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Advanced Jumpstart: Innistrad Zombies


Zombies truly have become somewhat of the zeitgeist in modern day horror. It's arguable that vampires and werewolves have been up there as well lately, but it's hard to deny the impact of zombies on horror. Zombie games, books, movies - you name it! The Walking Dead was a major recent one, as were the tons of random zombie outbreak themed films and games. It's super easy, after all, to design a game around lumbering, slow-moving zombies as they make for easy target practice while still being a terrifying threat.

That's not to say they're a new development or anything - far from it, in fact. Zombies play into a fear of the dead returning to life, much like how we talk about and experience ghosts but in a more material manner as opposed to a spiritual one. The origins of the term and modern concept have their origins in the rituals and beliefs found in Haiti and Africa, though they also take a lot from the more science-based ideology of Frankenstein, for example. This evolved into films like I Walked With A Zombie, the Frankenstein franchise, the Romero Living Dead films (and their many off-shoots), and so on.

Today, zombies have become a fixture of what we expect of a traditional horror monster and range from shambling, mindless ghouls to fast, ferocious, and even at times intelligent beings. We can look to the obvious here with Frankenstein where the Monster grows smarter, comes to understand itself as a monstrosity, and eventually torments his maker. Similarly, the zombies in the Living Dead series also begin to slowly show increased signs of intelligence or at least a hollow recollection of their former life (i.e. the impulsive urge to assemble at a shopping mall in Dawn of the Dead).

Given their many shapes and sizes - as well as preying on a deeper fear of one's life being desecrated in death - it's no surprise they're as popular and beloved in horror as they are. And given their prevalence for such a long period of time, it's even less surprising to see them show up in the more traditional gothic horror of Innistrad. After all, while zombies weren't nearly as widespread as they are now, their roots in the modern horror genre date far back to the more base horrors that gothic horror leans into.

As such, it's fitting that we go and check out some more Advanced Jumpstart featuring many of Innistrad's shambling undead denizens. Let's jump in with the original Innistrad block.

When I think of the zombies of the original Innistrad block, there's admittedly only a handful that quickly come to mind. These are, of course, Gravecrawler and Geralf's Messenger, with Diregraf Captain being a distant third. The former two were mainstays in the Standard Zombies lists of the time and remain Constructed staples to this day while the Captain has made its way to virtually every Dimir-colored zombie deck to this day. These three form the core basis of what this pack is trying to do: aggressively take out the opponents' life total.

Geralf's Messenger
Endless Ranks of the Dead

You see, the problem with Blue/Black zombies as an archetype on Innistrad often involves silly shenanigans like self-mill. Unfortunately, it's not quite so feasible to realistically make this work when the strategy is only half your deck. Given that the self-mill largely comes from the Blue side, you'll notice that this pack - as well as most of the others - tend to lean a lot more to the aggressively natured Black cards.

That doesn't mean we aren't without our cool cards in the mix, however. Mikaeus, the Unhallowed gets to make an appearance here and he keeps the zombies coming back as well as being superpowered in the process. Similarly, Havengul Lich ensures you have full access to your various creatures, and is able to do some shenanigans with the right creature depending on the pack you pair this one with. If all of these weren't enough, then you also have Moan of the Unhallowed, Cellar Door, and Endless Ranks of the Dead to fill your board up with a healthy dose of zombies to overtake your opponent.

All in all, it's about as classic a tribal strategy as you could hope for and a pretty solid summation of classic Innistrad block. If you're feeling bold, try some of the self-mill stuff, but I think this is probably the more general player friendly approach to take. Things do at least get a little spicy with the help of the next block: Shadows Over Innistrad.

Much like with the Vampires packs last week, Shadows Over Innistrad heavily favored discard synergies that don't make for great play in Jumpstart. Usually, that is. For zombies, there's actually quite a bit of synergy if you can make it pay off while not being beholden to it as the main focus. Cryptbreaker, Stitchwing Skaab, and Haunted Dead all want you to discard stuff to get their abilities. If you do, though, cards like Gisa and Geralf, Relentless Dead, and Liliana, the Last Hope all get them back with ease.

Haunted Dead
Liliana, the Last Hope
From Under the Floorboards

There's not too much to say beyond that, really, for this pack. From Under the Floorboards acts as a good madness spell for discarding, Graf Harvest makes your creatures harder to block, and Stitched Mangler taps down a problem critter. Murder and Dark Salvation are good removal spells, and Diregraf Colossus gets big and spits out swarms your board even if it comes down small. It's a pretty straight forward pack for the most part that just happens to have some unique synergies that are in tandem with what the block had going on. And, come on, we get Liliana here.

So, with that, let's just move right on into the newest sets of Midnight Hunt and Crimson Vow:

This was actually one of the packs that had me scratching my head most as I was going through it. While most of the tribes in this "block" have pretty solid synergies across the board, zombies are a little different. This has to do largely with the fact that they show up largely as decayed tokens more than actual creatures. This means they get tied to spells or creatures that aren't actually zombies. It also means the zombies themselves are quite weak and temporary, meaning there's less opportunities to benefit off of some powerful synergies.

Geralf, Visionary Stitcher
Fell Stinger

The other issue is how much some of the cards get somewhat worsened by being Jumpstart rather than, say, Draft or Sealed. Exploit is a big one here. Rather than getting a bunch of cards to make small tokens that are ripe for sacrifice, we end up with only a handful and the sacrifice fodder ends up being actual creatures. This means there's going to be plenty of times where you play an exploit creature only to not want to sacrifice it. It's possible to swap cards out to add in more token makers, but that often ends up decreasing the overall quality of cards, meaning that you will ultimately have a wonky pack here.

I'd definitely recommend adjusting this particular pack to your own personal tastes. It's recent enough that you should be able to readjust it and try out different cards based on what you have and what you'd like to see. Perhaps add some stuff from the Midnight Hunt Commander deck if you're feeling adventurous.

With that, though, let's comb through all the sets and see what we can Frankenstein together!

Now this is what I like to see! There's lots of excellent synergies with powerful lords and a couple sweet ways to swarm the field. There's probably an argument that it could use another removal spell or two - and that's fair - but I really wanted to lean into the creature side here. Fell Stinger is basically a spell on its own, after all. If you had to make a cut, perhaps drop Bladestitched Skaab in favor of a Hero's Downfall or similar. It's pretty simple, at the end of the day, but that's what happens when you cut it down to the best of the best: it's lean, it's mean, and it's hungry for brains.

That wraps up another run of Advanced Jumpstart packs. Zombies definitely ends up being a weird one when taken out of the context of the greater blocks and limited environments, but still has some cool things going on at the end of the day. While I try to stick within the restrictions of working with each block and then combining them into one, you could probably reasonably make these look a little nicer by borrowing a couple cards from other blocks or tribes without too much worry. Customize them how you want and make them your own packs to play with and enjoy! And just remember: there's always more zombies waiting to be dredged up.

I'll be back soon with another of Innistrad's ferocious tribes, and I hope to see you then.

Paige Smith

Twitter: @TheMaverickGal

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