“Cooking is a craft, I like to think, and a good cook is a craftsman—not an artist. There’s nothing wrong with that: the great cathedrals of Europe were built by craftsmen—though not designed by them. Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying. And I’ll generally take a stand-up mercenary who takes pride in his professionalism over an artist any day.” —Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

As Eldraine’s tenure in Standard winds down, I’ve been revisiting the format while waiting for Strixhaven. Quick Drafts on Arena are a poor way to actually understand a format—the AI of your computer-controlled drafters is pretty buggy and the decks wind up skewed because of that—but once you know it’s not representative of the actual high-level draft environment, you can have a lot of fun with it.

My favorite deck to draft in Eldraine is Food Rock, which snaps up Bake Into a Pie and Fierce Witchstalker early on, then supplements those with other, less-appealing Food creators (Tempting Witch, Giant’s Skewer, etc.). Draft some Smitten Swordmasters to pair with a Tall as a Beanstalk, and you have a deck midway between a grinding control deck and a midrange deck. It’s a style of play I enjoy, but more to the point, it allows me to exploit Eldraine’s signature mechanic of Food tokens.

Food is superb—much like Investigate and Foretell, it maximizes your mana efficiency and trains newer players to optimize their turns. Food can throw off your opponent’s combat math, saving you from a fatal but sloppy attack. Food also keeps me humble; I sneered at it originally as a much worse Investigate before finding myself enamored of it in Limited. It taught me to not immediately discount a mechanic—something I’ve found useful when evaluating Strixhaven’s Learn mechanic, which has been moderately impressive in testing.

But until now, Food has been a Limited-only mechanic. A minor Food subtheme has found its way into various Golgari Commander decks I’ve sketched out, but always ends up being the earliest cuts. There simply hasn’t been enough Food support to a full deck—until Loading Ready Run revealed Gyome, Master Chef last week.

The Troll Warlock isn’t inspiringly busted—no Meren or Prossh or Korvold here—but he’s been tantalizing my creativity all week. He’s part Mother of Runes, part Soul Warden, and all Troll. He makes me think of kitchens I’ve worked in before. While I don’t miss the crushing hours or the anxiety-exacerbating dinner rushes, or the sour milk and stale meat aromas that accompany an end-of-shift cleanup, there’s a camaraderie and an abrasive kind of kinship that comes with working in close proximity to a team of people with similar goals. Restaurant work is part performance, part collaborative creative exercise, part endurance training, and part torture. There’s nothing like it, not even backstage, because the pressure is so immense and the margin of error so narrow.

Kitchens run on two things: cash and human capital (with the human capital running on stimulants). I was a terrible waiter—forgetful, neurotic, physically maladroit—and an indifferent sous chef. But I understand the appeal of a time-sensitive, precision-based creative task that results (at its best) in giving someone true joy and sustenance. So does our massive Troll Warlock. (I think Bourdain would have agreed with it as the creature type for a master chef.)

Other people have taken a crack at Gyome: Rachel Weeks pointed out the synergy he has with King Macar, the Gold-Cursed, and A. E. Marling using the Food tokens as mana rocks. But there’s more to explore with this unassuming craftsman. What I find most interesting about Gyome isn’t the Food production or granting temporary indestructibility to your own creatures, but the ability in a Green/Black deck to control combat by tapping creatures. The flavor is great—his food is so delicious that it distracts the diner while they gain strength from it—and it can be as situationally powerful as it is obnoxious.

“No, sorry, your Blightsteel Colossus can’t attack this turn—he’s too busy eating!” is the sort of sentence that I play Magic to deliver. Distracting Deathtouch creatures with a quick meal so they can’t block, keeping a Dinosaur too preoccupied to notice that a Wrathful God is stampeding across the battlefield, or simply gorging yourself to stay alive until Gyome kicks you out of his dining room? This is why Commander is the most joyful format and why I immediately started building Gyome.

I started with the standard Food core—Taste of Death, Feasting Troll King, Gluttonous Troll, etc.—before realizing that what Gyome truly offers is the same thing a kitchen offers: strong personalities trying to pull off some kind of divine alchemy. So my Gyome deck is instead a deck populated with Legendary permanents to represent that motley staff. It’s unassuming and cute until it’s time to buckle down and churn out 200 meals in under 200 minutes.

Commander: Gyome, Master Chef

Creatures: Ancient Greenwarden, Ayara, First of Locthwain, Bloodghast, Dina, Soul Steeper, Endless Cockroaches, Feasting Troll King, Geralf’s Messenger, Ghalta, Primal Hunger, Gluttonous Troll, God-Eternal Bontu, Gravecrawler, Grismold, the Dread Sower, Grothama, All-Devouring, Ikra Shidiqi, the Usurper, Izoni, Thousand-Eyed, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, King Macar, the Gold-Cursed, Kolvori, God of Kinship, Pitiless Plunderer, Questing Beast, Reki, the History of Kamigawa, Savvy Hunter, Scaretiller, Seedborn Muse, Strangleroot Geist, Syr Konrad, the Grim, Torgaar, Famine Incarnate, Toski, Bearer of Secrets, Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, Witch of the Moors, Yargle, Glutton of Urborg, Yawgmoth, Thran Physician

Planeswalker: Vraska, Golgari Queen

Enchantments: Doubling Season, Freyalise’s Winds, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Journey to Eternity, Parallel Lives, Perilous Forays, Pernicious Deed, Quest for Renewal, Trail of Crumbs, Trudge Garden

Sorceries: Harvest Season, Migration Path, Time of Need

Instants: Deadly Rollick, Second Harvest

Artifacts: Butcher’s Cleaver, Cloudstone Curio, Commander’s Plate, Heroes’ Podium, Krark-Clan Ironworks, Mox Amber, Phyrexian Altar, Storage Matrix, Sword of Feast and Famine, Weatherlight, Witch’s Oven

Lands: 15 Forest, 13 Swamp, Command Tower, Darkbore Pathway, Gingerbread Cabin, Llanowar Wastes, Nurturing Peatland, Overgrown Tomb, Snow-Covered Forest, Snow-Covered Swamp, Undergrowth Stadium, Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, Woodland Cemetery

Here’s a partial breakdown of our busy kitchen:

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician is the tyrannical staff manager—the one who texts you at 3 p.m. asking if you’ll pick up that evening’s shift, who monitors your social media, who believes in one-strike attendance policies, who intones the mantra “if you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” Vito, Thorn of the Dusk Rose, by contrast, is the dramavore that every restaurant attracts. He’s there to make money, but his true compensation is the intensity and confrontation of a busy kitchen. He feeds off the nerves and the clashing personalities and the pace of it, and he’s likely to get fired once people realize who started the rumors.

Reki, the History of Kamigawa represents the ancient second-in-command, who knows the history of every manager and where all the bodies are buried. He’s beaten down by a life in front of the range—his hands lumpy with scars and half-healed burns, consistently wearing either a back or a neck brace—but if you catch him at the right time, he’s going to tell you the wildest story or the least believable lie.

Every restaurant needs regulars, so we have the trio of gluttons in Yargle, Torgaar, and Ulamog. Grothama, All-Devouring just feels right in the deck—especially when you can give them indestructible at a moment’s notice. Ironically, we’ve had to leave out Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, as his counter doubling ability is less than helpful to our Yawgmoth agenda. We’re also running the obnoxious Freyalise’s Winds, which is great with the “tap” portion of Gyome, to back up Storage Matrix.

I generally eschew tutors in Commander decks, but Time of Need, as a limited tutor and one that’s thematically appropriate to the deck, felt right to run. Think of it as your “Help Wanted” sign. The artifacts are, for the most part, self-explanatory, although I also included some kitchen safety equipment for Gyome in Commander’s Plate and Butcher’s Cleaver.

You’re going to get vermin in any kitchen, I’m afraid, no matter how clean you keep your workspace. Endless Cockroaches was just too good thematically and gameplay-wise to exclude, and Toski is the stand-in for rodents (in addition to being a Legend himself).

I avoided the latest combo—Professor Onyx plus Chain of Smog—but it’s an easy include in case you want to take this deck in a more scholarly and frustrating direction. Instead, I’m running the now-established Yawgmoth combo (Gravecrawler plus Yawgmoth plus Geralf’s Messenger or Strangleroot Geist plus a sacrifice outlet) and the once-ubiquitous Bloodghast plus Perilous Forays pseudo-combo.

The Yawgmoth combo is hard to pull off without disruption and the Bloodghast combo is limited by the number of lands in your deck, so I’ve included Ayara and Syr Konrad to drain out opponent’s as you bounce creatures in and out of the graveyard. I’m taking a page out of Weeks’s book with King Macar—sacrificing a Food to give him indestructible, only to untap and pay for your meal with an opponent’s creature is just too good to resist.

I built my first favorite Commander deck back in 2010, when I was working in kitchens and coffee shops and spending a portion of my paycheck on a brand-new Lord of Extinction (at the time, the most I’d ever spent on a single card at $11). The Commander was Savra, Queen of the Golgari, and she cemented my love of the format and the color combination. Now, over a decade later, I only cook for pleasure and sustenance, but we’ve somehow come full circle. The combo, present in my first Commander deck, of Perilous Forays and Bloodghast made me understand how much broader Magic could be than just hyper-competitive control wars or “play what I’ve opened” kitchen table.

I love that I’m revisiting this creaky old combo with a new Commander—especially one who’s as flavorful and unique as Gyome. The craft falls apart with this deck like an amateur’s soufflé, but when it comes together? It’s beyond craft, beyond art: it becomes magic.

A lifelong resident of the Carolinas and a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Rob has played Magic since he picked a Darkling Stalker up off the soccer field at summer camp. He works for nonprofits as an educational strategies developer and, in his off-hours, enjoys writing fiction, playing games, and exploring new beers.

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