19 Swamps=must play.
I went 11-4 at Grand Prix Minneapolis with those terrific Zombies. I punted a match. I got runner-runner burned out against Red Deck Wins. The deck was good enough that I nearly mindlessly staggered the horde to a Top 8 finish.
Last week’s narrative was Red Deck Wins. The new narrative is “Back in Black.” Zombies and B/G Constrictor came back in a big way last weekend to challenge Red at the top of the Amonkhet pyramid.
Zombies is a particularly good Standard choice at the moment because it is very strong against Red Deck Wins. The deck has a cheap curve, lots of removal, and can gum up the ground with bodies in a way that can infuriate even the mildest tempered red mage.
Brian DeMars, 33rd Place at Grand Prix Minneapolis
I got the list from Andrew Elenbogen (he accompanies me on this week’s Zombie video), who received the list from up-and-comer Jackson Hicks. We made some nice tune-ups to the sideboard that I’ll get to in a moment.
Zombies has been a fringe Standard deck for a while. Gerry Thompson won Pro Tour Amonkhet with a version of the deck, but it quickly fell out of favor when people figured out how broken the perfectly tuned Marvel lists were.
The new Red Deck metagame put Zombies into an interesting space. You see, sweepers and control decks have traditionally been very good against aggro Zombies. The problem is that Sweltering Suns and Fumigate are quite poor against the format’s most aggressive deck, Red.
The Red deck is basically happy to deal haste damage early and follow up a wrath with more haste creatures, Hazoret, and Ramunap Ruins damage. One of the things that makes Zombies so great is that traditional control decks need to have two separate sideboard plans to combat Zombies and Red Deck Wins, which is asking a lot.
Zombies also has the upside of having a good pre-board matchup against both Red Deck Wins and B/G Constrictor. I wouldn’t say either match up is a slam-dunk from the Zombie side, but it is favored in my experience.
Unlike the other creature and midrange decks, Zombies has eight 1-drop creatures that can impact the board immediately and get their block on against Red.
The ability to get on the board early undoes a lot of the advantage Red decks seek to exploit. Red decks rely on being much more mana efficient than the opponent, and the fact that most decks start on turn 2 is a huge part of this strategy.
Zombies also has a lot of 2-for-1s:
The black Flametongue Kavu!
An FTK that only a necromancer can enjoy? I’m in.
Speaking of 2-for-1s…
For a swarm aggro deck, Zombies has a lot of grind and play to it. Relentless Dead provides a ton of late-game options. Cryptbreaker provides the deck the ability to draw a bunch of cards and out-advantage midrange and control decks with raw card advantage.
The deck basically matches up well against opponents who are not playing the sweepers that have fallen out of fashion in the first few weeks.
The only real tweak we made to the traditional main deck was to add Kalitas and Gifted Aetherborn. A lot of people jumped onto the main-deck Kalitas plan as an answer to Red Deck. We were not impressed with Metallic Mimic and that is how we made space. The Aetherborn is a concession to wanting an impactful 2-drop when we know Mimic is bad.
The sideboard is where we did some work.
In your head! In your head!
Zombie! Zombie! Zomb-ie-ie, oh
My teammates and I wanted to max out on Duress effects as a hedge against the controlling and combo decks that presented Zombies with a bad matchup. I wanted to be able to snag Sweltering Suns, Fumigate, Hour of Devastation, and Kozilek’s Return before they ever hit the stack.
These are the kinds of cards that punish Zombies and I wanted a wealth of ways to interact with them post-sideboard.
Another way that we gained insurance against sweepers was:
We also played more Scroungers than anybody else. Scrounger is great because you can present a good clock and then leave mana up. Your opponent needs to wrath to stabilize and then the Scrounger can come back and continue to beat down. It gives the deck mega-grinds.
Perhaps the most important card in the sideboard:
Fight! Fight! Die! Die! I have everything and you have nothing!
A lot of decks tend to go bigger against you post-sideboard. I anticipate facing more Glorybringers, Chandras, and Kalitas. I want to kill these things on the spot. The flashback mode is just gravy. I typically want to board out Fatal Push and bring in Never // Return against non-Constrictor decks.
The mystery box could be anything! Even a boat! You know how badly you’ve always wanted a boat!
Peter, just take the boat! Fly the boat is exactly what I decided to do.
The boat is an insane bomb in the mirror match and extremely powerful against B/G decks. The issue is that Grasp of Darkness doesn’t kill it and many mages simply do not have cards to destroy the powerful card advantage/clock post-sideboard.
I’ve seen some lists sideboarding Murder just to deal with the sky boat. I think Never’s ability to kill Chandra on a naked board is too important to make room for Murder in the mirror but I certainly want lots of boats to push the advantage on my side. I hope I get boat first!
Black Elemental Blast.
I decided to cut the staple sideboard Fatal Push for a Liliana’s Defeat. My logic is that it is simply much better in the mirror than Push and nearly the same against B/G Constrictor (since you really only ever want to push Kalitas or Snake).
I was paid off pretty hard for the choice. I killed a Diregraf Colossus on curve with it and a Liliana, the Last Hope, and got the 3 free damage. It was pretty savage. The cost is that you have one less Push against Mardu Vehicles. #choices
Red Deck Wins
I want removal for the threats that matter. Diregraf Colossus, Lord of the Accursed, and Kalitas. Dread Wanderer is really low impact and a liability if they have Liliana. I’m not a fan of Liliana but I do respect that other people enjoy it.
Transgress is important because it will hit a card that hurts you when they cast it. Yahenni’s Expertise is a big one. Sky boat is another big one. Kalitas is another one. It’s going to hit something that you don’t want to, or can’t cope with. I board out the low impact cards and the cards that are really spicy targets for removal.
Control, Ramp, and Combo
Transformational sideboard time. I’m really trying to maximize my deck’s staying power against these decks that are bound to go over the top of me and wrath away my creatures. I think these matchups go from “hope they draw really bad to have a chance in game 1” to pretty manageable post-sideboard. These are still the bad matchups, but I really wanted to have a shot at beating them, which is why I devote such a healthy chunk of my sideboard to them.
It is also worth noting that I don’t play narrow hate cards for specific matchups. I have broad “good cards” so that I can bring them all in against each matchup no matter what. It gives my deck a different feel and takes opponents a little off-guard.
I was impressed with the Zombies last weekend. The deck has a lot more play than I would have expected from a mono-colored aggro deck. If you are looking for a real option to combat Snakes and Red Deck Wins, the undead are your friends.