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Budget Magic: $110 (54 tix) Standard Zombies!!!!


Dydh da, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time again! The long wait is finally over—this week, we begin our exploration of the new post-Felidar Guardian Amonkhet Standard! First up, we have one of the decks I've been most excited to play: Zombies!!! The tribe not only got a ton of support in Amonkhet but also has some really powerful options sitting around from back in Shadows over Innistrad block, which means the time may finally be right for a really strong Zombie deck in Standard! 

The hard part about building Zombies is figuring out which direction to take the deck. There are a ton of possibilities, ranging from blue-black graveyard Zombies to WB Aristocrats Zombies to various three-color combinations. Our build today is my initial pick for best of the bunch: mono-black tribal Zombies. The basic idea of our deck is to be sort of like Modern Merfolk, by stacking up a board full of lords to power up a bunch of resilient early-game Zombies that keep coming back from the graveyard. The great thing about building this deck is that you'll never get bored because you can always splash a color and add a handful of cards and almost have an entirely new deck! 

A couple of quick notes before getting to the videos. First, you might hear me mention Felidar Guardian in a couple of the matches. I started working on this deck just before the bannings were announced. The good news is we didn't play Copy Cat, and there really aren't any updates that need to be made to the deck apart from (maybe) dropping Trespasser's Curse from the sideboard. Second, you probably noticed the price tag is $110, which is above our typical budget limit. This is because Relentless Dead spiked a couple of days ago after the videos were already done—when I built the deck, it was just a bit over $90. If this build is a bit too expensive for your blood, make sure to check out the ultra-budget list toward the end of the article. With this out of the way, let's get to the videos!

First, a quick reminder: if you enjoy the Budget Magic series and the other video content on MTGGoldfish, make sure to subscribe to the MTGGoldfish YouTube Channel to keep up on all of the latest and greatest.

Zombies!!! Deck Tech

Zombies!!! vs. RB Cycling

Zombies!!! vs. RW Exert

Zombies!!! vs. WB Control

Zombies!!! vs. WB Zombies

Zombies!!! vs. Approach Fog

The Deck

Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to work our way up the curve, because we have two primary plans for winning the game. First, we are looking to curve out, which can allow us to steal some early wins, since with a good draw, we can have nine power on the battlefield as early as Turn 3, which is a lot for some decks to deal with. After we curve out, our plan is to play as many lords as possible to make our early-game creatures even more powerful. The other benefit of Zombies is that it's much more resilient than most aggressive decks, since it has a bunch of recursive threats that help blank opponents' removal and some odd, incidental ways of closing out the game.

One-Drops

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Cryptbreaker is pretty close to a one-mana planeswalker and gives us a Turn 1 play that can take over the game all by itself if our opponent can't find an answer. While it isn't a great attacker, the discard mode can build an army of Zombies and works really well with recursive creatures like Dread Wanderer, and the ability to draw cards by tapping our creatures can overwhelm the opponent with card advantage. While it is small and dies to things like Walking Ballista and Liliana, the Last Hope, if it sticks around for a few turns, it's more than worth the one-mana investment.

Dread Wanderer is basically the opposite of Cryptbreaker. Instead of doing a little bit of everything, it does one thing really well: beating down. While the synergy with Cryptbreaker is a bonus, the reason Dread Wanderer is in the deck is to be a Savannah Lions that is super hard to kill. Unlike other similar creatures (like Gravecrawler), it can block, which can help us stall out while we are waiting to draw more powerful cards. It gets in early damage and then, after we get a lord or two on the battlefield, turns into an even bigger threat.

Two-Drops

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Relentless Dead is another creature that demands a permanent answer (like Magma Spray or Declaration in Stone) or else it can take over the game. While it takes a while, if the game goes long, the ability to chump every turn and reanimate another Zombie generates a ton of value. While it's not huge, menace helps it get in a bit of damage here and there over the early turns and makes it super scary once it ends up being a 4/4 thanks to some of our Zombie lords.

Doomed Dissenter probably looks weird, since it isn't technically a Zombie, but it fills the role of second two-drop, which is one of the weaker spots in the mono-black Zombie curve. The good news is that it blocks twice, and once it dies, it does give us a Zombie that benefits from all of our Zombie synergies. More importantly, it works amazingly well with one of our three-drops and helps provide some of our most aggressive starts. 

Three-Drops

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Plague Belcher is way more powerful than it looks for several reasons, often coming down as a 5/4 menace for only three mana, and the "downside" of putting two 1/1 counters on a creature isn't actually much of a downside in many situations, and it sometimes ends up being an upside. First, Plague Belcher is an important part of our aggro nut draw, where we play a Dread Wanderer on Turn 1, a Doomed Dissenter on Turn 2, and a Plague Belcher on Turn Three; put the counters on the Doomed Dissenter to draw up the 1/1 Human for a 2/2 Zombie token; and start smashing our opponent for nine on Turn 4. Second, when the game goes long, being able to put the 1/1 counters on a Relentless Dead is awesome, giving us a way to kill our own creature to reanimate a Cryptbreaker or Lord of the Accursed while not actually losing the Relentless Dead, since we can always get it back for only one mana. Third, menace is pretty powerful on a three-mana 5/4, making it really difficult for our opponent to chump. Finally, Plague Belcher gives us some resilience to wraths and sweepers. Normally, a card like Sweltering Suns or Yahenni's Expertise would be great against us, but with a Plague Belcher on the battlefield, our opponent often can't cast their sweeper because they'll die to the Plague Belcher drain triggers.

The Lords

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As weird as it sounds, Lord of the Accursed might be the worst Amonkhet Zombie in our deck. While it's still a fine and necessary card that pumps all of our Zombies, it's actually slightly worse in our deck than you'd think, partly because a reasonable amount of our Zombies already have menace, so giving everything menace isn't as helpful as it would seem. On the other hand, Liliana's Mastery is absurd. I sort of overlooked the enchantment during spoiler season because it looks like a casual card  at first glance, but after playing a bunch of games with it, it's very possibly the best card in our entire deck. It's close to an unkillable lord, since enchantment removal is actually pretty rare and it doesn't get hit by Fragmentize, and it adds an absurd amount of power and toughness to the battlefield. 

Take a minute and think about a normal draw with our deck. We play Zombies over the first four turns and then back them up with a Liliana's Mastery. The first copy makes two 3/3 bodies for five mana, which is fine although not super exciting. However, if we have (for example) four Zombies on the battlefield, we are actually getting +10 power and toughness for five mana, which is a pretty good deal. Then, the second copy of Liliana's Mastery adds two 4/4 Zombies to the battlefield and pumps everything else, which means it often ends up being +15 or +20 power and toughness for five mana, which almost always is enough to close out the game. The downside is that it's expensive and requires us to play 24 lands with a fairly low curve, but this usually isn't a problem because we can discard extra lands to Cryptbreaker to make more Zombies or use our mana to make Relentless Dead an unkillable reanimation machine.

Other Stuff

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We have a bunch of removal to fill out our deck. Grasp of Darkness is the most efficient black removal in the format outside of Fatal Push and kills most of the early- and mid-game threats in the format, all the way up to Thought-Knot Seers and Glorybringers. Never // Return is basically a hedge against planeswalkers and works like an upgraded Ruinous Path in our deck. While being a sorcery is annoying, the Return half does give us some value, especially considering the Zombie token often ends up much bigger than a 2/2 thanks to all of our lords. Finally, we have a single copy of Dark Salvation, which is extremely high variance. When we have a board full of Zombies (or the game goes long so we can cast it x3 or x4), it's the best removal spell in our deck, but it doesn't do a very good job of killing a Walking Ballista, Grim Flayer, or Winding Constrictor on Turn 2 and can never kill Heart of Kiran. While I could see squeezing in another copy somewhere, I'm not sold on it being more than a one- or two-of in most Zombies decks.

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Midnight Oil is basically a hedge against control decks, giving us a Phyrexian Arena to draw an extra card every turn and keep up with Glimmer of Genius and Pull from Tomorrow. The problem is it's really slow against aggressive decks, so its merit in the main deck will mostly depend on what Amonkhet Standard ends up looking like. If Mardu Vehicles is the deck to beat, additional removal is probably better, but if Torrential Gearhulk decks find their footing, a single copy in the main deck seems fine.

Wrap-Up

And that's pretty much the deck. The mana base is simply (24 Swamps), and the sideboard is still in flux while we figure out what the new Amonkhet Standard meta will look like. All in all, we finished 4-1 in our video matches and actually won an extra game over one of our past budget decks (Sram Aid), bringing the total record to 5-1. 

Perhaps the most surprising thing about the deck is its ability to go long. On paper, I figured we'd get some fast aggro wins, but more often than not, we were winning in the very late game through multiple wraths and sweepers (both the RB Cycling and WB Control matches give good examples of this). Knowing the deck has this level of resilience is helpful—a lot of aggro decks scoop to a sweeper or two, but Zombies seems to have enough card advantage and recursive threats to fight its way through any amount of removal. Plus, the aggro wins will come sooner or later, and it seems unlikely that the average match with this deck will be quite as grindy as the matches we had on video. 

Ultra-Budget Zombies!!!

The ultra-budget list for Zombies!!! is pretty easy: we drop the recently spiked Relentless Dead for Scrapheap Scrounger and trade the Transgress the Minds in the sideboard for Lay Bare the Heart. While losing Relentless Dead does make our Zombie synergies a bit less powerful, the fact that the replacement is also a really-hard-to-deal-with recursive threat means that not a lot of raw power is lost. Even without Relentless Dead, I could see this build being good enough to take to an FNM or play on Magic Online and would expect to have some amount of success with it. 

Non-Budget Zombies!!!

We had our first Amonkhet Standard tournaments yesterday, and while there weren't a ton of Zombies in the Top 64 decks, a few players did do well with the archetype. As such, this week, we have not one but two non-budget lists that can give you some ideas on how to upgrade. The first is very similar to the deck we played in the videos, while the second goes into white for some additional Amonkhet Zombies. 

The Mono-Black Zombies deck—which came in 22nd at the SCG Open this weekend—is basically a slightly upgraded version of our deck. Instead of Doomed Dissenter, it uses Scrapheap Scrounger as the additional two-drop, which allows for many similar tricks with Plague Belcher and gives the deck another recursive threat but misses out on the Zombie synergies. Otherwise, Fatal Push makes it into the main deck over some copies of Liliana's Mastery, and the deck maxes out on Dark Salvation. I'm not sure just how much better this build is, but the tournament success suggests it is doing something right and bodes well for Zombies in general in Amonkhet Standard. 

The second possibility is WB Zombies, which just missed out on making the Top 8 yesterday. While there's only one white card in the main deck (Wayward Servant), adding a color does give some additional sideboard options, like Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Anguished Unmaking, and Blinding Mummy. As far as the rest of the deck, it's a lot like the one we played on video, except overloaded in the three-drop slot with Liliana, the Last Hope and Diregraf Colossus on top of Plague Belcher and Lord of the Accursed

So, which upgrade build is better? I really don't know. Personally, I'm not a huge fan of most of the white Zombies, but having access to more (and better) sideboard cards seems powerful. Meanwhile, it seems that we aren't the only ones having success with Mono-Black Zombies. The good news is that if you end up getting the deck from the videos, upgrading to the other Mono-Black Zombies builds is super easy, and even going WB isn't too expensive (except for the Gideon, Ally of Zendikars. 

Conclusion

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 SaffronOlive@MTGGoldfish.com.


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