While I know that this is a rough deck and that some of the cards are not even out yet I can't wait to fine-tune and play the list. Knowing that Ravnica 2.0 is just around the corner and seeing the cards in the Izzet vs. Golgari Duel Deck (which I am buying on release day) I wanted to run with my favorite guild. I am environmentally conscious and also believe in social Darwinism so I'm Golgari to the core. This deck started as my Evil Elven Empire deck but morphed when I read your article on the Selesnya +1/+1 counter deck and began thinking of other colors and commanders that rely on those counters.
Skullbriar the Walking Grave is in my favorite colors and has intrigued me since I first saw him in the original Commander decks. The goal of course is to build a giant Skullbriar that simply never stops attacking or growing. The problem with his ability is the "except for hand or library" part. In order to keep him in the graveyard or command zone I tried to find plenty of sac outlets and graveyard recursion even at instant speed to dodge graveyard hate. To get him in the red zone I added Rancor and Brawn as well as Swords to get it done. Jarad adds a great Fling-like win condition as well. I also included one of my favorite synergies with Eternal Witness and Profane Command.
I realize that my ramp is lacking and that I have an almost clinical issue with symmetry in colors. Card draw is also light as well as mid-to-late game power. I tried to include a little Tutoring as well as a tiny proliferate package to keep those counters coming. I'm worried that my removal is too light but have no idea what to take out or what the best would be for the deck as it stands. My budget isn't that large so no dual lands or Doubling Seasons please.
Commander: Skullbriar the Walking Grave
I almost wish you'd sent your Dear Azami submission to Bennie Smith. After all he is SCG's King of the Golgari and here I am just a humble Simic mage answering an email about how best to reduce reuse and recycle your friends and neighbors for fun and profit. You say you're environmentally conscious and a proponent of social Darwinism and this leads you to Golgari... I ended up going Simic because of how highly I value the core intellect of the mind and actively pursue reason and the scientific method devoid of those pesky emotions that get in the way. I am a proponent of retooling one's native instincts to accommodate this desire so that both nature and nurture lead me in the same direction. (If that sounds hard it's because it is. We don't call them 'ideals' because they are delivered gift-wrapped on your doorstep.)
So we have different philosophies and thus different guilds but we both value some shared aspects and can pursue them together accordingly. To answer the first question you had: no unfortunately Murmuring Bosk is not a card you're allowed to play in your deck. Color identity rules in Commander dictate that you can't play anything that has a colored mana symbol (or color identity for the backs of cards with transform) that is not somewhere on your Commander as well. Skullbriar is black and green and while Murmuring Bosk would be a reasonable land to include for black and green mana that pesky white mana symbol makes it a no-no.
Getting to play with +1/+1 counters again makes me happy because I keep finding new and more interesting ways to do it the more I play with the theme. It's one of the most plentiful building-blocks to play around with in the format almost as plentiful as some of the major tribes like Zombies or Goblins and since it crosses all sorts of colors and has different ways of expressing itself you'll build on similar lines but find new aspects every time. Today you want to focus on Skullbriar and to me that means making him hold as many counters as possible as long as possible. He'll get to hold them forever if you play it right so some cards you wouldn't normally think about playing will actually be all-stars. Boost effects are way better when they make an emblem instead of an effect that is reliant on a specific creature remaining alive. We're going to pursue that as hard as we can and streamline your deck to work a better with itself while we're at it.
Also: I know Golgari Charm is probably going to be awesome. But we haven't seen it yet so I have to cut it sight-unseen for another slot. Feel free to add it back in after it proves to be totally bonkers and the best Charm in Ravnica. These are suggestions after all not decrees from above.
Starting with the mana base we have one card we have to cut due to color alignment rules and after that I want to work on the utility side of things. You have thirty-eight lands which is a lot for a more aggro-ish deck and while I don't think this count is wrong I do think it improves greatly when some of these lands provide additional utility. Upgrading lands into spell-like effects is the name of the game and to do that we're going to cut six Forests four Swamps the Murmuring Bosk and your Tectonic Edge. I think a more focused utility land would be better there and you do actually have to watch your colored mana concerns so I pulled out the second Maze of Ith destruction effect figuring you'd be able to get around that well enough if you tried.
Putting replacements back in we get to touch on dual lands old and new in order to pursue fun and profit.
Golgari Guildgate - If you just had a Salt Marsh for enemy colors you'd be happy to play it. Every guild pairing will have that option soon enough and you don't have too many lands that come into play tapped to start with so we can add more without it tripping us up. Lacking turn 1 plays already this only stops Skullbriar from deploying on time if you have all comes-into-play-tapped lands or the only ones that come into play untapped tap for colorless. You need the extra spell-like qualities and your curve is entirely fine with you skipping spots on it so we'll add what we need to and go from there.
Gilt-Leaf Palace - Basically Golgari Guildgate except sometimes you'll have an Elf like Jarad and it'll randomly come into play untapped. You only have four but that little bonus will be worth a smile once in a while.
Pine Barrens - I think you want to fix your mana hard enough that even a bad B/G dual that comes into play tapped is still worth playing. Most people don't even know this cycle of enemy-color dual lands exists so it's an obscure find but it's a lot like the Murmuring Bosk you had to cut except it sucks harder. No free green alas. Unlike Murmuring Bosk however you're actually allowed to play it!
Mosswort Bridge - A free spell stapled to a green source and considering how you try to grow Skullbriar this shouldn't be too hard to get to play the free spell off of. One of my favorite lands in Commander and one of the best little bonuses for being a green mage green gets the best Hideaway land and they usually get the short end of any cycle.
Bojuka Bog - You're lacking in ways to interact with other players' graveyards. This will help though you can't really search for it very easily so you can't find it when you need. To be able to see it more consistently would require adding a few layers of cards you're not playing like the infamous Primeval Titan. I'm going with "you didn't play him for a reason" so I'm not going to just stick him back in but you'll have to think carefully in how you deploy the Bog when you draw it because you don't have any other such effects.
Yavimaya Hollow - This is a very important addition as far as I'm concerned as it allows you to make Skullbriar more resilient and play through more mass removal effects instead of relying on his innate resistance as a low-drop commander to being priced out of accessibility. Yes you can recast him and yes you can Reanimate him but for a very minimal impact on your mana base you can also just work to protect him harder. Plenty of sweepers let you regenerate and it's worth availing yourself of that option.
Okina Temple to the Grandfathers - It's a small effect but a little bonus commander damage never hurt anyone. It's an addition that comes at almost no cost at all since only Jarad cares about Forests in play.
Shizo Death's Storehouse - You actually end up with more cards that care about Swamps in play which is why I took out fewer of them rather than be completely symmetrical in the mana balance but this is a ridiculous upside well worth the price of one fewer Swamp in the deck. Just when your commander's worked himself up to a reasonable size those annoying chump blockers start to show up and spoil the fun. When people try and defend themselves Skullbriar can get himself some fear and slip right past them because it sucks when people try to defend themselves. So unfair.
We'll move next to the artifacts where I pulled three cards out and only make two replacements wanting another spell instead.
Swiftfoot Boots - I don't see the haste helping you all that much and most of the kinds of removal spells this will defend you from you're okay with handling. Mostly I see this as a catchall one of those Commander staples you include because everyone includes them. It's just safer that way. While cutting it does make you weaker to a Maze of Ith your plan to get around a Maze of Ith is "deploy multiple attackers" instead of building just the one battleship so I wanted to find a replacement that still protected Skullbriar but was more in-keeping with other parts of the deck's theme.
Golgari Signet - I don't see the extra bit of ramp being worth it so it's again looking like an also-ran inclusion because 'these are the cards you play in Commander' not because it's something that specifically fits your deck.
Claws of Gix - You can do better for sacrifice outlets and you will do better by switching to ones that have a greater impact on the board.
Replacing them you'll find two cute additions:
Loxodon Warhammer - One of the original 'we always play this in Commander' cards at least before the five various and sundry Swords got printed and made it silly to not start playing some of them as your first equipment of choice. Skullbriar needs trample which this happily provides and I've ended up taking out many of the cards that incidentally gain life so putting something back in that does so more purposefully while providing clear benefits at the time is an obvious choice.
Ring of Xathrid - It's an equipment that helps protect your commander and is a way to put more counters on him and it starts to do so very quickly thanks to its low casting and equip costs. Since Skullbriar has the ability to hold them forever equipping a Ring on turn 3 can have clear and lasting benefits over a very long game keeping you as a dangerous threat. As to why I played one Ring but not both well I liked Warhammer more for my chosen means of bestowing trample.
We'll move on next to the spells since I have vowed to add one back in for the artifact cut but not replaced and that'll help clear the tally board as we move on to the creature base. What your spells enable alters what creatures you should play after all and the biggest bulk of the changes I made were here to augment your capabilities so let's tool around with it first.
Golgari Charm - Currently possesses blank text. Probably awesome? Sure. Provably awesome? Not yet.
Rancor - Replaced with the Warhammer because I think equipment is in general better than even this particularly awesome creature-pump enchantment. Spot removal exists and Rancor generally won't resolve at the most awkward of moments while a Warhammer they'll at least have to actually kill.
Worm Harvest - You're not really a token deck and you're really not built to abuse this so it's best to shy away from it instead.
Cannibalize - I like how it got included but in the end you picked it because it is a removal spell that can potentially also be used to put +1/+1 counters on Skullbriar. I'd rather just focus on a less awkward removal spell instead and use intentional pump effects for those bonus counters. They do it better.
Black Sun's Zenith - Nothing could possibly make me sadder than seeing a Skullbriar with -1/-1 counters on it because then your game plan is just defunct. Sure you can plan around having that never ever happen but I don't even want to consider it. If what you want is a sweeper Damnation is the clear first choice but I am assuming that's a bit out of the price range. You did give a "let's be reasonable here" restriction on that and Damnation costs the same as Doubling Season last time I checked so that's a no. Your next-best options are Mutilate which requires rebalancing to work up the Swamp count past eleven and Life's Finale which is an expensive Wrath to add in. But considering how you're likely to play out that doesn't seem worthwhile either and that Black Sun's Zenith stands out a little overall and is just going to get cut.
Sadistic Glee - Cute yes. Effective not so much. Creatures have a bad habit of dying in batches so you'll have a dead Commander with triggers waiting to give him fourteen +1/+1 counters and nothing but frowns. Hunting around found me a different variant of the card that let you get the counters proactively rather than only when destructive things are happening so I opted to give that a try instead.
Chain of Acid - I foresee nothing but bad things happening though they may be wonderfully fun bad things as a table-wide spite-fest to kick copies of this around. I was looking for a more effective version of this hit on it immediately and thus opted for it instead. Even if it is less fun and amazing to watch unanticipated side effects fire off...
Attrition - First we'll cover that missing space for a sacrifice outlet. Attrition's no surprise to see on this list but you were removal-light and wanting sacrifice outlets so this fits the bill nicely while helping with some of that board control weakness.
Necromancy - Not the flashiest card but it is an instant-speed reanimation option which means that in addition to being able to be a straight-up reanimation spell like the two that were cut this also has the ability to play around weird or strange things happening to your commander that might undo all of your hard work.
Strands of Night - A 'better' instant speed option in that when used as an instant it's not just a temporary preventative measure of the worst happening but is in fact able to be a fully-functioning Reanimation machine and works multiple times quite happily. Two life is nothing in Commander though you don't have that many Swamps to eat but it's going to fill the role better than a Dread Return you'll probably never actually flash back.
Corpse Dance - Another way to work on instant speed Reanimation though the drawbacks on this can be a bit harsh. You've got plenty of sacrifice outlets however so that part is played around. And thanks to the reasonably large number of comes-into-play effects you have to work with you can use this just for value even if you aren't using it as a mid- or late-game engine.
Maelstrom Pulse - My choice of replacement removal spell it has the versatility of the Chain of Acid and is considerably more effective than Cannibalize since it has the potential to clear an entire board of problem creatures (as tends to happen when an Avenger of Zendikar shows up...and this being Commander that is a when not an if).
Strength of the Tajuru - While this is awesome when multikickered here your interest is in just how good it is in the later phases of the game with Skullbriar thanks to the fact that it successfully resolving will mean you keep the benefits forever. Being able to upgrade a whole host of creatures doesn't hurt though it just means this is one of those rare decks where the other option is the one that matters more for including it.
Hunting Triad - If you wanted to make tokens at least Hunting Triad will make three as opposed to Worm Harvest which might do nothing. However it's also a very potent reinforce card and while normally that's not good enough for Commander the fact that your commander gets to store them and keep them forever means it's a worthy investment.
Hunger of the Howlpack - Another way to put three +1/+1 counters on your commander as a combat trick this one only has one mode (unless you count morbid's "sometimes that mode sucks" mode) but is really inexpensive at doing its job.
Predatory Hunger - Our chosen replacement for Sadistic Glee this turns a death trigger (in which Skullbriar has a high chance of also having been an unhappy casualty) into an opponent-cast-a-critter trigger which means you'll grow upfront and proactively without having to do anything really to make it work. The counters will always go on it instead of sometimes miss because mass removal is frownsville.
Shape of the Wiitigo - I went hunting for ways to put a lot of +1/+1 counters on a creature and hit on this Coldsnap oddball that was meant to ask "What creature WOULDN'T want to be a Wiitigo?" referencing an old card that people never ever played as something we might have nostalgically missed. That I even knew what a Wiitigo was happened to be because Ice Age was when I started and we're all terrible when we started so of course I traded dual lands for Wiitigos so I could have EVEN BETTER CRAW WURMS. The things we used to do back in the day... Do not bear remembering frankly. We just hang our heads in shame because there is no way we can ever EVER get a StarCityGames.com trading column if we admit to trades like "my Nether Void your Alchor's Tomb" at one point in our lives.
We now have a lot more ways to put +1/+1 counters on Skullbriar and rock out with his bad self and we're more focused on doing it while also playing a more functional and streamlined game of Magic. There's even overlap between the new cards for bonus synergy. Attrition and Corpse Dance are really messy together in addition to the synergy that comes with these new cards and the ones you were already playing. Jarad and Corpse Dance are pretty nutty too after all.
Some of the creatures simply don't fit. They make a certain sense but they don't contribute to the plan even though they seem to have some overlap with themes like 'sacrificing' or finishing off opponents that have already been put at precariously low life totals. But you're more focusing on the magic 21 of a Commander's lethal swing than the full 40 damage that this would otherwise contribute to so we need to streamline and reevaluate.
Bellowing Tanglewurm – Intimidate is good but you have the same effect stapled to a land now. We have to reexamine if it's worth the spell slot. It doesn't seem to be doing enough here when we could find something more interesting and on-theme instead.
Doomgape – A big meaty finisher of doom that happens to be kind of embarrassing when you don't have enough creatures to feed it. It seems to be a card chosen more for the fact that they're your colors and it might do something interesting sometimes with a Skullbriar that has already been mightily pumped but I'm not especially optimistic that this plan will work out.
Shambling Shell – Just well underpowered. You can get more +1/+1 counter goodness out of your creatures if you try and dredging this is not going to be anything like an effective tactical plan so I'm going to swap it out for something that can provide more counters faster while we're at it.
Dark Impostor – It's expensive recurring removal and only vaguely on-theme with the +1/+1 counters involved. It's an interesting new card but this doesn't seem to be its home.
Blood Artist and Falkenrath Noble – I don't love life gain to begin with and that's no news. A little bit of incremental damage can go a long way however and I view both of these as damage sources first and life gain cards second (if at all) when thinking about their effectiveness. Will this contribute meaningfully to killing a player? Sometimes. Will it feel like those times have anything to do with the purpose of the game the rest of the deck is building towards? No not really.
They're good-stuff additions that fit the theme of 'I have creatures they will sometimes die this could hurt someone' but the problem is that you're not aiming to deal 40 damage just the magic 21 that KOs an opponent with commander damage from Skullbriar. This extra damage will erode a life buffer that otherwise wouldn't be of much concern because you're strongly focused on Skullbriar as the aggro plan and less concretely focused on the rest of the team being good at mounting an attack. Why work on a resource you don't care about just because it can potentially win some games if they happen to go a certain way that is different than the way you plan on things from the beginning?
Filling back in we have six slots five of which directly go to the +1/+1 counter theme and the sixth of which is a very solid Reanimation card that can again potentially do so at instant speed. We didn't end up cutting Reanimation effects just because we cut Reanimation spells; the theme remains very strongly part of what is going on.
Hunting Moa – A +1/+1 counter on the way in and another on the way out. Where Shambling Shell provides one and has to die even to do that Hunting Moa provides one and an option of keeping the body. Usually though letting it die and taking the second trigger will be what we're expecting which suddenly makes those Reanimation spells fancier. One Reanimation spell can put two counters on and since it keeps killing itself you can chain them together potentially letting you morph an otherwise-awkward draw into a streamlined continuation of your prior plan.
Deranged Outcast – A bit of a goofy card but if you ignore the dead end of tribal synergy and just look at it as another way to pop two counters onto Skullbriar it's not a bad deal. It can potentially be a sac outlet but it's a really narrow one since this is not a tribal deck though Deranged Outcast and Corpse Dance is an interaction I've never seen before and which I find strangely intriguing. I like finding new things to do with my old favorite standby and I have never used a Corpse Dance as a combat buff trick before.
Fangren Firstborn – You love counters. He loves counters. Easy match.
Fungal Behemoth – What can I say I like adding at least one totally unplayable card per deck redesign; if I can sneak one in I am going to. Fungal Behemoth can help crank Skullbriar up surprisingly well and if your commander gets put somewhere you can't access it anymore it will help make some teams big and follow through with the hefty swings himself. He's not exactly a replacement Skullbriar by a long shot but suit him up with a Shape of the Wiitigo and you'll be hitting hard. You'll still have to hit for 40 not 21 but in the context of the rest of the cards you're playing the Behemoth has almost mystical powers to work wonders.
Deathbridge Goliath – Just an efficient monster with a spell you already like stapled to it. Another Return to Ravnica goodie you can't wait to get your hands on but unlike Golgari Charm this one has known text. (Now just my luck watch Golgari Charm be the card spoiled today on the mothership... That'll be egg on my face.)
Coffin Queen – A high-power little Reanimation machine the kind of simple but powerful effect they'd have to qualify with subclauses and restrictions nowadays. And a nice little advantage engine for your comes-into-play effects and those games that turn into a grind.
Putting it all together you get the following:
- 1 Brawn
- 1 Coffin Queen
- 1 Creakwood Liege
- 1 Deadbridge Goliath
- 1 Deranged Outcast
- 1 Dreg Mangler
- 1 Eternal Witness
- 1 Fangren Firstborn
- 1 Forgotten Ancient
- 1 Fungal Behemoth
- 1 Golgari Guildmage
- 1 Grave Titan
- 1 Grave-Shell Scarab
- 1 Harvester of Souls
- 1 Hunting Moa
- 1 Jade Mage
- 1 Korozda Guildmage
- 1 Plaguemaw Beast
- 1 Skullmulcher
- 1 Soul of the Harvest
- 1 Vigor
- 1 Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord
- 1 Savra, Queen of the Golgari
- 1 Sheoldred, Whispering One
- 1 Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
- 1 Vhati il-Dal
- 8 Forest
- 10 Swamp
- 1 Bojuka Bog
- 1 Command Tower
- 1 Evolving Wilds
- 1 Ghost Quarter
- 1 Gilt-Leaf Palace
- 1 Golgari Guildgate
- 1 Golgari Rot Farm
- 1 High Market
- 1 Llanowar Reborn
- 1 Llanowar Wastes
- 1 Mosswort Bridge
- 1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
- 1 Overgrown Tomb
- 1 Pine Barrens
- 1 Terramorphic Expanse
- 1 Verdant Catacombs
- 1 Woodland Cemetery
- 1 Okina, Temple to the Grandfathers
- 1 Phyrexian Tower
- 1 Shizo, Death's Storehouse
- 1 Yavimaya Hollow
- 1 Contagion Clasp
- 1 Contagion Engine
- 1 Loxodon Warhammer
- 1 Ring of Xathrid
- 1 Sol Ring
- 1 Sword of Feast and Famine
- 1 Sword of War and Peace
- 1 Attrition
- 1 Necromancy
- 1 Phyrexian Arena
- 1 Predatory Hunger
- 1 Quest for the Gemblades
- 1 Shape of the Wiitigo
- 1 Strands of Night
- 1 Beast Within
- 1 Corpse Dance
- 1 Decree of Savagery
- 1 Hunger of the Howlpack
- 1 Makeshift Mannequin
- 1 Putrefy
- 1 Rend Flesh
- 1 Strength of the Tajuru
- 1 Decree of Pain
- 1 Diabolic Tutor
- 1 Increasing Ambition
- 1 Increasing Savagery
- 1 Incremental Blight
- 1 Incremental Growth
- 1 Maelstrom Pulse
- 1 Primal Command
- 1 Profane Command
- 1 Vigor Mortis
- 1 Hunting Triad
As always for your participation in this week's edition of Dear Azami you will receive a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com which should help make some of these additions possible. The prices here are pretty darn low—most of the cards are under the two-dollar mark and the most expensive one caps out at $9 which implied it was well within a comfortable range for you to acquire it. I wasn't really able to address the color balance being as even as it was since I didn't set it very far out of whack but at least it was made up for by making sure the mana will flow more evenly as well while we're at it.
Here are the additions with their associated prices at the online store:
|Hunger of the Howlpack||$0.15|
|Strands of Night||$0.25|
|Ring of Xathrid||$0.49|
|Shape of the Wiitigo||$0.49|
|Strength of the Tajuru||$0.49|
|Okina Temple to the Grandfathers||$1.25|
|Shizo Death's Storehouse||$3.75|
Now I hesitate to discuss too much of a certain 'extracurricular activity' that is frankly far outside of the bounds of an article series on a website about a collectible card game. We do after all try to ascribe to a "keep it classy" rule and politics unlike the weather is not on the list of things you can happily discuss with anyone even perfect strangers. So I shall say simply this: it's September 17th happy birthday... ... ... May the next year be as interesting as the last has been.
-- Sean McKeown
Want to submit a deck for consideration to Dear Azami? We're always accepting deck submissions to consider for use in a future article like Phil's Garga Zol Plague Queen deck or Dave's Radha Heir to Keld deck. Only one deck submission will be chosen per article but being selected for the next edition of Dear Azamiincludes not just deck advice but also a $20 coupon to StarCityGames.com!
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