Since the release of Guilds of Ravnica, Golgari has been one of the frontrunners in Standard. The popular builds of Golgari Midrange have changed from week to week, but knowing exactly which cards should be in the deck at any given time is tough. Personally, I have played Golgari at multiple Grand Prix, and have tried pretty much all the various versions and cards the deck has to offer. I wasn't confident enough to write a full guide on the deck earlier, because I want to provide useful information, but now I like my version of the deck a lot, and have the results to back it up.

Last weekend I made the Top 8 of Grand Prix Milwaukee. Going into the tournament, I wasn't super confident I would do well because there are so many good viable decks in Standard. This is a very healthy format, so there really wasn't a way to get a huge edge based on deck choice alone. However, I did feel like having good sideboard plans, combined with correctly anticipating the metagame, could give me an edge. The other place I felt like I was able to gain an advantage is knowing the in-game play of all my matchups extremely well.

Today I am going over for the list I recommend for the current metagame. If the metagame shifts then the list may change by a few cards, but Golgari is the type of strategy with no inherent bad matchups. It can adapt and change based on the expected metagame. Going into the Grand Prix weekend the version of Golgari I expected to see the most of had more Doom Whisperers maindeck than Carnage Tyrants. This is a reasonable direction to go in if you are trying to improve aggressive matchups. However, against Jeskai Control and the more Carnage Tyrant-heavy builds of Golgari, opting for Doom Whisperers over Carnage Tyrants puts yourself at a disadvantage.

This, in turn, caused a shift in popularity that happened very quickly, after Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica. White decks had a huge target on their head because of the success they had at the Pro Tour. Jeskai Control performed better at Grand Prix Milwaukee, preying on white aggro decks and the builds of Golgari with less Carnage Tyrants. My build that I made the Top 8 of the Grand Prix with was able to perfectly anticipate the metagame.

I am going to go over the most important matchups, along with how I like to sideboard. However, keep in mind that some matchups require adapting on the fly based on what cards you see from the opponent. I'll start with what I currently believe to be the most important matchup and work my way down.

Vs. B/G Midrange

I have found the Golgari mirror to be quite skill intensive. I happen to think that this version of Golgari is slightly favored against most other versions of Golgari, which makes the games easier to navigate. Karn, Scion of Urza is the most innovative addition to the list, and really shines if you are able to get it down early. The best the opponent can do is immediately Vraska's Contempt it, and even then, they still need to have the Vraska's Contempt. Even if it gets exiled due to a Vraska's Contempt, you still get some card advantage and a nice tempo swing in your favor, and it also means that the opponent's less likely to have another Vraska's Contempt if you have a follow-up Vivien Reid.

+1 Assassin's Trophy
+1 Midnight Reaper
+1 The Eldest Reborn
+1 Vraska, Relic Seeker

-3 Wildgrowth Walker
-1 Cast Down

This list is geared towards having a good maindeck for the mirror, so you don't need to swap that much in and out when sideboarding. I have found the smaller creatures like Wildgrowth Walker and the explore threats die a lot, so I would rather have cards that can generate card advantage. Your life total's less relevant, so Wildgrowth Walker is the easiest card to take out.

The matchup comes down to if one player stumbles manawise or gets out to a quick start. An early Planeswalker left unanswered is a game-breaker. Most of the time though, games devolve into an endgame involving Carnage Tyrant and Find // Finality. This is a combination that you always want to be wary of as most of the time a Carnage Tyrant with two counters on it after a Finality is going to be very challenging to beat.

Vs. Jeskai Control

This is a matchup where you may want to consider swapping cards between games two and three. Awareness of what version of Jeskai the opponent is playing and what their plan is after sideboarding is very important. For instance, if you see a game-one Treasure Map it may be the version that Adrian Sullivan won GP Milwaukee with, that is very reliant on Niv-Mizzet, Parun. The biggest question is how much creature removal to keep in your deck. This is how I generally like to sideboard against the traditional versions:

+3 Duress
+1 Midnight Reaper
+1 The Eldest Reborn
+1 Doom Whisperer
+1 Vraska, Relic Seeker

-2 Druid of the Cowl
-1 Llanowar Elves
-2 Cast Down
-1 Ravenous Chupacabra
-1 Find // Finality

I like keeping in some Ravenous Chupacabras as an answer to threats like Crackling Drake and Lyra Dawnbringer. Your plan is to grind out a long game most of the time. By sideboarding out mana creatures, their Deafening Clarions become worse. Wildgrowth Walker is still strong because it only takes one explore creature to grow it to four toughness. Carnage Tyrant is a good, reliable win condition here. Reclamation Sage is another card worth considering based on the opposing Jeskai build.

Vs. White Aggro

The longer the game goes the more advantaged Golgari will be, so the matchup comes down to containing their early starts. Your best card is Find // Finality, so game one is all about staying alive long enough to cast it. Wildgrowth Walker is really strong as a sizable threat that also buffers your life total.

+1 Assassin's Trophy
+1 Doom Whisperer
+2 Cast Down
+2 Golden Demise
+1 Reclamation Sage
+1 Vraska, Relic Seeker

-3 Carnage Tyrant
-2 Karn, Scion of Urza
-1 Midnight Reaper
-1 Vraska's Contempt
-1 Vivien Reid

After sideboard you need to be able to kill Tocatli Honor Guard. If the opponent plays Tocatli Honor Guard on turn two and you don't have the Cast Down, things go downhill quickly. That is why you definitely want four Cast Down, and a host of other removal spells as well. Golden Demise provides a cheap answer to Adanto Vanguard, a card that is otherwise quite problematic.

This is a matchup where you don't need Carnage Tyrant. Both Doom Whisperer and Vraska, Relic Seeker are better top-end plays. You want ways to get rid of enchantments like Experimental Frenzy, Conclave Tribunal, and History of Benalia. Your creatures are not particularly relevant; the Planeswalkers are eventually how you take over. I will pretty much always accept a creature trade, especially if it is before the white deck is able to achieve the city's blessing.

Vs. U/R Drakes

When playing against U/R Drakes it can feel like the games come down to more what the opponent does than what you do. Sometimes they have that "get an Arclight Phoenix into play on the third turn" draw, and that can be rather rough to Overcome. Killing their first creature is a big deal though, and if you can force the Drakes deck to spend later turns cantripping rather than getting threats into play, it is a win. The matchup is swingy, but I like the Golgari side.

+2 Cast Down
+2 Deathgorge Scavenger
+1 Doom Whisperer
+1 The Eldest Reborn
+2 Duress

-3 Find // Finality
-1 Carnage Tyrant
-1 Midnight Reaper
-2 Karn, Scion of Urza
-1 Vivien Reid

Deathgorge Scavenger is in the sideboard primarily for this matchup. If you are able to nab an Arclight Phoenix out of the opponent's graveyard that's great, but even getting a jump-start spell has a lot of value. If you are able to contain their early start, there happen to be plenty of ways to kill Drakes later on. I like to save a Cast Down for later on in the game, as some lists do still have the ability to win out of nowhere with a Maximize Velocity.

Vs. Mono-Red Aggro

Another matchup where Golgari assumes the control role. Mono-Red Aggro's lategame revolves around Experimental Frenzy, but luckily Golgari has access to a variety of ways to destroy enchantments. If Wildgrowth Walker doesn't die immediately it can simply take over the game, as the smaller red creatures can't race a large creature plus lifegain. You don't really need to worry about how to win the game yourself given you can answer your opponent's most important threats.

+1 Assassin's Trophy
+1 Reclamation Sage
+2 Deathgorge Scavenger
+1 Doom Whisperer
+1 Vraska, Relic Seeker
+2 Cast Down

-4 Llanowar Elves
-3 Carnage Tyrant
-1 Midnight Reaper

After sideboarding, mono-red may go bigger with cards like Treasure Map. You want as many ways to deal with Treasure Map and Experimental Frenzy as possible, which means Reclamation Sage is good. Some of your creatures do still die to Goblin Chainwhirler after sideboard, based on how your explores go, but I like boarding out Llanowar Elves because it doesn't provide any card advantage.

The cards you are bringing in here should make it more difficult for the opponent to have a draw that runs you over. The most annoying mono-red creature is Runaway Steam-Kin, and it can quite literally run away with the game if left unanswered, so you want lots of Cast Down. Cast Down is especially important on the draw, as sometimes it can take a while to get to the four mana needed for Vraska's Contempt or Ravenous Chupacabra.

These are pretty clearly the five most popular Standard decks right now, but that's not to say there aren't other good decks out there. Luckily, Golgari can adapt pretty easily. If you enjoy decks like Jund in Modern, Standard Golgari feels very similar to that. While I do take out Karn, Scion of Urza and Carnage Tyrant a reasonable amount of the time after sideboard, I like having them maindeck for your most important matchups, which right now seem to be the mirror and Jeskai Control.

Thanks for reading,
Seth Manfield