Bringing In the Dead

Posted in Feature on March 6, 2003

By Mark Gottlieb

Hi folks! From this point on, I'll be filling the shoes of the esteemed and creatively titled Jay Moldenhauer-Salazar, whom I believe has stepped aside to pursue a shadow-of-night, avenger-of-injustice project of some kind. I hope I can bring the same great sense of fun to this column as he did. Who am I, though? I'm a longtime Magic player (I started at Beta), and a total Johnny. You may have seen my name before on some of the puzzles posted here on the website, in the credits of any Magic product released over the past two years, or in some of Randy Buehler's articles noting wacky playtest exploits. Of course, everything you really need to know about me and my approach to the game you can get by looking at the one Magic card I ever designed: Erratic Explosion.

I'll write more about my long-term plans and hopes for this column next week, but for now, I'm just going to jump in and get down to the business of Zombies. I've been fascinated by the scintillating deckbuilding possibilities of Zombies ever since Aaron told me that's what I had to write my first column about. The hordes of walking undead, while legion, can be shockingly single-minded. And I mean that among all of them put together, there's maybe a single mind. The Zombies' focus is very compelling, though. There's so much emphasis on death and the graveyard (especially in the Odyssey block) that natural synergy is easy to come by. And while you can argue that there's not enough variety among the creatures in the race, I think their similarities make their slight differences that much more pronounced.

GRAVE DANGER

The graveyard. It's a Zombie's natural environment: its birthplace, its home, its cafeteria. So why are they always trying to tear it apart? Hey, if you were a smelly, goopy, flesh-dripping corpse (and I'm not judging you if you are), you'd probably carry some self-hatred too. Plenty of Odyssey Zombies practice picking through the trash: Zombie Cannibal, Crypt Creeper, and Famished Ghoul can all slurp cards out of an someone's graveyard. But they're nothing compared to Withered Wretch, the new king of graveyard denial. Since it quickly and cheaply liquefies your opponent's 'yard, it combos very nicely with a few other cards. The Wretch{Withered Wretch} turns Carrion Wurm into a 5-mana 6/5 Zombie with no drawback whatsoever. Even better, it pairs up with the neglected Odyssey rare Gravestorm to let you draw two cards a turn. With a and a mana cost at the heart of the deck, monoblack is clearly the way to go. Here's one way to use that engine without investing in too many other rare cards.

Shallow Grave

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I think that's a pretty good start to my tenure here: a cross-block combo between an uncommon utility card and a, shall we say, less-than-celebrated rare. If only there were another combo out there that fit the theme… if I could dig it out from wherever it's buried, all that remains… hey! That's right, Buried Alive and Ghastly Remains go together like peanut butter and marshmallow. It's an awful combo, but how can you resist? Sure, fancy-schmancy graveyard recursion decks use Oversold Cemetery (admittedly, one of my favorite cards in the current environment) and high-quality creatures you can use over and over again like Krosan Tusker. But where's the challenge in building a deck out of good cards? Anyone can do that.

OVERLOADED CEMETERY

Yes, just as Zombies excel at devouring graveyards, they also shine at popping out of them. A few different Zombies in the set of Standard-legal cards are good at self-recursion: Ghastly Remains (while it's no Squee, Goblin Nabob, it's the closest thing to come out in the last few years) and Undead Gladiator refuse to stay dead, and Aphetto Vulture can set up your next draw with the previously deceased Zombie of your choice (including itself). In fact, Buried Alive interacts with the Vulture, Gravedigger, and Cruel Revival to set up a “toolbox" Zombie deck. A bunch of one-of Zombies lets you fetch the creature you need for whatever situation you're in. Cruel Revival does have a drawback, though: if you play against another Zombie deck, it might wind up as a, um, dead card. That's where Zombie Infestation slides on in. It feeds the graveyard, lets you dump those dead cards, syncs up perfectly with Ghastly Remains, and is ridiculously thematic. Soulless One giggles like a schoolgirl each time you drop more Zombies into your graveyard, and Corpse Harvester supports the toolbox angle. Toss in whichever Zombies you have on hand that would help you out. Here's the version I've been playing with.

Deep Grave

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LITENING THE LOAD

While Zombies lend themselves to tricks and combos, they actually don't need a diabolical scheme to be good. For example, Noxious Ghoul combos with every other Zombie. Infernal Caretaker combos with every other Zombie. And the list goes on. One of Jay's great ideas was the frequent inclusion of “Lite" decks (decks with no rares in them) in this space, and I'll be continuing that practice.

Rise Up & Beat Down

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BAD TO THE BONES

Finally, while looking through my Magic Online collection for cool Zombies to build decks around, I couldn't help but notice the first one listed alphabetically: the appropriately named Accursed Centaur. What a hideous card. That card is so bad, UPN is airing a sitcom about it. That card is so bad, the Cincinnati Bengals can beat it. That card is so bad, these jokes would have to be even less funny to do it justice. So I built a deck around it. Which creatures are the best ones to sacrifice? Either ones with great leaves-play abilities, or—even better—ones belonging to your opponent. So the deck is filled with plenty of ways to steal creatures and plenty of ways to sacrifice them. It won't work all the time, but (amazingly) sometimes it does . . . and beating down your opponent with an Accursed Centaur is just about as good as it gets.

Accursed Theft

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And on that note, I'll wrap up my first column. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did. Until next week, have fun with Zombies.

—Mark

Send questions and comments to editor@wizards.com. We'll get Mark hooked up with a mailbox this week.

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