We are a few weeks into this Standard format and there is a deck that has clearly established itself as the most popular choice early on: the various Golgari Midrange decks that have been popping up. Before I talk about how to attack this strategy I want to talk about what makes it such a strong choice.
At the start of a new format, midrange decks with a ton of good cards in their own right are a safe bet. We know that if we throw Jadelight Ranger in a green deck then it can't be a terrible idea, and the fact is there is a very high density of black and green cards that mix well together. Beyond that, many of the good top-end cards like planeswalkers also are in these colors – not to mention also having access to many of the best removal spells.
For players looking to run a midrange deck or simply make a safe deck choice, Golgari makes a ton of sense. As far as the exact optimal build, that is very much up for debate. This isn't a Red-Black Chainwhirler deck that only has a couple slots to play with. We have seen builds vary wildly that have all done well. One of the cards that many took as an auto-include here was Llanowar Elves, but now there are some players who have actually stopped playing it altogether.
Almost all the Black-Green decks have some explore creatures, though some of them fully commit to that theme with cards like Wildgrowth Walker and Seeker's Squire. The other question is what mix of big threats to play, with cards like Vivien Reid, Carnage Tyrant, and Vraska, Relic Seeker to choose from. Going into the weekend, I think the most popular version of Golgari will look something similar to the version Maxwell Jones won last week's Classic with.
For those who have been playing Standard over the past couple weeks this sort of list should look fairly familiar, so I won't go into too much detail on it. The focus is in fact how to combat a deck like this with such a high density of "good cards." There are some small holes that can be capitalized on.
Let's talk about a new deck that has sprung up within the past week or so – Izzet Spells. This deck sprung up as a way to combat Golgari, as it can make plays that are pretty tough to profitably interact with. Most Golgari decks are playing very little graveyard interaction as there isn't very much in the format to begin with. The best option is Deathgorge Scavenger, but it has to fight with other high-quality three-drops at the same mana cost. This is why Arclight Phoenix can become an extremely powerful way to attack the Golgari deck.
This deck can play out in a few different ways but is almost like a combo deck that needs to draw all of its pieces – but when it does it is capable of some pretty absurd plays. The way to attack a deck like Golgari is to interact with them in ways they won't be prepared for. They are a deck that loves to have combat on the ground but the primary Izzet threats fly, making them almost unblockable. In the case of Arclight Phoenix, it is quite difficult to answer efficiently. Vraska's Contempt is the only removal spell that can exile it, while other colors have access to cards like Lava Coil and Conclave Tribunal.
However, if the opponent can answer the Arclight Phoenix with an expensive removal spell, it has still done its job. The reason is that it is entering the battlefield for free most of the time. Chart a Course is great to put the Arclight Phoenix in the graveyard, and some versions also play Tormenting Voice as well. Jump-Start and the Discovery part of Discovery // Dispersal are additional ways to get that Arclight Phoenix into the yard. When playing the deck, you can churn through your library quite quickly, and that means usually finding a couple copies of Arclight Phoenix.
The other creatures in the deck are also problematic for Golgari. Goblin Electromancer is a two-mana threat that you really aren't playing for its ability to attack or block. The card is in the deck to reduce the cost of your spells, and there isn't a great way to answer it cheaply. If the Golgari deck waits until turn four to cast a Ravenous Chupacabra to kill a Goblin Electromancer, it has done its job. After playing an Electromancer on turn two you can oftentimes cast three spells on turn three to set up your hand quite nicely.
Crackling Drake is a huge threat that also replaces itself by drawing a card. The Golgari deck almost always will end up killing it, but if they don't it wins the game extremely quickly. If they do kill it then the Spells deck isn't really that bothered as Arclight Phoenix is the more typical win condition. If you want even more flying threats then Enigma Drake is another viable threat, though because that one doesn't replace itself by drawing a card it is a bit less appealing compared to Crackling Drake.
To not get run over, the deck plays a host of burn spells to deal with annoying early threats. This makes the aggressive decks more difficult matchups for Izzet spells because of the pressure they can put on. An Adanto Vanguard on turn two is much scarier than a Merfolk Branchwalker. The spells deck wants to be able to use its Shocks to get early threats off the table – that is all part of the gameplan. Beacon Bolt is the card that scales up to deal with bigger creatures later in the game.
When I first saw the Izzet spells deck, I along with many others thought it was a bit gimmicky. It seemed like a very fun deck to play, but I questioned how competitive it was. After playing it and watching it in action I can safely say it is not just fun to play, it is also very good. It is reminiscent of Blue-Red Kiln Fiend or Storm, if you like those types of decks give the deck a try. It seems to be gaining a lot of momentum, and I suspect it will quickly find success at major tournaments. It is refreshing to have viable combo decks be good in Standard.
As I mentioned in the case of Izzet spells, the flying creatures can be problematic to answer, but we can take this idea one step further. I want to switch gears and talk about a different strategy that can is positioned against Golgari. I am referring to Boros Angels. We have seen a variety of different takes on Boros decks, from token ones to mentor lists, and then the one that plays a ton of high-power flying creatures.
The idea is to play very high-power threats and have early plays that don't die to removal spells. If the Golgari player is using its later turns on a spot removal spell, it still can slow down their development. Getting on the board early with an Adanto Vanguard or Knight of Grace is important, since those threats on their own are extremely difficult to deal with. There are not any removal spells in Golgari that can answer a Knight of Grace, and the early creatures can't block it because it has first strike.
Adanto Vanguard similarly is likely to get in at least some early damage, and it is tough for the Golgari deck to find a good way to answer it until it has already done its job. Once this deck starts getting its flyers into play, they pretty much all are must-answer threats. Resplendent Angel fits well here as a three-mana play that you can get on the board and start doing work with early. Of course, if you ever get a chance to use the activated ability on Resplendent Angel, the opponent is in a world of hurt.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty works well as a threat the opponent must answer before they kill a creature that might be more immediately threatening. This is a key part of the Angel package with Lyra Dawnbringer. Lyra Dawnbringer we know is just an absurd card, and the fact it actually boosts up your other Angels makes it that much more impressive. This is a card that makes your matchups against other aggressive decks very good.
The Angels do not stop there, as Guilds of Ravnica introduces a new one to the party: Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice. This is one of the biggest payoffs for going Boros. Once this deck gets to turn four it is going to be able to play haymaker after haymaker, and there really isn't a way to answer a card like Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice outside of a removal spell. This deck has a tremendous amount of power behind it.
The format has evolved to a place where you want to be proactive, as answering everything the opponent is doing is very difficult. This is why a deck like this shines, as every individual threat is so good on its own. There are a few different options for removal – Deafening Clarion is good if you are expecting token decks but moving them to the sideboard would make the Golgari matchup even better.
Lightning Strike and Conclave Tribunal are both quite solid, though I would like to see some Lava Coils in the mix as well. Lava Coil isn't good against control, but we are seeing less and less blue decks at the moment. The sideboard offers a variety of different removal spells to play with as well. The most important card for the Golgari matchup is Tocatli Honor Guard.
Many of the creatures that Golgari plays have explore, and then there is also Ravenous Chupacabra as a removal spell. As a two-mana creature, Tocatli Honor Guard shuts all of this down and is a huge pain for the Golgari player if it comes down early in the game. This is a card I expect players to go to more if they are really looking to crack down on Golgari. This is a good well-rounded deck that can definitely be built in a way it is a solid favorite against Golgari. The Angel package also makes the aggro decks pretty good matchups, so overall I like Boros Angels quite a bit moving forward.
Thanks for reading,