Inside the Metagame: Zombies!

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present you with a new breed of zombie deck. Yeah, that’s right, count ’em. Thirty. Thirty glorious, rotting fleshbags that want to eat brains and wander about with arms outstretched! That’s what I call tribal. But I digress. Let’s step away from this madness to take a closer look at this deck.

Yes, those are four Maggot Carriers…

Okay, I might as well start early. This is not the deck you are expecting.

This is the deck you are expecting:

3 Graveborn Muse

4 Nekrataal

4 Rotlung Reanimator

4 Withered Wretch

3 Blackmail

4 Chrome Mox

4 Consume Spirit

4 Dark Banishing

4 Persecute

4 Phyrexian Arena

1 Promise of Power

18 Swamp

3 Unholy Grotto

This or maybe something like it… I pretty much just ripped this deck from Starcity’s Standard Regionals database.

Some decklists like this have performed well, and if that’s your thing go for it – but I want to try something a little new. Yes, in this series I am supposed to talk about metagame deck and their matchups, but I think you guys are really itching to see a few things that Darksteel might bring. In my opinion, the list above is your grandmother’s Zombie deck.

Get ready for a whole new Zombie experience – the creature feature is back, the way it used to be. No more of these half-Zombie/half-MBC decks… look at the deck above and count the Zombies… eleven.

Is eleven Zombies enough to make your deck Tribal legal on Magic Online? No. If there is one thing I know about it is tribal decks, I have written about more tribes than you could possibly imagine, and you know what? Some of those decks are actually competitive in the Standard environment.

Thus I present to you a new breed of Zombie deck:

4 Chrome Mox

2 Unholy Grotto

16 Swamp

4 Undead Warchief

4 Twisted Abomination

4 Patriarch’s Bidding

3 Noxious Ghoul

4 Skullclamp

4 Maggot Carrier

4 Gempalm Polluter

4 Festering Goblin

3 Skinthinner

4 Withered Wretch

Yeah, that’s right, count ’em. Thirty. Thirty glorious, rotting fleshbags that want to eat brains and wander about with arms outstretched! That’s what I call tribal. But I digress. Let’s step away from this madness to take a closer look at this deck.

Yes, those are four Maggot Carriers.

I am not positive, but I think I once convinced Aaron Forsythe to play Maggot Carriers in a Pro Tour. Surely I can convince you to play them at Regionals, right?

The use of Maggot Carrier is directly linked to Skullclamp and the printing thereof. You see, Skullclamp does weird things to Magic, and I might very well talk about it in every article right up until Regionals. It makes you play strange things in your decks. All the sudden having 1 toughness is looked upon as a bonus, not a drawback. Cards like Skinthinner and Maggot Carrier become all-stars. Their job description turns from”failed beatdown creature” to”Clamp-bait” and”Warchief-fodder,” not to mention they work really well with Noxious Ghoul, Gempalm Polluter, and Patriarch’s Bidding.

If you thought White Weenie was the deck that showcased the power of Skullclamp – hold on to your seats. I think Magic is in for an interesting ride. The decks that are going to come out of the woodworks are going to blow your mind.

While the old Zombie deck would gain control of the game through card advantage and spot removal, this Zombie deck gains control of the game via beatdown, card advantage, and mass removal. There are also alternate plans for this deck, like Bidding and Gempalm Polluting. Note the presence of Withered Wretch to optimize Bidding, but the absence of his fellow friar, one Rotlung Reanimator. Strange isn’t it? Well it’s all part of the plan.

I would like to talk about Chrome Mox for a second. Many nay-sayers are down on the Mox, and for certain decks, they are right – Mox isn’t all that. However, with the release of Skullclamp, I predict a steady increase in the amount of decks that play Mox, like this one. Being able to recoup that card disadvantage, combined with the speed burst, is a very powerful effect. In this particular deck, the Mox is fantastic. The land count is a little low to begin with, but there are a lot of one-drops and four landcyclers, so it works out fine. If you are really sacred of playing low land counts, I recommend adding Talismans before adding more lands – at least they will help you cast a faster Warchief.

I will briefly go over the old Zombie decks matchups, so as to not completely go against the grain of this series. I repeat – the following is pertaining to the first list in the article, not the second:

Vs. U/W, Mono White, and Slide

I have clumped these together because they are such similar matchups. Phyrexian Arena is your best friend here. Just keep playing out threats and forcing them to Wrath. Lots of your threats (like Rotlung and Graveborn) generate card advantage, so if they Wrath, you can still apply pressure. Don’t be afraid to use those Grottos to get back your guys, there aren’t too many guys in the deck overall, and a guaranteed draw of a threat is worth the mana. Just make sure to kill any Angels that decide to show up. If you can run them out of creature kill, you will win. Against Slide, this is much harder, but the Persecutes and Blackmails help. This build is very anti-Control overall so you should feel confident in the control matchups.

You can also sideboard in Cabal Interrogators, to really put the pressure on. Just watch out for Karma – you will die when that hits the table. Bringing in Oblivion Stones can help against that, but it’s a huge card/mana investment to deal with one card they might not have. Overall, the Stone sucks against the control decks (except Slide), but it’s a necessary evil against Karma and COP: Black. I guess things never change.

Vs. Goblins and White Weenie

These matchups are quite rough – Nekrataals and Consume Spirits are your best friends. Try to keep your life total high and stave off the beats, but quite frankly, this deck is just a shade too slow for most of the Goblin decks out there, and will fare even more poorly against a deck that attacks their mana base and uses burn. Against White Weenie you may fare a little better, but you will find that while they do not horde you, their creatures are much more difficult to deal with overall. Bringing in Infests from the sideboard will help a lot. If you have Smothers in there, bring them in too. Against White Weenie, you will probably want those Oblivion Stones again.

Vs. Affinity

This matchup is a tough one – you have to hope to ride your disruption to victory here, because they come out so quick, and much of your removal is ineffective. I really doubt old Zombies has any sort of chance. The best you can hope for is to Dark Banish their Broodstars and try to contain their Myr Enforcers, hopefully letting you live long enough to get some kind of game going. There really is not a whole lot you can sideboard in this matchup either – Trinisphere or Damping Matrix will help slow Affinity down some, but it doesn’t combat the main issue of they are better at doing everything you want to do (except spot removal, and Nekrataal is mostly dead).

Vs. R/G

This is sort of an odd matchup, because both decks are Aggro-Control decks. When two Aggro-Control decks fight, the game usually drags on for awhile with no clear picture on who is winning. Just keep plugging away and try to Banish/Nekrataal their creatures. You may find it hard to bust through with your mana supply being strangled, but don’t be afraid to Consume Spirit that Bird for one, since you might color screw them and it will buy you time to build your plan. Call to the Grave would be good in this matchup assuming you get enough mana to cast it.

Vs. Zombie Mirror

Lets just say Graveborn Muse isn’t exactly the MVP she used to be where this matchup is concerned. You are going to have lots of dead cards like Banish, Nekrataal, and usually Graveborn Muse. Your best bet is try to trade creatures and build up to large Consume Spirits and Promise of Power with Entwine. When sideboarding, just try to take out as many of the dead cards as possible.

Okay, now that we have covered that, back to the fun stuff. Let me just take a moment to talk about some other cards that might be good in this deck. Putrid Raptor, Blackmail, Cabal Interrogator, and Cruel Revival all would be decent cards to add. I like Putrid Raptor in the Beatdown matchups, because the deck is a little light on three-drops and it has good synergy with the Bidding. However between Mox and Raptor, you might be left wondering what happened to your hand. The Interrogator, Blackmail, and Cruel Revival are all cards you might want to add if you expect a control heavy metagame. The Interrogator is especially nice because he’s a Zombie and you can Clamp him if nothing else. Anyhow, now for the matchups:

Vs. U/W, Mono White, and Slide

I have again clumped these three matchups together, because they are always very similar. Most of the time, the game will come down to a Wrath vs. Bidding fest. However, if you have a Skullclamp available, you end up with cards after every Wrath. Be sure to cash in your dorks with Skullclamp and let the bigger guys to all the work. Twisted Abomination is especially good against Akroma’s Vengeance, since you can regenerate – it might be worth waiting the extra turn to cast him. You also might find yourself in a situation where the Grotto plus Gempalm Polluter will be your main path to victory. The only thing that really ruins your day is Exalted Angel – try to save your Bidding/Noxious Ghoul combo to kill those if possible, otherwise just make sure all your Skinthinners come down morphed, ready to take out an Angel. I would say this is a decent matchup against U/W or Mono-W, and not great versus Slide (they just have too many Wrath effects). Still, if you draw Skullclamp, I would say all three of these match-ups are looking fine.

Board in Oblivion Stones to fight the enchantments. Cabal Interrogators, and Blackmails will also help. A lot of the time, you can force the first Wrath on just a lone Interrogator. They have to kill that guy, or their game plan is going to be shot. Always try to Interrogate at least for one, but usually for more – since this deck has lots of one-mana threats, it lends it self nicely to this strategy. Stabilizers might also help you, but I don’t like them as much in here because you have Gempalm Polluters and Twisted Abominations.

Vs. Goblins/RDW and White Weenie

These matchups are deceptively good. You have brazen dorks to trade with their dorks, and if they do not want to trade, then the Warchief will make them all very angry. It will be harder to trade with White Weenies creatures, but against both decks you are just looking to keep your life total relatively high until you drop a Noxious Ghoul and absolutely devastate their side. It is really fantastic when you go turn 3 or 4 Warchief, then next turn drop a Noxious Ghoul and the Maggot Carrier you have been sandbagging for just such an occasion. All of their creatures die and you swing in for a bunch of damage. Very cute.

Needless to say – Skullclamp is also very powerful in this matchup. Put it on a Withered Wretch, and they won’t want to attack you, let alone try. The only other thing to watch for is not to cast Bidding unless you have access to a Noxious Ghoul – they will likely get their entire side back as well. When Siege-Gang Commander is involved, be extra careful if they have mana up – they can shoot you before their goblins die.

I would recommend boarding in a fourth Noxious Ghoul and possibly Smother. Needless to say, the Stone will once again be very helpful versus any deck with White.

Vs. Affinity

Again, this matchup is tough as nails, however, this time the problems are different. Now it is very hard to deal with Broodstar, but the Myr Enforcers become more manageable. Your best bet is to try to come out quick and win with a Warchief. Boarding in Dark Banishing will help, but Ensnaring Bridge might help more. Even if you keep three cards in your hand, most of your team can attack while theirs cannot. Damping Matrix will help deal with the Skullclamp problem.

Vs R/G

This matchup will go rather well, especially if you get a Skullclamp. Because so many of your threats have a small mana cost, they will have trouble containing you – even so, I would try to play out your Skinthinners morphed, just to have a plan against any large men they play out. Noxious Ghoul isn’t going to kill much in this matchup without Bidding backup. Eventually you will draw enough lands from Skullclamp that you can play out your Twisted Abomination. It a world of fatties, he takes the cake. Raw-dogging the Gempalm Polluter isn’t bad in this matchup either. Undead Warchief will bring the game to an end in a hurry, provided he lives for a turn or two. Overall this is a good matchup. Call to the Grave would be acceptable sideboard material, but I am unsure if you even need it – boarding in the Stones again might just be better.

Vs. Zombie Mirror

Considering this is less of a Mirror matchup than you might expect, there is actually a lot that can happen. They will be doing their normal card advantage thing while you will be swinging in with your beefy men. Undead Warchief is just a killer for them. They will have to use all of their Consume Spirits on your creature early, because they really have no other way of killing them. Make sure you Wretch away their creatures because, the first time you cast a Bidding you are going to crush them. Sideboarding in Smothers will help this matchup a little, but I wouldn’t worry about it too much.


The old Zombie deck is tried and true – it’s got game versus the control decks in the format, but I think with Darksteel we will see a lot more aggressive/Skullclamp based decks like the new Zombie deck I propose. Either deck is a fine choice, but I know which one will make you stand up on your seat and pump the fist…

You go get ’em, Maggot Carrier.

Until next time, get inside the metagame,

Nate Heiss

Team CMU

[email protected]