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Building Food Chain Garth


Twilight by Frederic Edwin Church

Volcanic Dragon by Chris Rahn

This past June I wrote a column entitled "Garth-in-a-box" in which I explored the experiment of building a Commander deck using only the cards pulled out of a box of booster packs. You can read about that experiment here. It was fun to do and fun to write, but I didn't keep that deck together long. I had even gone the extra mile and assembled Garth's signature six cards, including printouts of Black Lotus, Braingeyser and Terror, none of which I own a copy of.

I came close to giving my six "Garth cards" away, but I kept them and I had been thinking about taking another crack at Garth. With the printing of five amazing lands in Midnight Hunt which are basically duals once you've got 2 or more other lands out, I decided to take the plunge. I wasn't going to try to build a cEDH deck, but I wanted to really push the envelope and see what kind of high-powered Garth deck I could throw together.

Before we dive into the build, let's take another look at Garth One-Eye.

Garth One-Eye

Garth can tap to let you cast a token copy of Disenchant, Braingeyser, Terror, Shivan Dragon, Regrowth or Black Lotus. Once he's made one of those cards, he can't make the same one again. If he leaves the battlefield and returns for any reason, he's a new instance of Garth and doesn't "remember" the cards the previous version had created so you can restart your Garth activations.

Broken Cards are Broken

The first thing to mention is that I was absolutely planning on trying to build a strong deck. For Garth, that meant building around the powerful enchantment Food Chain.

Food Chain

This enchantment pairs beautifully with three specific creatures - Misthollow Griffin, Eternal Scourge and Squee, the Immortal. Those three creatures can be cast from exile, so with Food Chain and any one of them, you can exile and re-cast the same creature again and again, gaining an extra mana each time. The bottom line is that you can make infinite mana of all five colors, but you can only use it to cast creatures.

The reason this is great with Garth is that he can tap to create a Black Lotus, so if you can cast and re-cast Garth with a haste enabler on the field, you can make as many copies of Black Lotus as you like, and thereby make infinite mana to use for anything you like. You can also use Garth to make as many copies of the Dragon as you like and since you need a haste enabler to pull off these shenanigans you should be able to swing with them to kill the table.

The power of Garth really comes from his versatility. If you're able to combo off with Food Chain you'll also have access to card draw in Braingeyser, creature removal with Terror, artifact/enchantment removal with Disenchant and recursion with Regrowth. Even without hitting your combo, you have access to a lot of powerful effects. If you hit your Food Chain combo it should be game over.

Key Ingredients

The first thing I need to make sure I have is a haste enabler.

This is essential because I have to be able to play, tap, exile and re-play Garth in order for the combo to work. It won't do me much good to have infinite creature mana from my Food Chain combo, and to only be able to cast Garth and have to wait for my next turn to use him.

I built this using cards I had lying around, which isn't my way of sliding a "humble brag" into this column. It's more of an explanation for why cards like Maelstrom Wanderer aren't in the mix. There are a few better cards I could have run, but I went with cards that I had and that weren't already in other decks.

Bloodsworn Steward
Temur Ascendancy

Bloodsworn Steward will give my commander haste, which won't help me give a thousand Dragons haste, but it will let me use Garth to play enough Lotuses to be able to pour enough mana into a Braingeyser so I should be able to draw into what I need. Other creature-typed haste enablers in my list are Garna, the Bloodflame, Ogre Battledriver, Purphoros, Bronze-Blooded and Urabrask the Hidden. That's a weird assortment of creatures to be sure, but they'll do the job. Fervor and Temur Ascendancy fill out this section. I was building in a 7 x 9 pattern with nine slots of seven cards each so I wound up with seven haste enablers.

The second thing I wanted to make sure I had was a way to get the colors to be able to cast Garth. If I can combo off, I can make infinite mana in all five colors, but I need to be able to cast Garth and play the deck as if I'm not going to hit my combo. That means I need to get mana fairly reliably. Those Midnight Hunt slow dual lands help a lot, but I want some other ways to help with my colors as well.

Humble Naturalist
Chromatic Lantern
Joiner Adept

I wound up playing only mana dorks that can make any color of mana. Lots of competitive staples got left out, but I was able to play a bunch of slow but reliable mana producers. Humble Naturalist may only be able to make mana to use to cast creatures, but Lifespring Druid, Alloy Myr, Rosethorn Acolyte, and Sylvok Explorer should all help to fill in the gaps when I'm trying to play Garth for the first time. Both Chromatic Lantern and the seven mana Chromatic Orrery will help me make the colors I need and Joiner Adept will round out this section, letting me tap my lands for any color of mana.

The third thing I wanted to do was make sure I had ways to get my combo pieces and ways to recur them if they were removed.

Zur the Enchanter

Zur the Enchanter lets me put a three-mana enchantment on the battlefield when he attacks. That's just silly, but it works for what I'm trying to do with Garth quite nicely. I'm also running Demonic Tutor along with Enlightened Tutor and Long-Term Plans. Entomb is in the list, and might seem like an odd addition but it puts a card into my graveyard so I can use Garth to Regrowth it back to my hand. Both Foresight and Manipulate Fate will let me exile my cast-from-exile creatures so they are readily available if I can hit Food Chain. Riftsweeper is an important card in this deck, as one of my worst case scenarios is to have my Food Chain exiled.

The last thing I wanted to make sure I had were ways to protect the win.

Conqueror's Flail
Dragonlord Dromoka

It's worth asking why I'm not running Grand Abolisher, but the casting cost had me nervous. I am running Conqueror's Flail and Dragonlord Dromoka, both of which should shut my opponents out of my turn pretty well. I'm not running a ton of counters, but Flusterstorm, Pact of Negation, Swan Song, Veil of Summer and Silence should all help to keep my dreams of winning games alive.

The Backup Plan

I might be burying the lead here, but I decided if I was going to build around Food Chain, there wasn't any good reason not to add in a very powerful backup plan.

Thassa's Oracle
Demonic Consultation
Tainted Pact

This deck has singleton lands, meaning I don't have more than one of any land including basic lands. That allows me to play Thassa's Oracle and be set up to be able to hold priority and cast Demonic Consultation or Tainted Pact to exile my library and win the game off of its enter-the-battlefield trigger.

This is where some of you might start thinking this is a cEDH deck.

I could tell you you're wrong. I could tell you this deck will neither threaten a win, nor will it reliably be able to stop a win attempt in the first few turns. I could tell you about the other night where I sat down with my shiny new Vadrik, Astral Archmage deck at a cEDH table only to watch my tablemates start their games with lands into Moxes and Mana Crypts and Signets and threaten wins before I was able to produce even 4 mana.

I could tell you that where I play, this list wouldn't ever be mistaken for a cEDH deck, but I also realize that in some metas this would feel like it was utterly overpowered and broken and not fun to play against.

That, my friends, is why Commander is such an amazing format. The distance between the top and the bottom of power levels in EDH is so vast that you can trot out a capable, resilient high powered deck and be taken for a scrub at one LGS yet be seen as the most degenerate pubstomper at another LGS.

The reality is that this deck should be able to perform at mid-to-high powered tables. If you end up stomping a table, have a backup deck that has a "fairer" game plan to use with casual players so you can have a fun game after you got your combo win. Also, be nice about it - nobody likes a pubstomper and there's no glory in crushing precons.

The backup plan to this admittedly powerful backup plan is to make Shivan Dragons and use a mix of interaction, politics and luck to make a push to win games. That isn't a great backup plan, but it's not nothing. My hope is that with a Regrowth available in the command zone, I should be able to make repeated tries at landing that combo win. If I knew I were at a casual table and didn't want to be a jerk, I could always just try to ignore my combo lines and see if I could win without playing those powerful wincons.

Party On, Garth

This deck is packing so many legendary creatures, it's going to be quite the party. Beyond the six I've already mentioned, I'm also running Jhoira, Weatherlight Captain, Rashmi, Eternities Crafter, Kwain, Itinerant Meddler and Selvala, Explorer Returned for their card draw and Momir Vig, Simic Visionary for his tutor and draw capabilities.

A hidden gem in this deck might be Chakram Retriever, who will let me untap target creature when I cast a spell during my turn. With this good boy on the field, I can tap Garth to cast Lotus, untap Garth with the Retriever trigger and then tap him again for another of Garth's many spells. It isn't a combo piece, as Garth is limited to only casting each of his spells once, but it's a sweet little interaction.

Food Chain Garth | Commander | Stephen Johnson

This deck isn't tuned up to try to push into cEDH, but it's pretty loaded if you can look past the inclusion of cards like Kwain and Rashmi. I was hesitant to play fast mana sources that would only create colorless mana, but I was also hesitant to pull expensive cards out of other decks to put into this deck. I don't proxy and I don't feel a need to have every deck loaded up with Moxen, but if you are building Garth and want to push the power level up you'd want your duals and a higher-powered mana base than I'm running.

Early Results

I was able to get a game in with this list last week. Going into the game I genuinely had no idea how the deck would perform. In my mind I imagined that it would be resilient with lots of answers and a realistic chance to dig to one of my wincons.

I was able to get out an early Lifespring Druid and suspend a Rift Sower. I hit the right lands to be able to cast Garth and on the following turn play a Chakram Retriever and use it to untap mana dorks as I cast spells. I was able to use Garth to play Lotus and untap so he could cast another spell but I think I kept him up to be able to cast a Terror or a Disenchant.

I was sharing the table with a Jodah deck, an Ur-Dragon deck, and a Prosper deck and the Ur-Dragon deck was very much getting out of control. I love Dragon decks, and was well aware that I wasn't going to be able to out-dragon my tablemate with just one of Garth's Shivan Dragons.

I think I decided to push a bunch of mana into a Braingeyser and drew into Entomb, Misthollow Griffin and Temur Ascendancy, putting a Food Chain win in my crosshairs. The problem was surviving until I could make a push for the combo.

The key play in the game happened when the Prosper deck tried to wipe the board.

It was a solid play, but I didn't want to lose my board and decided to bet that if I countered his Blasphemous Act, the Ur-Dragon player would still be happy to kill me but would probably leave me for last as a courtesy. I had earlier proclaimed my love of dragons, and when I cast my Swan Song, my draconic tablemate declared that I now had an army of dragons at my command.

He wasn't kidding either. The Prosper player was baffled, and the Ur-Dragon player was next in the turn cycle. He asked me to choose where his dragons would attack and I declined. I didn't want to make that choice for him and if he had just killed me for my indecisiveness, it probably would have been the right play. He didn't kill me (thank goodness) and I got to have another turn.

It wasn't easy given the mana I had available, but I was able to Entomb my Food Chain, activate Garth to put it back in my hand, play Chain, exile Lifespring Druid for four Blue mana, cast the Griffin and combo off.

I had to cast my Temur Ascendancy so that I could combo with Garth. I made an arbitrary number of Shivan Dragons and even had Urabrask in hand in case my haste enabler got blown up. It was a pretty good first game, though I suspect if the deck is always hitting that combo it will eventually start to feel a bit stale. A win in a deck's first game isn't bad and my tablemates were among the best players in the shop (just not on their best decks).

Final Thoughts

While we've covered Garth One-Eye a few times here at CoolStuffInc, I think it was worth doing a deeper dive on what Garth looks like when built and played for high power Commander games. I suspect I'm going to be surprised at how resilient Garth really is, given how many different things he can do in a single turn. It may be true that one Shivan Dragon isn't going to beat a tribal Dragons deck, one Disenchant isn't going to slow down an artifacts deck, and one Garth spell per turn isn't going to win as many games as hitting a combo. That doesn't mean Garth isn't a really fun, versatile, resilient commander who is well worth building and playing.

I've been pondering doing a "5 cards I'd ban in commander" column, inspired by Abe Sargent's recent column on that same topic. I think it's a fascinating window into how a person thinks about the format, but in truth I probably wouldn't ban anything. I believe in running interaction, even when sometimes I know I'm not running enough of it. If you'd like to read how I'd approach that topic please let me know in the comments. If you're a regular reader you might already have a good guess, but I think it would be fun to explore in the confines of an actual column.

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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