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AETHER HORDE (Esper Zombie Tribal)

Modern Aggro Competitive Primer Tribal WUB (Esper) Zombie



Top Rank: #1 on T/O from 6/18 to 6/22 2018 - thanks for reading!!!


This is my Black/Blue/White Zombie Aggro build, featuring Aether Vial. The objective is to hit the opponent with as many zombies as possible, as fast as possible. No card in the deck costs over 3 mana. The zombies are expendable and the more you accumulate in your graveyard, the bigger Diregraf Colossus becomes.

If pure aggro fails, the Nantuko Husk + Gravecrawler + Wayward Servant or Diregraf Captain combo can cause life-loss, or Nantuko Husk + Gravecrawler + Diregraf Colossus can generate a horde of zombie tokens during the late game.


Consider mulliganing if your opening hand does not contain a 1-drop creature or Aether Vial, or if you start with less than 2 lands.

Start Turn 1 with (in order of priority): Aether Vial, Gravecrawler, Cryptbreaker, or Fatal Push.

An Aether Vial played on turn 1 will allow you to play a 3-CMC creature by turn 4, effectively doubling your casting potential. If you draw two Vials, try to keep one Vial at 3 charges and the other at 2.

If you draw Path to Exile, save it for a high-value target.

On Turn 2, play Wayward Servant, Tidehollow Sculler, two one-drops, or a Cryptbreaker's zombie token.

On Turn 3, play Death Baron, Diregraf Captain, Diregraf Colossus, or Nantuko Husk.

On Turn 4 and beyond, try to generate as many zombies as possible and exploit Nantuko Husk to generate combos with Gravecrawler, Wayward Servant, Diregraf Captain, and Diregraf Colossus. Replenish your hand with Blood Scrivener and Cryptbreaker.


I have streamlined the deck by chosing the cards which achieve the greatest impact on the board state in exchange for the fewest possible resources. I excluded enchantments and planeswalkers to focus exclusively on zombies for Aether Vial.


Gravecrawler was my inspiration to play zombie aggro when it was released during Innistrad block. I have limited my creatures to only zombies to take advantage of Gravecrawler's cast-from-the-grave ability. With a Death Baron or two in play, a single Gravecrawler becomes a serious threat.

Cryptbreaker has incredible utility for a single mana and allows you to discard cards to creature more zombies or draw cards during the late game. It's draw ability can be used on the opponent's turn. No other one-drop zombies possess the same utility and most have conditional abilities which trigger upon death, including Diregraf Ghoul, Festering Goblin, Festering Mummy, Hunted Ghoul, Maggot Carrier, and Slitherhead.

I considered Dread Wanderer, but its reanimation ability costs 3 mana and it enters play tapped.

Fatal Push is the best black removal spell, in my opinion, and its Revolt ability synergizes with fetchlands and Nantuko Husk's sacrifice ability.

Path to Exile neutralizes indestructible creatures and post-death threats like Wurmcoil Engine. I was hesitant to include the Paths at first, because giving the opponent a free land accelerates their plans, especially against Ramp. After extensive testing, I realize that Paths are crucial in the current meta of indestructible or recurring creatures. The trick is only using a Path when it is absolutely necessary.

Aether Vial reduces your dependence on lands and helps you gain momentum during the early game, but you can still win without it. I run 30+ creatures to take advantage of the Vials as much as possible.


Wayward Servant is an under-utilized zombie but synergizes well with this deck's primary objectives. Its life drain ability triggers with Aether Vial and depends on zombies entering play, rather than leaving play, so it impacts the game state faster than cards like Blood Artist, Plague Belcher, and Diregraf Captain.

Tidehollow Sculler is a an amazing utility creature because it allows you to glimpse the opponent's hand, sets them back at least one turn, and is also a 2/2 zombie. It also combos with Nantuko Husk or Fatal Push - if you sacrifice the Sculler when the Sculler is on the stack and after choosing a card to exile, the chosen card becomes permanently exiled.

Blood Scrivener is a highly underrated card and is essentially the zombie Dark Confidant. Try to play Blood Scrivener when you are almost out of cards in your hand, which is easy to do by turn 3-5 with this deck. Each additional Blood Scrivener you control allows you to draw another card during your draw step, and you only lose 1 life regardless of the number of cards drawn.

Other zombies who did not make the cut include Relentless Dead (although menace is nice, its other abilities are conditional upon its death and cost too much mana for this build), Binding Mummy (its creature-tapping ability is not aggro enough for this build), and Stromgald Crusader (it only has 1 toughness and requires additional mana for its abilities).


Diregraf Colossus is both an early-game token generator and a late-game finisher. Note that Diregraf Colossus only generates a zombie token when you "cast" a zombie, so playing a zombie with an Aether Vial does not create a token. To get around this during the early-game, try to use the Vials to play Diregraf Colossus first and then spend your mana to cast other zombies.

Death Baron is my zombie lord of choice for this aggro build because it immediately bestows other zombies with deathtouch. Other lords like Lord of the Undead, Cemetery Reaper, and Lord of the Accursed require mana to activate their abilities or manipulate my graveyard. I don't want to bring zombies back from the graveyard except for Gravecrawler, because the more zombies in my graveyard, the bigger Diregraf Colossus becomes.

Diregraf Captain is a recent addition to the deck. I've decided to include the Captains to double the number of zombie lords and increase the life-loss potential when zombies die. It has deathtouch and is a threat on its own, in contrast to Death Baron, which bestows other zombies with deathtouch.

Nantuko Husk is an old favorite of mine from Onslaught block. Its a zombie, unlike Viscera Seer, and its sacrifice ability enables combos with Gravecrawler while the Husk grows in size. Nantuko Husk is best played mid to late-game after you have accumulated enough zombies and mana.

3-drop zombies who did not make the cut include Geralf's Messenger (although it's an amazing card, it comes into play tapped and doesn't synergize enough with other cards), Stillmoon Cavalier (only 1 toughness and consumes too much mana), Plague Belcher (not as strong as other options which accomplish similar objectives), Lifebane Zombie (only 1 toughness and ability too limited), Phyrexian Crusader (protection and infect are strong, but it doesn't synergize with the rest of the deck), and Unbreathing Horde (it starts at 0/0 and is too unpredictable for the cost).


The splash of white with fetchlands, Godless Shrine, Watery Grave, and Cavern of Souls allows access to Path to Exile, Tidehollow Sculler, Wayward Servant, Diregraf Captain, and Revoke Existence in the sideboard.

I purposely avoided non-creature white or blue cards in the main deck except for Path to Exile to streamline the mana base and increase the chances of a turn 1 Gravecrawler or Fatal Push.


Revoke Existence exiles its target, so it is worth including over instants like Disenchant. This deck is designed to tap out every turn anyway, so the loss of instant speed is not critical to the deck. I also prefer Revoke because it exiles pesky gods like Hazoret the Fervent or Erebos, God of the Dead. I excluded Stony Silence because it freezes my Aether Vials.

Ratchet Bomb instantly wipes the board of tokens, or eventually takes care of pesky artifacts or enchantments which cannot be targeted by Revoke Existence.

Damnation is the best creature sweeper and doesn't foil my plans, like Flaying Tendrils or Night of Souls' Betrayal.

Never destroys planeswalkers and can be cast from the graveyard with Aftermath to generate a zombie.

Damping Sphere shuts down ramp and storm singlehandedly for the incredibly low price of 2 mana.

Thoughtseize provides additional discard other than Tidehollow Sculler and helps neutralize threats before they hit the board.

Withered Wretch is another old favorite of mine from Onslaught block. It is playable for free with Aether Vial, is a zombie, and targets the exact cards I want to remove from the opponent's graveyard.

Surgical Extraction can be played for no mana and covers any gaps missed by the Wretches.

I'm currently testing Nihil Spellbomb, which I may include over Withered Wretch due to its low cost, ability to wipe an entire graveyard, and card draw.


This deck is strong against control builds which cannot handle the continuous barrage of zombies. Against graveyard hate like Grafdigger's Cage, Relic of Progenitus, and Rest in Peace, bring in Thoughtseize, Ratchet Bomb, and Revoke Existence. Graveyard hate won't cripple the deck because the deck is designed to play zombies from your hand.

Against tron, storm, or ramp decks, bring in Damping Sphere to reduce mana generation, and Thoughtseize and Never to deal with large creatures and planeswalkers. Also bring in Revoke Existence if the build is artifact heavy.

Against weenie and token decks, bring in Damnation, Ratchet Bomb, and Never for additional removal.

Against dredge, reanimator, or a build which manipulates the graveyard, bring in Surgical Extraction, Withered Wretch/Nihil Spellbomb, and Never.

If you suspect you will be facing Blood Moon, bring in Thoughtseize, Ratchet Bomb, and Surgical Extraction.

Cards to Swap for Sideboard

1-2 Tidehollow Sculler, 1-2 Wayward Servant, or 1-2 Diregraf Captain (swap if mana base is being targeted by opponent)

1-2 Death Baron (swapping does not reduce chances of Gravecrawler combos with other zombies)

1-2 Nantuko Husk (swap if opponent is running excess removal and comboing with Gravecrawler is unlikely)

1-2 Cryptbreaker (swap as last resort if you need additional space)

Suggestions and comments are welcome! Please +1! THANK YOU!


Updates Add

I have tested numerous color combinations of zombie decks lately, and the more I experiment, the more I realize that Esper is optimal when running Aether Vial . The life-loss ability of Diregraf Captain is worth splashing a couple Watery Grave s. The deck is now more focused on zombies and tokens entering/leaving the battlefield, and it seems to work really well.

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