The entire Dreadhorde is invading Ravnica, but two Zombies stand out in particular.
The first Zombie, Dreadhorde Butcher, is an homage to Slith Firewalker. Slith Firewalker saw lots of play in red aggro decks in 2004, when planeswalker cards didn’t even exist, and the addition of a death trigger is huge. It means that you can trade for a 2/2 blocker on the first turn, trade for multiple creatures after you have gained a few counters, and shoot some damage when your opponent sweeps the board.
The death trigger also gives a good incentive to combine Dreadhorde Butcher with power-boosting effects. A Mardu Aristocrats deck with Judith, Tajic, Aurelia, Heroic Reinforcements, and maybe even Guildmages’ Forum comes to mind. A Zombie deck with Death Baron might also be an option. I’m excited to try Dreadhorde Butcher in a variety of decks.
Given enough time, Dreadhorde Arcanist offers both card advantage and mana advantage. In Standard, it would be happy to flash back:
- Removal spells, such as Fungal Infection, Thud, Shock, or Shivan Fire. You can even pay the kicker cost for Shivan Fire if you like.
- Pump spells, such as Giant Growth, Might of the Masses, Samut’s Sprint, or Stony Strength.
- Card draw spells, such as Crash Through, Warlord’s Fury, Adventurous Impulse, or Opt.
- Discard spells, such as Duress or Divest.
Additionally, Dreadhorde Arcanist is a Wizard, which means that it could fit in a deck with Wizard’s Lightning and Adeliz ,the Cinder Wind. Adeliz would first pump Dreadhorde Arcanist, allowing you to flash back bigger spells, which in turn triggers Adeliz once more. That’s a pretty sweet interaction.
But you know what can really push both members of the Dreadhorde?
How much damage does this represent?
With Dreadhorde Butcher on turn 2, you would attack your opponent down to 19, growing it into a 2/2. Then, on turn 3, you cast Colossus and attack for 6. This puts your opponent down to 13 and gives Dreadhorde Butcher another counter. Finally, you cast Thud. Both Dreadhorde Butcher’s death trigger and Thud deal 7 damage each to the opponent, putting them at -1. That’s a turn-3 kill—in Standard!
If you have Dreadhorde Arcanist instead, you can’t attack on turn 2, but you would cast Colossus on turn 3 just the same. Then you attack, cast Colossus from the graveyard, and deal 9 damage in combat. Afterward, you can Thud for another 9. That’s not lethal yet, but if you had Shock on turn 1 or if your opponent played an untapped shock land, then it does add up to 20.
How Can We Build a Deck Around This?
My first idea, after noticing that Dreadhorde Butcher is a Warrior, was to fit both the Butcher and the Arcanist, as well as Colossus/Thud into Jund Warriors–the deck with Goblin Chainwhirler and Status // Statue. Casting Status on Dreadhorde Butcher would also be sweet: The blocker(s) would die, no matter how huge, and the death trigger would take down any other creature as well.
But upon building this deck, I ran into several issues. First, neither 1-power creature grows Pelt Collector. Second, a 1/3 Dreadhorde Arcanist can’t cast either mode of Status // Statue because its converted mana cost in your graveyard is 5. Third, I wanted to fit in Adventurous Impulse and Giant Growth for Dreadhorde Arcanist, but this requires a different mana base. Fourth, Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin has awesome synergy with Colossus too, but the 3-drop slot of Jund Warriors is already cramped. Ultimately, I decided to cut Pelt Collector and Goblin Chainwhirler, which meant that Status // Statue and the Warrior theme got removed as well.
4 Overgrown Tomb 4 Stomping Ground 4 Blood Crypt 4 Dragonskull Summit 4 Rootbound Crag 3 Woodland Cemetery 4 Growth-Chamber Guardian 4 Dreadhorde Butcher 3 Dreadhorde Arcanist 3 Krenko, Tin Street Kingpin 2 Judith, the Scourge Diva 2 Gruul Spellbreaker 3 Rekindling Phoenix 1 Ghalta, Primal Hunger 4 Collision/Colossus 3 Thud 3 Adventurous Impulse 3 Shock 1 Giant Growth 1 Biogenic Upgrade Sideboard 4 Duress 3 Shivan Fire 2 Act of Treason 2 Lava Coil 2 Cindervines 2 Divest
Since Thud and Dreadhorde Arcanist are bad in multiples, I only play three copies of each. Drawing Thud without a pump spell isn’t great, but you could sacrifice the fun-of Ghalta, a Rekindling Phoenix, or an opponent’s creature stolen with Act of Treason for value. The fun-of Biogenic Upgrade yields a 19/21 trampler when cast twice on Dreadhorde Arcanist.
I coded a simulation to figure out the probability of a turn-3 kill with this deck. I made the following assumptions:
- If your opening hand doesn’t contain at least one shock dual, at least one combo creature, and at least one combo spell, you mulligan. The shock dual restriction ensures that subsequent check lands will enter untapped.
- If you hold both Adventurous Impulse and Shock, then you cast Shock only if you hold Dreadhorde Arcanist and don’t hold Dreadhorde Butcher. In all other cases, you cast Adventurous Impulse in search of lands or Dreadhorde Arcanist.
- You are on the play half of the time.
- All lands are treated as 5-color lands. This reduces the number of possible land sequences that I have to model by a factor 216.
The result was that you deal at least 20 damage by turn 3 in 6.6% of the games. It would be 8.9% if I had counted 18 damage as a kill, and it would be 8.4% if I had cut all Dreadhorde Arcanists for a 4th Thud and two lands. These numbers represent a slight overestimation because (for simplicity) I didn’t account for color screw, which is where the “around” part of this article’s title comes from.
While we didn’t get a particularly consistent combo, it’s exciting to have the possibility of a nut draw with a deck that is mostly filled with reasonable threats and spells. I look forward to trying it out.