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Budget Magic: $89 (2 tix) Creeping Zombies (Standard, Magic Arena)


Gwe’, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Next week, we'll start exploring Modern with Modern Horizons, but we're heading to War of the Spark Standard today for a sweet twist on a tribal deck in Creeping Zombies. The idea of the deck is pretty simple: we're Zombie tribal but with Creeping Chill to boost our life total against aggro and close out the game against other decks. While Creeping Chill might seem like a weird choice for Zombies, when you consider that the Zombie tribe actively wants to mill cards into its own graveyard to support Liliana, Untouched by Death, Eternal Taskmaster, and Graveyard Marshal, it actually has a natural home in the deck. Toss in the fact that Liliana, Untouched by Death also drains the opponent with her +1, and the end result is a Zombie deck with a surprising amount of reach to close out the game after the board gets clogged up with creatures. Can a burn-ish version of Zombies compete in War of the Spark Standard on a budget? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Creeping Zombies

 

The Deck

Creeping Zombies is, at its heart, mono-black Zombie tribal but with some unique burn spells thrown in to help close out the game if our opponent can wrath our board or gum up the ground with blockers. Probably the easiest way to break down the deck is to start with the payoffs and then work our way through the support cards.

Liliana

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Probably our best card is Liliana, Untouched by Death, which sort of bridges the gap between the Zombie tribal and Creeping Chill parts of our deck. In a deck that's overflowing with Zombies, Liliana is quite powerful, with her +1 stocking our graveyard and draining our opponent out of the game (while also potentially milling over Creeping Chill for more free damage), while her 2 gives us some extra removal, assuming we have some Zombies on the battlefield. Meanwhile, Liliana, Untouched by Death's 3 is a great source of card advantage in the late game. It's a fine deal even when we just recast two or three Zombies, and occasionally (with the help of Cabal Stronghold) we can end up casting a ton of Zombies in the same turn.

Creeping Chill

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

One of the things that makes a deck like Mono-Red Aggro so powerful in Standard is that it has a bunch of efficient burn spells to close out the game if its early rush of creatures is handled by removal and blockers. With Liliana, Untouched by Death and Creeping Chill, Creeping Zombies can do something similar. If we can get in enough damage in the early turns with our efficient Zombies, then we can trust that our weird burn spells will be able to finish the opponent off. The main drawback of Creeping Chill is that we almost never want to draw it naturally. Instead, we're hoping to mill it with Liliana or something like Stitcher's Supplier, giving us a free Lightning Helix to our opponent's face! 

Graveyard Zombies

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

One of the reasons why Creeping Chill works in a Zombie shell is because Zombies naturally put cards into the graveyard and having Zombies in the graveyard supports Liliana, Untouched by Death and some other Zombie payoffs. Apart from Liliana, Stitcher's Supplier is our best way to mill over Creeping Chill and fill our graveyard with Zombies. Since it costs just a single mana, it's pretty easy to play it, chump block with it, and then eventually recast it from our graveyard thanks to Liliana, Untouched by Death to chump block again, which means just a single copy of Stitcher's Supplier often ends up milling about 1/4 of our deck across the course of a game. This gives us 12 free looks at hitting a Creeping Chill as a free Lightning Helix to our opponent's face and, worst case, makes sure we have plenty of fuel for Liliana, Graveyard Marshal, and Eternal Taskmaster.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

In the two-drop slot, we have a couple of efficient Zombies that also take advantage of our graveyard. Both Graveyard Marshal and Eternal Taskmaster are on-curve two-drops based on their bodies alone, but both come with some extra graveyard-centric upside. While relatively expensive and slow, in the late game, Graveyard Marshal gives us some flood-out protection since if we run out of better things to do, we can always start exiling away the Zombies we mill with Liliana, Untouched by Death or Stitcher's Supplier to build a board of 2/2 Zombie tokens. Meanwhile, Eternal Taskmaster can return our best Zombie from our graveyard to our hand for just three mana whenever it attacks. While this occasionally means we need to chump attack Eternal Taskmaster into a blocker, it's often worth the trade if we are getting back an even better Zombie.

Zombie Beatdown

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

When it comes to dealing a bunch of combat damage with our Zombies, Death Baron is the most important card in our deck. While giving the rest of our Zombies +1/+1 is great, the real power of Death Baron is that it gives all of our Zombies deathtouch, which makes it really difficult for our opponent to block effectively and often allows us to trade up relatively underpowered Zombies for better creatures in combat. We can sometimes win games simply by curving out from Turn 1 and playing a couple of Death Barons to pump our team.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Finally, Lazotep Reaver and Diregraf Ghoul help to fill out our Zombie curve and support our Zombie beatdown plan. Diregraf Ghoul gives us a two-powered one-drop that helps to make sure we start impacting the board from the very first turn of the game. Meanwhile, Lazotep Reaver is great with Death Baron, giving us two Zombie bodies on the battlefield on Turn 2 to benefit from our Turn 3 lord. Basically, both Lazotep Reaver and Diregraf Ghoul are solid Zombies that help to fill our weak spots on our curve to keep our deck running smoothly.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Midnight Reaper gives us a source of card advantage as well as some protection from whatever sweepers our opponent might have in our deck. As our creatures die, it draws us cards, which helps to make sure we always have a steady stream of Zombies to pressure our opponent's life total. Speaking of life totals, Liliana, Untouched by Death and Creeping Chill help to counteract the loss of life from Midnight Reaper, so taking some damage to draw extra cards is normally a fine plan for our deck. Toss in a solid 3/2 body, and Midnight Reaper is the perfect secondary three-drop for our deck, behind Death Baron.

Removal

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

Outside of our Zombies, we have a couple of interactive utility spells to support our plan. Drill Bit is often just a painless Thoughtseize starting on Turn 2 since we have plenty of aggressive creatures to trigger raid, allowing us to pick planeswalkers or powerful creatures from our opponent's hand before they get a chance to impact the battlefield. Meanwhile, Spark Harvest gives us a creature-removal spell that is live against planeswalker decks. While sacrificing a creature to cast it for a single mana is a high cost, Zombies can deal with it better than most thanks to all of our graveyard synergies and the ability to return our Zombies from our graveyard to our hand.

Wrap-Up

Creeping Zombies was pretty solid. We finished our matches 3-2, taking down Command the Dreadhorde, Simic Yoink, and Sultai Midrange while taking losses to Esper Midrange and Sultai Command. The deck is strong and synergistic, although (as we saw against Sultai Command) it can struggle with decks that are overloaded with rawly powerful cards. One of the hallmarks of War of the Spark Standard is powerful but expensive haymakers like planeswalkers, Hydroid Krasis, and Command the Dreadhorde. While we can beat these decks if we get off to a very aggressive start, if the game goes long, our opponents can usually just play haymaker after haymaker, and then it will be hard for our Zombies to keep up.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, the weakest part of the deck is probably the utility spells. Spark Harvest and Drill Bit should be considered flex slots. While we need some amount of removal and interaction, it might be that Cast Down, Vraska's Contempt, or other options might just be better than Spark Harvest and Drill Bit, depending on the meta. Otherwise, Eternal Taskmaster was very impressive in some games. It might be worth finding room for another copy or two, maybe even cutting some number of Creeping Chill.

Speaking of Creeping Chill, it's a hard card to analyze in Creeping Zombies. It did win us some games that we were otherwise almost guaranteed to lose, but we also sideboarded it out quite often. This is probably—at least, in part—because we played a lot of midrange and control decks but missed aggro almost entirely, which is where Creeping Chill shines the most. Against a deck like Mono-Red, hitting a couple of Creeping Chills is often the difference between winning and losing the game. So while Creeping Chill didn't always look great in our games, this is in large part due to us hitting a very controlling set of matchups; even still, Creeping Chill is instrumental in stealing some games.

As far as Magic Arena, the deck is already fairly cheap at four mythics (Liliana, Untouched by Death and 16 rares), although you should already have two copies of Death Baron from the new player experience. If you're looking to make the deck even cheaper, you can cut the two Cabal Strongholds from the mana base for two more Swamps and turn two Graveyard Marshals into Eternal Taskmasters. Counting the two free copies of Death Baron, this would make the deck 10 rares and four mythics total, or eight rares and four mythics if you're playing best-of-one and don't need Sorcerous Spyglass in the sideboard.

In the end, Creeping Zombies felt fairly competitive. Its aggro tribal starts can be quite strong, and the combo of Creeping Chill and Liliana, Untouched by Death adds a surprising amount of reach for a mono-black deck. If you're a fan of tribal decks, Creeping Zombies is likely one of the best budget options in War of the Spark Standard!

Sadly, Creeping Zombies isn't a great ultra-budget deck. The only expensive cards in the deck are Death Baron and Liliana, Untouched by Death, and those are two of our foundational cards. While we can get the deck down to about $58 by cutting two copies of Liliana, Untouched by Death and trimming back on the lands and sideboard cards, I'm not sure I'd want to play Creeping Zombies without the full four copies of Liliana, Untouched by Death.

For our non-budget build this week, we drop Creeping Chill and splash into blue for Dimir Zombies. While this ups the cost of the deck quite a bit since we need dual lands, we also get a big boost of power, with Liliana, Dreadhorde General joining the fray, Thought Erasure giving us a discard spell that works with our graveyard theme, and Enter the God-Eternals as a removal spell that's great against aggro and also makes a 4/4 Zombie. This makes the deck more of a straightforward Zombie Tribal build. While we lack the burn finish of Creeping Chill, we still have plenty of powerful ways to close out the game with cards like Liliana, Dreadhorde General in the deck, while the deck gets a general boost in consistency and power.

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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