The Standard Black-Green Midrange Compendium
- Hans Davidson
PT Guilds of Ravnica may have had a Top 8 filled to the brim with White Aggro, but Hans believes Golgari Midrange still has what it takes to beat any of the format's big hitters. Take a look inside to know all about the inside-outs of B/G Midrange in Standard!
It's no secret that I've been spending a ton of time on MTG Arena playing Black-Green Midrange, a.k.a. The Rock, to various degrees of success. Due to the waxing and waning of the fast-evolving Standard metagame, I've played multiple iterations of the archetype. In this week's article, I examine, analyze, and build upon the decklists we've seen so far. Find a comfortable chair to sit down in because this is going to be a long one!
The Current State of Standard
There have been many good reasons in the past to not delve into Standard. Standard of the past few years has been dominated by a de facto best deck, whether that be G/B Delirium, Temur Energy, Mardu Vehicles, Mono-Red, or B/R Chainwhirler. A large part of the reason were format-warping cards that bent – or broke – the format to revolve around them. Aetherworks Marvel, Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, and Hazoret the Fervent were cards that dominated their respective environments, and the decks that built themselves used these cards as their pillars to rise above the rest. This created a format wherein players either played the best deck or the best deck built to counter the best deck. This left very little space for rogue decks and tier 2 decks to find a foothold in Standard.
Thankfully, Guilds of Ravnica Standard has been a Breeding Pool of innovative deck ideas, both at the macro and micro level. Players adapted to fight the deck considered as the best deck for a given weekend by picking up a different archetype or making changes to their decks' 75. This means that we're not only seeing a plethora of different archetypes – aggro, control, midrange, and combo – but we're also seeing single archetypes break off into variations that have strengths and weaknesses, which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the direction of the metagame.
Black-Green Midrange is one such deck where the "exact 75" has varied widely depending on the week. At the beginning of the format, the Golgari lists debated whether to play four copies of Llanowar Elves or not. Pro player and writer for Channel Fireball Mike Sigrist posted the following list in his article last October:
|Siggy Rock by Mike Sigrist|
|8Forest||1Deathgorge Scavenger||2Find // Finality|
|2Memorial to Folly||1District Guide||2Vivien Reid|
|4Overgrown Tomb||2Golgari Findbroker||2Vraska, Golgari Queen|
|5Swamp||1Izoni, Thousand-Eyed||3Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Jadelight Ranger||2Assassin's Trophy|
|4Merfolk Branchwalker||1Vraska's Contempt|
|2Plaguecrafter||1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz|
|3Ravenous Chupacabra||2Dead Weight|
|1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz||2Carnage Tyrant||1Cast Down|
|1Deathgorge Scavenger||4Duress||1Golden Demise|
|2Vraska's Contempt||3Wildgrowth Walker|
I took this decklist out for a spin and played three rounds in the Competitive Constructed queues on MTG Arena. I finished 14-4 overall (5-1, 4-2, 5-1) and felt very comfortable with the configuration. The deck had game against the field. Most surprisingly, the power of Carnage Tyrant was oftentimes enough to overpower control decks that relied on Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to carry them home. In some games, I was grinding Jeskai control decks down to the point that they were running out of threats to win the game. One memorable game involved my Jeskai opponent casting an Expansion // Explosion for eighteen, putting me down to seven life, leaving me with four cards in my library, then decking out the next turn.
Then came the emergence of U/R Phoenix.
|U/R Phoenix by Eduardo Sajgalik, GP New Jersey 2018, 6th Place|
|21Lands||12Creatures||27Instants and Sorceries|
|6Island||4Arclight Phoenix||1Beacon Bolt|
|7Mountain||4Crackling Drake||4Chart a Course|
|4Steam Vents||4Enigma Drake||4Crash Through|
|4Sulfur Falls||1Lava Coil|
|1Beacon Bolt||2Disdainful Stroke||2Dive Down|
|3Fiery Cannonade||2Firemind's Research||2Lava Coil|
|3Niv-Mizzet, Parun||2Spell Pierce|
Mike Sigrist's Golgari list (as well as most stock lists) have very few dedicated answers to fliers. Vivien Reid is a noted exception, but her ability is a five-mana sorcery effect and matches poorly against turn 3, double Arclight Phoenixes. Furthermore, the dearth of exile effects meant that the Phoenixes would keep recurring and bashing in for three at a time, making our death an inevitable one.
Going Big (And Going Home)
The B/G Midrange deck needed further fine-tuning and testing to figure out optimal play patterns in the matchup. I came across Seth Manfield's list that he played at GP New Jersey.
|Karn Rock by Seth Manfield, GP New Jersey 2018, 17th Place|
|8Forest||3Carnage Tyrant||3Karn, Scion of Urza|
|4Overgrown Tomb||4Druid of the Cowl||2Vivien Reid|
|6Swamp||2Golgari Findbroker||2Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Jadelight Ranger||1Assassin's Trophy|
|4Llanowar Elves||1Cast Down|
|4Merfolk Branchwalker||1Vraska's Contempt|
|3Ravenous Chupacabra||2Find // Finality|
|1Arguel's Blood Fast / Temple of Aclazotz||1Cast Down||2Deathgorge Scavenger|
|3Duress||2Golden Demise||2Moment of Craving|
|1Plummet||2Reclamation Sage||1The Eldest Reborn|
Seth keenly identified the power of mana accelerants and built a streamlined approach of slamming card advantage engines and threats above the curve. A turn 3 Karn, Scion of Urza generated a stream of cards, and Carnage Tyrant coming out on turn 4 and 5 was a powerful mirror breaker. Filled with hope and high expectations, I exported Seth's list onto MTG Arena and played a succession of miserable Competitive Constructed events that ended in a cumulative 1-6 (0-2, 1-2, 0-2). What went wrong? I drew these conclusions about the pros and cons of Seth's Golgari Midrange build:
- The deck was notedly more prone to mana screw than other variations.
Due to the heavy reliance on mana dorks, the deck eschews a higher land count and the explore-creature package. Not having Merfolk Branchwalker and Seeker's Squire meant that we no could longer dig for lands when needed. Having Druid of the Cowl or Llanowar Elf picked off also meant a significant setback to our mana.
- The matchups where Karn was irrelevant were uphill battles.
Because Seth's build was meant to take advantage of the turn 3 planeswalker, matchups where a turn 3 Karn was not important left the Golgari deck with a game plan that wasn't building towards winning. As the metagame continued to shift and White Aggro decks became more and more prevalent, I was forced to choose between tapping out for a planeswalker that my opponent could kill or simply ignoring and holding back my mana dorks as a sort of meager defensible measure. In other words, certain matchups forced my deck to go into two different directions, which my opponents exploited. The deck died doing nothing of significance.
- Karn isn't removal.
One of the best synergies between the Golgari spells were that they filled each of the other cards' gaps to allow the deck to answer any problematic permanents on the curve. Cast Down could pick off cheaper creatures that needed to die ASAP, while Ravenous Chupacabra killed the larger, potent fliers such as Lyra Dawnbringer and Crackling Drake. Vraska's Contempt permanently dealt with the sticky threats and pesky planeswalkers, and Assassin's Trophy was the catch-all removal for any permanent in the late-game. Vraska, Golgari Queen fit into this theme as a four-mana threat that could also destroy any non-land permanent with a CMC lower than 3 and keep the board clear of dangerous cards such as Search for Azcanta / Azcanta, the Sunken Ruins, Goblin Electromancers, and Tocatli Honor Guards.
Karn, as powerful as he may be, doesn't fill this role. Neither does he alleviate the problem when a Tocatli Honor Guard is preventing your Chupacabra from killing their Benalish Marshal. He's also not going to stop opposing Electromancers from going off with a myriad of cyclers, and that Search for Azcanta is going to flip unimpeded while Karn draws you cards. This isn't to say that including Karn in a B/G Midrange list is a mistake. Rather, I believe that there needs to be a justifiable metagame reason for Karn to make the cut over the four-mana Vraska.
In spite of the spectacular implosion of the Karn Rock list, I came away with a few important pieces of information regarding a future build of Golgari:
- I wanted to play a G/B list with four Llanowar Elves.
While Carnage Tyrant was oftentimes the deciding factor in many of my matchups, players had become wise to the power and ubiquity of the 7/6 dinosaur by this point and had begun packing dedicated hate to combat it. One of the cards that I began to see at a nauseous frequency was The Eldest Reborn with some mirror matches involving an unforeseen, game 1 Eldest Reborn that completely wrecked me. Playing Llanowar Elves not only ensured that I would get my Carnage Tyrants at least a turn earlier (in most cases), but that it would also be insulated from the sacrifice trigger of the five-mana saga. Because Golgari mirror matches are so mana-intensive, being up on mana was backbreaking for my opponents who were spending their turns playing a measly Jadelight Ranger while I was busy activating Vivien Reid. This led to my second point, a corollary to my inclination towards playing a set of Elves, which was…
- The three-drops were important, and they needed to be adjusted given the metagame.
The inclusion of Llanowar Elves meant that three-drops became even more important in my builds because they would have a higher likelihood of coming down on turn 2. Other than the Ranger, the list of viable three-drops that could be played in the main were: Reclamation Sage, Midnight Reaper, District Guide, and Thrashing Brontodon. Depending on the metagame, Plaguecrafter gets an honorable mention as well. Each card has their strengths and weaknesses with the Brontodon, Reaper, and Guide making the cut as a 2-1-1 split.
- There is no sacred cow (level).
Diablo jokes aside, the decklist that I've settled on and have found a decent amount of success in is going to require tweaking and even major overhauls depending on how the metagame shakes out now that the Pro Tour has settled. To illustrate this point, I'll post two lists: One was created before Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica and the other list has White Aggro decks in mind. My first list, which managed to consistently snag 4-x and 5-x in the Competitive Constructed queues, was not built with White/Boros Weenies in mind.
|Llanowar Rock (Pre-PT) by Hans Davidson|
|8Forest||3Carnage Tyrant||2Find // Finality|
|4Overgrown Tomb||1District Guide||2Assassin's Trophy|
|6Swamp||2Golgari Findbroker||2Cast Down|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Jadelight Ranger||1Vraska's Contempt|
|4Llanowar Elves||2Vivien Reid|
|4Merfolk Branchwalker||2Vraska, Golgari Queen|
|2Midnight Reaper||2Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|1Assassin's Trophy||2Deathgorge Scavenger||3Duress|
|2Golden Demise||2Moment of Craving||2Plaguecrafter|
|1Tetzimoc, Primal Death||1The Eldest Reborn||1Vraska's Contempt|
Here is my post-PT list:
|Llanowar Rock (Post-PT) by Hans Davidson|
|8Forest||2Carnage Tyrant||3Adventurous Impulse|
|4Overgrown Tomb||1District Guide||3Find // Finality|
|6Swamp||4Jadelight Ranger||2Assassin's Trophy|
|4Woodland Cemetery||4Llanowar Elves||2Cast Down|
|4Merfolk Branchwalker||1Vraska's Contempt|
|1Midnight Reaper||3Vivien Reid|
|3Ravenous Chupacabra||2Vraska, Golgari Queen|
|2Thrashing Brontodon||1Vraska, Relic Seeker|
|1Carnage Tyrant||2Deathgorge Scavenger||1Detection Tower|
|3Duress||2Golden Demise||2Moment of Craving|
|1Plaguecrafter||1Tetzimoc, Primal Death||2Vraska's Contempt|
This version of Goglari Midrange aims to increase the number of impactful cards against the Weenies in the maindeck by including the stalwart Thrashing Brontodon and upping the count of Find // Finality, while considerably lowering the curve by ditching the top-end and Golgari Findbroker for Adventurous Impulse. It's also a lot stronger against Tocatli Honor Guard, a nightmare sideboard card, by relying less on ETB effects. In other matchups, Detection Tower cleanly answers opposing Carnage Tyrants with Assassin's Trophy commonly being the only counterplay in the mirror. Tetzimoc, Primal Death has been a home run in sideboard games against other midrange decks, such as Boros Angels and Selesnya Midrange, wherein board-stalls are common, and a one-sided board wipe is the key to victory. To wrap things up, I'm going to include a brief sideboard guide and matchup breakdown against the format's most prominent decks, based on my experience of about 150 matches with Golgari Midrange. Enjoy!
Sideboard Guide and Matchup Breakdown
Jeskai Control – Even
The play pattern that the Golgari deck wants to enact is slamming a threat early to pressure the opponent's life total, not overcommitting to the board, and resolving a planeswalker when given the window. While some players opt to board out the Elves, I'm a firm believer in the power of ramping out our bombs a turn earlier before the control deck can deal with them. After I resolved a turn 3 Carnage Tyrant, for example, my Jeskai opponent quickly conceded.
In: 3 Duress; 1 Vraska's Contempt; 1 Plaguecrafter; 1 Carnage Tyrant
Out: 3 Ravenous Chupacabra; 2 Cast Out; 1 Find // Finality; 1 District Guide
U/R Phoenix – Unfavored
If your opponent's turn 2 Goblin Electromancer goes unanswered, there's a likely chance that we'll die to recurring Phoenixes. Otherwise, their game plan heavily relies on their drakes carrying them to victory. This is the angle that the Golgari deck can answer most easily. Ideally, we kill all their drakes and race them, forcing their Phoenixes to be used defensively. This is a matchup where we can slam down all our threats without the fear of a counterspell. But we should be aware that a timely Fiery Cannonade can blow the board state out of the water.
In: 3 Duress; 2 Deathgorge Scavenger; 2 Vraska's Contempt
Out: 3 Find // Finality; 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker; 2 Vivian Reid; 1 District Guide
Mono-Red Aggro – Unfavored
This matchup feels like it largely depends on the die roll as a timely Chainwhirler often blows us out. However, a turbo-Tyrant is just as deadly for them. With that said, there's no Wildgrowth Walker here to considerably shore up our life total, so our opponents sometimes just burn us out for the win. Brontodons do overtime here, as they force our opponents to two-for-one themselves in order to effectively answer (other than with Lava Coil). They can also destroy Experimental Frenzy, one of the best cards against us. As a general rule when sideboarding against aggro, lower the curve of the deck as much as possible.
In: 3 Duress; 2 Deathgorge Scavenger; 2 Vraska's Contempt; 2 Moment of Craving; 2 Golden Demise
Out: 2 Vivien Reid; 3 Find // Finality; 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker; 1 District Guide; 1 Midnight Reaper; 1 Swamp; 1 Adventurous Impulse
Weenies Aggro – Even
We're unfavored game 1, as our opponents have a faster and more cohesive game plan that requires us to have the right cards at the right time. But even that isn't enough sometimes, and Healer's Hawks make racing out of reach even when we begin to turn the corner. While it's tempting to go for maximum greed and wait for the board to be full before casting Golden Demise, it's much safer to do it before the creatures become too big due to Benalish Marshal and Venerated Loxodon. Most avenues to victory involve casting at least one Demise and one Finality, so mull judiciously to put those key cards in your hands.
In: 2 Moment of Craving; 2 Deathgorge Scavenger; 2 Golden Demise; 1 Vraska's Demise
Out: 2 Vivien Reid; 1 Midnight Reaper; 1 District Guide; 2 Carnage Tyrant; Adventurous Impulse
G/B Midrange – Favored
The mirror is all about maximizing value, leveraging mana dorks, and being patient with your Find // Finality. This version has all sorts of tech to take advantage of the mirror, starting with the three copies of Find // Finality. My observation has been that the first player to waste his Find // Finality by using it to recur creatures is most likely to lose. Speaking in general terms, Find // Finality should be used in one form or another where Carnage Tyrant is involved. For example:
- Trading your Tyrants and then returning them to your hand.
- Finishing off a Tyrant that blocked post-combat via Finality.
- Wiping the opponent's board and putting counters on your own Tyrant.
Of course, there are other cases where using the card is also correct. But these are the play patterns that are the most backbreaking for Golgari players.
In: 1 Carnage Tyrant; 1 Tetzimoc, Primal Death; 1 Golden Demise; 1 Detection Tower; 1 Vraska's Contempt; 1 Plaguecrafter; 2 Deathgorge Scavenger
Out: 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker; 1 Merfolk Branchwalker; 2 Thrashing Brontodon; 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen; 1 Cast Down; 1 Ravenous Chupacabra; 1 Swamp
Boros Angels – Favored
The fastest way to lose against this deck is to keep a hand that folds to a turn 2 Tocatli Honor Guard. Otherwise, our answers match up well with their threats. Find // Finality is a great catch-all when our opponents go wide, and the Chupacabras and planeswalkers handily answer their fliers. The Immortal Sun can be a house, however, so try to have an answer ready for the six-mana artifact once they have the mana to cast it.
In: 2 Moment of Craving; 2 Golden Demise; 2 Vraska's Contempt; 1 Tetzimoc, Primal Death
Out: 1 Midnight Reaper; 2 Carnage Tyrant; 1 Merfolk Branchwalker; 3 Adventurous Impulse
Selesnya Tokens/Midrange – Favored
Find // Finality is once again the best card in the matchup. Tetzimoc is also key in clearing a cluttered board state, as is an early Golden Demise. One thing to keep in mind is that right-hand side of Flower // Flourish. It can deal a ton of damage if you're not mindful of the board state and alongside March of Multitudes, it is the card you should be aware (and scared) of the most.
In: 2 Golden Demise; 1 Tetzimoc, Primal Death; 1 Vraska's Contempt; 2 Duress
Out: 1 Vraska, Golgari Queen; 2 Carnage Tyrant; 1 Merfolk Branchwalker; 2 Cast Down
Mono-Blue Tempo – Unfavored
Contrary to the assumption that we might be taking the control route, this matchup is a race from start to finish. There is the odd game here or there where our opponent is forced to mulligan hard, in which case we won't have to aggressively play to the board. But in most of the matches that I've won, there have been very little blocking until the final, crucial turns. A Mono-U player worth his salt won't ever tap out. Our only opportunity to sneak in a removal is by loading up on their end step while we have a board or at the very beginning of the game when our opponents don't have three, four mana at their disposal yet.
In: 2 Moment of Craving; 2 Golden Demise; 1 Plaguecrafter; 1 Detection Tower; 3 Duress; 2 Vraska's Contempt
Out: 2 Ravenous Chupacabra; 1 Vraska, Relic Seeker; 2 Vivien Reid; 2 Carnage Tyrant; 1 District Guide; 3 Find // Finality
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