They tear at me incessantly. Clawing at my legs while I scramble for safety for freedom for life. Their will is unbreakable uncontrollable. The moans of the dead echo through the distance; their shambling forms following an invisible line that leads towards...the living. Me.
Their teeth gnash biting at my calf as I dig my fingernails into the dirt desperately reaching for safety. Looking for some haven where I don't have to live in fear. Some place where sleep isn't a thing of the past. Somewhere new to call home because mine was lost so long ago. These creatures desire only to devour and they leave behind something...else in their wake. Something lifeless. Something broken.
Zombies are starting to become somewhat of a problem in Standard. Geralf is sending a message and that message is clear: we want brains and we're going to get them. The answer? Well we probably need to dig a little deeper.
Oh no I'm not suggesting we do something as drastic as play Mono Red. I've got a level head on my shoulders. While Mono Red is occasionally the best deck I think it is safe to say that Zombies has overtaken that spot often putting other aggro decks to shame. With their mindless unblocking unrelenting horde they can take over the battlefield in swarms very quickly. Traditional removal isn't good against them either so what's the answer?
I've been starting to play a lot of Celestial Purges and Timely Reinforcements in my sideboard and that seems to help a bit but I still find myself on the back foot quite often. And if I've learned one thing about playing against Zombies it's that you can never fall behind. With the removal packages people are playing Geralf's Messenger and Gravecrawler represent outrageous problems for the average deck.
Sure some decks can ignore these threats or go over the top with stuff like Thragtusk but sometimes even that isn't enough. The decks that play Thragtusk are fairly reliant on Mana dorks to accelerate them into play and most decks only play two or three Thragtusk so that means we should probably take a different approach. Plus what if you aren't playing green? Does that mean you just fold to Zombies?
But that doesn't mean we can't try and do something about it. We can change our fate! After all Zombies can't really think so our greatest weapon against this menace is our imagination. We have the tools at our disposal to handle the threat but we only lack the proper motivation to implement these measures. I think that a raving pack of mindless cannibals is enough motivation for us to do something drastic don't you think?
I'm not suggesting trashing your pet deck. After all I think that a lot of the untapped synergy in the format is a strong weapon against a deck like Zombies. They are incredibly reliant on attacking you with their small threats so generating small advantages here and there can be paramount. The biggest challenge to most decks is bringing threats to the table that can efficiently match those of Zombies. Since Zombies has the most efficient and resilient threats this challenge can be somewhat daunting.
After analyzing the matchup from both sides I've come to some conclusions. There are some weaknesses that Zombies can overcome and there are some that they have a lot more trouble with. One of those problems is removal that exiles creatures. The other is matching them threat for threat while your creatures gain minimal amounts of value over time.
As I trudge along the rows of empty houses my breath begins to shorten. What time is it? What day is it? It feels like weeks since I last sat in my living room watching the entirety of the epidemic unfold on television. I try to recount the days. How long has it been since I slept?
Creeping my way across the abandoned neighborhood there aren't any of those...things in sight. But I can hear them. I can always hear them. The moaning the scraping of dead flesh across the ground always praying that they don't see or hear me. I glide along the street a ghost hiding behind broken down cars. At the end of the street something catches my eye. Something I haven't seen in ages or maybe just a few days. I can't remember. I see a streetlamp flicker to life and something changes inside of me. Its eerie glow against the horizon reminds me of something. Staring at the beacon its light continues to grow. Burning bright. It reminds me of man's oldest tool. Something I've forgotten.
It reminds me of fire.
We should probably just set the Zombies on fire.
My pick for best removal spell in Standard at the moment Pillar of Flame deals with all of the threats coming out of Zombies aside from Falkenrath Aristocrat. While U/W Delver decks are durdling around with Gut Shot and Dismember those spells don't actually match up well against many of the threats coming from the Zombies' side of the field. In fact I often side out Dismember against them as it is only really useful against Aristocrat. When killing any of the other threats you just can't afford to pay the four life!
Pillar of Flame is one of the major reasons to play red in Standard since it acts as a generic removal spell against the majority of the field but it is a bolt of purifying flame against Public Enemy #1. It has its uses since it is a burn spell after all. It kills Delver of Secrets Birds of Paradise and even the important half of Huntmaster of the Fells. Sure it doesn't deal with all of your problems. Geist of Saint Traft and Restoration Angel are still things but there really isn't a card that can answer every major threat in Standard efficiently. We have to play multiple answers for multiple threats and we have to start somewhere.
When the threats in the format are as diverse as they are in the current Standard we will occasionally have to think outside the box to combat them. At the moment I want to beat Zombies and you beat Zombies by playing cards like Pillar of Flame.
Alongside Snapcaster Mage Pillar of Flame can be a gigantic tempo boost against Zombies often ending the game on the spot (or at least buying you multiple turns). With other powerful threats in your arsenal like Talrand Sky Summoner you can often out-attrition a Zombie deck. Are you listening? You can win a war of attrition against the deck that will never stop hunting you even when they're dead. With that in mind I present you with my current project (inspired by Gerry Thompson):
As you can see I've cut the green from the deck I posted last week. Quirion Dryad is awesome but it just made the mana horrible. Too many lands came into play tapped and that was just too much to handle. I don't think the mana base could be reworked to make the archetype viable as that is just the problem with three-color Delver decks. If we had the ability to play more Scars duals then I think RUG would be much better. As it stands I would argue that Bant and Esper have more stable mana bases but two-color Delver decks are much more reliable.
With that said I just want to highlight a few things about this deck. With Pillar of Flame in your arsenal along with awesome new creatures like Augur of Bolas and Talrand Sky Summoner I think your Zombies matchup becomes much better. Instead of relying on mostly-dead removal like Gut Shot and Dismember you have Pillar of Flame to actually get the job done. Alongside your normal suite of threats that can make all the difference.
The defensive capabilities of this particular list are notable since Augur of Bolas acts as a cheaper Sea Gate Oracle. What Augur of Bolas brings to the table is a reasonable body that allows you to dig for the answers you need to the threats being thrown at you. After playing just a few matches with it I can safely say that it definitely earns its keep. It isn't as aggressive as Snapcaster Mage and can't gain you the same kind of tempo but it is still a warm body that attacks blocks and can hold a Runechanter's Pike.
Speaking of a card that I think is grossly underrated Runechanter's Pike is not being used enough in the current format. Pike has been seeing play on and off in Delver over the last few months but it has slowly tapered off in popularity. It is important to note the biggest difference between Runechanter's Pike and Swords: Runechanter's Pike is a full mana cheaper to cast. When you are playing twenty or fewer lands that single mana can mean the difference between casting it in rhythm with the rest of your spells or it getting stuck in your hand for multiple turns. Since a lot of people are playing Blade Splicers and three-color decks most of the Swords seem poorly positioned at the moment. I think that while this deck isn't using Runechanter's Pike to its fullest (lacking cards like Thought Scour) I think it is still better than Swords and a necessary inclusion.
Overall I feel like Talrand is the most important creature in the deck. Some decks can stifle your early threat development with cards like Tragic Slip and Gut Shot. Those decks will generally run out of gas after the third turn. With this version of Delver you are still presenting the same early threats as most versions but you have a creature built for the late game that can absolutely dominate. While I am still working on this version of Delver I feel like it has a lot of potential. The new "Mono-Blue Wizards" deck that keeps cropping up at SCG Standard Opens seems pretty solid and this deck builds off a lot of the same principals but you can fill the holes where your deck is weak by adding a second color.
For reference here is the winning Standard list from SCG Open Series: Buffalo last weekend:
For one I dislike the incredible amount of disrespect for Zombies coming from this list. You don't have Celestial Purge which is one of the best ways for Delver to combat Geralf's Messenger. You get to trim down on your mediocre removal and bring in cards that actually eliminate their biggest threats! Celestial Purge is obviously much better against Zombies than Pillar of Flame since it can be cast at instant speed and also has the benefit of dealing with Falkenrath Aristocrat but the additional mana requirement can be costly.
The differences here are fairly easy to analyze. Red gives you access to better removal while white gives you access to (potentially) better sideboard cards. However I don't think Carl took advantage of what white really has to offer. I can understand why Carl didn't want to play too many white spells since he only has seven sources in the maindeck. I can also understand the appeal of playing Moorland Haunt to help grind out the matchups where you need more warm bodies to hold Swords.
But Bonfire of the Damned is just not a real Magic card and I can't recommend it enough.
Against nearly every deck in the format Bonfire of the Damned is the card that breaks open a stalemate. Bonfire of the Damned creates one-sided blowouts that also deal damage to the opponent in a racing situation. Bonfire of the Damned is a card unlike any other in Standard because there are no other cards that can present that same type of impact. The other miracle cards are cool and all but none of them are even remotely as efficient or devastating.
While you aren't using cards like Birds of Paradise to accelerate into casting Bonfire of the Damned the fair way you have Ponder to help set up your big turns. On top of that Bonfire for just one or two is usually enough to put you ahead on the board. When most decks are playing creatures like Huntmaster of the Fells or Delver of Secrets you don't really have to cast Bonfire of the Damned for all that much in order for it to be effective.
What Bonfire adds to this deck is the ability to come back from a losing situation. Sure you aren't going to be making X=3 that often without a miracle but that's like saying Snapcaster Mage isn't that good if it is only flashing back a Gitaxian Probe. You're getting value and you're generating small advantages (or large advantages in some cases) on board and on cards. Delver is a deck that can win or lose by inches and having a card that can turn the game around in your favor singlehandedly can mean the difference between losing and winning the tournament.
I'm excited to play Delver again. These cards and these interactions are what brought me to Delver of Secrets in the first place. Talrand Sky Summoner gives me rejuvenated hope in a world full of Blade Splicers. When they're gumming up the ground you'll be dominating the skies. While they'll occasionally be able to overwhelm you through brute force Talrand surviving more than a turn or two will generally mean you're winning. Sure they'll occasionally catch you out of nowhere with a Bonfire of the Damned of their own but we have something a little spicy for them when they do...
This oft forgotten and heavily reprinted rare has gotten very little love since its creation. Sure it doesn't have a lot of versatility but it acts as a deterrent to the format's biggest nuisance: Bonfire of the Damned. I'm not saying that Redirect will change anything. In fact Outwit might end up being a better answer since it only costs one mana. However it seems to me that the decks that play Bonfire are usually the same ones that are most vulnerable to it. Redirect throwing their blowout spell right back in their face will very easily win you the game on the spot.
Having played with the deck for the last few days I think this is definitely the strategy I want to work on and perfect in the coming weeks. I've tried my fair share of Birthing Pod Zombies and control decks but nothing ever feels as powerful as Delver. The card itself isn't all that overwhelming anymore since people finally figured out that you need to kill Delver as soon as possible but having a threat like Delver of Secrets on the first turn can force your opponents into some really awkward situations.
With the newest additions to the deck the numbers on some cards seem a bit off to me but I think I'll be able to work them out in testing. I'm not even sure Vapor Snag is a good card when you aren't playing Geist of Saint Traft! More testing will smooth out the deck but I'm finally looking forward to playing Standard again. I think that this version of Delver is very well positioned and the mana base is pretty solid. That's all you can really ask for in Standard. I hope you guys enjoy playing with the deck!
Be sure to check out the new set of playtest videos we're publishing on the Select side every Friday featuring Brian Braun-Duin and myself. We've gotten a lot of awesome feedback and I think you guys will like the changes we are making to the format of the videos. If you have any questions or just want to give us some new ideas please don't hesitate to let us know in the comments. We are here to inform and we want to give you guys the best viewing experience possible. Thanks for watching and as always...
Thanks for reading.
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