Zombies In Legacy

Sam Black’s Zombies deck in Legacy caught a lot of attention this past weekend. He goes in-depth over the synergies in the deck, and he also includes a tip for people playing Standard at Grand Prix Salt Lake City this weekend.

This past weekend I attended SCG Open Series: Baltimore featuring the Invitational, I and had a moderately successful and extremely fun weekend. As I hinted at in my last article, I played Esper Spirits in Standard because it felt the time was right. Hate was down, there weren’t a lot of Day of Judgment decks, and there were a lot of aggro decks I felt very comfortable against. I found myself in a sea of Delver, so I was pretty happy with that choice. For the Legacy portion, I played Esper Stoneblade again since it felt so good at Grand Prix Indianapolis. The format had adjusted somewhat, and the deck was now only passable. I managed to finish 13th.

Really I don’t think the minor tweaks to those decks or details about the many Delver matches I played would be that interesting. What people have expressed interest in is the deck I played on Sunday to an 11th place finish in the SCG Legacy Open.

I’d done a fair amount of work on this deck on my stream prior to Grand Prix Indianapolis, but I decided not to play it at the last second when I saw the Esper Stoneblade list. Now that the format had adjusted I didn’t feel like that deck gave me quite the edge it had before, and I wanted to know if the Zombies deck I’d been working on was real. I begged Reid Duke to play some games with me, using my deck from the Invitational against a proxy copy of the Zombie deck I’d most recently streamed with. The matchup felt pretty good for Zombies so late Saturday night, after thinking about some last minute changes, I decided to play Zombies on Sunday instead.

The last big change I made to the deck was to cut blue, the fourth color, which I’d been playing only for Careful Study (one of the best cards in the deck) to try to make the mana more realistic. This opened up room for a slightly higher Zombie density, which I felt like I wanted because I’d been having trouble casting Gravecrawler early if I discarded it. This required a few other changes like cutting Nim Devourer because I wouldn’t be able to discard as consistently.

I cut Surgical Extraction from my sideboard at the last minute, which was a decision I got punished for as I played against Dredge twice and lost to it once (despite it generally being an excellent matchup because of all my sacrifice effects).

Wait, I’m getting way ahead of myself. This deck is probably very different from other Legacy decks you’ve seen, so I should explain what’s going on here as it might look a little weird if you haven’t seen it in action.

It’s hard to say it’s built around any particular card or single synergy. The pieces just all fit together beautifully.

Faithless Looting is this deck’s Brainstorm, allowing it to have the consistency to keep up with other decks in the format by finding the right mix of lands and spells, but it’s so much more than that. Ideally, Faithless Looting is draw two with upside and flashback. Discarding Bloodghast is the dream, since at that point Faithless Looting is actually netting you mana in addition to cards. Discarding Gravecrawler is often a complete freeroll, and discarding Lingering Souls on turn 1 can be better than not discarding if you’re looking for something to do for two mana. Outside of those, it’s easy to have extra lands since the deck doesn’t need many or to discard unneeded discard spells in the mid-to-late game. It’s also good to discard Cabal Therapies that you don’t know what to name with because you can always get value out of a graveyard full of Cabal Therapy later.

Carrion Feeder is the perfect creature for this deck. It comes down on the first turn and functions as this deck’s Knight of the Reliquary and Mother of Runes while being a Zombie to allow you to return Gravecrawler. What I mean by comparing it to those creatures is that it protects your other creatures which are normally only vulnerable to cards like Swords to Plowshares and Path to Exile by allowing you to put them in the graveyard instead of removing them from the game, and it quickly becomes the biggest creature in play if you have any number of Bloodghasts or Gravecrawlers. It also lets you “fog” Umezawa’s Jitte or Batterskull by blocking with a Spirit token from Lingering Souls and sacrificing it to the Carrion Feeder.

Goblin Bombardment is Carrion Feeder’s more devastating cousin. Surprisingly few decks in Legacy can even compete if you have Goblin Bombardment and Bloodghast or Gravecrawler going. Like Carrion Feeder, it lets you get value out of every extra mana or landfall with those creatures and does everything else your’re looking to do out of sacrificing your own guys. Most creatures in the format are actually very small and matter because of things like equipment and built-in card advantage. Goblin Bombardment trumps all of that.

Lingering Souls fills in for Gravecrawler and Bloodghast in a pinch, giving you plenty of creatures to sacrifice to Goblin Bombardment and Cabal Therapy, but the most important thing it offers the deck is blockers. This deck is like a “can’t block” theme deck, but that’s not really a theme you want to build around because blocking can be pretty nice. Unfortunately, these creatures have enough synergy that they want to be played together despite this, but Lingering Souls does an amazing job of picking up slack unlike Geralf’s Messenger which can’t even block the turn it comes into play. Evasion is also always welcome, of course.

Tombstalker is a card I added late in testing to try to fill some of the holes in the deck. Specifically, the fact that all of the creatures are tiny means the deck can have serious issues with slightly larger creatures, especially ones that want to attack. Cards like Night of Souls’ Betrayal are just devastating. Tombstalker gives the deck an entirely different angle of attack at a very low cost. Additionally, since there are so many fetchlands, discard spells, and Faithless Looting, casting him is always extremely easy. Moreover, he’s generally safe once he hits play because of the discard and the fact that you’ll have played so many creatures before him.

Geralf’s Messenger might be very slightly underpowered, but honestly, the Zombie options aren’t great. I could play low impact one-drops like Diregraf Ghoul or low impact, very synergistic cards instead like Rotting Rats, but ultimately I’ve been happiest with Geralf’s Messenger. He gives a bit more power in the Tombstalker direction in that he’s a slightly bigger brawler which you’re sometimes looking for, and he can also just function as a six-point burn spell with Goblin Bombardment, which is pretty big game.

Cabal Therapy is just an insane card when it gets to flashback at minimal cost, and pairing it with other discard spells makes it even better. Unfortunately when a deck is built around cards that play this well together, I don’t get a lot of room for normal Magic cards, which is why I had just one Inquisition of Kozilek, one Thoughtseize, and one Gitaxian Probe to super-charge my Cabal Therapy. Also, discard is a weapon that has significant diminishing returns as your opponent will run out of cards at some point.

Hymn to Tourach has less synergy with Cabal Therapy than the one-mana discard spells, but I think the card is just too powerful not to play in a deck where every land taps for black mana. I considered playing less than four, but I wanted the rest in the sideboard against combo. I found myself moving them to the maindeck to make room in the sideboard since they aren’t really bad against very many decks (basically just Dredge).

I included Rotting Rats because it pushes the discard theme (making them discard a card of their choice is more powerful when you’re also Hymning them), and it’s a good card to discard to Faithless Looting. It’s very good at letting me play Gravecrawler again since I can play both of them from my graveyard. Ultimately, it’s fine but cuttable.

Tragic Slip is the last card I played. It’s generally very good when I draw it, but again I don’t want a lot of maindeck removal since it’s not synergistic and it’s bad against some decks. Also, Goblin Bombardment is all the removal I really need once it gets going.

Undiscovered Paradise is awesome. I think two is probably better than one, but I wasn’t sure and didn’t want to bother trying to find another. It can cast all your spells, it lets you get your Bloodghasts back every turn, and it lets you put more lands into play while still kind of holding a card in your hand to potentially discard to Faithless Looting. You never really need more than three lands in play, so the drawback never really hurts you if you don’t play a lot of them.

The most definite mistake in deckbuilding was playing only two Badlands, which I knew Sunday morning, but I only had two of them with me and thought it wouldn’t matter enough to find the third. It ended up making one game on camera much more difficult than it needed to be, but didn’t hurt me anywhere else.

The sideboard isn’t perfect, but I’m happy with a lot of it. Dark Confidant is great against combo, control, and G/W decks. It’s bad against very aggressive decks and decks that can very easily kill him. He comes in more often than not, but he doesn’t play well in the maindeck with Tombstalker. I prefer to hedge in Tombstalker’s favor in the maindeck because Bob directly gives you more of what you already have, whereas Tombstalker gives you something entirely different and also matches up best against the decks you’re otherwise bad against.

Deathmark is a concession to the popularity of Maverick and the fact that Scavenging Ooze is one of the best cards against this deck. At this point, I’m pretty sure it and Dark Confidant should be four-ofs, but I could see hedging a little bit with other removal spells like Tragic Slip or Ghastly Demise. I wasn’t really a fan of the Edict.

Additional discard comes in against control and combo, but it’s possible that it isn’t needed just because you have so much of that already.

Gravepact is “awesome,” but I don’t think it’s actually what this deck is looking for. It’s just too expensive.

Disenchant or Vindicate are absolutely necessary since there are a number of devastating enchantments. Leyline of the Void is the best card against you, but it’s at a relative low right now in terms of how much play it sees largely because Snapcaster Mage makes people really want to play Surgical Extraction. Really, I’d like three total answers to enchantments, as Nick Spagnolo has reminded the world that Night of Souls’ Betrayal is a Magic card.

There are a huge number of other cards worth considering. My current favorites for the maindeck that I didn’t play any of are Viscera Seer and Greater Gargadon as additional sacrifice outlets, Careful Study if you’re willing to get dangerous with the colored mana, and Umezawa’s Jitte. I don’t really like cards like Entomb or Buried Alive that rely entirely on the graveyard because I think the upside isn’t there to compensate for increased vulnerability, but I could see one or two Entomb.

If I had to enter a Legacy tournament right now, I would probably play:

As for matchups, the deck is good against most combo since you have a lot of disruption and a reasonably fast clock, good against decks with a lot of small creatures like Lingering Souls, Snapcaster Mage, and Delver of Secrets, and good against decks that are trying to grind you out in the wrong ways, which should be most control decks. It’s bad against decks like Zoo that play creatures that embarrass yours, put you on a fast clock, and don’t care much about their hand.

I’m very curious to see if this deck has a future in Legacy. Historically, I’m used to my decks kind of hitting a sweet spot in the metagame once and not really seeing widespread adaptation, but this deck looks like it’s catching enough attention that maybe others will actually give it a try.

Oh, a final note. People are always tempted to try to compare this deck to Dredge because it uses the graveyard. This isn’t a remotely apt comparison. This deck attempts to interact with the opponent and plays a fair game of Magic; it just uses the graveyard as a resource to maximize its ability to get value out of a lot of synergies. The deck is built in the spirit of a tribal deck, not in the spirit of a combo deck like Dredge. Yes, it’s less vulnerable to graveyard hate than Dredge, but that’s not the real selling point to me. The real selling point is that you get to play a real game of Magic in the good way in that you get have a lot of disruption for whatever they’re doing.

Thanks for reading,


@samuelhblack on Twitter

P.S. – Standard in Salt Lake City is going to be interesting. Yuuya’s deck looks like it dominated Kuala Lumpur, and it actually looks very good. This weekend saw a huge resurgence of Delver around the world, and it’ll be interesting to see how people react to that. Hopping on board wouldn’t be a terrible plan, but I’d also take a serious look at Kibler’s deck from the Invitational.