There are two Guilds on Ravnica that comprise the lower classes of society: the Gruul Clans, who are basically the multiverse's largest Anarchist Bike Gang, and the Golgari Swarm, which are what would happen if you kicked all of the Underdark races in Dungeons & Dragons out onto the street, then forced them to work either as fast food workers or garbage men until they got pissed off enough to unionize. That's right: there's Soy-lent Green in Ravnica, and it's more than just people.
- 1 History
- 2 Structure
- 3 Guild Members
- 4 Mechanics
- 5 Dungeons & Dragons
- 6 Gallery
The Golgari Swarm was originally created to deal with dead bodies (possibly by making them zombies), and feeding the homeless (possibly to zombies), and their core belief is that death and decay are important parts of the cycle of life; in a nutshell, they believe that nature is comprised of a great cycle of birth, death, decay and rebirth, and that the key to power is tapping into all of the aspects of this cycle. They are aligned with the Green and Black colors of Mana, which represents that viewpoint well, and wield a weird combination of necromancy and druidic magic, with a big emphasis on inducing decay, controlling & manipulating fungal growth, raising the dead, commanding vermin, and afflicting others with parasitic vermin & fungus. A Golgari defense formation usually consists of waves of predatory mushrooms, slime-like masses of carnivorous lichen or mold, zombies (often infested with bugs or fungus for extra nastiness) and giant bugs, backed by the outcast humanoids who make up the actual rot-farmers, fungus-druids and necromancers. Like the Rakdos, Dimir and Simic, the Golgari occupy the underground of Ravnica, tending to claim the damper regions where they can cultivate their precious fungus and vermin for food.
The original Golgari who signed the Guildpact was Svothgir, who was killed by the Sisters of Stone Death, three Gorgons, and then replaced by the Elf-Lich Savra. Who was also killed. Then came back as a lich. And then killed again. And replaced by Jarad. Who was also killed. And then came back as a Lich.
In fact in the entire history of the Golgari and Ravnica they are the guild whose leaders have been killed the most. Seriously, they can't hold on to a decent leader. The only reason Jarad has seemingly remained in power is because nobody else in Ravnica cares.
Most of the Golgari is composed of humans, zombies, elves, plant-zombies (which are apparently zombies animated by fungus, similar to the D&D Dusanu), gorgons, mushroom people, giant beetles, kraul (bug-people), and trolls (like the living under bridges and regenerating kind, not the internet kind.) Ancient lore suggests the presence of other monstrous humanoids, like harpies, but there are no cards supporting this.
Recent history has been pretty sad for the Golgari. Despite getting the first green-black planeswalker in the form of Vraska, they contributed next to nothing to the recent story.
The Golgari Swarm currently functions in a similar way to an organism with each member being connected by a hive-mind. Jarad basically controls the entire swarm from Karazda, the newest and slimiest Golgari Guildhall. (The old one is a giant cathedral that contains Svothgir's severed head and moves around and is considered the exact center of Golgari territory.) There is a hierarchy but no one exactly knows how it works except the Golgari, who aren't telling, being busy nomming brains and feeding homeless.
The original Parun of the Guild. Given that the Golgari like elves a lot, he was probably some combination of Elf and Zombie. He was beaten by The Sisters of Stone Death and then made a deal with Savra to help deal with them. They of course killed two and outed the third. But then Savra got greedy and was way more powerful, and then promptly played Fulgrim to his Ferrus Manus. His severed head wound up placed in an Orzhov Cathedral, and being not quite dead, proceeded to grow fungus tentacles and take over the place. The cathedral is now named after him and moves. So he might have gotten the better end of the deal.
Sisters of Stone Death
Three Gorgon Sisters who took over after whupping Svothgir's ass. They broke every bone in his body and took over after serving him as lieutenants and gave themselves PROMOTIONS. But this did kill two of the original five, and they couldn't turn him to stone since he was still pretty strong. Ludmilla was the last one alive as of the end of the Ravnica block, but hasn't been seen since.
Savra was the high-priestess of the Dark Elves in the Golgari. Svothgir came to her for help after his defeat, and she of course helped him, giving him a new body. And then killed him after they beat the Sisters. She took over the Guild and promptly gave it up to her true master, the vampire Szadek who led the Dimir Guild. She also gained part of the control of the Selesnya Guild and the Boros Legion, giving Szadek control of all four guilds. Szadek then snapped her neck, she got possessed by Svothgir's spitit, and then got crushed and destroyed (possibly raped,) in a fight between a Simic Experiment Kraken-Fungus-thing, and Rakdos. Yes, that Rakdos. She is very, very dead.
Jarad vod Savo
Savra's brother and a former bounty hunter. But when Savra and Szadek began being giant buttholes he opposed his twin. When she eventually got crushed (possibly lit on fire, torn limb from limb, eaten, and whatever else we don't wanna know that Rakdos did,) Jarad took control of the swarm. Later was kiled in a Rakdos blood ritual involving a child of his, but being a Golgari and an elf of course he knew necromancy (which must be step one for being in the Golgari swarm to start, unless you're a giant beetle,) he possessed his own corpse and didn't let death slow him down, LIKE A BOSS. In card form he gets stronger for every creature card in the graveyard, and can also pay mana and *BLAM* one of his own dudes to make your opponent lose life. Finally by sacrificing land he can return to your hand from the graveyard, because you can't keep a good Elf(possibly zombie, possibly plant-zombie,) down.
Varolz, The Scar Striped
Being a giant swarm of zombies (possibly plant-zombies) there aren't a whole lot of indviduals in the Golgari Swarm (and considering the number of dead Guild Masters it might pay to blend in.) But the implicit maze was discovered and there was no way the Golgari were passing that prize up, so in went Varolz.
Varolz is a 12-15 foot tall troll (making him possibly tied for largest guild runner with Ruric Thar, but Ruric Thar is more interested in crumping fools with his axe then measuring stuff, LIKE A REAL
MAN OGRE!) Varolz has a parasitical fungus that heals his wounds, making him a tough cookie in a race of tough cookies (theoretically.) Oh, he didn't do shit. He did reach the end and was fighting the other maze runners, but other than that he just ran through like everybody and killed everybody in his way. (Hmm, maybe him and Ruric Thar would get along.)
In card form he is notable for some next-level cheese. He can scavenge any creature in his graveyard for their CMC. Combine with some one-drop creatures that have a power of 12-or-13, and you pay one black mana to put 13 +1/+1 COUNTERS ON ANY CREATURE! Even that unblock-able infect creature? Even that unblock-able infect creature. Defense-wise he's a joke though, every other troll in the game can crump his head easily, since he needs to sacrifice a creature to regenerate and only has a 2/2 body to back it up.
Dredge is one of the most powerful key word mechanics in M:tG. A small entry here is not able to do justice to the influence it had, and continues to have, on the metagame and ban lists of multiple formats.
Simply put, a card with Dredge allows you to return it to your hand from the graveyard as an alternative to drawing a new card card whenever you are able to draw a card. In exchange you take X cards from the top of your library and put them in the graveyard. This is broken because in a deck built around abusing Dredge you have lots of cards that can be pulled from the graveyard to your hand, so in effect Dredge is "Put this card in your hand and then make so many cards available for you to then put into your hand later", this breaks the game because it basically ignores a bunch of rules that other decks have to follow. It also has a few other bullshit strengths such as being immune to most disruption effects (opponent makes you discard a card, bring it back and then add a bunch of cards into that pool of potential dredge cards in your graveyard). Not to mention that when built right the graveyard is basically an extension of the player's hand which leads to circumventing the hand limit without having to bother with an artifact, enchantment or creature that can get removed and force you to dump the hand. Coupled with Black's frequent return from the graveyard creatures and cards, triggers based on cards going into or out of the graveyard, sacrifice triggers etc, it can be very, very frustrating playing a Dredge deck that flatout plays an entirely different game of Magic.
Countering Dredge isn't hard so much as having super-specific cards on hand that can stop it. But these cards do fuck all against everything else except a few related archetypes like Reanimator and decks that rely on recursion meaning that you will almost never have the right cards main-decked for game 1 unless Dredge (or other graveyard) decks are on the upswing in popularity in the meta. Game 2 is about how well the Dredge player can recover from being castrated by cards like Leyline of the Void, or (more likely) their ability to sufficiently gain the upper hand before castration and be able to win the game (or better yet, for them, beat you before you castrate them).
Scavenging a creature in the graveyard means exiling it and putting +1/+1 equal to its power on one of your field creatures, for a cost (which is independent of the casting cost, unless it's scavenge is being granted by Varolz, the Scar-Striped). Coupled with a quick and huge ramp (a given with green), a large amount of scavengable creatures, sacking and triggers-on-sacking (a given with black) this can result in a huge stampede of creatures with ridiculous power/toughness. Keyword-givers round out the field populator.
Scavenge may seem as cheesy as dredge, but defenses exist in the form of counters (preventing keywords being given) deathtouch creatures (ubiquitous) and penalizing and boardwipe spells, effectively rendering the enemy's wall of meat and muscle a moot point.
Undergrowth is less so much an ability, and more a signpost that says, "The following effect cares about how many creatures are in your graveyard". Usually this means something like giving a creature +X/+X where X is the number of creatures in your graveyard.
Dungeons & Dragons
Like all of the ten guilds, the Golgari Swarm appeared in the Guildmaster's Guide to Ravnica, a splatbook for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition. Here, it was handled as a combination of Background and Faction, with the player choosing the "Golgari Agent" background to certify they have membership, and being able to earn Renown. This is a new system to 5e, and basically is a kind of abstractified experience; you start off as a general worker (Renown 1), and as you complete missions for the Guild or do things that get you noticed, your Renown increases, giving you increased abilities. Of course, if you publicly screw things up for your guild, your esteem will drop and you can lose Renown.
Characters from the Golgari Swarm are most likely to be Humans or Devkarin Elves - because of COURSE WotC wouldn't be so cool as to let you play something monstrous like a kraul, troll or gorgon. The most iconic classes associated with this guild are the Druid (Circle of Spores or of the Land - Forest/Swamp/Underdark), Fighter (Champion), Ranger (Beast Master with insect/reptile companion or Gloom Stalker), Rogue (Assassin or Thief) and Wizard (Necromancer). Theoretically, the Warlock with the Undying patron makes perfect sense here too, given the Swarm's association with powerful liches in leadership and tutelary roles, but all SCAG subclasses are not mentioned here at all.
Golgari Agent Background
Your skill proficiencies are Nature and Survival, you gain Tool Proficiency (Poisoner's Kit), learn Elvish, Giant or Kraul as a bonus langauge, start with the following gear: a Golgari insignia, a poisoner's kit, a pet beetle or spider, a set of common clothes, and a belt pouch containing 10 gp worth of mixed coins, and have the Undercity Paths feature:
You know hidden, underground pathways that you can use to bypass crowds, obstacles, and observation as you move through the city. When you aren't in combat, you and companions you lead can travel between any two locations in the city twice as fast as your speed would normally allow. The paths of the undercity are haunted by dangers that rarely brave the light of the surface world, so your journey isn't guaranteed to be safe.
To further represent the Guild's training and philosophical impact, spellcasters (that is, anyone with the Spellcasting or Pact Magic class feature) gain bonus spells to their spell list based on the guild. For the Golgari Swarm, that's the following:
- Spell Level Spells
- Cantrip dancing lights, spare the dying
- 1st entangle, ray of sickness
- 2nd protection from poison, ray of enfeeblement, spider climb
- 3rd animate dead, plant growth
- 4th giant insect, grasping vine
- 5th cloudkill, insect plague
Golgari magic is often accompanied by a sickly green glow and a rotting stench.
Golgari Swarm Renown
Officially, the Golgari don't have a proper hierarchy as such; they're more meritocratic than that. In practice, everybody knows that the people who stand out will get more attention from the people who have power - the higher your Renown, the greater the guildmaster's knowledge of you, his confidence in your abilities, and his interest in your activities.
Agent (Renown 3)
- You're starting to get noticed at this level. Your name isn't known, but the fact you can be trusted is; as such, leaders will pass on specific tasks for you, and offer you reasonable support.
Monstrous Favors (Renown 10)
- At this level, your reputation is such that even the more monstrous denizens of the Undercity are starting to learn about you - the trolls, the kraul, the Ravnican gorgons, whatever else your DM believes is lurking down there in the dark. When undertaking an official mission for the Swarm, such a monster will be willing to hear you out if you ask for some reasonable assistance, though they will expect a favor in return. Additionally, such is your renown as an agent that you will always be entrusted with a Golgari Charm when you begin a mission for the Swarm.
Special Roler: Ochran (Renown 10)
- Having earned a sufficient level of trust, you can petition a Golgari leader to accept you into the ranks of the Ochran, the closest thing the Golgari have to a dedicated military branch. Duties as an Ochran include playing bodyguard to people important to the guild and being sent on missions of assassination, theft, and sabotage.
Advisor (Renown 25)
- At this point, you've become a leader in pretty much everything that matters. Lower members of the Guild will often look to you for advice and treat you with respect, although you have no official power yet. The High Chancellors know you by name, and will regularly seek you out for missions or even to ask your opinions - and you can bet that whatever you say will pass to the Guildmaster's ears.
High Chancellor (Renown 50)
- Now you're an official leader in the Swarm, the highest rank you can get until the Guildmaster dies (or you bump them off). This gives you direct access to the Guildmaster, in which role you serve as an adviser and convey their instructions to the "body" of the Swarm.
Special Role: Matka (Renown 50, Devrakin Elf, Spellcasting ability)
- The second-most powerful member of the Swarm is the Matka, the Devkarin high priest; whilst "officially" equal to the other High Chancellors, the racial loyalty that the Devkarin feel to the Matka means that even High Chancellors who are Devkarin will often submit to the Matka's will. Of course, there can only be one Matka, and assassination is a legitimate means of advancing through the Swarm's ranks, meaning that the current incumbent will not be planning on stepping down without a fight...
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