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The Top 10 Zombies in the History of Magic: The Gathering

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Personally, I want my Zombies rotting.

Flesh coming away from their bones. Decay their weapon as much as fingernails that are both jagged and soft at the same time. Strength from unholy magicks rather than hulking muscles.

For me, Zombies hold a special place in my Magic: The Gathering career. I "won" my first PTQ ever in November of 1996 losing in the finals to future Lead Developer and Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Erik Lauer... Who paired Legions of Lim-Dul with Lim-Dul's Cohort:

Legions of Lim-Dul
Lim-Dul's Cohort

With 3 toughness these Zombies lived through Pyroclasm, the sweeper of the day's format; and it seemed they were engineered just to get me. I was playing a Withering Wisps deck with Snow-Covered Swamps and... And let's just say I conceded after attempting to regenerate a creature that had blocked the one of the pair that could be blocked.

Embarrassed? Sure; but still, I was ecstatic: It was a two-slot PTQ.

Zombie #10. Carnophage

Carnophage

Carnophage had to get the nod for all the beatdown Zombies that ever were. A Staple of the Hatred (and other "Suicide Black") decks favored by the most moral and let's face it, handsome, players of the spring and summer of 1999, this 2/2 for b was the stuff of legend and skill.

Often paired with the "other" 2/2 forb, Sarcomancy (not a Zombie, but makes a Zombie), the duo was especially skill testing against other aggro decks. In the mirror you wanted to get rid of your Carnophages in trades as fast as you could. After all, they cost life to upkeep. But if you could keep Sarcomancy happy while forcing the opponent to pay one for Carnophage? You were on the way to displaying mastery.

My favorite all-time story was the hapless Red Deck Wins loser. Red Deck had a dramatic advantage over "Suicide" Black at the time. Both players agreed: Everyone was pointing damage at the Black player (including the Black player).

Argh! Swamp, Carnophage, go.

"LOL! Mountain, Jackal Pup."

Damn! Pay one I guess. Send Carnophage?

"You're at 19? LOL! I guess I block. After all you need creatures in play to win and I -"

Dark Ritual, Dark Ritual, Hatred: Pay 18.

That puts me on one and you on...

Zombie #9. Larder Zombie

Larder Zombie

A one-armed Zombie snacking on pickles!

I told you I loved my Zombies rotting; and this one even likes his snacks fermented!

The lone Limited-leading entry on this list, Larder Zombie is one of my favorite cards from one of my favorite forty-card sets: Innistrad: Midnight Hunt. It is also a blue Zombie, implying all kinds of things (not the least of which was the second-best archetype of the format, ug).

Players starting with Larder Zombie in their opening hands boasted win rates over 60% all other things held equal, meaningfully higher than:

The card was everything for every purpose: A mana sink early, a great blocker, and a fantastic way to get value out of all the other Zombies in your deck.

Zombie #8. Gurmag Angler

Gurmag Angler

I love Gurmag Angler in part because I know where it came from.

My old podcast partner Patrick Chapin "invented" Gurmag Angler for Pro Tour: Fate Reforged.

He went undefeated with his deck but knew he was onto something.

"I've never gone 0-5 and been super happy with a deck before."

Patrick was just early, and while he got two-thirds of the triangle offense right, he missed the eventual namesake.


Anyone who knows anything about deck design knows that Grixis Death's Shadow - packing ALL the g-d Gurmag Anglers - became one of the most important archetypes of Modern in years following. The deck came together with cards like Street Wraith making both Death's Shadow and Gurmag Angler better.

Subtly, Gurmag Angler was a kind of strategy-breaker. Death's Shadow was powerful and rewarded great tactical play, but was still a one-card house of cards. Gurmag Angler though? A kind of Tarmogoyf you couldn't technically Fatal Push.

Zombie #7. Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Gray Merchant of Asphodel

Zombie decks have historically mostly won in the Red Zone.

Zombie decks have historically relied much on synergy.

Gray Merchant of Asphodel... Gave its player a way to win outside of attacking, and a whole new look at synergy. Rather than winning on a critical mass of physical Zombies, it was Black pips in general that were the payoff. The results were spectacular in this card's Standard and gave rise to many dramatic comebacks (especially because of all the sneaky life gain).

Archetype Deck:


Zombie #6. Putrid Leech

Putrid Leech

The unsung 2-drop of the most dominant macro archetype from Necropotence to Caw-Blade, most folks might not even remember that Putrid Leech was a Zombie... Only that it hit really, realy hard for the Grizzly Bears slot.

Archetype Deck:


Don't worry, we both take two...

Zombie #5. Withered Wretch

Withered Wretch

In the National Basketball Association there is a player by the name of Jeff Green.

With a crazy longevity stretching back to 2007-2008, Green is one of only two players still active to have worn a Seattle Supersonics jersey.

Green's averaged a little over 12 points over his career, but exceeded 50% shooting only once. In fact, in the 2016-2017 season, Jeff shot .394, which is kind of atrocious for a Power Forward. But the very next season, Jeff made it to the NBA Finals with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

That's the thing about Jeff... incredible longevity, but not really "incredible" play. If I told you he bounced around over 10 teams, I'd have to admit that past the Finals-making Cavs in 2018... Last year was the Denver Nuggets!

2023-2024, inexplicably, is one of his best seasons so far, despite scoring only 6.5 points per game... For the new-look Houston Rockets.

Jeff Green... Everywhere. Somewhere different almost every year. Not really great at anything... But manages to make rotation on Championship-caliber teams. Can you picture this kind of player?

Withered Wretch is the Jeff Green of Magic: The Gathering Zombies.

It's not great - it's not great even when its ability is relevant... Only sometimes it's backbreaking. Still, it has shown up in countless decks; to this day even in Premodern.

Why? It's not that bad. A 2/2 for two still trades with their 2/2 for two. Or their 2/1 for one and a little mana. The ability can slow the opposing engine down. Kind of. You get me. Maybe one in the sideboard? IT BOUNCES AROUND DIFFERENT TEAMS decks EVERY YEAR.

Zombie #4. Sutured Ghoul

Sutured Ghoul

The Premodern homer in me wants to talk about Flint Espil at the 2022 North American Championship... But half of you don't even know what a Premodern is.

Anyway, before Flint there was Zvi Mowshowitz.

But the greatest triumph of Sutured Ghoul technology? Has to be Lucas Glavin at Grand Prix Boston in 2005:

Archetype Deck:


Glavin leaned on Nomads en-Kor to do two different jobs. He could target a Daru Spiritualist over and over to up its toughness for a huge Worthy Cause...

Nomads en-Kor
Daru Spiritualist
Worthy Cause

... or Nomads en-Kor could target Cephalid Illusionist to bin his entire library.

Nomads en-Kor
Cephalid Illusionist

With no library at all - or rather, a gigantic graveyard - Lucas could use Krosan Reclamation to Exhume his one Sutured Ghoul... Who would eat up all the other creatures in the graveyard (including that oddball Krosan Cloudscraper), qualify for Dragon Breath, and win in a single attack.

I told you it was a "triumph!"

Zombie #3. Nightscape Familiar

Nightscape Familiar

Archetype Deck:


People just talk about the Psychatog. Doctor Teeth. The control-combo (with Upheaval).

But who was setting Psychatog up for Circular Logic or Memory Lapse open? Who was making the Upheaval combo 8 mana instead of nine-plus? Who could make Cunning Wish + Mana Short a mere 4 mana to ensure the bang bang death knell the next turn?

Oh, just a 1/1 Zombie for two.

Zombie #2. Nantuko Husk

Nantuko Husk

Archetype Deck:


The #2 spot goes to Nantuko Husk because of everything it had to chew through for that #2 spot. So many boring Hand-in-Hand decks. Goof grabs that might have cost a Hall of Famer the Pro Tour. Overrated Tallowisp decks that goobers insisted were viable. But at the end of the rainbow?

Planning, and tactics, and skill.

Carrying a Jitte.

Sacrificing something, anything, to trigger Promise of Bunrei. Now it was a combo deck. Now it was a Hatred deck. Sacrificing your own stuff for profit became a thing, eventually. Just ask PT Champion Tom Martell:

C.f. https://www.mtgtop8.com/event?e=4363&d=225422&f=ST


But it all started with Nantuko Husk

Special Guest Star Grave Titan

Grave Titan

If there were any justice in the world, Grave Titan would take #1.

Who else faced off against itself in a mirror match not only of near identical decks (including identical Grave Titan counts) but also an all-Guillaume battle for the g-d World Championship?


Alas, there is no justice. And Grave Titan merely makes Zombies, rather than being one. It had a storied career across multiple years and formats, and... None of that is relevant to the topic of the Top 10 actual Zombies in the History of Magic: The Gathering

Zombie #1. Putrid Imp

Putrid Imp

A 1/1 Zombie that flies... sometimes?

A 1/1 for one that... Might not be able to block?

How is this the best Zombie of all time?

Well, Putrid Imp was a mondo catalyst to one of the best archetypes of all time... And a later look that got almost an entire mechanic banned. It must have been doing something right.

Like getting in the last two?


Note that both Rorix Bladewing and Akroma, Angel of Wrath have 6 power. That means that they get to 18 pretty quickly... But a couple of Putrid Imp swings (especially with evasion) could mean a kind of Time Walk.

You've probably never seen Putrid Imp in all its glory, setting up Golgari Grave-Troll and Stinkweed Imp, even in the pre-Bridge from Below days.


If there's one thing I can say about these creative deck designers... It's that they had a hell of a way with random Boros cards in their Black Reanimator or Dredge decks.

[deck from https://www.mtgtop8.com/event?e=236&d=115232&f=EX]


Make way for Number One! A 1/1 for one if ever there was... one.

LOVE

MIKE

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