Last Year's Zombie Deck

Posted in Latest Developments on May 23, 2003

By Randy Buehler

A snapshot of Scourge in the FFL

Undead WarchiefDa boss.

Lots of people have sent me emails asking me to talk more about what decks are good in the FFL (the Future Future League, our internal playtesting league), or what decks were good back when we were testing whatever set just came out in the real world. Well I went browsing back through our FFL message board from a year ago and I found a post about a Zombie deck that I ran back when we were testing Scourge. None of the cards have changed dramatically since then, so hopefully you’ll find this interesting….

Before I start the cut-and-paste portion of this article I should provide a translation guide. Most of the Scourge cards and even some of the Legions cards didn’t have real names yet, so my post is full of playtest names. (This will also give me a chance to show off a couple of other fun playtest names and random Scourge anecdotes while I’m at it.)

“Morph Graveyard Hoser” was the original name for Withered Wretch. I know Withered Wretch doesn’t have morph, but the original graveyard hoser that we had in that slot in Legions did (and it removed a graveyard from the game when you flipped it over). We forgot to update the playtest name when we changed the card.

“Shaft” was the playtest name for Undead Warchief – the Zombie “miniboss” – and at the time I wrote the post he was a 0/0 for with the same abilities he has now. We actually had lots of cute names for the various tribal leaders in Scourge. Siege-Gang Commander was “Erik the Red” and saw quite a bit of FFL play, which led us to move the activation cost of his ability up to from just . (Erik the Red also has my favorite art in the set – the one goblin giving the other a thumbs-up cracks me up every time I look at it.) Sliver Overlord was originally “Sliver King” and he even started out with the following special ability:

Call to the GraveObvious similarities with the original The Abyss.

“Sacrifice CARDNAME: Sliver Legends get +13/+13 until end of turn.” In the end we decided it was lame to make him parasitic on a single card from 5 years ago, plus it wouldn’t make sense for slivers to have a king in the first place, so we went with an Overlord that was bred by the Riptide Project in an attempt to gain control of the sliver infestation that they accidentally unleashed on Otaria.

“Demonic Abyss” is, of course, the playtest name for Call to the Grave. I probably didn’t need to translate this one. Less obvious is that “Caustic Corpse” was the original name for Skinthinner.

“Zombie Raptor” was the initial name for Putrid Raptor, which actually started out as a 6/6 that required you to discard two zombie cards if you wanted to un-morph it. After a bit of testing that just made it too easy to get a huge creature into play really quickly so we went with 4-power and one zombie. We also added several other non-mana morph costs to the set because we did like the way this one played once we turned it into a Hidden Horror variant.

“Cabal Psion” became Cabal Interrogator, the third in our line of “Mind Pinch” cards. (Mind Pinch was the original name for Blackmail. Hollow Specter, of course, is the second.) I found all three of these cards fun to play with – they lead to cool gameplay situations where both players have a lot of interesting decisions to make, and often wind up staring at the other guy, trying to figure out what he’s thinking.

Anyway, here’s my post from June 14, 2002:

I played a beatdown Zombie deck this week and went 3-1 (4-2 if you count practice matches). The deck feels good, but not too good. The new Abyss felt really good when it was in play, but at 5 mana it also got stuck in my hand sometimes. Shaft looks insane, but he's still just a creature and his mana reduction ability isn't as good as it looks since he's near the top of the deck's mana curve. The most interesting thing going on was seeing how Babycakes is actually *better* against this deck now that he's 4-mana, since Smother no longer kills him. The Nekrataal and the Abyss aren't good enough and Dark Banishing is probably the best answer until 8th rotates in. I think I should only have had 3 of the Zombie-land and 1 more swamp, by the way, since the BB 2/2 can sometimes be hard to play.

All in all we need to keep testing the Zombie deck in its several incarnations. There's at least a tier 2 deck here and possibly a tier 1 deck. It's flawed since it's monocolor ... pro-black owns me unless I get the Abyss and they can't answer it; and other colorhosers can be even better (though only after sideboarding). The new zombies all seem good, but not too good to me. Shaft is the only scary creature in the deck, but my tentative conclusion is that he's ok to do. The Abyss is the one card that seems like we may need to change it, though I personally have not (yet?) concluded that it must change.


4 Festering Goblin
4 Carrion Feeder
4 Morph Graveyard Hoser (sic)
4 Caustic Corpse
4 Shaft
4 Zombie Raptor
3 Gravedigger
2 Graveborn Muse
4 Smother
3 Demonic Abyss
4 Unholy Grotto
20 Swamp

1 Gravedigger
3 Engineered Plague
3 Cabal Psion
4 Duress
4 Guiltfeeder


After I wrote this post we did keep testing the Zombie deck and we eventually concluded that having a 3-mana creature that gave all Zombies +2 power was simply too much. We added a mana to Undead Warchief two weeks later so we could slow this deck down a bit, but we also gave him +1/+1 (so he winds up as a 3/2 instead of a 2/1) because we still wanted him to be good.

Putrid RaptorA new Hidden Horror with a twist.

Two weeks after that we changed all the warchiefs so they only affect your creatures. Previously they were like all of our other lords in that they boosted up all creatures of the relevant race no matter who controlled them. However, we figured we could mix it up here and, hopefully, that would make mirror matches (where both players are running the same tribe) a lot more interesting.

The other cards in my Zombie deck remaining essentially unchanged during development. Putrid Raptor did grow one mana in its base mana cost, but it’s the morph cost that really affects its power-level so that was just a minor tweak. We also changed the mana cost of Call to the Grave from to because we felt we had too many other cards in the set (and the block) that were really black intensive. Since this one required you to play with a bunch of Zombies if you wanted to take full advantage of it, we felt decks would already have to be sufficiently black to be worthy of such a strong black effect and thus we didn’t need to have so many black mana symbols in the cost.

So there you go – a window into Scourge development and an actual FFL deck.


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Randy may be reached at

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