How to Train Your Zombie

Posted in Reconstructed on August 12, 2014

By Gavin Verhey

When Gavin Verhey was eleven, he dreamt of a job making Magic cards—and now as a Magic designer, he's living his dream! Gavin has been writing about Magic since 2005.

Welcome to a budget week of ReConstructed!

Whether you're looking for something new or simply looking for something you can build without having to trade away every card you own, you've come to the right place.

I love budget weeks because it always lets me do something unique and provides me with an interesting restriction to work with. And this week is no different: I received several quite interesting decks. (Many of which you can find in the honorable mentions near the bottom.)

Necromancer's Stockpile | Art by Seb McKinnon

However, there's one I'm going to focus on today, and even go as far as to reduce the difficulty to build it by cutting some of the rares. Let's take a look at this decklist:

Travis Comstedt's Budget Necromancer's Stockpile

Download Arena Decklist

Budget Rules

Before I get into how the deck plays out, let's take a quick look at my rules of thumb for budget deck building:

  • I will not add any new rares or mythic rares to the decklist. I'd rather make the deck extra budget-y and then let you season to taste with delicious rares than cook it so rare you won't eat it at all.
  • The one exception to the above is mana fixing. You'll get a lot of mileage out of acquiring a mana base: lands can go in many decks and are one of the crucial elements. Your cards probably aren't going to help you if you can't cast them!
  • I try not to make substitutions. Budget doesn't need to mean making a worse version of a current deck—it just means building toward an archetype that has easier-to-obtain cards. Cards like Master of Waves and Sphinx's Revelation simply can't be replaced in decks that need them.
  • Budget doesn't mean bad. I'm not setting out to make a deck we know will be suboptimal through this process. There have been plenty of highly successful low-rare decks throughout Magic's history, and there are certainly ways to follow in their footsteps.

If you want more explanation on any of those points, check out the beginning of my first budget article.

Now, with that out of the way, let's move onto exploring the deck's battle plan!

The Battle Plan

This deck essentially has two different modes of attack.

The first is as an aggressive Zombie deck. It has plenty of efficient creatures that will attack turn after turn and deal damage, putting a clock on your opponent. Is it the strongest beatdown deck in Standard? Well, probably not—but that's mitigated by its other method of attack: Necromancer's Stockpile.

The Stockpile games radically change how this deck functions. With so many Zombies in your deck, most of the time you can pay to make a Zombie over and over. This is the kind of thing that completely becomes a driving focal point of the game. Necromancer's Stockpile wins games completely on its own.

The key to improving this deck is going to be to maximize it for when it doesn't draw Stockpile. The Stockpile games set yourself up in a great position, so making sure the deck runs smoothly in your other games is going to be very important. Fortunately, there are a few tweaks that can be made that will help that out significantly.

Let's start looking through the deck!

Deck Breakdown

Let's go through the cards in this deck one by one, seeing which can stay in undeath, and which should truly just die.

Dreg Mangler

I wanted to kick off with the discussion of this card because it's the only card in the deck that has to have green mana to be cast. And, while it is a tremendous fit, this deck has to put in a lot of work to make room for this one card. Plus, there's the little rarity-conscious woodpecker in the back of my brain, which keeps whispering to me that if we cut this card we could cut out a bunch of dual lands and make the cards for this deck much easier to obtain.

If you're looking to go BG Stockpile, Conley Woods had a great list he played at the Pro Tour using Jarad and Lotleth Troll, among others, that you should go check out. But since I can't add those rares in, and this is a different deck, I'd rather cut the Manglers and go straight mono-black.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Ah, our good friend Gary is here! A less-focused-on aspect of this card is his Zombie nature, but it's certainly very relevant in this deck.

While five mana is a lot for a more aggressive deck, he makes for a great card to sit on the top of your curve. Plenty of games will be won on the back of Merchant into Merchant. I'm happy to keep all four here.


This unusual little card makes for a great fit here. It's a one-drop you can roll out there to start the damage flow if you need to, but it also scavenges for free once you discard it to a Stockpile. I want to keep all of them.

Having enough one-drops is important, and I definitely want to get some 2-power one-drops into this deck if I can. Even though it's not a Zombie, the one I'm interested in is Rakdos Cackler. It's easy to fall into the trap of "everything has to be a Zombie in my Zombie deck," but it can be okay to go off-theme if it means filling important gaps. In this case, I'm okay to have one or two non-Zombies in this deck, and kicking off the beatdown is essential. I'll take four!

Blood Scrivener

This card is fantastic here. Two-drop for an aggressive deck? Check! Provides you with more gas if you run out? Check! Zombie? Check! Lets you draw extra cards off of Necromancer's Stockpile? Check! The Scrivener fits right into this deck. I definitely don't want to cut any. Four it is!


Gravedigger actually plays a reasonable role in this deck. Creatures die early on? It ensures you get them back to cast again—or Stockpile away. It also lets you reuse Gray Merchant of Asphodel to good effect, letting drain after drain propel you to victory!

However, I don't think it's quite what I'm looking for. A four-mana 2/2 body is fairly unimpressive, and at four mana you have to be doing something powerful to get a pass—and Gravedigger isn't quite that for me.

In its spot, I'd rather have another source of card advantage—and this time one that can both dig you closer to Stockpile and potentially deal the final couple points to close out the game. Sign in Blood makes for a fine turn-two play and is equally good later on in the game. It's half the price of Gravedigger, and while it isn't a Zombie, it's likely to draw you a Zombie. I don't want a bunch clogging up my hand early on because I would rather deploy creatures for the first few turns, but I'm happy to play two copies.

Spiteful Returned

As a two-mana creature that doles out 3 points of damage every time it attacks, this is already a card that should be on a black beatdown deck's radar. Add in the fact that it bestows and is a Zombie, and you have an easy sell on keeping the full set of these.

Mogis's Marauder

The Marauder is, sadly, not a Zombie. However, it's powerful enough in this deck that I completely understand why Travis included it. In any kind of board stall not involving black creatures, it ensures yours get through. Plus, it even grants haste to itself so you have a hasted three-drop.

In my experience playing similar black beatdown decks to this one, the Marauder is deceptively one of your strongest cards and you're happy drawing several of them. I'm content keeping them here because I think they're important enough.

Liliana's Reaver

It tangles with Polukranos and similarly large green creatures, hits hard, and is a Zombie—plus, it even has two black mana symbols in the mana cost. The Reaver, if unanswered, can be a one-card army, knocking away your opponent's options while pushing you further. It's another curve topper, and one I'm happy to have three copies of.

Whip of Erebos

The synergy between this and Gray Merchant of Asphodel is superb, and once again helps you use its draining power over and over to close out games. Additionally, as you discard creatures to Necromancer's Stockpile, the Whip of Erebos can help bring them back.

However, in the Stockpile games, your deck is already firing on all cylinders, and outside of returning Gray Merchant, I'd rather just cast a creature here. All of those factors combined with the friendly rarity-conscious woodpecker in my head make me want to cut these out of the deck. They might be fine sideboard options, but I don't really want them main deck that much.

Necromancer's Stockpile

This is the card for this deck. I always want to draw one, and while multiples are redundant, it actually tends to work out okay as protection against Thoughtseize and Detention Sphere.

In fact, this card is so important that I'm going to break my own rare-adding rule and put in a fourth. I've cut enough rares from this deck so far that I feel comfortable adding in the fourth. If you don't have a fourth, then play with however many you have—but if you can only get four rares for this deck, Necromancer's Stockpile are the ones you want. I would just feel bad presenting this decklist with fewer than four Stockpiles in it.

The only other element I want to add in are some removal spells. Fighting past Courser of Kruphix, Polukranos, Pack Rat, and other similar friends is important to keep punching damage through. I'm going to go with three Ultimate Prices and one Bile Blights as the split here: Blight is great against things like Elspeth tokens and Pack Rat, but Ultimate Price is going to be better overall at killing most of the creatures you want to.

Put it all together, and you have:

Gavin Verhey's The Unquiet Dead

Download Arena Decklist

If you're looking to battle on a budget, this is pretty much just what you're looking for! No dual lands and some fairly easy-to-obtain rares. Granted, this version of the deck is only legal until Khans of Tarkir releases—but a modified version could even persist through the rotation.

Interested in unbudgetifying this? Well, one of the most glaring omissions is Lifebane Zombie. As a very strong Zombie in Standard right now, if you have them I would definitely include them. I'd cut the Reavers and a Maruader for them.

Another route you could look down is playing Conley Woods's version or a black-red version featuring Tymaret, the Murder King. (Which happens to have some pretty great synergy with Stockpile.) I could also see trying out Pack Rat as well.

One thing you could try if you wanted to amp up the tribal aspect of this deck is Obelisk of Urd. A lot of decks are going to have a tough time if you cast an Obelisk naming Zombie on turn three or four, and it helps power you through the midgame.

Oh, and for everybody curious about the one Radiant Fountain: the only time it really burns you is if you want to cast Sign in Blood or Bile Blight right away and your hand doesn't have another Swamp. Otherwise, it's pretty safe. Of course, if I was to unbudget this deck, I would probably look into the ubiquitous Mutavault.

Have fun with Zombies!

Honorable Mentions

What were some of the other great budget decks that were sent in for this Standard format? Let's take a look!

Takuya Saitou's Rogue's Strategy

Download Arena Decklist

Charles Jang's Wall of Eggs

Download Arena Decklist

Yukio Sugiyama's Blue-Red Heroic

Download Arena Decklist

Alex's Blue Engineer

Download Arena Decklist

Van Mamokhan's Boros Burn 2.0

Download Arena Decklist

Zach Ott's Constellation Dredge

Download Arena Decklist

Lucas Lenard's I'm Blue

Download Arena Decklist

Thibaud Ginoux's An Enchanting Token

Download Arena Decklist

Jamila's RUG Infinite Mana

Download Arena Decklist

William Brown's Sligh

Download Arena Decklist

Ross Lobdell's Aggro Enchantments

Download Arena Decklist

Brandon Regis's Charge Rush Kill

Download Arena Decklist

Vos's U/W Rescue

Download Arena Decklist

Henk-Jan van der Kemp's Kaboomist Aggro

Download Arena Decklist

Jonah Comstock's Tar 'Em Out!

Download Arena Decklist

The Ravnica Farewell Tour

It seems like not that long ago people were chest-bumping at the announcement that we would be returning to Ravnica—and now, the block is nearly about to rotate out. Wow!

Before it departs Standard forever, though, let's take one more look at it and see what underplayed cards we can highlight in ReConstructed!

Format: Standard
Restrictions: Your deck should prominently feature a card from Return to Ravnica block that you believe was underplayed and/or that you'd like to try to make work
Deadline: Tuesday, August 19, at 6 p.m. Pacific Time.

Submit all decklists by emailing me at

Decklists should be submitted with YOURNAME's DECKNAME at the top. Underneath should be one card per line, with just a leading number. For example:

12 Mountain
4 Satyr Firedrinker
3 Ash Zealot
4 Lighting Bolt

…and so on. Please don't use anything but a space to separate the card numbers and names—don't write "4x Lightning Bolt," for example. Well-formatted decklists have a much better chance of being read and making it into the column. Poorly formatted decklists are more likely to be ignored. (If I can't read your decklist, I certainly can't talk about it!)

Also, take note that, for this week, please send your decks to There is currently a bug that is causing difficulty with me seeing your decklists sent to my Wizards address.

I can't wait to see what you come up with this time around! Let's give Ravnica the standing ovation send-off it deserves!

In the meantime, if you have any feedback or thoughts on this article or deck, I'd love to hear about them! Feel free to send me a tweet or ask me a question on Tumblr and I'll look at whatever you have to say.

I'll be back next week with another look at Standard. Talk with you then!



Latest Reconstructed Articles


January 4, 2016

Kozilek's Return by, Gavin Verhey

Kozilek had quite an explosive reappearance. Everything on Zendikar was starting to go all right. And then, in one earth-rumbling swoop, the beast below awoke: Kozilek surged up and reap...

Learn More


December 28, 2015

Jumping for Jori by, Gavin Verhey

Welcome to Oath of the Gatewatch previews! This set has a lot of awesome elements going for it. Support. Surge. And—oh yeah—that colorless mana symbol, just to name a few. I was on the d...

Learn More



Reconstructed Archive

Consult the archives for more articles!

See All