Return of the Golgari
Over the series of the next ten (TEN!) articles we’ll be looking at each guild, and what it offers Peasant Cubes. For each guild we will look at the guild mechanic, three standout or interesting common or uncommon gold cards, the various cycles (other than the gates as they are all boring), and any other notable cards in the guild colours (if there are any).
Today, we start with the Golgari Swarm.
Scavenge [Cost] ([Cost], Exile this card from your graveyard: Put a number of +1/+1 counters equal to this card’s power on target creature. Scavenge only as a sorcery.)
This is an interesting mechanic for cube as it is very modular (as opposed to parasitic) so you can get away with only one or two in your cube without weakening the cards you do include. It also fits into various other strategies such as Dredge or Madness. It has similar advantages to Flashback in that it gives your pseudo-card advantage and a late game mana sink but with more permanency than Unearth.
The beauty of Scavenge however is that it can be put on different sized bodies with different abilities giving you a lot of room to maneuver in cube building. Looking for an interesting Grizzly Bears? Drudge Beetle will give you an early body with a late-game mana sink. Sometimes you just need a big evasive creature such as Zanikev Locust. Need something with deathtouch? Sluiceway Scorpion will trade up and then provide more value. However Dreg Mangler is probably the most exciting Scavenge card available to peasant cubes as it has haste and an efficient body.
While not the best Impulse ever printed, a lot of the value from this spell comes from putting the remaining cards in the graveyard. This can help set up both reanimator strategies and Spider Spawning type decks. Even if it doesn’t end up in one of these gimmicky decks, being able to get you a third land or dig for a specific creature still makes the card very playable in midrange decks.
Cankerous Thirst has always been a powerhouse in Golgari decks and is still very playable in greenless black decks as a 4-mana Last Gasp. The ability to have both pump and kill effects in one card can set up some very swingy turns where you kill one attacker while making your blocker large enough to kill another in combat. Alternatively, you can pump your attacker for lethal and kill their lone blocker in order to win turns earlier than you might otherwise have been able. Rites of Reaping is not as good as Thirst for one obvious reason, and one less obvious. Firstly, it costs 50% more, being 6 instead of 4 mana. Secondly, you need to have targets for both halves in order to be able to cast it. This means that you cannot kill their three toughness creature if it is the only creature in play. However the fact that it can only be played in green-black decks may mean it gets drafted later, giving G/B players more options later in the packs.
The versatility of charms often makes them playable even if one or two of the modes are narrow in their application. The most narrow mode of Golgari Charm is the enchantment destruction in Return to Ravnica draft however in a format which has access to cards like Ghostly Prison, Pestilence, and Control Magic it suddenly becomes more relevant. Cube also has available more sweepers, especially Pyroclasm-type effects, which makes the regeneration mode more important and also outclasses the -1/-1 mode. All together, the first mode may prove to be the least impressive.
Just like last time around, the guildmages are 2/2s for two mana, which in cube isn’t all that exciting (unless they become a 4/4). That said, Korozda Guildmage does have some interesting abilities. The second ability is a bit on the expensive side and you probably aren’t going to want to leave four mana open just to respond to your opponents removal spell. Damage hasn’t stacked for four years and that would have been somewhere this ability would have shined. However it does have some use being able to get extra value out of your Kitchen Finks, trading in a Blastoderm with no counters, ‘freeing’ a creature from a Faith’s Fetters, or getting tricky with the stack and an evoked Shriekmaw.
The first ability is much stronger than the second as it can break up stalled boards and force unblockable damage through. It can also help your creatures trade up in combat (don’t forget you can activate it more than once if you have the mana) and often just the threat of activation will be enough to throw out your opponent’s ability to work out combat maths.
Whether or not you want to include the keyrunes will be based in part on how strong you want the mana fixing in your cube to be. The keyrunes are generally less powerful but more interesting than the signets but (much like the signets) there are ten of them. You don’t have to include all of them, but if you do they will be taking up a significant amount of your cube real estate.
Golgari Keyrune is not that exciting as a 2/2 for five mana. The deathtouch means that it will trade up with most creatures on the ground that cost the same and also acts a pseudo-unblockability. However if you want your Golgari decks to be on the aggressive side then this is not a good fit. It also doesn’t work well with most of Golgari’s themes, doing nothing to help graveyard based strategies.
Overall, I haven’t been hugely impressed with the offerings of the Golgari Swarm and nothing gets me excited to sleeve it up with the rest of the cube. Scavenge is an interesting mechanic and a couple of the cards could end up seeing play in cube but there are probably better options out there.