The Polluter and His Pals

Posted in Latest Developments on March 7, 2003

By Randy Buehler

Zombie decks from Invitational playtesting

Ah, Zombies. For years they were an also-ran race. The Merfolk and the Goblins got real lords in Alpha while the zombies had the much-ridiculed Zombie Master. Being a Zombie mattered a little bit when Sarcomancy was popular in Standard, and there were a couple of reasonable “Zombie bears” in the Invasion block (along with a better Zombie Lord), but it’s only with the Onslaught block and its tribal theme that Zombies have finally started to come into their own.

Legions may have given Zombie decks their most abusive card to date: Gempalm Polluter. When I was building decks for last weekend’s Wizards Invitational, Gempalm Polluter decks were among my top choices for both constructed formats. In honor of Zombie Week, I think it will be interesting to look at the two Zombie decks that I almost played.

Death by Pollution

Download Arena Decklist
Instant (4)
4 Smother
Land (23)
4 Unholy Grotto 19 Swamp
Other (4)
4 Withering Wretch
60 Cards

This Zombie deck will sometimes come out of the gates like a reasonable beatdown deck, but these weenies just aren’t as good as what you can get in the real beatdown colors and they can’t usually deal 20. That’s when the real strength of the deck kicks in: Shepherd of Rot and Gempalm Polluter. This deck causes opponents to lose a remarkable amount of life and the Polluter is not just a cantrip, not just uncounterable, but it’s also really easy to get it back by using Unholy Grotto.

In fact, it’s usually possible to win without ever dealing even a single point of combat damage. Dump out a bunch of zombies, soften them up with a few turns of Shepherd-love, and then a couple dome shots from the Polluter can finish them off. One neat trick you can do is to cycle the Polluter and then put it on top of your library with the Unholy Grotto before the cycling resolves, thus cycling it into itself so you can dish out even more death.

The main reason I didn’t run this deck in the Invitational is that I thought a bunch of other people were going to run it. I didn’t have any interesting “tech” for the mirror match (where Gempalm Polluters get very scary very fast, by the way) and I thought I could beat up the other zombie decks by running white weenie with White Knights and Exalted Angels. Things didn’t work out for me as I went 1-2 in Standard, including a loss to Alan Comer’s Zombie deck. Sometimes it can be hard to win without land.

The other reason I chose not to run Zombies is that I couldn’t bring myself to play a deck with four Putrid Imps in it. The deck really needs a 1-drop zombie in addition to Festering Goblin, but the only options are Putrid Imp and Entrails Feaster. I think the Imp is better than the Feaster, especially because of the Feaster's poor synergy with my Cemeteries, though I could be wrong. In any case, the deck would be much improved if only there was a second 1-drop Zombie running around that was actually good. Meanwhile, it’s still good even without one.

The other zombie deck I built for the Invitational was for Tribal Wars.

36 Zombies

Download Arena Decklist

The Invasion block is legal in Tribal Wars so I was able to upgrade my 1-drop to Maggot Carrier, which is much better than Putrid Imp. That one point of loss of life adds up, especially in a deck with Shepherd of Rot. Using Unholy Grotto to recurse Maggot Carriers won me more games than I expected during playtesting. I still wish there was something better and hey, who knows, maybe a future set will give Zombie decks an even better 1-drop.

Lord of the Undead

The biggest addition to the deck from the Invasion block is Lord of the Undead. Not only does he pump up all the other creatures in the deck, but good ol' Dralnu is also another way to recurse the oh-so-powerful Gempalm Polluter. Between the Lords and the Grottos, this deck does a much better job of abusing the Polluter than my Standard deck.

One other change I made when switching the deck from Standard to Tribal Wars were to up the Skinthinner and Noxious Ghoul counts. In Tribal Wars, you know your opponent will have at least twenty creatures so they seemed better in that format. I took out the Smothers because you don’t run into as many Psychatogs and Wild Mongrels in Tribal Wars. I thought about lowering the Withered Wretch count since the graveyard is less relevant to Tribal Wars than to Standard, but the fact that the Wretch is a Cleric combines amazingly well with Rotlung Reanimator, so I kept it in anyway. (Rotlung Reanimator might be the best card in both these decks, by the way. It’s either him or the Polluter and the Polluter needs more help from the rest of the deck to be as good as the Reanimator.)

I didn’t wind up running the Zombie deck in Tribal Wars because I was having too much fun with my Beast deck. If you think Contested Cliffs is good in Standard, you should try using it with Spiritmonger! He gets bigger with every activation and he can regenerate if you need him to. Plus my Beast deck allowed me to play with Living Wish – quite a powerful card in Tribal Wars since there are no sideboards they allow you to wish for any creature or land in your entire collection. I couldn’t quite bring myself to put Death Wish into my Zombie deck, though the normally-weak Death Wish is probably good enough to run if you’re playing by casual rules. Finally, my Beast deck gave me the opportunity to show off what I think is an underrated Legions card: Canopy Crawler. I wound up going just 1-2 though, so I guess I should have just trusted my Zombies.

Well there you go – a couple of Zombie builds that were made possible almost entirely by cards from Onslaught and Legions. The Zombie tribe has gotten a lot more powerful since the days when all it could do was walk on swamps and regenerate.


Which Online draft queue will you play in?
Don't play Online 3216 45.3%
4-3-2-2 1990 28.1%
8-4 1276 18.0%
Don't play tourneys 610 8.6%
Total 7092 100.0%

Two comments came up over and over again in my email and on the thread about last week’s column. One was “Why not do 5-3-2-2 instead of 4-3-2-2, that way it still adds up to 12?” Many people have already given our answer for us on the boards, but for the record: We believe 5-3-2-2 would make first place too attractive to sharks and thus 4-3-2-2 is better for the intended audience. The other common suggestion was “Why not have tournaments with a ratings cap?” Well, the problem is that no matter how low you set the cap, anyone who wants to enter the tournament can do so through either setting up a new account or deliberately losing games. Ratings caps simply won’t work in Magic Online; the only way to keep out the sharks is to take away their incentive for playing.

Randy may be reached at

Latest Latest Developments Articles


June 9, 2017

Changes by, Sam Stoddard

Hello and welcome to another edition of Latest Developments! Today I'm going to talk about several kinds of changes within R&D and how we deal with those. Card Changes From the day ...

Learn More

Latest Developments

June 2, 2017

Things I've Learned by, Sam Stoddard

Hello, and welcome to another edition of Latest Developments! This week is the five-year anniversary of me joining Wizards of the Coast as a contractor on the development team. My officia...

Learn More



Latest Developments Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All