Dark Ascension is shaping up nicely, and I’m excited to see everything it has to offer. Innistrad was a great set overall, hitting it out of the park on flavor, Limited, and Constructed applications. As more spoilers are released for Dark Ascension, I can see more and more cards that are destined to help shape Standard (as well as older formats) in the coming months. With only a few more weeks before the Prerelease, we’re going to talk about a few of my favorites and some of the interesting things you can do with them. Granted, the entire set hasn’t been spoiled, so potential decklists might be scraping by until we get to see everything.
As of tonight, Geralf’s Messenger was spoiled. If you haven’t seen him yet, you should take a look:
He seems to combo pretty well with this guy:
So you’re telling me they printed a reverse Kitchen Finks that gets bigger when it dies and is much better in an aggressive deck? Sign me up! As of now, there have only been a handful of creatures with the undying mechanic that I’ve been excited about. The fact that these two cards are being printed makes me believe that they have some serious plans for Zombies as a tribe in the near future. This guy, along with Gravecrawler, could almost singlehandedly fuel a Zombie deck in Standard (though I think we’re just a bit short for now)!
While there aren’t too many cards spoiled just yet, these two are definitely my favorites. I’ve always been a sucker for aggressive black decks. Heck, I’ve even played Diregraf Ghoul in a Modern deck recently (on video!). I’m no stranger to a Flesh Reaver, and Carnophage has always had my back, but these new releases seem absurd to me. I hope they realize that aggressive black decks now have access to multiple two-power creatures for just one mana, which is not something that has happened in quite a while. With everyone leaning on Vapor Snag, lower curves are going to be rewarded over time, so long as you can avoid being dead to a Gut Shot. Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul can do both, which will be very powerful in Standard going forward.
In the current Standard, Zombies haven’t really made a splash. A lot of the more powerful Zombies are blue and don’t really play well with others. The “Makeshift Mauler” cycle of creatures benefit from other creatures going to the graveyard, but it is difficult to capitalize if you’re returning everything to the battlefield over time. I’m virtually never going to want to exile my Gravecrawler in order to cast a Stitched Drake. So what are we to do?
A lot of the Zombies in Standard don’t play well together, so finding the right combination of them to fit into a deck is definitely the hardest part of the puzzle. With a lot of the Zombies in Standard having infect, that isn’t really what you’re trying to do, so we’re going to ignore those for now (though I think Phyrexian Crusader is quite powerful at the moment). Ghoulraiser and Skinrender are two card-advantage grinding Zombies that might eventually make the cut, but the rest look a little dull. Until they spoil some solid two-drops, I don’t think we really have enough to build a Standard deck just yet. So why don’t we look at Modern?
While Standard isn’t exactly flush with cool Zombies, Modern has some really interesting choices. With so much mana-fixing in the format, we can pretty much play any set of colors we want. With Mutavault in the mix to help “turn on” Gravecrawler, we also get a lot more ways to make the Zombie lords viable.
First up, we have an old favorite to go alongside Gravecrawler:
With Gravecrawler, you can effectively threaten to Fireball your opponent each turn. With the undying mechanic already rearing its ugly head, you can bet that Nantuko Husk will give you some cool interactions. While possibly less powerful than your average Lord for Zombies, I think that Nantuko Husk might give the deck some much-needed reach. With Path to Exile in the format, you won’t always be able to one-shot kill your opponent, but you have the ability to do some massive damage. At the very least, you can Abyss your opponent every turn.
As mentioned above, Skinrender is a Zombie and definitely a consideration, at least for the sideboard. While a little slow, you can afford to wait it out in a lot of the grindy matchups where he’s really good. Thanks to cheap removal and discard, you should be able to slow your opponent down enough for you to gain a significant advantage once you hit four mana. Skinrender kills a lot of relevant creatures in the format and can even shrink Tarmogoyf or Knight of the Reliquary down to manageable sizes.
If we leaned on Mono-Black, Korlash could be a pretty sweet consideration. He is easily my favorite reason to play mostly Swamps, but you could even play him while splashing another color. With the fetchlands from Zendikar and dual lands from Ravnica, all of your non-Mutavault lands can be Swamps. Additionally, you could probably squeeze in a few Urborgs to make sure he is always as large as he can be. While Korlash is not a for-sure candidate, I do like that he is very difficult to Lightning Bolt, which is the spot-removal of choice for most red-based decks in Modern. His grandeur ability can also keep him out of burn range quite nicely.
Along with playing a Zombie theme, we have access to a few lords:
While I’m not sure if all, or any, of these lords are playable, I think it is at least important to consider them. While I’m not sold that a Zombie theme is necessary, it could end up being the best option for the archetype. When Kird Ape and Loam Lion are real problems for your 2/1’s and 2/2’s, a Lord is just what you need to make combat actually bearable. Fortunately, we have a lot of time to figure out whether or not these cards will actually be good.
When delving into red, we get access to a few underrated creatures:
Slavering Nulls has never really been able to shine in a format because there was rarely any good mana-fixing to make his ability worthwhile. With the easy mana-fixing in Modern, you can almost guarantee that he’ll be smashing your opponent to bits while you make them discard card after card. While he does have a fragile body, Specters are often quite powerful. This is definitely not a card you should instantly dismiss.
If you are planning on playing red as your secondary color, you also get access to Anathemancer, which is a huge beating against a lot of decks in Modern. Anathemancer is dedicated hate towards decks relying too much on non-basic lands and functions similarly to Blood Moon except that it actually kills your opponent. While Anathemancer isn’t always as devastating as Blood Moon, it can end the game on the spot and is very good against a variety of archetypes.
If you wanted another hard-hitting threat and can afford to splash green, then Putrid Leech is next up on the list. While you do have to pay a decent amount of life to make it really good, Putrid Leech tags alongside your powerful one-drops for some devastating openers. When you combine those draws with some cheap disruption in the form of Inquisition of Kozilek or Blightning, you can kill your opponent in quick fashion. While Putrid Leech is worse than Tarmogoyf in a vacuum, it is important to remember that there are benefits to playing a deck full of Zombies.
While green probably doesn’t offer up as much as the other colors, you could get access to Putrefy, which is pretty good at the moment considering how popular Affinity is in Modern. Additionally, you get to kill annoying artifacts like Grafdigger’s Cage, which turns off your graveyard-related antics. While Putrefy is probably a little too slow, it is definitely a consideration since it can deal with a Cranial Plating.
If we leaned on white (which I’m currently doing), we could get some sweet additions to the deck:
While you don’t need white mana for Stillmoon Cavalier to be good, I figured it would be prudent to put it here since it is technically a white card. While white decks aren’t exactly dominating on Magic Online right now, I think Stillmoon Cavalier has the ability to be a fantastic sideboard option against aggressive black or white decks, should they begin to crop up.
Tidehollow Sculler is an obvious all-star. With his ability alongside Inquisition of Kozilek, Thoughtseize, and potentially even Blightning, we could completely wreck our opponent’s hand while also applying pressure to the board. While he gets outclassed rather quickly against decks playing Kird Ape, you can pack your deck full of Dismember and Path to Exile to keep them out of your way. White also gives you access to some sweet sideboard cards like Ethersworn Canonist, Angel’s Grace, and a lot of others.
While aggressively curved black decks aren’t particularly exciting in Modern just yet, I think Dark Ascension could change all that. We don’t have a lot to work with in Standard, but Modern gives us access to a very large card pool.
While sticking to a Zombie theme might be sweet for Gravecrawler, I think it might be more beneficial to just use that as “splash damage” rather than focus the entire deck on it. Cards like Gatekeeper of Malakir and even Bloodghast could prove troublesome for a lot of decks and give you some added reach against removal-heavy archetypes like Jund. Suicide Black is not a new concept, though it has been mostly lost since Urza’s Block rotated out of Extended. I think it’s just about time for a comeback!
With cards like Dismember, you can really push the limits as to how little you care about your own life total. With so many creatures entering the battlefield tapped or lacking the ability to block, your goal could be to interact with the opponent only to the point where you’re forcing them into situations that are very bad for them. While your creatures are very resilient to removal, they are not great in a lot of combat scenarios and especially those that involve your opponent racing you with a Steppe Lynx.
Bloodghast and Gravecrawler will be particularly hard for most control decks to fend off and should be powerful against combo as well, but I don’t know how good they will be against most aggro decks. When combat is either won or lost on the back of being able to block something for a turn, things can turn sour rather quickly. You should try your best to supplement these aggressive creatures with solid answers to whatever might stand in their way. Various powerful removal and planeswalkers might also suffice in giving your creatures the ability to take control of the combat zone.
With some of the options listed earlier in mind, here is a potential Modern brew with a lot of the cards on the aforementioned list of “potentials.”
While a lot of cards on this list are entirely theoretical, I can deduce that most of them would be good when paired alongside others. While Path to Exile does give your opponent more resources, you goal should be to grind out the resources that matter most. With Inquisition of Kozilek and a swarm of creatures that refuse to stay dead, as well as a plethora of “value” creatures, it will be very difficult for most opponents to stabilize.
While my last aggro concoction featuring Diregraf Ghoul didn’t go so well, I don’t think I built my deck properly in the least. This particular list feels like it would be powerful against a number of archetypes and would stand a very good chance at beating something like Boros or Zoo. With so many cheap threats and answers, you will likely begin to play two spells per turn before they do.
And for those wondering, yes that is Disfigure in the deck. While Dismember is powerful, it does deal you quite a bit of damage most of the time. Disfigure helps handle annoyances like Delver of Secrets and Grim Lavamancer without an arm and a leg (get it?), giving you the ability to efficiently handle threats without putting your life total in jeopardy. While Dismember is quite strong in Modern, I don’t think you can afford to pay too much life when very few of your creatures can actually block.
The combination of tough-to-deal-with creatures, discard, and efficient removal should give you ample numbers against a variety of archetypes. While Affinity will probably be pretty strong against you, access to Kataki out of the board can be devastating. Alongside some spot removal, you should be fine so long as they don’t completely nut-draw you. Affinity’s nut draw is really tough for most decks to beat, let alone a deck relying on creatures that can’t block!
While I don’t necessarily recommend this exact list for your Modern gauntlet, I think it is a great place to start when trying to utilize some of the new cards. I think Geralf’s Messenger and Gravecrawler are both very powerful creatures that will give you the ability to fight through nearly any bombardment. Let us not forget the icing on the cake: Liliana’s ability to gain you card advantage through discarding Bloodghast and Gravecrawler!
Grafdigger’s Cage is a pretty sweet sideboard card against you, but I’m not sure exactly how good it will be in Modern. It can shut down a lot of the more annoying graveyard-based strategies, but those are currently few and far between. I’m looking forward to its applications in Legacy, but I’m sure Drew Levin will be writing that piece up for next week.
Outside of the traditional aggro-disruptive deck, I think that these two new graveyard-centric creatures would fit nicely into a Small Pox shell. Both of them are synergistic with Smallpox itself, which is pretty sweet. Alongside Bloodghast, you have access to at least three creatures that you can sacrifice or discard to Smallpox with the ability to bring back. While you will need a few other Zombies in your deck to really make Gravecrawler busted, Mutavault can give you some much-needed breathing room in deckbuilding.
While the deck ideas are not perfect, I’ll be looking forward to testing them out in the near future on both on Magic Online and in paper. I’ve got a few Modern PTQs coming up soon, and I would much rather brew up something that people won’t be expecting rather than play the deck everyone is gunning for. If you want to have some fun, try this deck out. Systematically dismantling your opponent’s hand while presenting them with creatures that are absurdly tough to deal with should be a lot of fun…for you!
Thanks for reading.
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