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Can You Build Mono-Blue Zombies in Commander?


When I first saw Jason Bright, Glowing Prophet, it wasn't in Fallout: New Vegas, though I did dabble a little in that video game back in the day. A surge foil Jason Bright was in the first Fallout booster I opened and I was immediately struck by the thought of building a Blue Zombies deck.

Jason Bright, Glowing Prophet

This Zombie Mutant Advisor cares about zombies and mutants, but there are only 16 other Blue mutants in the entire history of Magic, so any typal commander deck built around Jason Bright is probably going to want to focus on Zombies.

Once upon a time the idea of building a Zombie deck in Blue would have been a non-starter. Beginning in Shards of Alara with Fatestitcher, every so often we'd see a Blue Zombie in a set until the floodgates opened in Shadows over Innstrad, which had five of these soggy fellows. Other sets have had a few since then, with Crimson Vow adding eight to the mix.

It's notable that Blue Zombies are often called Skaabs, which is a Scottish term from the late 1800s meaning the bottom of the sea. That tracks pretty well, as a drowned sailor or other creature turned into a zombie would likely have to rise up from the bottom of the sea to start causing trouble. All 20 of the zombies with Skaab in their name have Blue in their color identity, with 16 in Mono-Blue and four in Dimir (UB) colors.

For our purposes, the etymology of Skaab or the lore behind Jason Bright isn't what matters. I want to see what kind of Blue Zombies deck I can build with this new card in the command zone.

Zombie Support

Playing in Blue gives me access to all kinds of great cards, but the thing I'm most excited about is having an excuse to play some incredible zombie support cards that you just can't include if you're playing a good old fashioned mono-Black zombie deck.

Kindred Discovery
Rooftop Storm

Necroduality is the perfect enchantment for this deck. Whenever a nontoken Zombie enters the battlefield under my control I'll create a token that's a copy of that creature. I'm running a full two dozen blue Zombies in today's list so I should have plenty of chances to double my zombies with Necroduality.

All those zombies entering the battlefield are great, but if I've got Kindred Discovery in play, I'll draw a card whenever one of them enters the battlefield or attacks. I'll need to have the presence of mind to choose Zombie as my preferred creature type when Kindred Discovery enters the battlefield, but unless I'm as brain dead as my blue Zombies, that shouldn't be a problem.

Playing all these Zombies costs mana, but if I've got Rooftop Storm on the field, I'll be able to play them for free. These three enchantments represent the dream scenario for this deck. Play a free zombie, get a token zombie, draw two cards, and hopefully keep going until I don't have any zombie cards in my hand. I'm unlikely to see this happen very often, and only a quarter of my deck is made up of zombies so I'll probably run out of them eventually.

Best possible scenarios are fun to imagine, but the reality is that this deck is more often going to play a tamer game than I just described. That doesn't mean there isn't a lot of fun that I can get up to.

Zom-bie da ba dee da ba di

One of the interesting things about this build is that I had to make a decision about whether to build around zombies with triggers that force me to mill myself.

Most zombie decks are fine with self mill and will gladly load up their own graveyards so they can get some sort of benefit, or just set up a big Rise of the Dark Realms to create a huge army. In Mono-Blue, the number of options that work with this kind of strategy are limited enough that I decided to leave most of those self-milling Zombies out.

I was able to find two dozen pretty decent Blue Zombies, a few of which are worth mentioning. I've got a handful of ways to make my zombies fly in this list, which fits in thematically with Jason Bright, Glowing Prophet. I might not be loading them into rocket ships, but I do want to be able to block flyers and get in free attacks on anyone with only a ground presence.

Eternal Skylord
Hordewing Skaab
Overcharged Amalgam

Eternal Skylord is one of a number of cards in this list that will have me Amass a zombie army token. These tokens have a base power of 0/0 and get +1/+1 counters, meaning they will always draw me a card if they die with Jason Bright on the field. Skylord also gives zombie tokens flying, which is good, but not great. Hordewing Skaab both has flying, and will give other Zombies I control flying. It also gives me a draw / discard trigger whenever one or more Zombies I control deal combat damage to my opponents.

When I build around a creature subtype, I generally look for creatures that will help to fill out some of the many basic needs of a Commander deck. For Jason Bright, that means Zombies that bring a little extra something to the party. Overcharged Amalgam is a great example of this. It has flash, flying, and exploit - meaning I may sacrifice a creature when it enters the battlefield. When it exploits a creature, I can counter target spell, activated ability, or triggered ability. I'm unlikely to use him to stop a Thassa's Oracle win, or neuter a Mindslaver activation, but it's nice to know he can jump in and help when something scary gets put on the stack.

There are a few other zombies that provide extra utility, but my bench isn't nearly as deep as it would be if I were in black or in Dimir colors.

I am running a number of support cards that aren't Zombies but which should put in work in this deck.

Havengul Runebinder
Stitcher Geralf
Geralf, Visionary Stitcher

Havengul Runebinder helps this deck in two ways. This Human Wizard taps for two and a blue to exile a creature card from my graveyard and create a 2/2 Black Zombie creature token, and then put a +1/+1 counter on each Zombie creature I control. I'm somewhat incentivized to let my Zombies die in order to draw cards, so I should have creatures in my graveyard. This ability will put another Zombie on the battlefield and it will both make my Zombies stronger and will make sure they have a power greater than their base power. That in turn sets up Jason Bright's card draw ability for the Zombies that now have counters on them.

Geralf has two cards in today's list - Stitcher Geralf and Geralf, Visionary Stitcher, but it's worth noting that Outlaws of Thunder Junction is going to bring us Geralf, the Fleshwright, a powerful new take on this old Magic character.

Stitcher Geralf can tap for two and a Blue to have each player mill three cards. Then I'll exile up to two creature cards from those cards and create an X/X Blue Zombie creature token, where X is the total power of creatures exiled this way. This has the potential to make a pretty big Zombie, but it does not directly play into Jason Bright's abilities, as that X will be the token's base power.

Geralf, Visionary Stitcher will give my Zombies flying, and has an activated ability. He can tap for a Blue mana and let me sacrifice another nontoken creature to create an X/X Blue Zombie creature token where X is the sacrificed creature's toughness.

These human wizards are good in this deck, but I wouldn't drop out too many Zombies to add more support creatures. At its core, this build is a Zombie deck and I want to have a critical mass of Zombie cards in order to make it work.

Anthem Effects

Jason Bright, Glowing Prophet has a very powerful ability in that he can draw you cards when your Zombies or Mutants die. It cannot be understated how important card draw is in Magic. Card draw helps you hit your land drops. Card draw helps you pull into answers. Card draw might even let you get this deck's unholy trinity of enchantments - Necroduality, Kindred Discovery and Rooftop Storm - onto the battlefield all at the same time!

The big question I faced was whether I wanted to try to add some sort of combo into this build that would let me draw my deck. I ultimately decided not to include that option, but I did load this deck up with the key ingredient that could make such a combo possible - anthem effects.

To be fair, a draw-your-deck Jason Bright combo might not require an anthem effect, but he does want me to have my Zombies die with a power that is different from their base power. That can be accomplished with +1/+1 counters, -1/-1 counters, anthem effects or even auras or temporary pump spells. Anthem effects are ideal because are persistent and they affect all of my zombies, or possibly all of my creatures, at once.

Metallic Mimic
Paragon of Gathering Mists
Vanquisher's Banner

Metallic Mimic and Adaptive Automaton are the kind of creatures I hate to include in any deck that is built around a creature type. They enter the battlefield and will have me choose a creature type. I'll choose Zombie and they will gain that creature type and will help make other creatures I control of the chosen type more powerful. The former will have my Zombies come in with an additional +1/+1 counter, and the latter will give my Zombies +1/+1.

Jason Bright will likely see a kindred spirit in Paragon of Gathering Mists. Paragon will give other Blue creatures I control +1/+1, and he also has an interest in helping my zombies fly. His activated ability is good, and arguably better than Jason Bright's because it doesn't require me to sacrifice a creature.

Vanquisher's Banner costs five, will let me give my Zombies +1/+1 and will also give me card draw when I cast a creature of the chosen type (Zombie). I'm also running Door of Destinies, Obelisk of Urd, and Coat of Arms, though that last artifact can really backfire when played against another deck that is focused on a single creature type. It gives creatures +1/+1 for each other creature on the battlefield that shares a creature type with it.

The biggest oversight in this first draft might be the lack of a sacrifice outlet, but I'm not running any graveyard combos and I don't have much in the way of reanimating zombies. Those are more easily found in Black. It's also worth asking if I'd even want to "flush my board" to draw cards in response to someone targeting a permanent I control that is providing an anthem effect. Some players would do so in a heartbeat, but I'm less inclined to want to lose my board presence, even to draw cards.

Paths Not Traveled

I like to mention ideas that work for a commander but which I chose not to pursue. Sometimes there are obvious cards or combos that I didn't even think of when I was deck-building, such as Phyrexian Dreadnought, which Abe Sargent pointed out to me would have fit right into my Curie, Emergent Intelligence list a few weeks ago.

I very nearly included Gravitational Shift in today's list. It's an enchantment that gives flying creatures +2/+0 and non-flying creatures -2/-0. At five mana, with the very real chance that it will backfire and I'll catapult some tablemate's deck to victory if they run enough flyers, I eventually decided it wasn't worth it. There are too many other options that are better at that mana value.

For today's deck another card I decided not to run was an artifact I used to throw into decks all the time - Nim Deathmantle.

Nim Deathmantle
Ashnod's Altar
Myr Battlesphere

I was tempted to build around Nim Deathmantle, as I could run all of the colorless sacrifice outlets that are often paired with that powerful piece of equipment. Nim Deathmantle has the added feature that it would bring a recently deceased creature back from the graveyard as a Zombie, allowing my creature type anthems to kick in and let me start drawing cards. I could loop a Wurmcoil Engine or Myr Battlesphere as they make enough creatures to use mana from Ashnod's Altar to pay for Deathmantle activations. I'm even in blue so I'd have access to Fabricate to go get a missing combo piece for this artifact-based combo.

Just because you can do something, doesn't mean you should. In this case I was more interested in building a deck that was about Blue Zombies than about hitting a combo and drawing my deck.

If you're more inclined to want to do the crazy thing and combo off, I'd definitely point you toward Nim Deathmantle. It's an oldie but a goodie, and I love that it makes a creature brought back from the graveyard into a Zombie.

Glowing Ranks of the Dead

This deck feels like a relatively fair Zombie typal deck with the unique twist that it just happens to be in Blue. As much as I like to build powerful decks that can have explosive turns, I think there is also a place for decks that are more likely to play a "fair" game and not just win "out of nowhere". My "unholy trinity" of enchantments notwithstanding, there aren't any "I win" buttons in today's list.

One of the things I love about casual EDH is that there is a lot of space for interesting, janky and even "bad" decks, provided you are playing in a group where the power level allows those suboptimal decks to actually have a game and do stuff. When games reliably end after a half dozen turns or less, there just isn't room for slower, less powerful or less optimized decks to get the time to do their thing or even build much of a board presence. I don't know that this list is low or mid powered, but I do know that it's definitely not an attempt at building a super fast, optimized, hyper-efficient Zombie deck.

If you were going to tune this list up, you'd probably do more than just load in a combo like Nim Deathmantle. I'm already running Rhystic Study, but you might also throw in Faerie Mastermind, Ledger Shredder, Mystic Remora, and a handful of other Blue staples that I left out. Fast mana always helps, but at some point you might start wondering why you aren't just building around a more powerful commander like Urza, Lord High Artificer, or a better Zombie commander that puts you in both Blue and Black.

This is not one of my more pricey lists, but if you wanted to trim the budget down you could probably save $100 USD just by dropping Coat of Arms, Cyclonic Rift, Necroduality, Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx and Rhystic Study. From there, much of the deck is relatively budget friendly, but when you drop down in budget you're usually also dropping the power of the deck.

Final Thoughts

In my heart of hearts, it's possible that I am a combo player. Writing out my "Paths Not Traveled", I kept feeling more and more enamored of the fact that Nim Deathmantle brings a creature back as a Zombie. I felt like Bilbo in the familiar Lord of the Rings meme, where he's looking down at The One Ring and saying to himself "After all... why not? Why shouldn't I keep it?"

After all... why not? Why shouldn't I run a combo in this deck?

It's a good question, but there is no good answer.

Some playgroups play a no-holds-barred style of EDH where anything goes and they jostle back and forth with high powered and combo decks and don't worry as much about "bad beats" because if they lose they just know they need to switch to a more powerful deck.

Other playgroups develop clear distinctions for what is and is not generally accepted in their games, usually based upon the players' feelings about what makes for a fun and engaging game of EDH.

My own deck collection has a wide range of power levels and has lots of decks that can combo off, but in practice rarely do. I play at an LGS where I never know for sure what kind of game I'll find myself in, so I like to have the flexibility to play at different power levels. I also play a lot of decks that have never seen a game before, in no small part because I write about Commander for this fine online retailer. That means I've had my fair share of games where I've played a deck that has ended up being stronger or weaker than I expected.

In the long run, what matters is that you and your tablemates have fun. Not every game will give every player what they are looking for, but over the course of an evening, or even over the course of multiple play sessions, I think you want to make sure everyone is getting something positive out of the experience. Having a lower powered deck in your arsenal lets you play at more tables and not inadvertently pubstomp a more casual pod because you simply didn't have anything weak enough to make for a fun game.

If I were to build this list, I expect it might struggle at the LGS I play at. I often find that I'm up against very good players and very good decks - even when they are building on a budget or with some arbitrary restriction. If Jason Bright came up short a few too many times, I'd eventually adapt it to the meta and possibly add in that Nim Deathmantle combo.

After all... why not?

That's all I've got for today. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

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