Last weekend I played in a Standard WPNQ in Huddersfield with Standard’s latest ‘deck to beat’, Cat Food, and emerged victorious. In this article, I’ll provide some coverage of the event as well as give my thoughts on playing the deck and some of the card choices I tried out.
Deck choice and preparation
For this event, I went ‘all in’ on Golgari food a week ahead of the event because I wanted to play the food archetype and preferred Golgari to the Jund version. Grindy midrange is a style of Magic I enjoy playing in what I consider ‘lower variance’ constructed formats like Standard (by comparison I consider Modern and Legacy much more ‘high variance’ due to the depth of card pool and power level of some of the cards). None of the aggressive or more controlling decks appealed to me as much.
I relied almost entirely on Arena ranked play to get some reps in with the deck. At first, I was a little disappointed because I didn’t have a great amount of success. I kept losing to a Temur Adventures deck that played Escape to the Wilds and a Simic elemental-based ramp deck including Risen Reef and Cavalier of Thorns. I briefly wondered if I had picked the right deck.
I was shortly informed that those two decks are hard matchups for the Golgari food deck. It also became apparent to me that I was being too conservative with my resources when playing the deck. It is a grindy deck by nature, but I learned that in terms of mulligan decisions and sequencing, it’s more important to play it a bit more like a combo deck with the aim of assembling Trail of Crumbs, Witch’s Oven, and Cauldron Familiar as soon as possible – even at the expense of early resources.
After playing the deck a bit differently, I started to get a lot more out of my cards. Here is the list I ended up playing which blends a configuration I saw from @Crokeyz and some innovations from my friend Christoph Green @ChrisophTG on team Axion Now, who posted his Golgari list after winning a WPNQ in Nottingham the weekend before.
I travelled to the event with Danny Stacey, who was on the Jund version of the deck. The event was attended by 21 players which meant five rounds of swiss before a cut to Top 8. Here is how the swiss rounds went.
- Round 1 vs Dimir Control 2-0
- Round 2 vs Golgari Adventures 1-0
- Round 3 vs Izzet Flash/Tempo 0-2
- Round 4 vs Gruul Aggro 2-1
- Round 5 vs Mono-Red Aggro 0-0-3
Here are some talking points from the Swiss rounds.
- The game I played in round two was very tense yet enjoyable. My opponent jammed three Edgewall Innkeeper early on, which I couldn’t really remove as I had to use Murderous Riders on the Questing Beasts and Lovestruck Beasts trying to kill me instead. The real bludgeon came from a Casualties of War after I had missed my fifth land drop twice! Luckily, I topdecked a land and accelerated out Massacre Girl with Gilded Goose the following turn to clear the board and buy some breathing room to rebuild. Unfortunately, my opponent used The Great Henge to keep the pressure going. After several very defensive combat steps, two more Massacre Girls wiping the board and, the minor risk of milling out, I was eventually able to turn the tables with three minutes left on the clock.
- Round three was a lesson in being repeatedly blown out by Ionize! My opponent’s deck impressed me and made me realise that when playing against this deck, you’re a lot closer to death than the board state might suggest because of flash creatures and burn.
A record of 3-1-1 was enough to make Top 8, which Danny had also managed alongside my opponents from rounds two, three, four and five. The other decks in the Top 8 were another Golgari Food deck and another Mono-Red deck. I was fourth in the standings which meant I got to go first in the quarterfinals.
- Quarterfinal vs Golgari Food 2-1
- Semifinal vs Mono-Red Aggro 2-1
- Final vs Izzet Flash/Tempo 2-1
Here are some talking points from the Top 8:
- My Quarterfinal match was one of the hardest matches I’ve played at a PTQ/PPTQ for a long time and lasted about two hours. In game one I managed to enact the mana denial plan by using Massacre Girl and Casualties of War – it could well have happened the other way round if my opponent had gone first. In game two we both played a couple of Casualties each but I had needed to use my Castle Locthwain in order to tap six mana, so I lost a source of valuable card advantage in the exchange. My opponent had smartly been able to sandbag their castle for later and it proved to be the difference-maker as we both flooded out for numerous turns. Eventually, all the extra drawn cards paid off for my opponent. In game three we both played out our key cards and dismantled them with Casualties. The difference this time was that I was very lucky and immediately topdecked replacement copies of Trail each time I was hit by Casualties, which wasn’t the case for my opponent.
- The semifinal felt a bit textbook in terms of what our decks are supposed to do. In game one, I couldn’t answer a Runaway Steam-Kin quickly enough and got run over by it and Torbran, Thane of Red Fell. In game two I stabilised with Wolves and Lovestruck 5/5s. The key play in game three was Legion’s End on my opponent’s multiple Fervent Champions. My opponent unfortunately missed some land drops, allowing me time enough to set up a board of big green creatures.
- In the finals, I faced the same opponent from round three. In game one I stabilised what I thought would be early enough to win but my opponent resolved a Gadwick, the Wizened which made it harder for me to attack or repeatedly chump block with 1/1 cats. I managed to force some awkward plays from my opponent to not die to the triggers and played around burn spells by sacrificing food for three life when appropriate to squeeze out a win. Game two was a textbook example of the Izzet deck doing its thing and I got completely blown out every time I made what quickly became ‘forced plays’. In game three I drew a flexible enough range of spells to force my opponent to play their threats when I wanted them to while being able to use Trail to develop my board. It felt very important to keep the Briarborn Cuthroats as small as possible by forcing my opponent to play spells in their own turn – even though they might have more mana available.
I’m very pleased to have won the event. This means I’m qualified for the Player’s Tour in Brussels in February. The WPNQs have felt a lot more like PPTQs than PTQs because they have had quite small attendances, but the Players Tour event in Brussels is probably going to be a much larger event than past RPTQs.
I thought it would add value to share some deck-specific tips, including the pros and cons of running this version instead of the Jund version, tips for playing the deck and sideboarding.
Reasons to play this version over the Jund version
- We take a lot less damage from our manabase which really matters against the aggressive decks in the format.
- Mayhem Devil is easily answerable between Wolf, Rider, and Casualties. Not having this card in our deck allows us to devote more slots to other payoff cards like Casualties or utility like Thrashing Brontodons. ‘Thrashy B’ is quite good in the mirror because it’s an additional way to remove Trail or Oven. Devil is good at killing opposing creatures, but Food decks can just sacrifice the creature to Oven for more value after multiple Devil triggers have already been invested in trying and kill it.
The Jund version is better against decks playing Edgewall Inkeeper or decks where we need to apply pressure because the opponent is trying to go over the top of us with something like Fires of Invention or Mass Manipulation. Damage from land drops can often outweigh the ability for Devil to machine-gun down small creatures in aggressive matchups. To benefit from Devil against aggressive decks, we need to see it early AND have enough triggers at the ready to clear the opponent’s board of creatures before they take over.
Playing the deck
The following are what I like to think of as heuristics for playing the deck. They will apply most of the time – or at least provide a starting point. Begin with these in mind and deviate if your opponent’s deck or plays suggest you should otherwise.
- The most important thing is to ensure we play Trail of Crumbs as early as possible. This can be particularly relevant for early sequencing if we don’t have Goose but have Cat, Oven or both. It may mean playing a Scryland on turn one instead of an untapped land and a one drop, but the deck wants to efficiently churn through food as much as possible. Giving ourselves the maximum number of turns with which to do this will only aid us.
- The best opening sequence is Goose into Trail. Before untapping for turn three we can sacrifice the token made by Trail to the Goose to add mana and use that mana to pay for the trigger. The deck is very mana hungry but also good at making food and we want to make sure we hit all our land drops early on. We often won’t have the luxury of being able to sacrifice food to its own ability and pay for Trail triggers.
- By extension, it may seem ‘lower value’ but sacrificing food in our own turn with Gilded Goose or Wicked Wolf to trigger Trail and either hit land drops or deploy more permanents should not be overlooked. Resorting to paying the two mana to gain three and trigger Trail is much less efficient and can prevent us from playing a spell and developing our board that turn. It’s rare that we need to be reactive with mana so using it in our turn helps us get more out of our main phase(s).
I expect most Golgari food decks to have almost the same cards in the maindeck. Here are some of the nuances to my 75.
It’s true that the deck is very mana hungry, but if we can’t take advantage of the extra mana on turn three or turn four, we’re often open to either an opponent’s mass removal, or forced to lose it to a necessary Massacre Girl of our own against a beatdown deck.
With cards like Fires of Invention, Wilderness Reclamation, Embercleave and even Trail of Crumbs powering some of the popular decks of the format, why wouldn’t we want to include the dinosaur in the maindeck? It survives Deafening Clarion and can roadblock a reasonable number of early threats in from aggro decks. Maindeck inclusion frees up sideboard space too.
This was something I saw from Christoph’s list that I really liked. Against decks like Jeskai Fires or other decks that go over the top like Temur Adventures or Simic Ramp we can use it to take some of the very relevant creature spells like Cavailiers, Hydroid Krasis or Fae of Wishes, which Duress can’t do. Triggering Spectacle is made quite easy with cat.
Another card I saw people were playing and really like. It’s a great recursive hasty threat for us to bring it in when we are the beatdown and need to deplete our opponent’s health as quickly as possible. Just beware that the slower green decks may sideboard Lovestruck Beasts to take the wind out of this skeleton’s sails.
I initially tried out The Great Henge as my ‘grindy’ card for mirrors or other attrition-based matchups, but it ended up being very polarising. Either it would be awkward to deploy, and sometimes immediately answered – or I would run away with the game (but this happened a bit less often than I hoped). Once and Future proved to be much more efficient and consistent. Often returning a Casualties of War and Drill Bit at the end of my opponent’s turn made them scoop.
The inclusion of this in the sideboard demonstrates how prevalent artifacts and enchantments are in Standard. In addition to some of the decks with strategies built around them, Leyline of the Void and Grafdigger’s Cage are being enlisted to combat the food deck. In spite of having three dinosaurs in our maindeck, but they can be quite stretched in some matchups, particularly the mirror, where keeping the opponent off Trail is super important.
I mostly made sure I knew how to sideboard in the mirror match, as I believed this might be the most expected matchup. Here was my plan going into the event. I relied quite a bit on Christoph’s advice in places.
If we see Garruk, Cursed Huntsman, we should probably keep all Riders and cut another Wolf instead.
The main difference when playing the Jund deck is that Rider and Wolf are important for removing Mayhem Devil. Unanswered, that card can run away with things for them as we’ll be forced to sacrifice resources to survive rather than develop our game-plan. When the opponent doesn’t have Devil things are in our favour, but it’s best to be prepared.
This plan is for playing against the Cavalier version. If the opponent is playing the Planeswalkers version, we should keep all Riders and cut a Goose instead. Cutting the 0/2 might seem like sacrilege at first, but the ramp doesn’t help you that much in this matchup, it doesn’t apply pressure and it gets caught by Clarion.
I haven’t actually played against this deck, but this is what I would do. They are much more aggressive and don’t really play enchantments or Planeswalkers so we get a lot less value off Casualties.
Return is purely for Embercleave. Casualties also destroys it, but we’d rather do that before combat damage is dealt. I think I’d like to be taking out one copy of Trail, especially on the draw but my current configuration doesn’t really have a cheap replacement spell that affects the board.
The Brontodons and Knights will give us enough creatures to pressure the opponent in spite of cutting eight other monsters. This deck struggles to answer pressure without Reclamation.
Some Casualties stay in because of Experimental Frenzy. It’s possible we want a Deathless Knight over a copy of Trail to help us play to the board a bit better, however, this only occurred to me after the event.
We use Lovestruck Beast more defensively than aggressively, blocking Briarborn Cohorts and Bonecrusher Giants. Try not to sculpt the game into a race between our beast and their threats as they can cut us off from attacking whenever they want by removing our 1/1 token very easily. Casualties are out because trading six mana for a cheap Counterspell is a bit of a death sentence.
This seems like a bit of a nightmare matchup because it will often be difficult to keep applying pressure in the face of Time Wipes and Planar Cleansing, but they also have a lot of Counterspells. Drill Bit can also hit Gadwick, the Wizened and Brazen Borrower, which they use as win conditions. I’ve looked at a couple of early builds and it doesn’t seem to play any artifacts or enchantments so I’ve suggested Lovestruck Beast over the dinosaur. It deals more damage, and it’s possible to play around a wrath by applying pressure with 1/1s and then play the Beast post-wrath and return cats to enable more attacks. At other times, you run the risk of losing the 1/1 token (e.g. to Teferi, Time Raveler’s -3) and not being able to attack – so I’m not sure how good this plan is.
I think this is still the deck to beat, but that view may change in light of Mythic Championship VII, which is happening 06-08 December. This is an Arena MC and I have plenty of experience of doing lots of mouse clicking to confirm which food I want to sacrifice and whether I want to pay for Trail triggers or not, so I guess competitors will at least have to be ready for that at least.
It’s been an interesting process exploring this food deck over the last week or so and it’s been even sweeter to be paid off with the event win. I can’t emphasise enough that one edge I may have had over some of my opponents was the ability to reach out to a more experienced player in Christoph for advice on certain things. I’d encourage any competitive player to make use of their networks, in person or online because the ideas of others often go further than your own.
With Smuggler’s Copter, Field of the Dead, and Once upon a Time now banned in Pioneer, I may need to rethink which deck I’d like to play as I was leaning towards decks that make use of some of these cards. These bans are unsurprising given my past experiences playing with and against the cards in Pioneer and other formats. I’ll likely write something about Pioneer next week, but if I need to explore the new version of the format a bit more first then I’ll share my thoughts on another topic about which the Multiverse can easily inspire me, maybe Commander or Brawl.
You can find me on Facebook or Twitter @Chris54154 – feel free to hit me up with your thoughts online or if you see me at an event. I regularly attend competitive tournaments in the UK including Magic Fests and events pave a pathway to the Player’s Tour, but also have a love of casual play including Commander and Cube.