Welcome back to Treasured Finds: a place to appreciate Golgari and Witherbloom in Commander.
The other day a friend of me asked how I felt about the proliferation of potential Commanders. Overall, I’m fine with it as it not only gives more people access to different avenues of self expression but it also can enhances the sense of discovery I felt during the earliest days of Magic when I had to reach across the blacktop to try and learn every card to see what it did. It’s the joy of the prerelease that runs against an identity of a Magic player who desires perfect knowledge.
It’s not all upside. We get Commanders like Sarulf, Realm Eater which while undeniably cool, encourage a style of play that may be hard to swallow at more social tables. Sarulf wants things to die so you can blow up the world over and over again. Incredibly flavorful, but as someone who managed to achieve Sapling of Colfenor and Worldslayer once and everyone decided to concede so we could move to the next game, it isn’t exactly my jam (even if I do have a showcase version in my collection). There are lots of fun things that can be done with Sarulf, including turning the wolf into a Mutate stack (thanks EDHRec!) but the reality is that as a Commander it is hard for me to see a table where I leave happy by annihilating everyone in this specific way. It puts a target on your head and the second someone has a removal spell things are poised to turn south.
Instead I want to use today to talk about Sarulf and the black-green concept of unchecked growth. Golgari is concerned with the life-death cycle and this can be seen in its mechanics, but looking at the wider black-green slice of the color pie there is a through line of dangerous growth.
Grim Feast is not the first black-green gold card but it set the color pair on this path. Yes, your life total is going to grow as long as you can keep killing creatures. The spiritual precursor to Vulturous Zombie and Lord of Extinction, Grim Feast showcases this conceit of the color pair in that not only does it feed on death but that death is a hungry beast and wants to keep consuming. Doomgape is a clear descendant of this chain as it provides you with a nominally under-costed monster but one that has an unending need to consume. Where Sarulf feeds off of your opponent’s woe and potentially harms you, Doomgape eats your stuff and maybe deals some damage?
What happens when you pair black’s “greatness at any cost” mantra with green’s desire for natural growth? That is what Sarulf excels at demonstrating. Playing black and green does not have to be about the meticulous march of card advantage. There can a high risk-high reward element to playing the color pair that can put a hurt on your adversaries provided you’re willing to pay that price.
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