Golgari is the black-green guild of Ravnica, combining life and death together in one eternal cycle. Golgari dwells in the rot farms and the underworks of Ravnica, getting its hands dirty keeping the city alive. Your challenge this week is to design a card for the Golgari guild. It must be black and/or green, though it can be any card type except for legendary as legendary is reserved only for the guild leaders themselves.

Golgari Flavor and Themes

Golgari is eternity. It existed before you were born, it will continue long after you die. Death permeates it, life defines it. Each guild member is a part of something greater, a cycle of life and death that helps sustain not only Golgari but all of Ravnica itself.

From Death Comes Value

One of Golgari’s signature traits is finding ways to gain value from its creatures dying. Then finding ways to recycle those creatures, getting them back so that they can die all over again for more value, allowing Golgari to form a perfect grinding engine which is equal parts death, rebirth, and value. This engine also extends to using lands, sacrificing them and recycling them to further Golgari’s goals. Any design which fits into Golgari’s value engine of death will fit perfectly, the core of which are designs that

  • Create resources when one of your creatures or lands dies
  • Allow sacrificing creatures or lands for value
  • Return creatures or lands from the graveyard to hand or battlefield
  • Exiles creature or land cards from the graveyard for additional value

Inexorable Growth

Even Golgari can’t be all about death all the time, some of its creatures have to stay alive to attend to their duties. Those that serve Golgari inevitably grow in power, often growing over time with the number of cards in the graveyard. Jarad, Golgari Lich Lord is a perfect example, growing directly in size as creatures die. Beyond creatures growing in power, Golgari also uses spells that grow in power as the game continues, with cards like Drown in Filth and Bloodbond March which grow directly stronger as a player’s graveyard fills up. Anything which grows in power over time, especially from the death of others, would fit perfectly in with the Golgari. Supplementing those cards, one other potential are cards which put cards into a player’s graveyard from their library, helping speed up the natural growth.

Life and Death in Equal Measure

The easiest way to design a card for Golgari though is to combine one part creation and one part destruction on a single card. Begin with either creation or destruction, add the opposite effect as well, and you have a Golgari card simple as that. Rites of Reaping is the best example of this, stealing the life from one creature and giving it to another directly. Those abilities don’t always have to be exact mirrors of each other though. Possibly the most Golgari card ever designed is Necroplasm, which combines unchecked growth with destruction, the perfect combination of everything Golgari is.

Golgari Keywords

Keywords exist as an extension of the guild, so it is that Golgari’s keywords combine death and life as one.

Dredge

Golgari’s original keyword mechanic, which allows a player to replace drawing a card with milling cards from their library to instead return a card from their graveyard to their hand. In short, I recommend not using dredge due to a host of problems.

  • Dredge allows players to fill their graveyards too easily
  • It leads to repetitive gameplay in limited
  • Usually what matters most is the dredge ability, meaning that the rest of the design would go unappreciated

Scavenge

Golgari’s keyword mechanic from Return to Ravnica, which allows players to exile creature cards from their graveyard to put +1/+1 counters on their creatures. A significantly better mechanic, scavenge is very flexible, and could be put on almost any creature card for good effect. Though there are some more interesting types of creatures to use scavenge with.

  • Creatures which die normally during limited games
  • Creatures which force your opponents to deal with them or die
  • Creatures with abilities that care about having high power or toughness

Going Beyond

That covers the basics of Golgari. For those designers who already know all about Golgari, I have an optional challenge for you.

Designing a New Keyword

When designing a keyword, it is helpful to begin with an initial sense of flavor and mechanics. Golgari has a strong base to work with. The flavor should fit the cycle of life and death and have a sense of inevitability, and the mechanics should deal with the graveyard in some way. From there, brainstorm some possible rewards, costs, or triggers which fit the flavor and the mechanics. To get you started, some simple ideas are

  • Putting +1/+1 counters on creatures
  • Gaining life
  • Drawing cards
  • Exiling cards from the graveyard
  • Whenever a creature dies
  • Whenever a creature enters the battlefield

Then start connecting rewards with costs or triggers, experimenting until you find an ability that feels right. For example, beginning with the reward of putting +1/+1 counters on a creature could be combined with the cost of exiling a creature card from the graveyard to lead to scavenge, or it could be combined with the trigger of a creature dying to lead to the undying keyword which would fit perfectly in Golgari. This is just a brief overview of one possible way to design keywords, but it should hopefully give you some ideas to begin with if you do want to design your own.

Design Example

Golgari Neonate was designed to exemplify the Golgari’s inexorable growth, showing how they work together, growing from the sacrifices of others until it is strong enough to sacrifice itself for others as well.

Golgari Neonate

I hope that demonstrates a little bit of what the Golgari guild is about, and that I have given you at least some idea to start your own design with. I look forward to seeing all of your designs for the contest, whether you stick with what I’ve discussed or go beyond. Until next time, remember that dying builds character.



A photo of Andrew EvansAndrew Evans

Andrew Evans has been playing Magic since 2000, and designing custom cards since 2007. He's a regular at FNMs, and enjoys dissecting games to figure out how they work.