Fixing What Ain’t Broke

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As Americans, we all know the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and it has become an accepted phrase in our language. It originated in 1977, when Bert Lance was interviewed for the magazine Nation’s Business. Lance was the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Jimmy Carter at the time. The reason I bring this saying up is because I am directly opposed to it. This is the direct opposite of my thought process in life but also in Magic. For example, when I typed up the quote, I originally had it as, ”If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” I automatically adjusted the grammar in the sentence to make it better than what it was. This is my mentality with Magic also.

Anytime a new set is released, it is natural to look to existing archetypes as a basis for the new format. Why would you leave them exactly the same? Shouldn’t there be new cards that make the deck better? The answer varies, but the process is the same every time. Some players did just that and updated their Standard decks with new Gatecrash cards and others added some lands to smooth out the mana as their only change. Today I want to dissect an existing archetype and see if some new Gatecrash cards will improve it.

Zombies has been a deck since Return to Ravnica was introduced to Standard. Initially it was a Tier 1 deck but then fell out of popularity until it was reintroduced as Rakdos. Adding red cards to the deck increased the power level considerably and was a major development in the Standard metagame. The Rakdos version still sees play, but can we do better?

I ran this deck at some major events and I can say one of the worst parts is the mana base. Even with twelve duals, I lost plenty of games because I had a pile of red cards in hand I could not cast. This is because the red cards are not really splashable. Both Hellrider and Thundermaw Hellkite have double red in their cost that create problems. The obvious conclusion is to add more red sources, but adding mountains to a deck with Geralf's Messenger won’t work either. The solution for most players was to risk a greedy mana base because the cards were so inherently powerful.

Now that Gatecrash is Standard-legal, I am taking a look at other options. Is there another color we could add that would be just as powerful as red? What new cards would even fit into this deck?

One new card sticks out as a possibility, Duskmantle Seer. Despite its terrible, unflavorful name, I think this card is uniquely powerful. It seems to me the best application would be in a deck with a low mana curve so you do not take much damage. Coincidentally, this might be just what we are looking for to shake things up in the Zombie deck. This is not the type of card we have come to think of as being a part of Zombies. For one, it’s a vampire and for two, we have come to think of haste creatures and burn as synonymous with Zombies. This type of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” mentality might be holding us back from a better version of the deck.

Let’s start with why Duskmantle Seer is good in the first place. The reason I like the card so much is because of when the trigger happens. At the beginning of your upkeep each player reveals the top card of his or her library, loses life equal to that card's converted mana cost, then puts it into his or her hand. In years past, cards that resemble Duskmantle Seer have not been playable because the symmetrical effect is granted to your opponent first. With this one, you both draw on your turn so your opponent cannot gain an advantage. Even if your opponent kills it on their turn, they do not get to draw a free card.

Another perk is that the damage dealt off of each trigger tends to undo whatever value you may be giving your opponent with extra cards. If they are dead, it doesn’t matter that they have a full hand of cards. The plan is for you to keep drawing more cheap aggressive cards and for them to draw expensive ones that deal them a lot of damage.

What makes Duskmantle Seer specifically good in a deck like Zombies? Most games play out with you as the aggressive deck getting in some early damage and then either you win or your opponent stabilizes because you failed to draw enough threats to keep the pressure up. The Gatecrash vampire solves both of these problems at once. It forces your opponent to take more damage, assuming they don’t draw a bunch of lands, and it allows you to draw some extra cards.

Its states are another perk. Being a 4/4 is extremely relevant because Restoration Angel cannot block it and live. Flying is also relevant because many decks right now lack flyers. Seer seems to be the perfect mix of abilities and mana cost to impact Standard.

If we are planning to try out blue in Zombies, there should be other benefits we can gain from the color. Since we are losing some of the damage capability the red cards provided us, we need something to help keep us ahead. Unsummon seems perfect for this role to help us maintain tempo. Snapcaster Mage allowing us to reuse the Unsummon or another removal spell seems like a strong play as well.

With that being said, take a look at the current iteration of the Zombie Blues.

One card I did not mention above that is crucial to this strategy is Vampire Nighthawk. The additional lifegain it provides is essential when you are racing another aggro deck, in addition to mitigating damage from Duskmantle Seer. Nighthawk is one of the linchpins that hold this deck together.

Another card I looked into for the deck was Diregraf Captain. We are already in blue and we are playing zombies, so this captain seems like an auto-inclusion. This turns out not to be the case because we would rather play stronger cards like Knight of Infamy, Thrill Kill Assassin, Snapcaster Mage, Vampire Nighthawk and Duskmantle Seer. When you actually analyze how many slots would be affected by swapping the Captain and Nighthawk, it becomes clear how much the deck has to change.

If you like Zombies but want to try a new version of it, I suggest giving the Zombie Blues a try. It is a fresh take on the deck and is sure to surprise some opponents. Players are not used to playing against Duskmantle Seer so they will have a hard time fighting against it.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Force of Blue Zombies!

Mike Lanigan
MtgJedi on Twitter

8 thoughts on “Fixing What Ain’t Broke

  1. Thank you, Mike! Like the article, good points. It felt short, tho; when not playtest reporting, multiple decklists create multiple angles of inspiration. How would the deck look with diregraf captain? Alternatively, is there a messenger-less grixis list? Zvi’s redblack aggro comes to mind as a reference.

    When the format is stale, the players are to blame, not the cardpool. Articles like this are the remedy! When players brew before netdecking or fix list the ain’t broke, the format will constantly grow 😉

    1. Thanks for the encouraging words! I try to bring some creativeness and a unique perspective to my articles. Spread the word!

      p.s. I didn’t think the all zombies + captain plan was viable because of the terrible creatures you need to play to make the tribal deck work.

    1. My opinion is that they havn’t figured out how to play it so they don’t know how good it is. I’ll trade for them all day at 5. It will see play eventually.

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