We’re approaching a very special time in Standard, where the Zombies of Innistrad will meet the Zombies (and mummies) of Amonkhet. Although Zombie decks have popped up sporadically in Standard over the past 18 months, they lacked the robust support they needed for long-term success. It may only take a couple of well-placed Zombies from Amonkhet to turn Zombies from a Swiss cheese full of holes to a rock-solid brick ready to smash people. And it just so happens that a couple of well-placed Zombies are exactly what we got.
The weakness of Standard’s Zombies is that they tend to have poor stats on their own. It only takes a few games of matching your opponent’s Heart of Kiran with your own Miasmic Mummy to realize this. But their individual weakness is balanced by the extremely powerful synergies, resilience, and tribal payoffs. For example, Diregraf Colossus is capable of running away with a game when it survives. Liliana’s Mastery can immediately represent 9 or 10 power and toughness on the battlefield for the price of one card. The color black is also home to efficient removal and strong sideboard options.
What makes the Zombie tribe so exciting, but also so perplexing, is the variety of ways to build around it. Black is a given, but should we stop there? Or should we dip into blue? White? Red? We could include a graveyard/madness theme, or we could include a sacrifice theme. We could eschew both and simply go for a fully-tribal, beat-’em-up strategy.
Since it’s still early, and since it’s good to leave something to the imagination, I won’t exhaust every possible way to build Zombies in one article. Instead, I’ll offer two rough starting points for aspiring deckbuilders and rotting-flesh aficionados to jump off from.
My first deck list is the simpler of the two. The theory is that the printing of another good 1-drop and several more Zombie Glorious Anthems will be enough to build a dedicated tribal deck to overwhelm the competition.
Mono-Black Zombie Tribal
This deck has a Merfolk feel—virtually every creature is a Lord, and things will spiral out of control quickly when the opponent runs out of removal. It benefits from a pristine mana base, a smooth curve, and the format’s most efficient removal.
One point of tension is that most of the cards are cheap, but the curve stretches up to 5 for the powerful Liliana’s Mastery. This is alleviated by the fact that Dark Salvation can fit into the curve in a variety of places, being either a mana sink when you need it, or a good way to cast 2 spells in the same turn. Also, Liliana’s Mastery has such a dramatic, immediate effect that you won’t mind holding onto one for a turn or two while you wait to draw your fifth land.
As mentioned above, Miasmic Mummy is not exactly what I would consider an exciting card. But we do some dirty things in the name of synergy, and it might be the case that Miasmic Mummy is exactly what the Prized Amalgam decks need to transform from complicated monstrosities into smooth, mono-color tribal decks.
Naturally, this deck can have plenty of draws where it resembles the straightforward tribal deck from above. But it also opens itself up to the ultra-powerful Haunted Dead plus Prized Amalgam opening hands.
Between Scrapheap Scrounger, Haunted Dead, and now Dread Wanderer, returning Prized Amalgam from the graveyard is trivial. Reliably getting it into your graveyard is the thinnest tight-rope this deck has to walk, but Crypt Breaker and Miasmic Mummy are two excellent, on-theme ways to do it. I’ve chosen to round things out with a Collective Brutality and two copies of Heir of Falkenrath, despite how odious the presence of a Vampire in a Zombie deck may be. (Note that Key to the City is another option.) These discard outlets are weaker than the options in red, but not so much weaker that I’m tempted to ruin the mana base.
And of course, Voldaren Pariah is awesome in this style of deck, and a huge payoff for keeping it mostly mono-black.
There you have two different takes on the many, many possible ways of building Zombies in new Standard. In addition to working on these, I’ll also be thinking about some sacrifice strategies making use of Bontu the Glorified. There seems to be no shortage of cool stuff to explore in Amonkhet.