Is Golgari good in Guilds of Ravnica Draft? Is it even playable? The answer I've heard to these questions are both "It can be but needs a lot to go right." I do admit that the answer has merit, but my goal today is to offer an understanding of when and how to draft Golgari in Guilds of Ravnica.
There are two kinds of Golgari decks. Those with Glowspore Shaman and those without.
This does not mean that Golgari needs Glowspore Shaman to function. But good versions of Golgari decks look different with the Shaman. Consider the card Molderhulk. Nine mana is way too much for this card. It's playable at six mana, and once you're casting it for four or less, the card is quite good. The problem with Molderhulk is that there are very few games that exclude Glowspore Shaman where you have enough creatures in your graveyard to play Molderhulk above curve. If you don't have Glowspore Shaman, playing Molderhulk is likely a mistake. Here's a quick look at a deck that maximizes Glowspore Shaman:
Glowspore Shaman is the only black or green creature at common or uncommon in the set that is capable of both trading and putting multiple other creatures in the graveyard. Even though surveil is a mechanic in black, there isn't a density of playable black creatures with surveil. This means Glowspore Shaman is premium for the archetype. Even though the power level of the card isn't that high, the effect is scarce enough that I will take Glowspore Shaman early.
But what happens when you can't get your hands on that premium uncommon? The Golgari decks without Glowspore Shaman lean on power over synergy. You will still play cards like Kraul Foragers, Vigorspore Wurm, and Rhizome Lurcher, but the focus on cards that utilize the graveyard is no longer critical.
The sheer power level of this deck is through the roof, and that's a must without the Shaman if you want your deck to be great. You can have solid Golgari decks that are more focused on undergrowth and lack Glowspore Shaman, but they're rarely great. One of the awesome things about the Shaman is that the card does qualify as a good card and fits into any Golgari deck even like the one above without much undergrowth payoff.
But this begs the question of when is it correct to draft Golgari? You can't always guarantee seeing the Shaman, and not every draft is going to have a density of powerful cards in both green and black unless the colors are underdrafted. I mentioned in my Selesnya Archetype Guide last week that because greens commons are of a lower power level than the rest of the colors, it's crucial to read the table and make sure you're not overlapping with other drafters. The same holds true for Golgari, but it's even more extreme. Unlike Selesnya, linear and aggressive Golgari decks are hard to make work. There's a limit to the mediocre two-drops you want to put in your deck. Combat tricks don't often make the cut because you need both creature density for undergrowth and a solid chunk of removal as catch-all answers. The green cards that tend to wheel are more valuable for Selesnya than they are for Golgari.
This means that I want a higher degree of certainty that I'm the only Golgari drafter at the end of pack 1. Incorrectly assessing the table is devastating in this archetype, but the card quality is high enough that the payoff is there. This changes a couple things about my draft strategy for this guild:
- Even if I look to be solidly in Golgari, I will pass cards like Rhizome Lurcher for cards like Kraul Foragers or Burglar Rat in order to get a strong data point on the wheel.
- I highly prioritize a back-up plan, and it's usually the five-color Gate deck. Golgari is a great base to optimize cards like Glaive of the Guildpact, and a green base helps on the mana with cards like Circuitous Route, District Guide, and Urban Utopia.
Because gold cards are valuable in terms of signaling, here's my ranking (read left to right, top to bottom) of every single Golgari gold card in the set Guilds of Ravnica:
The above are much better on average than these...
...which are all better in the average draft than these:
After reading the signals, the other important concept to understand is what the deck is usually made up of. Because of undergrowth, Golgari decks are rarely under sixteen creatures and eighteen is a lot more common. With eighteen creature decks, it can be hard to get enough removal. This is why cards like Kraul Harpooner and Plaguecrafter are so important to the archetype. They allow you to have a high creature count without lessening the amount of impactful removal spells.
Furthermore, with general access to less removal, cards like Deadly Visit become more important than cards like Dead Weight. At this point it's generally understood that Dead Weight is better than Deadly Visit in this format. But in Golgari, this isn't always the case. Since Golgari decks often are chock-full of small creatures with the purpose of trading, smaller creatures are much less of a problem than cards like Watcher in the Mist and Citywatch Sphinx. Add in the interaction with surveil and undergrowth, and Deadly Visit becomes more premium than usual. While this is context-dependent, I think that most of my Golgari decks need Deadly Visit a lot more than they need Dead Weight.
The only other important note about a good Golgari deck is that you should prioritize creatures that trade easily in order to fuel your undergrowth cards. This is even more important without Glowspore Shaman. So, cards like Spinal Centipede and Wary Okapi are better than you initially would think, and cards like Generous Stray are worse, as a 1/2 doesn't tend to trade.
Golgari is my least favorite archetype in Guilds of Ravnica Draft, but if it's open and you properly prioritize the right cards, your deck can be quite good. Recently I have been trying to innovate within the archetype and came up with something that has potential.
That's right, Gravitic Punch in Golgari. Red isn't easy to splash, but cards like Charnell Troll and Rhizome Lurcher get so big that the potency of the card is through the roof. And this version of the deck doesn't even have many cards like Glowspore Shaman to value dump Gravitic Punch in the graveyard. And you can even pair it with tricks like Might of the Masses for an explosive amount of damage out of nowhere.
The concept is still a bit rough around the edges, but I'll be streaming more matches with it on my Twitch today in the hope of figuring out if this really does give Golgari more legs or if it's too cute.