Today I want to start by talking about the deck I moved to after playing aggro against Golos enough times: Golos Fires. Essentially I just wanted to play what I felt was doing the most powerful stuff in the format and this is where I ended up. My own list is probably a little too insular at the moment due to constant tweaks, so I’m going to use Mythic Championship V Competitor Aaron Barich’s build as the example.
1 Steam Vents 2 Stomping Ground 1 Selesnya Guildgate 1 Swamp (339) 1 Plains (331) 1 Temple Garden 1 Mountain (343) 1 Temple of Epiphany 1 Temple of Mystery 2 Island (335) 1 Hallowed Fountain 1 Golgari Guildgate 1 Thornwood Falls 1 Azorius Guildgate 1 Boros Guildgate 2 Breeding Pool 1 Forest (347) 3 Fabled Passage 4 Field of the Dead 1 Simic Guildgate 1 Agent of Treachery 2 Kenrith, the Returned King - Collector Pack Exclusive 3 Hydroid Krasis 3 Golos, Tireless Pilgrim 3 Beanstalk Giant/Fertile Footsteps 4 Fae of Wishes/Granted 1 Time Wipe 4 Circuitous Route 3 Deafening Clarion 4 Growth Spiral 4 Fires of Invention Sideboard 1 Agent of Treachery 2 Time Wipe 1 Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God 1 Shared Summons 1 Planewide Celebration 1 Planar Cleansing 1 Oko, Thief of Crowns 1 Prison Realm 1 Chance for Glory 1 Casualties of War 1 Unmoored Ego 2 Devout Decree 1 Teferi, Time Raveler
So what is the deck? Here’s how it breaks down:
Main Combo package
Second Combo package
Backup Threat / Mana Sink
0-3 Hydroid Krasis
1-3 Beanstalk Giant
The lists typically have 3-5 open slots, with 3 anti-aggro cards at least, usually Deafening Clarion. Others include Oko, Thief of Crowns, Teferi, Time Raveler, Deputy of Detention, Flame Sweep, Time Wipe, Hydroid Krasis, Realm-Cloaked Giant and so on.
Sideboard (All between 0-2 copies typically)
Veil of Summer (depends on sideboard plan)
Disdainful Stroke (usually in Bant Golos’ sideboard plan)
Deputy of Detention (depends on Teferi and maindeck numbers)
Aether Gust (Anti-Gruul/Red, mostly Gruul and Simic)
Wishboard (8-10 copies)
0-1 Unmoored Ego (Depends on sideboard plan / random catchall)
0-1 Prison Realm
It’s pretty much everything normal Bant Golos does, except you have a broken mana sink and a “wishboard” instead of general “good” cards and extra sweepers maindeck. The tradeoff is that the wishboard gives you answers to pretty much every common scenario in Standard and makes your threats go from good to completely busted in half. In exchange for running these cards, you make the deck clunkier and can run into the problem of not having enough to actually do. Field of the Dead mostly negates this issue, but it can still pop up in your 29-land deck when nearly half your spells are ramp.
If you accept those risks, you get to play some of the most busted Magic short of just a 2-card combo that wins the game. The deck reminds me a lot of Twinblade in that it can grind out games or just effectively end the game on turn 4/5, though the obvious difference is it can’t just win out of nowhere and it lacks the sheer amount of manipulation that deck had. Still, we’ll take what we can get, and that includes a whole lot of powerful things.
If people are interested, I can do a follow-up article on other matchups, but to me the most interesting one is the Golos mirror. The rest are pretty straightforward in the sense that the Golos build ramps, ideally gets Field of the Dead online on turn five and just scales into wiping opponents out with one of its powerful threats. Fires of Invention on turn three into a Fae of Wishes is almost always going to give you a massive advantage and put the opponent on the backfoot. Even without other threats, if you wipe the board, replay Fae and buy it back to your hand to wish for Nicol Bolas or Shared Summons, you probably win the game from there anyway.
So how do we actually win Golos mirror matches?
Winning the Golos Mirror
#1: Mana Snowball
Just have a bunch of ramp cards and your opponent doesn’t. Often you’ll see this when someone mulligans to six and keeps a hand of 3 land, Route, Golos and something else. If you play two ramp spells on your first 3 turns, then your Golos-into-Field is effectively free. This gets even worse post-board with Agent of Treachery when you could easily end up with your 7 lands to their 5 lands, steal their Field of the Dead and the game is effectively over.
The Fires versions of Golos exemplify this since Fires of Invention is just a huge mana dump. Just as an example, they can play Growth Spiral on turn 2, Fires on 3 + Route or Fae. Even if they don’t do anything else on turn 3 (with 4 lands), on turn 4 they can play a fifth land, Golos for Field and still cast another spell.
This is where you have to be careful. For example, you may Disdainful Stroke the Golos here. However if the Fires player has Kenrith and black mana, you just lost the game as they can slam Ken, reanimate Golos and get Field or the missing color for a Golos activation. The same goes for tapping out for a big threat, because with Fires in play any wish can become Casualties of War and significantly set opposing Golos players down.
Basically if you out-ramp your opponent by a 2-land margin, it feels like you need to be very low on other resources and/or get countered by cheaper answers to end up back at parity. An example would be jamming an Agent of Treachery and the opponent having Veil of Summer to counter it and stay card-positive on the exchange. Never finding a Field of the Dead is another example.
#2: Field of the Dead advantage
This somewhat goes with the above and why people love Agent of Treachery so much. Really, though, it goes back to mana advantage. If you get +2 Fields ahead of your opponent, then the number of Zombies you can generate becomes a serious problem and effectively ties up their mana to keep up, meaning you can leverage your lands as threats and have full access to your mana for any power plays. Any card that directly destroys Fields (or Agent stealing them) is a major factor and one that needs to be highly considered when looking at sideboard plans.
I will say this as far as Zombie board stalls go, Chance for Glory significantly shifts around the math for what wins the game here. I have a whole section on that below, but Golos Fires benefits significantly and those board stalls you saw in week 1 are rarely going to show up. Between Kenrith, Chance for Glory, Agent of Treachery + Teferi and Fires of Invention, it’s really hard to stall out the game like olden times. Usually board stalls lasted 1-3 turns in my Golos mirror matches and then either the board got reset or someone won the game outright.
#3: Card/Resource advantage
And this is the part where I poke fun of Hydroid Krasis in Golos mirrors now that every Golos player has a plan to win the mirror. In Bant Golos I’m behind it, but in Fires the card is a sick joke when you have the full Fae package and Golos and Kenrith as your mana sinks. Why would you ever cast this card for 8+ mana if you have the choice between it and anything else? With Fires in play, Krasis is effectively just a worse Shared Summons or Escape to the Wilds in the early/mid game and in the late game it’s rarely better than any of your other threats. Krasis gets way better mileage from beating up normal fair decks and being a “never bad” topdeck.
Honestly, raw card advantage in the Golos mirrors isn’t very important except when one player is significantly hamstrung on threats–either lands when none of them are Field of the Dead, Fires of Invention on 4 with no follow-up or just a couple of cantrips and my favorite, the Wish-Casualties, spend the next turn buying back + wishing again to set up a future play. That’s when you know as long as you can keep throwing haymakers, you’ll win unless they hit an absurd streak of cards. However, that doesn’t require a ton of draw to stay ahead, that requires like… 2-3 extra draws total and you’ll put the game away before they recover.
Card selection is by far more important, because ultimately your mana is still the big chokepoint here. This is why Fires of Invention is so powerful, because you can break the usual dichotomy and go ridiculously big before you actually get to the 10+ land phase of the game. All and all, card advantage only truly matters when you’ve already met the first couple of criteria. If you end up even on mana and Fields and only have 1-2 big threats, then you should worry about plays that net you cards.
One big difference between Bant and the Fires builds tends to be how aggressively you can look to end the game. You can tell when people miss on-board lethal while wishing because they either don’t have the right setup cards or are too focused on getting ahead on resources. The same goes for when they don’t steal your fifth land while ahead or snap-activate Golos to see what they pull. Fires builds typically have more ways to turn a board stall or small edge into the end of the game.
#4: Direct counters via wishes or post-board answers
Disdainful Stroke, Wish for Unmoored Ego on T3, Wish for Casualties on T4, etc. Teferi + Agent / Deputy and so on. Some crossover with the above concepts, but it’s easier to cover them in their own section.
The point is that it’s very important to get a feel for what plan your opponent is on and adjust accordingly. If you don’t run Fires of Invention, then you can run a more reactive plan. Veil of Summer is a huge beating on Casualties of War, Agent of Treachery and the majority of post-board cards. Disdainful Stroke has felt like the best card on the draw because it lets you take back initiative from your opponent and helps prevent you from getting snowballed.
The best cards when ahead have been Casualties of War and Agent of Treachery because they both let you win #1 & #2. If you ever play more than one of these (either multiples, recursion via Teferi, etc.) you’ll be hard-pressed to lose unless you throw or get countered. Even a single one is often backbreaking if you’re on the draw. On the play, you have a bit more room to maneuver unless you had a very slow turn-four Route type of draw. Basically, Bant Golos wants the reactive cards, especially on the draw. However if you go overboard you start cutting into ramp or threats, meaning you’re typically limited. What also makes this awkward is that Teferi counters all the best reactive cards, so you have a subgame of Teferi vs. your sideboard plan.
Fires, on the other hand, not only can’t use the best reactive cards due to Fires of Invention, but because it wants to just resource dump faster than the opponent it just doesn’t help all that much. You want the best proactive cards for the match, which means Teferi is actually better for you since it ensures a clean Casualties/Agent resolution and can draw you some cards in the early game. Again, your velocity matters a lot more with Fires because you have more air in the deck and Veil/Stroke are really powerful against your go-to plan.
Choose Your Weapons
There’s generally four packages I see that you can mix and match.
#2: Disdainful Stroke + Veil of Summer
Counters the big non-Golos threats (and Stroke hits Golos too) and Veil can turn Agent and Casualties into huge tempo and card losses.
#3: Teferi + Agent/Deputy
Teferi ensures you aren’t blown out by common answers and can combo with Agent to lock up a game. Can also do a very good job of keeping Zombie hordes in check with Deputy of Detention and make up a lot of ground if you’re behind in the Field of the Dead battle.
#4: Anti-Ramp counters in Negate & Aether Gust
Technically these both do more than that, but realistically when I see them it’s to counter either Circuitous Route or Fires of Invention and absolutely dagger your tempo. Good luck getting your wishes going or Agent of Treachery online when you’re stuck on five lands for a couple of turns.
In my mind, Teferi is actually at its best in the Fires builds, though honestly Veil is so strong I could see just running it on the draw anyway to ensure you don’t get spiked by a counter or Agent. Bant Golos wants to actively jam some amount of countermagic and while Veil is worse against Fires than the Bant mirror, it’s still a clean answer to some of the most dangerous cards. Sultai is actually the most interesting mirror option in my mind because it can run a bunch of maindeck copies of Casualties of War and still play Disdainful Stroke/Veil and not feel bad. You get the best of both worlds at the cost of losing the best power play (Fires-Wish) and Teferi.
Lines that win a Zombie showdown
- Wish-Finale of Devastation for 10 fetching Deputy of Detention
- Making 8-12 more Zombies than your opponent; Kenrith, the Returned King
- Golos-Wish-Time Wipe–Golos (Usually a Fires play)
- Lethal board-Wish-Chance for Glory. This is actually much easier than it sounds. Since there are so few instants unless Teferi is involved, this is essentially just checking if an on-board kill is possible.
The Zombie Math
A good rule of thumb is this, you need 5 Zombies for lethal with Chance for Glory on an open board.
- Every Zombie you have is 4 damage total, which means every creature you have is 4 damage.
- Every Zombie they have negates 2 damage total.
- Every blocker capable of surviving an attack phase negates 4 damage total.
Even a 20-power Beanstalk Giant is just going to get chumped by a Zombie. So unless Kenrith gives trample or a Hydroid Krasis comes into play, it’s always going to be a Zombie that gets through instead of a creature dealing more damage. You can mentally shortcut your board into one batch of Zombies.
So having 5 Zombies as the baseline number you need for lethal (10+10), here are some examples.
- You vs Them
- 7 Zombies vs 3 Zombies
- Lethal. Attack for 28 total. They absorb 6. You deal 22.
- You vs Them
- 7 Zombies, Golos vs 3 Zombies
- Not Lethal. Attack for 28. They absorb 10. You deal 18.
- You vs Them
- 10 Zombies vs 10 Zombies
- Lethal. Attack for 40. They absorb 20. You deal 20.
It scales. Nine is the breakeven point. Once you have 10 Zombies, they must have the equivalent of +2 life, which is an 11th Zombie. But for every one you generate after that point, your Zombies usefulness quickly outscales theirs. More examples below the cut.
- You vs Them
- 11 Zombies vs 13 Zombies
- Not lethal. 44-26.
- Turn 1: attack with 11, 11 blockers (RIP)
- Turn 2: attack with 11, 2 blockers, only 18 damage gets through. you lose
- You vs Them
- 14 Zombies vs 17 Zombies
- Lethal. 56-34
- Turn 1: attack with 14, 14 blockers (RIP)
- Turn 2: attack with 14, 3 blockers, 22 dmg gets through.
Notice how the 2-Zombie difference is enough for 11 to 13, but once we go to 14 your opponent needs more than a 3-Zombie difference. This continues to grow. Even creatures that won’t die in combat only make a minor difference to the math.
- You vs Them
- 15 Zombies vs 20 Zombies
- Lethal. Attack for 60. They absorb 40. You deal 20.
- You vs Them
- 15 Zombies, Golos vs 19 Zombies
- Not Lethal. Attack for 60. They absorb 42. You deal 18.
Opponent Life Total + (# of Zombies x 2) + (# of others creatures x 4) = their effective life total.
Your # of Zombies x 4 = your effective damage.
As long your number equals or beats their number, you win. This works for any number.
- Opponent: 35 life + 23 Zombies x2 (46) + 2 other creatures (8) = 89 life
- Hero: 25 zombies x 4 = 100 dmg
How does that look when played out?
- Turn 1: Attack with 25, all 25 are blocked, 23 opposing Zombies die, 2 others live
- Turn 2: Attack with 25, 2 are blocked, 46 damage gets through
Which… hey! The overkill damage is 11, which is the same as what the shortcut math told us! Neat.
The moving of the banned announcement and high percentage of metagame share at the Mythic Championship leads me to believe Field of the Dead will get banned. If not, I’d be more than happy to keep jamming this deck through the season. If you have any questions, feel free to ask in the comments.