Golgari has been a tough nut to crack in Guilds of Ravnica draft.  With five guild archetypes, you can expect one guild to be less straightforward than the others. Izzet often takes that slot, but the latest iteration of Izzet is more powerful and obvious-to-build than normal for that color pair. Guilds of Ravnica Golgari, by contrast, provides little guidance from its gold cards and Undergrowth mechanic. But many of us have felt there was a strong deck to be found buried under all the garbage.

If you had to guess in the dark, you’d probably say Golgari is about creatures and removal. Value, graveyard shenanigans, and walls tend to show up a lot. The guild mechanic, Undergrowth, plays into the creature and graveyard themes. But the mechanic doesn’t do anything specific. Instead, it allows cards to scale in effect based on the number of creatures in your graveyard.

The quick impulse is to turbo-mill for cheap threats, and cards like Glowspore Shaman and Molderhulk point you in that direction. That can work in a dedicated constructed deck, but focusing on speed goes against both the Golgari ethos and the strength of Undergrowth. Instead, you want to play for the long game, trading creatures to set up powerful Undergrowth effects once you’ve exhausted your opponent’s resources. Putting effort into filling your graveyard for Undergrowth, as if it were Threshold or Delirium, weakens the power of the mechanic. The point is to make it more costly for your opponent to kill your creatures, but force them to do it anyway.

At my local draft night this week, I had the perfect seat to explore the deck:

Golgari Good Stuff

Creatures (18)
Hired Poisoner
Portcullis Vine
Pilfering Imp
Burglar Rat
Swarm Guildmage
Plaguecrafter
Whisper Agent
Ochran Assassin
Generous Stray
Golgari Findbroker
Rhizome Lurcher
Izoni, Thousand-Eyed
Gatekeeper Gargoyle

Spells (6)
Dead Weight
Severed Strands
Undercity Uprising
Flower // Flourish
Status // Statue
Lands (16)
Gateway Plaza
Golgari Guildgate
Selesnya Guildgate
Swamp
Forest

Sideboard (18)
Necrotic Wound
Prey Upon
Crushing Canopy
Circuitous Route
Generous Stray
Kraul Foragers
Erstwhile Trooper
Molderhulk
Never Happened
Pause for Reflection
Dimir Guildgate
Disdainful Stroke
Chemister’s Insight
Crush Contraband
Vicious Rumors
Guild Summit

My first three picks were Status // Statue, Swarm Guildmage, and Golgari Findbroker. My other options weren’t too impressive, so I wasn’t “committing early” so much as digging for value. I cruised along all three packs, clearly in the correct guild for my seat, but not sure I could find ways to win. I snagged Flower // Flourish in pack two to have some type of finisher, but didn’t see much else worth splashing. I expected to get rewarded in pack three, however, and you can see that I did. My second Dead Weight came four or five picks into the third, and Izoni, Thousand-Eyed followed the pick after. That’s not quite as awesome as an eight-pick-pack-three Tendrils of Agony when Cube drafting Storm, but it’s close.

The true all stars of the deck turned out to be the two Plaguecrafters. Fleshbag Marauder has always been pretty good in draft, but the addition of the forced discard when then have no creatures adds real power to the card. Golgari wants to play cheap value creatures to sacrifice and fuel Undergrowth, and the curve of Burglar Rat into Plaguecrafter does a number on both aggro and control decks. This deck went 3-0, 6-0 against a solid field including Dimir Control and Boros Beatdown, with Plaguecrafter multitasking all the way.

The combination of cheap spells and a few cantrips let me cut down to sixteen lands. I never had a problem casting my spells, though I did have to cast Flower for a second forest to be able to cast Golgari Findbroker and Izoni in one game. That was the only time I cast Flower // Flourish, actually. Turns out I didn’t need an extra way to finish games—I just attacked with midrange creatures and killed all the opposing threats like a normal draft deck.

Choosing the correct removal spells can be tricky in Golgari decks. Because you’re inclined to play mostly creatures, you don’t have a ton of slots for spells. I’m not sure if I chose the correct ones in the main deck, leaving Prey Upon and Necrotic Wound in the sideboard. As long as you adjust to your opponent when sideboarding, those marginal choices don’t matter much. But I am sure that Severed Strands is great in this kind of deck. The lifegain and sacrifice provide value, but the biggest strength of the card is its mana cost. Bone Splinters usually costs one mana, but it’s a great deal at two mana in this set once you are playing enough sacrifice fodder. Who has time to pay five mana to kill a creature these days? That said, both Prey Upon and Necrotic Wound are cheaper than Undercity Uprising.

Playing this deck was fun and easy. The archetype was open and available for me, but this is far from the “dream” version of the deck. Focus on putting up speed bumps and forcing trades. Pack your deck with value creatures. Splash ’em if you’ve got ’em, but you can get away with straight Golgari just fine. While I still pine for the days of Axebane Guardian, this version of Golgari can be powerful too.

Brendan McNamara (Twitter: @brendanistan) is Editor in Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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