The very first set of cards I ever picked up was the zombie intro pack to Legions. Being among the first tribes I was ever introduced to, let's continue the tribal series on the lovable undead.

Zombies come in an endless horde whether it’s one that refuses to stay dead or another that builds an incremental army. Zombies aren’t the fastest tribe but if zombies do anything, it’s grind. You can counter them, destroy them, block them. They’ll just keep coming. You can go under them with a fast combo, but if you stumble, the swarm may have grown beyond control. You can try going over the top, but we’ll lob everyone in front of it and pick them back up. Zombies is the name. Inevitability is the game.

We have a touch of removal in Fatal Push . This helps clear up problems creatures and blockers. Fatal Push Has been a staple since its inception and is a simple must for black decks across formats. We are and Aether Vial deck as well. We have a fair curve to support it. The big deal is that activating the abilities of our zombies can get a bit mana intensive. Vial opens up our real estate and adds classic dimensionality associated with the card. Be aware of the lines with which you can use it. Maybe you can Vial what you get back with Lord of the Undead , or slam your Relentless Dead back on board for free. Just keep your eyes open.

Before we get into the squad, I want to iterate that there are a TON of lines you’ll have available and as such this will require tons of practice. This isn’t about combo sequencing like Elves. It’s not about reaction like Spirits. While there is flexibility in how they are able to accomplish a goal, their goals tend to be singular. Combo off with these pieces or keep the opponent from doing that thing. Even a traditional tribal aggro deck, Merfolk, has its singular goal, islandwalk and swing. Zombies are less like riding a car down a highway with the occasional bend and more like navigating a grocery store with a shopping cart. You can weave through every lane, circle an aisle infinitely, circle the store infinitely. The lines available can be overwhelming. There are often a number of things you could choose to do at any given point in a game. Eat creatures out of the graveyard to make creatures, summon creatures to make creatures, discard creatures to make creatures, get back creatures to our hand to discard or summon to get more creatures, how many creatures should I leave back, which lord should I be leading on, do I want to discard this creature for value and dig it back later or just slam the creature now. It just doesn’t end. That’s not to say this deck is broken. Not even remotely. But that doesn’t make the deck simple. Rather, it is extraordinarily complex. The only limiting factor is what your opponent can do. And while sweeping up our creatures and stuffing beefy blockers in our way can work, it is by no means a guarantee.

We have some key parts to kicking off the deck’s flow with our one drops.

  • Gravecrawler is the best of the discard dorks. With every creature being a zombie, this derp is live from the yard at virtually any time. One of the best value plays is to discard it to Cryptbreaker for a zombie, then you cast a pumped up Diregraf Colossus , then you get to cast your Gravecrawler again but this time you get a bonus token. That’s probably a bit too perfect but it is the prime example of highlighting the deck’s fuel economy. The ability to recycle fuel increases the decks economy and stretches out the play of our cards.

  • Carrion Feeder is a huge deal for zombies who until Feeder’s transition to Modern, had Viscera Seer as the cheapest sacrifice outlet and Nantuko Husk at the cheapest in tribe. Without a solid sacrifice outlet, Zombies could really only take advantage of their recursion incidentally. Now with a cheap source of free sacrifice, we can do some nutty things. Carrion Feeder has this weird Champion of the Parish / Arcbound Ravager feel. Feeder just makes a chain with Gravecrawler , and while the Feeder is growing, this chain can enable other zombies such as Relentless Dead , Undead Augur , and Diregraf Colossus . A chain of recursion, card draw, and token production. Now we can proactively grind out opponents rather than reactively or incidentally. And at instant speed. Beautiful.

  • Cryptbreaker is something special and heads some of our best starts. We can turn extra lands in hand into zombies. We can toss our recursive one drops for zombies. This is easily the most used of his two abilities. The ability to turn trash into treasure is the real deal. There’s games where you have a five land opening hand and one of these guys makes it keepable as you can hold what lands you need while you use the rest to cast Grizzly Zombies. You just turned a hand with two creatures into a hand with maybe four? And with Aether Vial in the mix, that really frees up your mana for abilities such as Cryptbreaker . That ability to make use of junk in hand is what gives this little one drop late game value. But there’s more text on the guy! While we don’t use the ability as often as I’d like, it is very nice to have access to. In grindy games fought in the trenches, Cryptbreaker can come in, leave your guys back on defense, and go for a big draw on their end step. This will help push you through those grindy matches ( Ensnaring Bridge decks among others). And in a small note, it fuels itself. That is the part that really wraps up this one drop package. It is a self sustaining value engine that builds a board presence all on its own. Beautiful.

  • Relentless Dead just blanks non-Exile removal. We just keep that one mana back and we always have Relentless. When games are grinding long he can start bringing dorks back when he dies. Also, keep Aether Vial in the back of your mind any time a card mentions putting a creature in your hand. It just keeps grinding. The one thing I wish Modern zombies had is a solid two drop, free sacrifice outlet. Being able to recycle Gravecrawler for Diregraf Colossus tokens is sweet. But being able to trigger Relentless Dead on command would be a huge boon. The ability to simply sacrifice it at an opponent’s end step and reanimate a fallen zombie instantly seems really powerful. Nantuko Husk is simply too little for too much.

  • Lazotep Reaver is a surprising fellow. It splits its self into two creatures. More importantly, those creatures share the zombie type. This splitting up means extra value with our lords. Value. Also, since we are a Copter deck, this split in bodies means we can leave a body back to block while the other crews it up. Value. Similarly, it gives us that third body to activate Cryptbreaker . Value.

  • Undead Augur supplants Blood Scrivener ’s role of fuel. Although, without Carrion Feeder it would just be more incidental value. Still fantastic insurance against opponents removal but just missing that element of control. Thanks to Carrion Feeder we can now have a much greater degree of control over the Augur’s triggers. The trigger parallels’s Modern Horizon’s Charming Vampire but what may make it better is that you still get value without a board presence if it dies.

  • Death Baron is one of our lords and here we get into the big debate that’s gone on over this deck: the lord selection. The four standard bearers fro zombie lords are Death Baron , Cemetery Reaper , Lord of the Accursed and Lord of the Undead . I want a balance that will thrive against control and aggro since it’s difficult for a lord to to much more against combo than speed up your clock. I see nothing about Death Baron or Lord of the Accursed that helps against control. Both are all aggro lords. The Baron grants a passive ability that drastically increases the opportunity cost on your opponent’s involvement in combat. Lord of the Accursed must remove himself from combat for a turn cycle to allow his friends to more easily get in. Cemetery Reaper and Lord of the Undead both address aggro very similarly. Both get a body back from a body. Both have to take a turn off to do so. Reaper can use your opponent’s fallen forces. Lord of the Undead brings our boys back bigger and better. Against aggro I want an immediate presence that will make life difficult for the opponent. Zombies aren’t known for their speed so instead of being a bit more unblockable but still blockable, I want the opponent to fear ever engaging in combat. Unless we’re facing something like Spirits, we’ll just use zombies as removal spells. Against aggro, Death Baron offers immediate effect with no activation cost. There’s no waiting an extra turn to reanimate or feed from our yard. And at least with Lord of the Undead and Cemetery Reaper you can get something out of activating them once it goes to your opponent’s turn. Lord of the Accursed only gives you the standard anthem and nothing more until the turn comes back to you. So of all the lords, Death Baron comes in having the most immediate impact against an aggressive board.

  • Lord of the Undead is our lord for more midrange and control scenarios. We have the standard anthem so again we analyze what’s left of each Lord. I already mentioned that Lord of the Accursed offers no extra game against control apart from its standard anthem, so we’ll put an axe through that. We already have Death Baron so this narrows down to Lord of the Undead versus Cemetery Reaper . Each has ups and downs. The Reaper can pick creatures in the opponent’s yard acting as soft yard hate for things like Scavenging Ooze , Kitchen Finks , Arclight Phoenix , etc. Reaper can also generally get you a body for cheaper than the Lord. The body just tends to be a mediocre vanilla zombie token. Lord of the Accursed puts guys back in our hand. While it is slower to bring a guy to hand and recast it as opposed to the Reaper, you get a higher quality body with all their intrinsic abilities. Lord also keeps something in our hand to fuel the likes of Cryptbreaker , Smuggler's Copter , and Aether Vial . Gives us a little more leniency to fuel our Diregraf Colossus . In control scenarios, I like Lord of the Undead a little more than Cemetery Reaper . It’s a hair slower but you get better bodies and can fuel other cards in the deck in ways Reaper can’t. Without a sacrifice outlet, it’s those discard outlets that are going to put zombies in the yard. While the Reaper is a solid payoff for that yard fuel, Lord is a solid engine, allowing g you to dump junk to those discard outlets and get them right back to do again and again. Once you eat a creature from a yard with the Reaper, it’s done. That creature is gone. Ashes not to be recycled. Against control I want to be able to grind with the opponent and not set myself up to get blown out by a sweeper after clearing the yards with Reaper. That is really the determining factor. We are a go wide aggro deck. Those kinds of decks don’t like sweepers. Lord of the Undead is much better for helping us to recover post sweeper, giving us the full utility of our zombies instead of easy-to-dispatch vanilla 3/3s. And there you have it. Death Baron smashes aggro decks while Lord of the Undead allows us to grind with those midrange and control decks while also fueling some of our engines.

  • Diregraf Colossus can be a big late game threat or and early start to token absurdity. He’s not really a lord but the power it can generate if unchecked can be even more threatening. It should be mentioned that you will not get tokens when you use Aether Vial . It is a cast trigger. On that note, you will get tokens every time you drag Gravecrawler back from the yard. I simply can’t part with the giant. It’s been too fun and having so many ways to generate extra bodies is insane. Cryptbreaker , Graveyard Marshal , and Diregraf Colossus take advantage of nearly all our non-board space, pseudo expanding our board presence. Discard junk for zombies, exile junk zombies for more zombies, and simply cast zombies for more zombies. And a lot of our support pieces keep these zones fueled whether Smuggler's Copter and Cryptbreaker are fueling the yard for Graveyard Marshal , Blood Scrivener is fueling Cryptbreaker , and Copter, Scrivener, Relenetless Dead, and Lord of the Undead are supporting Diregraf Colossus . Everything moves around one another.

  • Smuggler's Copter can allow us to get over the ground. The looting is really the big deal on this card. We tend to care less that we have to discard our recurring threats (not to say carefree). Digging is a big deal for any aggro deck that can.

A NOTE ON GRAVEYARD HATE Graveyard hate is something that almost every deck has in some form in their sideboard (and some even maindeck it). While graveyard hate can take the gravy off our potatoes, we still have potatoes. Let’s take a look at what cards we have that are impacted by graveyard hate and go over how those cards have utility in those situations.

Cryptbreaker ’s favorite stuff to dump is our recursive one drops. And while we can’t get back what we dump through the likes of Leyline of the Void or Rest in Peace , it doesn’t prevent the token from being produced. Just because we can’t dig into our yard, doesn’t mean we can’t dump into it. You may want to be more selective in what you dump but Cryptbreaker itself can still do everything it does.

As was essentially already eluded to, our recursive one drops lose their recursion. While that is a big part of why we use them, we are still an aggro deck that will play our two power one drops and start swinging. I’ll also still happily let Cryptbreaker turn these 2/1s into 2/2s but I may be slightly more selective about dumping them to Copter.

Relentless Dead lacks the key word ‘instead’ under its triggered ability and that allows graveyard hate to really take the wind out of him. We are locked out of any recursion and reanimation. That said, we still have a menacing Grizzly Bear for our lords. A far fall from what it used to be but far from nothing either.

Graveyard Marshal suffers similarly to Relentless Dead but trades menace for an extra boost in power. In the presence of the hate, that’s the only difference between the two.

Lord of the Undead loses access to our friends in the dirt. But he’s still a lord serving his primary purpose.

Diregraf Colossus rewards playing him early with tokens and late with going big off the yard. In the presence of hate, we token generate.

As we see, the hate can definitely take some of the fun out of what we can do. But it really just trims branches off the ever growing tree of decisions. Like being on a highway and up ahead one of the lanes is closed. So you just stay in the lane that continues forward. There are often so many directions you can shift between at any one point in time. We may not get to recycle our guys over and over for value but we can just do what a tribal aggro deck does and beat our opponent’s face. We may not have our shenanigans but we have things that punch. Graveyard hate doesn’t stop that.

So that's the deck. Grind em out until everything is dead. One weakness is that we are a black deck that saves its best combo hate in discard for the sideboard. We can grind out aggro decks with our recurring threats and some deathtouch. We can pummel aggro decks that can’t effectively remove our creatures against their empty board.


Updates Add

Horizons brings major updates.

Many decks will be incorporating the ‘Canopy’ lands. We are no different. This gives us extra game when things are stretching long. Thanks to Urborg, Tomb of Yawmoth, we can mitigate the life loss. Full sets of Nurturing Peatland and Silent Clearing .

Lands are crucial but not very sexy. Let’s talk glam.

Carrion Feeder is a big addition. Zombies are excellent at recursion but simply have lacked an efficient sacrifice outlet. Feeder is sort of a soft combination of Champion of the Parish and Arcbound Ravager . Functionally, Feeder can make a chain with Gravecrawler . This can enable explosive amounts of triggers for Diregraf Colossus and Undead Augur . Can also enable instant speed triggers of Relentless Dead . In a weird round about way, this enables Relentless to do a graveyard impression of Rattlechains . With Carrion Feeder we get cheap and direct access to the many lines of value via the graveyard.

Undead Augur compliments those Canopy lands to offer massive draw potential. That they gave Modern zombies this on top of Carrion Feeder to trigger it blows my mind. The synergy is beautiful. That’s a card per zombie as opposed to (or as well as) three zombies for one card with Cryptbreaker . Control opponents with cast wraths through gritted teeth as you refill you hand. And the natural recursion of zombies means you can very often reclaim the killed zombie as well.

Regardless of my opinion on Modern Horizons as a set, Zombies may have gotten a bigger push than any other existing deck. Only time will really tell, but good lord. Look at what zombies got!! A free sacrifice outlet at the one mana slot to finally give zombies an efficient way to enable all their value chains. The perfect compliment to a sacrifice outlet as well as fantastic wrath insurance. And a cycle of lands that gives zombies the means to really play a long game, something they already are known for.

I don’t believe zombies will be some new monster to the format, but I think they have the pieces to make a competitive presence. Be on the look out. Zombies are coming.

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