So, Zombies Are Good Now…

Vampires? Please. Everyone knows that Zombies are the tribe that will rule Standard once Shadows over Innistrad creeps and crawls its way into our hands! Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin talks flesh-eating, brain-biting, and good old fashioned deck brewing!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!

Times are tough, pal.

With fetchlands, tri-lands, and lifegain lands all rotating out, mana is about to get a lot worse. This is such an unbelievably massive drop in color-fixing, it’s probably not even fair to actually say it’s getting worse; since it’s so unspeakably bad, it’s not even remotely the same format (as if Siege Rhino, Dig Through Time, Mantis Rider, and Rally the Ancestors rotating out wasn’t going to revolutionize the format, anyway). The new Shadow lands are not going to be enough to replace the level of fixing we’ve come to expect.

Either way, what about this hot little number?

Diregraf Colossus is an extremely loud tribal lord that is unplayable without a critical mass of Zombies, but it scales extremely effectively. While a three-mana 2/2 isn’t good enough, casting even a single Zombie after it results in a tapped 2/2 Zombie token to go along with our 2/2, which is already a good deal for three mana.

While Diregraf Colossus loves to get the party started, it’s also got no problem showing up fashionably late. Two dead Zombies before it, and you’re talking about a 4/4 with incredible implied upside if it stays on the battlefield. Again, you are getting a ton for your mana. As long as you are playing Zombies, Diregraf Colossus is just an absurd Magic card. It’s so good, we’re willing to play a bunch of Zombies that aren’t super-hot just so that we get to play Diregraf Colossus.

Of course, not every Zombie is lame.

Relentless Dead is not messing around. If it were just a 2/2 for BB that comes back to your hand when it dies (for B), I’d already be interested. Are you kidding? Normally, they make cards like that unable to block. That already sounds sick. However, it also puts a Zombie from your graveyard directly onto the battlefield when it dies? Crazy.

While that last ability is truly awesome, we’re paying so little for it, we could actually conceivably play Relentless Dead in decks that miss on it most of the time. For instance, I could imagine a deck with four Relentless Dead, four Fleshbag Marauder, and three Sidisi, Undead Vizier as most of or the only Zombies. If you’ve got ways to exploit Relentless Dead’s death trigger, this might be enough incentive already. Looting and sacrifice outlets are the two biggest synergies.

That’s all well and good, but what about going for it?

Okay, here’s a first stab at Mono-Black Zombies:

The first thing that jumps out at me is the glut at the three-slot, and then the drought at one. Maybe Duress is supposed to be maindeck, then? The threes are all pretty respectable, though.

Fleshbag Marauder is a removal spell that we can buy back with Relentless Dead and that triggers our Diregraf Colossus. It’s also the perfect way to sacrifice our Relentless Dead to give us a free reanimation spell. There are a couple other creatures worth cashing in, too.

Both Shambling Goblin and Despoiler of Souls give us value with Fleshbag Marauder, either from the death trigger or the threat of bringing Despoiler back at no loss of card advantage. While the Despoiler is a bit of a nombo with Diregraf Colossus, it’s nice having the option to shrink our graveyard a bit in order to return Risen Executioner.

Risen Executioner gives us a third “Zombie lord” and has us well on our way towards wanting to play Zombies over basically anything else. It’s important to keep in mind that neither the Executioner nor Despoiler of Souls can block; further, Shambling Ghoul enters the battlefield tapped, so we want to be careful about counting on blocking too much.

How best to round out the three-spot is a little tricky. Drana has the best rate, but no Zombie synergies. I do like, however, gaining a little bit of flying, not to mention how well the ability works with an army of 2/2 tokens. Nantuko Husk is a Zombie, of course, but also a great way to trigger Relentless Dead, Shambling Goblin, and Liliana, Heretical Healer. I could see playing a lot more, but I wouldn’t hate seeing if we can get away with relying on Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as our primary sacrifice outlet besides Fleshbag Marauder. That said, it is sweet to have a zero-mana sacrifice outlet to let us reanimate something straight onto the battlefield with Relentless Dead at instant speed.

Kalitas is an absolutely fantastic card on its own that also happens to make Zombie tokens. He’s also an exceptional sacrifice outlet, assuming you’ve got plenty of mana laying around. If you’re just mana-rich, you can pay 2BB to return your Relentless Dead to your hand, give Kalitas +2/+2, and get back any of your Zombies at cost. That’s not setting any land speed records, but it is a powerful way to keep building an advantage in the mid- and late-game, not to mention powering through blocker-heavy opponents.

Just how good is having the creature type Zombie? All things considered, Shambling Ghoul is really not the worst two-drop I could imagine playing (considering it’s the only other two-cost black Zombie in the format). I also think it’s interesting to see Shambling Ghoul; Liliana, Heretical Healer; Drana, Liberator of Malakir; Diregraf Colossus; Risen Executioner; and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet all potentially surviving a Rising Miasma out of the sideboard.

We could also potentially run Flaying Tendrils, but it’s kind of awkward with Relentless Dead, Shambing Goblin, Liliana, and Kalitas.

One of the biggest drawbacks to a mono-color deck is the lack of a creature-land. We are not without a little extra juice in the resource row, however.

Mortuary Mire has a new lease on life, no longer having to compete with tri-lands and fetching up Battle lands. We waste our first turn’s mana a good chunk of the time anyway, so the opportunity cost is even lower than it appears on the surface. Besides, being able to ensure we draw the Fleshbag Marauder or Diregraf Colossus or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet we need is worth a fair bit more than a mana when it works. It also lets us get away with more lands than we otherwise would be able to. In fact, we could even play 25, since we have so many four-drops and a few of our lands make great mana-sinks.

Westvale Abbey is very appealing, but it can be easy to underestimate just how expensive this thing is to operate. A mana and a life more than Vitu-Ghazi, the City Tree can really add up, and it’s not like Vitu-Ghazi was cheap to operate. Remember, you have to tap the land, too, so it really is six and a life to use. That said, Westvale Abbey is also an excellent “six-drop,” coming down and turning into a 9/7 flying, haste, indestructible, lifelink Demon that can end a lot of games on the spot.

Westvale Abbey is at least good, and might be great, depending on the texture of the format (how much exiling people play, how many sweepers, how good the token-making is, how popular control is, etc.). Either way, it will be an important influence in helping shape how decks are built.

Blue’s Zombies aren’t super-exciting, but I kind of expect there to be a U/B gold card that really helps justify considering splashing blue in a Zombie deck. For now, the biggest explicit Zombie payoff in blue is Compelling Deterrence. This is a Recoil that may not hit land but costs a full mana less.

It’s easy to not fully appreciate just how efficient this is, but think about it this way. There have been many 1U spells that bounce a nonland permanent. It doesn’t take much of a bonus at all, and once in a while, people play Disperse.

Compelling Deterrence is a full card better than that when you have a Zombie. That’s enormous! If Compelling Deterrence did not have the Zombie condition, it could easily cost 3U. If it were 2U, it would definitely see Constructed play. At 1U, we are talking about an effect more efficient than Silumgar’s Scorn in a Dragon deck. Granted, it might be a hard time to want to play discard cards (with Madness being all the rage), but in terms of rate, this card is incredibly efficient and should likely be the starting point for any potential blue splash.

Cool bonus one: You can bounce your own madness creature and then discard it automatically (assuming you have a Zombie), madnessing it right back onto the battlefield (but dodging whatever removal spell was pointed at it).

Cool bonus two: Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy loves flashing this one back! Jace is also particularly great looting away Relentless Dead, Despoiler of Souls, Risen Executioner, or just some Zombies that make Diregraf Colossus happier six feet under.

There’s an interesting tension between Zombies and Vampires. Drana and Kalitas start the overlap, but plenty of the aggressive Vampires have synergies with some of the aggressive Zombies. For instance, Heir of Falkenrath and Risen Executioner, or Indulgent Aristocrat and Relentless Dead.

We don’t have enough cards spoiled to make a strong assessment as to the best build of Vampires, but it’s interesting to consider that we don’t have to make it a dedicated Madness deck. For instance:

This card is sweet. Granted, it’s better in a madness deck that can actually capitalize on it, but it’s still just a sweet card. A 3/1 for two with the right tribe is already at least worth considering, but once you add in the chances of getting a little bit of Phyrexian Arena action once in a while? Love it.

It is funny that even though the ability to draw when your opponent is empty-handed will often be an advantage (forcing them to keep a card in their hand, or making your discard better, or just drawing extra cards), it also gives them some counterplay, some options to try to “get” you, in certain situations. I’ve got a feeling this card is going to lead to some great gameplay.

Without an untapped dual land or many discard outlets, it might not be worth playing Falkenrath Gorger. It is interesting, though, that we are paying zero for its ability. I mean, when was the last time you saw a red one-drop with two power at baseline that didn’t have a drawback?

Fun card. A Welkin Tern is already not embarrassing, and when you play it for three mana, it’s a passable threat at that spot on the curve, as well. Giving Drana haste is a really big deal, though. Between Olivia’s Bloodsworn and Olivia, Mobilized for War, Vampires have some really scary ways to hit hard out of nowhere.

A 3/3 flying creature for three mana is already something. Remember just casting Herald of Torment? But she can give you some pretty outrageous tempo boosts. Her on turn 3 followed by Drana on turn 4 is intense. It’s also fun that she can discard cards like Asylum Visitor, even when we’re not on dedicated madness. She’s also pretty bonkers with Falkenrath Gorger

Okay, I’m out for today, but I’ll be back Wednesday as we ramp up our exploration of Shadows over Innistrad Standard!

Bonus Decklist!

Shadows over Innistrad Prerelease March 26-27!