Despite the fact that the Lord of the Rings main MTG set has been out for a while at this point, players are still finding ways to innovate in various formats. While the set has introduced a bunch of powerful new cards to Modern, most of them have simply been slotted nicely into preexisting archetypes. The One Ring helped buff mono-green Tron, Orcish Bowmasters strengthened Rakdos Scam even further, and Generous Ent helped make Living End decks more consistent. Each of these decks have existed for years and have certainly gotten stronger with new additions to the format. Today, we will be focusing on one archetype that has flown under the radar, but that may have finally gotten the boost it needs.
This deck is none other than Golgari midrange. Golgari is structured with some similarities to Jund Saga, utilizing efficient Creatures, removal, and the all-powerful Urza’s Saga to generate value and out-grind the opponent. Still, there are a few key differences, and with multiple Golgari players making top eight of yesterday’s Magic Online Modern Challenge, the deck is starting to gain more traction. To understand why this is the case, it’s important to start by looking at the deck’s core gameplan and how it differs from traditional Jund Saga decks.
Much like with Jund Saga, Golgari still has the ability to curve either Thoughtseize or Fatal Push into Tarmogoyf. Even after all these years of power creep, Tarmogoyf still hits hard, closing the game in short order and dodging some highly played removal spells, such as Lightning Bolt and sometimes even Unholy Heat. This deck, much like Jund Saga, has also added Orcish Bowmasters into the mix. Orcish Bowmasters is another two-drop threat, this time punishing opponents for casting cantrips and one-toughness threats such as Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer.
This deck combines these powerful two-drop threats with plenty of interaction and Jegantha, the Wellspring as a Companion to help play a grindy game.
One of the best tools this deck has access to in order to play these long, grindy games is Urza’s Saga. Urza’s Saga is an army in a can that can be used alongside a small Artifact toolbox to generate value. Cards like Nihil Spellbomb and Shadowspear can be searched for, depending on the matchup. While this core gameplan does overlap a lot with Jund Saga, there are plenty of key differences between the two decks.
Obviously, by staying specifically Golgari, this deck misses out on a few powerful red options. Most importantly, these include Wrenn and Six and Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer. Not having access to Wrenn and Six in particular is a big blow, but this deck makes up for it in other ways. Given that Ragavan gets picked off by Orcish Bowmasters, the powerful Pirate has gotten noticeably less reliable in recent months. With that in mind, Golgari midrange replaces Ragavan with a different one-drop: Elvish Reclaimer.
Elvish Reclaimer, most importantly, can find copies of Urza’s Saga to advance the deck’s gameplan more consistently. As a two-toughness Creature, it does not die to Bowmasters or Wrenn and Six. In combination with Fetch Lands, it’s easy to get three Lands in the graveyard to enable Elvish Reclaimer’s buff ahead of schedule. Elvish Reclaimer can even find utility Lands as needed at Instant speed, such as Bojuka Bog against Underworld Breach decks.
This deck also maximizes Grist, the Hunger Tide. Grist is a great threat on its own, continuously churning out Insect tokens. In combination with Bowmasters and the Orc Army token it produces, Grist can also be used to answer problematic Creatures or Planeswalkers on curve at very low cost. These cards help effectively fill the void that the missing red cards left.
Beyond simply playing efficient beaters and interaction, this deck has some cool synergies up its sleeve. First and foremost, this deck utilizes Call of the Death-Dweller as a unique way to recur some threats that get dealt with. For three mana, this card can do quite a lot. It can return Grist from your graveyard to play to keep the Insect train rolling. It can return both Elvish Reclaimer and Tarmogoyf at once to the battlefield, giving Menace and Deathtouch to Tarmogoyf to make it harder to block effectively.
The best thing Call of the Death-Dweller can do, though, is bring back Orcish Bowmasters. Typically, Orcish Bowmasters only deals one damage to opposing Creatures when it enters the battlefield or the opponent draws extra cards. However, thanks to the Deathtouch counter from Call of the Death-Dweller, it can immediately pick off Creatures of any size!
In addition to Call of the Death-Dweller, this deck also makes great use of Witherbloom Command. Witherbloom Command is quite versatile, picking off small Creatures and non-Creature non-Land permanents alike. The card can also return utility Lands from your graveyard to your hand, which works quite well with Urza’s Saga and Boseiju, Who Endures. These cards are all strong, but are they worth missing out on powerhouses like Wrenn and Six and Ragavan?
Strengths and Weaknesses
The answer to this question is quite dependent on the shape of the metagame. Given how strong and popular Orcish Bowmasters is, it makes sense that Ragavan is not quite as potent as it once was. However, the biggest strength this deck has in comparison to Jund Saga is a much more reliable manabase. The Jund Saga decks want access to red mana early for Wrenn and six and Ragavan, all while playing four colorless Lands in the form of Urza’s Saga. Not only does this make the manabase very painful with tons of Fetch and Shock Lands, but it makes the deck more vulnerable to Blood Moon and other similar effects.
While Blood Moon is still strong against Urza’s Saga out of Golgari, Golgari has an easier chance letting you Fetch basic Lands to help cast your spells like normal. In this sense, Golgari has a smoother and more consistent manabase. Elvish Reclaimer also helps in this regard, letting you search for basic Lands when necessary. Elvish Reclaimer and Grist add a lot to the Golgari archetype that really separates the deck from Jund Saga. The reality is that Jund Saga is mostly Rakdos-centric, splashing green for Wrenn and Six and Tarmogoyf. Golgari is much more green-heavy, giving it a more unique identity.
Of course, this doesn’t come without some weaknesses. While Ragavan is weak to Orcish Bowmasters, it is quite strong in Jund Saga’s bad matchups, such as mono-green Tron. Wrenn and Six can also continuously recur Boseiju, letting you hit your opponent’s Tron Lands over and over. Golgari is definitely a bit slower without access to Ragavan, which can be problematic against big-mana decks.
However, having access to Grist as well as Call of the Death-Dweller and Orcish Bowmasters helps this deck deal with large Creatures such as Murktide Regent. Having a less painful manabase that is less vulnerable to Blood Moon is a big deal too, helping both against Burn and Izzet Murktide. This deck has a lot to offer, and it continues to put up more and more results.