Breaking Down Zombie Bidding

Zombie Bidding, it has been noted by pundits who are better-known than I, one of those pseudo-combo decks masquerading as a creature-oriented aggro-control deck – say that three times fast. The idea is to basically hold the fort until you can get the graveyard chock full o’ Zombies, Patriarch’s Bidding them back, clear the board – yes, that means you too, Akroma, Angel of Wrath – and then sweep over the next turn for the kill. Lather, rinse, repeat until opponent is dead.

Man, I gotta get some sleep. But, on the plus side, being an insomniac also means I get a lot of late-night writing done. Good for you, dear readers, not so good for me – but, then again, I’m a freelance writer, I set my own hours, and I can sleep until noon if I like.*

For the time being, I’ve abandoned the quest to get our B/W Control deck to the point where it’s playable. Oh, how it tantalized us – but in the end, we could never fix the mana issues, so it’s been put aside for now.

That means I need a new deck for the upcoming qualifiers. Goblins? Methodical, brutal, simple. Not my style – but still, it’s on my short list. R/W Control? Makes my head hurt. MWC? Just doesn’t have that”oooh” factor I like.

That brings us to the last major successful archetype (and I use that term loosely) in Onslaught Block: Zombie Bidding. Now, here, we might have something.

Zombie Bidding, it has been noted by pundits who are better-known than I, one of those pseudo-combo decks masquerading as a creature-oriented aggro-control deck – say that three times fast. The idea is to basically hold the fort until you can get the graveyard chock full o’ Zombies, Patriarch’s Bidding them back, clear the board – yes, that means you too, Akroma, Angel of Wrath – and then sweep over the next turn for the kill. Lather, rinse, repeat until opponent is dead.

You tell me this isn’t just like the plot of Night of the Living Dead.

Zombie Bidding comes in two flavors: Mono-black and a version that splashes blue to use the synergy between filling your graveyard with Zombies while drawing three, four or more cards. I realize I’m being redundant, as if you’re reading this article, you already know that part – but the journalist in me insists on making sure that I explain everything. Readers in the know can skip ahead a paragraph or two if they like.

Of the two versions, don’t be fooled: U/B is far superior. Mono-black does offer the bonus of virtually no mana screw, being able to use more copies of Unholy Grotto and running more Zombies – but Read the Runes? It’s the diesel that fuels the deck. You draw the lands you need, get to the Biddings you need, and get Zombies into the graveyard much faster. For that reason alone, it’s worth risking the occasional”where-the-hell-are-my-Polluted Deltas?!” draw.

Zombie Bidding is built with several cards specifically in mind, and you will find these, without doubt, in every good build of the deck. These cards are:

Withered Wretch

Depletes opponent’s graveyards, making for one-sided Biddings, and is a decent 2/2 body for two mana. At the very least, it gets rid of Eternal Dragons, making them not so eternal – more like Ephemeral Dragons (which will probably be in the next set).

Rotlung Reanimator

As Batman is to Robin, as the Skipper is to Gilligan, so is the Rotlung Reanimator to Withered Wretch. The synergy between the two is well-documented, and it’s the deck’s best early defense against those pesky Goblins.

Twisted Abomination

Early on, he’s a swamp to ramp up your mana, and it thins your deck of land. Later, he’s a 5/3 regenerating beatstick. Either way, a quite excellent card.

Read the Runes

As previously mentioned, it fuels the Zombie engine. You’ll only want to draw one, usually, but you’ll always want to be sure you do draw one.

Noxious Ghoul

When he gets together with a few of his Zombie friends, it’s Mutilate-on-a-stick. Mmmm, Mutilate… Much better than khlav kala. Board clearer non pareil.

Patriarch’s Bidding

It wouldn’t be much of a Bidding deck without this card, now, would it?

Polluted Delta

Gets Swamps. And Islands! Good deal.

Unholy Grotto

My name is Otto, and I play with the Grotto. Another way to recycle Zombies when you really, really need to draw a fatty.

I prefer running twenty-four lands, but I’ve seen successful versions that run twenty-two. Believe me, however, that nothing sucks worse than having four lands and a graveyard full of Zombies and you’re begging for that fifth land. I’ve adopted the two Barren Moors from Rubin’s build that make running twenty-four lands a bit more palatable.

The skeleton of the deck (at least, my version on a high-calcium diet) looks like this:

4 Polluted Delta

4 Island

2 Unholy Grotto

2 Barren Moor

12 Swamps

4 Withered Wretch

4 Rotlung Reanimator

4 Noxious Ghoul

4 Twisted Abomination

4 Patriarch’s Bidding

4 Read the Runes

I was playing this deck last week at a little tournament here in Bend, and some snot-nosed punk from Portland (and you know who you are, too), makes the smart-ass comment: “Smarter people than you only play with three Islands.” Considering I based my build on Rubin’s version, and he ran five, I had the witty retort of,”Smarter people than you have run five Islands.” I neglected to add something a tad more profane (rhymes with”rich lass”), since I was in the middle of a tricky matchup against Bad Form.

I swear, the older I get, the more these uppity teenagers get under my skin. Then again, why are these teenagers so uppity? Too much Mountain Dew? Why, back in my day, young’uns respected their elders! And it only cost a quarter to go down to the nickelodeon, and we’d have money left over for popcorn and a milkshake at the soda fountain!

But I digress. Four Islands feels right, and that’s what I go with.

The list above is forty-eight cards. Twelve more are needed to fill out the deck, plus a sideboard. Zombies have a few pretty good options, and some not very good options, but I’ll mention them anyway.

Carrion Feeder

A nifty little one-drop, this guy, although he’s not much for staying home and minding the fort. He can perform a number of useful tasks, such as getting Zombies in play into the graveyard to set up possibly insane Biddings. He’ll also eat your team to live through a Starstorm and do all sorts of damage-on-the-stack tricks. Still, that inability to block kind of annoys me – all the Goblins laugh at him and call him names.

Festering Goblin

Uncle Fester is no friend to the Goblin deck, although he does get to play in the Goblin games – until they start testing for formaldehyde, at least. Goblins have to deal with him early or he’s going to be very annoying. However, annoying is one thing, and disruptive is another. Sometimes he’s just a speed bump. Sometimes he’ll take out a Goblin Piledriver or Goblin Warchief. He’s great in the early game, but he gets less useful each turn after that.

Shepherd of Rot

Because momma said rot you out! No, not really. In an environment that didn’t have Goblins in it, this might actually be a pretty good kill mechanism. But this environment does, and how! So LL Cool J goes to the bench.

Nantuko Husk

Popping up in some other builds. He’s a bigger, better version of the Feeder – but a bit more expensive, and he doesn’t get to keep the counters. Still, it can play defense, which merits consideration.

Vengeful Dead

I’m not sure why he’s so revenge-minded. But I guess if I had three arms, one of which terminated in a spiked mace, I wouldn’t be too happy either (insert your own”polishing the scepter” joke here). He turns Zombies making a return visit to the graveyard worth extra damage, and he makes Akroma’s Vengeance or Starstorm much more painful. Combined with Carrion Feeder and Bidding, makes for a nasty little combo as well. If he’s got a downside, it’s that two toughness for four mana, which means he’s little more than a speed bump against Goblins.

Putrid Raptor

This guy appears in 90% of Bidding builds, and with good reason. A 4/4 for three mana is excellent anti-Gobbo defense, a beatstick in his own right, and helps to fill up your graveyard with a spare Zombie, thusly, like much of this deck, turning cards that have a negative into a positive. His only downside is…Well, maybe if you don’t have a Zombie in hand to de-morph him, but smart players won’t try to Smother or Shock him since they’ll expect you to have a Zombie at the ready to de-morph him. Let the mind games begin!

Gempalm Polluter

Speaking of comboliciousness (a word I believe has now made it into the OED), you throw the Polluter in the Vengeful/Carrion/Grotto mix and you have a pretty potent kill mechanism. Still, that’s a four-piece combo, and quite often you’re only cycling this with only one or two Zombies in play. It’s a 4/3, however, so you get a decent post-Bidding body if it comes into play. But you never want to hard cast this if you can avoid it.

Soulless One

No, he’s bigger than that. No, bigger. I mean big!

No, not quite that big, but pretty big nonetheless.

He’ll often end up being around 6/6 when he comes into play, and I’ve gotten him up to around 12/12, by which time my opponent is scooping. Again, this is a card with no real downsides other than the fact that he’s just plain big, and that’s about it – well, that and on rare occasions you’ll get him into play and he’ll be pretty puny. The question, however, is if you really need the Soulless One, what with a deck already filled with 4/4s and 5/3 regenerators. I’m still grappling with this question.

Undead Warchief

On the plus side: He makes all your Zombies much, much bigger, and cheaper. On the minus side: He’s a 3/2 for four mana (see also: Dead, Vengeful), which makes him comparatively puny, and by the time you can use that”makes Zombies cheaper” ability, you’d really rather be playing Patriarch’s Bidding. The Warchief does do a good job of painting a bull’s-eye on himself, thusly sparing other creatures, but I just don’t see him being worth the expense. However, he did appear in large multiples in a PTQ-winning deck, so draw your own conclusions.


An anti-Goblin card that could be sneaking into a few maindecks. This card can be a lifesaver in the early going, eliminating Goblin Warchiefs and Piledrivers. Unfortunately, it’s not necessarily a guaranteed kill with a Goblin Sledder in play, and Clickslithers essentially ignore this card. But it’s the best cheap sweeper available outside of the Swiffer.

Decree of Pain

An instant-speed Infest, but costing an extra two mana. Worth it? Probably not. At 3BB, the sweep effect is probably too slow. To hard cast it at 6BB, if you are still alive by turn 8, then it becomes an”I win more” card. If you could find room in the sideboard for a couple of them, however, I certainly wouldn’t fault you.

Smother, Cruel Revival, Call to the Grave

Ay, here’s the rub. Which of these is better? Which, if any of these, do you want to run? You do have the Noxious Ghoul/Bidding engine, which is a brutally effective removal engine, but that has the disadvantage of being a) a bit slow and b) not always guaranteed to wipe the board, depending upon how many Zombies you have in the ‘yard. A little extra removal is useful to have. But how much?

  • Smother is only two mana, instant-speed, and gets rid of a lot of early threats like Silver Knight, Goblin Warchief and unmorphed Exalted Angels. However, it’s not much good after that. It’s useless against de-morphed Angels, Clickslither, and Rorix.

  • Cruel Revival is much more flexible, providing instant speed kill that gets rid of everything save Akroma, but now you’re dealing with a five mana instant. Flexibility at the cost of speed.

  • Call to the Grave is the best of the lot, and it will get rid of Akroma. But it can’t deal with creatures with haste, as an opponent will still be able to get at least one hit in with a Clickslither or Rorix.

Right now, I’d go with the Smothers. Ask me tomorrow; I may have changed my mind.


Given that this deck is not very cycling-dependent, it would seem that Stabilizer would be a good choice for the sideboard. The deck is already very good against R/W Control (which really needs a catchy name, by the way), Stabilizer really puts it over the top. Once you’ve crippled the Rift/Slide engine, you can pick the deck apart like an octopus stalking a crab. Yes, I watched too much Jacques Cousteau as a child.

Head Games

A staple of my”all-Foreigner” deck, and probably the best discard spell in Onslaught Block.”But your opponent doesn’t discard any cards!” you may note. Like I said…This isn’t the best set for hand disruption.

The ability to trade a hand full of hate for a bunch of lands isn’t bad – but it’s not a permanent answer, and often by giving an opponent a handful of land, you’ve done them a favor by thinning their deck. It’s best used as a method to clear the way prior to a big Zombie strike. After casting Head Games, you’d better be in position to win within a turn or two, or your opponent will start to come back.

Cabal Interrogator

At least he’s a Zombie – and unlike Hollow Specter, he’s not vulnerable to Wing Shards. Unfortunately, he’s also somewhat mana-intensive, and you want to be spending your early turns casting threats, not plucking lands from your opponent’s hand. He’d be good in a slower environment, but this environment is not exactly slow.

Chromeshell Crab

A bit of tech from our Japanese friends. Swap him for Akroma or an Exalted Angel – that’s a good trade in my book. Since he’s a morph, your opponent might not be too eager to try to kill what might be a Putrid Raptor. Surprise! It would be great if it could swap for a Rorix or Clickslither, but that 4U morph cost is just a little too expensive against a deck that can kill you before you use it. Best against MWC, which has no way to get rid of it save for Vengeance, I think it’s too narrow and too slow in a pro-Goblin environment. I prefer my next choice…

Chain of Vapor

Very cheap, and it has many uses. Bounces Form of the Dragon, should a Bad Form player drop it on you. If a R/W player tries to drop a creature after a cycled Decree of Annihilation, put it back into their hand. 11/11 alpha-striking Clickslithers get bounced. Rorix gets bounced. Akroma gets bounced. This card isn’t a permanent answer, but often the turn it buys you is all you need.


An intriguing choice. Foils cycled Decrees (good vs. MWC and R/W) and any non-Piledriver creature ability I’m worried about. It’s a bit too narrow, however, to merit inclusion.


A friend of mine asked me why I don’t run this card. It could easily be splashed. Yes, that’s true, but I’d rather drop a creature on turn 3 than hope my opponent walks into a 2U mini-Power Sink.

So, in honor of Warren Zevon, whose songs have gotten me through many a rough night and never fail to put a goofy smile on my face, I give you…

Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner

3 Carrion Feeder

4 Withered Wretch

4 Rotlung Reanimator

3 Vengeful Dead

4 Noxious Ghoul

4 Twisted Abomination

3 Putrid Raptor

1 Gempalm Polluter

4 Read the Runes

4 Patriarch’s Bidding

2 Smother

4 Island

14 Swamp

4 Polluted Delta

2 Unholy Grotto


4 Infest

2 Festering Goblin

2 Cruel Revival

2 Chain of Vapor

4 Stabilizer

1 Smother

Yes, I took out one Twisted Abomination to make room for a singleton Polluter. Sue me.

By the way, if you haven’t yet, I urge you to run-not walk, run-and pick up a copy of The Wind, and thank me later. I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a good choice for the Zevon neophyte as well.

The prognosis: In a field of control decks, this deck is devastating. It was built, after all, to be a R/W killer. And it does that very, very well. Even with sideboarded White Knights, MWC will have trouble stopping this deck, forced into cycling Decree of Justice for two soldiers just to get chump blockers. But Goblins?

Houston, we have a problem.

The deck just doesn’t perform as well as I’d like against the red horde. Even with a sideboard dedicated to eradicating them – Infest, Festering Goblin, Smother – the constant, almost unstoppable pressure Goblins put the Zombie Bidding player under is almost too much. The matchup isn’t unwinnable, but I’ve found that if I skew the deck too much towards beating Goblins, then you weaken it against the control decks that were favorable matchups beforehand.

There’s two ways to build the deck: one, just consider Goblins a bad matchup and concentrate on your strengths, beating other control decks. Ask your round one opponent if he wants to draw so you can beat up on R/W decks for the rest of the day. Barring that, have a strong anti-Goblin sideboard and hope for good pairings for the rest of the day.

That’s about all I can tell you. If there were no Warchiefs in this Block, this could be the best deck in the field. But there are, so plan – and play – accordingly.

* – Which, of course, I will.