Standard Golgari Graveyard Aggro Deck Guide: Use the Dead to Beat Them Dead
Hello everyone! Today I’m going over a super sweet aggro deck that I had a blast playing: Golgari Graveyard Aggro. This is a deck that feels like it’s been in the works for quite awhile, but finally got all the pieces to work. I even slated it as one of the decks to look out for in one of my first Crimson Vow articles as I really thought that it could have some real legs. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the list I started off with.
I took the simple approach of jamming every graveyard related card together and calling it a day. We had some really (presumably) nice new cards in the form of Reclusive Taxidermist as a functionally better Werebear, Mulch as an excellent source of mill, and Deathcap Glade to help out the mana base.
I was really hoping that they would reveal more graveyard matters cards as the set progressed, but unfortunately we got them all more or less the first few days. I was concerned it wasn’t enough to make the deck viable, but I had to forage on anyway. With that, I threw together a sideboard, changed a few of the main deck slots, and started here.
If you watched the video above, I workshopped the deck a bit with Chris before foraging into ladder and I was surprised by how well the deck played out. I was afraid that the synergies were going to be too gimmicky, but they worked together extremely well and it produced a very fast deck that was capable of disrupting the opponent as well. We spruced the deck up more at the end of the video and I did a little bit more fixing after the fact as well. Here’s where I’m currently at.
The start of any aggressive deck worth it’s salt is the 1 drop spot and this deck had a very unique problem. It wasn’t that it had too few options to choose from, it actually had too many! Between Deathbonnet Sprout, Willow Geist, and now Ascendant Packleader, the deck had many reasonable options, but as you can see, I ended up with the first two. Deathbonnet Sprout is the perfect one drop for this deck as it comes down early, it helps enable our synergies, and then it grows into a sizeable threat in the late game.
The newest version of the deck is the most creature light yet, but I still didn’t find it too difficult to flip it and it’s still fine even when you don’t. Willow Geist though may be the card that has impressed and surprised me the most out of the threats suite. I figured that most games it was just going to be a 2/2 that gains me some life which is a fine rate for a 1 drop. However, I had multiple games where it quickly became a 4/4 or larger just off of all the cards we play that can take cards out of the graveyard. Lastly, with an influx of hate cards that exile from the graveyard, I’ve already caught multiple opponents who exile one of my things only to grow the Willow Geist!
Next we have the main two drop in the deck, Skyclave Shade. Skyclave is a very solid threat on it’s own, hard to kill, and excellent to mill over as it’s like drawing a card! It’s not the best versus the aggressive decks, but it’s not even bad in those matchups. I decided to add Tangled Florahedron as the creature count was starting to get low, but I also didn’t want to play too few lands so I decided to split the difference!
All the cards in this deck have been working obscenely well together, but I think the glue that really holds it together are the 3 drops. First off we have to pay respects to Egon, God of Death who has been an absolute house for this archetype. The Throne side is cheap, let’s us do something with extra mana, enables self mill early, and so on. Then the flip side is a huge threat that is unbeatable in combat and can help further enable your Willow Geist to grow. It’s also one of the trickiest cards to play as you don’t want to play it too early, but striking that balance comes with some practice.
The second linchpin comes in the form of one of the best Crimson Vow cards released, Cemetery Prowler. Since we’re self milling, it’s very easy to hit any card type we’re looking for and then we just have a reduced mana cost on that type as long as Prowler is on board! This makes double spelling on a subsequent turn or even the same turn really easy and can easily swing the game in your favor.
Now we have the curve topping threats. Of course, since we’re playing Green, we’re playing Esika's Chariot. It has very little synergy in the deck, but it’s Esika's Chariot so why wouldn’t we play it. In terms of actual synergy we play 2 copies of Ebondeath Dracolich as it’s like a bigger, harder to trigger Skyclave Shade. I was expecting more out of this dragon, but it was more or less just ok every time I had it rather than a stand out card. Nevertheless it was definitely amazing in the grindy matchups and great when you mill it over, but just ok otherwise.
Lastly we have the spicy 1 of Wrenn and Seven which is quite good in the deck as a means to enable self mill and make a large token with Chariot. In reality I’d probably like to play a second main, but I currently have no idea what I would take out and I don’t want to go below 24 creatures main deck as I want to be as proactive as possible in game 1 so I want my synergies as potent as possible.
Finally we have the spells of the deck. I swapped out Bloodchief's Thirst for Infernal Grasps as they’ve been more versatile, but you can realistically have any removal spell you like here. Mulch is more glue that holds this deck together as it’ll on average net us a land or two and mill over some goodies for us to use. Witherbloom Command was a card I was really low on when brewing the deck, but it turned out to be quite excellent as a small piece of removal and a nice hit of self mill. 4 would probably be overkill, but 3 seems right as one per game feels like the sweet spot.
NOTABLE EXCLUSIONS/POTENTIAL INCLUSIONS
We’re in the right colors and this card isn’t bad, but not really what we’re looking for.
Great board card if that’s what you’re in the market for.
Milling 3 is certainly great for this deck, but we’re less focused on turbo milling and more worried about incidental milling with pressure. I don’t hate this card, but just not right for the deck.
This card is very good in general and can help fuel Willow Geist synergies so it could definitely see some play in this type of deck.
This is a fine card, but I think we lack the 2s we would really be looking for to warrant including this. You could still play 1 if you like it, but I don’t think it’ll be that good that often.
I was considering playing more 1 drops and this is a pretty good one, but I think it would just be a 2/1 too often and our other 1s are so much better than that in the deck.
I think this card is sweet, but too slow for an aggro deck.
This can be a solid sideboard card as we can functionally always enable it, but it’s not like Artifacts and Enchantments are so prolific we need this specifically.
I had high hopes for this card and I definitely sabotaged it a bit by removing more creatures from the build, but it really just didn’t perform for me. It was pretty difficult to get to 4 creatures often enough so this ended up just being a kind of worse Tangled Florahedron most of the time. Maybe in a full creature build (or close to) this will perform, but this isn’t the list for it.
This could actually be super sick in this deck, but I think as long as Chariot is around that Wrenn and Seven will be the best 5 you can play in Green. Keep your eye on this though, this is pretty absurd in creature mirrors as well.
In a super creature dense version of this deck I can see this being played in some amounts, but it’s not good enough in the style of deck I’m going for.
I think this Peasant is definitely being slept on, but we’re trying to close games out quickly and Ol Ruts doesn’t facilitate that.
This is more or less the same deal as it is with Ghoulcaller's Harvest. This isn’t exactly what we’re looking to do, but if you’re just all creatures than Stickfingers would likely be very good.
MATCHUPS AND SIDEBOARD GUIDE
It’s still quite early in the season to say definitively what you’re going to face, so I’ll give a general overview.
|+2 Wrenn and Seven||-4 Skyclave Shade|
|+1 Infernal Grasp||-2 Ebondeath, Dracolich or Witherbloom Command|
|+3 Bloodchief's Thirst|
This is generally how I approached my boarding in every creature matchup. You don’t need to go so hard on your game plan and rather just work towards building a graveyard while picking apart some threats with removal. This boarding does put us quite low on creatures, but beyond Deathbonnet Sprout specifically, Skyclave Shade or Ebondeath, Dracolich is generally not what you’re looking for in these matchups anyway.
The only decision I make with how to board is whether I board out both Ebondeath or two Witherbloom. It really comes down to how many creatures Witherbloom kills in the opponent’s deck. If it kills 3+ creatures, you definitely want that more, but if it can only kill a couple, it’s generally not better than Dracolich as you can make good blocks and pressure quickly.
|+2 Tangletrap||-1 Wrenn and Seven|
|+1 Infernal Grasp||-2 Ebondeath, Dracolich|
|+3 Go Blank||-3 Witherbloom Command|
When they have a good amount of creatures to contend with, you don’t want to go gung ho with anti-control measures as they’ll just kill you with their threats. Ebondeath can block their Dragons, but considering it gets killed by all their removal, bounced by Fading Hope, killed by Ashmouth Dragon, I feel it’s too weak in this matchup.
You want a good density of removal so you functionally always have an answer to one of their threats and Go Blank is great at taxing their resources. You want to be very fast here and not give them time to set up a really good Alrund's Epiphany turn when possible.
When I say creature-less Control I don’t mean they literally play 0, but they play very few. With that, I generally board out my removal as if they get to the point they’re casting their threat (which is probably Hullbreaker Horror), you’re likely going to die at that point regardless. Nevertheless, you want maximum pressure to end that game before they can do anything too consequential and between all of our threats and all our hand disruption, that shouldn’t be too difficult.
As a final note, if you’re facing Izzet Turns, assume they’re bringing in Smoldering Egg so you probably want a few Infernal Grasp to deal with that. You can shave something like the Tangled Florahedron to make room.
TIPS AND TRICKS
- If you’re close to flipping Deathbonnet Sprout, I’d try to avoid taking creatures out of the graveyard as much as you can. The exception is recurring a Skyclave Shade or an Ebondeath, Dracolich if you have no other plays.
- Willow Geist doesn’t trigger when multiple cards leave your graveyard at once, but will trigger with each separate incidence of it. So Egon, God of Death’s upkeep trigger will only grant one counter but recurring multiple Skyclave Shades will be multiple counters.
- Barring you don’t have a Willow Geist and your opponent has the right card type in their graveyard, I prefer to go after the opponent’s graveyard with Cemetery Prowler rather than your own.
- Try to only play out Egon, God of Death (specifically the creature side) when you have an excess of cards in the graveyard. You don’t want a turn or 2 with it just to lose it to it’s own trigger.
- Ebondeath, Dracolich can be an “infinite blocker” of sorts as long as it’s trading since the other creature dying will reactivate it’s triggered ability.
- 99% of the time you’re doing the mill 3 mode on Witherbloom Command plus one other. I did once use it to kill a creature and a Portable Hole though which was sweet so you want to be aware that you aren’t always locked in to one mode.
I have to say that Golgari was some of the most fun I’ve had playing Standard in awhile as a fast strategy with a lot of decisions and synergies is just a blast to play for me.
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