Friday, July 01, 2016

Fun Deck Friday: The Zombie Zamboni

I never thought I'd hit a point in my life where I'd need this image.
Sup nerds, this is Dan. I'm just a glowing ball of super heated hype right now thanks to the combination of delicious Spoiler season and binge listening to Direct Hit!'s new album, but I'm taking time away from my staunch erection to share my sick new Standard FNM deck with you guys.

This is my jam. Literally.
So, as the Zombie sitting on a Zamboni probably tipped you off, my deck is a Zombie deck. I wish it was a Zamboni deck, but I only have so much to work with. I initially got the idea for Zombies while I was writing an article about how to make budget decks; check out that link if you like saving money and brewin' up decks! But maybe you just like saving money and copying decks. Whatever, you do you. I just said that I was sexually aroused over new Magic cards, so clearly I am not in a position to judge. Anyways, here's a deck. We're gonna go a bit in depth as we talk about the new budget hotness:

This is a fairly straightforward tempo deck. You play low-impact creatures, back it up with cheap removal and efficient bounce, and then get a small amount of card draw and plenty of delicious creature recurrence to carry you late. It's funsies to the max, and decently competitive, but like most of our budget decks, don't expect to win the Pro Tour with it. FNM, though? Hell yeah - throw a million Zombies at those goobers and walk away with a few packs. Obviously this current standard is almost over, but we still have a few weeks left before Eldritch Moon gives us more dudes to play with. This deck will also stay relevant since nothing rotates, and gives us a sturdy base to add to with the next set. Let's take a look at the cards in the deck and see how each one of them is going to make your opponents feel bad about themselves.

The Zombie Army:

Without the Zombies, this deck is just a Zamboni, and I don't live in Canada so that's not super useful to me. So we need Zombies. Don't worry - we got 'em. Let's look through each of them in alphabetical order, cause that makes sense. This section is a bit lengthy since there are quite a few creatures, and each of them have several technicalities and niche functions. Feel free to skim through this to get the general gist of it, but if you plan on piloting this deck, I highly recommend reading the details for each so that you know of every possible interaction and can maximize the fun at your monster mash.

Gonna hit you with a pile of dead people.
Diregraf is stupid in this deck. He is essentially the black Thalia's Lieutenant, but rather than more counters, he gives you more dudes. He presents the player with some interesting decisions, and knowing when to run him out will make a staggering difference in how successful your Zamboni is. Sometimes, when you have a hand full of dudes, you run him out on turn three as a 2/2, and then dump your hand to get maximum value from his cast trigger. Late game you may have a yard full of zumbers, but nothing in hand, so you just play him as a three cost 10/10. Worse things have happened.

Be mindful of what deck your playing against, and what kind of removal they have. If you're playing against a bunch of Reflector Mages, he's probably best saved for when you have more mana and can immediately follow up with a zombie to get the token. Against Languish and Grasp of Dankness you'll want to save him until he comes down as at least a 5/5. Diregraf is a key card in this deck, and he is not easy to use. Playing him correctly will separate the boy/girl Zombies from the man/woman Zombies. Or... something. Yeah.

I used this image so new players would recognize it, but the fat art is much more doper.
Hey look, this guy is much easier to use. They have a dude and you want it dead? Plop this guy on board. Yay, you did it! Fleshfat is basically a removal spell for us. Reanimating him with Relentless Dead is the strongest thing our deck can do, but there's much more than that. A more subtle interaction is how outrageously well Fleshbag pairs with Diregraf Colossus.

Say you have a Diregraf only on the field, they have a 4/5 Sylvan Advocate, and you have a Fleshbag in hand. You don't want to just blow up your own Fleshbag for it - even though that isn't a terrible trade - since you'd rather keep three power. Well, good news, fellow Zamboni pilots (drivers?). Diregraf Colossus gives you a 2/2 Zombie token when you cast a zombie spell, and then Fleshbag Marauder has you sacrifice a creature when he enters the battlefield. Therefore, you cast Fleshbag, get a token, and then can sac that token to the Fleshbag trigger! Nice play bruh. Now you're ready for the Pro Tour.
I don't think he has enough sword-arms.
The Masterpiece is our big fat finisher. We only have him as a one-of, since he isn't necessary, but he does feel fuckin' good. Ideally he'll land in our GY thanks to Screeching Skaab or Epiphany, then we can pitch crap to bring him and all of our Amalgams back. More on that in a moment.

I promise that I will never pronounce this correctly.
Amalgam is probably the second most important card in this deck, and provides most of our punch. The first one we play is just a 3/3 for three, which isn't terrible, but once they start dying off they get better and better.

Relentless Dead reanimating zomething, Stitchwing Skaab or Geralf's Masterpiece, or even casting Risen Executioner from the yard will bring all of your Alamgams from GY to the battlefield. Against non-exile based control, these are absolutely backbreaking. As long as you have three mana up and a Relentless on the field, you have the threat of bringing back a boatload of Amalgams. Sure, they enter tapped on end step, but if you chump block with Relentless and return something, then these guys are ready to rumble on your turn.

Breaking both windows and hopes and dreams.
This card is insane. Like absolutely, without a doubt, stupid. I cannot believe I bought these a week or two ago for $4 a pop. Thanks to EMN (still think it should have been called EDM so I could make terrible Eldrazi Dance Music jokes all standard) having more Zoombies, they're already up to $8 each as I type this out, and I think it's totally justified. This card just does so much. A 2/2 menace for two may not seem like much, but it puts early pressure on Nissas and Gideons, or can chip away at your opponent directly until they set up a board. It makes blocking annoying as well, and since no one plays this, I guarantee your opponents always forget about Menace when deploying creatures. But who cards about the damage he does, the rest of him is the cool part.

So his first ability earns him the "relentless" title. Any time he dies, pay B, and you can just replay him. "Urrggghh but Daaan, then I have to pay BB to play him again!" Yeah well Diregraf Colossus says no fuckin' problem man. Once you have spare mana laying around, you can swing for the fences, let Relentless die, redeploy him for another zombie token, and then have him up to block, return to hand again, and repeat until your opponent drowns in dead people. He also makes a fun blocker, since you can just yell "AY YO DJ ROLL THAT BACK" and play him out again. Be sure to leave up B if you think your opponent has removal, because it's sad when one plops into the GY.

Oh man. His second ability. This is the disgusting engine that makes this deck so much fun to play. If you've seen my Jund Molten Frog Tornado deck tech, then you may be starting to realize that I'm a big fan of janky engines, and this one registers about a 4 of 10 on the Salami Scale, since it actually does some things. When Relentless dies, you pay B to return him, then X to return any zombie with cost X. You know what is fun to bring to the battlefield? Fleshbag Marauder. Or wait, maybe you just want infinite chumps? Bring back another Relentless. Or, for next level tactics, bring back a Diregraf Colossus!

Thanks to smart layering of triggers, you can make Colossus a prime resurrect target. Relentless Dead dies. You pay B and 3 to return him and Colossus. If you let the Colossus return trigger go off first, it sees Relentless Dead in the graveyard still, so he gets an extra counter for another zombie in the GY, and then Relentless returns to your hand. Pretty sick. Not to mention, no matter what you resurrect, you then get all of your Amalgams back at the next end step. So ballin', yo. It feels so good when you chump, bring back a Fleshbag to kill one of their dudes, and then untap with three 3/3s. Fuck, I love you, Relentless Dead.

There must be a ton of cake in the afterlife, cause a lot of these Zombies are super fat.
Similar to Geralf's Masterpiece, Executioner is also a one-of. He can be played from the yard, albeit at a hefty cost late game, or resurrected by Relentless. Typically you don't need his buff until later, so it's no big issue if you don't find him right away. Feel free to up your count of him to two or three if you'd like to go for a faster game, and you can cut out come Epiphanies or Stitchwing Skaabs.

He always smooches with tongue. Like, 6 tongue.
I hate that we have to play this card, but you know, desperate times. He mills you a bit, he's a cheap target for Relentless Dead, comes down cheap for Diregraf triggers, and puts a little bit of early pressure. Ideally we'll get something better in EMN (in my dreams we get a black or blue Satyr Wayfinder), but for the time being, we have this dumb idiot. Later edit: Wailing Ghoul was spoiled today - hooray! That will easily replace this. Three toughness is much better to block Advocates and such, and being black rather than blue means it'll be easier to curve out into Relentless Dead and Diregraf. Thx Wizurds.

Definitely not Gravecrawler.
I obviously wish this Gravecrawler, but zombie beggars can't be zombie choosers. Shambling Goblin is actually quite strong in some match ups, and the extremely low cost makes him an ace with Relentless Dead and Diregraf Colossus. He's also handy with Fleshbag since you can sac him to ping out plant tokens or shrink a guy. If your shop runs a lot of white Human decks, I highly recommend upping the count of these guys, since he's an insane turn 1 play against that deck.

This flavor text is actually a great description of every deck I build.
This is probably my least favorite card in the deck. A 3/1 flier for four does not a strong card make. Ideally he gets milled, because having him in your hand is extremely low power, but in the yard he's a fine card. You can pay two to get him out early if you hit a lucky Screeching Skaab, and if you discard Amalgams or another Stitchwing, this guy is money. If you discard Amalgams, they actually hit the yard before this guy returns to the battlefield, and then you get an extra three power for extremely cheap. If EMN gives us a sick one or two cost mill zombie, this guy goes up in value quite a bit.

Spooky spells:

The spell suite in this deck is very focused and effective. Ultimate Price, Grasp of Dankness, and Ruinous Path need very little explanation. You kill things with them. Ideally, the opponent's things. But the other two spells are a bit more fancy.

Maybe you shouldn't have moved in next door to a four armed abomination?
Deterrence is an extremely powerful card. You almost always have a zumber in play, so this is a strong tempo play that doesn't even set you back in card advantage. Against a deck like white weenies, BR vamps, or whatever flavor of "dump your hand on the field" agro, this becomes a removal spell. You bounce whatever threat, and then if that's the only card in their hand, they discard it. I've also used this (not happily) on my own creatures to dodge Declaration in Stone. You have to discard a card, which puts you way behind on card advantage, but if you can pitch an Amalgam, Stitchwing, or Geralf's Masterpiece, it might be worth it to save a field full of Zombie tokens or Relentless Dead from going into exile.

"I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn't for you meddling Planeswalkers!" - Nahiri
Did you know this card was created to make the Zombie deck dope as fuck? I didn't either until I played with it. Honestly I want to make this a four of, because it is just that insane. A lot of times you'll flip this over for four cards, and you don't gives a single shit which ones go in hand and which go into the graveyard. Oh, you're making me keep a Shambling Goblin and a land? Guess I'll put this Stitchwing Skaab and Amalgam in the value pile graveyard. This card is excellent early or late, too. Don't feel bad snapping this off for two mana to just put one card in hand and one in the yard; that's still a strong play a lot of the time. Late game this is huge, since seeing six or seven cards is spectacular, and you'll often be able to craft your piles so that there isn't a good choice for the opponent.


This is very simple. You want four of each dual, and then slightly more swamps than islands so you have plenty of black sources for Relentless Dead. You could also run Submerged Boneyard (incidentally, that is what I'm going to name my underwater sex parlour) if you want more fixing or would like to go for a later-game strategy. If on a budget, basics, four Boneyards, and Evolving Wilds will function just fine, though may hinder your ability to get out an early Relentless Dead. I'd recommend going a more controlling route with more Epiphanies, more removal, and fewer Screeching Skaabs if you need to save money on lands.

Bow-chicka bow wowwww


This deck has a crazy versatile sideboard. You can get more aggressive, you can slow it down, you could add planeswalkers, removal, card draw, counterspells, boardwipes, etc. Because of this, I don't have a defined board for it yet. I recommend tailoring your own to whatever the current meta at your shop is. I'll give you a quick rundown of the matchups and how I'd recommend boarding against them, and just throw out a few suggestions.

G/W Tokens - Ok, let's be realistic here, people. This isn't a good matchup, because the tokens deck is bonkers. Sylvan Advocate is the best creature in Standard, and the only card that can compete with it even a little it is Avacyn. Both are four ofs. If you just want "most raw power by card", you'd end up at this deck.

Its power level is through the fucking roof, and any match you beat them with a budget deck you should offer up a silent thank you to Vishnu for your good fortune. But anyways, I'd recommend going more controlling against them, and leverage your recurring threats to chump early, then swarm them late. Cards like Liliana, Ob Nixilis, SoI Jace, and extra Epiphanies can help a lot here, though they aren't exactly budget. When in doubt, more Ruinous Paths to deal with Gideons and Nissas are quite nice, and Negate and Clash of Wills can also help prevent huge bombs like walkers or Tragic Arrogance.

Bant Coco - Again, this is one of the strongest decks in the format. It is not easy to beat, and there's a reason that at GP Pittsburgh in the seven matches I played, I had over 40 Collected Companies cast against me. It's strong. Boardwipes like Languish are quite good here, because who cares if your creatures die? Just bring them back! Dispel and Negate help to shut down Coco, and Clash of Wills might be good too as a flexible early game creature counter, or a late game bomb counter.

White Humans - This isn't a bad matchup depending on how you've decided to construct your zambies. If you have Shambling Goblin, you're in good shape game one, since he's just so annoying for Humans to deal with the first couple of turns. Post-board bring in your Languishes, any additional spot removal, and any flip Liliana's you might have for a bit of lifelink. The key here will be chumping with Relentless, Shambling Goblin, and using Fleshbag and Compelling Deterrence as profitably as possible. Deterrence in response to a Gryff's Boon is a massive swing in your favor, so look for opportunities like that. This will also be how you board against basically any agro deck.

Control - If they are B/G like the popular control flavors at the moment, you don't have a terrible matchup, since their removal isn't optimal. B/W is more of an issue since they can exile our stuff. Bring in cards like Duress, Negate, and Clash of Wills to counter annoying stuff. If you can, be sure to counter or strip any Transgress the Mind or Infinite Obliteration, since those are a bummer. I've also had a lot of success bringing in Vampiric Rites as well.

Replace that vampire on the table with like 800 zombies.
In response to their removal, saccing your guy and drawing a card feels great. You can also just repeatedly sac your Relentless Dead and return him to hand to get some card advantage if the board is mucked up, or you have nothing else to do. This also is spectacular against Declaration in Stone, since this safely drops our creatures into the graveyard rather than having them exiled.

Flier-based decks - Bring in all of your board wipes, because you do not have many fliers. Any spot removal is also essential here. Clash of Wills will help you counter problematic dudes like Avacyn or Goldnight Castigator. If you own them, Ob Nixilis is also pretty effective since he removes a guy and then draws their attention for a turn, giving you breathing room to try and find another answer.

G/B + whatever other colors Rites - Boardwipes! Languish wipes their board, and as we've learned, we don't care if our guys die. Ultimate Price isn't great here, but Clash of Wills is a good way to prevent your reality from being smashed post-board, and if they are running the Coco variety, some Negates aren't bad either.

Rogue decks and things you don't understand - When in doubt, switch to a more controlling role. Bring in Clash of Wills, more removal (if creature-based), Duress or Transgress to strip their hand of difficult cards, and Vampiric Rites to make sure you get value out of your guys. Even though your duders aren't super impactful, getting minor advantage through smart sacrificing will let you grind out a lot of decks that aren't as efficient as yours.


Well, that about sums it up. Zombies is a tempo deck with a very fun play style, and a wealth of situational sideboard options lets you craft your deck to be effective against a variety of strategies. Even the main deck itself is quite flexible, and switching out some removal for creatures or vice versa lets you speed up or slow down the deck depending on your local meta. Now the part we actually care about - how expensive is this thing?

For the deck I just laid out (again, quite flexible), it'll run you something around $70. Too much? Risen Executioner is a great card, but since he's only a one of, he can be dropped to save you $5. Dropping the dual lands for cheaper options like Submerged Boneyard, Evolving Wilds, and basics can easily drop another $20-$30 from the total deck price without totally crippling it. As I mentioned in the Lands section of this article, I'd craft your deck to be a bit slower if this is the case, since you won't be able to reliably have the strong turns one two and three that the deck dreams of.

Relentless Dead makes up almost half the price of the deck, but sadly he is not at all replaceable. If you'd like to try this particular Zombie build, or are hoping that some new EMN stuff comes out to make it a more competitive archetype, I'd recommend picking them up ASAP. All it's going to take is a kick ass one or two drop Zumbler being spoiled to make this guy's price go to the double digits. We've already seen Gisa and Geralf get spoiled, and that's probably why he shot up from $4 to $8.

Speaking of G & G, they seem sweet, and will definitely have two or three copies added to this deck once they drop. Unsubstantiate seems like another very flexible tempo card as well, and I would probably try to find a place to squeeze in a copy or two, even if it's in the board to delay boardwipes and planeswalkers, or even bounce an animated Gideon or pumped-up Kalitas. Here's to hoping spoiler season gives us some more sick tech for this!

Wizards pls

P.S.: HeavySalami now has a MTGO account. Hooray! Our name is HeavySalami, because that makes sense. We plan on losing a bunch due to not understanding the interface, which I've already done twice.When I installed it, the user agreement and such read a lot like "target user discards his or her wallet". RIP.  Also, this weekend there is no GP/tournament coverage, cause Wizards hates us, so maybe we'll stream something? I dunno man. We'll see if I have enough beer. Let us know if you're interested!

Like the idea of drowning your opponent in corpses? Tried out your own Zombie brew and have some better ideas? Are you drunk on spoiler hype? Whatever your current situation, tell us about it by leaving a comment or sending us a message with the email form on the right! We also tweet things too: Follow us for updates, bad jokes, and shitty memes. Let's be honest - it's mostly the last one.


  1. Totally gonna build this before Eldrich Moon shows up. This is the kind of dumb zombie deck I've been trying to glue together out of all my standard leftovers.

    1. Man its so much fun, highly recommend it. Looks like EMN will give us plenty of new toys too

  2. Cryptbreaker was just spoiled today, does that fully replace Shambling Goblin? Seems just as value packed as Relentless Dead imo. Also a quick thank you for spurring me to buy a playset of Relentless Dead two weeks ago for $20.

    Also also, what would you use as your sideboard for this deck? I've been tinkering around with a few things and would like to see what you have in yours.