About a year ago, I had a pet black-green Midrange deck and I’d played it in a couple of tournaments and leagues. It had an overall game win rate of around 65% in those events, but I was still dissatisfied with some aspects of its performance and took a break from brewing and upgrading the deck for a while. Recently, I’ve realized that there were some very good cards printed for it between Innistrad: Midnight Hunt and Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty. I upgraded the list and all of a sudden scored a 9-1 record in best of 3 matches along two weekly tournaments. Let’s see what makes the deck powerful!
My Golgari Midrange attempts to provide early defenses against aggression and pressure Control opponents, all while generating value and trading efficiently. It mixes the strength of green creatures and ramp effects with black removal and a specialty of Golgari – graveyard recursion. In this article I’ll provide some thoughts on Midrange in general, then I’ll be diving into cards and synergies and provide some matchups overview at the end.
My Midrange philosophy
Play Universal Cards
There’s a dynamic happening in Midranges decks – the more you tune your list to fight Aggro, the worse it gets against Control and vice versa. You can just accept that you have polarized matchups, or rebel and try to have a decent chance of winning vs everything – and that’s my mindset. Therefore, I tend to play cards that are universal and aren’t good in only one matchup or scenario. Wall of Blossoms isn’t bad, but it applies zero pressure vs Control. Similarly Knight of the Ebon Legion is great when you’re applying pressure, but it’s bad when setting up defenses. On the other hand, take a look at Graf Reaver. It has both power and toughness higher than its mana value, making it an excellent threat as well as a good body to block – even the downside of taking one damage per turn isn’t that painful when it trades in combat or prevents attacks that would otherwise deal much more damage. On top of that, it’s planeswalker removal that can be revived with Lurrus of the Dream-Den. Now that’s what I call a universal card!
I also avoid cheap removal that targets only one card type, especially black creature removal spells like Fatal Push or various two-mana iterations of Doom Blade like Infernal Grasp. Those cards aren’t bad, but I’ve suffered enough in my life when they were just dead cards in hand vs Control, and I prefer creature removal that also hits planeswalkers or has some additional utility.
Value but not Greed
Midrange strategies usually aim to trade two-for-one and accumulate value over time, but the pitfall here is being too greedy. There are many tempting expensive cards in Golgari colors, e.g. six-mana planeswalkers like Vraska, Relic Seeker or Casualties of War, but in the end they are too slow vs Aggro, give too much time for Control to develop and prepare countermagic and they perform the best against… other greedy Midrange strategies. That’s why I left only one 6-mana card and five 5-mana cards, plus The Great Henge that has a variable cost.
It’s also important to start using your mana in the early game, especially while being on the draw vs Aggro. My rule of thumb is: include enough cards that cost one or two mana and either affect the board (e.g. creatures that can block) or interact with the opponent, to have a roughly 90% chance to have at least one in the opening hand. For a 100-card Gladiator deck, that’s 27 cards, and my list has 26 such cards, plus Abundant Harvest and Once Upon a Time that can fetch one.
This deck sacrifices some of green’s raw power to include more removal and card advantage sources, but we still have some hefty creatures like Thragtusk or Elder Gargaroth that help us to run one of the most powerful green value generating cards – The Great Henge. We also have some ways to “cheat” and increase the power of our creatures to cast it for less mana, like Kraul Harpooner or Life of Toshiro Umezawa. One of the advantages of The Great Henge is immediately giving back some mana we invested to cast it, which brings us to the next green strength, which is…
We’re not a typical Ramp deck, but having a few creatures that generate mana helps us to accelerate in the early game or mitigate land shortages. I stick to only a few I consider the best: Llanowar Elves, Gilded Goose, Paradise Druid, and Skull Prophet. I’ve tried Tangled Florahedron, but it was played as a land 90% of the time so I figured that I’d rather just play an untapped basic land instead. Sorry buddy, but cute art alone doesn’t get you a slot. There’s also a honorable mention – I’ve played Selvala, Heart of the Wilds for a long time and cut her recently to check out some newer three-drops, but I won’t forget that one time when I had an Escaped Polukranos, Unchained on board and pumped out 12 mana to cast Cavalier of Thorns and Command the Dreadhorde to revive the cards I just milled.
We also have some other ways to help us find lands in the early game, yet that are still useful once we’re satisfied with our land count. For example, cards like Abundant Harvest, Once Upon a Time, Witherbloom Command, Dig Up, and Shigeki, Jukai Visionary.
Still, the four creatures that generate mana I mentioned above tend to be less useful later in the game, so it’s a pity that black and green don’t have access to some good card filtering effects that allow you to draw and discard cards… Oh wait, they do!
Drawing the wrong cards in the wrong moment, for example flooding with lands, is a bane of all Magic decks. With the introduction of Blood tokens, we’ve received access to Voldaren Bloodcaster and Citystalker Connoisseur that help us solve the issue. Those are only two cards, so I even included a third one – The Celestus, which I originally underrated, but it turns out that sometimes you can loot even two or three cards per turn cycle with it. For example – it’s night, you don’t cast any spells and activate it – it becomes day, which changes again to night during the next untap step. Then if your opponent casts two spells, it becomes day again. Even when you have no cards in hand and must discard what you draw, there’s still a chance to get it back with some graveyard recursion effects and gaining one life is always handy.
Having access to black removal complements green very well – Golgari has the ability to remove all kinds of permanents, sometimes even lands! I particularly appreciate the removal that’s multipurpose, like Binding the Old Gods, Maelstrom Pulse, and Soul Transfer – with a bit of luck, you’ll find yourself controlling both an artifact and enchantment and using both modes at once! Life of Toshiro Umezawa is an interesting card that can get rid of some smaller creatures or be combined with Witherbloom Command, Erebos’s Intervention or The Meathook Massacre to deal with more sizeable threats.
Collateral Damage or a Sacrifice for the Greater Good?
Although I no longer play Casualties of War, the war waged by my Golgari deck still bears unwanted casualties on my side. Welcome to the black side of the Force… I mean Magic. This deck plays 34 creatures, but there are even more if you count cards like Esika’s Chariot and Life of Toshiro Umezawa, so normally you wouldn’t like wrath effects in such a list. That’s why all wraths I play are conditional and can be tailored to your needs. The Meathook Massacre can also serve as an emblem vs Control, Blood on the Snow provides recursion and can hit planeswalkers, and Sarulf, Realm Eater is a threat that grows with every opponent’s destroyed or sacrificed permanent, even cracked Fabled Passage or Treasure. Extinction Event is the least universal removal, but the mass exile effect is very strong and I keep it as a silver bullet that shines especially against Aggro. Having some of our creatures die in the process of resolving a wrath effect is often inevitable, but it’s a cost we usually can afford when removing opposing threats is more important.
New Hand Attack Trinity
Magic players used to call Duress, Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek the “Holy Trinity” of hand attack spells. I’d like to suggest a new trinity of good creatures with hand attack abilities: Concealing Curtains, Citystalker Connoisseur, and Biting-Palm Ninja. Having such effects tied to a body is really valuable for Midrange decks, as those cards have the advantage of not being dead once your opponent is empty-handed and they synergize with other pieces like the third level of Ranger Class that allows you to play them from the top of your library.
Speaking of Biting-Palm Ninja, I thought there was a Goose in my yard. I just turned around for a moment and suddenly two more ninjas appeared in a puff of smoke…
Merging into Golgari
It may sound like a meme, but thanks to being a flying one-drop with an enter the battlefield trigger, Gilded Goose is actually the best early game Ninjutsu enabler in this deck. Why write a separate paragraph about Ninjas when I play only three of them: Swarm Saboteur, Jukai Liberator and the aforementioned Biting-Palm Ninja? Well, returning a creature to your hand allows you to once again obtain the benefits of “enters the battlefield” effects like Briarbridge Tracker, redeploy your Polukranos, Unchained after it lost some counters, or recast the Adventure part of Murderous Rider. While all this contributes to good value, I’m aware that it’s mana inefficient to recast one of your creatures, and attacking the opponent is not something you want to do in the early game while defending. On the other hand, even when played normally, the Ninjas often forced my Aggro opponents to leave a blocker to prevent me from obtaining additional value.
In each Magic expansion, a two-color pair gets a separate theme. While those themes are usually a bit different from set to set, Golgari is almost always focused on one thing: graveyard recursion. Well, at least that means it’s got really good at it over time. This deck has only a few self-mill effects like Cavalier of Thorns or Witherbloom Command to enable it, but usually our graveyard just fills naturally during the game.
Shigeki, Jukai Visionary is a brand new Regrowth-like effect, that can create a loop with Bala Ged Recovery and over time allow you to regain every non-legendary card from your graveyard! And it’s also a creature that blocks on turn two, provides self-mill, and ramps, what a multitool in one card!
Our other important recursion cards are Lurrus of the Dream-Den and Timeless Witness. The latter can be Eternalized to create the perfect token to copy with Esika’s Chariot, just take a deep breath and don’t get drowned in value.
I Need a Tutor in Tutoring
Choosing the right card to return from the graveyard might be a puzzle to solve, but searching your whole library is much harder! The deck runs Demonic Tutor, Dig Up, Vivien, Monsters’ Advocate, Fauna Shaman and included Fiend Artisan in the past, all of which allow you to get the card that fits the boardstate the best. Tutoring is the area where I’ve made the most mistakes and at the same time I’ve learned the most. Sometimes it’s a straightforward search for a wrath against Aggro or Questing Beast for lethal, but other times you need to imagine different scenarios in order to play around your opponent’s spells, and this causes your brain to melt. Don’t worry, we’re Golgari, we’ll patch it up and retrieve it from the graveyard later!
We’ve got some aces in our sleeves that are very scary for Aggro players, like Elder Gargaroth, Thragtusk, Chevill, Bane of Monsters and the wrath cards I mentioned before. Since we play only four such effects and usually have our own creatures on the battlefield, the opponent is more susceptible than usual to overextending into sweepers.
We need to balance generating value with pressuring the opponent and not overextending into their boardwipes. Fortunately, we have many recursion elements and our ceiling for curving out looks like this: turn one Llanowar Elves, turn two Kazandu Mammoth, turn three Questing Beast, attack for nine – playing Golgari doesn’t mean we have forgotten our Stompy roots.
This is where our five pieces of hand attack effects come in handy. The removal we need depends on the combo we want to interrupt – sometimes we need Scavenging Ooze against Underworld Breach, other times Outland Liberator to shut down a Paradox Engine, or a Baleful Mastery to force the opponent do draw a card after they exiled their whole library with Tainted Pact. We also need to focus even more on applying pressure than in the Control matchup, because we’re on a tighter clock.
Midrange mirrors often focus on generating value and answering the most important threats or value engines of the opponent. The pressure from the opposing side will be smaller than in Aggro, at least in the early game, so we usually have some time to draw cards with Mazemind Tome or Reckoner Bankbuster. Blood on the Snow is a single spell that can flip the board advantage upside down. Hopefully, in Arena your angry opponent won’t flip the table upside down in response.
Should You Join Golgari?
If you like Midrange decks, interesting decisions, don’t want to run out of steam early and don’t mind switching between controlling the opponent and pressuring them, this deck is for you. The list I showed you is flexible and can be tuned in different ways according to your preferences or the current metagame, so you can create your own version based on mine – see the Moxfield’s Maybeboard section for some inspirations. If you have any questions, you can find me on the Gladiator Discord at Alan#0488. Thanks for reading!
Played a bit of Magic as a kid and came back to it with the MTG Arena open beta. Plays different formats available via Arena, but mostly Gladiator. Fan of midrange decks and black color.