The Pro Tour is over and we have a new Standard metagame to attack. Mardu was the most played deck at the PT, but it also performed poorly overall. Marvel put the most representatives into the Top 8, so you can be sure it will be seeing a lot of play moving forward. In the end, it was Gerry Thompson’s Mono-Black Zombies that took down the tournament. As 1 of 3 copies of the deck to make the Top 8, there is no denying that the swarm of undead is one of the best decks in the format.
It starts by getting ahead of the opponent early. Many pros tried Cryptbreaker at Pro Tour Eldritch Moon, but it was held down by the prevalence of Liliana, the Last Hope and Kozilek’s Return. That’s no longer the case, and Cryptbreaker has plenty of new Zombie friends to help it out. A 1-mana creature that must be killed before it runs away with the game, Cryptbreaker turns your excess lands, or spells you can’t cast on curve, into Zombie tokens, and turns Zombies in play into extra cards. The synergies with Dread Wanderer are fantastic as you can both discard the Wanderer to make a token and bring it back, or use Cryptbreaker to discard low enough to bring back previously destroyed Wanderers.
Dread Wanderer is the other 1-drop Zombie these decks wanted. A 2-power creature for 1 mana is perfect for getting aggressive, but the problem with cards like Elite Vanguard is how easily they become blanked and turn to dead draws. That’s never really the case with the Wanderer as you can continually attack with it, even in the face of larger creatures, without fear. This forces through extra damage in the late game, or you can just bring back the Zombies for more Cryptbreaker activations.
The “lord” creatures allow your smaller Zombies to quickly grow out of control. This is especially important in Standard where many decks rely on sweepers that care about toughness. If Sweltering Suns, Radiant Flames, Kozilek’s Return, and Yahenni’s Expertise won’t actually kill the Zombies in play, it’s going to be real tough to stop you.
Metallic Mimic has to come down before the swarm in order to get the maximum benefit, but putting counters on your creatures means that killing the Mimic won’t keep the size of your army under control. Lord of the Accursed is clunky at 3 mana, but has the extra toughness to dodge Kozilek’s Return and Magma Spray while having a secondary ability to give all Zombies menace that comes up from time to time.
Diregraf Colossus gets paid off by having your smaller Zombies die in the early game as it will now enter play even bigger and badder. Putting your Diregraf out of removal range is huge as you’ll add Zombies to your team any time you cast a Zombie spell.
Relentless Dead gives you some resilience to both blockers and sweepers. Relentless Dead can already come back itself for just a single mana, but the ability to bring a Zombie back from your graveyard right onto the battlefield puts you really far ahead. Menace means it’s already a challenge to block, and blocking often leads to an even bigger horde of Zombies coming into play.
Liliana’s Mastery is expensive at 5 mana, but pumping your entire team with an enchantment that’s difficult to remove is already valuable. For 2 more mana than Always Watching, you give a +1/+1 bonus to your entire team, but you also get a pair of Zombie tokens to attack with.
In a deck full of Zombies, Dark Salvation for 0 to kill a large creature is realistic, making it a truly efficient removal spell. The ability to “kick it” by spending 2 additional mana per Zombie you’re going to create makes it effective in the early and late game as a way to remove threats and potentially flood out the board.
Gerry went lighter on removal than many other lists, opting for the 4 Dark Salvations but only 5 other removal spells. Grasp of Darkness kills many of the tough-to-deal-with creatures such as Archangel Avacyn, and is easy to cast in a mono-black deck. Only 2 copies of the powerhouse Fatal Push illustrate a change in the direction of Standard as the card doesn’t fight against control or Marvel decks well.
Single-color tribal is a tier 1 deck in Standard and was able to take down the Pro Tour while everyone was afraid of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. With a great Mardu matchup and game against Marvel, we’ll have to wait and see if new decks emerge to fight the Zombie menace.
Gerry Thompson, 1st – Pro Tour Amonkhet