Svogthir’s Study: Vhati il-Dal

Hello and welcome to Svogthir’s Study: a place to appreciate Golgari in Commander.

I’m a dinosaur when it comes to Magic. Many elements of the game that feel intrinsic and vital today were, at one point, novel. I don’t think there’s a better example of this than multicolored (gold) cards, especially those that feature enemy colors.

Today it’s a given that unless there’s a very good reason all color pairs are going to be supported via signpost uncommons and, at least in Standard, dual lands. Back in the mid-90s this was not the case. Multicolored cards were introduced in 1994 with Legends but they were either allied color or three colors that bridged two allied pairs with a central color (Shards like Jund). The first enemy color card came in The Dark and was one of three gold cards in the set: Dark Heart of the Wood. Ice Age and Alliances both followed this mold of allies and shards and it wasn’t until Mirage that we saw enemy colored gold cards.

When Magic started the idea was to hammer home the concept of ally and enemy colors. We saw extremely powerful hate cards for enemies and rather anemic bonuses for allies. Apocalypse – the third set in the 2000-2001 Invasion Block – saw enemy colors get similar support to allied pairs. The disparity existed to reinforce the notion that some colors were on the up and up while others just hated each other. Apocalypse with its enemy Pain Lands and high profile gold cards helped to pave the way for current ideas regarding color balance.

So what does this have to do with the subject of today’s card? Vhati il-Dal is a gold Legendary Creature from Tempest. Tempest is one of my favorite blocks of all time, probably because it was the first one where I could follow the story on the cards and in Wizards’ print magazine, and it felt different. It was out first trip off of Dominaria and, to 13 year old me, was a world built from the ground up. To that point every Magic set was rooted in very Earth things but Tempest, Tempest was Magic doing its own thing.

Bad. Ass.

While Mirage Block was the first to heavily feature enemy color cards, Tempest as a set had five gold cards and they were all enemy colored. They also had enemy pain lands that entered the battlefield tapped but let’s not talk about Pine Barrens when Llanowar Wastes exists. Vhati was one of these cards and is featured in the Tempest story (mostly as a plot device) and really, by all accounts, is pretty out of place by modern standards.

Presented as an opportunist the rules text makes sense but the color is all off and if made today, Vhati would make more sense as a Dimir or Grixis creature. The green feels out of place as nothing about the card represents growth of the life cycle. Green, even in Golgari, isn’t about taking away power or toughness unless it is adding to another creature’s stat line. Why make him Golgari then? The old color pie was weird and there needed to be a black-green card.

So how does Vhati work in Commander? There are a few ways I would build around him. First is in a deck full of ways to use his toughness setting ability to kill creatures. Ideally this would be several creatures per turn cycle so cards like Instill Energy, Magewright Stone, Thornbite Staff, and Thousand-Year Elixir are a must. You would want to include multiple ways to deal one damage or take away one point of toughness. Plague Spitter is a personal favorite but Kaervek, the Spiteful is a new card that plays rather nicely with Vhati. Screams from Within is a deep cut that doesn’t get a ton of love. To be honest, the entire Vhati il-Dal EDHRec page is one hidden track after another. I’d love to see Grave Betrayal in a Vhati deck since it’s a flavor win but also works with what you’re trying to do when your Commander is out.

The other way to play Vhati, and a way I think makes more sense given the cards power level, is in a Group Hug or Regent-Maker style deck. Vhati’s ability to reduce damage or make opposing creatures easier to kill is a great way to make friends and build alliances. Load up with Quirion Ranger and Scryb Ranger, and a few Vitalize effects, and you can change the texture of combat at your leisure. And yes I suppose Seedborn Muse works here as well. Once the dust is settled and the battlefield is clear just use Rise of the Dark Realms and Thrilling Encore to reap what Vhati has sown.

Vhati is a weird Golgari Commander. He’s from a bygone era and while I’m not likely to ever build a deck around him, I can see the appeal. Part of what I love about Commander is the opportunity to do weird stuff and Vhati provides that opportunity. Vhati also isn’t a typical Golgari Commander. For players like me, with more copies of Overgrown Tomb than every other Shock Land combined, Vhati gives us the chance to play a decidedly combat oriented deck.

No, using Craterhoof to end games doesn’t make a deck combat oriented.

Treasured Find (A Golgari card that could shine with this Commander)
Death Frenzy

Published by Alex Ullman

Alex Ullman has been playing Magic since 1994 (he thinks). Since 2005, he's spent most of his time playing and exploring Pauper. One of his proudest accomplishments was being on the winnings side of the 2009 Community Cup. He makes his home in Brooklyn, New York, where he was born and raised.

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