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Budget Magic: $98 (39 tix) Modern GB Zombies


Ç'kemi, Budget Magic lovers! It's that time again. Kaladesh releases on Magic Online on Wednesday, which means that starting next week, we'll have a string of Budget Magic featuring spicy new Standard decks, but for this week, we are heading to Modern to check out another sweet tribal deck: GB Zombies! One of the things I promised myself when Eldritch Moon released is that I would try to build a deck featuring each one of the main tribes from the set; what I didn't expect was that most of these decks would be for Modern! Anyway, our GB Zombie deck is pretty straightforward; while we have some synergies built in, for the most part, we are looking to play efficient, aggressive creatures at each point on the curve and kill our opponent before they have a chance to stabilize or kill us with their combo. 

We'll break everything down after the videos, but 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 the latest and greatest.

GB Zombies: Deck Tech

GB Zombies vs. Lantern Control

GB Zombies vs. Kiki Chord

GB Zombies vs. Temur Delver

GB Zombies vs. WB Tokens

GB Zombies vs. UW Spirits

The Deck

GB Zombies is a fairly straightforward tribal aggro deck with a few tricks thrown in. Basically, we are looking to play powerful, above-the-curve creatures over the first few turns of the game and try to kill our opponent with two-power one-drops and four-power two-drops before they have a chance to stabilize or combo off. One of the upsides of playing GB Zombies is that we are much more resilient than most creature-based aggro decks, since we have cards that can create an army of Zombie tokens all by themselves or come back from the graveyard after they die. As a result, while a deck like Zoo can get destroyed by Supreme Verdict or a bunch of spot removal, we have a fairly easy time fighting through this type of hate. So, while we might not be the fastest creature-based aggro deck in Modern, we make up for this by being one of the most resilient.

One-Drops

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Let's get Diregraf Ghoul out of the way first, because it's just a beater. One of the benefits of Zombies is the tribe gets a lot of good one-drops, and while Diregraf Ghoul is typically the worst of the bunch, it still has two power, which is important for aggressive Turn 1 plays. 

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Gravecrawler is likely the best card in our deck because it isn't just a two-power one-drop—it's also the key to a lot of our synergies because we can cast it from the graveyard. This means we can discard it to a Cryptbreaker (for example) to get a 2/2 Zombie token and then still play the Gravecrawler. While it does come with the downside of not being able to block, the other benefit of Gravecrawler is that we can make attacks that would be bad with other creatures (for example, trading Gravecrawler for a 1/1 token) because we know that we can get Gravecrawler back from the graveyard for the low price of one mana. 

Apart from discarding Gravecrawler for value, Cryptbreaker is basically the Deathrite Shaman of our Zombie deck, doing a whole bunch of different things for only one mana. Not only can it turn useless lands into 2/2 Zombie tokens, but it also gives our deck a way to generate card advantage by tapping three untapped Zombies to draw a card. This is especially helpful because we have 12 one-drops, and while these creatures are great at getting in early damage, they also get stonewalled by things like Tarmogoyf and various Eldrazi in the midgame. With a Cryptbreaker on the battlefield, once our one-drops lose the ability to attack, we can still get value out of them by drawing cards (and hopefully finding removal spells to get rid of the blockers and start attacking again). 

Two-Drops

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The two-drops are the reason our deck is green–black instead of mono-black. In the past, when I tried to build Zombies in Modern, Relentless Dead was always one of the first creatures in the deck, which caused a couple of problems. First, Relentless Dead really strains the budget and makes it hard to play other good (but slightly expensive) cards like Gravecrawler—there's simply not enough money in the budget to play $40 of Relentless Deads. Second, Relentless Dead is a actually a very slow card and pushes the deck towards being grindy and built around card advantage rather than being a purely aggressive deck, and it's pretty difficult to build slow, grindy card-advantage decks in our very fast Modern format, especially on a budget. 

The good news is that Lotleth Troll and Putrid Leech are very powerful in their own right. Lotleth Troll has some synergy with Gravecrawler, allowing us to discard it to get a +1/+1 counter, but more importantly, it's a two-drop that can often end up with four (or more) power that also has trample and regenerates. Meanwhile, Putrid Leech is basically the budget version of Grim Flayer (without the pseudo-scrying, graveyard-filling upside)—it's a two-mana creature that can attack for four with consistency. Together, these cards give us eight two-drops that can deal a ton of damage in the early turns of the game. 

Three-Drops

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One of the challenges of building around Zombies is that all of the lords come in the three-drop slot, which means we can only play so many while still having a functional curve. Diregraf Colossus isn't really a lord, but it does generate a ton of value and, in many cases, is actually better than a "real" lord like Cemetery Reaper. The upside of Diregraf Colossus is two-fold. First, if we can get a couple of Zombies in our graveyard with the help of Lotleth Troll and Cryptbreaker, our Diregraf Colossus enters the battlefield as a 4/4, which means it dodges common removal like Lightning Bolt. Second, Diregraf Colossus gives us the ability to go wide with 2/2 Zombie tokens, and if we time things properly, we can cast a Diregraf Colossus and then immediately cast a one-drop like Gravecrawler to get the token, which means that even if our opponent kills our Diregraf Colossus, we are still getting some amount of value, which is rare quality among lords. 

Cemetery Reaper is a real lord, giving all of our Zombies +1/+1, which often helps us close out the game on Turn 4 or 5 after we've built up a board of Zombies. So, why Cemetery Reaper over something like Death Baron or Lord of the Undead? Apart from being the least inexpensive Zombie lord by far, the ability to exile creatures from the graveyard to make a 2/2 Zombie token is an important upside, not so much because of the token but because it helps fight various graveyard strategies. While the ability is slow, sometimes hitting a Kitchen Finks that's about to come back from the graveyard with persist or a Prized Amalgam against Dredge is enough to swing the game in our favor. 

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Our last three-drop is Geralf's Messenger, which is another one of the most powerful Zombies in Modern. While entering the battlefield tapped can be annoying, it provides a ton of value for a relatively low mana cost. Maybe the easiest way to think of Geralf's Messenger is as the reverse Kitchen Finks. It's a 3/2 for three mana, which not only comes back from the graveyard the first time it dies, thanks to undying, but grows to a 4/3. More importantly, it drains the opponent for two life whenever it enters the battlefield, which is huge for our deck, since it gives us a way to close out the game without dealing combat damage, which is something black-based aggro decks often lack. 

Removal

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The rest of the non-land cards in our main deck are the removal spells Doom Blade and Dismember. If you happen to have Go for the Throat, you could easily run that as well, or even Victim of Night (although our mana base does make the double-black risky). Basically, we need some number of cards that we can use on Turn 2 or 3 to get our opponent's blockers out of the way so we can keep attacking, and these cards get the job done in an efficient manner. 

Ultra-Budget GB Zombies

Building ultra-budget GB Zombies for Modern requires cutting some really good cards, including Cemetery Reaper and Geralf's Messenger, which leaves the deck a little bit less resilient to removal than the build we played in the videos. The good news is that getting cheaper actually makes the deck even more aggressive thanks to the hasty Dreg Mangler, while also adding some additional graveyard synergies with Rotting Rats to discard not only Gravecrawler but also Haunted Dead. I would be perfectly happy starting out with this deck and possibly playing it at a FNM (depending on how cutthroat your local gaming store happens to be), but I would try to make some upgrades before playing it in a super-competitive environment. While I think the ultra-budget build can win some games, it's lacking the raw power that's often needed to compete in Modern. 

Non-Budget GB Zombies

The non-budget build of GB Zombies gets access to a secret card that can make any tribe playable (or even good) in Modern: Collected Company. Beyond this, there are quite a few upgrades, with more lords, some copies of Relentless Dead, and better removal and mana, not to mention Liliana of the Veil. All things told, this deck is slightly less aggressive than the one in the videos. Instead of playing two-power one-drops and four-power two-drops, we are looking to outvalue our opponent in the midgame by hitting powerful creatures at instant speed with the help of Collected Company. We also have the ability to play more three-drops thanks to the addition of Birds of Paradise, which allows us to start dropping things like Geralf's Messenger and Death Baron as soon as Turn 2. While I think this build is a pretty major upgrade, I'm also not sure it's worth running out and spending nearly $1,000 to build Zombies in Modern. Although the tribe is fun and relatively competitive, it seems unlikely to be tier one in the near future, even with the upgrades. 

Conclusion

Anyway, that's all for today. We went 3-2 in our matches on video and 4-4 overall (not featured: a second loss to UW Spirits—which feels like a hard matchup, since our creatures are rougly the same power, but theirs fly while ours are ground-bound—and two games against budget 8 Rack, one where we drew Gravecrawlers and won fairly easily, the other where our opponent drew a ton of Smallpoxes and crushed us). The deck was a lot of fun to play, and while it is mostly an aggressive deck, it has enough synergy built in that it didn't feel particularly mindless like some other aggressive decks. The other big benefit of Zombies is that there are a ton of different ways to upgrade. Apart from building a full-on value deck like our Collected Company list, there's probably a sweet Relentless Dead list out there that can grind out value with sacrifice outlets, an Aether Vial list that looks to cheat a ton of lords into play on the cheap, and probably a discard-heavy build that could almost play a little bit like 8 Rack. So, if you do buy the deck, there are a ton of small changes that can be made to keep it feeling fresh and new for a long, long time!

Don't forget: next week, we get to start exploring Kaladesh Standard! 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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