When I started seriously getting back into magic it was about a year ago at the very end of Avacyn's Restored standard. Zombies were a force to be reckoned with, and as a player who always had a thing for black, I really wanted to jump on the zombie bandwagon. I couldn't at first because the deck was much more than I wanted to invest in, especially with rotation coming. And when sets finally rotated and Return to Ravnica came in, zombies were still going strong, but still too expensive for me. But now zombies are on the decline and lower in prices I felt that it is time to bring them back!
Yes, surprise surprise it's a Golgari Zombies list! I know that Orzhov Zombies has recently become popular and Jund Zombies is consistently the most powerful, but this deck can be just as good as the other two variants. Let's first take a look at what's in it.
Inside the Grave
First up is our typical Innistrad block zombie suite: Diregraf Ghoul, Geralf's Messenger and Gravecrawler. We all know what these three do, Diregraf Ghoul is a one mana 2/2, Gravecrawler always comes back from the grave and Geralf's Messenger is the zombie finisher. Our green black zombies include Dreg Mangler and Lotleth Troll. Dreg Mangler, in addition to looking like Venom from Spider-man, is a fast zombie finisher, and he's actually better than the Messenger in this deck so we can drop one of Geralf. The troll is all upside for us, it can get really big really fast by its discard ability, and discarding Gravecrawler is sometimes doing us a favor. Lotleth Troll also has the one of the cheapest regenerate costs in the game, and that lets us fight through wraths that control decks like to use. Our newest addition, thanks to Dragon's Maze is Blood Scrivener, he gives us card advantage when we use up all of our hand. And lastly our only non-zombie creature is the Rakdos Cackler, adding another one mana 2/2 to our list and giving us a fast start on our aggro plan.
Now the deck has both Crippling Blight and Tragic Slip for removal. Tragic Slip is meant for killing problem creatures that get in the way, such as Augur of Bolas and Restoration Angel, whereas Crippling Blight is mainly for stopping blockers that we don't necessarily want to die like Thragtusk and push through some extra damage. And lastly our enchantment that is kind of essential at this point, Rancor. Rancor makes our zombies bigger and doesn't die as easily, the best target for our rancor is the Gravecrawler so that we can get both cards back and we technically don't lose either one. And finally for lands we run 4 of each duals, including guildgates and then the rest swamps. We run 21 lands because we are an aggro deck where the top of our curve is 3, we could even risk going down to 20 lands but I didn't do that because I would feel less comfortable with it.
So I'm sure there are many questions on why this or why that on this deck, so I'll try to answer some that might come up. First one would be, why no Blood Artist? Don't get me wrong I love this little vampire, but he doesn't belong in this deck. And the reason behind this because we are trying to be on the same aggro pace as Naya Blitz and we don't want to wait around for our creatures to die. If they do die it's usually not a good thing. Why Golgari Guildgate and not Cavern of Souls? Well, aside from cavern being a 10 ticket rare, it's quite simply because Rancor is not a Zombie, so we want to always have access to green for this enchantment and the couple games where the guildgate stalling us for one turn is worth it. Golgari Charm? The meta has creatures with bigger butts than 1 so the wrath ability is most likely only going to kill our Gravecrawlers, the other two modes are probably more useful but not enough to include. Why even run Zombies when Pillar of Flame still present in standard? If you ask this look at the top decks in standard, you can see that pillar isn't that big of a problem. Jund runs 2 at the most, and the only other deck to use it main board is Naya Blitz.
I'll admit that sideboarding is my weakest trait as a magic player but I do have a plan for each deck. Crypt Incursion is definitely in for Rites and maybe even Naya Blitz, this little card will trade creatures in the graveyard for life. This will get rid of Rites threats before they can ramp up to hard cast them, and it'll put us out of reach for the blitz decks. Ideally we want to target their graveyard, but if we can't we just have make sure that our gravecrawlers are outside the yard first. If we want pure life gain though, Gnaw to the Bone is a better option against aggro as it's reusable and it should gain us a good amount of life. Putrefy and Abrupt Decay for spot removal when our Crippling Blight and Tragic Slips don't do enough. It is a tough decision on which of the two spells is better, Abrupt Decay is one mana cheaper and hits all nonland permanents while Putrefy doesn't have a restriction on converted mana cost and not many targets in standard are under 3 mana that isn't an artifact or creature. I'm going to pick Putrefy at the moment mainly for the price difference. And finally Knight of Infamy is an ideal choice with its protection from white, which can easily deal with Geist of Saint Traft before he gets enchanted. And the last card we want is Appetite for Brains against the control decks that run big things such as Thragtusk and Planeswalkers. Also we're running a zombie deck, we should already have an appetite for brains!
vs Naya Blitz: 1-2
Both of the games that I lost it was due to a Hellrider, his triggers helps so much to outrace me. Game one was the Naya Blitz god hand that everyone has come to know, and it is pretty much unbeatable with these zombies. However I put up a fast clock getting him to 7 before I lost. Game two was a close race, I survived at 1 and he was about to survive at 1 but I played a second main phase Geralf's Messenger for the win. Crippling Blight was an all-star, debilitating Boros Reckoner shenanigans. Game three, I had a severe disadvantage after mulliganing down to 5 cards. The first two hands were unkeepable with no lands. The 5 cards were a fine start as it had 1 land and everything that costed 1, however the land was a Woodland Cemetery so I couldn't put down my Gravecrawler until the following turn. This one turn difference was enough for my opponent to get the better of me and take the win.
vs BUG Control 2-0
I was a bit afraid when I saw the color combination once his second land was placed. It could have been a myriad of decks, luckily it was control which I had no problem with winning against. Game one, he flooded out with the only spell he played all game was a Snapcaster Mage. As that was the only card he played, I didn't know what to side in for the second game, but it didn't matter because game two was also a win. The second game however was much harder than the first, he strung me along thinking that it was going to be another easy victory but down came a Thragtusk which I defeated with a combination of Rancor and Gravecrawler and a Tragic Slip for the token it left behind. But of course two more Thragtusks came later in the game, but both went down in the similar fashion. I was lucky to always have a zombie on board to loop the same trick over and over again, and my Gravecrawler was even able to kill Griselbrand and trampling over for the last point of damage.
vs Mono Red 2-1
This was a fairly easy matchup, it was also the only time Pillar of Flame actually was a problem. Game one should have been a win but he drew into double Hellrider, and I died to the triggers alone. Game two was also a close race, and it was a fast race as both sides didn't bother with blocking and trying to get in as much damage as possible. He was able to keep up the pace with a turn one Stromkirk Noble but I manage to get a win out of it by having double Rancor on a Diregraf Ghoul and a Dreg Mangler all while Crippling Blight his Boros Reckoner that he left back to block.
vs RUG Aggro 2-0
This was actually a very strange game, I didn't expect anything that he did. But his deck is very much a glass cannon though, it relied on Blistercoil Weird and pumping it through things such as Titanic Growth and Wild Defiance and swinging each turn for at least 6. But the glass of this cannon was that on my turn it was back to a 1/1 and my removal are all -1/-1, both Tragic Slip and Crippling Blight. Game one was just that killed his weird and he had no board presence until it was too late. Game two he put up more of a fight with Snapcaster Mage and Invisible Stalker but they still weren't enough to fend off my impending zombie army.
Conclusion and notes
I felt the sideboard is a bit shaky, I'm not sure it's as efficient as possible at the moment. Gnaw to the Bone was never useful against aggro as it never came to our hand. And after playing a few games it also feels like it wouldn't do enough, as playing it is more of a tempo loss. I haven't found a target that Putrefy could take care of better than a Tragic Slip so we may need to cut back on that as well. Blood Scrivener did just as well as I'd hope and it is a great replacement for Sign in Blood in this deck. And like I said Pillar of Flame is very much a minority in the format so we could loop Gravecrawler in and out of the graveyard all day long. Also the amount of graveyard hate is drastically low, I feel like I should exploit that somehow, maybe Splinterfright in the next article. And finally that RUG aggro list came completely out of left field, I didn't expect it at all and I kind of like it as that is the feeling I want my opponents to feel each time. Although I don't think I'll tinker with the concept of that kind of RUG aggro because it's too much of a glass cannon for my taste.