Last weekend was the re-introduction of a non-Two-Headed Giant team format in tournament play. While my squad didn't perform well at Grand Prix: San Jose, that did give me a chance to play in a "side event" at the GP.
Of course, I could have run back U/W/R Control, but I wanted to actually win the tournament. My deck of choice then, was Zombies.
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Knight of Infamy
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
As you may know already, I finished 4th, ultimately failing at stealing their States title.
Overall, I was incredibly pleased with the deck. I preferred the green version over red or both versions, and I don't think it's particularly close. For starters, the Jund version is incredibly painful and awkward, as your core set duals are entering the battlefield tapped far too often for my tastes.
And for what upside? Falkenrath Aristocrat and some burn spells? I'll be the first to admit that I like Zombies because cards like Lotleth Troll, Dreg Mangler, and Geralf's Messenger are very powerful cards. A deck like Mono-Red with its Gore-House Chainwalkers and Stonewrights isn't very powerful.
Zombies has its fair share of potentially weak cards like Crippling Blight and Rakdos Cackler, but cards like Rancor tend to beef up your weak cards. Things like Crippling Blight are a necessity, but can be a dead card against control decks. When Blight is good, it's fantastic.
The Bump in the Night version is good against non-green decks, but once you're faced against Thragtusk/Centaur Healer, trying to nickel and dime them out isn't going to be a real possibility. You're going to wish you had Rancor and Lotleth Troll to power through that stuff. Obviously Aristocrat and Blood Artist can do some work in those matchups, but I'd rather be on the ground forcing unfavorable trades than trying to Searing Spear them out.
At the end of the day, the green version of Zombies is just more powerful. Hats off to Daniel Caskey for tuning Zombies to that point. I liked his list a lot, but naturally wanted to try a few things. First, I wanted Guildgates instead of Daniel's Cavern of Souls.
As Brad Nelson has pointed out multiple times, Guildgates don't really punish you when you've got twelve one-drops and few two-drops; you can just play another one-drop and a Guildgate on turn two. Joe Bernal also proved that four Guildgates can work in an aggressive Zombie deck.
By adding a 22nd land, the chance that Guildgate messes up your curve is also lessened. Say your draw consists of:
Obviously that's a solid curve, but unless you draw an untapped land, your curve is going to be slightly off. By playing an additional land, I increased the chance of getting flooded, but I also increased the chance of me having another Swamp to go with the above hand. Sure, a fourth land isn't ideal, but you kill them before your virtual card disadvantage starts to matter, then it doesn't really matter. Also, having an extra land for scavenge is pretty nice.
With only 21 land, I knew there would be some times where I would have to mulligan one-land hands. By adding a land, I thought I was reducing the variance.
I also wasn't a huge fan of Ultimate Price, so I cut those as well. There didn't seem to be many mono-colored creatures I wanted to kill in the format, so I went looking for something else. Tragic Slip is fine as a way to kill something super important, like Olivia Voldaren, but you usually need to suicide one of your guys before you can turn it on. That is the exact type of thing you don't want when you need to clear blockers out of the way, which is why Dead Weight and Crippling Blight are so good.
The rest of my deck was Caskey's, although I wanted to try different sideboard options. For starters, Appetite for Brains looked like it was better than Duress. Thragtusk, Restoration Angel, Jace, Tamiyo, etc are all much worse for Zombies than Pillar of Flame or Azorius Charm. That said, I did miss with Appetite for Brains once or twice, even against the heavy casting cost U/W/x Control decks.
Skirsdag High Priest and Bloodline Keeper were for midrange decks like G/W or Jund, while Skirsdag was fine in fast creature matchups as well. Dead Weight is even better than Tragic Slip when you're playing Skirsdag High Priest.
Underworld Connections was key to defeating control decks but would have been even better if I had access to Dreadbore or Vraska the Unseen. As it was, I could draw some cards, but might just lose to a planeswalker or even an Entreat the Angels. Most of the time, Dreg Mangler plus Rancor was enough hasty damage to lessen the impact of planeswalkers, and I already had Sever the Bloodline for Entreats.
Deathrite Shaman was for the mirrors and Reanimator opponents, although I played against little of each. I would still keep them in my sideboard though.
Onto the tournament!
Round one: Jund Zombies
At first I thought it was a regular ole mirror match, but in game two, he was playing strange, ambitious things like Ash Zealot. Despite a minor hiccup in game two where I drew mostly lands past my opening seven, it was smooth sailing.
His painful, awkward manabase did him in, and Rancor plus Crippling Blight were huge. I was always on the aggressive, and he was pigeon-holed into playing the control role when he didn't have the tools to do so.
Round two: G/W Aggro
While game two was close, mostly because he was on the play and because of my minor flood, games one and three were in my favor. Crippling Blight put his Loxodon Smiters to shame and even Knight of Glory didn't do much. I was able to swarm past it or trample over it.
However, this was one of those matches where if his Loxodon Smiters were Centaur Healers, he was playing Restoration Angel, or if the Rancors he kept in were additional threats, it would have been a lot closer.
Round three: U/W Control
This one was pretty easy, as most of my control matchups were. Azorius Charm is typically the backbreaker as it denies you a draw step and valuable tempo.
Erase would be useful for dealing with Rancor and Underworld Connections, but most control decks should have Sundering Growth because it frees their planeswalkers from Detention Spheres and destroys Keyrunes. You should pick which one you play based on necessity. That said, Keyrunes have been getting quite popular lately.
Round four: W/U Humans
This is where mulligans really started to hurt me. I took one in the first game and ultimately fell behind, although drawing cheaper spells or more removal would have swayed it in my favor. Second game I rolled him, and third game I double had to mulligan.
His Champion of the Parish, Thalia, Knight of Glory, Geist of Saint Traft draw was very good, but Dead Weight into Golgari Charm would have brought us back to parity. However, after my double mulligan, I didn't have any green mana.
I felt like I could have won that match with better draws, but that's almost always the case, right? It didn't feel that bad as long as I could curve out and have a couple removal spells.
Round five: U/W/R Control
With smart play you should be fine. For example, you should lead with Rakdos Cackler over any other one-drops. It's the one you care least about, although there are exceptions. Say you're against a creature deck that might want to trade their two-drop for your one-drop -- maybe you lead with Gravecrawler. That takes away the value you would have gotten from Lotleth Troll, though.
Against control, they are going to want to Pillar of Flame your first guy. If they don't because they're waiting for a better target, I hope you teach them a lesson with Rancor. If you're playing against a deck with sweepers and get to sandbag a one-drop, it should probably be Diregraf Ghoul. You don't care if they Supreme Verdict your Gravecrawler since you just need a zombie to bring it back. If you save Cackler and throw all your zombies away, then it's going to be awkward.
Anyway, a lot of those lessons came into play here. I lost game one after a mulligan and a keep that involved two removal spells but quickly turned into four. He was quick to point Pillar of Flame at my Gravecrawler but typically held it when facing other things.
That mentality is impressive, but in this case, it probably cost him.
Round six: U/W Control
This was another control matchup where efficient threats, Rancor, and disruption proved to be too much. I just make their life difficult and they can't stabilize fast enough.
Underworld Connections puts you way over the top, even though in this match he Ghost Quartered my enchanted Swamp. That was a trick that I decided to file away for later. If I were playing straight U/W, Seraph's Sanctuary would have been the colorless land I'd want, but being able to kill an Underworld Connection with my manabase definitely makes me want some Ghost Quarters.
Round seven: Jund Midrange
I had to mulligan twice in game one and once each in games two and three. The first game was basically a blowout, but game two I fought through triple Thragtusk rather easily with Lotleth Troll and Rancor. Good luck beating that draw with B/R.
Round eight: Bant Control
This one was relatively easy although there was one awkward point. I had Dreg Mangler and Lotleth Troll in play and Rancor in hand against his empty board. Playing around Azorius Charm was on my mind, especially if he followed it up with a planeswalker. If I Rancored my Lotleth Troll, I'd have two equally good threats, but that would incentivize him to Charm my Troll.
At that point, I'd be pretty dead if he Tamiyo-ed my Dreg Mangler. Instead, I decided to Rancor Dreg Mangler because if he Azorius Charmed it, I'd be able to kill Tamiyo with haste plus Rancor. Awkwardly enough, I got hit with a Selesnya Charm, which made my play very, very bad.
It taught me a valuable lesson in playing around things that could be in their deck, even if you think they shouldn't be playing them. Granted, I won anyway, but it could have been disastrous.
Top eight: Jund Midrange
In the first game I had to mulligan to four, but could have potentially stabilized if I drew a fourth land to Sever his Olivia Voldaren. Second game I killed him on turn four, and in the final game, he basically got mana flooded.
He transformed Huntmaster of the Fells in a tight game, so I was careful not to play two spells in order to transform it back. He cast a Pillar of Flame at one point, but no other spell, so I knew the remaining cards in his hand were lands. Over the course of a few turns, I developed a ground force capable of making an alpha strike.
Top four: Naya Midrange
I'm not sure what happened in this match. I had to mulligan three times in game one and was mana shy in game two. He deck didn't seem all that threatening, but I didn't put up much of a fight.
I was very satisfied with the way the tournament went and would definitely play Zombies again.
Knight of Infamy wasn't exactly bad, but if you need room maindeck for something, you can probably shave that guy. The manabase could also use some work. Four Guildgates were fine but I wouldn't mind trying to fit a couple of Cavern of Souls. People were still trying to cast Syncopate against me post-board, so it would be nice to keep them honest.
Past that, I would look at updating the sideboard. I wouldn't be surprised to see an influx of Restoration Angels in the near future. If that happens, maybe the Crippling Blight plan has to go, which would make me sad. They were so good against any non-control deck, but sacrifices have to be made.
That brings our updated list to this:
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 4 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 2 Knight of Infamy
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Rakdos Cackler
The only other thing that I would want is maybe a Vraska the Unseen or two in the sideboard. That should make the control decks a cakewalk, although I didn't exactly need the help during the tournament.
The third and fourth Appetite for Brains are worth it against Restoration Angel/Thragtusk decks. Other than using discard to disrupt those decks, I'm not sure what else you can do once the board actually gets stalled. Underworld Connections is probably good at that point, but I think you'd rather focus on getting them dead in the early game.
For the most part, sideboarding is pretty easy. You can cut removal versus certain decks and Rakdos Cacklers against decks that go bigger than you. Against the Humans deck, I cut Dreg Manglers for cheaper spells, but other than that, I wouldn't side those out.
I had Rancor and couldn't cast it exactly once, but that was after some mulligans. For the most part, the mana base was good, but maybe the Caverns muck that up a bit.
I'm eager to get back into the Standard fray but feel like I might have to wait a bit. I have Pro Tour Return to Ravnica this weekend and potentially Grand Prix Philadelphia the weekend after. Thankfully, there's Magic Online in the meantime!