How to Build with Zombies

Posted in How to Build on March 29, 2016

By Bruce Richard

Bruce's games invariably involve several friends, crazy plays, and many laughs. Bruce believes that if anyone at your table isn't having fun, then you are doing it wrong.

This seems like a strange topic to be assigned by my editor, but with all the Zombies about in Shadows over Innistrad, I guess it makes sense.

Building with zombies can be difficult. By their very nature, zombies are constantly moving and generally trying to eat you. The key is to find a way to make those things work for you. This will be dependent on what you are trying to build. When building roads, you are generally not looking for the zombies to be moving. Roads that constantly shift startle your horses and make heavy cart loads wobble dangerously. You are going to want to keep your zombies still. I've found the best thing to do is to cut the zombies into smaller parts. A whole zombie—

[Uh, Bruce, when I said "How to Build with Zombies," I didn't mean using zombies as building material.—Editor]

Huh. Okay.

When building with zombies, I tend to go to Gisa for basic grunt-work zombies, and Geralf when I need something more intricate or special order. Gisa's zombies are great for digging a road down, then laying the dirt and gravel. However, if you are looking for a zombie to pack all the materials down, Stitcher Geralf can build a zombie with a massive round stone attached to its front hands that will excel at that particular job.

Press for Answers | Art by Steve Prescott

Jobs that don't require any thought are generally the best zombie jobs. Zombies raise a barn like nobody's business.

[No. Zombie decks. You know, Magic decks, with Zombies. In the decks.—Editor]

Ohhh.

Since the cards below aren’t in Gatherer just yet, I recommend you have the Card Image Gallery open in another window to follow along.

Perpetual Motion Machine

When building Magic: the Gathering decks with Zombies (better?), you need to keep the tendencies of Zombies in mind. And no, I'm not thinking of "braaains." Zombie decks tend to build slowly, growing to an eventual win. Most Zombie decks also tend to go wide. The term "go wide" implies many creatures, often on the small side, all attacking at once. You tend to lose the creatures that get blocked, but you win by overwhelming the blockers. Attacking with thirteen Zombies against three Angels is the definition of "going wide."

Zombies tend to be 2/2 or 3/3 creatures with the occasional larger specimen, but when your creatures are small to midsized at best, going wide is usually the best option. That is why I found this deck so interesting.

Perpetual Motion Machine

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The deck goes wide, relying on Zombie tokens from the instants and sorceries in the deck as opposed to the usual Zombie creature cards. Rather than add a bunch of Zombie creature cards, I opted to try and maximize the spells a bit more.

Jace, Vryn's Prodigy is pretty well-known by now, and with good reason. With Jace's looting ability (meaning drawing a card then discarding a card, a la Merfolk Looter), I can draw extra cards and discard those with madness costs to get extra benefits and pile more cards in the graveyard. Consider From Under the Floorboards. Gaining three Zombies and 3 life is great for five mana, but what happens if you don't have five mana? With Jace, I can draw a card, then discard From Under the Floorboards and use the madness cost to get just one or two Zombies and 1 or 2 life. If I have reached the late game, I can do the same with Jace but end up with six Zombies and 6 life! From Under the Floorboards has flexibility with its madness cost, and Jace enables that wonderfully. We see that madness trigger pay off with Gisa's Bidding and Just the Wind, as well.

When Jace gets all grown up as Jace, Telepath Unbound, you can start recasting those instants and sorceries. Getting double value from each of these cards just makes sense. This deck really has the chance to go double-wide!

The deck stretches the go wide concept with Rise from the Tides. Six mana isn't cheap, but by the time you cast this, I expect five or more instants and sorceries in your graveyard. Five new Zombies is a whole army by itself! When rebuilding is so easy, suddenly that Kozilek's Return isn't quite so scary.

With everything about your deck designed to go wide, Geralf's Masterpiece comes in and gums up the works for your opponent. They have been trying to defend against you going wide. Whether it is Fall of the Titans or Kozilek's Return, the enemy has been trying to set you up for a big fall. Geralf's Masterpiece turns the tables. By the time you get to five mana, your hand size will likely make the Masterpiece a 4/4 flyer. Suddenly you aren't going wide, you are flying over with a Zombie Horror, to the horror of your opponent.

The card fits perfectly in the deck too. You can discard Geralf's Masterpiece early on with Jace. Once you get to four mana, you discard three cards at the end of your opponent's turn, and Geralf's Masterpiece is in play and ready to attack on your turn. This will also likely cause you to flip Jace on your turn, since you'll have so many more cards in your graveyard. Attack with G.M., defend with Zombie tokens.

Compelling Deterrence is a spectacular tempo killer that your opponent won't expect. They will look at the mana you have open and assume another madness card, but this time you'll bounce their attacking creature and force them to discard since you'll certainly have a Zombie. This also works against annoying enchantments or planeswalkers. Nahiri got you down? Just bounce her back to your opponent's hand. And if you happen to catch them with no cards in hand—something I expect to happen more than usual, given the number of discard and madness cards in the set—you may end up forcing them to discard the annoying card as well!

Zombie Work Crew

While the last deck we looked at tended to go wide then surprise an opponent with a Masterpiece, this deck is definitely trying to do both right away and isn't trying to hide it at all.

Zombie Work Crew

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Diregraf Colossus is the reason why this deck can do both. When the Colossus comes down early, it ups your Zombie count a little more for every Zombie spell you cast, emphasizing the "wide" stance. When the Colossus shows up late, it hoards +1/+1 counters for itself, giving you a very large Zombie with which to pound your opponent. Diregraf Colossus offers up this spectacular flexibility for only three mana; this lets you do everything you want and more. I can't wait to load him up in all sorts of decks!

Diregraf Colossus | Art by Vincent Proce

Forgotten Creation is going to be a powerhouse, and not just in this deck. You can discard your hand and draw a new hand the same size as the last one, every turn! And it is optional, so if you have found the card(s) you were looking for, you don't have to toss them away. The card is going to set up delirium for you without even trying! Graveyard recursion and madness costs will be easily activated. The only danger lies in opponents using milling strategies, but with power like this, that is a risk you should be willing to take.

Forgotten Creation is also a great way to search out your combo pieces. Running one or two cards in your casual deck that let you recycle your graveyard back into your library will ensure that getting milled out is a minor risk. I can't wait to pick up multiples of this card for a couple of decks I have in mind!

In this particular deck, with Forgotten Creation loading the graveyard, you have a variety of other ways to recur your favorite Zombies from the graveyard and get them fighting for you on the battlefield! Liliana, Defiant Necromancer adds to everyone's graveyard then gives you Zombies out of yours.

And to make sure your hand never runs low, Altar's Reap along with Relentless Dead lets you draw and recur cards! Sidisi, Undead Vizier can also enjoy the benefits of the Relentless Dead to find just the card you need from your library. The flexibility this deck offers should carry you a long way.

Forgotten Stairwell

If you've been reading my writing for a while, you'll know I have a special place in my heart for a particular black enchantment from Mirage: Tombstone Stairwell. I love this card primarily because it brings in a bunch of creatures each turn, and destroys them at the end of each turn. I make and remake decks with Tombstone Stairwell fairly regularly. Lately, Falkenrath Noble and Blood Artist have been the pairing of choice. When the Zombie tokens from the Stairwell get destroyed, the Noble and/or the Blood Artist kick in, costing someone a lot of life and gaining me a lot of life. Generally, I can end games pretty quickly this way.

Then I saw Forgotten Creation and fell in love all over again. Forgotten Creation lets me churn through my library for exactly what I need, all the while filling my graveyard with more creatures. When the Stairwell hits, things will end so much faster than before!

Forgotten Stairwell

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Traitor Zombies

One of my latest zombie braaainstorming sessions led me to consider altering my Kalitas deck. It is currently a Vampire-themed deck, but Zombies offer so much more. I was recently a guest on the Commanderin' podcast with Nate Burgess and Phil DeLuca. Nate mentioned he had a Kalitas Zombie deck that he was about ready to update. He graciously provided me with the list. I made a few updates from Shadows over Innistrad, and here it is in all its glory!

Nate Burgess's Kalitas Traitor Zombies—SOI

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COMMANDER: Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet

I added three Shadows over Innistrad cards to the list: Diregraf Colossus, From Under the Floorboards, and Relentless Dead. Relentless Dead is a great early play and provides a sacrifice outlet that keeps on giving. It can always be relied on as a way to get Kalitas just a little bigger. From Under the Floorboards is a small lifegain bump and a nice surge of Zombies when you get the chance to use the madness cost. Diregraf Colossus is good to play early on, bumping up your Zombie numbers after it hits the battlefield. Kalitas will love an extra 2/2 Zombie with every other Zombie spell you play.

The deck keeps Zombies jumping in and out of the graveyard pretty easily. Recursion and repeated use of your cards is key in multiplayer games, and this deck has that in spades.

I hope I've given you some ideas and warnings about building with Zombies. While there are dangers when dealing with the undead, I think you'll find the rewards are well worth the risks!

Bruce Richard

@manaburned

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