A Deep Dive On Tribal Decks Brought To You By Modern Horizons

Modern Horizons has unlocked plenty of tribal possibilities! Sam Black explores Zombies, Goblins, Slivers, Vampires, and Faerie Ninja Wizards. No, there aren’t supposed to be commas between those last three…

Modern Horizons has a stated goal of bringing powerful cards to decks that weren’t quite there in Modern. One place they seemed to look to specifically was tribes that have a lot of support in Modern, but not quite enough to see tournament success. As a lover of tribal strategies, I thought I’d take a look at where Modern Horizons leaves several of the tribes it tried to give a push.


Those of you who follow my Twitter have probably seen my first crack at Zombies, but I’ve updated it a bit since then:

There are a lot of ways to build Zombies. You could focus more on the graveyard with Stitcher’s Supplier, maybe using that to enable Gurmag Angler or Bridge from Below; or you could use Liliana, the Last Hope or Liliana, Untouched by Death for extra self-mill; but I worry that that direction leads to building a worse Dredge deck. Alternatively, you could play a lot of lords – you could even take a page out of Standard Zombies and go all the way up to Liliana’s Mastery – but at that point you’re playing a deck full of three-mana lords in a format where other tribes have two-mana lords and I don’t really know what you’re hoping to accomplish.

Instead, I’m focusing on what I see as the unique strengths available to Zombies:

  • Card advantage
  • Resilience
  • Disruption

It’s not going to be the fastest tribe, but Diregraf Colossus is explosive when paired with Cryptbreaker. Carrion Feeder combines with Gravecrawler to allow you to trigger Wayward Servant, Undead Augur, and Diregraf Colossus repeatedly. Each of those is a strong effect and they stack extremely well. Including these interactions costs very little and the deck isn’t reliant on any of them. If you play Undead Augur and your opponent doesn’t kill your creatures, that’s fine, as you can just use Cryptbreaker to draw things to trigger them.

I didn’t have Aether Vial at first, but with this much card drawing, I think that’s a clear mistake. I’m very sad to lose Lazotep Reaver – it’s not clearly a Modern-level card on its face, but I love the idea of casting Aether Vial on Turn 1, followed by casting Lazotep Reaver and then activating Aether Vial to put Cryptbreaker onto the battlefield in your opponent’s end step and drawing a card, but it scales less well than the other cards and it’s not great to draw in multiples, so it didn’t make the cut. If Tidehollow Sculler underperforms, I could see replacing it with Lazotep Reaver, but I think we need to take disruption where we can get it.

Similarly, I think Relentless Dead would fit well, but it disappointed me a lot in Standard and it adds graveyard reliance, so I think it just doesn’t quite make it.

I think both Thoughtseize and Dark Salvation are fantastic spells for this deck, and easily being able to cast them is a strength of the tribe. You want to maximize the number of Zombie cards you’re playing to push the linear synergies, but a deck that’s about attrition the way this is just has to be able to efficiently trade resources and these cards are great ways to do that.

As for the sideboard, there are a lot of cards I’m not sure about, so I included them in small numbers

Liliana, Untouched by Death seems like a great trump in attrition matchups where you have access to your graveyard, but I don’t know how common that is.

Shatter Assumptions looks like it could be great against Mono-Green Tron, which this deck would certainly want help against, but I worry that it’s too slow to matter on the draw.

Cabal Therapist seems good against combo decks without removal, but who are we targeting there? Ad Nauseam, I guess? I’d want to try having access to it to see if I found more spots for it, but it feels narrow at the moment.

Yawgmoth, Thran Physician and Plague Engineer both seem great against opposing creature decks. I’m not sure what the right combination of those and Fatal Push will end up being.

Three Leyline of the Void might be a little light, but honestly, I’m not sure if the baseline for the Dredge matchup is good or bad. It’s probably bad, but maybe Diregraf Colossus can run away with the game. I assume at least the fourth Leyline of the Void probably makes it once I figure out which other stuff isn’t working or isn’t necessary.


Goblins have gotten a huge push recently and there are so many of them that do such different things that it’s much less clear to me how the tribe is supposed to be built. One obvious path is basically just the best one-mana Goblins at pushing through damage, like Goblin Guide and Foundry Street Denizen and some Goblin Grenades, and maybe Lightning Bolts, but that direction isn’t very interesting to me. I’ve always preferred using my Goblins defensively if possible.

This is my kind of Goblin deck. I don’t like the look of Legion Warboss just because it’s a good card for opponents to target with removal spells, but the upside of making a Goblin every turn is so high I think it has to be included.

Attacking is an afterthought with this deck. It happens a lot, but the cards weren’t chosen because they were good at attacking; they were chosen because they’re good at generating value. I’m honestly pretty excited about Sling-Gang Lieutenant. I love Siege-Gang Commander, but it’s a little too expensive for Modern. Dropping a mana off the casting cost and making the ability free makes Sling-Gang Commander a perfect replacement.

As for the sideboard, Thoughtseize is absolutely mandatory in this kind of deck and the rest of the sideboard is pretty flexible. I went with three copies of Alpine Moon because I think Tron is a serious threat, but you’re basically the perfect Alpine Moon deck in that you’re presenting a fast clock, but don’t want to spend much mana disrupting them, but can easily win if you slow them down about an Alpine Moon amount.

Warren Weirding is a weird hedge. Even when you do want removal, you’ll want to cast this on yourself about as often as you’d want to use a removal spell. Yawgmoth feels like the ideal trump to opposing creature decks and a much better alternative to removal. You should be able to block to make the game go long, and then Yawgmoth can take over, as your deck is designed to create endless fodder. Honestly, it’s possible there should be more of these, but I wanted to split with the more resilient Experimental Frenzy.

Squee, the Immortal is just there to come in any time the game is interactive because I think it’s a card with a lot of potential in this deck.


I don’t have any strong personal affinity for Slivers, but they got so many cards in Modern Horizons that they have to be worth taking a look at:

This deck basically looks to ask the question, “What if all my creatures were cheap Mantis Riders?”

This deck has eight Slivers that give flying, eight Slivers that give +1/+1, and eight Slivers that give some kind of protection from removal. It has a low curve with perfect mana, and while it lacks any real card advantage, it tries to make up for that with Bladeback Sliver, which offers a huge payoff for running out of cards.

Given how committed the lands in this deck are to casting Sliver spells only, I thought it made sense to stick to Slivers in the sideboard, but Grafdigger’s Cage would also be reasonable. I have a few Slivers that are good in particular matchups, but mostly, I’ve just included Plan B in the sideboard – Manaweft Sliver with Dormant Sliver and The First Sliver to transform into a value deck instead of a purely aggressive deck when the matchup calls for it.


Modern Horizons only gave us one new Vampire that matters, but it’s a really interesting one in Cordial Vampire. Vampires are a tricky tribe to build because they do so many different things. I want to focus on sacrificing things if I’m maximizing Cordial Vampire, and that means using Bloodghast, which means trying to find a way to get Bloodghast in the graveyard for free, which probably means Faithless Looting, but that by itself isn’t exactly enough. Where does that leave us?

Seasoned Pyromancer is perfect for creating tokens to trigger Cordial Vampire and Blood Artist while offering a discard outlet for Bloodghast.

This deck is looking to use Cordial Vampire as an Overrun effect, sacrificing tokens and maybe a blocked Vampire to make your other Vampires huge, which makes me wonder if the deck is maybe short a sacrifice outlet, but I think you have enough looting effects to find one most of the time that you need it.

The card choices are pretty straightforward – Vampires while possible, looking to discard Bloodghast and then get value from it entering the battlefield and being sacrificed, rounding out with Dusk Legion Zealots to fill the battlefield or die if you can’t find Bloodghasts.

It’s possible that this deck should be splashing white for Lingering Souls, but there’s a fine line there before we just become a graveyard deck and want to add Smiting Helix and lose the Vampire synergies.

One thing that I think is pretty cool about this deck is how big it can go with Yawgmoth and Champion of Dusk out of the sideboard if opponents react to you as an aggro deck and try to play defense.

Faerie Ninja Wizards?

Really? I don’t know, maybe:

I can’t really believe I’m putting Changeling Outcast in a deck, but it works really well with Ingenious Infiltrator, so I figure it’s worth a try. Another weird card here is String of Disappearances, which is great for picking up your own Spellstutter Sprites and Watcher for Tomorrows while clearing their blocker for your Ninjas.

This deck feels like it should have planeswalkers, but I guess Bitterblossom and Ingenious Infiltrator are trying to do their best impressions. I wonder if I should be splashing white for Teferi, Time Raveler, as guaranteeing a Ninja hit is great, and the bouncing obviously fits the gameplan well. Let’s take a look:

The curve already accommodated Teferi smoothly, so I just replaced the dubious Changeling Outcasts with Teferis, which seems like it probably has to be an upgrade. Stretching to a three-color manabase with Mutavault and Cryptic Command felt like something had to give, so I dropped Cryptic Command, which I think is an acceptable sacrifice, and I just maxed out on Watcher for Tomorrow, which I’m optimistic about playing really well with Ninjas when people don’t want to block it and give you the card and then you get to use a Ninja and just get the best of everything.

I feel much better about this version. I’d love to live in a world where we can get away with playing cards like Changeling Outcast, but the power level gap between that and Teferi, Time Raveler is just too high. The move toward planeswalkers instead of creatures in the maindeck also offers a critical mass of noncreature spells to allow for Narset, Parter of the Veils in the sideboard, which is a welcome addition.

These are my takes on building with the tribal support in Modern Horizons. I’d say I’m personally most excited about Zombies, but Goblins could impress me. Vampires and Faeries/Ninja/Wizard/Planeswalkers feel like they have the most room for further optimization and there ultimately might be something there, but I think they need a little something.