Despite winning Pro Tour Amonkhet with Mono-Black Zombies, I never did any sort of comprehensive deck guide. Standard adapted quickly, mostly with Chandra, Flamecaller.
It's not that you couldn't overcome Chandra, Flamecaller, but trying to beat a bunch of decks with those and a bunch of Aetherworks Marvel decks was a bit too much. You were better off trying to do something else. Zombies put up some Grand Prix Top 8s, but ultimately performed rather poorly.
Then Aetherworks Marvel got banned. I might be able to relive my glory days. We're going to have Hour of Devastation to contend with soon, but if anything, I'd expect Zombies to get a few new toys based on how well-supported Zombies were in Amonkhet. Of course, there's still #SCGINVI in a few weeks, and I plan on running back 22 basic Swamps.
Why is Zombies Good?
Zombies is a midrange-leaning aggressive deck that typically beats up on aggression and midrange. The low mana curve, plethora of removal, and focus on creating a huge battlefield position tends to give Zombies the edge against other creature-based decks.
You might think that a pile of removal is good against the deck that consists of just creatures and removal, but you're mostly wrong. If that were the case, Zombies wouldn't really be a deck. The real threats to the deck are big threats that also deal with the battlefield to some degree.
Torrential Gearhulk, Glorybringer, and Chandra, Flamecaller all line up well against Zombies and allow the decks that cast them to potentially go over the top, but you have access to the best answers.
Trying to kill everything and grind out Zombies is a fool's errand. They have sticky threats, cards that can produce an entire army on their own, and Cryptbreaker, which is a card I don't think I've ever lost with if it's been active for a few turns.
In short, Zombies is great.
The Updated List
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Cryptbreaker
- 4 Diregraf Colossus
- 4 Dread Wanderer
- 4 Lord of the Accursed
- 4 Relentless Dead
With Aetherworks Marvel out of the way, a few things change. Standard becomes a format with Zombies, Mardu Vehicles, U/R Control, G/B Energy, and Temur Energy. Since those decks have one fewer threat to worry about, they get to reconfigure their deck to suit the new metagame, which we're also doing. Notably, they pick up additional sideboard space, which they will probably use to fight us.
The creature base is mostly set in stone. They are the best for accomplishing your goal of swarming your opponent and pumping up your creatures. There aren't even really any other options.
Zombies wants eight or nine removal spells maindeck. With the majority of Standard focusing on creatures, I'm leaning toward nine. The original lists had four Fatal Pushes maindeck to fight the perceived threat of Mardu Vehicles, but that was my big change for the Pro Tour. Without great ways to turn on revolt, Fatal Push ends up falling short in a lot of matchups, including the mirror. Killing a two-drop is often good, but future copies of the card tend to not have many good targets.
I'm still on three Liliana's Mastery, although that could change. It's clunky, and as I've mentioned, the Game 1s aren't as grindy as the post-sideboard games, so they tend to be faster. That said, it's one of your best topdecks, but I don't want to flood on them.
Westvale Abbey gets better for a few reasons. Fatal Push gets better, which means we're playing fewer Grasp of Darknesses. That reduces the chance of having those awkward turns where you need BBBB for Grasp of Darkness and Relentless Dead.
Additionally, Westvale Abbey is better against the format in general. There will be more midrange fights, which means it's more likely the games will devolve into Ormendahl games. If that ends up not being the case, I'd be fine with playing 24 Swamps.
The sideboard has changed a decent amount.
Transgress the Mind is completely absent, as it was mainly there for Aetherworks Marvel and I never wanted it against U/R Control anyway. The tempo loss is huge and most of their cards do the same thing. Forcing them to discard a card drawer, removal spell, or threat will often leave them with that same effect. In order for discard to be effective, you need to be able to strip them of something vital, not simply trade one-for-one.
You're better off in the U/R matchup having the maximum amount of Grasp of Darknesses post-sideboard to fight Torrential Gearhulk and Thing in the Ice. Force them to commit time and resources into playing them and win the exchange with a timely removal spell. From there, their position typically crumbles.
Grasp of Darkness is the best removal spell against Glorybringer and the various threats in the U/R Control deck, but Fatal Push is probably a necessity against Mardu Vehicles and G/B Energy. There are some matchups where you'll want to go up to 12 removal spells post-sideboard, but most of the time it's about configuring your deck against their post-sideboard configuration and finding which 6-10 removal spells are best.
Liliana, the Last Hope allows you to grind a little bit, but it is mainly there to tag X/1s like Cryptbreaker and Toolcraft Exemplar. Scrapheap Scrounger also helps you grind a bit and are good in matchups with a pile of removal.
If Chandra, Flamecaller continues to be a threat (and I imagine it will), then Fleetwheel Cruiser is what you want. Never helps, but it's a much worse answer than something that leaves a threat behind. You can also keep open mana to return Scrapheap Scrounger, but there's no guarantee you'll want Scrapheap Scrounger in every matchup that has access to Chandra, Flamecaller.
A singleton Skysovereign, Consul Flagship rounds out the sideboard. There is no shortage of powerful five-drop options, but Skysovereign is supposed to be the one that annihilates the mirror. Backed up by additional removal spells, I could see a world where that's the case.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is the card I've seen most people mention as a possible sideboard option, but it hasn't impressed me. The early threats demand removal, which means you probably won't have a bunch left over when you play Kalitas. Additionally, if you're in control mode, you probably aren't presenting them with many threats worth killing, which means they'll probably have something to kill Kalitas on sight. Kalitas also gives you no value from killing tokens.
Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is likely at its best when you're pressuring them and you top out your curve with it, but at that point, I'd much rather have Skysovereign.
The Matchup Guide
In: (on the play)
Out: (on the play)
Honestly, this is one of the easier matchups. Based on how bad this matchup is for them, it wouldn't surprise me if the Blooming Marsh deck of choice ended up being Brennan DiCandio-style delirium. There's a case for Shaun McLaren's Delirium deck, but that deck existed as it did because of Aetherworks Marvel. You would have to rebuild it completely.
Anyway, G/B Energy is mostly doing what Zombies does (flooding the battlefield with large threats and backing it up with removal), but Zombies does it much better. They are often removal-light, which makes it even easier to run over them with Cryptbreaker or Lord of the Accursed.
Their best plan is beating you with fliers, but their secondary plan of big stuff plus Yahenni's Expertise out of the sideboard is solid too. Ken Yukuhiro's deck from the Pro Tour is a good starting point, but his sideboard needs some help for the matchup.
In: (on the draw)
Out: (on the draw)
On the draw, you're going to be a bit more reactive, but not much changes.
In: (if they stay aggressive)
Mardu's best plan is to beat you down. Their midrange planeswalker plan isn't very good against Liliana's Mastery and company. Their best bet is to pick you apart with removal on key turns and eventually stick something you can't deal with, such as Heart of Kiran, Archangel Avacyn, or Gideon, Ally of Zendikar.
If they try to grind you out, it's probably not going to work. That said, that won't stop them from trying, and if you don't sideboard like they're a midrange deck, then they actually have a reasonable shot of winning.
Note that how they sideboard may depend on whether they are on the play or draw.
In: (if they sideboard into a midrange deck)
Even if you sideboard for their beatdown plan and they surprise you with a midrange build, you should still do fine, but you would preferably be able to figure out what their plan is. A hedge is probably closer to right if you're in the dark, but some of their maindeck card choices and how they approach the matchup will give you a better indicator of what they're planning on doing.
For example, if they are clearly playing aggressively, they will probably stick with that in the post-board games, especially if they have far too many aggressive tools to take out against you. If they appear to have a slower build with Walking Ballista and Canyon Slough, you can bet they'll have some midrange elements in their sideboard.
In: (on the play)
Liliana, the Last Hope is great, especially on the play, because she allows you to take out some of their best threats and cement your advantage. Either you make combat a nightmare for them or make their removal nearly irrelevant.
The person who is able to notch their opponent in creature sizing is a huge favorite, so go after the cards that allow them to do that. Cryptbreaker, Metallic Mimic, and Lord of the Accursed are particularly scary, whereas something like Relentless Dead often does very little, especially if they're behind.
In: (on the draw)
When they're on the play, Metallic Mimic is likely to get gobbled up by Liliana, the Last Hope, so it's dangerous to keep it in. Additionally, you will probably be forced into reacting to what they're doing, so you might not have the window to play Metallic Mimic on Turn 2 anyway. Instead, settle in for a longer game when you're on the draw. Remove their key threats and don't waste removal on inconsequential creatures.
In: (on the play)
Out: (on the play)
Their decks are going to vary, so this is just a general guideline.
If they have Longtusk Cub, you should keep in an additional Fatal Push. If they sideboard into a heavy midrange deck like Mardu Vehicles could, consider sideboarding how I would for Mardu's midrange configuration.
In: (on the draw)
Out: (on the draw)
Being on the draw is the same deal as most matchups. They typically have some amount of planeswalkers, so Fleetwheel Cruiser might be worth it once they board in Chandra, Flamecaller and Sweltering Suns or whatever equivalent they have.
Overall, this is kind of a tough matchup, mostly because of Glorybringer. It by itself is beatable, but it's basically like G/B Energy if it had a top end you were actually scared of. If they put you on the backfoot, there's no guarantee you have the luxury of playing around Glorybringer.
Play or draw doesn't matter too much here.
Our plan at the Pro Tour was Gonti, Lord of Luxury, but that's only effective if their plan is to grind you out. As the U/R Control lists got more refined, they turned to things like Glorybringer, Thing in the Ice, and Chandra, Flamecaller to pressure and go over the top.
Since their plan is less contingent on grinding and more on putting you on a clock, I could see fewer copies of Scrapheap Scrounger and more ways to interact with their potential threats. However, not everyone is going to be on the same plan. Plus, you still want some grinding capability. If you're both removing each other's threats, the games are going to go longer and you'll want a recursive threat.
In general, I keep the amount of reactive cards in my deck to a minimum when I'm on the play, which is something I'm going to delve deeper into later this week. Overall, it's a reasonable rule of thumb to have when playing a midrange creature deck. When you're on the play, executing your own game plan should be your main priority. Worrying too much about what they're doing is only going to get in your way. At some point, you're going to want to interact with your opponent, but not nearly as often as you have to when you're on the draw.
Anyway, I sure hope Standard ends up in a good place. From what I see, that's probably going to be the case, and I couldn't be happier to be shuffling up 22 basic Swamps again.