I’ve relaxed about writing recently, which has helped me to improve it quite a bit. I lost my fear of expressing my opinions. In Magic, there is rarely one right viewpoint—sometimes you do go against the majority, and that’s fine. However, you can truly be wrong. So, this week, I am eating humble pie (and it’s blueberry-flavored).
Last week, I wrote about the Standard metagame—which, to be frank, is a mess. The whole thing is wide open. There were 67 distinct deck types at the PTQ I attended this weekend. How do you meta against that? Well, you don’t. You take a deck you know how to pilot and hope you miss the 20 or so people running the archetype you can’t beat.
This is probably why I wasn’t getting a gut feeling about a given deck. There was a bit of control in our meta the previous week, so I felt inclined towards Zombies. I stated last week that I couldn’t condone running a version of Zombies that wasn’t BR, so I borrowed a copy to try out.
I goldfished it a little, and knew I was right about hating the Bonfires, so I was thinking about switching them to Arc Trails.
Cue housemate, stage right:
“You should try out a blue version, Jesse Smith had a list in his article this week.”
“But it’s not as good without Falkenrath Aristocrat and the burn for reach.”
“You should check that’s actually true.”
“Fine, I have some days to test I guess.”
When I looked up the list I was even more skeptical. I thought one of the reasons for running blue was the lord, which it didn’t even have. In fact, the blue was just for Phantasmal Image.
Here’s the list I initially sleeved up:
B/U Zombies by Jesse Smith
The deck genuinely surprised me.
It has the aggressive shell of one-drops, but rather than rely on Falkenrath Aristocrat and burn for reach, it has a “combo” kill. I don’t want to go back over what Jessie previously said about this list, but I do want to add my opinions.
Blood Artist has always been amazing in the Zombie deck, but it gets even better when teamed up with a sac outlet—in this case Bloodthrone Vampire. It gets better still when Gravecrawler and another Zombie join the team. I killed people without ever dealing combat damage to them.
When I discovered the power of this synergy I realised an error in the list. Soulcage Fiend is cute to sacrifice, either to Bloodthrone or Disciple of Bolas, but against aggressive matchups (which is a big portion of the field these days), I didn’t like the symmetrical nature of its ability. Plus, it’s not a Zombie to help with the establishment of Gravecrawler loops. You know who is a Zombie, who also likes Zombies dying, and is in fact just a Zombie kinda guy?
I was right. The reason for blue should be to run lords.
Diregraf Captain really made this deck for me. You can have sweet aggressive draws with a lord on turn three to really punch through, and his bonus ability means you don’t have to find a Blood Artist to finish your opponent. Essentially, he was Artist 5-7 in my list. Sure, the life gain Blood Artist provides is nice; but a dead opponent is dead, your life total really doesn’t matter.
Increasing the Zombie count was also important. Gravecrawler loops were proving tricky to establish with only 12 real Zombies in the list. Image can be a fake one in a pinch, but they have a tendency to die.
Disciple of Bolas in an interesting card here. It was sometimes amazing, and sometimes abysmal. Sacrificing a Primeval Titan to the trigger was the highlight of my day, and having my board wiped with it as the only remaining card in my hand was the low. Jessie suggested you could sacrifice multiple Crawlers to Bloodthrone Vampire and then sacrifice it to draw a ton of cards—you never want to do this. If you have a Zombie loop going without a Lord or Artist to deal the damage, then you use Disciple to sac a Crawler, which can just come back again to draw two. You draw fewer cards, but getting rid of your sac outlet is just a no-no for this deck. Ideally you get to off a Messenger but life is rarely that good.
I often cut a Disciple in boarding, simply to find the space. It’s a good all-rounder, but it’s not necessary against anyone.
Speaking of boarding, I did come up with the sweetest board plan against control and other less aggressively-orientated decks (I used it against Ramp to good effect):
I have gone on record saying that the Zombie Pod scares me when it gets going. Actually, have I ever written that down? Never mind. My point is that it’s scary because it gives the deck reach without needing to bother with combat—much like this version of Zombies is doing with Bloodthrone Vampire and Blood Artist. I was testing post-board against Tezzeret Trading Post control and hating every one of my board cards when it struck me.
Against control you don’t care about your life total. Or, at least, when you do it is too late. Your life is definitely a resource, and what better way to use it than by making the deck even more combo than it was before. I added three Phyrexian Metamorphs and three Pods to my board, and it was amazing!
Most of the time I wasn’t even doing the classic Messenger into artifact Messenger trick—which is still good—but instead used the Gravecrawler loop I had going to get a Blood Artist and then a Bloodthrone Vampire into play to set up my combo finish. Not the fastest kill, but against slower decks it really doesn’t matter.
It is slightly awkward that you don’t have a two-drop Zombie in the list, since if you only have one Crawler it can take a while to get a chain established—but it’s only a matter of time.
Adding the extra clones post-board against Ramp and control has added benefits, as you can end up with more copies of their “game plan” than they do. I particularly enjoyed having three Primeval Titans to my opponent’s one.
One last thing I want to add about this deck compared to BR is that the mana is much, much better. Sure, sometimes I didn’t know if I wanted to name Zombie or Shapeshifter with Caverns, but at least I could cast my blue spells. The list has 11 blue sources for 7 spells. The BR version has 12 red sources for ~2 spells, and 8 red sources for ~6 other spells (and even more in the board). Brimstone Volley is good, but not if you can’t cast it.
So, I ate humble blueberry pie at the PTQ this weekend. It was embarrassing, as people kept asking me what happened to strawberry. At least I’m a terrible liar, so you can believe me when I say it wasn’t a cunning ruse to throw the competition. Although apparently my article managed to imply I would be playing Naya Pod, so I didn’t feel too bad.
Interestingly, I think BR Zombies is the stronger deck in most metagames. That is a slightly odd statement so let me clarify: BR is a really well-built aggressive deck that would be a strong competitor in the meta if Blade Splicer did not exist. However, if Blade Splicer hits play turn 2 against BR, then it falters until Aristocrat can join the party. With UB you just hang ten. The opposing Blade Splicer and team cannot attack for fear of retribution, and in the meantime you establish your combo win.
Given a meta where 3/3 first striking road blocks were absent, or at least not in every deck, then BR would be my choice. Probably. UB is an awful lot of fun.
On to the moment you’ve all been waiting for (or simply scrolled down to see), my list:
The main list is basically the same, substituting Fiends for the Captains. The sideboard, however, has some serious modifications.
To explain them, here are some sideboarding notes:
Against Naya I want to attack their early mana dudes. Delaying the all-important Blade Splicer and later Thragtusk can win games. Plus, their mana is awkward and they may be dependant on the Bird to fix it. Go for the Throat is too expensive/slow for this purpose, whereas Fume Spitter beats and kills: my kind of card.
Cower in Fear is an interesting story. I built my sideboard to my desire and, shockingly, had space for one more. After some deliberation, I stumbled upon Cower in Fear and thought I would try it. It is even slower than Go for the Throat, but its purpose is not to stop the early mana dudes. Its purpose is for blowout attacks. Blade Splicer plus Golem is annoying, so killing Splicer at instant speed with its beloved Golem, who is bravely blocking, shrinking during combat, seemed like something that could work. I only played Naya once, but I did draw it and it was awesome. Unfortunately for my opponent, he had two Splicers and three mana dudes, and I had two Blood Artists. 20 points of life swing will ruin anyone’s day.
Killing Wave is designed to put opposing creature decks in a difficult spot. Pay the life and die, or sacrifice your creatures and die. It’s a super awkward card as it only works sometimes, but I failed to come up with a better plan—and in fairness, it did work.
Vs UW Delver
Fume Spitter isn’t great in this matchup, but it can get aggressive and kill Snapcaster Mages where necessary and unflipped Delvers when lucky. It can also reset Geralf’s Messengers for value, so I left it in. I definitely don’t want a Fume Spitter without legs post-board. Geth’s Verdict is an out to hexproof creatures and creatures wielding Sword of Feast and Famine, plus the life loss is not irrelevant. I probably wouldn’t have found space for Geth’s Verdict just for Delver, but I really want it against Dungrove Elder and Predator Ooze. With two decks to use it against I found the room.
Vs BR Zombies
As a quick aside, Disciple is amazing in this match. Drawing more cards and gaining life in an aggressive matchup will generally result in victory.
Important cards to answer in this matchup are opposing Blood Artists, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messengers, and Falkenrath Aristocrats. Fume Spitter does a good job handling Blood Artist and the Aristocrats, whereas Go for the Throat is just bad value most of the time. Traditionally the deck boarded Surgical Extraction to target Crawlers or undying Messengers. Pulling all copies definitely appeals to me, but I wanted to try the more aggressive version presented by Vile Rebirth. Importantly, it generates a Zombie to make our own Gravecrawlers return. We can also use it to stop opposing Surgicals, or simply get aggressive.
The other advantage UB has in this matchup is more Clones = more Messengers, plus you can even play Falkenrath Aristocrat after all.
I talked about this already. It’s simple: Out goes all the removal—In comes even more combo. Try it, it’s sweet.
I thought this deck was dead, so I was surprised to play against it twice this weekend. I’m still not exactly sure what to take out. I wrote down what I did after the first one in case I played it again, and then boarded differently the second time anyway. Putting in more clones and combo seems good against the deck, but feel free to argue about exactly what to cut.
My logic was that Phantasmal Image is too easy to kill with Kessig Wolf Run, but I still want some, given I can copy undying creatures to make Wolf Run a very slow way of dealing with them. Disciple is also a little slow, but I left one to Pod into. I am not going to die to Titans. Mostly because I make more than they do, but I am going to die to a pumped Inkmoth Nexus which Go for the Throat can’t kill.
I went 6-2 at the PTQ. I was seriously impressed with the deck. We may have to define Aggro-Combo as an archetype.
I was especially pleased with my deck choice when I took a stroll around the room. Standard has fractured into a million shades of grey. I saw the metagame analysis—67 distinct archetypes! Sure, you can group the Delver and Pod decks together, but that’s just not doing the decks justice. UG Delver is really quite different from UW, and Naya Pod a whole different story from Bant. And then there was Mono-Red, the three different colours of poison, the list goes on!
In a room with that many decks, I was happy to be playing combo. I played against 7 different decks in 8 rounds—you can’t meta against that.
That’s all for this week. Feel free to say hi @onionpixie.