Last week, I talked about Pro Tour M15 and the Zombie/Necromancer’s Stockpile list that I played at the event. I positioned myself in such a way as to have some incredibly strong, and some incredibly weak, matchups and unfortunately found a lot more of the latter than I would have liked. However, there are more than two ways to skin a Human, or something like that, and even with a limited number of Zombies in the format, we did have other versions to build.
For reference, here was the list as I played it:
This list could hedge, and play a relatively aggressive game pretty well but could very easily grind out a long game as well. This created a little inconsistency, but Lotleth Troll is an important piece to the puzzle here as he can play either role, so as long as the pilot picks the correct strategy, the cards could adapt. That said, sometimes you pick the wrong strategy regardless.
At the Pro Tour, I played against Ivan Floch on Day One. Our scouting report had him on blue/white control which is a very good matchup for Stockpile. Lotleth Troll is a must-answer threat, as is Stockpile, and both are essentially immune to all but Detention Sphere. Once we get to turn to Thoughtseize, Abrupt Decay, and redundant copies of our threats, it becomes very difficult for the control deck to keep up. If they do, there are still things like Dreg Mangler, Mutavault, and Jarad that all pose big problems on their own.
I took a mulligan and then kept a hand that had everything I needed in the matchup, save a second land. But one is all I would need to win the game and Thoughtseize made it all the more enticing with an Abrupt Decay for further protection.
As it turns out, missing land drops was not something I could do. This is not because he was going to kill me quickly, but rather that I could not actually win the long grindy game unless I maneuvered things perfectly, and I had already messed up. This is because Floch was not just running UW Control, but he was running a list with main deck Planar Cleansing and no copies of Detention Sphere. The Abrupt Decay in my hand was 100% dead and I could not just hide behind a Stockpile.
I started off trying just that, as I made my second land drop on turn 4 or so and then began churning out Zombies. Once a Quicken was cycled though, I knew that the way I had set myself up could not beat the Planar Cleansing that he was sure to have in there somewhere.
In some ways, you cannot escape this duel personality of the deck as the Zombies in the format are aggressive and Necromancer’s Stockpile is a grindy card so every game is going to be different based solely upon whether you have drawn Stockpile or not. However, if you look at the creature base above, we definitely did not maximize our grind potential in the creature base.
Before the Pro Tour, one of the strategies that I theorized about was one that involved Gray Merchant as a bigger element to the deck. Because you see so many cards once Stockpile is out, it is pretty reasonable to see one of your Gray Merchants every game despite only running two copies of the card. But if we upped our count to four, we would be more likely to draw 2 copies each game and Gray Merchant is great in multiples.
Having that much extra life gain and toughness in our deck would improve matchups against the hyper-aggressive decks like Mono-Red or Naya Hexproof and in any matchup where Gray Merchant is bad, we can cycle it away for a Zombie and a card.
We still have a delicate balance to reach, though. How many non-Zombie cards can we get away with in a list that craves them? If we are placing a bigger emphasis on black mana symbols to fuel devotion, this might be a good time to try some outside-the-box-thinking:
As a starter list, this looks pretty interesting. We manage to combine the grindy elements of the Zombie deck and Stockpile into another grindy shell that looks to drain an opponent out over the course of many turns.
If we do a comparison to the list I played in the Pro Tour, we actually only have 1 less Zombie but 6 more creatures. While those 7 non-Zombies will not produce a 2/2 when cycled with Stockpile, they will draw us a card, allowing weaker draws in the late game to cycle.
With Lotleth Troll no longer in the deck, we definitely want to fill its shoes. Basically, we are looking for anything to act as a 2-drop engine so that the number of opening hands that have a plan are higher. Underworld Coinsmith is the inspiration for that in this version, despite not being a Zombie. Grim Guardian is a Zombie though, and it happens to work pretty well in combination with Coinsmith. Between those two, Spiteful Returned, and the Gray Merchants, we do a ton of noncombat damage and gain a ton of life.
This last point is perhaps the most important. If we could never beat an aggro deck with our previous version of the deck, can this list ever lose to one? We have added 4 Coinsmiths to the deck that gain us quite a few life with 23 enchantments in the list and three copies of River Trawler to act as additional enchantments. There are actually some really solid sideboard options that work within our theme as well.
Because we are now operating on two different linears, we have a more broad pool of cards to dip into for our sideboard. We want cards that solve problematic matchups or cards, but we also want cards that are either Zombies, enchantments, or both.
If I had to guess, this direction probably offers up the most promise, as it fixes the most bad matchups, at least on a foundational level, while still allowing Necromancer’s Stockpile to shine. I would worry that there is a chance Stockpile is too important to this deck now, but I think that the enchantment subtheme can actually cause a lot of problems for people which shaky mana bases and Thoughtseize everywhere.
The Third Engine
The deck in its original form wants to utilize one of two engines. Both engines happen to cost two mana and enjoy creatures being in your hand to fuel them, so there is enough overlap that it can work. When the deck draws neither engine though, things are a bit awkward. Your plan is not likely to stand up to the highly polished and tuned A-plans of the format’s top decks.
If your opponent stumbles on mana or has a bad draw, Dreg Mangler and crew can pounce on that, but if you opponent is playing turn 4 Master of Waves or resolving Sphinx’s Revelation, 3/3s for three with haste are just not going to cut it.
As a result, there is some pressure to add even more engines to the list to ensure you have one on turn two as often as possible. As it just so happens, there is another two-drop engine that cares about cards being in your hand. That engine also happens to be the best one in Standard: Pack Rat.
If we looked at incorporating Pack Rat, we would have another card to just generate free wins for us and we also have another card that functions with Gray Merchant well. Pack Rat is surprisingly close to Necromancer’s Stockpile in terms of the resources it requires. It takes much longer to win a game through Stockpile, but the risk is also much smaller. If a Detention Sphere comes down at any point, for example, you have not committed you entire hand.
Using this thought process, I wanted to look at what the original list would need to work in Pack Rat. It turns out, the answer was not much:
Three fewer Zombies is something, but the free wins and odd activation cost on Pack Rat were both a big plus. I mention the odd activation cost because this deck does not do great things with odd mana counts. Obviously 2 mana is your most important threshold, but 3 and 5 mana are kind of awkward. At four, you get to make two Zombies, or a Zombie and a Mutavault attack, or a Zombie and an Abrupt Decay, but at 5, you just have this extra mana hanging out.
This can be good if you have a lot of lands that enter play tapped in your hand, or perhaps an extra Thoughtseize, but usually, every turn that you end on an odd mana count is a loss of mana efficiency unless Lotleth Troll happens to be out and needing regen mana.
Pack Rat sort of does a similar thing to Troll in that I now have a reason to be at 5 mana. Making a Zombie and a Pack Rat at the end of a turn is really big, as is the ability to make 2 Zombies on 4 and then play and activate Pack Rat on 5 to diversify threats.
I would say that the biggest omission from the above lists is Obelisk of Urd. In testing, I found the card to be huge in certain game states and particularly effective with Mutavault, but it also felt far too cute and like a dead draw in many other matchups. For the Pro Tour, I ran one in my sideboard to have my normal 2/2s start to handle opposing fatties and Anger of the Gods/Drown in Sorrow. It was the card I most wanted in my main but also the 61st card and therefore the last cut.
There is a good chance that the enchantment idea does not need Obelisk as it brings reach of its own through life loss. Pack Rat also acts as its own Obelisk, so it might just be technology that is not quite ready.
In either case, I think that Necromancer’s Stockpile is a strong enough card that people should be exploring ways to use it while the can. Khans may or may not have Zombies, so I would prefer to get some nice use out of the card while Lifebane Zombie is still alive and kickin’! Thanks for reading!