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Today I'm going to look at some new linear decks made possible by Amonkhet. I think the strongest ways to use the new cards are to augment existing strategies or to build control decks that take advantage of the flexibility of cycling, but I still want to start by exploring the proactive side of the set. These decks are rarely the best, but they're often the best way to play a lot of new cards, and I always like tribal decks.
I can't help myself; whenever there are new Zombies, I want to start there. Zombies as a tribe usually pull in a lot of different directions. They have small creatures, but they're rarely the most efficient at ending a game quickly because some of their power is usually in some kind of recursive or attrition-based element, but they tend to play a small-ball game that doesn't really let you try to be the control deck, so they end up being scrappy aggro decks that try to make things difficult for your opponent while chipping them away, which is a strategy I really enjoy.
Recently, we haven't had the tools to build Zombies as an aggro deck because we just haven't had enough playable one- or two-mana Zombies in Standard. With Amonkhet, we might finally have enough. I'm generally skeptical of trying to build around the most efficient Zombie creatures, because they'll almost definitionally be less efficient than the most efficient creatures in all of Standard without the type restriction, which makes it hard for this to be a better aggro deck than something like Mardu Vehicles. Basically, this can only happen if we have efficient synergy-based aggressive creatures.
As it happens, Amonkhet offers some good ones. Plague Belcher is the top of the list on that axis. A 5/4 with menace for three mana is huge, and a 3/2 menace for three isn't even that bad when it hits your opponent whenever another Zombie dies. On top of that, we have Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery as potential “lords,” though I'm not actually very optimistic about either of them, but we also have Wayward Servant for additional reach, and I'm very interested in combining a lot of instances of making my opponent lose one life.
If we're trying to build a good curve of Zombies, what do we have to work with?
At one mana:
Cryptbreaker and Dread Wanderer are the highlights for sure; then we can round out with the others. Festering Mummy and Sacred Cat give us creatures that we might want to put Plague Belcher's -1/-1 counters on, and Sacred Cat also plays extremely well with Cryptbreaker. Fan Bearer is a weird one. In testing Improvise decks, I was pretty happy with Pacification Array, and this can just attack if I don't have mana to spare. Additionally, if I'm going for an extremely low curve, this can be a sweet way to spend my mana after I empty my hand. It would be a weird way to go, since Zombies tend to have a lot of black mana symbols and token creatures, but it's also pretty good with Always Watching, as is half of Cryptbreaker.
At two mana:
Relentless Dead always reads as being pretty awesome, but it has never played well. Is this finally a deck that's aggressive enough to make use of it? Maybe. Wayward Servant and Binding Mummy have pretty bad stats, but both can make it easy to push damage as long as you can keep playing Zombies, and we might be able to do that. Doomed Dissenter and Miasmic Mummy are narrower. You really need to want to sacrifice creatures consistently to play Doomed Dissenter, which is basically a worse Butcher Ghoul, which was never good to begin with, and Miasmic Mummy is similarly weak unless you're actively trying to discard cards, most likely because you're playing Prized Amalgam, but I'm not sure that that's really enough.
At three mana:
Plague Belcher is the new hope, while Diregraf Colossus looks good but has already disappointed. Plague Belcher might follow suit, or maybe it's what we needed to give Diregraf Colossus enough support. Prized Amalgam is a powerful card that's great at doing the things it usually does, and Lord of the Accursed is a Zombie lord with an additional line of aggressive text.
Other creatures of interest:
Gifted Aetherborn is a pretty good creature if you have a lot of black mana. Cryptbreaker is sometimes really looking for some more lifegain, and Bone Picker looks like it might be great to me. It's exceptional with one-mana removal and plays well with the sacrificial nature of Zombies, particularly on “chump attacks.” It's not entirely clear whether Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim is better or worse than Gifted Aetherborn. Both are 2/3 deathtouch creatures that can gain additional life. Ayli probably forces you to work harder to gain the life, but if you're looking to trigger Plague Belcher, it's not the worst sacrifice outlet, and it might be easier to cast, depending on how much white we're playing. Yahenni, Undying Partisan is another sacrifice outlet that can get pretty crazy against creature decks if we have a lot of removal.
Other spells of interest:
For the most part, we'll want to use black removal spells to round out the rest of our deck, but if we have enough white mana, Cast Out can give us access to answers to a variety of things black usually can't deal with, like artifacts and enchantments. Graf Harvest is a little better than it looks if you're a very aggressive deck, as menace is actually a fairly powerful keyword, though I doubt I'd want to play more than one. Supernatural Stamina is a weird choice, but I wanted to note that it interacts very well with Prized Amalgam. Liliana, the Last Hope is just a great black card that costs about the right amount of mana, and obviously the ultimate would be particularly incredible in this kind of deck, but it's usually good enough regardless.