Deck Spotlight: Zombies

Posted in Event Coverage on May 14, 2017

By Corbin Hosler

They've been lurking for months, just under the surface. (Un)living on the fringes, never fully coming into play. That is, until Amonkhet opened the pyramids, and the graves.

Zombies have arrived in Standard.

With a new Standard metagame at Pro Tour Amonkhet, a Zombie from the plane has been largely responsible for marking the rise (from the grave) of the Zombie tribe: Dread Wanderer. The now-ubiquitous one-drop is the biggest reason why Zombies are back in the metagame, but it's not just Amonkhet that's on display.

The core of the Zombies deck has actually been around since Eldritch Moon. The archetype took a backseat to artifact-centric strategies over the past six months, but the printing of Wanderer and Liliana's Mastery have reinvigorated the deck.

The core of the deck stays the same regardless of whether it's the more popular mono-black version, or the white-black build team Lingering Souls showed up with that midway through Day Two was well on its way to taking Chris Fennell to the Top 8.

The eight one-drops are the key. Wanderer is joined by Cryptbreaker, which is both a tempo first-turn play when needed but more importantly a source of late-game card advantage. It can either tap an army of Zombies to cash in a point of life for a card, or it can turn an unneeded card into a Zombie to maintain pressure. One of the common mistakes players make is believing the deck to be solely an aggressive deck, when in reality Cryptbreaker nearly by itself gives the deck a solid late-game plan. If both players are looking to the top of the deck for help, the ability to draw even a single extra card can be backbreaking, and even if Cryptbreaker is alone on the battlefield it can turn excess lands into an undead horde. Likewise, Dread Wanderer keeps coming back, providing a constant stream of pressure.

Alain Bardini's Mono-Black Zombies

There is some debate at the two-drop spot, and players are finding success across the spectrum. While most players chose to utilize Relentless Dead and honorary Zombie Metallic Mimic, there are plenty finding success without it (see Fennell's deck). Present in nearly every sideboard was Scrapheap Scrounger, which is a powerful recursive threat to bring back against control decks or Aetherworks Marvel decks that boarded into sweepers.

Next comes the lord. Lord of the Accursed, that is. A powerful pump spell for the team, it also can help break a board stall by giving all Zombies menace if needed. Alongside it is Diregraf Colossus, a card that many people forgot about for a long time but one that is extremely powerful in this shell. It is often a 4/4 as soon as it is cast, and only grows the Zombie board state after that.

At the top end of the curve sits Liliana's Mastery, a new addition that players are jamming anywhere from two to four copies of. Not only does it refill a board immediately following a sweeper, but it pumps the team for a lethal attack or gives the deck an edge in the mirror if the opponent has an army of 2/2 Zombies facing what are now 3/3s.

The removal the deck has access to is also top-notch. Fatal Push and Grasp of Darkness deal with most of the major threats in Standard, while Dark Salvation is a beating all on its own.

Truly a unique card, Dark Salvation does it all. It can serve as a three-mana spell that creates a Zombie token while removing an opponent's creature, but it also scales up as the game goes on, and it hasn't been uncommon to see Dark Salvation create two or even three Zombie tokens in Nashville.

Here we come to the major divergence between the mono-black and white-black variants. While the mono-black lists are able to play Westvale Abbey or Cradle of the Accursed to gain value from their lands, that versatility must be sacrificed by the white version of the deck. In return, it gains access to Wayward Servant—a verifiable machine gun of life drain—or even Binding Mummy, a key card in the mirror.

Chris Fennell's White-Black Zombies

White also offers access to what are defining cards in the Pro Tour metagame filled with Aetherworks Marvel decks: Declaration in Stone and Anguished Unmaking to deal with the inevitable Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger that the Marvel decks will produce. Not being dead to the deck's most powerful card allowed the white versions of the Zombie decks to successfully fight through a field of Marvels. In addition, having Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in the sideboard allowed the deck to work its way through the Marvel decks playing Chandra, Flamecaller that were heavier on control elements. Alongside Transgress the Mind and Scrapheap Scrounger, Zombies is able to match up well against Marvel and control decks.


Lee Shi Tian shambles into battle with his Zombie hoard.

All in all, Zombies is the breakout deck of Amonkhet. Its combination of early aggression, late-game inevitability, and ability to adapt to the metagame around it has defined Standard at the Pro Tour, and it's clear the Zombies aren't going away anytime soon.

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