Hello everyone and welcome back to another edition of the Underdog’s Corner! My name is Mason Brantley, and if you’ve never joined us before, this series is all about the commanders that deserve a little more of the spotlight. These commanders might be one of the least popular choices from their respective sets or block, or maybe it’s a legend that has been overlooked in their colors because of other new and exciting additions to the roster. Regardless, this series is all about giving commanders a second chance and covering what most people overlook. Today, we are going to continue our foray into the Ravnica sets of old by covering yet another legend from the original block, specifically, Ravnica: City of Guilds. If you read last week, I hinted at this specific commander, who was truly a nightmare for me in my early days of Commander. Without further ado, she’s mean, she’s green, she’s a creature-killing machine… Savra, Queen of the Golgari!
When it comes to her peers, Savra is not what traditionally qualifies as an underdog. She is currently the most popular commander from Ravnica: City of Guilds, with over twice as many decks as the next legend in line, Tolsimir Wolfblood. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story. She is the 6th most popular commander from the original Ravnica block, and besides a previously discussed underdog, Experiment Kraj, her number of decks is fairly eclipsed (and nearly tripled) by the other legends ahead of her. While sixth is a decent place to be in for a setting that produced as many legends as Ravnica, time has not treated Savra well. Savra is currently the 11th most popular Golgari commander, and in a few shorts months, she will get bumped down a spot to 12th by the new Slimefoot, the Stowaway.
This puts her barely in the top 50% of Golgari commanders, and I think that fact is both a shame and a testament to variety and power of Golgari legends. For example, Joey “As a Necromancer Myself” Schultz is on record saying that he could play nothing but Golgari commanders for the rest of time, and he would be perfectly fine with that. Golgari’s legends represent an incredible spread of diversity, and each legend has to earn their keep. I am here today to argue that Savra has more than earned her mantle, and she deserves to see more play than she does.
So what does Savra bring to the table?
Sacrificing creatures is integral to Golgari’s mechanical identity, and that is evident from the beginning. Additionally, Savra truly exists in the realms of life and death by gaining and paying life to use her abilities. Whenever we sacrifice a green creature, we gain two life. Whenever we sacrifice a black creature, we can pay two life to hit each of our opponents with an edict effect. If we sacrifice a green and black creature (such as Savra herself), we effectively get to use that effect for “free.” Commander players should recognize the wording of Savra’s first ability, and those who don’t are in for a rude awakening.
If you have never seen the phrase “each other player sacrifices a creature” across the table from you, consider yourself lucky. Mass edict effects are powerful forms of creature control, and they still give me nightmares. If you’ll permit me, let me tell you a tale from the youth of my Commander career.
It was in the first year of me playing not only Commander, but also Magic: The Gathering. I was naive, and my Magic knowledge was bare. Over summer, my friend convinced me to buy and build a Commander deck so we could play once school started up in a few short months. I had no idea of how the format was supposed to be played, and I did my research over that summer. We discussed deck ideas and legends that I possible could build. As I researched, I also immediately knew that my deck would have to be budget; being in college didn’t really afford me much spare capital.
By mid-summer, I had decided I would build a Doran, the Siege Tower deck. I loved the mechanical themes and aesthetics of the lumbering Treefolk, and I was ready to smash into my opponents with the full force of a lumber mill. Naturally, when school started up, I showed up with a newly sleeved Marchesa, the Black Rose deck instead of the Treefolk, and to this day I still have yet to build Doran. (I still love you, my cypress prince, I promise.) I played a few games, and it did fairly well against a few people we played against; I learned the harsh reality of politics, and I got to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. My Marchesa build wasn’t by any means optimized, but it was fun and performed well against the meta…
…that is, until my Marchesa met the unforgiving truth of Savra, Queen of the Golgari.
A mutual friend of the group – we’ll call him Carl – noticed one day that we were playing Magic, and he expressed his interest in joining. He wasn’t interested in buying new cards so he cobbled together a Savra deck from his existing collection. This was when my perception of Commander was shattered and remade, and I learned how unforgiving the game could be. Please keep in mind that I had been playing Commander as long as I had been playing Magic, and I was still a very new player at the time.
The first game we played with Carl resulted in all players being creature-locked out of the game, thanks to both an active Savra and a Grave Pact. Despite the recursive nature of The Black Rose, there was nothing that I could do as we were ground into dust. The next game ended with an infinite combo involving [/card]Mikaeus, the Unhallowed[/card], Woodfall Primus, and Ashnod’s Altar. This was the second infinite combo that I ever faced down, but the perception of having your entire board removed from the table is much more demoralizing than being swarmed by infinite Goblins. The third game involved another infinite loop with Nim Deathmantle, but I was too stricken to remember the other details. This was my harsh introduction to the existence of infinite combos. At the time, I was disheartened. Playing against Savra was an exercise in futility, and she remained a dominant force in our playgroup until Carl switched decks. Despite being dominant and able to win consistently with Savra, Carl felt that she was too good for our group (he was right), and he switched decks to cater to the power level at the time.
This is a fairly concise summary of my experience during this time, but ultimately it made me respect the power of Savra that persists today. I think she’s incredibly powerful, and that’s why I was so shocked she was played as little as she was according to EDHREC. Let’s take a look at the elements that made Savra so devastating.
I always emphasize the importance of having redundancy in decks, and Savra has that in spades. Sacrifice is the name of the game in this deck, and the fact that we have access to a Grave Pact effect in the command zone is the first step into controlling the board. Having additional access makes our game plan more resilient, but these aren’t the only cards that we have access to that will make life for creatures miserable.
Decks have had access to Fleshbag Marauder for quite some time, and a few years ago we were able to add Merciless Executioner to this mix as well. Fleshbag is currently the sixth most played mono-black creature (by percentage), appearing in almost 17,000 decks. Merciless Executioner isn’t quite that prolific, but it still appears in the top 100 most played mono-black cards and comes in with a very respectable 8800 decks. Now, with the release of Guilds of Ravnica, we have access to a new and arguably more powerful variant in a vacuum: Plaguecrafter. As the currently most popular card from Guilds (even more than Assassin’s Trophy), get ready to see this creature quite often. Despite these creatures being the hallmark of these effects, we have an even deeper arsenal if we want to reach into it.
The recent Vona’s Hunger is a devastating edict effect that can be deployed at instant speed. In a deck that is going to build a board presence, attaining the City’s Blessing is not a difficult task. We also have more creatures if we want to go heavier on that aspect, with Horrors such as Slum Reaper and Abyssal Gatekeeper. Combined with Savra and/or Grave Pact, we can strip most boards clean of creatures. If allowed to set-up, these can lock down a board and require answers before players can start to recoup.
While having creatures that immediately can cause sacrifice is great, just like most graveyard-focused decks we’re going to running plenty of ways to both put creatures into the yard and pull them back out.
Victimize is a card that I don’t see much talk over, but I think that’s probably just because it’s that good. Sure, we do have to have a bit of setup to make sure we can even cast it, but the cost is so negligible in decks that are running it that it’s hardly ever an issue. Having a few creatures in the yard and on the board is exactly what this deck wants to do. Hailing from Commander 2014, we also have Wake the Dead. This is a card that I’ve always wanted to find a home for, but have always struggled to get the most out of it. This, I think, is the perfect place. It can act as a deadly combat trick or, more commonly, as a way to both recur our creatures en masse and then sacrifice them for value. Casting this with any of our edict-ing permanents on board will clear the field like a Plague Wind. There are several other spells in these colors that make use of sacrifice and resurrecting creatures, so you can take your pick.
I feel like I’ve written about sac outlets in half of the articles I’ve written, but here we go once more. I am a firm believer and advocate that Evolutionary Leap goes in any green deck with creatures, and this one is no different. I think it’s more impressive here than in most decks, as it loops into itself. We can sacrifice a creature to gain advantage from our commander, and then we immediately replace it with another creature card to sacrifice. It’s one of my favorite cards, and I’m about to go order another few copies. Spawning Pit works very similarly to E-Leap. We sacrifice creature to net creatures. While we don’t get the same rate or potential quality as E-Leap, creating bodies and sacrificing them is the most important part of our gameplan. The Spawn creatures are colorless, so they won’t trigger with Savra, but that doesn’t stop them from being useful with our E-Leaps or our other edict effects like Grave Pact. In other words, this is an engine piece in the 99.
While all of these pieces I’ve talked about make up the core of this deck, what to put in to fill the rest of the 99 is up to you and what your meta calls for. This is a fairly “generic” strategy that doesn’t dictate many niche pieces, so you have room to experiment. You can push your deck in a stax direction by including cards like Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger, or you can go in a different direction and include more sacrifice synergy, such as Feed the Pack. Regardless, there are plenty of options, and as long as you include the core pieces, Savra will be devastating. I hope you have enjoyed strolling down memory lane with me, and I hope Savra earned a bit of your respect. Below is a decklist that includes most of what I can remember from Carl’s decklist all those years ago.
Thank for joining me in the Underdog’s Corner!