-8 power of Zombies. This is especially relevant against Esper Doom Foretold players.
And finally, my sideboard guide, in relative importance of matchups. If you make the changes I described under the decklist, Glass Casket is basically always coming in when Devout Decree would have.
Please, please do not slavishly follow this plan. If they're on Kenrith, the Returned King, I keep in a Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off or two. In two different instances against Kenrith opponents, they went for the kill only to find their board gone in combat. If they have as much countermagic as you do, consider cutting a Hydroid Krasis or a Circuitous Route for the third Veil of Summer. If they have Ashiok, Dream Render or Assassin's Trophy, cutting a couple Circuitous Route and leaving in some Realm-Cloaked Giant or bringing in Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves to be correct (don't forget that a Golos, Tireless Pilgrim that blocked a Zombie can now trade with Tolsimir's Wolf!)
Pay attention to what lands they get. Even if you don't see one of the cards above, which lands they have tell a lot about what build they're on because they're going to need to skew mana to play certain spells. Basic Swamp often means Kenrith, the Returned King, for example. Temple of Epiphany tends to be in the Fires/Golos builds.
This is another matchup where sideboarding depends a lot on what they do. Tolsimir, Friend to Wolves can be fine here as well, especially if they have Teferi, Time Raveler to make the countermagic awkward sometimes. If they don't have a ton of fight creatures, Deputy of Detention can be a good way to clean up planeswalkers, but a huge liability if they do. When in doubt, its OK to take out more Once Upon a Time.
I vary this a lot here, too, in terms of how many Veils / Deputy are usually in the deck afterward. Honestly I didn't even know this was a deck people played until I played against it three times over the weekend. One opponent had multiple Assassin's Trophy maindeck, and I took out two Circuitous Route maindeck to avoid it being dead.
If you replaced Devout Decree with Glass Casket in the sideboard, you should also go up three Glass Casket. To make room, you'll go down the other two Once Upon a Time and one Circuitous Route.
Agent is too expensive and risks getting blown out by Trostani Discordant. Try to protect Teferi if at all possible, as he covers Bant Golos from getting killed out of nowhere by March of the Multitudes plays.
If you replaced Devout Decree with Glass Casket in the sideboard, you should also go up three Glass Casket and down three Teferi, Time Raveler.
Don't even bother with Veil of Summer here—they've opted in to playing a blue deck that can't run countermagic because Fires of Invention would turn off their own spells.
The only way they win is with Ashiok, Dream Render. Their deck has no way to win a long game against you, so don't rush, there's no hurry. Just make sure not to get blown out by Unmoored Ego… by playing some Field of the Dead early.
I can wholeheartedly say that if you have a PTQ coming up, there is no deck I would recommend more than Bant Golos. I don't think we currently live in a world where there are multiple tier 1 decks, just Golos. If anything does pop up in the next few days, there are cards that Golos still has at its disposal that can beat those decks, because the deck has the capability of playing all five colors. Golos better be Tireless, because he's going to be seeing a lot more play before this Standard is over.