It’s Alive! Zombies In Standard

The brain-eating Zombies showed up in a big way at SCG Atlanta, and Shaun McLaren is ready to serve up his foes’ noggins on a platter! He gives his take on the “white splash or mono-black” debate and supplies a delightful decklist duo!

Standard is back from the dead now that Amonkhet is here and Cat-tastrophe has been averted!

Thank the gods that Felidar Guardian was banned, even if it was under awkward circumstances.

But that’s in the past, and this is now. Today we’re going to focus on a new strategy.

We’ve got a fair bit to work with since we got a nice taste of what Standard looks like thanks to the SCG Tour this weekend.

There was plenty of Mardu and plenty of B/G, but that was to be expected.

Without the Cat, there is hope that these decks might have opposition.

There do appear to be several fresh new decks, and I have my eye on one strategy in particular.

A strategy that take dead-ication to master.

A strategy that takes braaaains to pilot.

Zombos Y’all

As you may have guessed, one of the most interesting new archetypes that called to me from #SCGATL was Zombies.

But before we look at some decklists, first I think we should get in the Zombie spirit by ranking some of the Zombies we have available in Standard.

Here is the Standard Zombie Rankings List, sorted into tiers and accompanying movies that reflect the same level of quality:

Tier 1: Fresh Meat! (Shaun of the Dead, Army of Darkness)

Tier 2: Solid Grave Filler. (Zombieland, REC, Slither)

Tier 3: Slow and Dumb. (28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, Warm Bodies)

Tier 4: Rotten. (AMC’s The Walking Dead)

All Right, Let’s Dig into Some Lists

Zac’s version of Zombies placed at the top of the heap for Zombie decks at #SCGATL.

There’s a surprising amount of variation and ways to build Zombie decks right now. Well, maybe not that surprising, considering Felidar Guardian was banned halfway through the week giving new life to what would probably otherwise be a dead-on-arrival archetype.

Cryptbreaker and Dread Wanderer pretty much speak for themselves, as much as Zombies can, but other than that, there are plenty of different choices to be made. I’ll discuss some of the more interesting ones, but first a little discussion on Cryptbreaker.

I think Cryptbreaker the best card in the deck and pretty much makes the whole thing viable and where most of the tricky decisions come in. Cryptbreaker is definitely Zom-bae.

Often you’ll be deciding whether to draw cards with Cryptbreaker or push for damage. Generally, if you’re low on relevant plays and your removal is relevant, Cryptbreaker is best used for drawing cards. If you have lots of gas, you’ll usually be pushing damage more aggressively.

Keep in mind you’ll usually be drawing cards and attacking by tapping the Zombies you just cast to draw cards and attacking with extras beyond the required three to draw a card.

Instead of just tapping Cryptbreaker to draw cards, remember you can sometimes create a Zombie token using its other ability and then immediately use it to draw cards!

Scrapheap Scrounger shows up pretty much everywhere aggression is found and Zombies is no exception. Scrounger is obviously a powerful card, but I’m not really a fan of it for Zombie decks.

First of all, it’s not a Zombie…which is actually pretty much all that needs to be said. There is such a huge upside to playing a high density of Zombies, that it takes something especially special to make the cut if it isn’t a Zombie.

Scrounger seems fine, and the deck wants good two-drops, but I’m not sold.

Plague Belcher, Diregraf Colossus, and Lord of the Accursed are all very good, and Zac ran the full four of each, but competing with one another in the three drop slot is problematic, especially when you’re running a low land count.

Diregraf Colossus and Lord of the Accursed help you more going wide and playing a synergy game, and Plague Belcher seems like more of a muscle card with raw stats.

Wayward Servant is just packed full of efficiency and has the word “Zombie” in its text box. Good enough for me.

Wayward Servant makes racing hard and drains for a significant amount the longer it lasts on the battlefield. Add in Diregraf Colossus to help spew out more Zombies or multiple copies of Wayward Servant and it’s downright filthy.

Gideon, Ally of Zendikar in Zombies? Why not…

…well, for starters, Gideon is tough to cast when you’re splashing white and have a low land count. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar does seem excellent against everything Zombies would be afraid of post-sideboard, though (namely sweepers), and does all the amazing things Gideon does.

Bonus points if you play the promotional version of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar from SDCC 2016.

Here’s my take with an emphasis on tapping down your opponent’s creatures.

Fan Bearer is quite versatile and allows for some potentially big swings or just the ability to lock down a potentially troublesome flier.

Having one-drop Zombies is important to take full advantage of Cryptbreaker and Diregraf Colossus as quickly as possible, and Fan Bearer helps in that regard as well.

Binding Mummy is excellent for pressuring opponents, but bad on defense or against control decks.

Keep in mind with Binding Mummy that you can use Cryptbreaker during your opponent’s turn to make a Zombie and tap something down before it can attack.

In Oketra’s Name is likely not quite necessary, since it does nothing if you have no battlefield and just casting Lord of the Accursed pumps your team up enough to make it look awkward. Still worth a try, though.

I think Mono-Black Zombies is probably the correct direction to take for Zombie decks going forward.

Having consistent mana is very good and splashing for white is probably not worth it when the only great white options are Wayward Servant and Shambling Vent with the possibility of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar showing up as well. The rest of the white options seem mediocre or replaceable.

Why mess around with your mana and lose games because of a splash that isn’t even helping that much? Leave that to the Mardu decks and focus on being smooth as butter.

Being mono-black especially opens the casket to make Relentless Dead and Grasp of Darkness much more appealing.

Part of the reason why Zombies decks are so promising is the solid removal they have access to.

Fatal Push is very good in this format and an incredible card, but that’s just the start.

Grasp of Darkness is also fantastic and usually held back from most decks because of mana constraints. Being able to use both effectively is a dream come true, and that’s before you even take a look at Dark Salvation, which is often just better than both.

Dark Salvation is versatile. You are happy to cast it on one mana or five mana, probably getting a tempo swing either way. You can also just cast Dark Salvation to make Zombies, even if your opponent doesn’t have any creatures.

Relentless Dead is an incredibly annoying card to play against and deal with. Buff it up with lords and swing in with menacing abandon. Even just trying to attack past a Relentless Dead is nearly impossible in the late-game.

Relentless Dead goes arbitrarily large by itself if it’s dying conventionally and you have mana for it. It goes extra arbitrarily large if you have more copies sitting in the graveyard to be brought back. Relentless Dead, forever and forever, a hundred years Relentless Dead.

Relentless Dead also makes it so you can return your best card, Cryptbreaker, directly from your graveyard to the battlefield for a measly one mana if they are ever foolish enough to kill it.

Here we finally have a version of Zombies that I would want to try going forward.

Metallic Mimic might not seem all that special, but is has the potential to be one of the most powerful two-drops, which fills out an important part of the curve.

Metallic Mimic on turn 2 is fragile but can set you up for the rest of the game. The only real downside to Metallic Mimic is that casting it doesn’t make Zombies off Diregraf Colossus or pump Diregraf Colossus when it’s in the graveyard.

Diregraf Colossus in conjunction with Cryptbreaker is the slow clunky Zombie version of Glimpse of Nature plus Heritage Druid. Low-casting-cost Zombies pair best with both of these cards and your Zombie lords, which makes something like Festering Mummy much better, even if it’s puny on its own.

Liliana, the Last Hope is nice if you’re expecting mass removal and is a solid way to pick off Zombies in the mirror or Toolcraft Exemplar.

Gifted Aetherborn doesn’t play the synergy game, but it gives you a nice bit of lifegain against Mardu that you’re otherwise lacking.

Transgress the Mind and Lay Bare the Heart should help against combo and control decks, enabling you to hit their key cards or at least see a sweeper coming in advance.

Westvale Abbey is likely not going to be making many tokens in this deck, but the threat of it flipping and becoming Ormendahl, Profane Prince is very real, since it’s easy to swarm with a bunch of Zombies, but you might need that extra bit of reach.

If the metagame is dominated by Mardu and B/G, then Zombies might be able to rise up. Its efficient removal and synergistic snowbally nature might be able to trump the honed efficiency of the two top decks.

What’s the only thing Zombies fear?

Their Mummy.

What’s the only thing the Zombies decks fear?

Mass removal.

Fumigate and Sweltering Suns are especially scary.

Zombies shrivel up and crisp in the hot sun and prefer to be embalmed, not sprayed down with chemicals. Zombies should also stay away from Engulf the Shore, because Zombies can’t swim.

I look forward to trying out Zombies and many more strategies as I start ramping up my testing for Pro Tour Amonkhet.

What do you think of the new Standard? Did Amonkhet and the banning of Felidar Guardian help change things up? Will Mardu continue dominating? Is Zombies a real deck? Will Zombies eat out the Heart of Kiran? Will Nissa, Voice of Zendikar’s Plants triumph versus the Zombies? Stay tuned to find out.