One of my favorite aspects of Magic is building my own decks. It’s an art form largely absent from tournament Magic over the past five years, but it is still a wildly rewarding and fun activity that can sometimes teach us about even the most entrenched formats.
Modern is a difficult format to really “break.” The decks that already exist are powerful and focused. I probably build three or four rogue Modern decks a month and most of them are not even worth mentioning. If I can win a single match, it feels like a moral victory.
But sometimes it’s possible to really hit the nail on the head and come up with something legitimately fringe playable. Is B/W Zombies comparable to Humans or Hollow One? Absolutely not, but it is a deck that I enjoy playing at my LGS from time to time and I get a lot of enjoyment out of it.
Some of you may remember that I did some articles and videos on Mono-Black Zombies last winter—today’s list is sort of an extension of that archetype. It’s a deck that I always have sleeved up, and I work on it and try new things with it as sort of a mental exercise to keep my deck building and tuning skills sharp. It’s especially fun when a new set comes out!
What got me thinking about my Black Zombies brew was this card:
It’s from the upcoming Core Set 2019 set. I thought it was a decent black Zombie 2-drop I was interested in trying. Ultimately, I ended up taking the deck in a completely different direction and moved away from the heavy devotion to black theme I had pushed in the past in favor of a more grindy B/W shell.
Black with a white splash is a pretty epic flavor win for the deck. It’s mostly bad, but a little bit good!
The Good, the Bad, and the Zombie Main Deck
If your goal is to win every single game of Modern you play, I recommend Humans, Affinity, and Hollow One. On the other hand, if you want to battle with something that gives you a legitimate chance, but do something completely buck wild and outside of the box with some really neat cards, then perhaps this is a deck that will interest you, or at least inspire you to undertake your own niche Modern project.
It’s a little hard to explain and might not make complete sense, but I feel a greater sense of satisfaction going 3-1 or 2-2 at a weekly Modern event with something I made myself than going 4-0 with the best deck.
Anyway, “mostly bad, a little good” B/W Zombies.
I learned a few lessons about what didn’t work perfectly with my earlier devotion deck lists. The key was that I was trying to run people over by curving out with a deck that wasn’t always favored to run people over! It became even more of an issue when Humans became a popular deck choice. It felt pretty bad to get Geralf’s Messenger and Phyrexian Obliterator bounced by Reflector Mage!
While those cards were individually very powerful, I felt that in order for my deck to be functional in the format that I would need to make significant changes to my strategy and tactics. I decided that I wanted to go in a direction that still had some ability to be aggressive, but was much, much more grindy.
Instead of “starting with creatures” and envisioning the deck as an aggressive one, I started by maximizing my removal and discard package:
Instead of trying to ignore and run my opponent over (which I felt was not effective for a black aggro deck), I pivoted and went hard into the other direction. I liked the result.
It wasn’t long until I was ripping people’s hands apart, killing all of their stuff, and getting some decent results. There’s an important adage in deck building: “Don’t be a bad version of something else…”
Black Devotion Beatdown turned into a bad Humans deck, but there really isn’t a deck like this one. If anything, this B/W Zombies list is almost more like a B/G or Jund Midrange deck, but it actually has more disruption and more removal.
The deck also has a lot of grindy card advantage built into it, which is a lot of fun to play, and actually very effective in the deck. Cryptbreaker is a lot like a Dark Confidant in the deck and I’ve used both abilities (the card draw and the make a token option) to great effect.
The deck has a lot of Thoughtseizes, and it’s nice to have ways to get use out of those cards when they are not good draws. For the same reason, I’ve included:
It’s gas to discard Gravecrawlers and buy them back. It’s also nice that creatures like Cryptbreaker and Gravecrawler (which might not always have profitable attacks) can always crew.
I’ve also been impressed with Lord of the Undead. Since I have so much discard, it’s pretty reasonable to leave my opponent without removal and start buying back all of my Zombies that have perished. Not to mention, the buff to my entire team is pretty fantastic.
The Lord is good enough to carry his own weight in this deck but he also pairs up in a pretty absurd way to loop Fleshbag Marauder against other creature decks, which is pretty neat. The Fleshbags are in the sideboard specifically for hexproof decks, but they are a nice sideboard option against other “fair” creature decks (particularly ones that don’t pack a ton of removal).
Mindlessly Slamming Deranged Sideboard Cards Like a True Zombie
Another attribute that makes this deck fringe playable is the sideboard. It is hateful as heck.
Basically, every sideboard card I utilize has the potential to end the game, or at least give fits to specific archetypes. It’s basically a Modern hall-of-fame collection of cards that absolutely crush specific archetypes.
I’m deep on Leylines, Stony Silences, Edicts, and Damping Spheres. I don’t currently have it in my sideboard, but I’ve definitely cast Zombie Apocalypse against a few very, very annoyed Humans players.
I guess the moral of a sideboard is that even if your deck isn’t as good as the best decks in the format, you can still tilt them pretty hard with a handful of really focused sideboard cards!
Final Thoughts on Deck Building in Modern
It’s obviously difficult! The watermark is so high to even just compete against the established decks, but it’s always fun to brew up something that can simply compete.
I’m happy with how the deck ended up, but I think it could be more finely tuned to be more competitive given more repetitions, especially with regard to the specific numbers of the sideboard cards.
If you would have asked me six months ago about brewing in Modern, I would have straight up told you, “don’t even bother, it’s a waste of time” since it’s so difficult to create something that can hang with the big dogs. There are a million good decks. Pick one and learn to play it well…
Then again, I have had a couple of deep runs and near misses at Modern Grand Prix and PTs over the years where I brewed my own decks in the past: Kavu Predator Midrange, Bant Charm Control, and a legitimately insane Jeskai Ascendancy deck.
Brewing a viable deck takes a lot of hard work and some luck but it is truly an amazing feeling to get decent results. It’s worth doing just for the experience and what it teaches you about what works, and what doesn’t work, in a format.
Can you imagine how Matt Nass would respond to a statement like, “There’s no point in brewing new decks in Modern?” LOL. The fact that it is not easy is certainly true, but the assessment that it can’t be done is 100% false.
If you’ve got an idea for improving the B/W Zombie brew, or want to discuss brewing in Modern (or other formats for that matter) feel free to drop it into the comments. Talking tech and deck ideas is one of the most uniquely “Magic” one of my favorite elements of the game.