Friday 24 November 2017

Tribal Zombies

Noxious Ghoul
I have been doing a lot of tribal lists of late and it has been the black ones that have improved most. Vampires have become viable and zombies seem like they are getting ever stronger. Zombies has always been a thing in cube but it has never been very good. It has some interesting late game but the early plays typically suck meaning it has never been a high  tier deck (low? the good one... the deck has never been good!). Zombies have always leaned on Patriarch's Bidding, it gives them a big swing card/I win button and inevitability. I did a post for a BG Bidding list a while back. It is a little dated now but most of the core elements are there. This is a non-Bidding zombie deck for the first time in my cube. Losing the Bidding feels like losing a lot of power however it means I can also lose a lot of the clunky support cards that go with it like Noxious Ghoul. This means the deck can be much more streamlined and actually get ahead in the early game and not need to rely on one big spell.

Most of the colours now offer something to the zombie archetype, be that some spicy zombies, some good discard outlets, that sort of thing. Unlike vampires however the zombies can easily keep it all in house. Staying mono reduces your options but it greatly increases your consistency and any fighting you might have to do over fixing. Zombies has all the tools it needs in sufficient number to stay mono. The thing it lacks most is a nice deep pool of two drops. The black two mana zombies mostly suck while the white and green two drop zombies are pretty decent. I found some unlikely cards to fill in at the two slot and as such had some good success with a non-bidding mono black zombies list. It is the closest any zombie deck has felt to anything like a tier one deck. It felt like it had the ability to compete in any kind of matchup with basically none of the free wins and auto losses it used to suffer with (yes, not all consider free wins to be a suffering! Still won't be fun for some people and isn't great for loads of other reasons). This new build of zombies felt like it could play a good range of strategies well. It could race well, it could go wide, it could grind out value and go long, it could go big, it could go through, it was just a capable deck. It actually felt like it had depth and power in the way a goblin deck does!

Diregraf Ghoul
24 Spells

Diregraf Ghoul
Dread Wanderer
Grave Crawler

Carrion Feeder

Fatal Push

Relentless Dead
Butcher Ghoul
Sultai Emissary
Blood Scrivener
Diregraf Colossus
Collective Brutality
Arguel's Bloodfast

Lord of the Undead
Cemetery Reaper
Death Baron
Lord of the Accursed

Diregraf Colossus
Curse of Disturbance
Plague Belcher

Undead Warchief

Dark Salvation
Grey Merchant of Asphodel

16 Lands

Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
14 Swamps

Butcher GhoulSo what is it about Butcher Ghoul and Sultai Emissary that, despite sucking themselves, stop the deck from sucking so much? This deck is chock full of lords and synergy. The individual card power level is less important when you have all that and so these are pretty much two cards in one. You just have a lot more staying power on the board against removal or aggression which empowers your synergies more quickly. A 2 mana 1/1 isn't exciting but when it holds off their 2/1 or wastes their turn as they are not going to Terminate it and then suddenly grows or taps to draw cards then it is all good. The Ghoul is better as both halves are zombies. The Emissary can find zombies but you have to pay extra mana to flip them and you lose the EtB effect of them as well which greatly reduces the value of a couple of the more top end ones. Both were depressingly good in all the matchups I played them in. Depressing because Young Wolf is barely playable and Ghoul is half as good...

CryptbreakerThe two best cards in the deck are the utility one drops; Carrion Feeder and Cryptbreaker. Both have a surprising amount of effect on the game. Feeder can one shot people with Plague Belcher, it can negate removal effects, it can upgrade the undying style dorks or just grow very out of hand with a Gravecrawler and win on its own. The Cryptbreaker on the other hand provides quick and reliable card draw as well as getting free value with certain from the bin cards or dud draws.

Zombies have never been short of lords but the newest addition is the best of them in a tempo sense. Mostly this is down to having 3 toughness rather than two making it that little bit safer and more able to get involed in combat. More lords is only good when you have lots of good cards to empower them with. This list has all the 3 drop lords (except Zombie Master as he doesn't pump stats and thus doesn't really feel like a lord). There are more in the way of four drop lords but it is all a bit too much at that point. Warchief is just a bit of an Overrun, two lords in one and remains the best of the four drop options for most occasions, even if not using the cost reduction to good effect. A couple of cards, including the Warchief made me want to include more burst mana like Dark Ritual so as to power them out and make better use of things like the cost reduction.

Other new things enhancing zombies effectiveness include the decently powered one drop Dread Wanderer and the lesser known Curse of Disturbance. The latter is really good with the recursive dorks, be that Butcher Ghoul style or Gravecrawler. It just makes it very painless to get a free 2/2 every turn. While not the quickest of cards the Curse does grind people down pretty well and greatly helps empower the lords.

Dark SalvationArguel's Blood Fast was great, as it has been in most places. That being said, a Skullclamp would probably be better. As that point you probably want a Bloodghast to go with it. You don't want too many non-zombie cards in the deck and this eats up a bunch of those slots without providing much disruption. Brutality is hand and creature disruption so is a premium non-zombie card you can run. Liliana is decent at this too but you are not at all short on the three slot. I would prefere targetted hand and dork removal at one or two mana in this list. With a slower Bidding plan Liliana goes up a bit in value, as does the Brutality. Dark Salvation is a bit clunky as removal goes but there are not many good zombies that disrupt beyond Skinrender and so it seems like one of your better removal options.

The rest of the deck somewhat speaks for itself. It is just the highest individual powered zombies left padding out the deck as best it can in the CMC slots available. There are some surprising omissions still which is mostly an indication of the progress made by the tribe. Liliana's Mastery is one such card. It is decent being both a lord effect and a pile of zombie. The problem is it is just a bit too late and expensive. Not for what it does, just in general. Even Grey Merchant is not all that in this list, certainly one of the more cuttable cards. In decks like this five drops want to be devastating or game ending which Mastery is not. Merchant can be but typically is more of a warped Seige Rhino.

Geralf's Messenger
Geralf's Messengers is another big absentee. He is a good stand alone but beyond being a zombie  he isn't really empowering other cards. The three slot is where the zombie power level suddenly jumps and slots being so tight makes the bar for three drops significantly higher. An influx of decently high powered zombies across the curve has certainly helped the tribe out and given it depth and directional options. That change is fairly gradual and probably not enough by it's self to elevate zombies to the status of top tier tribal. The real breakthrough and why the change feels more sudden is simply the cheap sticky zombies. Taking that extreme power hit to fill up the deck with cards in needs in the places it needs them. It may sounds like madness playing Butcher Ghoul because it is a sticky zombie and not Geralf's Messengers but it felt so right when playing it. A turn two Ghoul pretty much always felt like what I wanted to do. Tribal decks are on the rise and it is far more to do with getting more viable one and two drop support cards than it is powerful payoff cards. We had a good number of those already for most of the stronger tribes. With zombie being thematic to black and generally well established in the realms of fantasy as the rank and file of the bad guys I fully anticipate zombies improving at a faster pace than most other tribes going forwards. It has more room to grow into as well.

Plague Belcher
Here are some of the most appealing zombie cards left out of this list. As you can see, the two drops that are considerations are thin!

Risen Executioner
Dregscape Zombie
Gnawing Zombie
Stromgald Crusader
Festering Mummy
Liliana's Mastery
Skullclamp (+Bloodghast)
Geralf's Messengers
Grave Defiler
Graveborn Muse
Nantuko Husk
Dark Ritual
Liliana's Reaver
Vindictive Lich
Custodi Lich
Noxious Ghoul + Patriarch's Bidding + Zombie Infestation and other potential discard outlets/tutors.

Mogis Marauder also feels like he is an honorary zombie in some of the more aggressive lists. He is a surprisingly good push through card. The haste and the intimidate give extra reach and burst which the colour typically lacks. Grey Merchant and Plague Belcher only really get their slots in this list because of the reach they offer.


  1. Can you make a Mono Blue deck list that is good for an unpowered cube?

    1. You can make loads! The thing is there is only really one reason to go mono blue in a draft and that is Vedalken Shackles. If you are not empowering the Shackles then you might as well splash a little for some removal. Blue tempo is decent and good fun and blue control can work too. In more constructed forms of cubing many more mono blue options are possible too. Merfolk is a good one, Wizards can go mono blue (Patron Wizard), loads of combo decks and artifact ramp decks are also fine to be mono blue for.

  2. Sweet deck! I tried to make Zombies work in my lower powered Cube but I found the synergy cards canalized too many slots. Unholy Grotto was a nice fit there with things like Fleshbag Marauder and Nameless Inversion. BG also felt like a good colour pairing for the tribe.

    Thanks for all the great content! I've been reading through a lot of your archived posts this week and it inspired me to push through a substantial update. Have look here if you're curious :)


    1. Awesome, will give this a thorough look though soon. And thanks again. A word of caution on my older posts however. My biases were far stronger the further you go back in time and so some of my opinions are on the polar side. In addition to that the meta has shifted rather a lot. Still plenty of cool ideas in the historical posts but they are best taken with a pinch of salt.

    2. Also, as per the zombies. I think the issue I had in the past was not having a proper plan. There wasn't enough good cards and so you just played all of them and ended up with a deck that lacked cohesion or direction. I think we now have the depth of power to go for a value grindy midrange zombie build as per Grotto and the like. You can go aggro as this list tries to do or you can go combo and just aim to one shot people with Bidding and things(another good one to do in green with things like Survival of the Fittest). There are probably a couple of other quirky things you can do with the tribe too. Love the Nameless Inversion combo with the Grotto too, not done that one before and now have an urge to do so!