Mono Black Zombies Primer

by Zen Takahashi on 08 August 2017, Tuesday

Zen Takahashi

 

Mono Black Zombies Primer

Hello everyone!

Two weekends ago, I competed in Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, where I played Mono Black Zombies. As some of you may recall, I played the deck at Pro Tour Amonkhet as well, where I piloted it to a 27th place finish. 

 

Diregraf Colossus


Zombies is fundamentally good against other creature decks, due to its ability to go wide with Diregraf Colossus and Liliana's Mastery, its ability to grind in stalled boards with Cryptbreaker and Relentless Dead, and having access to some of the best removal spells in Fatal Push, Grasp of Darkness and Dark Salvation.

At Pro Tour Amonkhet, we chose to play Zombies because we identified Mardu Vehicles to be the most popular deck and Zombies had a favorable matchup against it. For Pro Tour Hour of Devastation, we knew Mardu Vehicles wouldn't be nearly as prominent as it was then, but the presence of a new creature based deck – Mono Red Aggro – led us to believe that Zombies would once again be well positioned. 

Today, I will be going over the list we played, a guide to all the key matchups, and an updated list going forward. 

 

Our List

 

The following is the list that nine of the eighteen members of Team MTG Mint Card/MTG Bent Card testing team played:

 

 

Ifnir Deadlands Scavenger Grounds


The only new additions to this deck from Hour of Devastation was Ifnir Deadlands and Scavenger Grounds, but they were huge. Zombies has always been a mana hungry deck, even though its curve is relatively low. This is because it is important for the deck to curve out, so you don't want to miss any of your first five land drops, so that you can cast Dark Salvation and Liliana's Mastery on time. 

However, prior to Hour of Devastation, the deck had little in the way of flood insurance, which made it dangerous to increase its land count. Thanks to the new lands though, the deck is now able to play 25 lands, which has made it much smoother. While Scavenger Grounds is replaceable, I do think that the playset of Ifnir Deadlands is a staple that every Zombie deck should be playing. 

 

 


Mono Red


Game 2/Go Big:
+2 Never // Return
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
+1 Fatal Push
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery 
-4 Lord of the Accursed 
-2 Metallic Mimic
-1 Dark Salvation

Go Small:
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
+1 Fatal Push
+1 Grasp of Darkness
-4 Lord of the Accursed 
-2 Metallic Mimic 

This matchup is largely attrition based, and you are happy to trade off resources aggressively, as you are much better positioned in the long game. If you can stabilize at a life total high enough that you are not in burn range, you should close the game. 

Cryptbreaker is the one creature that you don't want to be trading off, as it singlehandedly lets you play around Earthshaker Khenra and Ahn-Crop Crasher. Also, prioritize casting Fatal Push and Dark Salvation before Grasp of Darkness, as you want to hold it for Hazoret, the Fervent. 

Almost all Mono Red decks sideboard into a more controlling deck, where they go bigger with Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. Therefore, when you are sideboarding for Game 2, your default should be to assume they will sideboard into this “go big” plan. 

Post-board, it is important that you establish early board presence. You need to make sure that you have creatures in play so that they don't cast a Chandra, Torch of Defiance onto an empty board, which will let them run away with the game. Since they are a lot less aggressive, you don't need to focus on trading so much.

Some people have doubted how good Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet is in this matchup, as it dies to Collective Defiance, Chandra, Torch of Defiance and Glorybringer. However, post board, the games become very grindy and tend to go long. Kalitas is actually a turn seven play, where you want to cast it and immediately sacrifice something to it to make it a 5/6. If you can do this, it is now outside their burn range and they cannot realistically beat a 5/6 lifelink creature. 

 

 


Black-Green Energy

+2 Never // Return
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 
+1 Fatal Push
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery 
-3 Lord of the Accursed 
-2 Dread Wanderer 
-2 Metallic Mimic 

Similar to the Mono Red matchup, you are favored in the long game as you have more ways to generate card advantage and go wide. Therefore, just make sure you don't get run over in the early game, as the GB Energy deck is very good at snowballing a lead with cards such as Winding Constrictor and Longtusk Cub. This means that you generally want to favor casting removal spells over creatures early, as it is not a priority to create a board presence. 

 


Zombies Mirror Match


+2 Never // Return
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery
+1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
+2 Liliana, the Last Hope (play)
+1 Fatal Push (draw)
-4 Dread Wanderer 
-2 Metallic Mimic 
-1 Fatal Push (play)

Remember that you can kill your opponent's one drop by casting Dark Salvation targeting them. Although you probably don't want to do this for a Dread Wanderer, you almost certainly want to do this to kill a Cryptbreaker

 

 


Mardu Vehicles


+2 Never // Return
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery 
-2 Lord of the Accursed 
-2 Dark Salvation

Like Mono Red, in post board games they almost always sideboard into a more controlling deck. Similar to Chandra, Torch of Defiance from Mono Red, you need to make sure you have a board presence so that you can beat Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Nahiri, the Harbinger. However, they also tend to have mass removal which you need to play around. The key Is to try fill the board with creatures such as Relentless Dead and Dread Wanderer, and use Cryptbreaker to keep drawing cards. Once they cast a planeswalker, you can attack, but until then just prioritize keeping your hand full.

 

 


Blue-Red Control


+3 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Transgress the Mind 
+2 Dispossess
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery 
-4 Lord of the Accursed 
-3 Fatal Push 
-2 Dark Salvation

The key to beating UR Control is to always try to minimize the value that they can extract from their spells. This largely means playing around certain cards, and trying to screw with their curve. Notable examples are:

  • Never play Cryptbreaker on turn one. This walks straight into their removal spells. Instead, only cast it when you have two Zombies in play already, so you can at least draw a card from it which will get you a two-for-one. 
      
  • You need to keep pressuring them, but don't overextend to the point that you will get three-for-one'd by their sweeper. Relentless Dead and Dread Wanderer are two of your best cards for beating sweepers. 
     
  • They rely heavily on Glimmer of Genius to turn the corner, so try to screw with their curve by casting a threat they must deal with on the turn they plan to cast it, so they have to spend a turn answering it instead of improving their hand. 
      
  • Since their sweepers are sorcery speed, the turn after they cast one usually gives you a chance to cast any card without having to worry about it being countered. This is the window for you to resolve Diregraf Colossus or Liliana's Mastery
      
  • Try to hold Diregraf Colossus for when it is big enough to be outside their burn range, or for when you can cast another creature alongside it to make a token. 
     
  • You can use Scavenger Grounds in response to Torrential Gearhulk flashbacking a spell. If possible, sacrifice Ifnir Deadlands to it, since you may want to use the exiling ability more in the following turns. 
      
  • It is hard to ultimate a Liliana, the Last Hope through an Hour of Devastation, so instead focus on using its middle ability as much as possible. However, since they only play two to three copies of the sweeper, if you can take one with Transgress the Mind, you can then focus on trying to ultimate Liliana before they find another copy. 

 

 

White-Blue Monument

+3 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Never // Return
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Skysovereign, Consul Flagship
-4 Lord of the Accursed 
-3 Liliana's Mastery 
-2 Metallic Mimic 

Diregraf Colossus is your best card in the matchup. It is almost like your Oketra's Monument – but instead of 1/1s, you make 2/2s. Therefore, it is very important that you don't let Diregraf Colossus become vulnerable to Dusk//Dawn. Don't trade off your Zombies in the early turns, and you often want to hold your one drops until turn four. 

In pre-board games, it is important to play around Dusk//Dawn. This means when you play Metallic Mimic, name Jackal, as you don't mind your Dread Wanderer becoming a 3/2, but you don't want any of your other Zombies to become bigger. Also, hold Lord of the Accursed and Liliana's Mastery for the turn where you can close the game with the additional power to buff your team, and discard excess copies to Cryptbreaker

Boarding in Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet may seem unintuitive against a deck with Dusk//Dawn, but they usually shave some copies post board as most Monument players know that we will cut all the cards that increase power. Kalitas is also a must-deal answer for them – if they don't kill it straight away, the card will take over the game as we have so much removal post board that you can just kill multiple creatures and make a bunch of tokens if given even a one turn window. 

 

 


Temur Energy

 

+2 Never // Return
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Liliana's Mastery
-2 Lord of the Accursed 
-1 Fatal Push
-1 Dark Salvation

 


Red-Green Pummeler


+3 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Never // Return
+1 Fatal Push
+1 Grasp of Darkness
+1 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
-4 Lord of the Accursed 
-3 Liliana's Mastery
-1 Scavenger Grounds

You only care about Electrostatic Pummeler, as you can handle the rest of their creatures by just going wide with Relentless Dead and Diregraf Colossus. Therefore, make sure you hold removal for it, and try to deal with their other creatures through blocking unless you have multiple removal in hand. 

 

 


Red-Green Ramp


+3 Liliana, the Last Hope
+2 Transgress the Mind 
+2 Never // Return 
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
+1 Liliana's Mastery 
-4 Dark Salvation 
-3 Fatal Push
-3 Grasp of Darkness

Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet may look underwhelming in this matchup, but the key is to make it a 5/6, so that it will become out of the range of their removal spells. Once you can get it to this size, the card becomes a real threat, as even if they cast a World Breaker you can just sacrifice another creature to make it a 7/8. 

 

 


White-Blue God-Pharaoh's Gift

 

+2 Transgress the Mind
+2 Dispossess
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet 
+1 Grasp of Darkness 
-3 Fatal Push 
-3 Liliana's Mastery
-1 Dark Salvation

 

 


Emerge


+2 Transgress the Mind
+2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
+1 Grasp of Darkness 
-3 Fatal Push 
-1 Liliana's Mastery
-1 Dark Salvation

 

 


Updated List

 


Going forward, it seems like Mono Red, Black-Green Constrictor and Zombies are the three main decks. While Metallic Mimic is a good card when you wanting to be aggressive, against other creature decks you usually take the control role as you have a stronger late game, so I would cut them for a fourth Liliana's Mastery and a Liliana, the Last Hope, which will help you be better prepared against these three decks. 

 

Skysovereign, Consul Flagship


In the sideboard, the main addition is the second copy of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship. It is the best card in the mirror and can single handedly win the game. Due to the increased presence of Skysovereign, Consul Flagship, I would also replace Never // Return for Murder as you want ways to be able to deal with your opponent's copy as well. 

It also seems like Ramp has increased in popularity due to its favorable matchup against Black-Green Constrictor and Zombies. In the past, I liked Fleetwheel Cruiser against decks with a lot of sweepers, but with the addition of Abrade I prefer just having more copies of Transgress the Mind, as the current Ramp decks rely heavily on drawing a certain combination of cards so even a small amount of disruption can go a long way. 

 

Westvale Abbey


It is possible that Scavenger Grounds should be replaced with Westvale Abbey as UR Control and the God-Pharaoh's Gift deck has gone down in popularity. However, I always found Westvale Abbey to be underwhelming while Scavenger Grounds can significantly improve your chances against some of your worst matchups, while never being dead as most decks in Standard have some graveyard interaction – whether it be Earthshaker Khenra, Traverse the Ulvenwald or Relentless Dead. For now, I prefer Scavenger Grounds because of the potentially high upside that it can offer at a relatively low cost. 

 


Signing Off


Overall, the Zombies deck performed admirably for us, with Christian Calcano finishing 9-1, and three other players finishing 7-3. My personal record with the deck was 5-3, as I conceded the last two rounds once I was out of contention for Gold to help Steven Rubin hit Platinum and help Michael Bonde try to get MTG Bent Card into Top 4 of the Team Series (unfortunately, they finished 5th on tiebreakers). 

Going forward, I believe the deck will continue to be well positioned as the format has largely become based around creature decks. Although there are some unfavorable matchups such as UR Control, Ramp and UW Gift, these “over the top” decks are largely kept in check by Mono Red, which continues to be the most popular and dominant deck in the format. The format may be shaken up, but assuming things stay put, I will most likely play Zombies in the MODO RPTQ next weekend. 

Until next time!

Zen Takahashi
@mtgzen on Twitter




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