[The camera pans over an African landscape. Whole-tone scale nature music plays with the faint echo that sounds like wind is stirring the strings.]
[Close-up of an antelope grazing.]
RICH DEEP NARRATOR VOICE: The greater African antelope once a mainstay of the tropical savannah.
[Close-up of a lion rearing in the shade.]
DEEP NARRATOR VOICE: But lately with changing northerly winds it's been driven off its usual grazing grounds into predator territory.
[Pan across horizon. Antelopes drinking at watering hole.]
DEEP NARRATOR VOICE: Yeah so antelopes. Lots of antelopes. Don't worry the good bit's coming up. Hey did I mention I have a totally rich deep voice? Chicks dig it. Also you might not be able to tell from this voice-over but I work out. Just saying.
[Dead Giraffes charge out from the waterhole. The antelopes turn to run but their brains are rapidly devoured.]
DEEP NARRATOR VOICE SUDDENLY MORE OMINOUS: That's right. You guessed it.
- 2 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 3 Blood Artist
- 1 Butcher Ghoul
- 2 Cemetery Reaper
- 4 Diregraf Ghoul
- 2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Geralf's Messenger
- 4 Gravecrawler
- 1 Highborn Ghoul
- 1 Skinrender
- 1 Zealous Conscripts
Alright. Let's break it down like a Polaroid picture.
When you side it out: Never.
What's its deal? Let's not mess around. Gravecrawler is one of the two biggest reasons to play this deck. He allows the Zombie deck to play the tempo game. A turn 1 Gravecrawler will get in at least four damage unhindered and often another four damage hindered with the help of a friendly Blood Artist or Mortarpod. Borderland Ranger and Huntmaster of the Fells don't mess with him Restoration Angel is merely a mild inconvenience and he is the surviving cockroach to Day of Judgment's nuclear warhead.
Gravecrawler is to Jungle Lion what Jungle Lion is to Mons' Goblin Raiders. One of the best aggressive one-drops to see print in years he's been overshadowed by the Delver of Secrets / Snapcaster Mage team. But don't underestimate the Zombie that just can't be stopped.
What role it fills in the deck: Part of the critical mass of efficient one-drops.
When you side it out: A copy or two come out in a lot of matchups. Often after board you have better answers and you're not as concerned about racing.
What's its deal? Diregraf Ghoul just isn't that great a card.
There I said it.
Sure once upon a time Carnophage and Sarcomancy were the best black creatures in Standard. But creatures have gotten that much better and even a vastly superior Carnophage is only ok in today's environment of Strangleroot Geists and Huntmaster of the Fells.
She does fill an important role in Zombies though. You need to get in there for two on turn 2! Your creatures don't block and the closest thing you have to stabilizing the board is Blood Artist triggers so the best defense really is a good offense. Particularly in matchups like Delver and the mirror the early aggressive dude counts for easily eight damage. Just don't be shy about taking the Ghoul out particularly against midrange decks when you're bringing in more matchup-specific answers.
What role it fills in the deck: Mad life drainz y0.
When you side it out: Pretty easy. They don't have creatures (Esper Control Wolf Run Ramp). You also take out a copy or two against Delver where all their creatures fly and all their removal bounces or exiles.
Blood Artist is at his best when everything is going well. He turns a solid draw into an unbeatable one. Early beats with a Gravecrawler or Diregraf Ghoul followed by Blood Artist followed by a Geralf's Messenger and a Birthing Pod is lights out for almost any average draw across the board. They die if they let your attackers through and they can't race if they kill them or trade.
We're down from four in the previous version because he can be awkward. Nothing Blood Artist nothing is not much of a curve. Still he's good enough often enough to be an easy include (much better than Skirsdag High Priest aka Squire plus.)
When you side it out: When you're taking out Pods and when a chumpy two-drop blocker is bad (Delver.) Alternatively when you aren't going to have enough time to Pod up your chain before they cast huge things and kill you (Wolf Run Ramp).
What's its deal? It's one of the little quirks I love about Magic. Young Wolf is unplayable but a strictly worse more expensive version has his little niche.
There's not much to say about Butcher Ghoul. Obviously he's a "bad card." But sometimes you want to Pod up the chain and you'll generally have a one-drop to start with. It's nice that he's a Zombie so a Gravecrawler comes back after being Podded out.
What role it fills in the deck: A really generic two-drop.
When you side it out: When you have more cards you want to bring in than you have to take out. Seriously he's the most generic thing since sliced bread.
What's its deal? You know when I said earlier that Blood Artist is sometimes bad? Well it so happens that those situations are exactly where you want Highborn Ghoul. He's good when creatures aren't crashing into each other or when you don't have much of a clock.
You don't Pod into Highborn Ghoul all that often but he's rarely bad to draw. An evasive two-drop is just fine in an aggressive deck and he's the only guy you play on turn 2 who's actually aggressively costed. Hey sometimes you just want a 2/1 intimidate.
What role it fills in the deck: Draining them smashing for tons of damage being Podded draining them more killing them.
When you side it out: Never ever.
What's its deal? Gravecrawler is in the top two reasons to play this deck but the Messenger himself is pretty comfortably number one. He's the turkey to your Thanksgiving meal the salsa to your corn chips the cherry and whipped cream to your chocolate mousse. Geralf's Messenger is secretly the best creature in current Standard—better than Snapcaster Mage Lingering Souls and Restoration Angel. The reason it's a secret is because he's so hard to cast and consequently very few decks can actually play him.
Not only does Geralf's Messenger beat down like nothing else he synergizes like nothing else again. Podding Messengers into Phyrexian Metamorph (copying existing Messengers) for a couple turns is a very legitimate way to win the game. Mortarpod equip sac is a third of their life total from two cards and that's assuming you didn't get to use the attack step. Phyrexian Metamorph comes in as a Messenger and comes back as anything you like although more often than not you'll just want to make it a Messenger again. Do remember that it's a Metamorph and can't come back as Messenger if there isn't a Messenger to copy.
Worth noting: Tragic Slip / Go for the Throat on your own creature in response to a Vapor Snag or Celestial Purge. A 4/3 in play that drains them for two is probably going to be better than a removal spell in hand.
What role it fills in the deck: Gives you game going long. Decent Lord for any of your guys which attack.
When you side it out: He's pretty slow so a copy can come out against Delver.
What's its deal? This guy got added since the last iteration of the deck. The problem we were finding was that Birthing Pod was your only game going long and you never wanted to draw two. So Birthing Pod got trimmed down to three and a couple Reapers were added.
Like Blood Artist Reaper is good whenever trading is happening. Unlike Blood Artist he's also quite reasonable when all you're doing is trying to get them to zero before they resolve Elesh Norn. He actually does a bunch of stuff—exiling Strangleroot Geist or opposing Messengers in response to the undying trigger is especially sweet.
Particularly against the Naya lists that are becoming popular your opponents should fear the Reaper. The ground tends to get clogged up with associated Zombies Wolves and Golems typically with an Obliterator holding the fort. Cemetery Reaper grinds those games out like a jealous organ grinder with an axe.
What role it fills in the deck: Flametongue Kavu. He's still good.
When you side it out: Like Blood Artist decks without creatures. It's not rocket surgery.
What's its deal? Skinrender lived exclusively in the sideboard for a while but he's proved a better maindeck fit than Phyrexian Obliterator. The metagame is heavily creatures right now and there are a few too many Vapor Snags and Dismembers for Obliterator's liking.
Basically this is a good guy to have access to. Geralf's Messenger gets Podded out a lot and when you're not busy making a Phyrexian Metamorph into Geralf the second you could do a lot worse than Skinrendering their Huntmaster of the Fells. Also when you want to go through a four-drop into Zealous Conscripts Skinrender is your man.
What role it fills in the deck: Mostly Geralf's Messengers number five and six.
When you side it out: I can't think of anything I side this guy out against. Not because he's a massive part of your deck's strategy but because he does a lot of different things well and is never atrocious.
What's its deal? Here's a laundry list of stuff Phyrexian Metamorph does:
- Copies Geralf's Messenger often as a Pod target.
- Has awesome synergy with undying.
- Kills Geist of Saint Traft.
- Copies big creatures you really fear like Wurmcoil Engine.
- Copies Falkenrath Aristocrat for total beatdown or Skinrender for value.
- Gives you a great answer to Titans.
Clones are better than they have ever been before for three reasons. One between Phantasmal Image and Metamorph Clones have been pushed a ton. Two creatures are better than they have ever been before—Titans much?—so copying them is that much better. And three undying is a thing. Metamorph on Geralf's Messenger coming back as their six-drop is insane value.
What role it fills in the deck: HAUMPH.
Two swings = eight damage. It's very rare that Aristocrat connects twice and you don't win the game on the spot. Be aware that you can sac all your creatures to trigger Blood Artist for the last few points. But also be aware that the second to last creature you sac has to be either Artist or Aristocrat itself so if they're at four and you have four creatures including those two they're not dead.
What role it fills in the deck: YOU FEAR TITANS NOT.
When you side it out: Decks without creatures that cost five or more. Delver.
What's its deal? Conscripts is that card you only Pod for every five games or so. But that fifth game you're really glad you have it in your deck. Along with Falkenrath Aristocrat and Bonfire of the Damned it's the reason you bother with red.
Conscripts is one of the most powerful cards from the new set and it's really altered the metagame. Every deck that wants to play Titans Wurmcoils or Elesh Norn has to think about if it can deal with Conscripts on its finisher. The single copy already gives you a ton of game against Ramp or Frites and he's insane against the field if you manage to Pod him in with Mortarpod in play.
2 Tragic Slip / 1 Dismember / 2 Go for the Throat
What's their deal? Filling out a list with removal is never completely precise and these numbers should be adjusted to suit your local metagame. That said it is important to be able to kill stuff. A turn 1 Delver will make short work of your life total if you can't answer it.
Go for the Throat is easily the choice over Doom Blade Geth's Verdict or Grasp of Darkness. Geth's Verdict is just not well placed with all the Lingering Souls and Timely Reinforcements floating around. Grasp of Darkness doesn't kill Titans or Wolfir Silverheart and Doom Blade doesn't kill Zombies (the mirror is becoming more popular online). Tempered Steel hasn't really been a factor thus far in the format so it's just Golem tokens and Inkmoths that Go for the Throat misses on.
What role it fills in the deck: Adds a whole new dimension to your midgame.
When you side it out: In the mirror or against Delver you cut a copy or two. Durdling around and taking damage from your own spells gets awkward.
What's its deal? I covered this in my last article so I won't spend too much time here. Birthing Pod is great against any deck that thinks it can beat you by playing the midgame. A few activations already puts you way ahead and you shouldn't lose any game this stays in play for three turns or more.
What role it fills in the deck: Kills lots of small creatures.
When you side it out: Surprisingly not often. Even control decks have Lingering Souls. Against Ramp I suppose.
What's its deal? This card doesn't feel unreal good or anything but it's versatile and surprisingly well placed. Almost everyone has 1/1s of some sort be they Spirit tokens Human tokens or Llanowar Elves.
Bonfire started out in the sideboard but it became clear that it was coming in for juuust about every matchup. So they migrated to the maindeck and they've comfortably remained there. Bonfire is a very versatile card. Sometimes you'll be happy to take out an Avacyn's Pilgrim on turn 3; other times you'll blow up three creatures on turn 5; other times you'll take out both halves of a Lingering Souls or an inconvenient Huntmaster of the Fells. The fact that you can rip it for the blowouts is just gravy. Even in matchups where it doesn't seem as if it would be good like heavy green decks where they go bigger with Wolfir Silverhearts Bonfire is fine. You're almost always going to get some value out of it.
What role it fills in the deck: Often lets you grind them out from single digits.
What's its deal? Excellent synergy with a lot of cards already mentioned. Kills annoying Delvers and Birds of Paradise. Can be Podded into Gravecrawler in a pinch. Gives you a bit of burn range with a Messenger. What's not to love?
When you side it in: Decks that can't easily deal with it. Anyone with Vapor Snag Mana Leak Dismember Go for the Throat or Celestial Purge makes Obliterator a sad panda. (A sad Phyrexian monstrosity perhaps.)
That said the decks with Incinerate and Huntmaster as their removal really struggle with this guy. Most G/R decks will crumble against him be they aggro or ramp. He also comes in against Naya which plays few noncreature spells. Be it holding the fort or bringing the pain Oblitz will take over the game by himself.
When you side it in: Sword of Feast and Famine.
Yeah this card is very very bad for you. I really can't emphasize that enough. You have to bring in Manic Vandal against Delver and G/R even if you're not sure they have SoFaF in their sideboard. It does kill Birthing Pod Phyrexian Metamorph and Blade Splicer tokens so it won't be completely useless even if they aren't planning to Sword you in half.
When you side them in: Delver tokens.
The main reason you play this card is against decks with Intangible Virtue. Bonfire of the Damned is often not enough and it can actually be a bad matchup. Lingering Souls + Anthem effects puts a lot of power on the board very fast in a way you're not equipped to deal with.
The splash damage is nice too. As more Delver lists play Blade Splicer and most sideboard Timely Reinforcements the stock of Ratchet Bomb rises. At worst it'll trade for their Delver and it's not uncommon to get a two-for-one or at least take out some Spirits. In a pinch you can Ratchet it up and kill a Geist or a Sword that's giving you trouble.
This card just gets you value across the board. It's particularly good in the mirror with Geralf's Messengers and what have you. Frites is not really a thing anymore but obviously it's one of the best cards you could side if you do happen to run into the matchup. And it's fair to good against Esper and Delver lists. I usually wouldn't board it against stock-standard Delver but if they have Lingering Souls then by all means. You get enough splash damage from associated Snapcasters and Moorland Haunts to make it worth it.
When you side it in: Control the mirror.
Far from spectacular but there are matchups where you want to cut the whole suite of Blood Artists and those decks often have Unburial Rites. It's also just fine to attack a couple times in the mirror and trade him up for the better half of a Geralf's Messenger (and no I don't mean Geralf's Mistress).
All should be fairly self-explanatory.
The extra removal comes in against green decks and exclusively the instant removal against Delver. I like boarding Tragic Slip in against Birds of Paradise decks only when on the draw. When you're on the play Mortarpod is superior.
The fourth Birthing Pod comes in against slow midrange and control. Rough guide to Pod maintenance—you want:
- 0-1 against G/R
- 0 in the mirror
- 2 against Delver
- 4 against ramp or control
- 3 against everything else
The second Conscripts comes in against decks Conscripts is good against (duh). Mostly this is just ramp and Frites.
... And there you have it!
I hope that some people despairing at the cruel world that is Delver choose to pick up this deck instead. We're actually killing Delver online recently (LSV winning with Sword of War and Peace has helped a lot.) Really we're killing just about everything and have been for a few weeks.
One final note: BRAINS are best served steamed with garlic fresh basil and just a dash of paprika.
Until next time