Sometimes Dead Is Better
With their penchant for bringing guild members back from the dead, it’s no wonder certain cards don’t want to be openly affiliated with the Golgari. You have to remember that this isn’t a pure and holy Lazarus-esque raising from the dead. This is more like a Pet Semetary raising from the dead. It’ll come back and it may look like what went in there, but it’s not the same anymore. The ground went sour and now whatever comes back is just a mindless minion of the Golgari.
At any rate, the silent membership of the Golgari surely does exist and now it’s time to root them out. The best way to do this is by looking through the definite Golgari cards and finding common traits that may be shared by the other cards in the block. There are 35 total cards stamped with the Golgari signet, which provide plenty of evidence to see what makes one a true affiliate of the guild.
One of the strongest themes running through the guild is that of farming. The Golgari are a guild of farmers. The interdependency of life and death is important in this aspect since the living feed off the dead. This is especially true for plant life, which takes its nutrients directly out of the decaying remains of the buried dead. In the case of the Golgari, the plants combine with the dead to form a new life. Four cards have the creature type “Plant Zombie,” which implies that this is a common method used by the Golgari to resurrect the dead.
Another prevalent theme is that of rot. Rotting, of course, is the organic decomposition of living cells. It’s the most natural occurrence of life turning into death. The connotation of rot also works well here, since it symbolizes the entrance of something impure into something pure, just as the Golgari infuse black mana into the natural, untainted world of green.
One of the more subtle Golgari themes is that of disease. When you think about it, it makes sense for the guild. Diseases are simply the process of one life form surviving through the death of another. Bacteria and viruses are all living things. The way they manifest themselves in other living organisms is by causing harm through the use of and over-reproduction within that being. For this reason, diseases and parasites are important to the goals of the Golgari.
Finally, the Golgari guild has a strong link to bugs. Not only do they boast the greatest number of insects within their guild, but much of their “magic” physically manifests itself in the form of small bugs. The flavor text on Rolling Spoil describes how a swarm of insects serves the Golgari’s need to destroy land and poison its inhabitants.
Moving beyond the prevalent themes of the Golgari, it’s time to examine the art to spot the signs that make the Golgari unique. The first place to look is at the environment. Where do the Golgari hang out? The three Golgari lands show us immediately that the Golgari environs are not places that see a lot of daylight. This guild roams in a place called the undercity, where there exists a dark forest for them to cultivate their special breed of plant life. Signs of this forest in art are obvious just by looking at the lighting. Often, only a beam of light will slip into the undercity forest and sometimes it will seem like there is no light at all.
Every guild also has a typical garb that runs through their artwork. The members dress distinctively to represent their affiliation. Not so much with the Golgari. Most of its membership consists of the decaying remains of former beings or jumbled together bits and pieces of people and plant life. Well, that certainly sounds like a choice of apparel to me. The Golgari seem to have the strongest inclination to incorporate plants into their clothing and themselves.
Finally, it’s time for an in-depth look at creature types. There is one creature type completely unique to the Golgari. Can you guess it? If you said “elf” then you’ve probably never seen any cards from Ravnica. In fact, you might not even play Magic. Elves are a part of all the green guilds! No, the answer is gorgon. In the two cards that mention gorgons, both are strictly Golgari. As of yet, I’m not sure if there are any other gorgons seen in Ravnica art, but if there are, you know they’re part of the Golgari.
(As an aside, I used to think that gorgons looked like bulls. The first time I ever heard that word was in the game “Heroes of Might and Magic III” and the gorgons in that game looked sort of like this:
As it turns out, they’re actually bipedal, humanoid creatures with snakes for hair. Medusa, from Greek mythology, was a gorgon. In Heroes, Medusa was a completely separate creature type. I have no idea how you confuse the “creature” in this with the picture above, but someone found a way. Anyway, thank you, Magic, for clearing this up for me.)
Gorgon may be the only unique creature type in the Golgari, but they’re hardly the majority. Elves, insects, zombies and plants all share a strong presence in the guild. Looking first at the elves, how do you tell the difference between a Golgari elf and any other Ravnican elf? It’s all in the hair. Golgari elves love dreadlocks. Look at Savra or the elves in Bloodbond March or the guy riding a Grave-Shell Scarab. Golgari elves are crazy Rastafarian elves. Having little to no access to showers, they let their hair get all tangled and messy and long. Sometimes they even puff it up and put enough crap in it so they start looking like that dude from the Union Underground. Elves, in general, are a clean and beautiful race, so if you see a dirty elf that looks and smells like that guy you met at that George Clinton concert, you can bet he’s cultivating some illegal plants with his Golgari chums.
Moving on to insects... There are four total insects in Ravnica. The three that belong to the Golgari all look like big, creepy bugs. If you see an insect, it’s probably Golgari. Plants, on the other hand, are not tied quite so closely to the Golgari. Lots of guilds have plants, but Golgari plants are unique because they really don’t work like plants. Instead of growing plants to survive and thrive on their own, the Golgari combine plants with other dead creatures to strengthen their zombie armies. So Golgari plants don’t look like plants at all, they just act as filler material for that dead guy who lost all his limbs. Speaking of dead guys, what would the Golgari be without their zombie minions. Most Golgari zombies will have been combined with plant matter, but not all. Since most zombies are shared between the Golgari and Rakdos, separating them will be no easy task. To do so, we’ll need to examine each card separately and determine which guild it belongs in.
Other Golgari creature types include Beast, Elemental, Horror, Hound, Imp, Lizard, Ooze, Saproling, Skeleton and Troll. It’d be too tedious to delve into the details of each of these creatures, but there are a couple things worth noting:
1) Selesnya is the standard saproling guild, but the Golgari have a means to create saprolings through Golgari Germination. While Selesnyan saprolings all consist of crystalline pieces bound by plant matter, the Golgari saprolings are just hideous blobs.
2) Grossness is the key here, folks. Golgari creatures have trouble controlling bodily functions, as seen on Drooling Groodion, Stinkweed Imp and Dead Cat with a Bladder Infection. Any creature can be in the Golgari as long as it’s gross.
Well, I think we’ve established enough rules about what makes the Golgari who they are. Now let’s get to picking up some new members!
Infectious Host is one of the easier inclusions into the Golgari. Although its flowing robes are not typical Golgari attire, they don’t exactly fit in with any of the other black guilds, either. Well, maybe some Orzhov priests would wear something like that, but the Orzhov are more keen on spirits than zombies. Since the Golgari have one of the strongest zombie populations, they become the frontrunner for recruiting Infectious Host. Seeing a vile, disease-ridden gas that looks uncannily similar to that of a Darkblast only serves to push it over the edge.
If the Golgari gave out ribbons for easy decisions, Recollect would win first prize. Does it bring things back to life? Check. Does it have art featuring a dark elf with long dreadlocks? Check. Does it have flavor text featuring a quote attributed to one of the Golgari’s guild leaders? Check. Combine it all, and none of the other guilds come close to getting their hands on Recollect.
Necromancer’s Magemark and Necromantic Thirst
I’m lumping the two “Necro” cards together because they have so much in common. Obviously, the Golgari are all about raising the dead and will thusly employ a fair deal of necromancers. But the Dimir have Necrosages, so who’s to say they can’t do the same thing? The answer is in the art. Notice the characters in the background of Necromantic Thirst and the main character of Necromancer’s Magemark. They’re not skeletons, yet their faces almost look like skulls. These are clearly members of the Golgari, guildmages in fact, similar to the one on Golgari Guildmage or around the Golgari Brownscale. In addition to the art, the abilities coincide perfectly since Golgari Guildmages can raise the dead, but require a sacrifice in order to do so.
Of all the Golgari-related creatures I mentioned, can you guess which common creature type does not appear on any other Golgari cards? That’s right, there are no Golgari spirits. Until now. Normally, the Golgari are more concerned with the remains of the deceased than the soul, but in this case they make an exception. In the flavor text, Savra remarks about the cleansing of innocence from the Rusalka, making this spirit an exceptional candidate for the guild. Combined with the fact that the Rusalka was killed by a plague (boiled, perhaps?) helps cement her as the first Golgari spirit.
But let’s not stop there. The circle of life requires the sustenance of food. Now if you died from starvation, wouldn’t it make perfect sense to join the guild of unholy farmers in the afterlife? Keep in mind that there is no guild of holy farmers, so the choices are limited. Now that her first life has passed by, Starved Rusalka has joined the Golgari, feeding them life through death, as has always been their way. And if you think that her spirit’s the only thing they’re making use of, you may be wrong.
Waste not; want not. That’s what they say. I’m not entirely sure that Restless Bones are the minions of the Golgari, but I’ll bet the Golgari had something to do with their existence. Perhaps there was an old rot farm, where some Golgari farmers forgot to rotate their crops, and before long, the soil went bad. The dead still came back to life, but the flesh wasn’t growing back, nor was the plant matter taking hold. Dissatisfied with the skeletal products, the Golgari moved on to a better location. That’s when old Grazda moved in with his friends. “This looks like a good place to put a cemetery,” they said. They built a fence around the land and all was well until Bill Baterman’s son, Timmy, got killed in the second Guild War. Old Bill buried Timmy back there in that cemetery and... well, you know the rest.
Fists of Ironwood
Now here’s a card that just screams “Selesnya”. Or, at least, that’s what I thought when I first saw it, played it through the Ravnica Prerelease and then used it here and there for the next six months. Selesnya is the guild of the saprolings, right? But look carefully at the art. That ain’t no Selesnyan elf there, buddy. That guy with the glowing fists has an almost skeletal face and a little skull dangling from his outfit. Do we know anyone else who dresses like that? And now you’ve learned the importance of Golgari Germination.
His creature type is rogue, but I think we all know who this guy really works for. Besides, Lurking Informant and Tin Street Hooligan are rogues, too, but that doesn’t stop them from associating with the guilds. Mausoleum Turnkey makes the guild based on mechanic alone. He might not even work closely with the Golgari, but I’ll bet he provides them with a fair share of the materials they need to work with.
Like Recollect, the shaman is another green lay-up for the Golgari. His comes into play ability emphasizes the recyclative (Note: “recyclative” is not a real word... until now) nature of the guild. His flavor text reveals his duties as a farmer. His dimly lit art clearly takes place in the forest of the undercity. And even his name is reflective of “loam,” which is only associated with one other card, also Golgari.
All the easiest cards are out of the way, so it’s time to rationalize the tougher decisions. Vesper Ghoul is a zombie, and a nasty-looking one at that. It’s mono-black, but has an ability almost exclusively tied to green. The thing that throws off my evaluation of this card is the flavor text, which is attributed to a druid of the Cult of Yore. How can the Cult of Yore provide a ringing endorsement for any creature derived from a guild? Well, in this case, everything else trumps the flavor text, so screw the Cult of Yore. Golgari is the guild for the ghoul.
Just like Vesper Ghoul, everything fits into place for the waltz except one thing. In this case, the mechanic and flavor text both lean towards the Golgari, while the bloody art seems to favor something of the Rakdos. However, the dim lighting tells me that this scene may very well be happening in the Ravnican undercity. With a quote by Savra herself, it’s clear that Macabre Waltz is meant to serve the Golgari.
The Golgari may not be known for their ability to produce and manipulate mana, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a green side. In fact, if you were a black mage, how would you create mana? Would you venture into the forest and commune with nature until your precious mana came seeping from the ground? Or would you find some pawn and cast an enchantment to suck the mana right out of him every turn? The mechanic of Elemental Resonance fits well enough with the green/black philosophy, if not with the Golgari specifically. Additionally, the creature featured in the art appears to be either a saproling of non-Selesnyan origin (yes, I know, saprolings don’t have a mana cost, but I never said the caster was very smart) or possibly a plant zombie, allowing this card to fall into the Golgari camp.
Empty the Catacombs
The Golgari are going to be wrapped up with a final mechanic-driven card in Empty the Catacombs. Bringing creatures back from the dead is a Golgari specialty and even though the wizard featured in the art is clearly not of Golgari origins, the result of his work clearly is. Like the Mausoleum Turnkey earlier, it’s easy to surmise that this man is working for the Golgari cause, finding the fodder for their reanimation efforts. If you look carefully, you might even spot a gorgon in the picture. Looking beyond the art, the flavor text falls in line with a lot of other lines attributed to the Golgari’s effect on Ravnica.
And so, the Golgari have claimed the last of what’s rightfully theirs. There were a few near-misses in cards like Clinging Darkness, Helldozer and Sins of the Past, but after careful consideration, I decided that these were not true representatives of the Golgari. To find out which guilds they do belong to, you’ll just have to read on, for there are still eleven more categories to go, with the Boros Legion coming up next. And feel free to chime in if you think I made a blunder in one or more of my assessments.
References and other Helpful Websites:
Life and Death by Mark Rosewater
Life in the Big City by Rei Nakazawa
Urban Flavor by Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar
Golgari Query by Aaron Forsythe