Left 4 Dead, the Flavour of Zombies – Journey to Somewhere with Ben Heath

Journey to Somewhere – Developing Tempered Steel by Ben Heath


Hello everyone and welcome to the latest instalment of Journey to Somewhere. Yes, I know it’s shocking to discover that I’m churning out articles regularly (I say that, it’s been a few weeks. Apologies, but the Heath clan went to Marbella on a whim, and I got ridiculously sunburnt), but Magic is in a great place right now, with all three major formats (that’s Standard, Modern and Draft) being the healthiest I’ve probably ever seen.

Today I’m talking about an archetype which is one of the rising stars of the current Standard season, which is (in case you didn’t read the title) Zombies. Zombies right now comes in 3 delicious flavours and and a 4th that might as well be Marmite, and I’ll be going through the pros and cons of each one. Now I’m slightly biased in my opinions, as I piloted one version at GP Lille , I’m currently playing another version in Standard in preparation for the World Magic Cup Qualifiers, I playtested with the 3rd version for GP Lille before deciding that I didn’t like it, and the 4th one is (in my humble and not always correct opinion) utter garbage. It’s worth noting that all 4 versions beat Delver decks like they owe them money, so here goes.


Black/Red Zombies

Ok, I’ve started with my least favourite version of the deck, just to get it out of the way.

3 Fume Spitter
4 Skirsdag High Priest
4 Gravecrawler
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Geralf’s Messenger
3 Olivia Voldaren

4 Geth’s Verdict
4 Brimstone Volley
4 Tragic Slip

3 Mortarpod

14 Swamp
4 Blackcleave Cliffs
4 Dragonskull Summit

1 Liliana of the Veil

This is build choice of pros, apparently. However, I disagree with them on this one for a number of reasons.

This deck relies on the Morbid mechanic more than any other version of the deck. If things aren’t dying, then you’re going to have issues. You have the removal suite and enough sacrifice engines to do try and keep the Morbid engine running, but if the deck grinds to a halt, you have no way of bringing yourself back into the game apart from to become the control player and kill all their guys, and what sort of aggro deck wants to do that?

The deck also relies on Skirsdag High Priest to pump out 5/5 flying demons, but you have to hold creatures back in order to do that. In a format with a lot of removal and a lot of fliers, that’s a terrible idea. This card will probably have a place in a future meta when things have slowed down, just not right now. I’d rather just play Phyrexian Obliterator, yet this version of the deck omits it and plays Olivia Voldaren instead, another card choice that confuses me. Yes, the ‘ping a creature’ ability is nice, but people play Olivia to Mind Control things, and you can’t really afford to do that in this deck.

BR Zombies loses to all 3 other versions of the deck, as it either:

a) Runs less copies of Geralf’s Messenger (we’ll get to that bit later)
b) is not running out as many threats as the other deck.

Run this version if your meta is Delver or Human heavy, otherwise you’re going to have problems.


MonoBlack Zombies

3 Porcelain Legionnaire
3 Fume Spitter
1 Phyrexian Obliterator
3 Skirsdag High Priest
1 Bloodline Keeper
4 Gravecrawler
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Geralf’s Messenger

4 Tragic Slip
2 Dismember
3 Geth’s Verdict

3 Mortarpod
2 Lashwrithe

25 Swamp

1 Liliana of the Veil

The most basic one of the Zombie family, and the deck I encourage people new to the world of competitive Magic to pick up and play. It’s a typical, no frills aggro deck with small guys, big guys and removal all in the correct quantities. If you’re going to pick up a Zombie variant cold to run at a major tournament, this is the best one (although I recommend you never pick up a deck cold, for obvious reasons).

Of the 4 flavours, this one is the one with the most reach, and is also the slowest. You have a good early game, and a good late game in the form of Phyrexian Obliterator and Lashwrithe, although the singleton Obliterator confuses me for a (relatively) slow aggro deck. I like the addition of Porcelain Legionnaire, as it makes the deck less useless versus Mirran Crusader, and will trade with one, even if there is an Honor of the Pure out on the field.

The issue with the deck is that it is monocoloured, and runs more lands than any other version of Zombies, so you are more prone to manaflood. 25 land is a lot, and a land count of that quantity is usually associated with either mid-range or even control decks, and although you can justify playing that many land thanks to Lashwrithe, I feel that you could take a couple of land out for something else.


Delver Zombies

This deck I have a particular soft spot for, as it was the deck I piloted to Day 2 at GP Lille. Although the rails came off on the second day, the deck is still solid but takes the most getting used to of the 4.

My latest list is as follows:

4 Gravecrawler
4 Diregraf Ghoul
4 Geralf’s Messenger
4 Phantasmal Image
3 Delver of Secrets
2 Snapcaster Mage
2 Phyrexian Obliterator

3 Altar’s Reap
2 Dismember
4 Tragic Slip
3 Vapor Snag

4 Ponder

4 Darkslick Shores
4 Drowned Catacomb
1 Island
12 Swamp

Potential Sideboard

1 Nihil Spellbomb
3 Ratchet Bomb
1 Doom Blade
3 Flashfreeze
2 Go for the Throat
2 Surgical Extraction
3 Liliana of the Veil

The hardest variant to pilot, make no mistake, but the one that rewards the most if you are prepared to put in the hours and hours of play testing required. I could write an article on this deck all by itself, but in a quest to shorten my articles that may have to wait for another day.

This deck has everything I like in an aggro deck. For starters, it has creatures to beat face with. The highest converted mana cost is 4, but that’s for Phyrexian Obliterator, so that’s OK. Unless you opponent is either swarming you with creatures or playing Wrack with Madness, this card very much puts you on the front foot. By the way, if you think your opponent is playing Wrack, take the Obliterators out. Don’t take the risk.

It has a removal suite that it as varied as it is potent, including a one mana spell that can kill most things in the form of Tragic Slip, to tempo removal in the form of Vapor Snag.

Finally, it has card draw. I love me some card draw in aggro decks. Ponder is a fine card, especially with this deck playing 3 Delver of Secrets (which is never a turn 1 play in this deck, by the way), as well as a card that raised multiple eyebrows in the form of Altar’s Reap. This card has synergy with Gravecrawler and Geralf’s Messenger, and two more cards is pretty good. Just ask anyone who played with Sign in Blood.

The sideboard is for the current meta, and is a hybrid of my sideboard and Richard Parker’s sideboard from GP Lille.

I am currently torn between this list and the next list for the WMCQs, which I feel is a fantastic dilemma to have. I would be perfectly happy to walk into a room with either version.


UB Zombies, by Richard Parker

4  Diregraf Captain
4  Diregraf Ghoul
2  Fume Spitter
4  Geralf’s Messenger
4  Gravecrawler
4  Phantasmal Image
2  Phyrexian Obliterator

4  Darkslick Shores
4  Drowned Catacomb
14  Swamp


1  Black Sun’s Zenith
1  Cemetery Reaper
2  Corrosive Gale
1  Dismember
2  Go for the Throat
2  Nihil Spellbomb
1  Phyrexian Obliterator
2  Ratchet Bomb
1  Sever the Bloodline
2  Surgical Extraction

This is the best variant of Zombies right now, straight up blue/black. Richard Parker does an excellent deck tech on this, which can be found here on this website, so I won’t say much about this build except that this is the one closest to MonoRed. Constantly damaging your opponent whilst getting the beats in, the pressure never-ending. The full playsets of Phantasmal Image and Geth’s Verdict help you get around Mirran Crusader, easily the Zombie decks’ Kryptonite. I’ve seen this deck do amazing things, it’s very much the Tempered Steel of this Standard format.

That’s all for this edition. Plenty of food for thought with the upcoming World Magic Cup Qualifiers (all of which yours truly will be travelling to, so show your appreciation for my articles by scooping to me :P). Alternatively, pack 4 Celestial Purge and 4Timely Reinforcements in against me, just to annoy me. We may no longer be friends, though.

Thanks for stopping by, mtgUK.





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