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Much Abrew: UB Zombies (Modern)

Hello, everyone! Welcome to another episode of Much Abrew About Nothing. This week, we're heading to Modern to play one of the most popular and perhaps underrated tribes in the format: Zombies! Today's UB Zombies build is interesting. While we've seen sacrifice-based synergy Zombie decks in the past and some beatdown, Merfolk-esque lord-heavy Zombies builds, UB Zombies walks the line between the two, with the primary plan being to get in for damage early in the game with one-drops like Gravecrawler and Dread Wanderer before closing out the game with drain by sacrificing our board with Diregraf Captain and / or Plague Belcher on the battlefield. The end result is a deck that is partly Zombie beatdown tribal but partly Zombie Aristocrats! Can the plan work? Are Zombies actually a competitive tribe in Modern? Let's get to the video and find out; then, we'll talk more about the deck!

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Much Abrew: UB Zombies

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  • UB Zombies felt surprisingly competitive. We finished our league with a 4-1 record, with our only loss coming to Oops, All Spells, which is a deck we'll almost never beat with the current build of UB Zombies.
  • In general, the deck felt extremely strong in any sort of fair match. Thanks to a ton of one-drops, we can get some wins just by being aggressive, and if our beatdown plan isn't quite enough, our Aristocrats sacrifice plan with Diregraf Captain, Plague Belcher, and Carrion Feeder to sacrifice our board gives us a way to close out the game through blockers. Against control, we have a bunch of recursive threats in Gravecrawler, Dread Wanderer, and Geralf's Messenger along with Aether Vial and Cavern of Souls to fight through counterspells.

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  • On the other hand, UB Zombies feels super weak to unfair decks. (Thankfully, Modern is in a pretty fair place at the moment, so this isn't a deal-breaker, although as we saw against Oops, All Spells, you'll still run into unfair decks on occasion.) While our clock is fast-ish, in reality, Zombies are more resilient than fast, and we're not the type of aggro deck that can consistently win by Turn 3 or 4 to race combo. We're also not very good at interacting (outside of killing creatures, which we do well), with no Thoughtseize or graveyard hate anywhere in the 75, which is weird. Considering how good the fair matchups felt for UB Zombies, cutting some of the removal from the sideboard (which might just be improving matchups we're already favored in) for something like Leyline of the Void or Nihil Spellbomb along with Thoughtseize or Collective Brutality would go a long way toward giving us a chance against unfair decks. We don't need to stop combo decks forever—our clock is fast enough that we only need to buy ourselves a turn or two—which means even a single Thoughtseize has the potential to slow our opponent down enough to pick up the win. Plus, Thoughtseize is probably the best black card in Modern. You need a really good reason not to run it, and I'm not sure UB Zombies has one.
  • The easiest way to think about UB Zombies is a deck with two separate but related parts, held together by Diregraf Captain, which supports both plans. First, we have the aggro beatdown plan, where cards like Dread Wanderer and Gravecrawler (combined with Diregraf Captain) can get us off to fast starts and quickly pressure your opponent's life total. Second, we have the sacrifice / Aristocrats plan, with Carrion Feeder and a sacrifice outlet, Diregraf Captain and Plague Belcher as pseudo-Blood Artists, and Undead Augur for card draw. One of the challenges of playing the deck is figuring out when we're on the beatdown plan (which usually means making aggressive attacks, even if some of our creatures die) and when we're on the sacrifice plan (which usually means trying to keep creatures on the battlefield, even if it means skipping some attacks until we can get our payoffs and sacrifice outlet set up). 

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  • Soul Diviner doesn't really look like a Modern-playable card, but it's actually pretty sweet in the deck, to the point where it might be worth playing more than just two copies. The sweetest thing that Soul Diviner can do is reset a Geralf's Messenger, removing the +1/+1 counter so it can die (or we can sacrifice it) again to drain our opponent several times with its enters-the-battlefield trigger, but even just removing a counter from Carrion Feeder or Aether Vial to draw an extra card each turn is quite powerful. 

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  • In conjunction with Aether Vial to put it into play at instant speed, Plague Belcher's ability to put two –1/–1 counters on one of our creatures can sometimes be an upside rather than a drawback since we can use the counters to kill something like Gravecrawler or Geralf's Messenger in response to exile-based removal like Path to Exile

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  • As I mentioned before, while I really like this build of Zombies in general, I wasn't very happy with the sideboard since it feels like we are too focused on beating fair decks (which are already good matchups) and light on ways to disrupt unfair decks. That said, Force of Despair was a surprise all-star, sometimes killing multiple creatures and also giving us ways to deal with big, potentially hasty threats like Emrakul from the UR Breach deck that we faced. It might deserve more play in Modern, even outside of UB Zombies.
  • So, should you play UB Zombies in Modern? I think the answer is yes! The deck has a lot of the fun, intricate synergies of Aristocrats-style combo decks, while also offering a decent tribal beatdown plan. We were super close to finishing our league with a 5-0, and with some sideboard updates to improve our matchups against unfair combo decks, UB Zombies might end up being a real, competitive deck in Modern. Plus, it's super fun to play!


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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