Zombies Reloaded

Posted in How to Build on July 8, 2016

By Melissa DeTora

Melissa is a former Magic pro player and strategy writer who is now working in R&D on the Play Design team.

The Eldritch Moon Card Image Gallery is now live! I hope you all enjoy the set as much as I enjoyed developing it! One of my jobs when I was on the development team in Magic R&D was playtesting on the FFL team (Future Future League, our internal playtesting league). This team builds and tests decks for Standard with the goal of making the format fun and balanced. For Shadows over Innistrad, one of the things we were sure about was that the tribes were not quite strong enough to be powerful contenders in Standard. We hoped that Eldritch Moon would fix that.

Zombies was one of the decks I worked on, and I spent a lot of time with it. It was kind of my baby, so to speak. I loved the Zombie synergy that Shadows over Innistrad had to offer, and did what I could to get cards like Diregraf Colossus and Relentless Dead to work in Standard. Unfortunately, the deck was just not quite strong enough after Shadows was finalized. Here are some reasons why.

For reference, you can see a previous version of Blue-Black Zombies here.

Not Enough Raw Power or Win Conditions

Despite the massive amount of synergy that this Zombie deck has, Screeching Skaab is just not a powerful Magic card. It sure does feel good to cast one, mill a Risen Executioner and another Zombie, and then play a 4/4 Diregraf Colossus on turn three. While that play is this deck's version of "living the dream," that particular scenario happens very infrequently. At the end of the day, Screeching Skaab is just a 2/1 for two—a rate that's just not powerful enough to be impactful in Standard.

Many of the creatures in this deck are simply not great on their own and actually require a lot of setup to work. Relentless Dead received so much hype when it was previewed over three months ago. There was a time when it was the hottest mythic rare in Shadows and everyone wanted to build decks around it. Now we know that Relentless Dead just isn't functioning in Standard. It's not because it's a weak card—it is actually a very strong card! It just needs a lot of support to work. You need sacrifice outlets, ways to get Zombies in your graveyard, lots of mana, and creatures that are actually worth returning to the battlefield. Combining these four factors means that Relentless Dead is bound to fail in this Standard format.

Not Enough Zombie Synergy, Too Much Anti-Synergy

I just explained that the Zombie deck had synergy but not enough power, but now I'm saying that Blue-Black Zombies actually doesn't have enough Zombie synergy. What happened? On paper, the deck does look pretty synergistic, but overall the cards are not consistent enough for its synergy to occur all the time.

One example of this is Prized Amalgam. This creature was clearly made for a deck like Blue-Black Zombies, a deck with self-mill themes and ways to return creatures to the battlefield. In practice, Prized Amalgam just doesn't work nearly as often as it should. The deck only has a handful of ways to return creatures to the battlefield. One is Relentless Dead, the card we just talked about. The main problem here is that Relentless Dead doesn't die frequently enough to be able to return Zombies consistently. Your opponent can choose not to kill it, or kill it while you're tapped out so you can't benefit from its triggered abilities. A sacrifice outlet such as Nantuko Husk gets around this, but it's still a card you have to have on the battlefield. Overall too many things have to go right to return a Prized Amalgam to play with a Relentless Dead trigger.

Geralf's Masterpiece is a card I love and thought would see significantly more play than it has. It's a 7/7 flyer for 3UU. That seems great! Many players were turned off by its activated ability. Discarding three cards for an effect that is easily disruptable (in this case, the effect is getting a 7/7 flyer) is not appealing. This Standard format is very removal-heavy, with spells like Declaration in Stone, Stasis Snare, and Ruinous Path being everywhere. Overall the cost of discarding three cards is not worth the effect, even if you are also getting a Prized Amalgam in the exchange.

The next thing I want to mention is anti-synergy. Believe it or not, there is some anti-synergy present in Blue-Black Zombies, and it's mostly in the form of Risen Executioner. Getting an Executioner in your graveyard early with Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Screeching Skaab is awesome, but the problem is that the later the game goes, the less likely it is that you can get your Risen Executioner into play. It costs one more mana to return for each other creature in your graveyard. Creatures will be dying left and right, cards will get discarded and milled, and it won't be uncommon to have a handful of creatures in your graveyard. Even with just three other creatures in your graveyard, Risen Executioner will cost seven, and it's not even worth returning at that point.

Not Enough Disruption

Blue-Black Zombies is a disruptive aggro deck. It tries to win relatively quickly by playing some early creatures and then controlling what the opponent is doing with either removal or discard spells. The problem here is that Blue-Black Zombies actually doesn't do that very well. The creatures are mana-intensive, and while black removal is strong right now, sometimes taking a turn off to cast removal can put a wrench in your game plan. Additionally, filling up a synergy-driven deck with removal and discard spells will make the deck much less synergistic, and the deck will not work as intended.

Eldritch Moon Additions

There are many cards in Eldritch Moon that can solve the problems that Blue-Black Zombies faces. The first and probably most powerful card that can give Zombies a push is Collective Brutality. This is the type of card that every disruptive aggro deck begs for. It's a removal spell when you need one, it's a discard spell when you need that, or it can deal the last few points of damage to your opponent—or any combination of the three! It also lets you discard Zombies into your graveyard to help out with Zombie graveyard synergy.

Imagine casting this card for all three modes, discarding a Prized Amalgam and a Risen Executioner. Not only did you kill a creature and get a card out of your opponent's hand, but eventually you'll be able to return both of those cards to the battlefield for five mana. Overall you get a lot of value for a small investment with Collective Brutality, something that this deck strongly benefits from.

Cryptbreaker is another sweet card that fits perfectly in this deck. The most important aspect of this card is that it only costs one mana. The Zombie deck has desperately needed an early spell that is not Screeching Skaab, and Cryptbreaker plays that role beautifully.

Like Collective Brutality, Cryptbreaker also allows you to discard Zombie cards to your graveyard. The payoff here is that you get a Zombie token in return, which is a great reward for such a small investment. The greatest thing about Cryptbreaker, however, is that it naturally synergizes with itself; do its thing and get some Zombies, then tap those Zombies to draw cards. Blue-Black Zombies needed a way to refill its hand when it ran out of gas, and Eldritch Moon delivers with Cryptbreaker.

Everyone's favorite necromantic siblings, Gisa and Geralf, are back, and this time they are together on their own card. Gisa and Geralf are amazing in a Zombie deck. The biggest downside of this card is that it's not a Zombie, so it doesn't work with spells like Diregraf Colossus or Relentless Dead. This is not a card where you'll want four copies, but rather one or two. What it does do, however, is twofold. First, it helps fill up your graveyard. This is relevant for making cards like Diregraf Colossus stronger, or just getting stuff like Geralf's Masterpiece or Prized Amalgam in there. Second, it allows you to cast a Zombie creature card from your graveyard. This is where the power of this card comes through.

Casting a Zombie card from your graveyard does many things for this deck. It triggers Diregraf Colossus. It triggers Prized Amalgam. Most importantly, it removes cards from your graveyard. Remember that anti-synergy that came from Risen Executioner? Well, as long as you are emptying your graveyard, Risen Executioner will become more and more castable. You can also just cast it for four mana using Gisa and Geralf's ability. Not bad!

While three cards may not seem like much, these three cards can make the power level of a deck go from below average to somewhat strong (only time will tell if we're right). I'm looking forward to seeing what Blue-Black Zombies can do once Eldritch Moon becomes Standard-legal. In the meantime, here's a decklist for you!

Melissa DeTora's Blue-Black Zombies

Download Arena Decklist

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,
Melissa DeTora
@MelissaDeTora

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