A funny thing keeps happening to me while I'm playing Standard lately. I'm testing new decks and strategies, or proving my previous statements about Embercleave right and winning consistently against the decks I expect, and I start feeling ready for my next tournament I'm preparing for. I start refining the decks, the sideboard, to try and be prepared early for a tournament for once. And then suddenly, I get bitten by the bug.
This time was a bit different though. Usually when I get the urge to play Edgewall Innkeeper, it's the white-green variety, where the urge is to put 12 power into play on turn three with a Venerated Loxodon while drawing cards. Instead, though, I found myself playing Allison Warfield's version of Golgari Adventures from Mythic Championship VII.
I made some changes right away based on conversations I had with Ally, and the games I had played prior to MCVII. I changed Duress to Drill Bit. I switched a Midnight Reaper for a Beanstalk Giant, because this deck, despite having a generally low curve, can be incredibly mana hungry. And I changed a lot of sideboard cards experimenting with things that seemed good: the fourth Casualties of War, the third and fourth copies of Beanstalk Giant, Thrashing Brontodons to recur with Order of Midnight, more Epic Downfalls, less Epic Downfalls, and abandoning Assassin's Trophy in favor of more targeted cards since the metagame felt more defined than it had been previously.
Some changes became apparent pretty quickly. The fourth Casualties of War is not necessary; opponents will typically concede the game before the third Casualties of War, let alone the fourth. Thrashing Brontodon, on the other hand, fills a similar role to Casualties, unlocking the combination of Order of Midnight and the Dinosaur to continue keeping Fires of Invention or Witch's Oven and Trail of Crumbs off the board. However, drawing multiple copies early felt mana intensive and unnecessary; one copy of Brontodon should suffice. Epic Downfall impressed me continually as a way to handle Cavalier of Flame and Cavalier of Gales without activating their death triggers, while also hitting everything in the Jund Sacrifice deck that's key to keep out of play. Meanwhile Shifting Ceratops, which I was incredibly high on just a couple weeks ago, looked absolutely abysmal against the new version of Simic "Flash" that plays Nissa, Who Shakes the World. The card is just no longer relevant.
The mana was the other big thing I changed. With a Simic deck once again becoming the most popular deck after the Mythic Championship, I strongly want the ability to play turn-one Edgewall Innkeeper to avoid countermagic like Quench. The manabase I started with only has 11 untapped green sources on turn one, which is a little low to consistently have one in hand with the Innkeeper. Fabled Passage, on the other hand, was consistently bad before turn four, and drawing two was always frustrating, and trimming down to just one was easy. Castle Locthwain was surprisingly unimpressive in the deck. It's pretty rare that the deck isn't able to use all of its mana every turn between card draw, adventure creatures and Casualties of War. The games where the deck isn't using its mana, it's flooding and can't deploy cards fast enough anyway. On the other hand, entering tapped because the deck has only found Forest, Temple of Malady and the other Castle Locthwain came up one too many times (it was twice), when a Swamp would have been just as effective.
But perhaps most importantly, while I've been tinkering with all of these cards, I've kept winning. Over the course of several hours on Sunday, I believe I lost just three matches: first to the classic "drew all lands, then no lands" bad beats scenario, second to a very fun looking Niv-Mizzet Reborn deck, and the third to the Golgari mirror. Everything else—the major decks in the format that I expect to see this weekend at Grand Prix Portland—I kept winning against.
One of the first things I want to note is the absence of a specific card: Massacre Girl. Outside of exactly other Edgewall Innkeeper decks, I have no reason to ever bring the card in. Meanwhile, they always assume they need to hold back cards to rebuild in case of Massacre Girl, or they have their own so they want to try and mitigate the damage they're doing to their own board. And if there's an Edgewall Innkeeper in play, getting three or four creatures off their board after they already drew three cards only really puts things back to a kind of parity.
Legion's End on the other hand is an excellent answer against the other black-green Innkeeper decks because it removes every Innkeeper in play and any additional copies they could be sandbagging in their hand. Especially if they aren't on the version that plays Lucky Clover, that can mean the end of their card advantage engine, forcing them to end the game before they're ground to dust by this version's superior card advantage.
The big allure to this deck to me is just how good the Simic Flash matchup feels. The deck is heavily played due to both MCVII and the Star City Games Players Championship competitors largely opting for the deck. The numbers from Grand Prix Oklahoma City confirm that people are heavily gravitating toward the deck. With yet another Fires of Invention win in that tournament, and Oliver Tomajko winning with Simic Flash at the Players Championship, it feels like Simic Flash should be the trend that people follow in these last few weeks of Eldraine Standard.
The Simic matchup feels so good because Simic has a problem finding its role in the matchup, where Golgari can always play the long game and win with chip damage as it handles Simic's threats. The answer to this for most decks would be to cut reactive cards and board into a more proactive plan, aiming to pressure Golgari before it can set up. But Simic just has too many reactive cards for it to take on that role: there are 15 countermagic spells in the maindeck and several more in the sideboard, along with even more answers like Sorcerous Spyglass. Typically they're stuck boarding in Lovestruck Beast, which is also their only source of 1/1 bodies to let it attack, and gain almost nothing in games two and three while at a disadvantage. Because of that, they're forced into the aggressive role with just a few cards to actually accomplish that: Nissa, Who Shakes the World, Nightpack Ambusher and Hydroid Krasis.
Golgari on the other hand gets to become both more lean and more grindy. Casualties of War is the first thing to go against the Quench, Aether Gust and Frilled Mystic deck, and without it there's very little need for Beanstalk Giant to provide acceleration or fixing. Instead, Golgari brings in Noxious Grasp and Assassin's Trophy to handle the few threats Simic can present and Duress to clear the way of countermagic or Nissa. Frilled Mystic starts looking actively bad when the board is filled with creatures it trades with like Smitten Swordmaster or a pair of 1/1 Human Tokens, especially since it costs more mana than anything in Golgari's entire deck post board. When there's no value in a 3/2 body, Frilled Mystic is just an expensive Cancel.
The only matchup that actually feels unfavored is Jund Sacrifice. The deck is weirdly underrepresented on Arena, but Mayhem Devil is a huge problem for Golgari. Outside of Beanstalk Giant and the lone Thrashing Brontodon in the sideboard, the creatures in the deck all have 3 or less toughness, and many have just one. The slow life drain from Cauldron Familiar can also be an issue, as Golgari does a very good job of reducing its life total on its own, so an unblockable 1 damage at a time can become a problem quickly.
Korvold, Fae-Cursed King can also be a problem, because this deck can't chump block fliers. In theory, the four Murderous Rider and the three Casualties of War should be able to handle these problematic cards, but it doesn't always pan out that way. The matchup is not abysmal, but I would guess it's a definite 45% matchup for Golgari, which is not where I would expect the Casualties of War deck to be against a deck that plays Witch's Oven, Trail of Crumbs and a Dragon that doesn't have haste.
If you're looking for a deck to play in Portland or to grind to Mythic, this is currently at the top of my list for what I might register this weekend. The deck is powerful in both straightforward and subtle ways, and there are often strange lines that can let the deck win from positions that I would never expect.
If you decide to pick it up, here is how I've been sideboarding against the top decks in the field.
The Legion's End is my concession to the fact that, sometimes, a giant Hydroid Krasis can make the game tricky. Swift End and Noxious Grasp already have other targets they need to handle, so a Legion's End to mop up the Jellyfish Beast serves a purpose, and sometimes it can remove a Paradise Druid or Nissa lands, which is cute too.
The big tip I have for this matchup: abuse Lucky Clover as much as possible. Edgewall Innkeeper is amazing, but it's Lucky Clover that allows Golgari to play the Simic player like a fiddle. If you're afraid of a Negate the turn after they resolve Nissa, Who Shakes the World, target Nissa with both the original and the copy of Swift End, so that she always gets removed. This has the added benefit of making sure Nissa dies, and puts Murderous Rider in the graveyard to get back with Alter Fate later.
With Alter Fate, return the creature you want least with the original spell, and the creature you want most with the Clover copy, to force them into a position where they have to choose between stopping the Adventure creature and letting you have the key creature. If you have multiple Lucky Clovers in play (and the game is still somehow going on), they essentially cannot stop you from getting back whichever creature you want most. Even if they counter the first copy, the second copy hasn't even declared a target yet. If you need to get back that Murderous Rider to kill Nissa, it's always going to happen here.
Vs. Fires of Invention
Against the Fires deck, there's a lot less need to get Adventure creatures into play. There is no way in the deck to block a flier, so each threat needs to be handled on its own, or kept from being in play. Because there are fewer Adventure creatures in the deck, there's less of a reason to max out on Edgewall Innkeeper anyway, and it's often just another 1/1 that gets swept up in a Deafening Clarion.
Instead, the goal is to attack their hand and manabase while keeping Fires of Invention off the board. Playing Harvest Fear with a Lucky Clover is typically game over for the Fires player, because they don't have a good way to catch up from there.
There is a number one priority in this matchup: keep Mayhem Devil from wrecking you. If Mayhem Devil isn't turning every single thing they do into value you against you, then the deck is a lot less oppressive.
I board out all the Foulmire Knights because they're so rarely attacking on the ground, and it's trivially easy for it to die. Smitten Swordmaster has the same problem, and is rarely a card I want to play early, but the lifedrain effect on Curry Favor is too important to cut completely.
I've been taking out Lovestruck Beast in this matchup because it's just far too easy for it not to do anything worthwhile. Foulmire Knight and Murderous Rider handle it effectively, and the 1/1 body runs into all the other creatures in the matchup.
This is definitely one of those mirror matches where it feels like there are multiple potential sideboard plans, and its important to react to what the opponent is doing by shifting between games two and three. If they're on the standard "Here's Massacre Girl!" plan, this is what I prefer.
This one is a bit more straightforward: keep them from having Regisaur, and have some answers to things in case they resolve The Great Henge. Vivien is scary, but they have enough green creatures that it's worth bringing in Noxious Grasp, which covers her as well, assuming there's nothing so big that it will be a problem.
Here, Lovestruck Beast has one job, and it's blocking Questing Beast. Casualties of War seems like it should be good, but they only have three planeswalkers and two artifacts worth destroying, which means that its often incredibly lackluster. Epic Downfall, on the other hand, hits everything relevant in their deck except those two cards, including Thrashing Brontodon and Massacre Girl.
Vs. Rakdos Knights
This one's fairly straightforward. Take out Casualties of War, which is almost always a bad Grip of Desolation, and focus on killing all of their creatures instead of the Embercleave. Epic Downfall handles Rotting Regisaur and Spawn of Mayhem, Legion's End deals with all of the actual Knight cards, Thrashing Brontodon and Assassin's Trophy are answers to Embercleave if it comes up and Cavalier of Night is a big lifelink creature if it becomes necessary.
Everything after that is, usually, a variation on these decks. If you have any questions about a weird matchup, feel free to hit me up. Otherwise, good luck this weekend to everyone playing on ladder and at the Grand Prix in Portland. Feel free to come say hi this weekend if you see me!