themonkey's picture
By: themonkey, Dan Hemmann
Sep 12 2011 8:22am
Login to post comments

 I <3 zombies (buy the shirt here).  

Ever since my advisor in college introduced me to Dead Alive, I've been hooked by those adorable flesh eating monsters.  I doesn't matter if they are the slow moving kind that are the product of mysterious cosmic radiation or the fast moving viral kind.  I like a good zombie movie.  And let's face it, they're all good.  

When I buy a tool I have two criteria. 1) How useful will it be around the house. 2) How necessary will it be when the dead rise.  I constantly wonder if I should keep my axe inside my house instead of in the garage.  Can I grab the axe and make it back into the house if surrounded by zombies?  These questions keep me up at night.

Luckily I'm not the only one who feels the same way.  Zombies have risen in popularity in the last few years.  Spurred on by movies like Sean of the Dead and Zombieland, books like The Zombie Survival Guide and World War Z, and the incredibly well done AMC show Walking Dead, many others share my love of zombies.

It's only fitting  that after being eclipsed by vampires, zombies are back in magic.  I was impressed by the zombies in Magic 2012, but when I found out that Zombies were the Black/Blue tribe in Innistrad I knew I had to get the standard zombie cards I was missing and build a casual deck.

Here is what I came up with after a bit of testing. 

by themonkey
4 Cemetery Reaper
4 Skinrender
2 Vengeful Pharaoh
1 Grave Titan
13 cards

Other Spells
4 Duress
4 Sign in Blood
4 Doom Blade
4 Grasp of Darkness
4 Zombie Infestation
3 Call to the Grave
1 Lashwrithe
1 Sorin Markov
25 cards
24 Swamp
24 cards
Zombie Infestation


This deck has been fun, wins quite a bit in the casual room, and allows me to get my zombie fix.  The best way to talk about the deck is to give a game description.

The Rise of the Zombie Deck

I win the roll and decide to go first.

I keep my hand of:

Sign In Blood Lashwrithe Swamp Cemetery Reaper Swamp Swamp Zombie Infestation

Turn 1, Me:  Skip draw, play Swamp

Turn 1, Opponent: Glacial Fortress.  So I know I playing against at least a Blue/White deck.  In the casual room that usually means lots of great removal like Oblivion Ring and having to play around Mana Leak.

T2, M: Draw Grave Titan Play Swamp, cast Sign in BloodSign in Blood drawing Swamp and Vengeful Pharaoh.  I could have played Zombie Infestation here, but with my opponent's slow start I went with the Sign in Blood so I could be more aggressive later.

T2, O: Plains

T3, M: Draw and play a Swamp.  Cast Cemetery ReaperCemetery Reaper  Having a turn three lord is great, but this early it often gets met by immediate removal.

T3, O: Plains Casts Journey to Nowhere to excile my Cemetery Reaper.  Yep, immediate removal.

T4, M: Draw another Zombie Infestation.  Play a Swamp and cast Lashwrithe Lashwrithe.  This gives me a 4/4 germ creature.  Lashwrithe is an awesome card in this deck.  Running all swamps, you can make a zombie big enough to take out almost anything in combat. 

T4, O:  Island Casts (Solemn Simalacrum) of the Magic 2012 variety and puts a Plains onto the battlefield.  The sad robot is a card not many newbies play because it's better than it initially looks.  Also, when I was playing this game (around September 2nd) Solemn was over the $10 mark.  This means I could be playing a deck with a lot of expensive (tournament caliber) cards in it.  I haven't priced out my deck, but that card may be worth more than my entire deck.  We'll see how things turn out.

T5, M:  Draw Sign in Blood.  Attack with the 4/4 Lashwrithe germ.  It's blocked with the Solemn Simulacrum.  The Solemn dies.  I cast Zombie InfestationZombie Infestation and Sign In Blood drawing another Sign in Blood and a Swamp.  I play my Swamp.  This was my first mistake, I should have played the swamp before attacking with the Lashwrithe making it a 5/5 instead of a 4/4.  I didn't play the swamp because I figured he would just block with the Solemn so he could daw a card.  But if he would have let it through sometimes that extra damage means the game.

T5, O:  Plays Gideon's Avenger then Phantasmal Image copying the Avenger.  This could get bad, attacking with lots of zombies will make them grow very quickly.  At the end of the turn I discard Zombie Infestation and Vengeful Pharaoh to make a 2/2 zombie token.

T6, M:  Draw Swamp and play it.  I attack with the now 6/6 Lashwrithe germ.  Both Avengers gain a +1/+1 token and become 3/3's.  He uses both to block resulting in the germ and both Avengers dying.  I thought this was a strange move.  He lost both creatures that would keep growing, and in exchange for only the germ token, leaving the equipable Lashwrithe around.  I play my Grave Titan Grave Titan and get two more 2/2 zombie tokens.

T6, O:  Plays Glacial Fortress and casts a Sun Titan.  When the Titan enters the battlefield the Phantasmal Image comes back from the graveyard and becomes a Grave Titan giving him two zombie tokens.  I see now why he let both Avengers die.  He was planning on having the image become another Sun Titan and bringing back Gideon's Avenger also.  With my Grave Titan out plans must have changed.

T7, M: Draw a Swamp.  Cast Sign in Blood and draw a Swamp and Grasp of Darkness.  I equip a zombie token with the Lashwrithe and attack with all my zombie tokens.  He blocks the 8/8 zombie and my 2/2 zombie with defending zombie tokens.  The other 2/2 zombie is blocked by the Sun Titan.  We each lose 2 zombie tokens then I cast Grasp of DarknessGrasp of Darkness on the Sun Titan killing it.  This turn featured two great spells.  The first is Sign in Blood.  Card advantage is great, but in this deck is really needed as you discard cards to Zombie Infestation.  Even if you don't get anything great, you can use the cards to make zombies.  The other is Grasp of Darkness.  I may look just like a budget Dismember, but in this deck it works better.  I haven't come across any situations where a -5/-5 is needed and a -4/-4 won't work.  In most situations Grasp two mana where Dismember may be 2 mana and two life.  You can wind up losing a lot of life with this deck between the Sign in Bloods and letting attackers through so a Vengeful Pharaoh in the graveyard can kill them.

T7, O:  Island.  Plays another Phantasmal Image copying Grave Titan and gets another two zombies.  Then casts Jace Beleren.  Attacks with a Grave Titan and gets another two zombies.  I let the Grave Titan through to be killed by the Vengeful PharaohVengeful Pharaoh in my graveyard.  Between this attack and my Sign in Bloods, I'm at 8 life.  Because his Grave Titan is really a Phantasmal Image, the targeting of the Pharaoh makes him sacrifice it.  Then, because the ability of the Pharaoh no longer has a target, it's countered and the Pharaoh stays in my graveyard.  After combat he -1's Jace to draw a card and I discard two Swamps to make a zombie.  Vengeful Pharaoh is an iffy card.  It's ability, especially when combined with Zombie Infestation is awesome.  Plus most players forget that it is in your graveyard resulting in a surprise kill (this has even happened to me and I use the Pharaoh all the time).  However, the Pharaoh has two big drawbacks.  First, it's ability is not a "may" ability, meaning your opponent can play around it and force you to kill a small creature when you'd rather kill something really big.  Second, the trigger puts it on the top of your library.  There are lots of times when I know I'm going to draw the Pharaoh when I'd rather draw something else.  This was a game where not drawing the Pharaoh was good.

T8, M:  Draw Skinrender.  Drawing the Skinrender over the Vengeful Pharaoh was big in this game.  I'm able to cast the Skinrender Skinrender and target it's counters onto my opponent's Grave Titan.  Because that was originally a Phantasmal Image, he has to sacrifice it.  I move the Lashwrithe onto my Grave Titan making it a 12/12 and attack with it (getting another two zombie tokens) and two zombies.  He blocks the Titan with a zombie and lets the others through, taking 4 damage and leaving him at 16.

 Zombie 1 

T8, O:  Casts Preordain putting a card on the bottom and top of his library before drawing a card.  Then casts Cryptoplasm, uses -1 Jace to draw, and casts Sea Gate Oracle.  His deck seems to be built around copying and bringing stuff back with Sun Titans.  Lots of stuff with 3 mana cost or less and lots of clones to make more Titans.  I'm lucky I've only seen one titan so far.

T9, M:  I draw a Swamp and attack with the 12/12 Grave Titan, 2 zombies, and the Skinrender (and I get two more zombies due to the Grave Titan).  He bocks the titan with a zombie and the Skinrender with a zombie and the Sea Gate Oracle.  I do all three damage to the Oracle, killing it while the Skinrender dies to the tag team. Two of my zombies get through leaving him at 12 life.

T9, O:  The Cryptoplasm becomes a Grave Titan.  He plays a Plains and casts Leonin Relic-Warder which exiles the Lashwrithe.  Jace goes +2 and we both draw.  I get a Grasp of Darkness.  Then he casts a Gideon's Lawkeeper and a (Venser the Sojourner)!  Venser goes +2 and exliles Journey to Nowhere and I get my Cemetery Reaper back.  I discard two swamps for another zombie token as the Journey to Nowhere comes back and exiles my Grave Titan.  This deck could get ugly.  With Sun Titans, clones, and Venser it would be hard to keep his stuff in the graveyard and off the battlefield.  but getting the Cemetery Reaper back this turn was huge.  There is a big difference between a 2/2 bear sized zombie and a 3/3 hill giant sized zombie.  That one extra power and toughness means a lot.

T10, M:  I draw another Skinrender.  

Zombie 2 

I cast the Skinrender and kill the Leonin getting back my Lashwrithe.  Grasp of Darkness takes out Gideon's Lawkeeper.  After losing two creatures, he doesn't have enough blockers for all my zombies and they attack.  Three get through and feast on tasty Plainswalker brains!

There are a couple of key cards that never showed up in this game.

Duress Duress is an amazing first turn spell.  It allows you to look and see what your opponent is playing and then make them discard.  Usually I go for counters or removal.  Duress will rotate out once Innistrad comes online because it's not found in Magic 2012.  I don't know if Magic 2012's replacement, Distress, will cut it.  Hopefully Innistrad will have a good 1CMC spell that will fit this deck.

Doom Blade Doom Blade is excellent removal, but there are better.  I'll probably replace it with Go For the Throat because a lot more people play black creatures than artifact creatures.

Call to the Grave Call to the Grave is about equally a game winning card and a dead card.  Plus it doesn't play well with Grave Titan.  Playing four was too many.  Three seemed to be a good number but I may go down to two.

Sorin Markov I have a singleton Sorin Markov in the deck.  He isn't really great here, but I like the chance that he will show up in the casual games that I play.

How would I improve the deck?  First of all, I don't think zombies are going to win any tournament.  The deck has too many weaknesses.  It falls really fast to aggro and burn decks.  And a single Mirran Crusader, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Sword of Feast and Famine or Norn's Annex will be a quick game over.  However I do think there are ways to improve.  Putting in Go For the Throat and moving Doom Blade or Grasp of Darkness to the sideboard would be one.  I'd also go down to two copies of Call to the Grave and put in another Lashwrithe.  I'd then get rid of Sorin Markov and replace him with another Grave Titan.  I'm still feeling iffy about Vengeful Pharaoh.  Hopefully a good replacement will come out of Innistrad.  Endless Ranks of the Dead looks very promising especially when combined with Zombie Infestation.  Discard two cards to get a zombie, then get two more zombies at the beginning of your next upkeep.  I like the sound of that a lot!   

If anything would make zombies a tournament worthy tribe it would be some good blue zombie support in Innistrad.  I haven't seen very much so far.  I also think a Blue/Black zombie deck would be a completely different beast (so to speak).  Based on the previews it would involve putting a lot of creatures in your graveyard to fuel the blue zombies.  I don't know how this type of deck would play, but I did buy a playset of Sutured Ghoul so I'll be able to try it out.

So a Necromancer and an Elementalist Walk into a Cemetery...


You got Zombie in My Elemental!  You got Elemental in My Zombie! 

Skullbriar Commander
by themonkey
1 Acidic Slime
1 Artisan of Kozilek
1 Bramblewood Paragon
1 Brawn
1 Brutalizer Exarch
1 Cemetery Reaper
1 Cytospawn Shambler
1 Eternal Witness
1 Farhaven Elf
1 Fleshbag Marauder
1 Forgotten Ancient
1 Nezumi Graverobber
1 Ondu Giant
1 Plaguemaw Beast
1 Royal Assassin
1 Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre
1 Withered Wretch
1 Yavimaya Elder
1 Pilgrim's Eye
19 cards

Other Spells
1 Brittle Effigy
1 Darksteel Ingot
1 Expedition Map
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Lightning Greaves
1 Loxodon Warhammer
1 Nim Deathmantle
1 Oblivion Stone
1 Ratchet Bomb
1 Sensei's Divining Top
1 Sol Ring
1 Relic of Progenitus
1 Trailblazer's Boots
1 Whispersilk Cloak
1 Consuming Vapors
1 Culling Dais
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Diabolic Tutor
1 Green Sun's Zenith
1 Growth Spasm
1 Life's Finale
1 Plague Wind
1 Praetor's Counsel
1 Praetor's Grasp
1 Promise of Power
1 Regrowth
1 Soul's Might
1 Sylvan Scrying
1 Beast Within
1 Momentous Fall
1 Relic Crush
1 Strength of the Tajuru
1 Vines of Vastwood
1 Windstorm
1 Animate Dead
1 Asceticism
1 Awakening Zone
1 Dauthi Embrace
1 Doubling Season
1 Enslave
1 Necrogenesis
1 Phyrexian Arena
1 Snake Umbra
43 cards
1 Bojuka Bog
1 Command Tower
1 Diamond Valley
1 Evolving Wilds
1 Exotic Orchard
10 Forest
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Golgari Rot Farm
1 Homeward Path
1 Khalni Garden
1 Maze of Ith
1 Mystifying Maze
1 Oran-Rief, the Vastwood
1 Reliquary Tower
1 Rupture Spire
1 Springjack Pasture
1 Strip Mine
9 Swamp
1 Tectonic Edge
1 Terramorphic Expanse
37 cards

1 Skullbriar, the Walking Grave
1 cards
Skullbriar, the Walking Grave


I put this together after the Commander Decks came out.  I was interested in trying out one of the new legendary creatures as a command and thought a Skullbriar deck would be good whenever I wanted a quick game.  I figured that either I would win quickly through commander beatdown or get stomped right away.  But rather than being a quick beatdown deck, the games were playing medium long and required lots of strategy.  Unlike most of my decks I only really had one win condition, so I had to manage that win condition carefully.  I liked that change of pace and this became a favorite deck of mine.  Plus Skullbriar is a zombie.  Have I mentioned that I like zombies?

Win Condition

Skullbriar, the Walking Grave

There is only one way to win with this deck and that's by having Skullbriar do 21 damage to each opponent.  Because of this you have to get Skullbriar out quickly (by the second or third turn), in order to start accumulating +1/+1 counters.  Nobody is afraid of a 1/1 commander, but once he reaches 7/7 or bigger he becomes a real threat.  Eventually he can reach the point of being a 1-2 hit kill.  Attack  with Skullbriar every turn.  He needs to get those counters.  Haste, a low casting cost, and the fact he keeps counters when exiled, in the command zone, or in the graveyard make him very resilient.  Even if he dies and you bring him back it won't slow down the pace of your attacks.

Increasing Skullbriar's Counters

Oran-Rief, the Vastwood Cytospawn Shambler Forgotten Ancient Plaguemaw Beast Soul's Might Strength of the Tajuru Doubling Season.  

Oran-rief, the Vastwood, and Cytospawn Shambler are good for an extra counters whenever you cast Skullbriar (which will be a lot).  Plaguemaw Beast allows you to proliferate more counters as long as you have creatures to sacrifice.  Soul's Might and Strength of the Tajuru allow Skullbriar to get crazy big quickly.  Strength of the Tajuru is amazing because it can come out after blockers are declared and finish off an opponent who thought they were safe.  Forgotten Ancient is another creature that can add counters very quickly.  Doubling Season goes without saying.  And it's great having Doubling Season out along with Forgotten Ancient, that means four counters on Skullbriar for every spell your opponents cast.

Getting Skullbriar's Damage Through

Bramblewood Paragon Brawn Cytospawn Shambler Loxodon Warhammer Whispersilk Cloak Trailblazer's Boots Dauthi Embrace

Bramblewood Paragon, Brawn, Cytospawn Shambler, and Loxodon Warhammer all give trample, allowing damage to go through even when blocked.  Whispersilk Cloak, Trailblazer's Boots, and Dauthi Embrace are better than that and make Skullbriar unblockable.  The boots are a cool bit of tech, it gives nonbasic landwalk, and let's face it, when have you seen anyone play without nonbasic lands.

Protecting Skullbriar

Vines of Vastwood Snake Umbra Lightning Greaves Asceticism Homeward Path Momentous Fall Diamond Valley Plaguemaw Beast Culling Dais

Vines of Vastwood, Snake Umbra, Lightning Greaves, and Asceticism will all prevent Skullbriar from being targeted or just keep him alive.  Homeward Path is there in case he gets stolen.  And sometimes you have to kill Skullbriar in order to protect him (or at least his +1/+1 counters).  Momentous Fall, Diamond Valley, Plaguemaw Beast, and Culling Dais will allow you to kill Skullbriar rather than having him stolen, tucked, or bounced.  Once he is back in your command zone he is safe until you want to cast him again.  With haste you probably won't even have a turn without an attack.


Maze of Ith Mystifying Maze Acidic Slime Fleshbag Marauder Royal Assassin Ulamog, the Infinite Gyre Brittle Effigy Ratchet Bomb Consuming Vapors Beast Within Relic Crush Windstorm Enslave

Lots of quality removal here.  I won't list them all, but I tried to focus on removal that will get rid of anything, repeatable removal, and instant speed removal.  The main purpose of removal is to take out a blocker so Skullbriar can get damage through.  Instant speed removal can either be used on an opponent's target or to save Skullbriar from a steal, bounce, or tuck.  


Demonic Tutor Diabolic Tutor Brutalizer Exarch Green Sun's Zenith Praetor's Grasp

Tutors have a special place in this deck.  The worst thing that can happen is Skullbriar getting put into your library.  It doesn't happen very often, but when it does not only have you lost your only win condition, you've also lost all those hard earned +1/+1 counters.  Keep that from happening by having emergency removal in your hand.  But sometimes you get Hindered or Spell Crumpled.  Your only out other than waiting for a lucky draw is to use Demonic Tutor, Diabolic Tutor, Brutalizer Exarch, or Green Sun's Zenith to get him back.  I consider Praetor's Grasp a tutor because you look through an opponent's deck to find what you need.

Graveyard Recursion

Animate Dead Artisan of Kozilek Nim Deathmantle Eternal Witness Praetor's Counsel Regrowth

Sometimes it's better to let Skullbriar go to your graveyard so you can reanimate him.  Later in the game it's often cheaper than casting him from the command zone.  Animate Dead, Artisan of Kozilek, and Nim Deathmantle will let you do this.  You don't want to use Eternal Witness, Praetor's Counsel, or Regrowth on Skullbriar, just on other spells.  If you use it on Skullbriar he will lose all his counters when he comes back to your hand.  The only time you would want to do this is if Skullbriar is killed with -1/-1 counters.  Those will follow him to the command zone just like the +1/+1 counters and he will die as soon as you cast him.  The only way out of this situation is to put him in your graveyard and then bring him back to your hand.


Oblivion Stone Life's Finale Plague Wind

Not a lot of sweepers here.  You should have Skullbriar on the board almost all the time, which means you lose your threat whenever you sweep.  However, a few are good to keep your opponent's board from getting out of hand.

Card Draw and Smoothing

Sensei's Divining Top Promise of Power Phyrexian Arena Snake Umbra Momentous Fall Culling Dais

Nothing too fancy here.  Not a lot of draw because you won't be casting a lot of spells outside of Skullbriar and some removal.  Snake Umbra, Momentous Fall, and Culling Dais also function to protect Skullbriar.

Land Destruction

Ghost Quarter Strip Mine Tectonic Edge

My basic land based land destruction package.  I don't build a commander deck without them.  They will mainly be used to target opponent's Maze of Iths or Mystifying Mazes.

Graveyard Hate

Bojuka Bog Cemetery Reaper Nezumi Graverobber Withered Wretch Nihil Spellbomb Relic of Progenitus Necrogenesis

Lots of graveyard hate here with Bojuka Bog, Cemetery Reaper, Nezumi Graverobber, Withered Wretch, Nihil Spellbomb, Relic of Progenitus, and Necrogenesis.  I tend to include a bunch because I hate killing things more than once.  Dead things should stay dead.  Unless you are talking about Skullbriar.  Also, a lot of combos are graveyard intensive and this shuts them down.

Mana Fixing and Acceleration

Springjack Pasture Farhaven Elf Ondu Giant Yavimaya Elder Awakening Zone Pilgrim's Eye Growth Spasm Expedition Map Sylvan Scrying Darksteel Ingot Sol Ring

I used a lot of spells here that give creatures as well as fixing and acceleration.  I did that so I would still have blockers when Skullbriar attacks.  These include Springjack Pasture, Farhaven Elf, Ondu Giant, Yavimaya Elder, Awakening Zone, Pilgrim's Eye, and Growth Spasm.  Expedition Map and Sylvan Scrying can find a specific nonbasic land you might need (like Strip Mine).  Darksteel Ingot and Sol Ring should be in every commander deck.

This shirt can be found at ThinkGeek!

I hope you enjoyed reading about zombie monkeyshines.  If you like zombies as much as I do I hope this will inspire some other zombie decks.  And remember, the best zombie movies aren't really about the zombies.  But the best magic decks are!


Nice article. I'm new, or by geo67 at Thu, 09/22/2011 - 13:59
geo67's picture

Nice article. I'm new, or well newly back, into MTG, and MTGO. Is there a good time to get on MTGO and play a commander game? I've never played, but really want to give it a try.

World War Z put me in the zombiepocalypse mind frame.