Standard has now enjoyed six very healthy months compared to the last 2+ years of the metagame being dominated by a handful of decks. Another Standard Grand Prix and once again a different archetype wins and the top decks seem to shift every couple of weeks. If you want to be successful in Standard be confident and comfortable for whatever deck you choose. After that you can start taking steps to jump ahead of the metagame, but honestly you can run stock decks and have a lot of success with a good sideboard and by playing well. Normally I’d have to throw a qualifier on there and make sure by stock deck you knew I was talking about Jund or Caw Blade, but this time around I mean any of a dozen decks. Look at the top 10 decks that made day two at GP: Lille.

UW Humans 30
UW Delver 24
RG Aggro 19
UB Control 16
RG Ramp 16
Frites 11
UB Zombies 9
Mono-Black Zombies 9
Esper Control 7
BW Tokens 6

Outside of UW decks having a bit more representation than any other color combination the format is fairly open in terms of strategies and how you go about dominating a game. While there’s no dedicated combo deck here, Frites / Reanimator has a done a reasonably good job of taking up the mantle of a deck with a unique selling point that can absolutely demolish unprepared opponents. Outside of that potential restriction on the format, which isn’t a big one considering the majority of decks lose to turn three [card]Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite[/card] and [card]Inferno Titan[/card] and it hasn’t stopped them from posting numbers; what factors help determine how well a deck is positioned right now?

Right now if you can stunt early aggro swarms, outlast cards like [card]Lingering Souls[/card] and [card]Moorland Haunt[/card], demolish Titans and not die to graveyard shenanigans or milling from [card]Nephalia Drownyard[/card] you’ll have the perfect strategy! In all seriousness right now if you aren’t being proactive with very efficient cards you best have a plan that can trump large swaths of the opponent’s strategy all at once. Slamming midrange in this format is very difficult even though the cards tend to be at the highest power to mana ratio around the 3-4cmc sweet spot and don’t jump again once you hit 6. Going for straight control is in another interesting spot simply due to the range of threats it has to battle,

I’m glad UB Control has come back around and has become the go-to slow strategy since it has the best options for the majority of what opposing decks can throw at it. With that said the mirror is incredibly frustrating and lacks a lot of the cards that break up the milling and topdeck wars that dominate a good many of them. There just aren’t all that many ways to break parity and the amount of real countermagic you can run is rather limited since you need so many slots to fight the rest of the metagame. Outside of that the amount I actively want to play against Zombies is fully dependent on how many [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] I’m running and have in my opener. Playing against any aggressive Zombies start is rather depressing since the best ones can easily survive a single removal spell and all of them force the issue of [card]Go for the Throat[/card] over [card]Doom Blade[/card]. At least it gives yet another use for [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] in the maindeck which is increasingly becoming a better direction for the maindeck.

Enough delay, as the title of the article implies this week is all about Zombies!

Richard Parker, GP Lille 2012 – Winning Deck

[Deck]4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
14 Swamp
4 Diregraf Captain
4 Diregraf Ghoul
2 Fume Spitter
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
4 Phantasmal Image
2 Phyrexian Obliterator
4 Geth’s Verdict
3 Mortarpod
1 Sword of War and Peace
4 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard
1 Black Sun’s Zenith
1 Cemetery Reaper
2 Corrosive Gale
1 Dismember
2 Go for the Throat
2 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Phyrexian Obliterator
2 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sever the Bloodline
2 Surgical Extraction[/deck]

The dream is no longer dead! [card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/card] has finally had some time to shine in Standard after being a whipping boy for a good year. Zombies as a deck has really jumped up in popularity over the past two weeks and the Dark Ascension additions made all the difference giving the deck not only the best one-drops in Standard, but a solid curve out draw that it lacked. Parker’s version goes for the blue splash to take advantage of [card]Phantasmal Image[/card] and [card]Diregraf Captain[/card], after trying both mono colored and UB I can see why many prefer the freeroll of Phantasmal Image in the dual colored builds. It just does a ton of work whether copying a [card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card], [card]Diregraf Captain[/card], [card]Phyrexian Obliterator[/card] or an opposing Titan and rarely comes up as a blank in the majority of matches.

Really the maindeck is a beauty and outside of possibly wanting a 23rd land and I think anyone interested in playing the deck should just practice with this version before making any tweaks. With that said the sideboard does throw me a bit and I think condensing certain options would be fine for the future. The [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card] and [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] split isn’t miserable by any stretch but in Zombies I’ve found making the most of your mana is one of the key factors in the deck’s success and Spellbomb throws that off at times. Both are absurd against Frites and Undying in general so it mostly comes down to the extra mana versus the ability to draw a card at one point or another. In the mirror this can actually be a factor, especially since graveyard hate takes away some of the long game you want to lean on, in other matches it’s typically a non-factor once you take the mana drawback into account.

[card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] and [card]Sever the Bloodline[/card] feel the same way at first blush, I really like Sever in the block format for dealing with tokens, but in that format I have a fair shot at actually flashing it back. In this deck Sever not only takes your entire turn when you cast it, but the flashback is wholly unreasonable with the mana you have. The tradeoff for being able to hit normal creatures immediately is definitely a consideration, but here it just feels like [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] does a better job of clearing the way of early drops and still be leveraged against things like [card]Mirran Crusader[/card] or equipment. [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] is also fine here to clear the way and again is cheaper against tokens than Sever and can be used against cards that normally put you in a tight spot like Crusader.

Of course this wasn’t the only notable Zombie deck around, Mono Black was represented by no less than Gabriel Nassif who finished with a 12-3 record.

Gabriel Nassif (Mono Black Zombies), GP Lille 2012 – 17th

[deck]25 Swamp
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Gravecrawler
4 Highborn Ghoul
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
4 Phyrexian Obliterator
3 Vault Skirge
3 Go for the Throat
3 Lashwrithe
3 Sword of War and Peace
2 Victim of Night
Sideboard
4 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Phyrexian Metamorph
2 Porcelain Legionnaire
4 Ratchet Bomb
1 Tragic Slip
2 Tumble Magnet
1 Vault Skirge[/deck]

Right away you can see the biggest difference between the two decks in [card]Lashwrithe[/card]. While you lose out on some of the sweet extra clone effects and Zombie Lord, [card]Lashwrithe[/card] is one of the most powerful things you can be doing in this format. It helps that nearly half your creatures have evasion of one form or another and that it’ll be rare for you to play [card]Lashwrithe[/card] onto an empty board in the first place. Outside of that there isn’t a ton of difference between the hordes except that this version can’t get color-screwed and will rarely be mana screwed with a base of 25 versus the 22-23 I commonly see.

B/R Zombies

[deck]4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Dragonskull Summit
15 Swamp
4 Diregraf Ghoul
2 Fume Spitter
4 Gravecrawler
4 Highborn Ghoul
2 Porcelain Legionnaire
4 Geralf’s Messenger
2 Phyrexian Obliterator
1 Olivia Voldaren
4 Geth’s Verdict
3 Mortarpod
4 Brimstone Volley
1 Tragic Slip
2 Liliana of the Veil
Sideboard:
4 Surgical Extraction
3 Arc Trail
3 Ratchet Bomb
2 Olivia Voldaren
2 Sword of War and Peace
1 Phyrexian Metamorph[/deck]

Finally we come to a version of Zombies that had some hype around the time of Dark Ascension’s release but hasn’t really seen results. Playing red gives you access to [card]Brimstone Volley[/card], which gives the Zombie deck a huge amount of reach since triggering morbid is quite easy for it to. Combined with [card]Mortarpod[/card] and just running it gives you a way to easily take off a third of an opponent’s life total without even having to attack. It also gives you an easy way to deal with Crusader and any creature short of a Titan regardless of what color and type it is. You also can expand the sideboard with access to [card]Wrack with Madness[/card], [card]Combust[/card], [card]Arc Trail[/card] or [card]Manabarbs[/card] depending on the metagame you expect. As long as you don’t go overboard with the red costs then there’s a case to be made here.

Then there’s also the option of red four drops, which aren’t a necessity, but I could see giving a handful of non-Zombie creatures a chance to shine such as [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] or [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]. There are probably too many flying 1/1’s around to make the Noble a consistent option, but Olivia stands out as one of the best creatures available and nobody else is in a position to really use her. Even as just a sideboard option she can dominate the mirror and obviously she makes [card]Lingering Souls[/card] weep when it comes down to it. It just feels that this color pairing got shafted when the potential gains seem just as strong as UB. Oh well.

Speaking of burning people…

Mono Red

[deck]2 Spikeshot Elder
2 Grim Lavamancer
4 Stromkirk Noble
4 Stormblood Berserker
4 Chandra’s Phoenix
2 Hellrider
3 Galvanic Blast
2 Gut Shot
3 Arc Trail
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Shrine of Burning Rage
3 Koth of the Hammer
23 Mountain
Sideboard:
3 Chandra the Firebrand
1 Koth of the Hammer
3 Torch Fiend
1 Grim Lavamancer
3 Traitorous Blood
4 Slagstorm[/deck]

Other sideboard options include [card]Manabarbs[/card], [card]Dismember[/card], [card]Wrack with Madness[/card], [card]Vulshok Refugee[/card], [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] and [card]Surgical Extraction[/card]

While red decks haven’t exactly been at the peak of their strength, frankly the results they’ve put up at the SCG Open level is pretty impressive for any archetype. If Magic Online and the last SCG Open is any indication people have just straight cut all the good cards against you from their sideboards and are leaning heavily on dealing with your creatures in actual fights or trying to race. The best control deck in the format can’t deal with [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card] or [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] all that effectively and you can race Wolf Run and Reanimator, leaving just the creature decks where you have to fight a resource war.

As a result the sideboard has been configured largely against these match-ups so you don’t have to rely on the horrendous Nobles when on the draw and reduces the need to trade one for one. Chandra and [card]Slagstorm[/card] come in for any match that’s going to turn into a grind. Mono Green Aggro, Humans and other decks you can’t beat in a race. Once you have to devote resources to killing guys on the other side of the table, you have to do better than 1 for 1 trades. These cards let you accomplish that and while Chandra isn’t high powered, she’s situated very well against the hordes of x/1’s in the format and can team up with [card]Brimstone Volley[/card] to kill people out of nowhere. Ping a creature and go up to four loyalty against a Delver, MGA or Zombie deck and odds are good she’s going to live through the turn and continue to deal damage.

Planeswalkers including [card]Koth of the Hammer[/card] feel underrated in these grind matches, odds are good with the red deck that you’ll have to expend a lot of resources just trading off since it’s very difficult to outright race on the draw and especially if you lack a [card]Shrine of Burning Rage[/card]. That’s why I used to like keeping Koth in for some aggro mirrors because often times you’d expend too many resources on killing board threats. You need to kill them somehow and sometimes Koth was great at that since playing him at the end of a long spell exchange meant he could start bashing and threatening his ultimate within a few turns. Yeah he wasn’t going to beat a [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] by himself, but if you could keep the board mostly in check he was one of the few reliable threats you could play and immediately get damage out of.

Contest update:

No worries to all that entered, I haven’t forgotten about it, just taking a while to get the final details in order. Winners have already been decided for pool one and will be contacted shortly. Pool two on the other hand…. Well I’ll deal with that when I do the write-up. Let me just say that the judges were less than impressed at entries into that pool. I’ll give you a short preview of the biggest problems – 2 [card]Young Wolf[/card]. [card]Predator Ooze[/card] on 7 green sources. Decks that are actually dead to an opening of [card]Grave Bramble[/card] plus [card]Hill Giant[/card]. Thanks again to everyone who took the time to write out an entry though. Expect the write-ups at the end of the week and a new contest soon!

Josh Silvestri
Email me at: joshDOTsilvestriATgmailDOTcom