This week was supposed to be my guide to the zombie and vampire tribes, but after building a few zombie decks I realized that the zombie tribe is pretty deep and the decks can be taken in a few directions. Zombie tribal has two main reward cards.
Relentless Dead is the ultimate attrition card. It plays both offense and defense. You'll be able to attack for two pretty much the entire game, as your opponent will be scared to block it because it comes right back and brings a friend along with it. Similarly, it also blocks well. The threat of bringing back another zombie from the dead is big enough to discourage opponents from attacking, so Relentless Dead is great at holding the ground.
Relentless Dead shines in a deck with lots of zombies, preferably zombies with low converted mana costs that are able to return to the battlefield easily. Since it will be hard for Relentless Dead to die, as opponents are unlikely to block it or attack into it, sacrifice outlets are also strong in a Relentless Dead deck.
Our other zombie tribal payoff is a card that, weirdly enough, isn't even from Shadows over Innistrad. Risen Executioner, a card that was oddly placed in a set with very few zombies, has a chance to shine in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. Risen Executioner is great as a zombie lord but it's graveyard ability is pretty weird. Zombie decks tend to fill up the graveyard with creatures, meaning that the cost to cast Risen Executioner from your graveyard can get pretty high. Risen Executioner is best in a deck with many zombies but few creatures. That sentence sounds contradictory, but it's not if we're building a deck that generates Zombie Tokens.
These two zombies provide us with a plan to build two different decks: zombie midrange and zombie control.
There's a lot of cool things going on in this deck. Many of the cards speak for themselves, but here are explanations for some of the not-so-obvious choices:
Jace, Vryn's Prodigy has been a pillar of Standard since his release, and many players have mixed emotions about his role in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. With fetchlands gone, it's much harder to flip him and he is not splashable in every deck. He's great with madness, but is madness even that strong? Players are having a hard time finding a home for Jace, Vryn's Prodigy in Shadows over Innistrad Standard. I feel that he shines in a deck like zombies where you want certain cards in your graveyard. Additionally, the black spells are strong, making Jace, Telepath Unbound's -3 great.
I've heard mixed feedback on Geralf's Masterpiece. Many players think he's weak because you would never want to discard three cards to return a 7/7 flier. Three cards is a lot, and even if it was three lands, it's usually not worth the risk to get blown out by a removal spell. However the best thing about this card is not the fact that you can get it back from the graveyard. This card is good because it's a five mana 7/7 flyer, provided you have curved out. His rate is way above the curve for a five-mana blue creature. The fact that you have the option to return this from your graveyard to play is just icing on the cake.
For three mana, Diregraf Colossus does a ton of work. It reminds me of a cross between Monastery Mentor and Thalia's Lieutenant. Sometimes you will cast this guy early and just make a bunch of Zombie Tokens. Sometimes you'll cast it late and it will be gigantic. Many times it will do both. Screeching Skaab and Jace, Vryn's Prodigy help make this guy larger than a 2/2 on turn three.
I never thought I'd see the day where a 2/1 creature for 1U was playable in Standard, but this little guy can do some serious work in this deck. He provides fuel for Diregraf Colossus and Risen Executioner, helps Jace, Vryn's Prodigy transform faster, and helps find cards like Risen Executioner and Geralf's Masterpiece.
Nantuko Husk is much weaker in this deck than he was in the Rally the Ancestors decks of last season, and the main reason he's in this deck is to provide a sacrifice outlet for Relentless Dead. These two cards together will slowly return all of your zombies from your graveyard to the battlefield. This deck is pretty high on three drops so you don't want to play too many.
Fleshbag Marauder acts as both a removal spell and a one-shot sacrifice outlet for Relentless Dead. I'm a little wary of playing four copies of this card, especially if creature tokens are popular in Shadows over Innistrad Standard.
I like Corpseweft a lot. It'll do work in Shadows over Innistrad Standard alongside zombies. It's a great attrition card against control decks but what it's really great at is removing creatures from your graveyard to make your Risen Executioners castable. Late in the game your Risen Executioners could cost eight mana or more, and Corpseweft is a great way to get the cost down while also giving you creatures. It's not a card you'll always want in every situation, so I'm only playing one copy.
Prized Amalgam has great synergy with Risen Executioner, Relentless Dead, and Geralf's Masterpiece, but it's painfully slow, hence just the one copy. This a card you never want to cast, but rather a card to discard to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or mill with Screeching Skaab. One really cool thing you can do with this guy is the following:
It seems like every deck wants to play Westvale Abbey, and this deck is no exception. Zombies can gum up the ground and sometimes you will have a difficult time breaking through. That's where Westvale Abbey comes in.
Overall the zombie midrange deck is slow but has some cool synergies. If that's your style I recommend giving it a try.
And now for a completely different take on zombies...
This is a slow, grindy control deck that's sole way to win is with a horde of Zombie Tokens. Risen Executioner helps speed up the clock and it will rarely cost more than four mana in this deck. This is another case where Risen Executioner is not so great in your hand but discarding it to Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Call the Bloodline, or milling it with Epiphany at the Drownyard is the play you want to make. Here's a breakdown of the less-than-obvious card choices:
Clash of Wills is one of Standard's better counterspells right now, mainly because it can be cast for two mana and is great on the draw. We can't play Silumgar's Scorn so this is one of our few options for interacting on turn two and is a great way to gain tempo, something that many control decks struggle with.
Call the Bloodline is great. It's fine on turn two if you have nothing else going on, and once it's in play, it becomes an amazing madness outlet that's hard to interact with. Most of the time it will sit on the battlefield and not do much, but the threat of a token will prevent attacks from one-toughness creatures. Once you have five or more lands in play, suddenly your opponent has to watch out for madness spells like Broken Concentration and Murderous Compulsion.
Most players consider Cancel to be a bad card, but let's face it, it's playable in Standard. We lived in a time when Dissolve was a strong card, and even without scry, a three mana Counterspell is acceptable. What puts Broken Concentration over the top is that it provides value when you have a Jace, Vryn's Prodigy or Call the Bloodline in play.
Five mana is a lot of mana for a Counterspell, but I'm more than happy to pay that price to get three clues. It's also hard to play around in this deck if you have a Call the Bloodline in play. Your opponent will usually think you are casting a large FFrom Under the Floorboards or Epiphany at the Drownyard and will not see a counterspell coming. This a card that I'm likely to play as a one-of in all of my control decks.
From Under the Floorboards is the primary win condition in this deck. The best part about From Under the Floorboards is that late in the game, it's an absolute bomb. When combined with a madness outlet, you can cast this for a lot of zombies the end of your opponents' turn and gain enough life to put the game out of reach for them. It also gets out of hand with Risen Executioner.
Rise from the Tides is your fifth copy of From Under the Floorboards, and when cast late enough it will net you a ton of zombies. It's also great after casting a large Epiphany at the Drownyard.
Don't get me wrong, this is not Jace's Ingenuity. In fact, Epiphany at the Drownyard will not give you the cards you want most of the time. What this card does do, however, is give you a mass volume of cards. These excess cards can give you fuel for your Jace, Vryn's Prodigy and Call the Bloodline. The best part of all is that you will be able to fill up your graveyard with instants and sorceries for your Rise the Tides, or better yet, mill your Risen Executioner.
Blue/black control decks suffered when they lost Crux of Fate, but Languish is a great replacement. You'll have to play it wisely though, as all of your win conditions die to it. It's usually best to play the deck out like a typical control deck, controlling the board and then deploy your threats after you have cast your Languishes.
It may seem like Westvale Abbey gets jammed into every deck, but it's pretty good here. The life loss is counteracted by From Under the Floorboards and Call the Bloodline. There is also lots of token-generation here, allowing you to transform this pretty easily. It's easy to transform this late in the game when you have lots of lands in play and a backup counterspell.
Zombies is probably middle-of-the-pack as far as tribes go. The zombie decks definitely do cool things and are very attrition-based. It's definitely for players who enjoy slow, grindy games. That said, there is plenty of power in the zombie tribe and these lists are great starting points.
Next Week: Reader's pick! Give me a card and I'll build a deck around it. Let me know in the comments.
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