Insider: Specing Takes Braaaains!!!

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Who doesn't love a good zombie yarn? The current season of The Walking Dead has been completely absurd. Sunday's episode was riveting... Seriously, Abraham? Seriously?

Zombies are great. Everybody loves zombies. If The Walking Dead has taught us anything it's that they make great pets. Get a couple of fish tanks for the wall, or a couple of leashes. Adorable.

And, who isn't excited to make a super cute zombie deck with Shadows over Innistrad (SOI) looming on the horizon? Innistrad has a zombie problem that makes The Walking Dead look like Disneyland. Disney is still pretty scary, mindless, and slowly devouring everything in its path so it makes a nice zombie dystopia comparison; but Innistrad is super messed up---like, Teletubbies-level deranged.

Zombies have always teetered on the edge of competitive in Constructed. I actually made Day 2 of a Standard Grand Prix back in Innistrad-Return to Ravnica Standard with a pretty sick Jund Zombies brew. As far as tribes go they have never really been much of a constructed powerhouse but they occasionally get a few fringe moments every once and a while.

The lone exception being eternal Dredge decks. Yet, those decks don't really play zombie creatures, they just make copious numbers of zombie tokens with Bridge from Below.

While zombie tribal decks may not be tearing up the top tables at pro level constructed events like Pro Tours and Grand Prix, the zombies are certainly a fan favorite at the kitchen table. Good zombie cards always keep a pretty solid price tag because every Walking Dead fan turned casual Magic player wants to summon the Zombie Horde.

The newly previewed SOI mythic zombie, Relentless Dead, seems to imply there will be plenty of awesome zombie goodness in the new set. Could this card enable some sweet Modern brew? I mean, Modern is a pretty broken format but depending on what gets banned, and if they ban multiple things, I don't think Zombie Aggro is out of the question.

So, let's look at the hottest zombie specs that will be all the rage at the kitchen table as new players embrace the zombies from Innistrad and look for older zombies to fill out their decks.


I'm pretty sure Gravecrawler is an auto-include in every zombie deck forever. The card is the epitome of an awesome zombie card. One mana, two power, and it comes back! Again and again and again! At least in The Walking Dead if you stab a zombie in the face it is out for the count. With Gravecrawler you have to go full-out Tormod's Crypt or Rest in Peace to finally put it down for good!

I think the casual demand for this card will be through the roof in the coming months. It is sufficiently old that it is pretty tough to get ahold of copies. It's the kind of card that is always sold out at the local game store at pretty high prices.

I see this card as one that could easily hit the $10+ casual zone very soon. The card is also great in a zombie-themed deck because it gives you cheap fodder to continually sacrifice for value to effects like Grave Pact.

I also love the flavor of the card. It is just like a zombie horde. It keeps coming for you, just like the zombies on TV or the movies.

Geralf's Messenger

The other awesome zombie that will likely be in the Modern deck if it is Constructed-worthy. Messenger is exactly the kind of card people like to play with. It is super aggressively costed for what you get. It comes into play and takes some life away (pseudo haste) and returns to play from the grave when it dies to do it all over again.

Once again, Messenger also fits nicely into a deck that wants to get value out of sacrificing things. It does a bunch of damage and creates two drain triggers. Basically, all the reasons Gravecrawler is great also apply to Geralf's Messenger. Aggressively costed, flavorful, and great in a deck that wants to sacrifice things and have lots of graveyard synergies.

Cemetery Reaper

Reaper is actually a pretty sweet card. It is a three-mana zombie lord with the upside of being able to exile opposing creatures from graveyards and making more zombie friends! At $2 a rare zombie lord with upside seems like a pretty sweet deal that really has nowhere to go but up.

I could certainly see this card as the kind that casual players flock to. Especially if they want a zombie lord without having to pay more money for the expensive ones. The "lowish" price tag is one of the most attractive aspects of this card for sure.

This budget aspect puts a pretty hard floor on the card's value, even through reprints. I've always been a huge fan of finding cheap cards like this that can't possibly go down.

Lifebane Zombie

Lifebane Zombie is pretty clearly a Constructed-caliber creature. It was a maindeck, dominant card during its time in Standard. If there is a Modern Zombie deck this card will be in the 75.

Lifebane is just a good card. If I were going to build a casual zombie beatdown deck I'd probably play around with this awesome creature as well. At $0.50 it seems hard to lose much taking a chance on this card. Do kitchen table games even let you use sideboards? Does it even matter? I'd just run this creature.

I always recommend this card to people building casual decks and they typically buy them and are happy with them. So, I'm going to say this card is probably a great little card to pile up a few extra copies of to wait on. It was only in one core set that has been out of print for a while now. It is harder to find cards like this nowadays than people realize.

Also, people don't value them very highly. They are happy to get "something" for them and we are happy to pile them away for when they go up a little bit down the road.

Too low to fail.


It's never going to be big money or anything but this card is quite good and a nice fit in a kitchen table zombie deck. Removal and a creature that we can recur. I've always saved copies of this card from bulk. I wouldn't be surprised to see a newfound interest in this card with the new set.

Skirk Ridge Exhumer

The card is in Future Sight, need I say more?

This is actually a pretty interesting little zombie card that has some nice synergies with Gravecrawler and Relentless Dead. Zombies don't have as many great cheap drops as you might think. Especially in mono-black. There are a lot of them, but most of them are just cheap 2/1's and 2/2's with very weak abilities.

Exhumer is a unique card that can generate some nice value for a graveyard-based zombie deck. Probably not going to tear up Constructed any time soon but it is a card I could see casual players enjoying.

Call to the Grave

Last but certainly not least, Call to the Grave. I think this card is going to be all the rage at the kitchen table and even in Commander as people start playing around with zombie decks more and more. Call to the Grave is one of the most powerful cards that you can actually put into a zombie-themed deck. I mean, The Abyss is a $300 card for a reason and this card is the same effect except it protects all your zombies!

I really like Call to the Grave as a spec card. I've got quite a few stashed away myself and I was actively trying to pick them up at GP Detroit last weekend! They are super cheap right now and I suspect they will creep up a little bit as people start picking them up for casual decks.

Plus, gotta love the old card face ones. Seriously, look at this card and tell me it doesn't make you want to build a sweet casual zombie deck! Yeah, that is exactly how the kitchen table crowd feels when they take a look at it too.

A great way to spec on casual cards is to look at a new set and see what kind of broad strategies will appeal to casual players. Thematic decks, in particular tribal strategies, are great predictors of casual trends.

I think that betting on Zombie cards with SOI on the horizon is good value. All grave-y.

3 thoughts on “Insider: Specing Takes Braaaains!!!

    1. Yes! The day Relentless Dead was spoiled Risen Executioner shot up from bulk to $7 on tcg! The card was featured on QS that day.

      I picked up several extra copies on MTGO for around what they are now (~2 tix). I think Risen Executioner has a good chance of hitting it high because it’s a mythic from a 3rd set. What do you think?

  1. Does the reprint in the Blessed v Cursed duel deck hurt Gravecrawler’s growth at all? It is nice to be able to get NM copies on the cheap compared to the Dark Ascension printing, but I wonder if the recent supply increase stunts its growth.

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