Welcome to the dungeon, my friends. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but there are dangers as well. Hordes of zombies roam the lower levels, feasting on the flesh of any who dare venture there. Even your friends may not be who they seem. The shapeshifters here can take any form, even your own. Today, we’ll explore the realms of both of these races. Keep your guard up, and don’t fall behind.
Tribal decks have always been very popular in casual Magic, and Innistrad has some great new toys for Zombies to play with. Endless Ranks of the Dead is perhaps the most interesting of these. Once you have a couple Zombies on the battlefield, it will steadily grow your horde until your opponent is crushed beneath the onslaught. If your opponent doesn’t deal with this card quickly, it will start pumping out a massive amount of power each turn. Four Zombies become six, then nine, then thirteen, and so on.
Let’s take a look at that art for a moment. There sure are a lot of Zombies there, but they seem to be having a bit of trouble breaking through that stained-glass window. If only they were a bit bigger . . .
Fortunately, we have a few Zombie lords here to help out. Undead Warchief will give itself and any other Zombies on the battlefield a massive power boost, and will make any Zombies left stranded in your hand cheaper to cast. Cemetery Reaper can turn the creatures that have been killed by your horde into more Zombies, and Lord of the Undead will bring back any rotting comrades who have fallen apart along the way.
Diregraf Ghoul is one of the fastest Zombies of all time, ready to bash in for 2 as soon as your second turn. Later in the game, it will continue to be a huge threat, and will often be pumped up to 5 power or even greater by the various Zombie lords. Entering the battlefield tapped is a very small price to pay for a 1-drop this powerful.
Ghoulraiser is a nice upgrade to the old staple Gravedigger in this deck. Although you don’t get to choose which Zombie rises from its grave, most of the time, it doesn’t really matter. The 1 mana you save is more than worth the unpredictability.
Unbreathing Horde is another new take on an old standby. Although it doesn’t continue to grow bigger like Soulless One does, it can tangle with any creature and live to tell the tale. The counters may come off, but once they’re gone, you’ll almost always have an invincible creature left behind due to the power of the Zombie lords. Of course, the 1-mana discount doesn’t hurt either.
Skinrender is a reasonably priced Zombie that will usually kill an opposing creature on arrival, or at the very least shrink one significantly. This guy can even take down the mighty Titans after shrinking them down to its level. A creature like Sun Titan isn’t nearly as scary when it’s only a 3/3.
After the initial wave of Zombies hits the board, Noxious Ghoul comes in batting cleanup. It will immediately clear the board of any small creatures who dare to stand against the might of the undead, and will continue to do so whenever you play another Zombie. However, the real power of this card comes to light when combined with Endless Ranks of the Dead. With more and more Zombies entering the battlefield each turn, even the largest of the living will fall.
Just in case your opponent has the resources to deal with your Zombie lords, Door of Destinies can fill in as a pump effect that’s much more difficult to remove. In just a few turns, it can turn a lowly Diregraf Ghoul into the biggest creature on the board, and your Zombies will only grow larger as the game goes on.
Call to the Grave is a dangerous piece of board control that’s far more difficult to deal with than similar threats like Sheoldred, Whispering One. Without the ability to make token creatures of some kind, almost any opponent will quickly fall far behind. While your opponent has to play a creature every turn just to keep from losing everything, you can sit and laugh from behind your ever-growing horde of Zombies.
Cruel Revival is the only true removal spell in the deck, but it’s a very good one. Not only does it destroy any opposing creature regardless of color, it brings one of yours back from the graveyard as well.
After adding in a few Swamps, the deck looks something like this:
2 Noxious Ghoul
2 Unbreathing Horde
4 Cemetery Reaper
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Lord of the Undead
4 Undead Warchief
3 Cruel Revival
2 Call to the Grave
3 Endless Ranks of the Dead
2 Door of Destinies
Cackling Counterpart is among the cheapest Clone effects ever printed, and its drawback is much less significant than many others. This card tickled my Johnny bone, and got me thinking, “What sort of deck wants to use the cheapest Clone effects ever printed?” My first thought was cloning something with a good enters-the-battlefield ability. My second thought was creatures like Plague Rats that get better when there are more of them. Combining the two, I stumbled upon Halimar Excavator. This innocuous little Ally can be pretty absurd when you can play more than four copies. Although the first will only mill one card, the second will mill four, the third nine, the fourth sixteen, and the fifth twenty-five, at which point your opponent will have no more cards left in his library. Sounds like a plan to me.
Of course, the first thing you need to do is play a Halimar Excavator. With only four allowed in a deck, you’ll need a way to find them. To do that, we’ll use a somewhat obscure card from Future Sight: Vedalken AEthermage. Although its Unsummon ability is certainly useful should you ever come across a Sliver deck, the key ability here is Wizardcycling. This is the only card ever to have the ability, and this deck puts it to good use. For only 3 mana, you can discard a Vedalken AEthermage from your hand and pull a Halimar Excavator right out of your deck. If you draw either the AEthermage or a Halimar Excavator, you should be set. To make sure we see at least one of those, we’ll add in some Preordains.
Jwari Shapeshifter and Phantasmal Image are two more ultra-cheap Clone effects, coming in at only 2 mana. Each have their drawbacks, but those are much less relevant in this deck than they might be elsewhere. Most of the time, these will just quickly and efficiently copy a Halimar Excavator to help progress your game plan.
Rite of Replication is about par for a Clone effect at 4 mana, but here’s the kicker: If you manage to pay the extra 5 mana later in the game, you’ll end up milling a total of thirty-six cards in one shot, and that’s if you only had one Halimar Excavator on the field.
Unfortunately, things don’t always go according to plan, and we’ll need a backup in case the Excavator is killed before it can be copied. Hedron Crab is one of the most efficient ways to mill someone out, and at only 1 mana, it can be cast without setting back your main game plan. We’ll also include two copies of Oboro, Palace in the Clouds to help ensure that we hit Landfall every turn.
To protect ourselves while building up to five copies of Halimar Excavator, we’ll add in a few copies of Propaganda. Whether Blue or White, this little enchantment has proven itself time and time again; 2 mana per creature is no small price to pay for a more aggressive deck, and your opponent will often only be able to attack with one or two creatures, if he attacks you at all. Riddlekeeper performs a somewhat similar function, discouraging attacks by threatening to advance your own game plan for every creature who dares to come your way. With 4 toughness, it does a decent job of blocking as well.
Put it all together, and this is what we have:
3 Phantasmal Image
4 Halimar Excavator
4 Hedron Crab
4 Jwari Shapeshifter
4 Vedalken AEthermage
4 Cackling Counterpart
4 Rite of Replication
2 Oboro, Palace in the Clouds
I hope you enjoyed your visit to the dungeon. Come back in two weeks when we take a look at some of the strange magics that can be found here.