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Budget Magic: $89 (35 Tix) Zombies (Standard)


Haku', Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! Core Set 2019 is finally here, which means this week, we're kicking off our exploration of a sweet new Standard format. First up, we have a tribe that used to be among the best in Standard but fell off after our last rotation: Zombies! What has changed to suddenly put Zombies back in the Standard spotlight? Some sweet new cards from Core Set 2019, of course! The idea of Zombie tribal is simple: with the printing of Death Baron in Core Set 2019, we suddenly have a massive 12 lords (with Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery joining the fray), so we look to play a solid curve of Zombie creatures, slam a bunch of lords to make them into huge threats, and beat our opponent down with a huge horde of the undead before they can recover. Do Zombies have what it takes to compete in Core Set 2019 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: Zombies (Standard)

The Deck

Zombies are pretty much a traditional tribal deck, overloaded with all of the best Zombies in Standard and a ton of lords to make our Zombies into even bigger threats. Then, we spend our support slots on the best removal we can muster under the budget, to help ensure that our Zombies can keep attacking, and hopefully overwhelm our opponent with our creatures!

Lords

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As we talked about in the intro, the biggest advantage of Zombies in our current Standard is they have a ton of good lords. In the three-drop slot, the combo of Lord of the Accursed and Death Baron kicks things off, not only pumping all of our other Zombies but offering some additional upside as well. For Death Baron, this upside is giving all of our other Zombies deathtouch, which is actually a very strong ability. On offense, it allows us to attack into bigger blockers, knowing that we get to trade up if our opponent blocks, while on defense, it allows creatures like Dread Wanderer to stonewall bigger threats. Meanwhile, the upside of Lord of the Accursed is that in the mid- to late game, we can spend a couple of mana to give our team menace, which is great on its own because it allows us to force damage through blockers to close out the game. Even better, when our team has deathtouch, our opponent essentially needs to trade two of their creatures to block one of our creatures, since just one point of deathtouch damage is enough to take down the blocker. Together, Lord of the Accursed and Death Baron help to make sure that our Zombies are as big of threats as possible, allowing us to push through tons of damage and close out the game.

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Liliana's Mastery is a pretty absurd card in a Zombie deck, not just working like a lord by pumping our Zombies but making two 2/2 tokens (which are actually 3/3s because of Liliana's Mastery itself). Normally, lords are great when you have a board full of on-tribe creatures but pretty lacking off the top in the late game if the board is clear. Liliana's Mastery breaks this mold by not only being a lord but an army in a can. While adding six power and toughness across two bodies is already a good deal for five mana, the real power of Liliana's Mastery is that it's often adding even more power to the battlefield, since it's pumping all of our Zombies that are already on the battlefield. This means that we often cast Liliana's Mastery and it immediately adds something like 10 power to the battlefield, which makes it an extremely powerful five-drop for a Zombie deck.

Zombies

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Thanks to the printing of Diregraf Ghoul in Core Set 2019, the Zombie tribe now has two aggressive, two-power one-drops, which give us a great way to start our Zombie beatdown curve. While Diregraf Ghoul is slow and enters the battlefield tapped, which makes it bad on defense, a 2/2 for one mana is still a great deal, and this doesn't even consider the fact that it often ends up a 3/3 or 4/4 thanks to all of our lords. Meanwhile, Dread Wanderer is the one card in our deck that dies to Goblin Chainwhirler, but it makes up for this drawback by coming back from the graveyard after we empty our hand. The recursive nature of Dread Wanderer (along with a couple of other cards we'll talk about in a minute) is a huge deal, especially against control decks. Sure, control decks have tons of removal to kill our Dread Wanderer, but Dread Wanderer just keeps coming back from the graveyard, so unless our opponent has exile-based removal, sooner or later, Dread Wanderer and friends will run the opponent out of removal and steal the game.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Graveyard Marshal is another huge new addition from Core Set 2019. On Turn 2, it gives us an on-curve 3/2 attacker that also benefits from our lords, which is fine. However, the real power of Graveyard Marshal is in the late game, when we can play it with five or even eight mana and immediately eat a couple of creatures from our graveyard to make 2/2 Zombie tokens, making Graveyard Marshal a one-card way to refill our board after a wrath. The combination of being a fine attacker in the early game and an even better threat in the late game once our graveyard fills up makes Graveyard Marshal one of those rare two-drops that is good at just about any point in the game, making it a great threat for Zombie tribal.

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Josu Vess, Lich Knight is just a one-of, and if budget isn't a concern, it should probably just be an additional copy of Liliana, Untouched by Death (which we'll talk about in a minute). While Josu Vess, Lich Knight is a fine card in our deck, offering a big body in the four-drop slot (which is one of the weaker slots in our deck), the problem is that it's pretty unlikely we'll ever have the 10 mana needed to kick it, so it's mostly just a 4/5 menace for four. While this isn't a bad rate, it's also not especially exciting, even with menace being a slight upside.

$ 0.00 $ 0.00

Liliana, Untouched by Death is a two-of in our deck, but after playing with Zombies for a while, I really wish we had at least three and maybe four. On paper, Liliana, Untouched by Death looks like a good but not great planeswalker, but Liliana, Untouched by Death is great in practice (especially in a deck overflowing with Zombies). The +1 is pretty synergistic, milling over Dread Wanderers, Scrapheap Scroungers, and Zombie food for Graveyard Marshal while also giving us a way to close out the game without attacking and gaining some incidental life against aggro decks. The −2 is actually a lot stronger than it looks, partly because Liliana, Untouched by Death starts with enough loyalty that we can use it twice in a row to kill two creatures and partly because the −X/−X ability gives us a clean way to deal with annoying threats like Hazoret the Fervent. Finally, the −3 ultimate is absolutely insane in the late game. We had a game where, after ticking up Liliana, Untouched by Death for a few turns, we finally used the −3 and recast two lords and three one-drops, which essentially just won us the game on the spot. While that's the dream scenario, even just playing Liliana, Untouched by Death on Turn 4, ticking her up once, and then using the −3 on Turn 5 is enough that we can recast a three-mana lord and either a Graveyard Marshal or two one-drops, which is still a fine deal, especially considering we still have a Liliana, Untouched by Death left over on the battlefield. 

The downside of Liliana, Untouched by Death is that on an empty board, she doesn't do a good job of protecting herself (although immediately going up to five loyalty helps a bit). Thankfully, having a bunch of cheap, recursive Zombies helps, and Liliana, Untouched by Death is solid even with just a couple of Zombies on the battlefield.

Other Stuff

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Scrapheap Scrounger is a weird one. It's mostly in the deck because the mono-black build of Zombies is really lacking in good options in the two-drop slot behind Graveyard Marshal (especially with Metallic Mimic being too expensive for the budget, although Metallic Mimic isn't that great at the moment thanks to Goblin Chainwhirler). Not being a Zombie is pretty painful, and the combo of Scrapheap Scrounger and Graveyard Marshal really taxes our graveyard (especially considering that we don't want to exile Dread Wanderer and Liliana, Untouched by Death likes having Zombies in our graveyard).

The good news is that Scrapheap Scrounger is really, really good against control decks, giving us another recursive threat to fight through removal and sweepers, and as a 3/2 for two, it's a fairly aggressive threat in its own right. On the other hand, Scrapheap Scrounger is pretty bad against aggro and midrange—bad enough that we usually just sideboard it out for more removal. Basically, Scrapheap Scrounger is the best of some not-great options, so feel free to treat this as a flex slot and try out some other options.

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While the Zombie part of our deck is very close to what I'd play if budget weren't a concern, the one place where you can really see the effects of the budget is in the removal. While Cast Down, Never // Return, and Murder are passable options, a non-budget build would be playing Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt and leaving our current removal spells on the sidelines. This being said, the deck is certainly functional with our current removal package, and the upside of Never // Return making a Zombie token is cute. Basically, the removal in our deck is functional and is typically good enough to deal with problematic creatures; it's just slightly less efficient and powerful than the best options in our current Standard format.

Wrap-Up

So, Zombies is pretty great. We finished our video matches 5-0, although we did play Mono Red a second time and lose, dropping our overall record to 5-1. The beauty of the tribe in Standard is that is seems really solid against both of the big archetypes in the format: Red Aggro and Ux Control. Against Red Aggro, Zombies simply doesn't care about Goblin Chainwhirler, had early-game creatures, and—thanks to a seemingly endless number of lords—quickly ends up with bigger creatures as well. Plus, the incidental lifegain from Liliana, Untouched by Death is nice. Meanwhile, against control, the combination of fast aggro starts to pick up free wins and a bunch of recursive threats like Dread Wanderer and Scrapheap Scrounger (along with Graveyard Marshal and Liliana, Untouched by Death) makes it pretty difficult for a control deck to keep our Zombies in check with removal, assuming we are careful not to get wrecked by a sneaky Settle the Wreckage

$ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00 $ 0.00

As far as changes to make to the budget build of the deck, I'm actually really happy with the current build. While there are upgrades to be made (Fatal Push, Vraska's Contempt, another Liliana, Untouched by Death), they push the deck outside of the budget range (although you might be able to slip in the third Liliana, Untouched by Death over the Josu Vess, Lich Knight and just barely sneak in under the $100 budget). 

All in all, the budget build of Zombies felt quite competitive, and with a handful of upgrades to the removal suite and sideboard, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the deck crawl its way into the top tier of the format heading into rotation this fall. However, Zombies does come with one big drawback: two of its three lords and Dread Wanderer rotate when Guilds of Ravnica is released in October, which means that it's very possible the deck will cease to exist at rotation (unless we get a surprising number of good Zombies in our second return to Ravnica). Still, Zombies is a very good budget option if you like tribal decks and are looking to compete in Standard over the summer!

The main challenge of getting ultra-budget Zombies down near $50 is doing it without cutting lords or other powerful Zombies. In the end, we do have to trim one copy of Death Baron, since it's the most expensive creature in our deck, but otherwise, we manage to keep our Zombie base intact. Apart from reorganizing our mana, sideboard, and removal, the biggest change to the deck is dropping Liliana, Untouched by Death for two more copies of Josu Vess, Lich Knight. While this does represent a downgrade in power, we also get a couple of Cabal Strongholds in the mana base, so it's at least somewhat possible that we cast Josu Vess with kicker, and if we manage to pull that off, we should just win the game. All in all, the ultra-budget build loses a bit of power—Liliana, Untouched by Death is really good in Zombies—but if you are looking for a super-cheap starter build of Zombies, this one should work just fine for the kitchen table.

For our non-budget build this week, we have the Zombie deck that Team Genesis used to beat us with on Team Standard Super League on Tuesday (with one additional Fatal Push in the sideboard, because their deck had a 14-card sideboard for some reason). As you can see, as far as the Zombies themselves, they're very close to what we played in our videos, with the main changes being no Josu Vess, Lich Knight and one more Liliana, Untouched by Death. The biggest upgrade you can make to the deck is Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt over the motley crew of removal spells we played in the budget build, ideally the full four copies of each between the main deck and sideboard. Otherwise, you're pretty much good to go with the build we played for our videos, minus a handful of small, inexpensive changes to the sideboard!

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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