Question: Do you think players really won't be ready for your Gravecrawlers?
Let me first say that Zombies is very good, regardless of which version of the deck you are playing. Players have to prepare to play against the deck or doom themselves to loosing some quick matches. Rest assured, your opponents will come equipped with answers.
As a Zombies player, you need to anticipate the likely answers opponents will have and craft a deck that can contend with them. For example, Pillar of Flame is an extremely good tool for dealing with Gravecrawlers and Geralf's Messengers. As a Zombie player, your next thought should be, "What am I going to do about those Pillar of Flames?"
Thinking on this question led me to design a midrange zombie deck. Some of the choices I made are radical, but sometimes it is better to play a slightly worse card overall because it is better in the format.
Obviously this is not your typical Zombie deck. I want to start by talking about the cards that didn't make the cut.
The major card I removed was Geralf's Messenger. There were a few reasons for this decision. First, casting a three-drop that dies to a one-mana, frequently-played removal spell is not a play that will win you many games. Having your Gravecrawler removed with Pillar of Flame is not nearly as bad for you because both of you spent the same amount of mana. It is more detrimental when this happens to your Messenger.
Coming into play tapped can be an issue as well. Often this doesn't matter but when it does it's usually a key part of the game.
The final reason that I made the cut was because there is a card that I want to replace it with in Vampire Nighthawk. The Nighthawk doesn't die to Pillar, has lifelink, and many decks cannot deal with the flying evasion. One of the best lines of play with Midrange Zombies is giving your Vampire Nighthawk a Rancor. The deathtouch ability is also important because it allows you to trade your three-mana creature for a more expensive one.
The second part of the deck missing are the other one-mana creatures. By playing many one- and two-mana creatures, you are trying to win the game as quickly as possible. But since both Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk are legal in the format, you usually do not kill your opponent fast enough. Therefore, instead of drawing irrelevant one-mana dorks, why not play something else. I did not include Rakdos Shred-Freak for this same reason.
The idea for this deck actually came from the draft I did last night with my friends. My first pick in pack one was Lotleth Troll and my first pick in pack two was Deathrite Shaman. I took first in this draft mostly because of these two amazing cards. It seemed that every time I played one of these two creatures early in the game, I was able to win with relative ease. In game two of the finals, I even won a game where I never hit more than two mana just because turn two Lotleth Troll was just that strong.
Draft is not the same as Standard, this is true, but both of those creatures do powerful enough things to see play in Standard. We have all heard a lot about the troll and it is easy to see how the card embodies the essence of power creep. Deathrite Shaman on the other hand, is much more subtle.
The three unique abilities on Deathrite Shaman make it hard to judge his power level. Think about the first time you saw a card like Grim Lavamancer. To me, Lavamancer seems basically unplayable on face. Now we all know that Grim Lavamancer is a solid card, but that was not always the case. Deathrite Shaman needs to be fueled the same way.
Going back to my first point about ways to deal with all the recursive creatures in Standard, the shaman fills this role quite well. In addition to shutting down undying and Snapcaster Mage, he works well in conjunction with Grisly Salvage to produce value turn after turn.
Grisly Salvage is similar to Forbidden Alchemy in that it lets you dig for what you need, but in the right deck provides additional value by filling the graveyard. The Zombies deck takes advantage of Grisly Salvage with scavenge creatures, extra Gravecrawlers, and Deathrite Shaman.
The most questionable card in the deck is certainly Sluiceway Scorpion. You might be thinking this card doesn't cut the mustard but I think it's just barely good enough.
The main reason I included the Scorpion is because it combos well with Lotleth Troll. Following up a turn two troll by discarding and scavenging Sluiceway Scorpion is a solid line of play. This will grant three counters to your troll and put your opponent on a very fast clock. Even on his own though, a four mana creature with deathtouch can still help you deal with larger threats. All I am saying is that I think Sluiceway Scorpion is good enough. Most of the time, you are not casting him though.
One Thragtusk seems odd, but his main purpose is as a tutor target for Garruk Relentless. With only twenty-three lands, you won't reliably hit five mana on turn five anyway. If you don't, you can always discard him to Lotleth Troll.
This version of Zombies has some definite strengths. One of the biggest is the mana base. Cutting Geralf's Messenger allows room to play some Forests which will help cast our spells more reliably. Another strength is how much synergy the cards in the deck have with one another. This list is capable of some fast starts, but also provides a stable base in order to combat the rest of the format.
Updating Armada Wurm
I like this version a lot. It's much more streamlined and combines the best elements of the token deck and the aggro control deck into one cohesive strategy.
One of the biggest additions to the deck is Garruk Relentless. I am not sure how I forgot about him because I have been a huge fan ever since he was printed. As a removal spell, token maker, and tutor, he provides a powerful toolbox of effects that will help you in many situations. His stock has gone up drastically in my opinion because there are much fewer flying creatures to be concerned with.
Many of my decks have included Sever the Bloodline but there wasn't room for it in this list. If Liliana of the Veil proves too weak for the metagame, I could see making room for the Severs in that spot but that might leave us with too many four-mana spells. Sever does a great job of answering many of the hard-to-answer creatures right now so consider it when you are building your decks.
There are so many possibilities right now, I am anxious to see what actually happens at the first big event, the Star City Open this weekend in Cincinnati. Unfortunately, my plans to attend fell through so I will be stuck watching coverage. I am sure this first event will provide a lot for us to talk about next week. If you guys have any ideas for decks similar to these, post them below for discussion.
Until next time,
Unleash the Return to Ravnica Force!
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