The beauty of crossing the threshold into your mid-thirties is a reservoir of self-awareness and the perspective to know that some things simply will never change: I will never like soup, I will never understand religion, and I will always play Golgari. If anything, I play Golgari to a fault. I’m one of the last holdouts of the cult of The Rock; I start every Standard deck with “4x Binding the Old Gods”; I first pick Gloomshrieker.

Luckily, my personal predilections sometimes line up with Wizards’ design trends, and we’re right in the middle of a Green-Black Renaissance. In the last couple of months, I played Izzet Dragons in Standard until I got bored with it (two weeks), experimented with Rakdos Artifacts, and flirted with mono-White aggro. But I returned, as I always do, to my old standard: midrange Golgari. There was the usual quirky ramp into Vorinclex circa Kaldheim, the mishmash of Witherbloom trash during Strixhaven, and, most successfully, the Wrenn and Chariot era during Midnight Hunt.

My current list is the usual mix of high-impact threats (Ulvenwald Oddity, Wrenn and Seven) and value removal (The Meathook Massacre, Binding the Old Gods, Culling Ritual), but one card is unusual and has impressed me in this environment in sharp contrast to how deeply it disappointed me when first printed: Witherbloom Command. Prior to Neon Dynasty, Witherbloom Command was a bad removal spell with a touch of life drain. Now, with the printing of the Channel lands, it’s the closest we’ve come to Life from the Loam in Standard since 2006.

That’s a bold statement, so let’s back it up. Here’s a short list of things I’ve killed with Witherbloom Command in the last month: The Meathook Massacre, Ranger Class, Michiko’s Reign of Truth, Bard Class, Oni-Cult Anvil, Mukotai Soulripper, Rally the Ranks, Reckoner Bankbuster, Tribute to Horobi, several Runes, and innumerable Treasure tokens. A shorter, but just as relevant, list of things I’ve brought back with Witherbloom Command: Boseiju, Who Endures, Takenuma, Abandoned Mire, Crawling Barrens, Hive of the Eye Tyrant, and Field of Ruin.

[scyimg]Culling Ritual[/scryimg]

I shouldn’t need to evangelize Witherbloom Command past just listing those cards, but choosing not to evangelize periphrastically about a Golgari modal card would be a self-betrayal. The best advocacy I can offer for Command is this: prior to Neon Dynasty, I ran Blood on the Snow consistently, but recently, I’ve eschewed it in favor of Culling Ritual and Witherbloom Command. (You can, of course, run both Blood and Ritual—I’m just playing a bit lower to the ground.) Like Blood on the Snow, Culling Ritual is a combination board wipe and Black Lotus, but it does the job at four mana and still can lead to the ideal outcome of wiping the board and giving you Wrenn or Invoke Despair. The mana filtering of Ritual is a huge asset; it’s difficult to pull together 1BBBB for Invoke off of your mana base, but less so when you wipe an Eyetwitch or two.

Buying back Boseiju and sniping a Meathook Massacre is, in most situations, your best outcome with Witherbloom Command. But against Red aggro decks, killing an X/1 and draining for two gives you enough wiggle room to find The Meathook Massacre. Massacre, incidentally, is the best reason to run Golgari—your threats can survive a Massacre that wipes an aggro opponent’s board, and I’ve even resorted to running Geothermal Kami in my sideboard to reset the Massacre and get a shot of life against Goblins and mono-White aggro. I’m a kid in a candy shop, if “candy” was “Channel a Boseiju to kill a Bankbuster, Witherbloom Command back a Boseiju and nuke a Meathook Massacre.”

Standard Witherbloom Rock

Creatures (15)
Concealing Curtains
Scourge of the Skyclaves
Biting-Palm Ninja
Graveyard Trespasser
Ulvenwald Oddity
Tainted Adversary
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

Planeswalkers (2)
Wrenn and Seven

Spells (17)
Witherbloom Command
Binding the Old Gods
Culling Ritual
Invoke Despair
The Meathook Massacre
Lands (26)
Hive of the Eye Tyrant
Takenuma, Abandoned Mire
Boseiju, Who Endures
Darkbore Pathway
Deathcap Glade
Necroblossom Snarl
Woodland Chasm

Sideboard (15)
Geothermal Kami
Bloodline Culling
Sorin, the Mirthless
Sphere of Annihilation
Graveyard Trespasser

Four copies of a Legendary Enchantment? I’d run six Meathook Massacres if I could—and I can with Geothermal Kami. Froghemoth in the board is a nod to the old school Rock decks, which ran Spiritmongers and Ravenous Baloths and Deranged Hermit; probably outdated, but I had some spare slots.

If the deck has a fault, it’s in sequencing. Our curve is high and requires considerable thought to play out. Concealing Curtains and Biting-Palm Ninja are an unwieldy combo, but in conjunction and with a bit of mana maneuvering, you can cut your opponent’s hand apart with Ninja-like precision. This is an incredibly mana-hungry deck, so we’re running a full twenty-six. Along with that preponderance of lands, between Wrenn and Witherbloom Command, we’ll be finding enough to keep going and to hit the higher end of our curve. Our gameplan is basically to survive by wiping the board and coming out ahead in trades enough that we can land a game-ending threat.

As is the case for a lot of this style of deck, that top end can be basically anything, but I’m defaulting to Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider because, like Oddity, he punishes decks that tap out. Scourge of the Skyclaves is both early attacker and late-game punisher and can even be both in a single game if bounced with Biting-Palm Ninja. Similarly, Tainted Adversary is decent at two and superb at seven mana and can discourage early attacks before being bought back with a Biting-Palm.

More than anything, this deck offers flexibility: so many cards are secret split cards, like Scourge, Curtains, and Adversary. The original Rock was so good because it scaled up as the game went on; as you traded up with your creatures and found lands with Yavimaya Granger, you started being able to pay for your Echo costs and Masticore became a gatling gun. In this deck, as you find more lands, your sequencing improves: you can play and flip Concealing Curtains in a single turn, you can Kick Scourge or Adversary depending on what the board demands. Eventually, you grind them out and are able to scrounge a win with a couple of hasty attacks or, most frequently, a few judicious attacks from MVP Hive of the Eye Tyrant.

Did I build an entire deck to justify my love of Witherbloom Command? Yes, of course; I’m a Romantic. That said, it just keeps winning, so that love only grows day by day. Turns out when you pay your dues to the guild, your adherence is rewarded, and never more so than right now in Neon Dynasty Standard.

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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