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Budget Magic: $100 Zombies (Pioneer)

Hey there, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading to my current favorite format—Pioneer—to play one of my favorite tribes: Zombies! While it might seem like forever ago now that Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty came out and Streets of New Capenna is right around the corner, it wasn't that long ago that the Zombie tribe got a bunch of new support in our third visit to Innistrad. Can cards like Champion of the Perished join with older Zombies from Amonkhet, like Cryptbreaker and Lord of the Accursed, to make for a strong budget $100 budget option in Pioneer? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Zombies

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The Deck

Zombies is a tribal aggro deck that benefits from the great removal black has in Pioneer. The goal of the deck is to flood the board with cheap Zombies, use lords to pump them, clear the way for attacks with our removal, and hopefully win with combat damage!


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In the one-drop slot are two very different Zombies. Champion of the Perished is our best beatdown Zombie. With the help of Lazotep Reaver, it can easily be attacking as a 3/3 on Turn 2 while often growing to be the biggest creature on the battlefield later in the game. It's the card we want to see most in our opening hand, and if we ever start with multiples, we can often steamroll our way to a free win. Meanwhile, Cryptbreaker is bad at attacking but provides a strong card-advantage engine, allowing us to tap our Zombies to draw cards and discard extra lands to make Grizzly Bears–style Zombie tokens.

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In the two-drop slot are two Zombies that can put multiple Zombie bodies on the battlefield. Lazotep Reaver is sneakily one of the most important cards in our deck because it adds two Zombies to the battlefield for just two mana, thanks to the amass token it makes. It's a great follow-up to Champion of the Perished on Turn 1 (making the latter a 3/3) and also curves well into our three-mana lords, which we'll talk about in a minute. Meanwhile, Tainted Adversary is solid on Turn 2, thanks to deathtouch allowing it to take down bigger attackers, and solid later, when we can pseudo-kick it to make some decay Zombies in order to help us close out the game.

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The three-drop slot is mostly about lords, although we do have a single Headless Rider to help us fight through removal by replacing our dead Zombies with 2/2 Zombie tokens. (We've got more Headless Riders and Midnight Reapers in our sideboard to bring in against control and other removal-heavy decks.) On level one, Lord of the Accursed and Death Baron do the same thing—pump all of our Zombies +1/+1. But each has an extra upside. Lord of the Accursed can give our team menace for two mana, which is is a great way to force damage through opposing blockers and close out the game, while Death Baron gives all our Zombies deathtouch, which makes it painful for our opponent to block and also turns our random small Zombies into solid defenders by allowing them to trade up with bigger attackers.


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As I mentioned in the intro, one of the biggest upsides of playing Zombies in Pioneer is that we get really, really strong removal, including removal spells that also happen to either be or make Zombies. Murderous Rider kills anything (including planeswalkers, which is especially important right now, with UW Control being the most popular deck in the format) at instant speed and then can come off its adventure as a 2/3 lifelinker, which is helpful against Mono-Red and other aggro decks. As for Dark Salvation, it's a slow removal spell, but it's super powerful in the mid-game. If we can flood the board with Zombies, it can kill anything for one mana; plus, if we have some extra mana around, we can make some 2/2 Zombie tokens as a bonus.

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In Pioneer, thanks to cards like Velomachus Lorehold and Winota, Joiner of Forces, being able to kill things at instant speed is incredibly important. For this, we turn to Fatal Push, Heartless Act, and Power Word Kill. While we do occasionally run into weird situations where the latter two aren't quite as good as they look because a creature has a counter or is an Angel, Demon, Devil, or Dragon (see: our matchup against Velomachus Lorehold, where we realized that nether could actually kill a Velomachus put into play by Neoform), in most matchups, they kill anything at instant speed for just two mana. Meanwhile, Fatal Push is great for answering the powerful one-drops in the format (Monastery Swiftspear, Soul-Scar Mage, Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, etc.) without losing tempo. These cards, together with our Zombie removal, give us plenty of strong options for dealing with opposing threats or clearing blockers out of the way so we can keep attacking with our Zombies.

The Mana

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First off, I should say that the mana of budget Zombies is solid. Since it's all Swamps and Castle Locthwains, all of our lands should come into play untapped all of the time, which is exactly what you want in an aggro deck that really wants to curve out. That said, there are two things I wanted to mention about the lands in the deck. You might have noticed that our deck costs $39 on Magic Online—a bit too much for the free card-rental programs. This is mostly because Castle Locthwain costs almost $20 a playset. If we turn Castle Locthwain into more Swamps and drop Necromentia from the sideboard, we can get the cost of the deck down enough for it to be free with the free rental programs.

On the other hand, if you're willing to spend some more money, the mana base is the easiest place to upgrade the deck. If I were building an unlimited-budget version of Zombies, the non-lands in the main deck would look very much the same, but the mana base would include Mutavault, Hive of the Eye Tyrant, and probably a copy or two of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to let our Mutavaults make black mana. While—as we saw in our league—the deck is great with the current mana base, adding some creaturelands to the mana base would be a nice boost of power, especially as a way to recover from wraths like Farewell and Supreme Verdict against UW Control.


Record-wise, Zombies crushed it. We started off 4-0 in our league before dropping our last match to Rakdos Midrange, to finish with a 4-1 and earn a nice stack of Treasure Chests. We might have gotten a bit lucky to dodge control (which feels like a tough matchup thanks to all of the sweepers it has access to, although Duress from the sideboard can help), but we took down a solid list of tier decks, including Winota (probably the second-best deck in the format behind UW Control), Mono-Blue Spirits, Sultai Ninja Tempo (in the hands of AspiringSpike), and the Neo-Machus Combo deck we played for Much Abrew last week. The deck felt like it has the ability to keep up with many of the top decks in the Pioneer format thanks to its ability to pick up fast wins with Champion of the Perished but still play a longer, grindier game thanks to the card advantage that Cryptbreaker and Castle Locthwain have to offer.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I don't think there are any. There are potential improvements, especially to the mana base and sideboard, but they all increase the budget. Considering how well the deck performed, if I were going to record with it today, I'd run it back unchanged.

So, should you play Zombies in Pioneer? I think the answer is clearly yes. The deck felt surprisingly strong considering its price tag. It seems like a really good option if you're looking to compete in Pioneer on a budget (or just love the Zombie tribe)!

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Getting Zombies down near $50 is tricky. We start by cutting Castle Locthwain from the mana base, which hurts against control specifically, but the mana base is still functional without it. After that, things get hard. We drop Tainted Adversary and two copies of Cryptbreaker, replacing them with Graveyard Marshal, which is a solid two-drop option and offers a bit of main-deck graveyard hate but still represents a downgrade. Finally, we switch around our removal a bit, minimizing the number of Fatal Pushes for more two-mana removal. All in all, these changes represent a drop in power, although the deck should still be functional enough for casual play. But if you're planning to play more competitively, it will be important to upgrade a bit, starting with Cryptbreaker and Castle Locthwain.

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Finally, our non-budget list. As I mentioned earlier, we don't really change any of the non-land cards in the main deck, but the mana base and sideboard get some huge upgrades. In the mana base, we get Hive of the Eye Tyrant and Mutavault, which are strong in general and especially good against control, giving us a way to close out the game after a wrath. As for the sideboard, Thoughtseize replaces Duress, and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet comes in for Gray Merchant of Asphodel as our lifegain against Mono-Red card, although it also offers value in other matchups by hating on graveyard and death triggers, as we found out in our match against Rakdos Midrange, where it basically won the game by itself for our opponent.


Anyway, that's all for today. As always, leave your thoughts, ideas, opinions, and suggestions in the comments, and you can reach me on Twitter @SaffronOlive or at

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