After returning from Pro Tour Amonkhet, where I played Zombies to a 7-3 record, I was pretty much out of ideas to write about. Seth had covered the whole undead thing already, and no one would be interested in reading again about the deck that won the PT, though I did broadcast live on Facebook some videos mostly for newer players on the French side of the official Magic page, if you speak French and are interested in hearing more about my take on Zombies.
Eliott Boussaud and I started to brew to try to find something adapted to the current metagame of Zombies, Blue-Red Control, all shades of Aetherworks Marvel and a bit of Mardu. Tough to find a deck that can beat all four. But maybe we found something that comes close to achieving that.
We wanted to try new cards that have yet to find a home. Before the Pro Tour, Eliott built a few decks with Gideon's Intervention, but we thought Nahiri would be around way too often, due to the popularity of Mardu at the time. Now that Nahiri is a little less popular, this card becomes a player in the new environment. Against aggro decks, it's at least a one-for-one, canceling a creature in play, plus all future iterations of that creature. Against control or "combo" decks, you can shut down their win condition and they have a real hard time dealing with it (call Torrential Gearhulk against Blue-Red or Aetherworks Marvel against Marvel). It's not foolproof, but buys a huge amount of time to establish control of the board and play your own win conditions.
At four mana, Gideon's Intervention conflicts with the best four-mana drop of the format: Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. We needed to find something almost as powerful but at a lower cost. During PT testing, a few of our decks packed Gideon of the Trials, and it seemed pretty good, but the shell around it was never quite there. In a deck with his intervention, Little Gideon makes a lot of sense since you can shut down the early threats then play the four-mana enchantment and you're all set for the longer game where you're going to win with Archangel Avacyn or Walking Ballista.
Avacyn was the card that I wanted to play again. With Dromoka's Command gone, there's only a few cards that take care of it at instant speed: Grasp of Darkness and Harnessed Lightning. Gideon's Intervention can help you set up an unmatched Avacyn by naming the removal spell and preventing it from ever being cast. Of course, Avacyn has to come with a package of creatures. Walking Ballista and Selfless Spirit are the weapons of choice since they can sacrifice at will. Selfless Spirit also protects Avacyn against Harnessed Lightning.
Along with these, Thraben Inspector provides a body to block in the early turns, and is also very useful to deal the first damage against a Blue-Red Control opponent who doesn't want to spend a card to kill it, which nets you a card to get to your higher drop. There's no draw engine in the deck, so anything that can cycle or that can help you get to four or five mana is good to take. That's also why our removal of choice is Cast Out. We don't want to have Fatal Push or Grasp of Darkness (hard to cast with our mana base) and are limited in terms of the number of potential targets. So we're running Cast Out since it can deal with just about anything and gets you a card deeper (to another land most of the time) when you don't need it.
In a format with planeswalkers and where you can't rely on your late drops to win the game, you need an early creature with high power and resilience. Scrapheap Scrounger provides that, and gives you the potential to have aggressive draws (like the Mardu ones) to pressure planeswalkers but also retain a late-game option when it starts to get grindy (after Avacyn transforms, for example). And if you're playing Scrounger, you need to play some black, and therefore, the Shambling Vents are a necessity. Black opens up good sideboard options, so all in all, we're happy with the concessions we're making to play the 3/2 Construct.
The curve was missing a two or three-mana card. I tried Glory-Bound Initiate and Thalia, Heretic Cathar but wasn't happy with them at all. The deck is not aggressive enough for them to be good in the early game, and they just aren't good at all in the late game. So I needed a creature, for two or three mana, good in the early and late game. So I tried Start // Finish and it turned out to be a good find. Being able to chump in the early game is valuable, and the aftermath side of the card allows you to have another removal spell in the deck while giving you another way to transform Avacyn (Scrapheap Scrounger makes perfect fodder).
White and black give you great sideboard options that fit the deck's strategy well. Discard spells (Lay Bare the Heart and Transgress the Mind) get you perfect information when you have to cast Gideon's Intervention, and between those and Dispossess Marvel players are left with very few ways to win the game.
The rest of the sideboard gives you flexibility. Sometimes Little Gideon doesn't do enough in a matchup and you have to replace it with Big Gideon. Sometimes you're facing Nahiri and you don't want to play enchantments at all. And sometimes you just want creature removal (that exile if possible) to fight off Zombies.
I've been playing the deck for a bit now, and I'm very happy with its results. I'm about 50/50 against Zombies (but I haven't played against them with the latest version), haven't played against Mardu yet, and have yet to lose to Blue-Red. The matchup against Marvel, thanks to Gideon's Intervention and Dispossess in the board, is actually better than "just good."
This deck is still at an early stage of its development and there's room for improvement. The more the format is set, the more Gideon's Intervention will be efficient, and the better the deck will become.
- Raphael Levy