Ever since Shadows over Innistrad, Zombies have been trying to break into tier 1 Standard decks to relatively low success. These slower tribal decks didn't have the tools to hang with or race powerful decks such as Mardu Vehicles or Copy Cat.
With the arrival of Amonkhet, the Zombies of both blocks have been reunited in the afterlife, and now they join forces to take on the world. Let's take a look at the building blocks for brewing Zombie decks in a new Standard format.
Exciting New Interactions
The first thing we should explore are what new interactions Amonkhet has brought to the table and what avenues the set opens up for deck building.
Dread Wanderer is a fantastic new tool for Zombie decks. We're already familiar with the powerful interaction between Prized Amalgam and Haunted Dead. If they are both in your graveyard, you can activate Haunted Dead's activated ability to trigger Prized Amalgam and cheat it into play. This engine is not only mana efficient, but also difficult to answer permanently.
With the printing of Dread Wanderer, we've gained new tools to consistently trigger Prized Amalgam from the graveyard. One of the drawbacks to older Zombie decks was that getting this engine rolling could be difficult. Dread Wanderer goes a long way toward making this combo more reliable.
Dark Salvation is a powerful card that didn't get much play without the proper support. Cue the trumpets for Liliana, Death's Majesty. (Does Liliana have Zombie jesters to cue this dramatic entrance?) Liliana, Death's Majesty not only provides the creature type we care about the most, but also fuels the graveyard with a potential Dread Wanderer, Prized Amalgam, Haunted Dead, embalm creatures, etc.
Liliana's Mastery also combines beautifully with Dark Salvation and Liliana, Death's Majesty. Serving as a Zombie anthem effect and adding 6 power to the board on its own, this card turns your unassuming 2/2 Zombies into 3/3 beatdown threats. If you're playing a low-to-the-ground Zombie deck, Liliana's Mastery represents huge effect to the board and a 10(ish)-power swing in your favor.
It is important to note that Dread Wanderer has the drawback that it can only be activated if you have one or fewer card in your hand. This is where Cryptbreaker truly shines. Not only does Cryptbreaker allow us to discard while still getting a benefit, it also enables our Dread Wanderer and serves as a powerful draw engine in the late game.
In Zombie decks with a low curve, Dusk // Dawn can be a powerful way to recur Zombies from the graveyard. This is also a nice insurance policy against decks who trade one-for-one with our Zombies or control decks that wrath our Zombies away.
Lastly, it is relevant to note that embalm makes white Zombie creatures, which synergizes nicely with all our "Zombies matter" cards.
Now that we've explored new interactions and some cards that have gone up in power level thanks to the Zombie synergies, let's look at the building blocks to building Zombie decks.
The Prized Amalgam/Return from the Graveyard Package
This includes cards that enable us to cheat Prized Amalgam into play and use our discard/graveyard to our advantage. In a mono-black deck, you're looking at Haunted Dead, Dread Wanderer, and Prized Amalgam as the obvious inclusions, but if you venture out into a blue splash, you also get Stitchwing Skaab and Advanced Stitchwing. Not every deck has to include the Prized Amalgam package, but not only is this combo fun, it's also very difficult to answer once it gets rolling.
The Mill and Discard Outlets
These are the cards that let us discard from our hand or top of the deck while advancing our graveyard strategies. Cryptbreaker; Liliana, Death's Majesty; Liliana, the Last Hope; Miasmic Mummy; and Heir of Falkenrath are options in black. (But if your opponent wants to call a flavor judge on you for including a Vampire in their Zombie tribal deck, that is 100% acceptable.) Splashing for blue gets you Wharf Infiltrator and Pull from Tomorrow. Key to the City can also be a nice one-of.
The team players, if you will. Depending on which strategy you focus on, you'll want all four or none of the above-mentioned Zombies. Let it be noted that Scrapheap Scrounger is an honorary Zombie. Please don't ruin the Scrounger's day and tell it that it doesn't belong with its Zombie pals.
The Removal Suite
One of the advantages of playing a black deck is having plentiful removal and powerful sideboard options. Dark Salvation has gone up with the release of Amonkhet. Fatal Push is one of the most efficient removal spells in Standard, and Grasp of Darkness kills most problematic creatures.
The Payoffs and Finishers
These are the cards that make it all worth it. Liliana's Mastery is a fast way to punch through your opponent's defenses, and Liliana, Death's Majesty is a must-answer planeswalker. Another card that hasn't had its time to shine but could be powerful in this sort of deck is Voldaren Pariah. Lord of the Accursed is an anthem to pump your team, and its activated ability can win you the game to boot. It's important to note that Metallic Mimic is a wannabe Zombie that could also be included for an extra anthem effect.
Before I go, let me share with you what I think is a good starting point for a Zombie decklist, and from here you can venture out into all sorts of directions:
It feels like Zombies got a nice push with Amonkhet, and this has opened viable and varied Zombie strategies. Have you made any sweet Zombie brews for Amonkhet? How good do you think Zombies will be in this new Standard format? You can let me know on Twitter @gabyspartz, or on my stream at twitch.tv/gabyspartz.