Inner Workings: Field of Golos
The release of Throne of Eldraine impacted Standard in explosive ways. After the fairy dust settled, a tier-one deck emerged, surprisingly unhindered by the departure of Scapeshift, and stronger than ever in the new midrange metagame. Will it be obliterated by the upcoming DCI rulings?
Here's something the combination between Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead engendered: we no longer live in a world governed by the usual "screw versus flood" paradigm. Golos decks can't suffer from mana flood. They actively want to get to seven and more lands—they're indeed more of ramp deck than combo deck. After Field becomes active, every land drawn doubles as a threat, so there's virtually no bad topdeck for them in the mid- to late game. They can't realistically end up mana screwed either, since they run an amount of lands that's close to 50% . They legitimately qualify as part of the Lands family of builds, much like the still successful Legacy namesake that runs cards like Exploration and Life from the Loam as well as—surprise surprise—its own copy of Field of the Dead now.
The Golos/Field of the Dead Standard archetype basically came into existence the very moment its two signature cards were first revealed last summer during Core Set 2020 preview season. It's to some extent a product of the failure of the Play Design team to properly assess the power level of their interaction, coupled with the absence of a replacement for the rotating Field of Ruin, that is, some easy-to-use land hate that every color could have access to.
Of course, at the time of its inception, the most obvious combo with Field of the Dead involved Scapeshift. This card was reprinted into Standard exactly one year earlier with Core Set 2019 and had been lying dormant ever since. I'm reluctant to call this interaction a "combo" at all, since it just entailed casting Scapeshift with seven or more lands on the battlefield and a playset of Field of the Dead in the library. Unsurprisingly, Teferi, Time Raveler made such an endgame better, as he's bound to do, because summoning a lethal Zombie horde at instant speed guaranteed its survival through sorcery-speed sweepers.
Nobody was overly worried by this development, because it came with a built-in expiration date. It was just a matter of waiting 11 weeks before rotation would separate Scapeshift and Field of the Dead forever—or at least for the time being. However, those little Zombie tokens would prove harder to stop than expected. They might not instantly appear out of nowhere as a massive, game-ending force anymore. But there's still a surefire way to tutor up their source in Golos, and there still are enough solid ramp effects to reach the critical mass of differently named lands and to trigger the whole Zombie apocalypse again and again and again, no matter how many times it gets pushed back by Legion's End or Flame Sweep.
By all means, it's not an unbeatable deck, though it's definitely the strongest in the metagame right now (the latest monitoring by MTG Arena Zone has it as the only legitimate tier-one deck this month). It's hard to disrupt since it's ultimately just about dropping lands, and it benefits from the rotation having killed other competing, ephemeral combo strategies like the one based on Kethis, the Hidden Hand while simultaneously shifting the environment away from fast aggro and toward midrange.
It's also an interesting composite build with many different souls: it's a ramp deck that doesn't do much before the middle stage of the game; it features a fundamental interaction which is not a proper combo requiring multiple cards at once, as you essentially just need to draw and resolve your land tutor and then keep doing the same things you were doing before—you could technically get to the same result without casting any spell at all; and while it includes control elements, it's not exactly a control deck either.
There's a core group of cards every Golos list consists of, but a wider set of supporting players may vary its composition to a considerable extent, with some of them trying to capitalize more on Golos's activated ability, and others even involving Fires of Invention as a way to be faster than your opponent in the mirror match. The freshest, tournament-winning approach may be the one piloted by Kevin Jones to first place in the SCG Classic that was held in Indianapolis this past weekend. Let's use it as a starting point to analyze the archetype.
|Bant Golos by Kevin Jones, 1st at SCG Indianapolis on October 13|
|4Field of the Dead||4Golos, Tireless Pilgrim||4Growth Spiral|
|3Fabled Passage||4Hydroid Krasis||4Circuitous Route|
|2Breeding Pool||3Arboreal Grazer||3Once Upon a Time|
|2Temple Garden||2Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps||2Teferi, Time Raveler|
|1Hallowed Fountain||2Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off||1Oko, Thief of Crowns|
|1Stomping Ground||1Agent of Treachery|
|1Azorius Guildgate||1Kenrith, the Returned King|
|1Plaza of Harmony|
|1Temple of Mystery|
|2Agent of Treachery||2Disdainful Stroke||1Prison Realm|
|2Aether Gust||2Veil of Summer||1Time Wipe|
|2Devout Decree||2Deputy of Detention||1Kenrith, the Returned King|
One of the defining characteristics of Field of the Dead decks is that they don't just run a large amount of lands. They also have an almost perfect singleton setup in that regard, since the Field explicitly asks for lands with different names. Therefore, aside from the titular Zombie generator, of which you need to drop as many copies as possible onto the battlefield to multiply all future triggers, most lands appear only as a one-of. One relevant exception is the quasi-fetch land from Throne of Eldraine, Fabled Passage, which doesn't stick around anyway.
Circuitous Route requires the use of this many Guildgates, while the gainlands and Plaza of Harmony are there to provide a modicum of lifegain that might prove significant against aggro. Granted, it's also all a case of not having much choice if you want to reach a grand total of twenty singular land names. Not to mention the fact that Golos recommends getting access to all colors of mana to activate its ability.
Clearly Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is the nonland centerpiece of the deck, as our legendary robo-scout always descends onto the battlefield accompanied by a copy of Field of the Dead. This means drawing into additional copies of the automaton is still useful to get additional Fields and to trigger them further. It's worth noting too that Golos's activation allows for land drops, which makes it relevant even in a deck where it's likely to hit more lands. It's debatable if giving a Standard-legal creature an enters-the-battlefield ability that searches for any kind of land, as opposed to just basics, was in retrospect a mistake. In all fairness, Golos was probably conceived as a card meant for non-rotating formats and especially Commander, but events conspired in a way that eventually made it the king of the Standard metagame—or queen? I'm afraid we know nothing about Golos's origin and identity.
If Golos ensures the presence of Field of the Dead, most of the rest of the list is about fulfilling the Field's need for seven lands with distinct names, which calls for all the top-notch ramp technology available. Circuitous Route is the best tool for this job, because it can fetch two lands out of nine possible individual targets—at least in Jones's list, more are possible. In the late game it can trigger the creation of up to eight Zombies.
Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps is Throne of Eldraine's main gift to the archetype, an early ramp spell that later doubles as payoff. It more than made up for the rotation of other land-fetching options like Grow from the Ashes. Arboreal Grazer is arguably the only bad topdeck in the late game, since Growth Spiral at least still digs into the deck. But it's turn-one ramp that also provides some stopping power against early threats.
The Ramp Payoff
The ever-growing, ever-recurring army of tokens may be the deck's most effective weapon, but it's not the only one in its arsenal. Any Simic-colored ramp deck since Ravnica Allegiance has had its best ally in Hydroid Krasis, and Golos decks make no exception. If you have fallen behind, this flying Hydra will help you catch up, replenishing both your hand and your life total in a nearly uncounterable way. At the same time it poses a big evasive threat that the opponent will have to deal with. Admittedly, it's not too hard to do, since a resolved Krasis is vulnerable to almost every piece of removal currently around, in particular Legion's End and Glass Casket, but opponents still need to have it.
Agent of Treachery is another familiar presence in Simic and Bant Ramp. It's a way to handle any kind of problematic permanent, including an opposing Field of the Dead, while adding insult to injury by making you the new controller of it.
Kenrith, the Returned King is an intriguing new addition. Once the good king is deployed and online, there are many helpful things the card can do for you, provided enough mana: it can immediately pressure enemy planeswalkers by trampling over chump blockers; it can draw cards; it can patch up your life total beyond burn's reach; it can even bring back a deceased Golos. Kenrith remains one of the most underrated mythics in this first stretch of Throne of Eldraine Standard. Fires of Invention lists should also seriously look to the king for the role of their finisher of choice.
Most Golos lists run four copies of Teferi, Time Raveler, because, well, he's still the most powerful card in Standard. Even if there's no Scapeshift to be cast in the opponent's end step anymore, "3feri" imposes just such a heavy burden on the opponent's gameplay. He packs so much value on turn three, when the deck doesn't have much else to do outside of casting the Adventure side of Beanstalk Giant // Fertile Footsteps—which generally remains the play to prioritize. Plus there's something to be said about an instant-speed Circuitous Route in the late game. After all, little Teferi is usually reason enough for ramp builds to transition from Simic to Bant. This said, Jones's list only runs two copies of the temporal mage in favor of more diverse support elements, including one copy of Teferi's main contender for the title of best 3-mana planeswalker in Standard, Oko, Thief of Crowns.
On the control side of things, Realm-Cloaked Giant // Cast Off replaces main-deck Time Wipe (which still interacts nicely with Golos) in order to have another big dude to eventually cast with all that mana, thus diversifying the payoffs. Another useful innovation from Throne of Eldraine is Once Upon a Time, which can search for both Golos and the Field.
This is definitely the most customizable department of the deck, anyway. Deputy of Detention and Planar Cleansing are still very popular options for both the main or the side, and the inclusion of Fae of Wishes // Granted is not unheard of.
During the past two weeks, the archetype's presence amounted to almost one quarter of all recorded Top 8 results, with several events culminating in a series of Golos mirror matches. So what's going to happen now? On October 9, just two days after the latest Banned and Restricted Announcement had had nothing to say about anything, Wizards famously moved the date of their next announcement one full month forward—from November 18 to October 21. While speculations abound, the decision could certainly be unrelated to Golos's miniature Zombie apocalypse. The official statement vaguely mentions a "very busy competitive gaming schedule." But it definitely has all the markings of an emergency procedure. If that's the case, then there's good chance it'll be about Standard, considering Modern was just reset following the whole Hogaak debacle and the Eternal formats don't seem to be in any particular turmoil.
And if it's about Standard, then the odds speak of something related to our land-fetching friend and/or its favorite Zombie-spawning target. Nothing else is as suspect as they are in the metagame right now, not even Teferi or Oko. The possible fixes for this situation are essentially two. Wizards could choose to eradicate the issue at the root by taking Field of the Dead away, thus leaving Golos to maybe fetch dual lands in some lower-impact, five-color ramp strategy that tries to take advantage of its activated ability to go big. This however still runs the risk of Golos stumbling into a new game-breaking land next year. Alternatively, they could eliminate the fetcher but not the target, leaving Field of the Dead a viable archetype in theory, but one that has to draw into its payoff land naturally. Historically, they have often attempted to preserve archetypes when possible rather than completely destroying them.
Regardless, Wizard's decision, or lack thereof, is going to be heavily influenced by the insider knowledge of what the 2020 sets will add to the Standard pool. There's a chance all this mess came to be specifically because they already knew Theros: Beyond Death was going to address the missing piece of the balancing equation, perhaps by reprinting or functionally reprinting an ancient Greek-themed version of that other Field.
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