The humble Zombie has been a part of Magic since the very beginning. Back in those days, we had very few options for Zombie cards, and less so for Zombie flavour.
I remember reading about early games using Alpha and Beta cards, before things like restricting cards to 4-ofs were things. That’s when Scathe Zombies (and Plague Rats) made sense as a design. 2/2 for 2B was a bad rate, but there wasn’t much better, and playing Scathe Zombies in big numbers, turn after turn, could be a strategy. Especially when backed up with this guy.
Zombie Master has since been changed to be a Zombie himself, and to give his abilities to ‘other Zombies.’ So you could take all your Scathe Zombies and make them Swampwalking Regenerators. Which was okay, I guess. But Zombie Master is part of a group of creatures called Lords, which derives from ZM’s original type, shared by Goblin King and Lord of Atlantis. Both those guys give a Landwalk ability, but they also do the thing that Lords are now known for: +1/+1 for their tribe.
Zombies certainly shambled behind the pack, as Goblins and Merfolk could grow outside their range quickly. Those tribes also received an influx of support over the next few sets, while black flirted with Djinns and Efreets, Ghouls, Gremlins, Eyes, Fungus Demons, Witches, Uncle Istvan, and in the tribal ‘matters’ set, Fallen Empires, Thrulls. Some cards from those sets have been changed now, and we have some old, weird Zombies, but it took several years, and the expansion Planeshift, to give Zombies what we now think of as a proper Lord.
Hahaha! I mean this one.
Same set though, and both do technically give the +1/+1 ability to… something. I have seen Dralnu’s Crusade in play recently, though I don’t know the circumstance. It was a game I watched the end of. I digress. Lord of the Undead was the first of a solid mausoleum’s worth of high-ranking zombies that make the horde bigger.
When I got into Commander, there was enough of these Lords and other cool Zombies to make a deck. Shadows over Innistrad was looming, too, and promised some juicy tribal support. I like Zombies a lot in general (as fiction) and a Zombie deck was the kind of thing I could build now and add to over the years as I found new synergies and Wizards released new Zombies. I even had a Commander I liked, both in terms of flavour and abilities.
Liliana is the Queen of Zombies in Magic lore. It only makes sense that she command my Zombie deck. First of all, this limits me to mono-black. I know some people can’t imagine playing a Zombie deck without Rooftop Storm. I’m not one of those.
There’s an elegance to mono-black, especially in the mana base, that makes it very appealing. It’s also very traditional zombie. Blue is too mindful, white too spiritual, red too aggressive, green too fungal. I do have a 4 colour Zombie deck as well, because there’s so many cool Zombies outside just black, but there’s enough in just black.
When Liliana flips, she makes a Zombie token, which is really what I want to be the focus of the deck. I like making tokens, especially Zombie tokens, because there are literally dozens printed. That’s not including homemade and MTG artist creations. I have a great big pile of tokens, because you never know.
I never made any of the Planeswalker side of Liliana a focus, however. I like her abilities as a sort of toolbox, including her creature side, which leverages Lifelink surprisingly well. Besides, if Liliana’s the Commander, the Zombies are going to do the work. When I first made the deck, Planeswalkers weren’t Legendary, and instead functioned like Legends across all different versions of the same Planeswalker, like Liliana. This meant that I didn’t make it a Liliana deck, and I’m glad I didn’t. Because the Zombies do very well, and for this Commander Challenge, I’m shaking up the Command.
Syr Konrad, the Grim, is stepping in for Liliana. This isn’t a choice based on function, which is a nice luxury to have. Liliana was never essential for the deck, and Syr Konrad isn’t either. But they both offer an interesting toolbox to apply to a variety of game states. Syr Konrad should excel at making my horde punishing to get rid of, can break through board stalls with non-combat damage, and can even mill for profit. A single mill is great against a lot of tutors and topdeck stacking effects. I don’t think this is more than a temporary change, and Syr Konrad might be best elsewhere, but for this week, the deck is his. Since it’s a Zombie deck, with as many +1/+1 to Zombies effects as possible, I call it ‘Lords of the Underworld.’ The deck is here.
While I do run Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth, I don’t run Cabal Coffers. First of all, I don’t have a copy, and the price is too steep. Maybe a reprint is on the horizon, maybe not, but for now, yikes. Too much. Second, my use of Cabal Coffers would hinge pretty heavily on one other Land. I have some Swamps, but lots of non-Swamps. Coffers works well off just a few, but goes nuclear with Urborg, ToY. If I had one, I’d probably play it, but I’d also cut back on miscellaneous non-basics as well.
Since this isn’t Standard, and I have plenty of Lands not named Swamp, Field of the Dead is an auto-include for Zombie tokens.
Apparently a lot of Commander players are lukewarm on the Castles. Not me. I love em, and I’m excited to get Lochthwain into play. This deck wants as many ways to draw cards as possible. The cost may be some life, but not drawing that card might be the game.
I’m also excited to play Witch’s Cottage, which can be a nice little piece of value on an otherwise useful Swamp. I love Mortuary Mire, and this plays in the same ballpark.
Heraldic Banner is such a juicy card in decks like this. If I could only get either the power or toughness boost from my Lords, I’d take the power. This is a Lord and rock in one. And it even makes coloured mana. This might even be better than a Lord, since while all my Creatures are black, they’re not all Zombies.
Another new kid on the block is Murderous Rider. Swift End is pretty good. I like similar card Hero’s Downfall for simple utility, and the more Planeswalkers they print, the more killing them becomes a good thing for a card to do. The Rider part seems pretty good, although I’d prefer not to tuck him when he dies. This deck has plenty of reanimator power, and could easily topdeck him for more casts of Swift End. I guess that’s the power play they’re trying to avoid. Note that the Rider doesn’t get around graveyard hosers like Leyline of the Void, as he has to die to get the trigger. If death is replaced by exile, no tuck. Recasting Swift End does make him a prime discard choice though, especially with Unholy Grotto in play.
Crashing Drawbridge might be the scariest addition to this deck since I don’t know when, or it might be a complete fail. I’m not sure. A lot of Zombies come into play tapped, including most of the tokens my cards make. If it needs a little help to be amazing, I’m down, but if it needs a lot of help, I might be better with good old Lightning Greaves.
Cryptic Gateway is a recent acquisition that I’m probably going to try in my various tribal concepts until it hits the right spot. Like with the Crashing Drawbridge, this might be held back by ETB tapped. And might be further held back by a decent concentration of non-Zombie creatures. Hopefully I get some testing in.
Fellwar Stone is included here over something like Mind Stone as a concession to 2 things: first, I might get someone else’s creature into play somehow, and want to pay an activation cost. Necromantic Selection is the only way I can do that, though. The other thing is being saddled with something like Pact of the Titan via Sudden Substitution or Hive Mind. I don’t think the Stone really addresses those things, but it’s a strategic element I’m considering more and more. Definitely for decks like mono-red or mono-blue theft decks.
Akroma’s Memorial might seem strange in Zombie tribal, but it’s a gravestone, after all. This can be a game ender, and is often a huge target. I run it mainly as an answer to flying swarms of things. Like Angels.
Throne of the God-Pharaoh is a Bolas card, but man can this deck ever use it. Suddenly the ETB-tapped nature of my Zombie tokens becomes a feature, not a bug. This thing is so good. It’s taken a while for the Commander community to catch on, but this can end games in token decks for sure. Army of the Damned anyone?
My decks contains 2 ways to get the Monarch, and just missed a third, cutting Marchesa’s Decree. Custodi Lich is a great way to get this mechanic into play, and the deck is great for offering up a complicated mess to attack through. In some games, the Monarch is mine the whole time. Throne of the High City is making its way into just about everything I play. They really hit a home run with the Monarch. Fun and powerful and squeezed into my decks whenever possible.
Zombie Trailblazer pairs up well with Zombie Master for alpha strikes, but my favourite use of this little gem is turning off problem lands, like Maze of Ith, Glacial Chasm, and Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. If you have a massive horde, you can even shut down an opponent’s mana base for the turn if they’re not black at all. The abilities ignore summoning sickness, too, and can be a great way to tap creatures for extra damage through Throne of the God-Pharaoh.
I’m trying out both of Ambition’s Cost and Ancient Craving. I played them in my Beyond Vampires deck, but didn’t see them. Card draw is great, but business spells might be better, and synergy Zombies better still. The fact that these cost 4 mana might be the breaking point, as that can be all you do on a turn.
I’ve had Plaguebearer in this deck for ages as a way to clean up other token strategies, but those might be going a bit too wide these days for this guy, and I might be better off with a straight out boardwipe. He’s on the bubble.
Dreadhorde Invasion is another bubble card. I want to love it, but I want the effect to go wide, not tall. If any deck can make the lifelink effect a thing, it’s this one. That’ll probably be the make or break for this card. It may be a good pairing with a sac outlet, too.
Noxious Ghoul has been a mainstay in this deck for a while, too, but a bit of a risk with the non-Zombie creatures and especially the Commander. With this and Liliana in play, I probably think twice about casting Army of the Damned, and I should never think twice about casting that. The effect is so powerful, though, and with some management, can eat opposing go-wide strategies alive while leaving mine un-Scathed (haha). I’m keeping it in for now.
Black Market is a card I’m considering cutting because it is a little broken. I like this card, but if it’s consistently putting me embarrassingly far ahead for a minimal investment, and I feel bad or become a huge target because of it, it’s a cut. What saves this currently is that I’ll mostly use the mana to play cool Zombies. If you don’t care about that, though, and you want a crazy mana accelerator for your mid-late games, check out Black Market.
Gray Merchant of Asphodel, or Gary as many call him, is another card that might be cut on extreme power level. I feel like one Gary per game is okay. The table groans, because it’s usually a huge swing, but that one isn’t too bad. It’s when Gary dies and comes back often that he’s a problem. This is a Zombie deck, with lots of skulls on the cards. Gary is a big time hit, and I have the tools to bring him back. What I don’t want is for all my games where I draw Gary to be all about Gary. And that’s happened with this deck. It’s too easy, no fun, and makes all my other cool cards less playable. If I see that happening this weekend, it’s probably Gary’s last ride with the deck.
Grave Pact is supposed to be a rattlesnake effect, ideally, ‘you kill my stuff and pay the penalty.’ But in practice, this teams up with sacrifice outlets to keep a lot of players from playing creatures at all. Since a Commander is a creature, and keeping other players from playing their cards is not at all what I want to do, Grave Pact and instant-speed buddy Dictate of Erebos are at the top of my watch list. I’ve played Dictate recently, and it sat in my hand because I felt bad casting it. I know these cards will make me a target, too, as some players feel they can’t play anything until they deal with them. I’m keeping them as a hedge against worse stuff than what I’m doing, and for my achilles’ heel, swarms of flyers. I’m totally open to replacing both of them with Decree of Pain and Black Suns’ Zenith.
So that’s the deck, in a nutshell. Make a bunch of Zombies, pump em up, and supplement my shambling horde with a bunch of techy stuff. What do you think? I’m going to be playing this Saturday, and will report on my games, as usual. Hopefully Syr Konrad will put in a good showing, and I’ll finish nice and high. Considering I finished last in the previous Challenge, there’s nowhere to go but up!
Thanks as always for reading, and I hope to see you out at the Challenge this weekend. As a reward for reading this far, the first person to post a comment gets a code for a Throne of Eldraine booster pack on Magic Arena. Free loot!