One of the oldest archetypes for Magic decks is, still today, one of the most popular: tribal.
Not the tribal supertype—we don't talk about that anymore—but honest to earth tribes of creatures. Elf. Goblin. Merfolk. Soldier. Human. Vampire. Ally. Sliver. Treefolk.
Zombie. Oh yes, definitely Zombie.
Zombies have been a feature in many sets, getting plenty of tribal action in Onslaught block, both trips to the Innistrad plane, as well as benefiting from heavy use as a creature type over Magic's decades.
Amonkhet is home to even more Zombie action. While Mark Rosewater's introduction last week left it clear that Zombies were going to matter, I found Matt Tabak's words about the embalm mechanic to be less cryptic: "You'll find lots of ways to take advantage of its new zombiehood, I'm sure."
Zombie tribal leadership has come a long way since 1993. Thanks, Nicol Bolas.
When the Shambling Gets Tough
Zombies are fun in Magic right now, even if they're not leading the Standard pack. Both Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon dropped a boatload of shambling action into the format. Lord of the Accursed tells us quite a few things about our visit to Amonkhet:
- As an uncommon, Zombies have tribal synergy available in Limited. Zombies are everywhere, doing Zombie things. Oh, and they're all bigger too.
- A 2/3 for three mana, at an easy-to-cast single black mana requirement, lets this become playable in plenty of decks. It's an easy add for Zombie fun, Limited or beyond.
- If the previous two points weren't enough, Lord of the Accursed gives your Zombies some evasion too. Menace may not be the end-all of Constructed—Graf Harvest has had plenty of time for a breakout—but it'll be the death of you on Amonkhet.
Oh. Whoops. I guess menace might be the end of you in Standard too. A cheap, evasive creature with a minimal drawback—killing a Zombie you're probably just going to get right back—is rounded out by dinging your opponents whenever one of your Zombies dies.
If you're playing a lot of Zombies, boy will a lot of Zombies die.
Plague Belcher is another step into the madness of Zombie tribal. No, Shadows over Innistrad and Eldritch Moon didn't have actual madness Zombies. (That was another popular undead tribe.) But it did have things like Relentless Dead, Haunted Dead, and Prized Amalgam with a tendency to get undead repeatedly.
Even better, everyone's favorite one-drop Zombie, Cryptbreaker, is around to load the battlefield with Zombies and stock your graveyard with goodies—like all those sweet new creatures with embalm.
A month ago, Holy_85 took Zombies all the way through to perfection in a Standard League. The deck doesn't dip into blue beyond the freebie Prized Amalgam–from-the-graveyard action, which gives us a great base to start thinking about tribal in Amonkhet Standard.
There is one thought that comes up often when tribal strategies are looked at: "But what if some or all our Zombies get killed? How do we keep fighting?" Did you think a world controlled by Nicol Bolas wouldn't have the appropriate answer?
Dread Wanderer is exactly the kind of card that makes all the Zombies we know and love in Standard happy:
- It's a one-drop, arriving early and attacking fast.
- It's recursive, getting to come back from the graveyard as often as needed (bringing Prized Amalgam along for the ride).
- Its ability pairs well with the discard-for-value Zombies like Cryptbreaker and Haunted Dead.
When you start to piece together all three of these new Amonkhet cards, you can paint a beautiful picture of tribal undeath:
- Dread Wanderer and Cryptbreaker fill the battlefield early, backed up by Haunted Dead and Prized Amalgams.
- Lord of the Accursed turns 2/2s into 3/3s, and can even make them menace through an opponent's meager defense.
- Plague Belcher arrives at some point, setting up a powerful and cheap attacker while punishing the opponent for killing any Zombies.
A full battlefield of Zombies and a Plague Belcher (or two!) makes an opponent's Fumigate give less life, making your Zombies' quick return from the graveyard even more dangerous.