In Commander Focus, Pseudanonymous looks at key Commanders, how to build around them, and what makes their decks work. In this first installment, he’s looking at Golos, Tireless Pilgrim.
Among the storied tales of tier 0 commanders are such legends as Thrasios, Tritan Hero, and Tymna, the Weaver. Zur, the Enchanter was once the epitome of competitive play. Five color decks are often considered unwieldy and difficult to mana fix. Aside from historic food chain decks, and a Kenrith, the Returned King, they often aren’t seen as very competitive.
There is a sleeping giant, who could be awakened.
Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is a 5-color commander who comes onto the board but does not require any colored mana (nor specifically colorless) who mana fixes, or fetches a valuable land or lets you thin your deck, or simply ramp. He’s not hugely threatening, but at 3/5 he’s got a big butt, so he can dissuade certain threats and frequently survives toughness targeting board wipes. He is a useful blocker, and he’s an infinite mana dump. His land fetch ability is an ETB effect, so it will trigger automatically every time you recast or blink your commander. He’s also hugely valuable as a simple mana dump to ramp with if the game goes long. And his mana dump doesn’t require tapping, so you can use it immediately after recasting him.
That’s a lot in a tight 5 colorless package.
Some basic powerful combos that come out of Golos ability: Fetch Boseiju, who shelters alland force through a spell (like Ad Nauseam) that is functionally a win-con. This is probably the default play of any Golos cEDH deck. You can also fetch a Gaea’s Cradle for the immediate ramp, or Serra’s Sanctum, you can also grab a fetchland, and then fetch a land, thus thinning your deck twice (and making Golos mana dump more likely to encounter cards and not lands).
The other reality of Golos as commander is that you get to run all five colors. One way of thinking about commander is to use the binomial theorem. That is, rather than thinking about what your commander gets you in terms colors, thinking about what your commander makes you give up. If you want to be able to cast Wheel of Fortune or Dockside Exotortionist then you need a commander with red, Force of Will and Impulse require blue. Golos lets you have everything, and on top of that if you’re having trouble with the mana in play when he comes into play he can fetch whatever land you need to cast what’s in your hand.
Because Golos is so flexible, your opponents won’t know exactly what to expect. I run Golos as commander in my 10th gate deck, but he could also be at the helm of an Eldrazi deck especially effectively (he can fetch any land, including lands that in turn fetch the Eldrazi Titans themselves, or hugely reduce their cost). His fetch comes from an ETB so if you like to blink cards, via Yorion or Brago or Flicker he fits in well with a deck of that style. If you’re addicted to Tron he’s one of the ways to fill out your Tron lands. He’s also both an artifact and a creature, so he can be sacced to any of the altars (Kraark clan Ironworks, Ashnod’s Altar, and Phyrexian Altar) and you could then using the mana gained to recast him, triggering another ETB, generating significant ramp and thinning your deck to improve the ratio of land to non-land..
Synergies: Since his ability to exile cards from the top of your library and then play (not cast) allows you to play them without paying their casting cost, there is a temptation to use extremely expensive cards like Omniscience. This may work, and if employing this strategy you may want to use cards like Scroll rack and Sylvan Library to put cards from your hand back into your library – you don’t want to be forced to hard cast something costing 11 mana. This can likewise be used to say put Eldrazi titans into play, but since his ability costs 7 mana to begin with, and 5 of it is colored, it’s relatively difficult to reduce or produce these mana costs. However it also allows you to put a land into play if one is in the top 3, (since it’s play these cards from exile not cast) so you will usually want to activate the ability and see if there is a land there before playing one with your hand.
As a pilgrim, he is not entirely without weaknesses. At 5 mana Golos is a slower commander. Some games you may have early game ramp, a dork or a sol ring and can cast it early then ramp further, but other games he won’t hit the board till turn five, and in and of himself isn’t a hugely powerful commander, but rather one that enables other things.
Countering your opponents: Golos is an artifact, so anything that shuts down artifact activations will disallow his activated ability. He’s vulnerable to most creature removal and artifact removal. He also doesn’t have any inherent win conditions, while you can ramp and play cards without cost via his ability. Drannith Magistrate will keep you from casting him, and also prevent you from casting cards exiled with his ability. His land search ability is an ETB so cards like Hushwing Gryff will keep it from triggering. It’s also a search, so cards like Aven Mindcensor will largely prevent you from using it. Collector Ouphe and Null Talisman will prevent Golos exile ability, but not his ETB search (it’s triggered, not activated).
All in all I think Golos, Tireless Pilgrim is a flexible and often powerful commander who, while he’s not in and of himself a win condition can enable and helm many flexible and toolboxy decks in an unexpected manner and can also be used to create a very competitive deck.
Building the Deck
Given all that, let’s demonstrate how to build a cEDH deck around Golos.
First, what will our win condition be? This is a competitive deck, so we want to build out some combo lines.
Golos fetches lands, so one potential win con is a land based one. For fun, I made a high powered gate deck, but gates aren’t really competitive. There are some lands that can kill people, among them Valakut and Piranha marsh, by repeatedly entering and leaving the board, typically via Worldgorger Dragon / Animate Dead lines. We could use Golos to fetch one of these lands and assemble the combo, or run it as a backup combo. But because of the triggering of Worldgorger dragon, if someone destroys the dragon while it’s enters play effect is on the stack, we lose all our permanents. Risky.
However, Golos has a secondary ability, which is a mana sink and lets us play (not cast, so including land) things from the top of our library. If we get stalled out or don’t have combo or tutors in hand we can just start playing value.
Golos is an artifact, so almost inevitably we’ll have an artifact in play, and this means we can use some of the powerful blue artifact tutors, even those that require the sacrifice of an artifact to fetch a game-winning piece. Bolas Citadel is almost always a win-con, especially when paired with Aetherflux reservoir. However I don’t think this is a great primary win-con, and so we’ll just default to the Thassa’s oracle / Jace with Tainted Pact and Demonic Consultation.
So those will be our to main win lines: Deck ourselves and win off the decking, or else play Citadel paired with Reservoir and just keep casting spells. With this secondary line, we can end up running into our primary win con as well.
The second step is to get these pieces into our hand. Since we’re playing a 5 color commander, we can basically take the “pile of cards” approach and put the best cards in the game into our deck. For tutors this means: Demonic Tutor, Vampiric Tutor, Imperial Seal, Eladamri’s Call, Spellseeker, Muddle the Mixture (actually a counterspell, but lets us fetch either Oracle or Tainted Pact). We’ll also include Enlightened Tutor, because it’s very good, and let’s us get a secondary win piece or else one of our card draw engines. Lim’Dul’s vault is tutorlike but isn’t actually a tutor, which lets us get around effects that stop us from searching.
For pure card draw, we want Rhystic Study and Mystic Remora are frankly too good to pass up. Timetwister gives us recursion and if we dump our hand we can refill it this way. We can also run Wheel of Fortune for the same reason and sort of back our way into a huge card advantage via Narset, Parter of Veils or Notion Thief or Alms Collector. This combo is so good there’s an entire deck built around it. If these kinds of cards are outside your budget, you can simply substitute in some other card draw package. As a secondary forcing our way into a winning state is Ad Nauseam. One of the nice things about Golos is he lets you fetch Boseiju, who shelters all, and force through an Ad Naus. Don’t feel that you have to destroy your life total with this card, given the low CMC we are aiming for in the deck, it’s perfectly valid to cast this on your opponent’s end step and just use it to draw five or six cards. Ad Nauseum pairs very well with Angel’s Grace, and since this is a card that can keep us in the game in the event of another player comboing off, it’s nice to have an excuse to include it.
We may want more card draw later, but Golos himself is a card engine, so we can lean heavily into ramp.
For protection we have 5 colors to choose from so can go with the best of the best, the zero-cost counterspell suite that is nearly an auto-include at this point: Force of Will, Force of Negation, Pact of Negation, Fierce Guardianship, Mental Misstep. We’ll definitely want Counterspell and Mana Drain, as well as Swan Song and Flusterstorm. Narset’s Reversal is a counterspell that doesn’t actually counter, and also can allow you to “steal” a spell on occasion, and Dovin’s Veto is an uncounterable counterspell. Red Elemental Blast we’ll throw main deck, depending on your meta, you may also want Pyroblast, and Dispel.
For creature and permanent removal, Fire Covenant, Swords to Plowshares, Assassin’s Trophy, Abrupt Decay. We don’t want mass removal because we’re going to lean heavily into elf ramp. Force of Vigor can be an emergency response, especially if we’re in a tapped out scenario but drawing cards via Rhystic Study or Mystic Remora. Finally, include Aura of Silence, this is a good card because it’s a staxy type effect that makes drawing into rocks mid game difficult for your opponents, and can be sacced at any time to destroy an enchantment or artifact. If we reveal it with Golos draw ability we’re perfectly happy, and not forced to “use it or lose it”. We could substitute Seal of Cleansing, or Seal of Primordium, or include them, based on your local meta.
Chain of Vapor and Cyclonic Rift also fall into the “auto include unless you don’t need them” as both have such powerful potentially game-saving effects. Abrade lets us remove an artifact or kill a creature, and a lot of commander creatures have 3 toughness, so that adds additional value. Reality Shift is also a pitchable destroy target creature, but has a powerful secondary utility ability to do things like prevent an opponent from getting a card they tutored to the top (for example via Imperial Seal, Personal Tutor, or Worldly Tutor), or to get rid of a pesky top.
Dockside Extortionist is frankly an amazing card, giving a burst of one-shot mana which is frequently necessary to get a combo stated. As an aside, it can be an infinite mana source alongside various forms of recursion, such as a sac outlet and Kenrith, the Returned King.
Your basic 4-color elf package fits right in here, the 3 amigos: Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, Fyndhorn Elves, and then Deathrite Shaman and Noble Hierarch, alongside Elves of Deep Shadow and Avacyn’s Pilgrim, and of course Birds of Paradise, and finally Boreal Druid.
All this gives us a really strong chance of ramp on turn 1.
We also want the 4 auto-include artifacts Sol Ring, Mana Crypt, Chrome Mox, and Mox Diamond. Unless we’re hardcore leaning into Collector Ouphe and Null Rod, these cards go in pretty much every deck (the four). We’ll also want Arcane Signet and Fellwar stone, both for ramp and possible mana fixing.
Smothering tithe is another super high-value card that gives us a bunch of resources to go off, and we don’t really care that they are single shot. Carpet of Flowers is just an amazing ramp for 1 mana. Though if your meta is different than mine, perhaps Compost or some other card benefiting from a common color can fit your bill better.
So that leaves us with 66 cards, and we’ll fill out the deck with lands.
There are a number of strong utility lands, but we’re mostly planning to use Golos ability to grab Boseiju, or else mana fix. If we end up with him in coming into play later in the game it can also be powerful to tutor out a fetch land, and then use the fetch land, thus removing 2 lands from the deck. I went with the full true dual set, along with the full set of pain fetches, added City of Brass, Mana Confluence, Command Tower and Exotic Orchard, as well as Bojuka Bog to clear graveyards and Cephalid Coliseum for late-game cycling or response to someone else’s Thassa’s Oracle.
Here’s the deck at Moxfield, and here is the deck list: