I know Hoogland did it first - but he missed a couple cool pieces.
We are all zombies. You, me, your Mom. Zombies. Just ask The Cranberries. I've chosen to embrace these absolute truths - and make poor references to mediocre 90's songs. You may be asking, what does this have to do with Magic: The Gathering, and I would tell you, "Nothing." But we have to start somewhere, we have to start sometime, what better place than here, what better time than now?~~~*
I am pleased to bring you another fun brew, and even though there are lists like this floating around right now, I would like to think this one is totally mine. Hopefully, now it is yours too.
Death Baron, in the right deck, is tremendously disruptive to the meta. Deathtouch is simply not as common as it has been in previous Standard environments. When combined with the abilities and spells we have also included in this list we get access to some indirect and direct control mechanics that truly make this deck a pleasure to play. What is a Zombie deck without access to a full set of Zombie Lords? Nothing, and Death Baron is just a great 3 drop.
One drops are necessary in an aggro deck - the more efficient in terms of pressure the better. Unfortunately, Zombies aren't Goblins in the MTG myths, and as such rarely if ever have haste, our one drops are valid inclusions however, and I think it pertinent to include some nominal information on each.
Diregraf Ghoul is a reliable turn one play. We are black mana heavy and one black for a 2/2 that enters tapped and becomes a 3/3 with deathtouch with a resolved Death Baron is excellent. Also, it fits into the one drop slot for sorcery recursion, and is easy to cast with the aid of Planeswalkers later on.
Grim Initiate is actually pretty scary in our list - first strike and deathtouch is bad - very bad. When Grim Initiate does actually die, it replaces itself with a Zombie Army token and gets us off to the races with some other synergies. Gutterbones enters the battlefield tapped, but can be directly recurred from the graveyard in the event our opponents are losing life. Fortunately it is also a skeleton and Death Baron provides its bonuses to Zombies and Skeletons.
Our two drop slot is less cluttered and really the primary source of our aggro plan. Dreadhorde Butcher is a powerhouse. Casting this creature on turn two often sets us up for a line of play from our opponent that forces them to respond to this creature before things get out of hand. You simply cannot allow this Zombie to sink damage into your life total or Planeswalkers too many times. The end result is a massive creature that wrecks your battlefield and will be dealing damage to any target upon being destroyed or dying in combat. When you combine Dreadhorde Butcher with Death Baron it almost feels unfair. Most of the time your opponent will look to trade in combat, and the direct damage it deals upon dying also has deathtouch. 2-for-1.
BUCKLE MY SHOE
You may be asking, "Why Midnight Reaper over Judith, the Scourge Diva?" Because Judith is not a Zombie and this is an exclusive affair. Midnight Reaper also provides us with some valuable draw card tempo, but you have to be careful when you are playing our top end threat - God-Eternal Bontu. It requires a sensitive management of the life total. For our purposes Midnight Reaper will do nicely, it helps us capitalize on our aggro game plan, and invites trades in combat. Also, along with Death Baron, we get another set of targets for our Gruesome Menagerie in the three-drop slot. We want to appear reckless with our creature choices. Swinging in every turn should feel good, and when we are drawing additional cards we are on the feel good side.
THREE, FOUR, KNOCK AT THE DOOR
The top end of our aggro plan comes in the form of an undead God-Eternal. God-Eternal Bontu is a problem for our opponents. We have the ability to sacrifice permanents and draw cards when it enters the battlefield, and since the top end of our curve is 6, we should feel comfortable sacrificing off Swamps to draw cards as long as we access to 6 mana. Even with Liliana, Untouched by Death on the minus ability 6 mana gives us enough in the way of resources to return one, two or three creatures. Bontu has menace and 6 toughness - when combined with a Death Baron a 6/7 menace deathtouch creature is generally the end of the game. In true Zombie apocalypse fashion there are many ways for us to bounce back from the graveyard. All glory to Bontu!
FIVE, SIX, PICK UP STICKS
The removal package is straight forward and nothing new. Only the best for slotting into the mainboard here. Artifact, creature and planeswalker destruction at instant speed in the form of Bedevil. Creature and planeswalker exile mechanics at instant speed in the form of Vraska's Contempt. Nothing says, "we are playing my game," quite like these two spells. The best removal in Standard.
SEVEN, EIGHT, LAY THEM STRAIGHT
Planeswalker support is a necessary evil. I am really starting to get tired of The Elderspell, but again a balance is required, and we use the The Elderspell out of our sideboard. So it's very much tit for tat here.
Liliana, Untouched by Death has gotten zero love and affection from the MTG player base. I feel she has been left out; overshadowed by her newest versions and seeming unsupported by a diversity of Zombie cards. In actuality, she is still kind of weak in our list, there might be better choices for the four drop slots she represents, but I have been keenly appreciative of the life gain she provides and being able to cast a pile of Zombies on her -3 ability. Test her out, she's is worth the time.
Liliana, Dredhorde General is no doubt a dominant card. She is effectively the top end of our curve and produces Zombie tokens on the uptick. If we even need to go late game, she is also a win condition, draw tempo, and a means to further control the board. She is an outstanding card, and a force to be reckoned with in our deck. Ugin, the Ineffable is included for value. We are getting to expedite cards to our hand, producing creatures for aggro and defense, and getting an answer should we need it to any colored permanent on the board.
NINE, TEN, A BIG FAT HEN
A zombie (Haitian French: zombi, Haitian Creole: zonbi) is a fictional undead being created through the reanimation of a corpse. Well, that just says it all doesn't it? Reanimation of a corpse - a common trope in the MTG universe. Gruesome Menagerie gets to the crux of the issue by giving us the ability to aggro out early game, hopefully trade off with deathtouch creatures, drop a Liliana on 4, self mill for some life, and turn 5 return our horde to the battlefield. It's just so sweet when this works out. Even if it is not on curve, which it doesn't need to be, this spell feels like it has finally found a home in this RB Zombies list. We only run two copies, namely because we are not combo-ing with ETB triggers, we simply bringing back the dead. Straight forward and simple.
We are not playing an Amass deck. Far from it actually, but I elected to include a single copy of Dreadhorde Invasion for defensive purposes, and because we have some options in the sideboard that utilize the upkeep Amass trigger in cool ways. We are playing a self sacrificing game with this card, and I would never opt to drop this turn two with access to a Dreadhorde Butcher. Our life total is fragile with this deck, so playing more than one copy is not generally a good idea, but I have seen some success with this card in testing and believe that it can be beneficial to our game plan. As we dive into the sideboard, and you finish up the article, be sure to drop your feedback in the comments section and let me know if you think another copy of another card is better.
ELEVEN, TWELVE, DIG AND DELVE
Our sideboard would be off target if we did not include cards that clearly need to be included to keep our list competitive and viable at FNM. So, these first three inclusions should make sense. Then I will dive into the other three cards in more specificity:
You get it, right? Okay, good, on we go.
Angrath, Captain of Chaos is just great for flipping the game plan on our opponents, each of our Zombies being granted deathtouch and menace is a dangerous proposition indeed. Angrath, Captain of Chaos's -2 ability is excellent for our deck, we are producing additional Zombie creature tokens and giving us more access to the Amass ability. Angrath, the Flame-Chained is an interesting choice for accelerating aggro, and gives us some choices for disrupting our opponent's hand. The -8 is not as useful as you may think, but can prove to be a win condition in the correct circumstances. Being able to steal an opponents creature, attack with it and potentially remove it from play afterward can be effective and demoralizing. There are probably better choices, but I'm looking to play cards that are about to rotate.
In testing Widespread Brutality has been nothing short of absolutely hilarious. When we have an active Death Baron in play we the Amass token that is dealing damage to each creature gets Deathtouch and +1/+1. Which means nothing but the Zombie Army would survive. It's the perfect aggro board wipe. Everything else dies except the token and our Liliana, Untouched by Death and Gruesome Menagerie can help us reset and get back to gobbling brains.
This sorcery is probably better with a hard commitment to Amass, but uncommon Angrath can make this feel better, and I'm just loving the hidden board wipe. I have had several opponents scoop when I explain why every creature they control dies.
....and so there you have it. RB Zombies. This deck is a ghoulishly exciting butcher of death. Take it out to FNM. Build it in Arena and take it for a spin.
It's better than you might think.
Until next time, this Jeremy reminding you to spay and neuter your Zombies.