With Pro Tour Aether Revolt in the books, we can finally consider the aftermath and how the Standard metagame will shape up in the coming months. It's clear that Mardu Vehicles was the deck to beat at the Pro Tour, winning the event and occupying the entirety of the top six spots. Jeskai Copycat seemed too powerful in the first few weeks as well as in our house testing, which prompted many players to speculate on a Felidar Guardian or Saheeli Rai ban. Things didn't quite pan out that way, though, so entering Grand Prix Pittsburgh it was Black-Green Constrictor that had the target on its back. That led me to play an unexpected deck in the tournament.
Blue-Red Zombies is a strategy designed by TCGplayer's own Raph Levy, and he does a great job of breaking the deck down here. The biggest difference is my inclusion of Fevered Visions. An active Fevered Visions is very difficult for Black-Green Constrictor to beat without an insane amount of unanswered pressure, and Fevered Visions gives you extra "threats" in order to beat control.
We spent some time trying to perfect Blue-Red Zombies for the Pro Tour. Through testing, we found to have an almost unlosable matchup against the black-green decks. You have efficient removal, creatures that line up well against their removal, and Kozilek's Return to Plague Wind them. The Mardu matchup was also great for similar reasons, but not quite as lopsided. The biggest issue the deck had was with Jeskai versions of Saheeli combo. The large number of counters is problematic, and most versions are playing main deck Negate and Disallow, which is a huge issue as it can stifle activations from the Stitchwing creatures and be cast again with Torrential Gearhulk. On top of that, the ability to combo you at any point prevents you from playing a super grindy Prized Amalgam plan. While I personally believe Jeskai might be the best deck, players will certainly (and with good reason) shy away from the archetype for a while. So I present my metagame solution, Blue-Red Zombies:
Normally I let my video provide a walkthrough on the basics of the deck, but for a deck with as many moving parts as Blue-Red Zombies I think explaining the operations is appropriate.
The deck runs through a pair of draft commons, Stitchwing Skaab and Advanced Stitchwing. If you can get them into your graveyard, that is your means for returning Prized Amalgam and emerging Elder Deep-Fiend. You rarely hard cast any of the creatures in this deck, so get used to that from the start. Ideally, every hand needs a discard outlet and a Stitchwing to get your graveyard started. You can keep hands with Cathartic Reunion that do not contain any Sitchwing creatures as the Reunion itself can provide some of the action you may be lacking. When you don't have Stitchwing, the rest of your hand is more likely to contain interaction such as Lightning Axe, Fiery Temper, or Kozilek's Return and you can keep these less graveyard-centric hands against creature decks. Fevered Visions provides a card that lets you keep a multitude of hands, and I even keep hands that have a turn three Visions on the play even without a discard outlet as the Visions acts as a game-winning threat and card draw engine on its own.
It's also important to understand the timing of Prized Amalgam. In order to return them on your opponent's end step, you must have a creature enter play from your graveyard by the end of their second main phase. This can work for you as well, as you can enter your own end step and trigger your Amalgams, which will have them return on your opponent's end step, playing around possible sweepers, which is something that happens a lot when you have an active Fevered Visions and you want to discard cards that you draw off of it.
Since the Grand Prix, I've been asked several questions about sideboarding procedure. Here is the sideboard that I played at the Grand Prix and I recommend moving forward. I never have an unchangeable sideboard plan, as I often sideboard differently based on what I've seen and what my opponent may do, so treat this more of a guideline.
Nahiri's Wrath is for dealing with Gideon. It's better when you have one or two Wretched Gryff to give you higher converted mana cost. It's much better on the draw when you have more cards and they are playing more creatures before you hit your third or fourth land drop.
Lightning Axe and Fiery Temper both help give extra early interaction against black-green decks and Mardu. Lightning Axe helps against heavily combo-oriented versions of Saheeli. Gryff is mainly for Transgress the Mind, to ensure you have enough ways of flashing back Return. I usually board in one when boarding in both Nahiri's Wrath. Filigree Familiar comes in when you have both Gryffs and against Mardu. Release the Gremlins comes in against Mardu, but I actually find it best against Dynavolt Tower decks.
The counters are for control and Aetherworks Marvel, though Dispel doesn't come in against Marvel. It seems like a lot of counters, but control and Four-Color Copycat are both tough and I find the counters to be super strong since they help seal games and prevent blowouts. Spell Shrivel may seem odd, but I love the ability to counter a Torrential Gearhulk, Whirler Virtuoso, Felidar Guardian, etc. Disallow is more powerful and maybe better against Marvel, but with a combo deck like this I want my sideboard spells to work at intended, and needing two blue mana is an unnecessary risk.
The Key to the City are for control decks with many counters where having all four Cathartic Reunion is too risky. The Keys have been mediocre – if it gets countered you don't get to discard and it's slow and awkward since the turns you want to spend mana to draw you may need the mana elsewhere (usually activating Stitchwings). That said, it was good for me in a few spots, but you can cut this if you have other cards you want. Another counter and/or Release the Gremlins would likely be reasonable here.
When siding in Axe and Nahiri's Wrath I generally take out two or three Tormenting Voice. Stitchwing Skaab is weak against Ballista, but never have less than three in your deck. Fevered Visions is bad against Mardu, but actually quite strong against black-green, though you'll want to shave some on the draw. Lightning Axe and Nahiri's Wrath are both worse on the play, even in matchups where they might seem good. You only have so many cards in hand, and generally want to be spending them aggresively on the play in combination with Elder Deep-Fiend and Fevered Visions.
I usually board out one land against control as I have so many cards to fit in, assuming you need the removal to deal with Felidar Guardian or Thing in the Ice. Blue-Red Dynavolt Tower sides in Thing in the Ice and Dragonmaster Outcast, so you want to leave in some Lightning Axe and Kozilek's Return.
There's no real way to adapt or tech the deck as I think the list is extremely tight, just play it into the right metagame and practice! With the black-green threats looming, Zombies is a powerful choice. Mardu is closer, but I find the games I lose to be very close, and the games I win to be not so close, which is a general sign of a strong matchup. Add that to having a surprise factor in a very established metagame and you can capitalize on inexperience and mistakes occurring against you possibly getting those extra wins to reach Top 8.
- Steve Rubin