It might seem like an eternity of Mono-Red domination ago, but Magic: The Gathering is really not that far removed from a dominant Mono-Black Zombie deck. A single Standard rotation crippled an amazing undead beatdown deck in which hordes of rotting flesh pounded away at opponents with ruthless efficiency and a seemingly never-ending barrage of bodies to throw into attacks and blocks.
Magic Core 2019 once again puts zombies at the forefront. Granted, we’re a far cry away from the powerhouse days of Diregraf Colossus, Relentless Dead, and Liliana the Last Hope, but Black emerged as one of the stronger colors in Core 2019 with a strong helping of zombies.
Both the new Liliana Planeswalker and a new Zombie lord provide an incentive to exclusively stick to the archetype, and with Amonkhet and Hour of Devastation remaining steadfast in Standard for two more months, we have one more summer of fun with the undead until the remains of that dominant beatdown deck are also swept away.
At its core, Mono-Black zombies doesn’t change its strategy too much. Toss an army of zombies into play, sacrifice them or recur them to make zombie tokens, pump them with Zombie lords, and finish an opponent off through sheer numbers. Graveyard shenanigans will eventually win in the long game. Unlike wimpier token creatures, Zombies are resilient to the oppressive powers of Goblin Chainwhirler, and a single lord in play enable them to jump in the way of a charging Steel Leaf Champion.
First, we need some zombies!
An all-star from Amonkhet, it dies to Goblin Chainwhirler, but it keeps coming back… and coming back… and coming back.
Excellent turn-1 play, decent later in the game if you need a zombie in your graveyard.
I played with this card in my Core 2019 pre-release and loved it. Should your zombies start to pile up in the graveyard, the marshal here can turn those buggers into even more bodies that you opponents must deal with. The aggressive stats on a 2-drop also hint that jamming him in early isn’t a bad idea either.
Excellent addition to the zombies’ deck, be thankful it wasn’t around a year ago.
Not a zombie, but what deck hasn’t this card appeared in yet? Efficient, resilient, and with enough zombies in your graveyard, this thing just keeps coming back to pound in three damage a turn. Your opponents will be happy it doesn’t benefit from the synergies with the Zombie lords.
These three make up the best cheap zombies in Standard, and Scrapheap Scrounger continues its role as a Standard staple, a role it has excelled at for nearly two years now. Play them early, play them late, they’ll remain relevant at any stage of the game so long as you can interact with the graveyard.
Next, we need to make these Zombies stronger with some lords!
An obvious choice. This card elevated the older deck into the highest tier of Standard, and its abilities still remain oppressive today. Menace on an army of pumped Zombies make blocking a nightmare. If only there were a way to add deathtouch…
Oh, hello there. With one of each of these lords in play, your army of the undead will be comprised of 4/4 monsters with deathtouch and the potential for menace. They’ll easily eat anything that stands in their way, most likely killing two creatures in the process. At the same time, they can stop a charging Ghalta, Primal Hunger in its tracks and absorb a ton of that trample damage.
Another holdover from Amonkhet, this card provides both a pump for your Zombies and two 3/3 bodies on its own for just five mana. Great rate and a splendid way to catch your opponent off guard.
Pumped Zombies are fun an all, but they’ll still need a way to finish out the game. Core 2019 and Dominaria both provide solid options for pushing them over the edge.
While straight-up awful in Limited play, Liliana, Untouched by Death works here because you are almost guaranteed to hit a zombie with her +1 ability. She comes attached with a decent removal spell as her -2 ability, granted you’ve loaded your graveyard by that point. Her -3 ultimate ability, if you can call it that, allows for all those wasted zombie soldiers and lords to come back with ease and enough mana, a move your opponent will unlikely be able to deal with.
Liliana doesn’t protect herself well, but hopefully you’ll have a few tokens to throw in the way of attackers if necessary. They’re easy enough to come by in the zombies deck.
Just for funsies, a 4/5 zombie for four mana with menace is like adding the efficiency of a quality Green creature to your deck. Kicking Josu Vess later in the game, when you have a lord or two in play, will close out the game on the spot if your opponent has no way of wiping the board.
Pretty standard package. Fatal Push is still around, disrupting early game plays as efficiently as ever, and Cast Down and Vraska’s Contempt will clear away creatures it can’t deal with on its own.
Black’s utility desert is still great, and Scavenger Ground protects from mirror matches and The Scarab Gob.
Some typical Black sideboard cards.
- Duress is always important in any Black deck, clearing out pesky removal and win conditions for a single mana.
- Doomfall provides variety that can help in any situation.
- Plague Mare acts as Black’s Goblin Chainwhirler, wiping an opponent’s board of token creatures, and can even make blocking 4/4 menace deathtouch Zombies even more of a nightmare.
- Gonti is awesome, always include Gonti in any Black sideboard.
- The Eldest Reborn keeps your board state safe with plenty of tokens to throw away. THEN if helps load your graveyard with zombies. FINALLY, it steals an oppnent’s best card or brings your best card back, exactly what you were already doing with your Zombie deck.
- Arguel’s Blood Fast gives your early card advantage and it gains you life back once your start sacrificing 4/4 zombie tokens.
This deck is far more one dimensional than the Mono-Black zombies of old. Beatdowns, lord pumps, and minimal graveyard might not be enough to get it done. The lack of a true and consistent closer, like the almighty Diregraf Colossus or the niche Voldaren Pariah, leaves the deck craving another expansion that it will sadly never get.
I don’t expect it to rumble with the best that Standard has to offer, but if you’re in the mood for a cheap and solid tribal deck, this might be one checking out.
- 4x Dread Wanderer
- 4x Diregraf Ghoul
- 4x Graveyard Marshal
- 2x Scrapheap Scrounger
- 4x Death Baron
- 4x Lord of the Accursed
- 1x Josu Vess, Lich Knight