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Budget Magic: Historic Zombie Hunt (0 Mythics / 0 Rares)


Qué tal, Budget Magic lovers, it's that time once again! This week, we're kicking off the new year (a bit late, but still) right with one of the most unique, cheapest, and jankiest budget decks of all time: Zombie Hunt! While we've played the deck in the past in Modern, this time, we're taking the strategy out for a spin in Historic. The idea of Zombie Hunt is simple: the only non-land cards in our deck are four copies of Treasure Hunt and two copies of Zombie Infestation, so whenever we resolve a Treasure Hunt, we'll hopefully draw a ton of cards and end with either another Treasure Hunt (so we can do it again) or Zombie Infestation to turn all of the lands we draw into Zombies to close out the game. The best part? Not only does today's build of Zombie Hunt have zero rares and zero mythics, but it also only has six uncommons (four Reliquary Tower and two Zombie Infestations), so it is as close to free as a deck can be on Magic Arena! Can Zombie Hunt compete in Historic? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Budget Magic: Zombie Hunt

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The Deck

This is usually where I do a little breakdown of the type of deck we're playing, but I'm not sure this works for Zombie Hunt. While Zombie Hunt technically is a combo deck, in reality, there's no other deck like it in all of Magic. Zombie Hunt is just Zombie Hunt—its own weird archetype floating on the fringes of the multiverse.

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What makes Zombie Hunt so weird? Well, mostly that the deck plays 54 lands and only six total non-lands, and it can't really play any more non-lands without the combo falling apart. The most important card in the deck is Treasure Hunt, which, in our deck, is the best card draw spell in Magic's history. When we resolve Treasure Hunt, we reveal cards until we hit a non-land and put all of those cards into our hand. Since we'll have, at most, five non-land cards in our deck, when we cast Treasure Hunt, this means we're probably drawing something like 10 cards on average, and it's not unheard of to draw 20 or 30 on occasion. 

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Every time we resolve a Treasure Hunt, along with drawing a ton of lands, we'll also end up with one non-land card, which will either be another Treasure Hunt or our finisher Zombie Infestation. Let's say we have a pretty average Treasure Hunt that draw us 10 lands and a Zombie Infestation. We can play Zombie Infestation for two mana, discard all of the lands to make five 2/2 Zombies and kill our opponent in just a couple of attacks. If we have an above average Treasure Hunt (or cast multiple Treasure Hunts before we find Zombie Infestation) we can usually make 10 or more Zombies on our opponent's end step, which is enough power to one-shot our opponent with a single Zombie attack!

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Outside of Treasure Hunt and Zombie Infestation, the rest of our deck is lands. While this might not sound all that exciting, some of the lands are actually super important to the deck's success. Reliquary Tower is the best of the bunch, allowing us to keep all of the lands that we draw with Treasure Hunt in hands rather than being forced to discard them to hand size at the end of our turn. 

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The other important land in Zombie Hunt is a newish addition: Mystic Sanctuary. By far the biggest problem for Zombie Hunt is cheap interaction. Discard spells like Thoughtseize and Duress or counters like Mystical Dispute and Negate can ruin our day all by themselves. Since our deck is full of lands, we generally have a single Treasure Hunt in our starting hand. If our opponent can stop it from resolving, there's a decent chance that we'll spend the rest of the game drawing useless lands until our opponent puts us out of our misery. Mystic Sanctuary gives us a way to fight through disruption by essentially adding extra copies of Treasure Hunt to our deck. If our opponent can deal with our first Treasure Hunt with a counter or discard spell, we can use Mystic Sanctuary to put it back on top of our deck to try to combo again. 

Meanwhile, our cycling lands do double duty in our deck. First, we can use them fairly to dig through our deck to find Treasure Hunt. Second, we can use a cycling land in conjunction with Mystic Sanctuary to draw the Treasure Hunt we put on top of our deck and combo off immediately, rather than waiting a turn to combo off.

Playing the Deck

On one hand, playing Zombie Hunt is easy: we play Treasure Hunt and hope for the best. We probably win if it resolves (and we don't get super unlucky by drawing only a few cards, which does happen on occasion). If Treasure Hunt gets hit by discard or a counterspell, we try to rebuild by finding another Treasure Hunt, either directly or with the help of Mystic Sanctuary. On the other hand, there are a few things you can do to improve your odds of winning with the deck.

  1. Never keep a hand without Treasure Hunt. If you decide to Zombie Hunt, always, always, always mulligan hands that don't have a Treasure Hunt. The way that Zombie Hunt works, we can easily win on a mulligan to one (assuming the one is Treasure Hunt). Most of the cards in our deck are useless lands anyway, and a single Treasure Hunt undoes any number of mulligans. Back in the pre–London mulligan rule era, there was a risk that we would mulligan into oblivion and still not end up with Treasure Hunt, but in a world of London mulligans, this almost never happens if we are willing to mulligan aggressively. (In fact, if we're willing to mulligan all the way to one, we'll end up with a Treasure Hunt 97.2% of the time.)
  2. Never cast Treasure Hunt on Turn 2 without Reliquary Tower. Drawing a lot of cards with Treasure Hunt is great, but it's much less great if we have to discard most of them to hand size at the end of our turn. If we have Reliquary Tower, we can Treasure Hunt on Turn 2, keep all of our cards, and plan on playing Zombie Infestation or another Treasure Hunt on Turn 3. If we don't have Reliquary Tower, we have to wait until Turn 3 to play Treasure Hunt, cast Treasure Hunt before playing our land for the turn, and trust that we'll draw into a Reliquary Tower to keep our hand. Things change slightly if we naturally happen to have Zombie Infestation in our hand. Then, we can play Zombie Infestation on Turn 2 and Treasure Hunt on Turn 3, and if we don't find Reliquary Tower, we can discard cards to make Zombies during our turn rather than during our opponent's end step, to avoid discarding to hand size.
  3. The lands you play matter a lot! Mana-wise, our deck cards about four things: having a blue source on Turn 2 or 3 to play Treasure Hunt, having a Reliquary Tower so we can keep the cards we draw with Treasure Hunt, having a black source on Turn 3 or 4 so we can play Zombie Infestation, and getting three Islands on the battlefield as quickly as possible to turn on Mystic Sanctuary. We never need more than one source of black mana (or one Reliquary Tower) on the battlefield, so in general, we want to play Island, Swamp (or any black source really), and Reliquary Tower over the first three turns and then spend the rest of the game playing more Islands and Mystic Sanctuary. Cards like Bojuka Bog and Radiant Fountain are helpful in certain situations and matchups, but try to avoid playing them over Islands unless they are very necessary. 
  4. Sometimes, you'll lose to pure luck; it's part of the deck. Sometimes, you can do everything right with Zombie Hunt and still lose based on the order of your deck. You can mulligan into Treasure Hunt, find the Reliquary Tower, cast Treasure Hunt, and end up having Zombie Infestation as the top card of our library. It doesn't happen all that often, but it does happen on occasion. It's part of the cost of playing the deck.
  5. Never sideboard in non-lands. You probably noticed that our sideboard is 15 Islands. This isn't just for meme value. If you sideboard in any non-land cards, you'll fizzle the combo. Take Leyline of Sanctity, for example. The white Leyline would be perfect in Zombie Hunt as a way to protect against Thoughtseize (which is extremely popular in Historic), but if we sideboard in Leyline of Sanctity, we'll end up Treasure Hunting into it, which will fizzle our combo. One of my goals of the deck was to keep it as cheap as possible, not just in terms of rare and mythics but also uncommons as well, which is why we ended up with the 15-Island sideboard. In reality, you should stuff your sideboard full of random utility lands like Ghost Quarter and Blast Zone, which can come in for other lands and can be quite powerful in the right matchup. 

Wrap-Up

We sort of had a special double episode of Zombie Hunt this week. We started off in best-of-three and ended up going 2-2 in our video matches and 3-5 overall, before realizing that we were winning almost all of our games one (and then losing a lot of sideboard games after our opponents overloaded on discard and counters) and switching to best-of-one where we went 3-2. 

In best-of-three, the prevalence of Thoughtseize is a big issue for Historic Zombie Hunt. Last time I checked, 52% of decks in Historic play Thoughtseize, mostly as a four-of, and Thoughtseize is the single best card in the format against our deck. While we can beat it on occasion, most of our losses in best-of-three came to opponents losing to Treasure Hunt in game one, mulliganing aggressively for Thoughtseize in game two, taking our Treasure Hunt, and picking up a fairly easy victory. 

Meanwhile, things are a lot easier in best-of-one. Even though Thoughtseize is still popular in best-of-one, our opponents don't know what we are up to, which means they don't know that we mostly can't win if they mulligan until they have Thoughtseize in their opening hand. Add in the popularity of random creature-based aggro decks in best-of-one (which typically don't have much disruption), and Zombie Hunt feels like it could be at least a semi-legitimate option in the format. Plus, it's a perfect deck to grind on the best-of-one ladder because games are generally over by Turn 4. Either we resolve the Treasure Hunt and win, or our opponent stops us (or we get unlucky with our Treasure Hunt) and we lose. We managed to grind through five matches in about 15 minutes, which is pretty impressive.

So, should you play Zombie Hunt? I think the answer is yes but not as your primary deck. Zombie Hunt is so cheap and unique that I think everyone should experience it (you should be able to put it together for free on Magic Arena, even as a free-to-play player). On the other hand, the deck is the epitome of a glass cannon, and it tries to do the same thing every game, which means you'll probably get tired of it after a while. Basically, I think that everyone should have Zombie Hunt in their collection so they can pull it out and play some fun, janky games when they are in the mood, but nobody should make it their main Historic deck. 

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As we talked about a minute ago, we can't really add any other non-land cards to the deck, so all of the upgrades to the non-budget build involve lands. We drop the all-Island sideboard for Blast Zone and Labyrinth of Skophos for creature decks, Ghost Quarter to deal with annoying lands, and Scavenger Grounds to fight graveyard decks. We also get some new lands in the main deck. Fetid Pools and Watery Grave give us black sources that are also Islands to support Mystic Sanctuary, while Crawling Barrens and Mobilized District give us a backup plan for winning the game if things go wrong with our primary Treasure Hunt land. All in all, these changes bring us from zero rares to 29 rares, which is a huge jump. I wouldn't recommend going out and crafting cards just to upgrade Zombie Hunt, but if you have any or all of these lands in your collection, tossing them into the deck will improve it.

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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