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Budget Magic: $99 (29 tix) Gary Zombies (Pioneer, Magic Online)

Sastipe, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're heading once again to my new favorite Magic format, Pioneer, this time to play a tribal deck with a twist: Gary Zombies! If you were playing Standard back around when Amonkhet was released, you'll know that Zombie tribal was one of the best decks in the format, even winning a Pro Tour (probably worstly known as a Mythic Championship). Today's deck borrows some of the best aspects of the Standard zombies deck but with some massive new additions in Liliana, Untouched by Death and especially Gray Merchant of Asphodel (probably better know as Gary) as finishers. The end result is a tribal deck that can pick up quick, aggressive wins with cheap Zombies and powerful Zombie lords but that can also win the late game due to the power of Gray Merchant of Asphodel to drain the opponent out of the game by surprise. How good does Gray Merchant of Asphodel make Zombie tribal 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: Gary Zombies (Pioneer)

The Deck

Gary Zombies is a tribal deck but with the ability to close out the game with a huge drain from Gray Merchant of Asphodel along with beating down with creatures. The deck's goal is to chip in for early damage with cheap Zombies and Zombie lords to buff them, and then close out the game with either Gray Merchant of Asphodel or Liliana, Untouched by Death. The easiest way to break down the deck is to simply walk our way up our Zombie curve.


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In the one-drop slot are two options: Cryptbreaker, which is basically a one-mana planeswalker similar to Deathrite Shaman, and Dread Wanderer as a recursive Savannah Lions. Cryptbreaker is one of the best card in our deck, offering a deadly combination of turning useless lands (or creatures like Dread Wanderer that like being in the graveyard) into 2/2 Zombies by discarding them and card advantage by allowing us to tap three Zombies to draw a card, which is an absurd amount of value for just a single mana. Meanwhile, Dread Wanderer is our best beatdown one-drop, attacking for two on Turn 2, while later in the game, the ability to return to the battlefield from the graveyard is key to beating control decks playing wraths like Supreme Verdict


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Much like our one-drops, in the two-drop slot are one beatdown-focused creature and one value-centric Zombie, both costing double-black mana, which is helpful when it comes to closing out the game with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Relentless Dead offers a mostly on-curve and somewhat evasive body—a 2/2 menace for two is fine on its own. But more importantly, it gives us another way to use our graveyard for value. As long as we leave mana up, Relentless Dead dodges most removal and can chump block forever, since if it dies, we can return it to our hand for a single mana, and it also gives us the option to reanimate another Zombie along the way. In the early game, this often means getting back something like Cryptbreaker for just one more mana, while in the late game, we can potentially reanimate Gray Merchant of Asphodel to drain our opponent out of the game. 

As for Graveyard Marshal, having three power is a nice upside, and it does a good job of filling our Zombie curve, although its ability isn't as great as it looks. Thanks to cards like Relentless Dead and Liliana, Untouched by Death, exiling creatures from our graveyard is risky since that eliminates the possibility of returning or recasting them later in the game. That said, having a mana sink and the option to make a board full of 2/2s is an upside.


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The three-drop slot is our lord slot, with Death Baron and Lord of the Accursed. While worded differently, the two cards are actually quite similar, pumping all of our Zombies and making it difficult for our opponent to block—Death Baron by granting deathtouch and Lord of the Accursed by menacing up our team for two mana. Together, our Zombie lords are a key part of our "get in early damage and then finish the game with our weird reach" plan. Ideally, we'll curve out a one-drop into a two-drop into a Zombie lord, get in a couple of big attacks, and get our opponent's life total low enough for Gray Merchant of Asphodel and Liliana, Untouched by Death to finish the job.


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Liliana, Untouched by Death is a shining example of good planeswalker design. While extremely powerful, you have to have a very specific deck (Zombie tribal) to harness her power. In our deck overflowing with Zombies, Liliana, Untouched by Death is one of our best cards. Her +1 stocks out graveyard with Dread Wanderers or cards we can either recast with Liliana's 3 or reanimate with Relentless Dead. Her 2 is often a hard removal spell, and with enough Zombies on the board to defend Liliana, we can use it two turns in a row to kill our opponent's best creatures. Finally, Liliana's 3 offers a ton of value in the late game when we can often recast a board full of Zombies or simply cast a copy of Gray Merchant of Asphodel to close out the game. While we need Zombies on the battlefield to really power up Liliana, the combination of buffering our life against aggro, killing big threats against midrange, and helping us recover from a wrath by recasting our graveyard against control makes Liliana, Untouched by Death a perfect addition to our deck.


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Gray Merchant of Asphodel is by far the biggest Pioneer addition to Zombie tribal, often representing something like a 20-life swing for just five mana. Almost incidentally, our deck has a lot of black mana symbols, which power up Gray Merchant of Asphodel by accident. One thing that sometimes happens with ground-based tribal decks like Zombies is that the board ends up getting cluttered and neither player can attack or block. Gray Merchant of Asphodel is our way to break through that board stall and potentially just kill our opponent by surprise. Combine this with Gray Merchant of Asphodel's ability to stabilize against aggressive decks, where even just gaining six or eight life is often enough to keep us alive and eventually take over the game, and Gary is one of the biggest reasons to play Zombies in Pioneer. 

While we had some traditional Gary games where we simply killed our opponent when Gray Merchant of Asphodel entered the battlefield, perhaps the most impressive Gary performance in our matches was against Mono-White Humans. Our opponent kept getting us to one life with a lethal board, only to have Gray Merchant of Asphodel come down and gain us just enough life to stay alive for another turn or two, which eventually allowed us to win the match, which we really had no business winning. 


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Removal-wise, we have a mixture of two-mana options since I still haven't figured out which is best in the Pioneer format. Grasp of Darkness kills basically anything (including annoying indestructible creatures) on Turn 2 but can lose value in the late game if our opponent can stick a high-toughness creature. Ultimate Price kills most creatures but misses things like Rogue Refiner, Voice of Resurgence, and Hydroid Krasis. Meanwhile, Cast Down hits a reasonable number of targets but can't kill Jace, Vryn's Prodigy, Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet, or Dragonlord Atarka. As such, for the time being, we have a motley crew of removal, although once the Pioneer metagame becomes more settled, one of these spells will likely rise to the top of the format.

The Mana

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The mana for Gary Zombies is fairly simple: 20 Swamps and four Castle Locthwain. I don't think we activated Castle Locthwain a single time during our matches, although it always came into play untapped, so the downside is very minimal. Sooner or later, I expect we'll get into a grindy control matchup and be happy that we have the card-drawing land in our mana base, even if we don't use it all that often in most matchups.


All in all, we played five matches with Gary Zombies and ended up going 4-1, with our only loss being to Bogles (and in all honesty, I'm not sure we'll ever beat Bogles with this deck). Along the way, we took down Grixis Fires, Mono-White Humans, Blue-White Monument, and Temur Marvel, giving us a pretty good cross-section of aggro, control, and combo. Gray Merchant of Asphodel was certainly the hero of our matches, accounting for a lot of our wins, either directly by killing our opponent or indirectly by allowing us to gain enough life to stabilize and stay in the game against aggro. It's hard to overstate how strong Gary is in Pioneer.

As far as changes to make to the budget build of Gary Zombies, I'm actually very happy with how the list ended up. It might be worth playing a hard sweeper in the sideboard like Bontu's Last Reckoning for the Bogles matchup, but in general, the deck ran very well. 

In the end, Gary Zombies seems like a very solid budget option for the Pioneer format. It seems like a good option if you're a fan of tribal decks (or Zombies specifically) or just like the idea of draining the opponent out of the game with Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Plus, if you've been playing Standard for the past couple of years, there's a pretty good chance that the deck's $98 price tag is deceiving since you probably have most of the cards in your collection already!

Getting Gary Zombies down near $50 isn't too hard, although we do have to cut Relentless Dead, which is by far the most expensive card in the budget build. For a replacement, we get Lazotep Reaver, which is even better with the Zombie lord beatdown plan since it offers two Zombie bodies in a single card, although it offers less late-game value against control and sweepers compared to Relentless Dead. Otherwise, we trim a couple of copies of Death Baron for Lifebane Zombie, which is great in some matchup, but always fine as an evasive 3/1 with two black-mana symbols, and drop Castle Locthwain for more Swamps. This leaves us with a deck that's probably slightly less powerful than the build we played for the videos, although not by much. In all honesty, I think the ultra-budget build of Gary Zombies actually looks fairly playable and could probably win a reasonable number of games at an FNM-level event.

As for our non-budget build, in the main deck, the biggest changes come to our removal package and the mana base. For removal, we get Murderous Rider, which is perfect for our deck since it happens to be a Zombie in creature mode, while giving us a clean answer to planeswalkers as well as creatures, along with a couple of Fatal Pushes for the early game. In the mana base, we get Mutavault as an additional Zombie and more late-game reach against removal and wraths, along with a couple of Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth to allow us to tap our Mutavaults for black mana. Finally, the sideboard gets some big upgrades, with Leyline of the Void and Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as graveyard hate, Thoughtseize over Duress in the discard slot, and the cheaper Pithing Needle over Sorcerous Spyglass. This leaves us with a deck that should play almost exactly like the build in the videos but with a meaningful boost of power, especially after sideboarding.


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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